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PEGIDA fever sweeps across Germany

Monday, 15 December, 2014 0 Comments

It will be cold in Dresden tonight, but that won’t stop an expected 10,000 people from taking to the streets to voice their support for PEGIDA. What exactly does the acronym mean? PEGIDA stands for Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”. Such is its appeal that similar movements have sprung up in several cities around Germany: “Bogida” in Bonn, “Dügida” in Düsseldorf”, “Kagida” in Kassel and “Wügida” in Würzburg. There are lots of cities in Germany so it’s expected that PEGIDA will expand to fill the alphabet.

PEGIDA

Unease at the record number of immigrants and refugees from North Africa and the Middle East arriving in Germany seems to be one driver of PEGIDA’s popularity: According to the OECD, a total of 465,000 newcomers moved to the country in 2013 — more than double the number in 2007. But it’s the stated opposition to the “Islamization of the West” that is troubling Berlin, which dreads a clash of civilizations acted out on the streets.

The staunchly middle class nature of the PEGIDA movement is another worry for Germany’s political establishment. The elites are uninterested in politics, so long as the parties don’t touch their wealth, and the underclass is disinterested, so long as the politicians don’t cut welfare. But it’s the emergence of a “squeezed middle” in search of political expression that has alarmed the centrist parties, whose credibility is based on achieving compromise. Might the populist AfD make capital from the emergence of PEGIDA? Might the populist Linke gain traction from the growth of PEGIDA?

In his superb New Yorker article, The Quiet German: The astonishing rise of Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, George Packer looks at Germany and sums it up thus: “A political consensus founded on economic success, with a complacent citizenry, a compliant press, and a vastly popular leader who rarely deviates from public opinion — Merkel’s Germany is reminiscent of Eisenhower’s America.” And then along came PEGIDA.

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough

Sunday, 14 December, 2014 0 Comments

“Just as I can’t give up smoking because I don’t smoke, I can’t give up writing because I have no talent.” So said Marin Sorescu, the Romanian poet, who retained his sense of humour despite the best efforts of Ceauşescu’s censors. In fact, he could even see a bright side of censorship: “You’re sure to find a pair of faithful and attentive readers.” In partnership with Ioana Russell-Gebbett, Seamus Heaney, the acclaimed Irish poet, who died last year, produced this translation of a Sorescu jewel.

Fountains in the sea

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
Cunning life keeps asking for more and then a drop more.
Our ankles are weighted with lead, we delve under the wave.
We bend to our spades, we survive the force of the gusher.

Our bodies fountain with sweat in the deeps of the sea,
Our forehead aches and holds like a sunken prow.
We are out of breath, divining the heart of the geyser,
Constellations are bobbing like corks above on the swell.

Earth is a waterwheel, the buckets go up and go down,
But to keep the whole aqueous architecture standing its ground
We must make a ring with our bodies and dance out a round
On the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water.

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
Come rain, come thunder, come deluged dams washed away,
Our thirst is unquenchable. A cloud in the water’s a siren.
We become two shades, deliquescent, drowning in song.

My love, under the tall sky of hope
Our love and our love alone
Keeps dowsing for water.
Sinking the well of each other, digging together.
Each one the other’s phantom limb in the sea.

Marin Sorescu (1936 — 1996)

Baden verboten

The Belmonte club

Saturday, 13 December, 2014 0 Comments

“My mother is Irish, my father is Neapolitan. I was born in London but raised in West Cork. I’m a singer-songwriter living in London.” So says Francesca Belmonte. For the last five years, she’s been the lead singer for trip hop star Tricky, co-writing and performing on his latest album False Idols. Now, she’s striking out on her own.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Friday, 12 December, 2014 0 Comments

The most visited Catholic pilgrimage weekend destination in the world? The Vatican, right? Wrong. It’s the the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Over the Friday and Saturday of December 11 to 12, 2009, more than six million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of her apparition. Our Lady of Guadalupe

With Mexico reeling from crisis to horror, huge numbers are expected today in the hope of finding solace and hope.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, in the form of a retablo (panel painting) by Pedro Antonio Fresquís, is among the items included in “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea,” a new exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. The show brings together more than 60 works of Renaissance and American art. Blurb:

Paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia (an Ursuline nun who ran a bustling painting studio in her convent in northern Italy), and Elisabetta Sirani highlight the varied ways in which women artists conceptualized the subject of Mary. These artists’ works are featured alongside treasured Marian paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and others.

Much of Mexico is dynamic and the country wants to succeed in the global economy. But its people urgently need a real commitment from their government to security reforms and anti-corruption measures. Latest revelation: Finance minister Luis Videgaray bought a holiday home from a company that had won several generous public works contracts. And it would help if the elites faced up to risks of ignoring the poverty and anarchy in regions such as the Tierra Caliente. Until they do, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe remains the only source of comfort for masses of Mexicans.

The Mediterranean: The world’s most dangerous sea

Thursday, 11 December, 2014 0 Comments

More than 207,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean since 1 January this year seeking refuge in Europe. Of these, 3,419 perished in the sea — making it the world’s deadliest migration route. Last week, 17 African migrants died from hypothermia when they tried to travel from Libya to Italy in a small boat.

the Mediterranean

Many of the refugees are from Syria, where war has raged for nearly four years, but an increasing number are from Eritrea, where national service, in the form of indefinite conscription, amounts to forced labour. How bad are things in Eritrea? In its 2014 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked the county’s media environment at the very bottom of a list of 178 countries, just below North Korea. It’s high time for the EU to get tough with the brutal regime in Asmara. The root causes of why its people are fleeing and drowning in the Mediterranean have to be addressed, otherwise the numbers at the end of 2015 will be even more grim.

Paper, continued

Wednesday, 10 December, 2014 0 Comments

“Why should I want to have a lot of copies of this and that lying around? Nothing but clutter in the office, a temptation to prying eyes, and a waste of good paper.” — John Brooks, Business Adventures

John Brooks (1920 — 1993) was a longtime contributor to the New Yorker magazine, where he worked as a staff writer, specializing in financial topics. His Business Adventures was published in 1969 and perhaps the books’s most relevant piece from today’s perspective is his account of life at Xerox. In the early 1960s, the company introduced a proprietary process that let copies be made on plain paper and with great speed. It had almost $60 million in revenue in 1961 and this figure jumped to more than $500 million by 1965, by which time Americans were creating 14 billion copies a year.

Brooks describes the “mania” for copying as “a feeling that nothing can be of importance unless it is copied, or is a copy itself.” Xerography changed the nature of text distribution more than anything since the time of Gutenberg and stoked up hopes and fears akin to those experienced in the early days of the World Wide Web. When Brooks visited Xerox HQ in Rochester, New York, he found the that the company’s biggest concern, however, was figuring out how to support the United Nations — an admirable ideal, in many ways, but not that relevant to its core business.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center were developing several key elements of personal computing, including the desktop metaphor GUI and the mouse. These radical ideas were frowned upon by the board of directors on the East Coast, obsessed with their charitable giving, so they ordered the Xerox engineers to share the innovations with Apple. The rest is history.

It’s no surprise that Bill Gates, the entrepreneur and philanthropist, finds Brooks so instructive today.

At the paperfull office

Tuesday, 9 December, 2014 0 Comments

The term “The Paperless Office” was first used in business in 1994 by Computhink and the firm still owns the trademark. So, 20 years on, how is it working out? Well, Computhink has been joined by “agile document management” vendors like Alfresco, OnBase and M-Files in the battle to to make the office digital, but paper is proving stubborn. Many people still prefer it for reading longer documents and many companies still don’t understand what the paperless options are. Paper consumption per person is falling, according to the data, but the doubters insist that the paperless toilet will arrive before the paperless office. Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper argue that the paperless office is a myth, which is why they called their book The Myth of the Paperless Office.

office paper

Current reading: The Martian

Monday, 8 December, 2014 0 Comments

The Martian “I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this. We got to Earth orbit the normal way, through an ordinary ship to Hermes. All the Ares missions use Hermes to get to and from Mars. It’s really big and cost a lot so NASA built only one.

Once we got to Hermes, four additional unmanned missions brought us fuel and supplies while we prepared for our trip. Once everything was a go, we set out for Mars. But not very fast. Gone are the days of heavy chemical fuel burns and trans-Mars injection orbits.”

So says the narrator of The Martian by Andy Weir. The book has been a commercial and critical success: The Wall Street Journal called it “the best pure sci-fi novel in years,” and the film version, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, will be released in November next year.

The book is more topical than ever, considering the spectacular success of the Orion spacecraft, which soared into space on Friday before splashing down on target in the Pacific ocean. NASA says that Orion is destined to be the first of a fleet that will carry humans beyond the Moon to Mars. Opponent say that putting humans into space is futile, expensive, dangerous and ultimately harmful to science. They argue that robot craft represent the future of space exploration. It’s a debate that’s bound to get more heated in the coming years and The Martian offers a cautionary message:

The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send peo­ple to another planet for the very first time and expand the hori­zons of humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thing and came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love of the world.

Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. They got a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home.

Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Com­mander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.

What do you know? I’m in command.

I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crew die of old age. I presume they got back to Earth all right. Guys, if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do. In your position I would have done the same thing. I don’t blame you, and I’m glad you survived.

Before the stars have left the skies

Sunday, 7 December, 2014 0 Comments

The very seasonal Winter-Time is taken from A Child’s Garden of Verses, a famous collection of poetry for children by the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. The collection first appeared in 1885 under the title Penny Whistles.

Winter-Time

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 — 1894)

December star

Cucurucu

Saturday, 6 December, 2014 0 Comments

“In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.”

A verse there from The Piano by D.H. Lawrence. The poem served as the inspiration for Cucurucu by Nick Mulvey, and the musical influences were provided by the Santo Daime community of Brazil. The video clip was shot by National Geographic’s James Morgan on Nihiwatu Beach in Indonesia.

The Disruptive Polaroid

Friday, 5 December, 2014 0 Comments

To celebrate its 85th birthday, Businessweek has listed the 85 most disruptive ideas that have emerged during its lifetime. They range from GDP to the jet engine, and in between there’s the Pill, Singapore, <h1>HTML</h1>, Starbucks and the AK-47. When you mouse-over No. 84, it makes the whirring sound of a Polaroid picture being taken, and that’s because Edward Land’s innovation is adjudged to be one of the most disruptive ideas in recent times. In his tribute to the camera, Christopher Makos writes:

Polaroids were the first social network. You’d take a picture, and someone would say, “I want one, too,” so you’d give it away and take another. People shared Polaroids the way they now share information on social media. Of course, it was more personal, because you were sharing with just one person, not the entire world.

I met Andy Warhol in the ’70s at the Whitney Museum and started doing projects with him because he loved my photographs. He’d never had a pal who was a photographer, so I was his guru, showing him what cameras to buy, what pictures to take. Andy loved Polaroid. Everything was “gee whiz”; it was brand-new. So immediate.

Taking a selfie with a Polaroid is also very intimate. They weren’t called selfies back then, obviously. People weren’t as self-aware. We didn’t have 10 years of reality TV shows in the social consciousness. But Polaroid marked the beginning of self-awareness.

polaroids