Monday, July 08, 2013

Big Data, Apollo and Daphne

Over on oomkenscom, a small piece about Big Data...

Some see it as a huge, transformational boon for mankind, others as a fatal step to ever more intrusive state control - others still dismiss it as relatively meaningless.

All in all, it's probably a mix of each of those things.

Bernini's Apollo and Daphne
It reminds me of the legend of Apollo and Daphne, whom Eros confounded - with an arrow of love for Apollo, and an arrow of hate for Daphne.

When Apollo came close to catching Daphne, she begged her father Peneus to change her form, to prevent her being ravished. He duly turned her into a laurel tree - a tree Apollo tended with love and devotion, making her evergreen, using her leaves for honourable, sacred wreaths.

Normally interpreted as an alegory about lust and chastity, the myth can also be seen as a message about the state's lust for information about its citizens, and how this is resisted by the people, driving them to change the form of the data they share.

This interpretation implies that the people's actions will provoke a change of heart in the state, a perhaps unrealistic outcome.

But the power of myth illuminates the eternal better than enlightening us about the future - predictive outcomes (its advocates claim) are in the sphere of Big Data...

Friday, May 31, 2013

Latest Headlines from Germany

A selection of today's headlines:

1. "Wir Deutschen gelten als hartherzig" ("We Germans are seen as hard-hearted")

Says Martin Schulz, the President of the EU Parliament. Citing southern European countries' dissatisfaction with the draconian spending cuts Germany insists on to keep the €uro show on the road, he claims they think of Germans as "hardhearted, insensitive, self-righteous and condescending."

When it comes to national stereotypes, Schulz lags way behind Silvio Berlusconi who, when Prime Minister of Italy, (in)famously informed him:

2. "Heidi Klum - eine Perfektionistin wird 40" ("Heidi Klum - a perfectionist turns 40")

Ambitious Heidi's fathomlessly popular model competition show reached its final yesterday evening. The show was disturbed when topless protesters invaded the stage and confronted the supermodel with slogans saying Heidi's Horror Picture Show:

Curious how the bared breast has been reclaimed as feminism's most potent weapon...

3. "Junge Männer Trinken Zu Viel" ("Young Men Drink Too Much")

Who knew?

(All headlines taken from this morning's edition of the Rheinische Post)

translating keyserling's waves

Eduard von Keyserling, portrait by Lovis Corinth, circa 1900

Eduard von Keyserling's masterpiece of literary Impressionism, Waves (Wellen), first published in 1911, has never been properly translated into English.

This is a great shame: the book's a great read. It's about a young, beautiful countess, Doralice Köhne-Jasky, who leaves her ageing count for a poor painter.

The novel portrays the relationship of the couple, now shunned by society, in the setting of an isolated resort on the Bay of Puck in the Baltic Sea. The gorgeous Doralice attracts much male attention as her love for the painter is slowly compromised in the mundane relaity of everyday life.

The plot's glancing concern with the cuckolding of an ineffectual aristocrat by his spirited bride foreshadows Lady's Chatterley's Lover (published in 1928) although Keyserling's style is far more impartial, subtler and more ironic than Lawrence's.

The novel is now being translated into English by Freddie Oomkens (coincidentally a descendant of the Köhn von Jaski's and a distant kinsman of Keyserling's) who reports on his work on oomkenscom.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wagner Opera Censored for "Public Health"

Venus and Tannhäuser in a romantic clinch which sickened Düsseldorf opera-goers.

The Deutsche Oper am Rhein's controversial Nazi-era production of Tannhäuser was cancelled after its premiere in Düsseldorf on 4th May.

It has now been reduced to a concert performance.

In the director's staging, Venus, as an SS guard, first strips, shaves, then shoots a Jewish family of three, forcing Tannhäuser to join in the killing. In another scene, a glass crucifix containing naked victims is lowered as gas engulfs their writhing bodies, a graphic simulation of Nazi gas chambers.

The audience reacted with booing, walkouts and worse.

In the words of the Rheinoper's press office, the performance affected many in the public:
... both psychologically and physically with such evident stress that they had to seek medical treatment.
 (...sowohl psychisch als auch physisch zu einer offenbar so starken Belastung geführt haben, dass diese Besucher sich im Anschluss in ärztliche Behandlung begeben mussten.)

The Rheinoper press officer remarks:
After weighing up all the arguments we have concluded that we cannot justify such an extreme reaction to our artistic work.
 (Nach Abwägen aller Argumente sind wir zu dem Schluss gekommen, dass wir eine solch extreme Wirkung unserer künstlerischen Arbeit nicht verantworten können.)

The director, Burkhard Kosminski, said he was "shocked and speechless" at the decision to censor his staging of Wagner's masterpiece.

The Rheinoper's artistic director, Christoph Meyer, countered with reference to the responsibility to protect public health, adding: "In light of this responsibility, the opera management reject any accusation of censorship."

What a ninny Meyer is. Of course it is censorship. Censorship is always imposed in the interests of protecting some form of "public health" - and this kerfuffle in the 'Dorf is a text-book example of it in action.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

"Nazi Bride" on Trial in Munich

Beate Zschaepe, 38, is standing on trial in Munich for her alleged role in the murders of nine immigrants and a German policewoman between 2000 - 2007. She is also accused of two bombings and fifteen bank robberies.

The case has spawned some unsavoury nicknames in the German press - "die Nazi Braut" (the Nazi Bride) for the accused, "die Döner Mörder" (the Kebab Killings) for her alleged crimes.

The expression "Nazi bride" was coined because Zschaepe was the only female in the National Socialist Underground cell accused of the killings. Her two closest male accomplices committed suicide in November 2011, having been arrested for a failed bank robbery. After searching their burned-out truck, the police found a Ceska Browning handgun which had been used in all the killings, as well as a video showing the victims' bodies as a Pink Panther figure totted up the numbers.

This uncovered the trail to the murders and to Ms Zchaepe, who tried to burn down the apartment in the block where they had all lived (she is also being charged for attempted murder for that).

The expression "Die Döner Mörder" was coined because seven of the victims were Turkish, and one Greek, and some of them ran Kebab takeaway shops in their adopted country. This coinage has led to anti-racist protests.

More controversy arose when the initial assignment of press seats to the trial didn't allocate a single place to Turkish media. This has since been corrected, but coverage in Turkey, where Chancellor Merkel has already been the butt of Nazi-linked smears, remains highly sensitive to any anti-Turkish aspects of the case.

The big questions are:

 - whether this trial will bring justice to the victims' families


 - whether German justice can correct the impression that the investigation closed its eyes for far too long to the possibility that neo-Nazis were behind it, a blindness compounded by incompetent co-operation between the different police forces involved.

The trial is expected to take up to two years. Alongside Zschaepe, four other accomplices are facing charges.

Friday, April 12, 2013

No More Wulff

President Wulff of Germany resigned in February 2012 after a year and a half in the post.

His resignation came after a wave of bad press coverage, including revelations in the mass-market red-top Bild (with which Wulff had previously enjoyed rosy relations, based in part on his telegenic wife Bettina).

Bettina, President Wulff's ex-wife

 Wulff, having heard that Bild was about to publish details of an allegedly "soft" home loan, called the paper's editor to threaten him with "war" if the story went ahead. Hardly presidential, but no more criminal than the allegations were true.

A year later, Wulff - whose wife has since bolted for pastures greener, leaving him alone in an apartment in Hanover - is facing corruption charges. 20,000 pages of ludicrously petty charges have been compiled by four prosecutors and two dozen investigators.

The most serious charges involve €400 paid for drinks at the Oktoberfest in 2008, and €370 paid to a hotel on the island of Sylt in 2007. It is claimed that both bills were paid by a film producer friend of Wulff's. In exchange, Wulff is said to have asked a Siemens executive for financial backing for his friend's film.

The prosecutors offered to drop the charges if Wulff would pay them €20,000, tantamount to an admission of guilt. Wulff refrained and will contest the case. Good luck to him, too. This has all the hallmarks of a witch-hunt, conducted by media-whore prosecutors with twisted priorities, cheered on by a rabid, turncoat press.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Battle of Riade on the Unstrut, 15th March 933

Today, 1080 years ago, King Henry I of Germany inflicted a crushing defeat on the Magyars on the banks of the Unstrut River--the Battle of Riade.

The battle happened after Henry spurned the Magyar's demand for the tribute they were given each year to desist from their murderous raids. When the Magyar envoys came for their money, Henry had a dead dog thrown at their feet instead.

The victory was the first serious check the Magyars got and put a stop to their raids far into Germany--although their final defeat had to wait until 966, coming at the hands of Henry's son, Emperor Otto I.

In both battles the Holy Lance played a crucial role. The Lance, said to be the one Centurion Longinus used to pierce Jesus' side on the cross (the blood curing his blindness and convincing him to convert), had been given to Henry by its previous custodian, King Rudolf II of Burgundy.

A hugely significant relic in terms of establishing the credibility of the Ottonians, it was displayed during the sessions of prayer held before both battles.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Corporate Sustainability - Face-Saving Window Dressing?

Over the past decade, corporate sustainability has become a must-have for every international company, an essential part of their global branding platform.

Despite the billions invested in it, few companies' environmental talk is matched by their walk, as business tweeter Ramon Arratia argues in The Corporate Sustainability Beauty Contest on CSRWire.

Arratia argues that company CEO's are deluding themselves about their sustainability credentials:
A 2010 Accenture survey of global CEOs found that 81 percent thought sustainability issues were ‘fully embedded’ into the strategy and operations of their company. They really think that having a CSR team reporting to public affairs with a nicely designed 150k report with some cherry-picked case studies and a set of qualitative targets plus a few quantitative targets on quick wins is ‘fully embedded’!
He suggests a three point approach--focusing on the footprint of products rather than the image of companies.

It is a challenge to high-profile PR programmes like last week's announcement of The Global 100: World Leaders in Clean Capitalism (by Corporate Knights), which lists two oil companies in its top 5 and is (unsurprisingly) heavily weighted toward Western, wealthy north European countries.

One of the ironies of  growing "environmental awareness" is that--in terms of perceptions--saving the planet has become just another capitalist scam.