December 31, 2004

London-Paris

dblDckrParisParis dblDckrLondonLondon
Dec.28th-Dec.31 London-Paris return through channel Lamanche. Instinctive first response to a metro clutter a Paris, "sorry", on return to London I was about to order breakfast in French: "On aimera avoir deux croissants..."
I could commute this way daily.

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December 29, 2004

London Vignettes IV

December 24, 2004

London Vignettes III

December 23, 2004

London Motley II

A couple of fascinating facts about London: Early populations in the area date to 450 000 BC. 8500 years ago the melting ice caps made Britain into an Island separating it from the rest of Europe. From then on, conquerors and merchants had to use water vessels to reach it's shores. A Roman settlement of Londinium was established off the shores of Thames after 60AD. Roads were paved, bath houses built and the population started adopting Roman customs and dress. I walked along the London Wall to the Tower of London, and through to the other side where the Blackfriars Bridge stands, the full scope of the Old city. These remnants are there still today, partly lost, partly integrated into the modern city. How many inhabitants are aware daily of the generations of people who traced the same paths before them?... The Roman Empire disintegrated sometime during the 5th century AD and new tribes of Anglo Saxons who have the same cultural root as the population of South and West of Scandinavia, arrived.
West Saxon writers regularly speak of their own nation as a part of the Angelcyn and of their language as Englisc.(en.wikipedia.org)
Another fact which has been boggling my mind is the St. Paul Cathedral, it is massive and anachronistically stands out in the midst of a busy street where traffic lights flip on and off alternately. It was built in 604AD, but it stood as a wooden building then. Good. It was jokingly suggested to me, and I willingly started to suspect the Aliens for their help in hauling and mounting up the stones. The Cathedral in it's present state was completed in 1710. Designed by ChristopherWren. While walking along the Southbank today, I found a new monumental piece of architecture to obsess about, in fact more than one. My interest was sparked by the Blackfriar's bridge but my amazement applies to all bridges which need to be grounded in the river bed in freezing waters. The 6 bridges around central London were built in their currently resembling forms in the late 18th and 19th centuries. However a first form of the London Bridge was put in place by the Romans, pretty much in the same location in 80AD. Here is more interesting historical info about London's Bridges


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December 22, 2004

London Vignettes II

December 21, 2004

London Vignettes I

December 20, 2004

London Motley I

oxfSt2_12-19 oxfSt_12-19 Oxford Street, London.

Just as the multicolored fabric of 14th-16th century England, London is an amazing mixture of cultures and ethnicities.
French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, German, Hebrew, Italian and multitudes of other words, origins of which I don't recognize, breeze by as I am walking the streets... I love the weight of the British coins, they are dense and solid reminding me that English tradition and history are just as substantial. A friend of mine said: "London is a European New York", and it certainly looks that way. It is big, wide spread, fast paced and current. Yet, side streets are paved with cobble stones, outdoor neighborhood markets abound, quaint gourmet cheese stores and olive oil samples are there to visit and enjoy. Internet Cafes with Wifi access to which I am so accustomed living in San Francisco and practically can't do without, are inexistent except...Starbucks. These days, I find it to be one unintended yet positive effect the US capitalistic economy hungry for profit and expansion has on the rest of the world. It seems people here don't carry their work around, they come in to the coffee shops with friends and family to socialize. As much as in San Francisco, every coffee shop is populated by single individuals immersed in their books or portable computers, only occasionally glancing up and making conversation, in London, the majority is really out here to interact.

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December 10, 2004

Franchised Resistance in Ukraine

    Rules for revolution
    ·Opposition factions must unite behind one candidate
    ·Young activists should form group with catchy single-word name and potent slogan and symbol
    ·Employ graffiti, websites, irony and street comedy
    ·Use outside election monitors and exit polls
    ·Have lots of American money
    The Guardian

According to an article in last Sunday's NY Times the very word u-krajin (Ukraine) suggests "a location at the edge". Coincidentally, the results of the preliminary elections held on October 31st 2004, were razor blade close: Yanukovych 39.32% and Yushchenko 39.87%. Runoff elections held on November 21st favored Viktor Yanukovych (49.42% vs 46.69% votes for Yushchenko) . Widespread acts of civil disobedience ensued, as many international observers and Yuschenko's supporters cried foul and declared the election as rigged. All that in a country which hasn't been very fervorous politically, in the past. The surprising vote turn out - 75%, and the ardor and determination of millions of protesters were unprecedented. The flocking of International representatives to Kiev and foreign interest attracted by the election were perplexing. The main stream media in America reports only the superficial events which lead to very simple and predictable conclusions such as the worn out argument that the conflict is due an old East vs West division in Ukraine:
    The western, mostly agricultural, and central parts roughly correspond with the former territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century. They are considered more pro-Western, with the population mostly Ukrainian-speaking and Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uniate) in the west or Ukrainian Orthodox in the center, and have voted predominantly for Yushchenko. The industrial eastern part, including the Crimean Autonomous Republic, where the links with Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church are much stronger, and which contains many ethnic Russians and fewer Ukrainians, is a Yanukovych stronghold.(http://en.wikipedia.org)

As much as most of it is very true, it turns out that the unrest in Ukraine has been initiated and cultivated by a group expert in Western branding and mass marketing techniques. Same group which was the driving force behind ousting of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. The Orange Revolution wasn't a result of spontaneous combustion, as the white lie of withholding information in main stream media leads the public to believe.
According to The Guardian, the kids behind the computer consoles are financed, supported and influenced by the U.S. State Department and US AID along with the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros's Open Society Institute.
I admit that the CIS does not know how to deal with fair and vocal Opposition and needs a lesson in Democracy. I agree that the Ukrainian people will benefit from this injection of free speech initiative. The effort will overall provide a counter charge to the clear majority rule to which the Russian states are so accustomed. A healthy political balance is that of constant push and pull between a couple of dominant parties, not an autocracy of a clear majority. Yet there is something very distasteful about such foreign intervention, no matter how well intentioned. It assumes a demeaned capacity of a sovereign people to fully govern themselves, it implies an absolute superiority of a single political ideology, it practices proselytism not for philanthropic reasons but for personal gain. Simply put, it stinks.

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December 09, 2004

Magna Charta , 8 centuries of trying

By Charles Dickens, "A Childs History of England":
    On Monday, the fifteenth of June, one thousand two hundred and fourteen, the King came from Windsor Castle, and the Barons came from the town of Staines, and they met on Runny-Mead, which is still a pleasant meadow by the Thames, where rushes grow in the clear water of the winding river, and its banks are green with grass and trees...
    On the side of the Barons, came the General of their army, Robert Fitz_Walter, and a great concourse of the nobility of England. With the King, came, in all, some forty and twenty persons of any note, most of whom despised him, and were merely his advisers in form. On that great day, and in that great company, the King signed Magna Charta - the great charter of England - by which he pledged himself to maintain the Church in its rights; to relieve the Barons of oppressive obligations as vassals of the Crown - of which the Barons, in their turn, pledged themselves to relieve their vassals, the people; to respect the liberties of London and all other cities and boroughs; to protect foreign merchants who came to England; to imprison no man without a fair trial; and to sell, delay, or deny justice to none.
How many times since that day, has humanity pledged tolerance to others and respect of civil liberties? With 800 years of practice, we are still failing to meet the noble standards.

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December 06, 2004

Livid

    "It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial
    repositories, put together well after the languages they
    define. The roots of language are irrational and of a
    magical nature."
    -Jorge Luis Borges, Prologue to "El otro, el mismo."

Simple word definitions aren't satisfying to me. I Need to know the history, the origin, the root, the possible morphemes and derivatives. Words aren't flat (in print or sound), they have height, thickness, weight. They are tactile in the way they roll off the tongue or are stubbornly difficult to eject while lodged somewhere behind the soft palate. I was very glad to come across Etymonline...
The author of the site explains the motive behind his initiative to which I can fully relate since it was a source of constant frustration to me, that is Before having found Etymonline:
    I began this project after I looked one day for a free dictionary of word origins online and found that there was none. You could subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary for $550 a year. [As of January 2004, OED Online is now available by annual subscription to individuals for $295 a year, and has recently introduced monthly subscriptions for $29.95.] There were free dictionaries with definitions, some lists of slang words and their sources, and some sites that listed a few dozen of the strangest etymologies of English words. But there was no comprehensive public list of the words we use every day -- words like the and day -- that told what they used to be before we got them.

You can also Sponsor a Word . Today I feel like sponsoring the word livid .
Here is the "candy":
    1622, "of a bluish-leaden color," from M.Fr. livide, from L. lividus, from livere "be bluish," from PIE *(s)liwos-, from base *(s)li- "bluish" (cf. O.C.S., Rus. sliva "plum;" Lith. slywas "plum;" O.Ir. li, Welsh lliw "color, splendor," O.E. sla "sloe"). The sense of "furiously angry" (1912) is from the notion of being livid with rage.
The site also collates other web entries. This one is fantastically visual :
    adj 1: ash-colored or anemic looking from illness or emotion; "a face turned ashen"; "the invalid's blanched cheeks"; "tried to speak with bloodless lips"; "a face livid with shock"; "lips...livid with the hue of death"- Mary W. Shelley; "lips white with terror"; "a face white with rage" [syn: ashen, blanched, bloodless, white] 2: (of a light) imparting a deathlike luminosity; "livid lightning streaked the sky"; "a thousand flambeaux...turned all at once that deep gloom into a livid and preternatural day"- E.A.Poe 3: furiously angry; "willful stupidity makes him absolutely livid" 4: discolored by coagulation of blood beneath the skin; "beaten black and blue"; "livid bruises" [syn: black-and-blue]

    Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University


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December 04, 2004

Interactive lessons at an Interactive Co.

Learning through Play
I don't have to wear stockings and suits to work, I don't have to clock in and out. I Can customize my work space, wear colored streaks in my hair and video game play is an expected daily task. The company I work for attempts to provide an alternative work environment where personal responsibility ranks high, involvement and initiative are appreciated, creativity is expected...
It aligns itself with "The Deep Dive" innovation ideology pioneered by Ideo. Ideo's motto is: "enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius." Dave Kelly, the head of Ideo demonstrated Ideo's creative process at work, in a 1999 ABC interview while his team completely redesigned a supermarket shopping cart in 5 days. The design team constituted of members from a broad spectrum of seemingly unrelated disciplines, an Engineer, a Biologist, a Psychologist, a Linguist and more. They each brought to the table specific expertise which in itself was insufficient, but most essential when folded in together with the inputs of others. The group met each morning and their minds were let lose to brainstorm in what Kelly defined as "focused chaos". Within this non hierarchical dynamic, the wildest, most idiosyncratic ideas were encouraged. It was the teams purpose to push the limits of imagination and it was the team's lead's responsibility to keep their effort focused on target, assure it's feasibility and deliverability on time and within budget. The team worked in quick iterative revisions, moving on to prototyping as early as on the second day. Initially smaller sub-groups were formed and each presented a solution, best features of all approaches were selected and a second combined prototype was built. On day 5, a brand new shopping cart was unveiled. It was the result of most brilliant and collaborative, wisely and graciously managed team effort I ever witnessed. The secret of Ideo's success is rooted in the company's unconventional work ethic and company culture. Employees are encouraged to freely express their personalities and play up their eccentricities. Not only they're allowed, but expected to debate and provide alternative solution to those of their superiors. An approach of: experiment first, ask for forgiveness later is preferred over traditional approval seeking.
My company is Electronic Arts which is managing a work practice crisis only recently publicized in LA and NY Times. As a recent hire, I am not in a position to counter argue the experiences of other long time employees. I know this however, I like the non conventional work culture EA is aiming at. The lessons of Ideo, could have been thoroughly chewed by the higher ups, and brought down on us in forms of imposed policies and work structures. Instead, EA has every single employee attend a pre-production workshop, where through group work and play, with the aid of slides and videos, we are guided to derive the desired conclusions about the value of personal input, low - to high fidelity iterative thought process, quick prototyping and team work. Each and every one of us is left to decide how much of the new lessons he/she will assimilate and put in practice if any at all. One of the company slides suggested:
    Imperfect process plus commitment equals = improvement.
    Perfect process plus apathy = bureaucracy.

Indoctrinated I stand.

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December 01, 2004

Jews, a sui generis?

In my last post, "Integration vs Assimilation, the Gasterbeiter" I reflect on the present day clash of cultures, that of the Muslim Arabs within the Secular Western Europe. I can't help but draw a parallel to not so distant time, when antoher Semitic Religious minority was interspersed within the European, and that time, predominantly Christian society - the Jews...
Note: I am using the term "Anti-Semitism" literally, as applying to the negative sentiment against people of Semitic descent.
Following the Holocaust, a lot of effort has been put into trying to understand the leading causes and the socio-political circumstances which allowed such horrible event to take place. Jewish self introspection as well as external commentary point to the Jews' reclusion and disinterest in Integration into the host societies as a component which possibly exasperated Anti-Semitism. In that respect, both xen-societies share geographically and historically similar setup for disaster. Under the Scapegoat theory, if the EU found itself in a midst of a national or I should say multi-national crisis with it's Economy in a donwhirl spin, the Muslim minority would be on the fore front of an Anti-Semitic sentiment followed only slightly behind by Xenophobia towards the East Europeans whose Mother Lands have only recently joined the Union, and who are already on the move West, in search for better economic opportunities. Moreso, it is clear that popular society in Germany for example, isn't in step with it's State attempts to accept and accommodate the Religious quirks and demands of it's Muslim minority. Arguably, this may be an element contributing to the rise of Anti-Semitism. If any thing can be learned from the Jewish experience, it maybe:
    Pierre Birnbaum (1992) offers a very different theory of the rise of anti-Semitism and of anti-Semitic variation among societies. Birnbaum attributes the rise of modern anti-Semitism to popular reaction against the strong state. Where a strong state is perceived as having imposed on society the emancipation of the Jews,anti-Semitism tends to be strong (for example, Germany and France). On the other hand, where the state is relatively weak and Jews obtained equal rights through society rather than the state, anti-Semitism tends to be muted (for example, the USA and Great Britain) (Birnbaum, 1992: 6–10, 227–8).

This theory is admittedly disputed in International Political Science Review (2004), Vol 25, No. 1, 35–53, but nevertheless is only one of the plethora of hind sight speculations on why were the Jews on the receiving end of such intense hatred that they were deemed unworthy of occupying space on this planet. The study "Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust" offers this insight:
    From the perspective of this article what made anti-Semitism different from other forms of xenophobia or dislike of minorities is that Jew hatred is more multifaceted than other kinds of prejudice. White prejudice against blacks typically embraced a racial form of dislike, while persecution of Armenians and Greeks in Bulgaria usually revolved around economic fears, and antipathy toward Irish Catholics or Italian Catholics in the USA during the 19th century largely took a form of religious hatred. Popular anti-Semitism, by contrast, incorporated religious, economic, racial, and political prejudice. Consequently, Jews were disliked and feared for their religious beliefs and attitudes, their so-called racial characteristics, perceived economic behavior and power, and their assumed leadership or support of subversive political and social movements. That popular anti-Semitism embodied numerous forms may help explain why Jews rather than other minorities were frequently sought out as scapegoats or useful targets during periods of both worldwide and national difficulties. It may also help explain why other traditional “middlemen groups” such as the Greeks in the Balkans, the Syro-Lebanese in West Africa and Latin America, the Parsis in India, and the Scots in South Africa and many parts of Canada rarely experienced the magnitude of persecution encountered by Jews (Zenner, 1987: 256–7).


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