Portable Grundgesetz

Celebrating democracy in Germany is rare. We take it for granted that democracy persists, as most of us have not experienced it otherwise in Germany. This is grossly mistaken as the opinion polls show repeatedly in recent years. Therefore, it is welcome to find the “Portable Grundgesetz” at the “Demokratiefest” in Berlin and Bonn at the event to celebrate 75 years of democracy in West Germany and 35 years in East Germany.
The century-old tradition to produce miniature books has been revived and the miniature books have been widely distributed at the event. A side effect consists in the eco-friendliness of this version, which saves a lot of paper. It is fun also fun to turn pages rapidly and discover some paragraphs which we would not have read otherwise. “Daumenkino” is the German word for versions that contain many images. Maybe next time, an illustrated and/or animated version of the Grundgesetz could encourage youth to celebrate using the texts, §s and images to discover the fundamentals of our constitution.
325 years ago, Weigel the Elder has illustrated, edited and published such a tiny edition of the Bible. It is currently exposed in the treasure museum at the “Kulturwerk” in the “Stabi Ost” in Berlin. “Back to the Future”, lots of ideas we get by taking archives seriously. By chance inspiration is undervalued. Search algorithms have a hard time to replace this in an effective way so far.

Competence Nature

Nature can be approached without competence. Emotional attachment is fine. If we delve deeper into the issue, we realize that a lot of processes that have evolved over years or even centuries are hard to study. The learning about nature is manifold and many scientific disciplines deal with nature in the broad sense of the word.
Today the study of nature is scattered across so many disciplines that an overall view of the field seems hard to achieve. This creates a problem to teach a competence to deal with topics around nature. Water, air, species, soil, climate or reproduction are all topics in which we have to make far-reaching individual and collective choices. This requires adequate competences to allow judgments about opportunities and risks involved.
For more than 100 years now we have researched education systems and processes, but the competences to talk and explain basic processes in nature are still scarce. Classification systems are a static way to sort nature into categories. Processes of evolution and development have more or less human input.
We all gain if we keep an eye on education and learning processes that have been applied years ago. The field of the history of education provides clues about some forgotten approaches. Learning about nature and how to acquire competence in the field has been an issue in this field for at least 100 years. It is time to test some of these approaches again to see what went wrong in learning about nature. Man-made climate change is only at the end of a causal chain of things and people moving in the wrong direction. We probably have to press the reset button and start from scratch with the learning and the tracing of wrong decisions. Maybe, the start is the appreciation of a splendid bouquet of flowers. Want to know more? Try to grow and assemble them yourself.

Mangel Armut

Herta Müller hat bereits 2012 in „Das Chinesische Glasauge“ sehr treffend die Funktion von Mangel und Armut in Diktaturen beschrieben. Sowohl der ständige Mangel als auch die Armut dienen als Instrumente der Macht. Sie sind quasi die Fortsetzung von Ideologie zur Beherrschung der Massen. Zusammen bilden sie die Umgebung, den Kontext in dem dort gelebt wird. Die Herrschenden jedoch haben Privilegien, die sie von der Allgemeinheit absetzen. Diese knappe Beschreibung und Einleitung zur Kurzgeschichte haben eine große Portion Allgemeingültigkeit. In Mangel und Armut können kleine Vergünstigungen eine viel größere Wirkung entfachen. Sehnsüchte nach mehr werden nahezu zwingend hervorgebracht. Allein die Aussicht auf ein teilweises Stillen der Erwartungen oder nach mehr entfachen weiteres „höriges“ Verlangen. In Diktaturen werden die Personen, die unaufhörlich auf die Armut und den Mangel hinweisen meist geächtet oder sogar ins Exil gezwungen. Solche Störenfriede sind nicht gern gesehen. Das Russland unter Putin braucht Leute der herrschenden politischen Klasse zujubeln und bereitwillig in den Krieg ziehen oder an der Kriegsmaschinerie mitwirken. Wir sind mehr als eine Dekade weiter, aber diese Zusammenhänge bestehen ebenfalls weiter. Schmuck in der Mangelwirtschaft ist bereits eine Provokation. Das offene Tragen der Provokation kann im schlimmsten Fall das Leben kosten.
(Image: Herta Müller, 2023, Eine Fliege kommt durch einen halbern Wald, Carl Hanser Verlag, “Das Chinesische Glasauge”, S.50-61)

Democracy celebrates

With all the bad experiences of Nazi-Germany and the failure to defend democracy in Germany against its fascist enemies in the 1930s, it was a pleasure to celebrate democracy in Germany together with a huge crowd. 3 days of information and party around the major institutions of democracy Parliament, government, federal governments, constitutional court and all ministries joining in with pavilions in the parks nearby allowed a bottom up feeling of democracy. Visiting the chancellery as well as the parliament in a single day shows the openness of these institutions and the ease of access to our political system. People of all ages and all walks of life strolled around and enjoyed the day. Freedom to voice your opinion was easy and many took their time to do it. Civil society organizations were a natural part of the show. We seem prepared to stand up for our democratic values and principles. This will be tested in all the forthcoming elections.

Freiheit aushalten

Frei von Zwang zu sein, ist eine tolle Erfahrung.
Frei zu sein, das zu tun, was man möchte ist die Fortsetzung des Gedankens.
Eine lange philosophische Tradition (freedom & democracy) lässt sich inetwa so kurz zusammenfassen. Negative Freiheit, also nicht irgendwelchen Zwängen zu unterliegen, frei von Religionszwang oder Zwang zur Arbeit, war über Jahrhunderte das überragende Ziel der Freiheits-, im Sinne von Befreiungsbewegungen.
Wir haben diese “passive” Vorstellung von Freiheit durch eine “aktive”, positive Form von Freiheit ergänzt. Die Freiheit etwas zu tun oder der aktiven Teilhabe an der Gesellschaft ist zu einem weiteren leitenden Gedanken des modernen Freiheitsbegriffs geworden. Entwicklungschancen von Kindern zeigen die Bedeutung der aktiven Gestaltung von Freiheit für die kindliche Entwicklung und die Bedeutung der Teilhabe an Gesellschaft auf. Alleine frei zu sein von Zwang führt noch nicht zu einer altersgerechten Entwicklung von Kindern. Positives Gestalten ist notwendig, damit Kinder ihre Potentiale über die Zeit Die Freiheit des Anderen selbst aushalten zu können, ist eine weitere notwendige Bedingung von Gesellschaft und unserem Freiheitsbegriff. Das fällt zuweilen recht schwer. Die Bienenzucht des einen kann dem Bienenstichallergiker buchstäblich zum Verhängnis werden. Wieviel freie Rede ja, aber Hassrede nein, müssen wir aushalten. Dürfen sich diese Konventionen über die Zeit hinweg verändern? Wenn ja, wie weit? Wir haben viel Gesprächsbedarf, um ständig unserer “kommunikatives Handeln” zu beraten und zu überprüfen.
In Zeiten von Wahlen und Wahlkämpfen ist das Schild “Freiheit aushalten, eine Aufforderung doch öfters mal hinzuhören selbst wenn uns vielfache Aussagen bereits als abwegig erscheinen.
Von “Ausfahrt freihalten” hin zu “Freiheit aushalten”.

Einfahrt freihalten

Wir alle kennen die Schilder „Einfahrt freihalten“ auf dem Lande und in den Städten. Alle Personen, die eine Art von Garage oder Einfahrt für ihr Zuhause, Firmengelände oder Grundstück haben, sehen sich früher oder später gezwungen andere Personen auf die Einfahrtsmöglichkeit extra hinzuweisen. Ohne Hinweisschild könnte sich jemand die Freiheit nehmen, genau an dieser Stelle sein Vehikel abzustellen und die Ein- und Ausfahrt zu blockieren. Derartiger ziviler Ungehorsam oder einfach Faulheit eine andere, weniger anstößige Parkgelegenheit zu suchen, verleitet ständig zu leidenschaftlich geführten Streitigkeiten. Einsätze vom Ordnungsamt, der Polizei und einem Abschleppdienst gehören zu den üblichen Folgewirkungen. Rechtlich verbriefte Eigentumsrechte gehören in vielen Ländern der Erde zu den höchsten Rechtsgütern.
Interessant sind die verschiedenen Spielarten von „Einfahrt freihalten“ in der deutschen Sprache. „Ausfahrt freihalten“, beispielsweise, suggeriert die Bedeutung des raschen Verlassens, eventuell zu einem Einsatz. Zeitdruck bei der Heimkehr oder beim Wegfahren lassen auf die Begründung der Nachdrücklichkeit der Aufforderung schließen, bitte Ausfahrt freihalten.
Die neueste Berliner Variante der Aufforderung, bitte hier nicht parken, heißt „Freiheit aushalten“. Können wir die Freiheit der Person aushalten, jederzeit dieses Gelände zu verlassen oder zu befahren. Das ist anscheinend eine große Herausforderung an der viele Personen ständig scheitern und ihre eigene Parkfreiheit über die Freiheitsrechte der anderen Personen stellen. Gesellschaftliche und rechtliche Prinzipien lassen sich manchmal an alltäglichen Kleinigkeiten verdeutlichen.

Competence Gardening

Primary Schools in Berlin have the possibility to participate in the “Gartenarbeitsschule”, the school with learning goal of gardening. It is an interesting option to go out into the real world and deal with nature, sustainability, consumption, climate and many other topics. Voltaire could complement the curriculum in philosophy with his biographical links to gardening. The access to the fields is easy next to one of the central train stations and a larger urban reforestation project as just one example of the 15 overall in Berlin in 2024. (Südkreuz, Südgelände). Hands-on experience of gardening can address multiple forms of problem-solving competencies. Beyond the use of AI, a major advantage is the possibility to train collaborative problem-solving. Beyond the multifactorial approach in determining what to plant, the organization of the implementation and individual contributions towards the realization, all these elements are learning goals. The scope of learning qualifies gardening for learning well beyond primary school as well. It is a nice example of lifelong and lifewide learning even a hundred years after their wider applications in Berlin.

Gardening School, Berlin 2024

Competence Handwriting

The acquisition of handwriting as a competence has been important for centuries. In primary schools this technique is exercised as a foundation for the performance in other cultural techniques like language writing and even calculus. Therefore, it has been beneficial to make sure children acquire basic competences in handwriting. This has not changed much, although the time devoted to perfection of the technique has been reduced over generations. We still have some memories of people who have made the handwriting or the pencils used a case of distinction. At the enlightenment period a lot of authors drafted their thoughts and manuscripts in handwriting and our museums or biographies are proud to show off handwriting of authors, artists or composers. In some of those we are able to retrieve the thought process behind the writing. The editing, crossing out, adding sentences or correcting words are traces to dive deeper into these creative processes.
Currently, we are less sure, whether in the age of AI we should still rely much on this old technique of handwriting. If we just treat it as one of many competences to be or become creative yourself, we are on the right track. The PISA studies by OECD include problem-solving as a crucial competence. Handwriting or drafting first steps of a solution might still be useful. A handwritten sketch of a solution might guide the elaboration of the more encompassing solution.
Another interesting feature of handwriting is the cross-cultural element of it. We feel easily compassion for a handwritten document. The psychomotor competence of handwriting is fascinating across continents. It has distinguished us from other species as well. The evolutionary steps are important elements of a learning process. Nostalgic feelings about handwriting do not help anybody, but children are well-advised to still keep an eye on their handwriting competence as part of or first step in problem solving, even if it is just to formulate the question they are interested in.

Patient Empowerment

The empowerment of patients is a well-established practice in the treatment of diabetes. Measuring your own blood sugar and adjusting your medication to the self-monitored data is common practice. For patients with high blood pressure this patient empowerment is less prevalent. A medical study carried out in Valencia (Spain) by Martínez-Ibáñez et al. (2024) has tested the effects of such a self-monitoring and self-medication experiment.
The results publishes in (JAMA) gave rise to considerable attention in the profession as the empowerment of patients is one way out of the likely increasing shortage of medical professionals in aging societies. Whereas other studies found that total costs to the medical system might increase, the study in Spain provides evidence of the cost-reduction effect of such an empowerment. 24 months after the beginning of the trial. After the establishment of a “medication based on an individualized prearranged plan used in primary care” the self-administering participants achieved a significant decrease in their blood pressure that lasted until the end of the study after 2 years. The drop-outs of the study seem to follow a random pattern.
The conclusion gives support to the potential of patient empowerment in the widespread treatment of higher blood pressure beyond the regular visits of medical doctors. The monitoring of changes in lifestyle add to this to keep the costs of health care under control in aging societies.

Schinkel Winkel

Was wäre Berlin ohne Schinkel. Die Berlinerin sagt sogar, „in jedem Winkel steht ein Schinkel“. Das trifft das historische Berlin schon recht gut. Am Charlottenburger Schloss mit seinem schönen rechteckigen Parkanlagen, ganz nah, steht das sogenannte „Schinkel Palais“, genauer heißt es das Neuer Pavillon. Wenn Könige reisen ließen sie schon mal ganz gerne eine Kopie einer schönen Architektur in ihrem Park anfertigen. Das Vorbild eines italienischen Palazzos war hinreichend eindrucksvoll, um Schinkel mit einem Nachbau zu beauftragen. Viele rechte Winkel ließ der Schinkel mauern. Die verhältnismäßig kleinen Innenräume sind heute mit zeitgenössischen Bildern ausstaffiert. Da darf der Caspar David Friedrich natürlich nicht fehlen. 200 Jahre nach Beginn des Bauens am Schinkel Pavillon lässt sich noch recht gut sozusagen in die Epoche eintauchen. In einem etwas abgelegenen Winkel vom großen Schloss lässt sich somit die Zeitreise architektonisch Fortsetzen und mit weiteren Kunstgegenständen verknüpfen. Es ergibt sich so eine „dichte Beschreibung“ der Berlin prägenden Epoche.

Schinkel Pavillon 2024-5

Jury Competition

We can enjoy a lot of competitions in the field of the arts. In each of these competitions there is a different kind of rationale about how to judge the performances of candidates. The composition and competence of the members of the jury are of particular importance. We all tend to agree on this. However, the basic aim or direction of the competition needs to be defined or even redefined from time to time. Some perceive a competition useless if for example nobody takes notice of the results or the event. A good fight or drama within the jury helps to attract attention to it even if candidates suffer at times. The Belgian Music competition „Concour de la Reine Elisabeth“ has an annual major competition of young musicians competing for the beginning of a career as soloist. All phases of the competition are up for streaming so we all can watch and form our own opinions on the many candidates. It is not just the solo performance which counts but also the team performance with orchestra and the openness to new compositions in the realm of classical music. There is no vote of the public (yet?) like in the widely followed „European song contest“ but public acclaim does not leave a jury unmoved I believe. Tough work for jurors to single out small differences of fairly high standards to even enter the competition. The success of a jury has probably another evaluation criteria which consists in the follow up of candidates 5 or 10 years after the event or the awards. The making or destroying of careers as solo performers might hinge on very small differences on a single day. One competition with several prizes awarded is an encouraging way to promote musicians or other artists.

Concours de la Reine Elisabeth 2024 RTBF

Dietrich Gabin

In French cinema Jean Gabin is a much adored person. Equally, Marlene Dietrich had, probably an even more far reaching international career. Both were accomplished and successful actors long before the 2nd world war broke out. In the U.S both fell in love and had a long lasting romance together. Their war time activities and “engagement” in fighting Nazi-Germany were extraordinary. It meant that both took active roles to use their charisma to mobilize people and soldiers to fight for freedom.
Shortly after the war then, both made a last attempt to work together in a movie production, but it could not unite the couple again. The “Deutsche Kinemathek” displays currently a page from the Diary of the “Diva” to underscore to what extent “Dietrich” was depressed about the break-up of their longer lasting love affair. Some say Gabin was the only person who quit her, all (most?) other relationships were terminated by the Diva. The junctions of biographies are hard to predict. The circumstances of the 2nd world war and internalized civic obligations to fight for freedom and democracy were wholeheartedly shared by both, but eventually they grew apart nevertheless. Tough experiences even for the much adored persons on the forefront of the stages worldwide. There seem to be many instances of repetition of the same story not only in movies, but also in real life.
Image: Deutsche Kinemathek Museum 2024-5

Image History

The archives of the history of movies and/or television show to us the multiple ways how images capture our attention and memories. Visual narratives are an own category of our personal and collective memory. The wide range of visual experiences are a powerful way to influence. Not only the movies and stories matter, but the whole range of images associated with the cinema world. Poster collections, newspapers and today the so-called social media multiply the original images. The Deutsche Kinemathek allows a special, critical understanding of image history as Germany has been using and abusing images and movies in a very manipulating manner historically. The message is: do not take images for face value. The ways and techniques to manipulate images have been widely used and are all around us today. Whereas the mass media in previous decades have dominated the collective memories we have entered into an era with many more subcultures that evolve within their own bubble of images. An original attempt to cut 65 movies of German film history into less than 4 minutes is presented in the exhibition (Milkowski and Simbeni). It focuses on gestures and “les regards”, “Blicke”, how the actresses and actors seem to look at us. Eyes capture attention, and this as soon as we open our eyes as children. Our brain works as image recorder and our memory algorithms tend to favor image recognition while processing images continuously. We do not know much about our own image sorting algorithm or algorithms yet. Research on aging of the brain gives some hints. With declining short term memory the images stored in long term memory take the upper hand. This makes an understanding of the history of images even more important.

Deutsche Kinemathek

Just in the vicinity of the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin you’ll find the Deutsche Kinemathek, the museum movies, actors, actresses, directors and the history of cinema in Germany. There is a small specialized library in the Kinemathek that allows to dive not only into journals and books, but also video material, scenarios and accessories. Of course, you will find a lot of material on all sorts of movie stars (heroines) over more than a hundred years. The “Divas” of the industry take up a large part of the exhibition. “Marlene Dietrich” much more than “Hildegard Knef“, the former born and the latter lived for a long time in Berlin-Schöneberg (Berlin-Pretty-Hill as some locals call it nowadays). The 2 Divas probably caused the funny translation. Anyway, the hall in the Kinemathek which is exclusively devoted to Marlene Dietrich impresses with a lot of glamour and mirrors around.
For those with not only a biographical, but also life course interest in cinema cherish the public access to the library. The most impressive table there is the desk with access to the Ukrainian movies and about cinema in Ukraine. A list with QR-codes allows you to readily approach the recent developments before and during the Russian aggression on Ukraine (See image below). After all Potsdamer Platz in Berlin was a hot-spot of the cold war period in the divided Berlin. A little bit of a “Metropolis-atmosphere” can still be felt. The Kinemathek explains well what this is all about.

Deutsch Deutscher

In English grammer we use comparative adjectives to express that something or someone has changed or undergoing change. Germany might have become more German. The second usage is to make comparisons not only between two points in time, but between two statuses or of two artefacts more generally. The statement “Deutschland wird deutscher”, therefore, intends to describe an ongoing process or the transition process from one state to the other. This statement as such does not offer any explanation or definition of the original state, nor of the second point of reference. It might just describe the dynamics or the direction of the dynamics. In this example it deals with social dynamics. Germany in the 21st century is posing more questions about its identity and future directions than some time ago. The artist Katharina Sieverding has put up this reflection as a poster on walls to provoke discussions about the way to identify and deal with German identities in the early 1990s, shortly after re-unification of the 2 parts of Germany (Image below from “Nationalgalerie für Gegenwartskunst, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin” 2024-5).
30 years later we are scared by a ruthless right-wing extremist and brutal movement that takes to the streets and commits crimes.
It is no surprise that the Higher Administrative Court in Cologne has confirmed that the “BfV’s classification of the party AfD and of its youth organisation as a “Verdachtsfall” (subject of extended investigation to verify a suspicion) as well as the publicising of this classification to be lawful“.
It is a step ahead to become “deutscher” if we battle out such decisions in courts rather than by force on the streets, although this has failed once in German history already. The poster action by Katharina Sieverding is a reminder to monitor and deal with these topics continuously, albeit the knifes may be coming in closer than before. Being frightened is no option in order to defend democratic values. 

Camparing Covid-19

In the middle of May 2024 we tend to believe the Covid-19 pandemic is over. However, towards the beginning of the year 2024 in the U.S. we observed at the peak about 2500 deaths per week. In Germany deaths/week amounted to 250. Compared to the overall population size killing is more pervasive in the U.S. than in Germany. The map of the specialized agency “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” (CDC) in the U.S. shows the coastal regions to be more affected than the center. Population density seems to be still a driver of the spread of infections, illness and deaths. The timeline of deaths due to Covid-19 infections for Germany follows a broadly similar pattern, albeit on a lower level even if roughly accounting for population size (RKI-data). As we tend to forget what the pandemic caused as social and economic disaster in societies, we have to stay alert as the major prevention of Covid-19. Learn to live with the virus around us. This means to keep up our preventive levels of hygiene as well as monitoring of trends.
Many thanks to all those who do the sometimes boring number crunching for us. This includes the medical doctors who bother to do the timely reporting of new infectious diseases on a regular basis.

Killing me softly

The problem with pollution is, it is killing you softly from inside. It is almost impossible to escape air pollution as it is pervasive in cities, but also in the countryside where you do not expect it that much. This is the result of the study by Kuzma et al. (2024) published in “The Lancet Regional Health Europe”. Based on a data set of 8 million persons from Eastern Poland the effects of air pollution on myocardial infarction incidence was analysed. The use of the “European Union’s Earth Observation Programme” contributed data on air pollutants like PMs, BaP (benzo(a)pyrene), SO2 and NO2 concentrations. The multi-level data of 5 voivodeships, 101 counties, and 709 communities in Poland allows to differentiate the effects of damage to the heart tissue on cardiovascular disease. The other well-known factors are arterial hypertension, diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, hyperlipidaemia, and smoking as most of us know already. The effects of  BaP (benzo(a)pyrene) is shown for rural areas despite the lower observed traffic density in these areas. The killing occurs softly from within our bodies by just breathing in and out, and in and out continuously. The disease burden in these regions is observed with “recorded 63,154 hospitalizations and 5921 in-hospital deaths (9.4%) due to STEMI; and 76,543 hospitalizations and 4079 (5%) in-hospital deaths due to NSTEMI”. In short, the need to reduce air pollution further is an urgent demand that saves lives eventually.
(Image from public domain wikipedia or “do-it-yourself” here).

Attune Spheres

In Berlin it is easy to walk through the history of art to up-to-date contemporary art installations. Just walk from the Alte to the Neue and then to the Contemporary Nationalgalerie. With the installation and performance in the monumental Hamburger Bahnhof the artist Alexandra Pirici succeeds in an extraordinary way the combined impression of several art formats. I felt particularly attracted by the sound and resonance that the dancers achieved in the huge historical hall of the former train station. Embedded in a choreography that spans the whole hallway and the top of a sand dune, the ideas of „Attune“ bring in demonstrations of scientific experiments as well. We are reflecting on how structures, biological, physical or geologic processes coexist. It is another example of the intersection of biological, psychological and social phenomena. The links between science and art are more direct than what most people tend to believe. This encompassing experience catches all our senses and our mind. It is very likely that this intense experience in the museum space, which attunes our sensory perception of the artwork, sticks with us for longer than many other pieces of art. The 21st century will reveal an even more powerful language of art as it incorporates even more formats to grab our attention and imagination. The research of how patterns are formed is an important question for social scientists as well. All approaches to the subject are welcome and each one reveals our knowledge gaps despite remarkable progress. (Image: Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin 2024-5-11, Alexandra Pirici)

Silent Pandemic

There is a pandemic that is silently spreading across countries and continents. It only indirectly related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The medical journal “The Lancet Respiratory Health” (2024) has an editorial about the inequities of asthma as they develop over the life course. The development of asthma has pre-natal, genetic, environmental, life-style and socio-economic co-determinants. The study of respiratory disease, therefore, is a multi-factorial issue, which needs to disentangle the specific influences. Smoking as well as obesity have an impact on asthma, instantaneously or with delayed time effects of sometimes many years. Hence, it is important to take the whole life course into account, if we want to address the rising disease burden of asthma. Air pollution and heating-up of the planet are important drivers of the silent asthma pandemic across the globe. The social distribution of people working in “asthma- prone” work environments and/or living in highly polluted urban, suburban or rural areas near high frequency traffic is another latent factor causing huge costs to persons and society as a whole. Health inequity is growing over the life course. This is not easy to tackle as policy target as the onset of the disease has no single trigger, but rather a combination of influences that contribute in varying amounts to the evolution of respiratory diseases. (Image air pollution https://aqicn.org/map/germany/de/)

AI Racing

AI has entered the racing of cars after we have been racing horses, dogs and camels for many decades. The fact behind all these races is the huge market for gambling. Anything you can bet on will do for juicy profits in that industry. The recent “Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League” is the latest addition to the racing craze. Moving online with 600000 spectators at its peak on video and gaming platforms the investment seems promising. The only problem, AI is not yet ready to really compete with the world of real drivers. The progress, however, is astonishing. Just one lap of 2 minutes on the circuit yields 15 Terrabyte of data from 50 sensors. These are closed circuits so no person can enter or animal can get in their way. The challenge to integrate more data and faster processing as well as algorithms for fast decision making is steep. Great learning opportunities for advances in robotics. The hype has not been able to live up to the expectations as no real racing took place yet. We have replaced the gladiators of the Roman empire with Formula 1 drivers. It is only fair to retire those drivers soon and let AI race cars against each other. It feels like a computer game on screen and it is as we shall most likely watch these races on a screen as well. Hence, what is the point. Watching youth on TWITCH play racing games will probably not change the viewing behavior of the masses. The programmers have nevertheless great learning opportunities and will find their way rapidly into the job market. The other challenges of ASPIRE seem more important for humanity like human rescue and food for the growing world population. In the meantime let the boys play around with cars and learn about potentials as well as failures of AI-programmers and dealing with both.

Puccini Media

In honor of Giacomo Puccini the Media enterprise Bertelsmann features one of its treasures. In cooperation with the “Archivio Storico Ricordi” of Milano, Italy, 100 years of Puccini’s oeuvre is celebrated with this exhibition. Fans of Puccini’s operas will have to visit the archives but the interest of this small exhibition lies in the impressive success story of Puccini and his publisher (part of Bertelsmann). Continuous innovation and adaptation to new media, like disks, accompanied an extraordinary marketing campaign throughout the 100 years. Even today there are cycling tours around Puccini’s hometown for the modern eco friendly tourists. We learn a lot about how the media industry functioned in the 20th century. It was absolutely vital to fighting for the rights of authors, composers and rights to receive royalties for performances as well as for the publishing on media. The exhibition in “Unter den Linden 1” is just next door to the Staatsoper which also gave honor to Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” in 2024. His uncompleted Opera Turandot closes the exhibition with his rough sketches of the final scene. Merchandising is not an invention of the 21st century, but almost a century old tradition. This exhibition is a great testimony for this. It remains an important effort to allow authors and composers to gain a comfortable living during their lifetime. The gains for humanity as a whole are enormous.

Bertelsmann, Berlin 2024 Puccini.

Infinite Landscapes

The “Alte Nationalgalerie” celebrates the 250th birthday of Caspar David Friedrich in Berlin. With a considerable effort to unite in one exhibition many paintings and drawings that stem from other collections of public and private origins. This particularly remarkable as a section of the exhibition is devoted to paintings that were intended originally to be seen next to each other (compare catalogue p. 233). Comparing 2 images from the same painter evolve into a narrative. This raises curiosity as in some instances the 2 paintings do not treat the same subject. Your very own interpretations and associations will make for an individual journey through the sheer endless spaces. The exhibition allows to grasp some of the many questions posed by the period of enlightenment not only in Germany. After “God is dead” what will happen? How is mankind defined? What is its relationship to nature? Are we just left alone or what comes after individualism? Even for painters, much like scientists, it is just as important to pose the right questions. Leaving the exhibition with more questions than answers will put you in the “Berlin state of mind” of 200 years ago. Greiswald, Dresden, Rügen and Copenhagen as well as nearby mountains were influential locations and landscapes for Caspar David Friedrich. Berlin 1906 „Jahrhundert Ausstellung“ made him famous again, despite decades of being forgotten. Yet another question to ponder and wonder about. An additional merit of the exhibition is the section on painting techniques and the use of his sketches and drawings for the preparation of the oil paintings. The final riddle to be solved is the price differential between the German and English version of the catalog in the bookshop next to the usual merchandising props.

Weight Stigma

The fashion industry has for a long time produced images of mostly women and men that did not correspond to the normal weight distribution of people. Skinny models were present across all media. The so-called social media of today amplify this trend further. The “Barbie hype” has reinforced the idea of low weight as a socially desirable norm. In scientific research the term coined for this phenomenon is “internalized weight stigma” (IWS). A study shows (Highes et al. 2024) it affects more women than men and more people who are described as socioeconomically disadvantaged adults. Pressure to lose weight originates from multiple sources and social media platforms have given rise to bullying. A major outcome of IWS is eating disorders as eating is often wrongly associated to be the only cause of higher weight. It is not. Many other factors contribute to the actual weight of a person. Even the overuse of the body mass index (BMI) as short hand version to define overweight or obesity is misleading for persons with strong muscles. Just fixing on one parameter of body shape or weight tends to reinforce weight stigma. “Keep walking” and a regular healthy diet, this avoids to internalize a weight stigma. Exercise is fun, the more you do it in a group, the easier it is to get going regularly. We ought to keep trying and eventually it will become a routine.

Screening Paradoxon

In the field of public health the screening paradoxon is a well-known feature of large scale programs to check for and contain the large increases in cancer among populations. A recent medical study underscores the necessity to curtail the screening paradox in Europe. The screening paradoxon is defined as “the underuse of screening by those with unhealthy lifestyles and high risks”. The opposite cases, “the overuse of screening by those with healthy lifestyles and low risks” only cause a problem for the costs of the health system as those unlikely of attaining a form of cancer make extensive use of screening. In terms of social inequality we have to be concerned about both ends of these distributions. The publicly available screening programs are skewed towards the higher educated with risk awareness as well as healthy life styles. More of them participate in screening. The other distribution of actual risks and detection of cancer is skewed towards the other end of the risk distribution. The 2 probability distributions overlap to an extent that is most likely co-determined by cultural factors like general attitudes towards prevention.
With the increase in cancer rates generally and due to demographic aging of societies, we shall need to target our resources devoted to health more precisely rather than spending too much on screening of people with very low risks. Increasing the duration between screenings might not impede detection rates of those with healthy lifestyles, but could allow to devote more resources to those people who are hard to reach by screening programs so far. Evaluations of such programs are necessary to judge the need for more targeted programs.(Image own representation inspired by Ola et al. 2024)

Barbie Chemical

Chemistry is sometimes perceived to be uninteresting, but only until you realize it might be beneficial to know more about some underlying chemical processes. The Royal Society of Chemistry has finally found a topic in chemistry to give chemistry a popular push. The Barbie hype is far from over as we all learned in the recent past. Now conservationists have found a topic with chemical processes involved to demonstrate the usefulness of chemistry knowledge for the conservation of your treasures or collections of plastic dolls or puppets in general. Most plastics PVC was not intended to last, but the deteriorated forms have a long lasting effect in form of PVAS or microplastics. So aging research has reached popular concerns like the aging of Barbie, who is believed to be “forever young”.

Vitrine La Ferté 2023