Plastic wasted

The amount of plastic that is wasted exceeds our imagination. Even in the most distant islands we find remaining pieces of plastic from our careless consumption. The European Directive 2019/904 has set the limit on detached bottle tops to July 2024. The industry waited until the last few months to implement the old directive. Great that there is hope to find less detached plastic in oceans across the world in some years at least. The behavioral change to move beyond plastics everywhere in our nutrition delivery system is long overdue. We shall get used to bring our own bottles for a refill or other devices to reduce plastic waste further. The change begins with thinking about the topic and finding suitable reusable packaging solutions for yourself. Children learn in art projects about the importance and creativity potential to reuse otherwise wasted materials. Reduce and re-use can be turned into an own competence. Competence in sustainability has been neglected for decades in school curricula, despite its importance for our own health and survival. (Image James Ensor exhibition and competition KBR, Brussels 2024-7)

Credit donations

“credit” stems from the original latin word “cedere”. In the 1st person you write “credo”, which means I believe. If said in a religious building or church you show with this pronunciation that you believe tbe narrative of the religious community. In the 3rd person “credit” stand for s/he/it believes. In the financial sense it is the receiver of money from your credit card who believes or trusts you that you made an honest payment. Now, banks take commissions from each of these exchanges of trust. You are credit worthy or not. In some churches you now make donations using your credit card to facilitate business. Credit card companies also charge you on your donation. Win win situation we call this. I keep asking myself, whether I still “believe in angles” or only business angles. (Image Église Notre Dame des Victoires Brussels 2024-7)

Sport Fashion

Sport is fashion and fashion is sport. Not only in the Euro 2024 the teams make a big fuzz about the design of their sportswear, but certainly the Olympic games in Paris 2024 will demonstrate the close links between the 2 worlds. We might say playing football is a bit like a fashion catwalk. Keep going right on target, despite obstacles, when thousands of people are watching your performance and potential failures very closely. Making a “bella figura” is a must in both spheres. There is also a strong tendency for “the winner takes all”, that s/he takes the trophy and the jackpot.
Both worlds are also big business in their own right. It is at least 100 years old that sport and fashion got married. The “Musée des arts décoratifs” in Paris had an excellent exhibition on the combination of sport and fashion (booklet link). According to the curators both spheres have always been interlaced. High-level performance and specialized fashion just made for a splendid combination. As the rich and wealthy had more than a penny or two to spend on their leisure activities the combination of sport and fashion soon became itself a big business, beside the visible beauty of the bodies, movements and dresses. Just watch the breakdance fashion as the latest addition to the repertoire of olympic disciplines. In a recent article in “Le Monde” (2024-7-11) the value of the market of sports including its fashionable merchandising is estimated to reach a turnover of € 500 billion in 2022.
The competition of sports has been turned into a competition of the best images and videos. Fashionable as well as functional clothing can assist in climbing the podium. In the Euro 2024 Football Final the teams equipped with Adidas (Spain) and with Nike (England) compete for the trophy. Changing equipment sponsorship from one to the other can raise substantial amounts for a team (€ 100 million/year for the German national team). Big business seems to take over sports and fashion after the century-old marriage of sport and fashion. Since then, they have jointly been on an extended honeymoon. (Image from www.emptyspacetm.com 2024-7)

Couch Cottage

As vacation time is approaching, we ask ourselves, whether to choose the comfortable couch or the remote cottage. This is the proposition of Roger-Pol Droit in “Le Monde Livres” (“Sagesse 2024: cabane ou canapé“, 28.6.2024 p.36) based on the reading of “Ma cabane sans peine” by Alain Guyard and “Philosophie du Canapé” by Stefano Scrima.
The couch stands for the lazy life or “vita contemplativa“, thinking about philosophical topics that need a certain form of laid back behaviour to allow your brain to sort out tricky questions or to ask yourself, what is, was or will be important questions. Many academics shut themselves away from the busy life outside to reserve more time for couch thinking. The usual products of this activity practised on chairs and couches is more or less digestable books. Some make a comfortable living out of this active inactivity.
The cottage approach follows another longstanding philosophical tradition associated with Dionysos. Living a simple life in a remote place, but full of life’s enjoyment allows to exalt in the dithyrambic atmosphere of the countryside.
Rather than the either, or issue: couch or cottage, I go along with the dialectics of Hegel, who forms out of thesis and antithesis the synthesis. In our example this is obviously equal to “take the couch to the cottage“, problem solved. Additionally Nietzsches version of “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft” seems to prolong the dialectic experience of going beyond the “neither, nor” dichotomy to combine both couch and cottage.
You sensed it. It will be a rather exciting summer break to pursue on the many roads to “Sagesse 2024” (Wisdom 2024).

Schooling Ukraine

It is hard to imagine what it will mean to go to school, if your father has to defend your country, Ukraine, and freedom of education instead of Russian indoctrination. This is tough for all children in countries that have to defend themselves today or in the past. For Ukrainian children and families who had to flee their country this means that they have to go through another education system, not out of choice, but instead of their normal way through their education system. This means a lot of additional challenges for them. In Germany alone the educational authorities have counted more than 200.000 children in schools at the beginning of 2024. Additional efforts are undertaken to allow mothers as well to learn a foreign language to facilitate communication with the receiving countries. We have to make huge efforts that these children are not a scared generation of pupils but rather a strengthened generation of young persons with solid learning experiences in another country. Some will stay in the receiving countries, many will return and rebuild their homes and communities. Our support and assistance needs to be a long term commitment beyond the end of the war after an eventual Russian retreat from Ukraine territory. Solidarity is not a fixed-term commitment. We shall be put to the test and should not hesitate about our continued support.

Art or Profession

In political science it is a long tradition to discuss, whether politics is an art or a profession. The idealist tradition, going back as far as Plato in ancient Greek history of ideas, puts the exercise of politics near the exercise of a divine art to do justice. Much later in the history of ideas Max Weber rather bluntly defined politics as a profession (original in German) that requires to master a set of competences.
Recent elections in Europe (EU, France, UK, Belgium) and around the globe (India, USA) in 2024 add interesting case studies to the old question. Is politics an art or a profession?
In modern politics the life course or life cycle of a politician consists of at least 2 phases: (1) the electoral campaign before and (2) the potential of governing or opposition. Each phase requires a different set of competences. In phase 1 it is important to propose a new or different ideal from the previous government. Charismatic presentation of an ideal set of policies is asked for.  In phase 2 it is required of the politician to forge compromises, either within the own political party or beyond boundaries of political parties. Certainly, in multi-level governance systems like the European Union additional forms of coalition building across countries is required, intercultural competence or language skills are an advantage here.
The 2 phases of the life cycle of a politician require different sets of skills. Charisma as mentioned by Plato and Weber can get a politician into power and charismatic leadership can get you through a lot of coalition building. On the other hand, modern campaigning in repeated elections is a specialized competence that resembles marketing expertise as well as “reading of statistics” and in-depth analyses of shifting or stable preferences of electorates and to succinct conclusions on this basis. Running a political party or a parliamentary group is yet another leadership skill just like communication skills that, beyond many prejudices, can be learned.
In a nutshell. Politics is an art and a profession. The art consists in the variable combination of different sets of competences. Art requires competences just as professions can be turned into art.  Welcome to the hybrid world of modern politics. (Image extract from MAD Paris, Picasso, Schiaparelli)

Greening Brussels

We tend to believe that inner cities have lost the fight against traffic jams and climate change. However, the number of projects that stem the tide is growing and some have gained visibility beyond their immediate neighborhood. This is the case of an urban planning project in Brussels that has taken back space from urban traffic to the citizens living there. Planting new trees and a gardening space reserved for flowers changed the street into a pleasant environment where people meet and greet again rather than hold their breath and disappear as quickly as possible. Parking of cars has been reduced on the street and instead bicycle parking has become a hint towards more sustainable mobility in inner cities. Walking the city, staying and shopping nearby will allow behavioral change for healthier lifestyles. It needs a lot of persuasion to accomplish this impact and years of reaching majorities for such projects and the ability to raise sufficient resources to implement them. The additional challenge is the need to take care of the green spaces that only works with the support of neighborhoods assisting in the care and protection of the urban lungs. As the awareness to act against inner city heat and pollution increases the number of persons willing to act and devote resources as well as time for such projects increases as well. It is a long way to improve inner city health again, but these signs of exemplary projects will convince many other people that urban renewal can work to the benefit of people.

Community Gardening

Gardening brings people together. Not only in the countryside, but also in the middle of cities. Brussels is a nice example of this. The city district called “forest” has a community gardening project that has an astonishing amount of followers. The results of the joint activity are visible from the the park nearby and in the far distance the tower of the “Palais de Justice” can still be seen. In years with above average amounts of rain the watering of the community garden is much less of a concern. Neighbors respect the initiative and even dogs are kept off the area. It is not graffitis or rubbish left behind that discourages the gardening enthusiasts there. Such projects can work even in the vicinity of less wealthy areas. Mixing different communities in inner cities is day-to-day experience. Gardening and the beauty of nature is there free to enjoy for everyone. The seeds, fruit and small young trees are then planted in other public spaces. This is a marvelous effort to stem the tide of delinquent behavior all too often spoiling the inner city environments. They might still be only a few, but the community gardeners have impact.

1Person Nation

One single person can stand for a whole country. At least that’s what mass media have tried to make us believe. Whole countries or even empires have been associated with single personalities. Maybe for simplicity we start with Caesar, Cleopatra and the like. These personalities reach historic status through the literature that has reported on their achievements and fame. Mass media of today copy that strategy to create fame out of images. The American journal “Cineaste” has recently exemplified the making of an idol with the popular actor “Jean Gabin”, who happened to be the representative not only of French cinema, but the image of France across countries and even continents. Identification with an actor or the projected image of a person are common goals in politics as well. The actor Ronald Reagan became elected as president of the USA. Zelensky in Ukraine has followed a similar trajectory. The examples are manifold, but the underlying mechanism remain pretty similar. Before we had the concept of influencers, not influenza, popular spreading of messages is key. Only the technology changed. New ways to prepare a 1person nation have been added over time. Followers are the new political currency. Beware of signs “Follow Me”, even if it is the police asking you to do so. (Image: Deutsche Kinemathek Exhibition 2024)

Page Turner

Modern digital technologies turn pages for you. Just with one touch.
Search functions that are implemented in the software allow you to search for any keyword you are keen to follow-up on. These are valuable advantages of digital versions of books or other content. Once you adapt the brightness of the screen you can scroll comfortably through hundreds of pages. These books are called flipbooks and there are a number of editors specialised on these versions.
In combination with a blog format of publishing online first and then transforming content into flipbooks or even printed versions, www.MPL-publisher.com  offers a nice feature to host such flipbooks. It is comfortable to know that the content has a unique address on the web, which you can share freely and use from all sorts of devices including your smartphone, tablet, desktop or notebook. The collection of my images I even watch sometimes on an even larger TV-screen or a beamer for teaching purposes.
Yes, we can (!) teach from a smartphone. Learners have opted for the small screens a long time ago. -“hey – teachers, leave us kids alone. We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control“. Flipbooks combine the classic form and feeling to turn a page as accomplished progress with the fast access to keywords that spread over several pages of the book.
My latest version of blog entries from 1st of January to 30th of June 2024 is at your fingertip now. (here, allow for a really long download time!). A screenshot is provided below of page 114 of a total of 390 (OMG) on a notebook screen. The search list is shown for the keyword “wage” as an example.
A shorter reader on “Society and AI” is available here as flipbook (29 pages).

Webpage Analytics

I do not collect data of detailed webpage analytics. Therefore, I thought I do not know anything and do not want to know anything about webpage visits of this webpage. However, the most basic information of how many times the webpage is visited per months is given by the hosting service of the webpage. The previous jump beyond 20.000 visits/month had the implication to move the security level of the webpage for me and all visitors to a higher level. Additional information of how many seconds an “internaut” is staying on the webpage tells, maybe a little bit about the interest in the content or image of a specific entry. Reaching 84.000 visitors/month was a surprise that asks for an explanation. Apparently, the most visited page is the blog entry on “geo-politics”. The longest time people stayed on a page or blog entry is a recent entry on “nutrition policy”.
Other statistics show that people who visited an entry on “find trust”, trusted in the webpage to click on many other entries or pages on “www.schoemann.org”.
I do not collect data or statistics on where visitors go after a visit. The hosting service, however, measures the so-called “jump-off” rate. This indicates the importance of the webpage as spring board to jump to other pages on the internet. It is usually = 1, just showing that you left somewhere. For some pages this reaches higher levels according to the number of links you offer on a blog entry, for example. It gives an indication whether you manage to lead on readers to explore the topic further. This is a usual evaluation question of lectures and seminars given at universities.
Last but not least, even without collecting any “real data” about visitors, it is part of the minimum information your browser transmits is the “operating system” used for access. Your smartphone provides the information on IOS, Android, Linux, or Windows versions used. These technical purposes remind me that there are still vast amounts of users of what we believe are outdated operating systems. Windows 7 and Windows 10 are still heavily in use across the globe. The hype around the latest operating system and smartphone is most likely only a phenomenon of the rich and wealthy in the rich parts of the western world. This reminds me to include images, which are small in data size to allow fast downloads in all parts of the world. We should embrace this as an important topic of geo-political relevance.

Back pain

Most people know some form of back pain. This is understandable as an ever increasing share of people work in seated positions and spend additional leisure time in a similar position (gaming). Recurrent back pain is a frequent diagnosis. An Australien study has found a rather simple remedy for the widespread pain. The WalkBack experiment succeeded to significantly reduce recurrent lower back pain in study participants. Individualized and progressive walking accompanied by an education program did the trick. Keep on walking and try to extend the range of the exercise. It’s amazing to witness how the human body adapts to being challenged. Learning about the mechanics at work like the release of own personal “pain killers” hormones helps to trust in your body’s positive response to each dose of the challenge to pain. Do not walk too quickly too far. Stretching is a must and not an option. Go for it. Modern technology (in any smartphone) supports your efforts with counting your steps and measuring distances. Keeping track of a “pain diary” might give you guidance not to overdo the exercise and pause activities. Join a group of friends or people who are like-minded and get adequate shoes and clothes to feel comfortable while walking and afterwards as well.

Beggar thy neighbour

Modern economics has developed the concept of so-called external effects. The oldest version of it might also be referred to as “beggar thy neighbour”, as it was coined by Adam Smith the founder of classical economics. This describes an economic policy which does not care to make your neighbours worse off by enriching yourself. Applied to environmental economics or to regions, cantons or neighboring countries, this means a ruthless pursuing of investments, which are known to shuffle a large part of the costs onto other regions through damages, might be pursued nevertheless. This might be a valid hypothesis to test how the investment in skiing at high altitudes, increases the risks of flooding at the lower altitudes of rivers or valleys. There is scope for a redistribution of wealth from one region to another. The poor neighbor, however, is in a rather weak position to claim compensation as the link between the 2 events is hard to establish scientifically and mediated by an abstract form of overall climate change. The recent example from Switzerland adds to an increasing number of natural disasters, which are in fact man-made following a beggar thy neighbor rationale. (Image newspaper reading room in Stabi Berlin with NZZ from 2024-6-24).

Nutrition Competence

Nutrition is a good example of how a long lasting disregard in education and learning systems has led to huge medical costs for individuals and societies nowadays. The obesity pandemic calls for urgent action and policy changes in the field of nutrition policies and learning goals for children and adults. Medical doctors have mostly discarded that it is also their responsibility to provide medical guidance on nutrition, as this is highly controversial at times and asks for behavioural changes of the patient. School teachers see little scope to act on the issue due to increasing demands in fields of literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, digital and communication skills. Hence, the hope is to fill the instruction and learning gaps with a hybrid approach of nurses taking on both roles and communicate with children as well as adults alike. This is a tough challenge for these persons, but hopes a high that they can make a significant improvement to the nutrition competences of individuals, pupils, their parents and specific target groups.
The starting point is to recognize that there is an issue with nutrition. The next to establish the best evidence and based on this to develop a curriculum for the nurses to be well-prepared for the challenge in the field. Even with the differentiation of different levels of competences, the learning has to be rather encompassing several related fields as well. Individual, behavioural as well as society-level factors like biology, technology, religious beliefs, economic and social factors determine nutritional choices and consumption. Just because there are so many factors to consider  does not justify to keep nutrition out of school curricula for example. Nutrition is a fine example of a topic which links disciplines across a broad range. It is a tasty, at times spicy mixture of issues to learn and apply. The former is the beginning, the latter the real challenge which needs ample and repeated guidance or coaching. (Image: Extrait of Abraham Mignon, 1640-1679, Undergrowth with flowers, animals and insects, MRBA Brussels)

Nutrition Policy

The evidence on nutrition policies has accumulated a series of policy recommendations based on the best available evidence. The German Institute of Human Nutrition has presented these results repeatedly not only to the scientific community, but also to the interested public at the Science Week or the Long Night of Science. Their leaflet on the tools to improve our human nutrition in market economies highlights “nutrition competence” as a key component of a broad strategy to improve our food and subsequently health. Nutrition goes beyond the biological ingredients of food to include basic understandings of human metabolism including the times and timing of meals. This competence has to be transmitted to preschoolers, pupils as well as adults to stem the waves of obesity (ARTE Docu). Learning how to manage your own nutrition is a crucial competence to strive and survive. In schools it can have substantial impacts on performance and inequality of opportunities as well.

The science-based policy recommendations propose to alter the structure of costs, for example via tax reductions, in favor of healthy food. Plain water should be substantially cheaper than sweet beverages or alcoholic drinks. Nuts and proteins from vegetables fall in the same category as plain water. It is in the longer term interest of all of us that schools, canteens at work places or homes for the elderly offer also healthy nutrition at least as a daily option. More sustainability in food production is last, but not least part of nutrition policies. A lot to chew on to improve nutrition.

Food Future

What do we have for dinner today, tomorrow or in 10 years from today? Research Institutes presented some of their insights based on solid evidence in the open door event in Berlin. The 5 years of the project “food4future” are over and my glance through some of the results suggests that we shall have many more proteins, most from vegetable sources, on our plates. The arguments for improved sustainability are rather compelling. The taste of these products that currently have higher amounts of bitter taste might be solved. Similarly sea food beyond fish like halophyte will enter our diet. The salty taste can be incorporated in meals in which we add salt or other spices anyway. These elements might make it possible to feed the 8 billion people on our planet. We probably also need to include protein rich insects in the meal plans of the still growing human species. It appears like a rather long shot into the future of nutrition, but if we do not think ahead and start the change in our mindsets we shall be badly prepared for the future and more people will decide to seek food in other places of the earth rather than stay hungry. It also helps us to refocus our priorities in nutrition and aim for a better balance of the pleasures of eating and sustainability. The issue of food for future generations starts with food for thought in the abundantly nourished Northern parts of the planet. (Image: AI Copilot, Prompt: 2 couples enjoy eating a meal of halophytes and insects, 2024-6-25)

Violence Potential

The book (editor Sabrow 2023) and the exhibition “Gewalt gegen Weimar. Zerreißproben der frühen Republik 1918-1923” need a broad European audience. The violence, which in the medium term destroyed the newly founded democracy of the Weimar Republic in Germany, is linked to the immediate aftermath of the 1st world war. The relatively calm abolition of monarchy in Germany did in no way prevent the eruption of violence within the new democracy. Extreme forces prepared in organized ways (Organisation Consul) and some in open public discourses the potential for the use of violence. Armaments left over from war equipped the Freikorps Movements and the potential to use the weapons was present at all times in the aftermath of WW1 in Germany. The contributions to the volume provide a detailed account of these 5 crucial years when democracy was able to defend itself against all odds. The strategies to take control of the country were built on a violent rhetoric which prepared the ground to put violent talk into action later on. This spiral of violence is hard to de-escalate once started. However, democracies have to foster ways to calm the spirits in periods of high potential violence. Elections as well as the campaigns before are the arms of democratic change. They should be used as such to pave the way to compromise.

Exhibition at Topography of terror Berlin 2024-6

Composing Assisted

Before the existence of digital composition tools composers were assisted by “Kopisten”. These persons rewrote the original draft of a composition into a “proper” version of the original document. Musicology has a tough time to deal with deviations from the original. It needs to be clarified which is the final and authorized version. In some instances this is far from evident. Just as an example Robert Schumann made ample use of the assistance of Kopist Otto Hermann Klausnitz (cf Nr 6), sometimes for the preparation of the composition, the finalized versions or the explicit drafting of different voices. Klausnitz himself was a flautist in Leipzig (Gewandhausorchester) and a conductor in Duesseldorf. Overall the debate is still going on, whether the composer’s draft or in many instances the Kopist’s version of the composition (authorized or not) prevails. In the age of AI, which is highly influential in modern music, such questions will most likely be intrinsic to the process of composition as well. AI is influential in evening out rough edges. Anette Mueller (2010) has done a great job to make this work of “Kopisten” much more transparent and her concluding chapter is programmatically entitled “Komponist und Kopist- Aspekte einer produktiven Kooperation”. (Image Mueller, A 2010 p. 340).

Betting vice

Betting is considered a vice. The industry has moved from the local bookmakers to the internet and is spread across countries and continents. Some legal advisers have classified betting as the fastest growing vice industry and it is about time to launch a wake up call for more oversight of what is going on in the sector. As betting like gambling seems to be working in conjunction with other addictions the potential of cumulative risks is quite high. Our brains tend to wire things together which frequently occur jointly. It is difficult to disentangle these co-occurrences later again. The major angle of attack is prevention.
Health journals start warnings of the detrimental effects persons and observe that the industry follows similar strategies as the tobacco industry to address as many people as possible. And this is very successful and profitable for them. Hence, prevention strategies should also follow what has been applied to smoking like the ban from restaurants and bars as well as the restrictions on advertising. We will have to accept that betting and gambling should not be as easily accessible as it is currently. Age restrictions have to be applied stringently. I bet this will take quite a long time until Europe and elsewhere the regulations will change. Some of the young get interested in even more stimulating activities like exploring arts (image below class at Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin 2024-6) rather than betting on who is going to win the Euro 2024 football matches.

Smoke Gamble

Smoking is like a gamble. Your input is your health and money. This is not including those who might rely on you or family relationships that might suffer one way or another. The other link has gambling at its source and smoking goes along with the continuous risk taking or the belief to be able to master the risks involved with both forms of potential addictions. Research has accumulated evidence that in fact both smoking and gambling occur frequently in combination with each other. Taking risks against the odds of suffering losses, maybe only in the medium or longer run perspectives like for health seems acceptable for those people. Society has put rather high taxes on both activities to discourage people and invests in prevention of addictions. However, it does not have substantial effects on people as smoking remains around the same level and gambling (poker online) or betting on sports (Euro 2024) are rising rapidly. Vaping and internet gaming have broadened the spectrum of addictive behaviors mostly for younger persons and young adults. The risks are manifold and increasing in their addictive potential since the smartphone is always in some pocket just like the smoking device. The behavioral turn in the social sciences has been well understood by the industries as well. The stakes for human development are high in this endeavor to offer young people equal opportunities at entry into adulthood.

Cannabis Alcohol

The use of cannabis and/or alcohol is yet another question where we are used to ask questions in the form of: either the or the other? Over generations we have gotten used to no longer ask for each do you or don’t you. With the controlled liberalization or legalization of cannabis in some Western European states the framing of the question is more like you do the one or the other, particularly for many younger persons.
Decriminalization of both drugs in small quantities is apparently reducing crimes link to drug use and drug dealing. On the other hand, the thresholds for doing drugs are lower than they used to be. In inner cities it is therefore no longer a surprise to find both kinds of drugs with addictive potential next to each other (see image below). We know that it is a slippery road from regular drug use to uncontrolled dependency and personal disaster. For cannabis a study published in the Lancet (Petrilli et al. 2022) added the importance of the potency of tetrahydrocannabinol to the estimate of risks. This is similar to the studies that differentiate the level of alcohol in drinks consumed. The higher the concentration, the higher the risks. A simple proportional relationship prevails in both drugs. The cumulative effects of consuming both together might have quite surprising non-linear effects.
The big issue is the risks of mental health related to these drugs. However, the causal direction is not easy to detect. Drugs induce mental health problems, but also mental health issues lead to drug abuse. This remains quite a puzzle for scientists to disentangle.
Additionally, the link to smoking and addiction to nicotine is a frequently observed corollary. Studying just one single source of health problems and addiction might be too restrictive to learn about the whole set of causal effects and casualties. For the time being we seem to jump from one field of attention to the next one ignoring the multiple interrelated factors at hand.

Smoking Vaping

Both smoking and vaping are big business. Nicotine is well known for its addictive capacity. Once started, it is very hard to give it up again. For many decades we devote considerable efforts and costs to encourage people to give up on smoking or, better, not to start smoking in the first place. The young are particularly vulnerable as damages persist for a longer time. Progress has been made to reduce passive smoking of children and people in restaurants, at work and public spaces. The relatively recent trend of vaping instead of smoking is considered less harmful, but scientific long-term evaluations, whether these effects are lasting for several years, are still missing.
A repeated cross-section study in England (Tattan-Birch et al. 2024) has revealed that the declining trend of nicotine use has already been reversed among youth due to the rise in vaping. Vaping seems to move from the fashionable niche product to the popular mainstream among youth. The addicts are only cost-sensitive on the margin. The relative prices of smoking and vaping might play a role to put people on different health trajectories. The question is not between either smoking or vaping, but for some it is both, although it should be none of both. The question of smoking yes/no is likely to be framed as either vaping/or smoking.  The re-framing of the question shows the harmful potential in the longer run. We shall have a hard time to convince people and particularly youth not to be tempted by either/or but to focus on their long-term health trajectory and potential. (Image: Extrait from Arnold Böcklin, Self-portrait with death playing the violine 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin)

LED light

For decades now, we have the LED light technology around us. In many instances we do no longer realize the presence of light emission devices (LEDs) for example in our television screens or in road lighting. However, this still is an exciting field of electrical engineering and the replacement of gas lighting as well as other electrical devices with higher energy consumption are high on the agenda for sustainable lighting. There are important health and security aspects related to lighting (sleep and road traffic).
In Berlin the demonstration and test area for innovative LED lighting is also an open-air museum which can be experienced throughout the year. The party-goers and club visitors might best know the demonstration street as part of the “Deutsches Technik Museum” The energy saving potential of LEDs use in street lighting is substantial and should interest most rural and city councils. The demonstration of the differential effects of targeted lighting and broad illumination based on the same technology is impressive. Of course, the design aspect of LED-technology with the colourful potentials are of interest beyond the technical aspects to replace for example gas lighting. There is much more to lighting than just opening your eyes in the morning. (Image FG Lichttechnik TU Berlin)

Gas light

Even if it sounds crazy from today‘s perspective gas lights once were the symbol of progress. In the middle of the 19th century gas lights started to lighten and brighten the boulevards of major cities in Europe. The historic evolution of the various designs can still be followed in Berlin in the open space museum of gas light in the Tiergarten area near Zoologischer Garten. These gas lights were brighter than candles or petroleum lights and needed less maintenance. The CO2 footprint was no concern at that time and also safety concerns have been tolerated. Mechanical maintenance was relatively easy and sufficiently qualified personnel still abundant. All this has changed and the lamp posts powered by gas are mostly a part of industrial history now. The image below shows a fine example from Amsterdam. The solid construction shows nice ornaments on steel. The rounded shape remained quite unique.
Unfortunately, the accessibility of the museum has contributed to the loss of many nice examples of gas light designs. Many were destroyed during the football world cup in Berlin in 2006. Let’s hope the Tiergarten survives the Euro2024 better than the previous huge football events and Love parades. Serious precautions have been taken with quite solid fences to protect the inner city wild life.

Berlin Gas Light Museum

Democracy Enemies

Discussions in the social sciences about the fate of democracy have a long tradition. With the results of participation rates in elections for the European Parliament in 2024 weeks need to take up the challenge again. The book by Bryn Rosenfeld “The Autocratic Middle Class …” stated already in 2020 that autocratic regimes tend tp buy off democratic intentions through providing lots of jobs in the public sector which promise stable living standards and pensions to regime conformity. If the public sector crowds out private sector jobs this creates a tendency to lock in the current political system of autocracy. The analysis, however, lacks the explanation of the micro level sociological mechanism that made the “color revolutions” plausible in many parts of the world. Even the recent success of a government change in Poland in favor of pro European Donald Tusk would have been impossible if the buying of the middle class through public sector jobs is the overriding mechanism to avoid democracy to win the upper hand. Withholding funds to make public sector expansion more difficult or risky in for the longer term stability of an autocratic regime might do the trick. Autocrats have many enemies not only externally. The enemies from inside the society have multiple options for opposition as well. The other perspective that there are many enemies of democracy to be found within the public sector is another known challenge to democracy. Low turnout in Elections is a warning signal that we have to take very seriously and continue to act upon. (Image: Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin 2024 Extreme tension, explation on Ewa Partum)