Monitor SDGs

The advantage of the goal-setting at the U.N. is definately that the progress or regress can be monitored. To do this, a definition for each goal in words is presented, which has to be translated in all languages. Some notions are subject to conceptual issues. Poverty, for example, in an individualistic society needs to be defined at an individual level. In societies where women and dependent children or elderly persons are part of one household, the household is the unit of definition. After the conceptual clarification the measurement of a set of indicators needs to be identified. How do we measure poverty? Here the focus is either on absolute poverty (lump sum of money available) or relative poverty (relative to others in society). Stability of poverty, poverty as transitional  or access to poverty relief programmes as well as charity organisations in a country will play a role here. No simple answers and comparisons here. Timeliness of data is another issue. Data and sampling are costly in itself, therefore not every year the measurement is repeated to gauge progress or regress.
I take account of the SDGs in my own work in the form that the 17 SDGs of the U.N. are part of my work as well. In consulting practice it is a frequent task to check for example a larger enterprise on its contribution to the implementation of SDGs locally, nationally or globally. To start a reflection phase of my blog entries I just used the “search function” of the webpage and entered the first 6 SDGs in English and German to check, whether my webpage is SDG-proof. The result shown below in simple frequencies. Education and Learning come out as top scores. Other areas show fewer entries. In some goals, like gender, the keywords to check for are more diverse and return less precise results. This opens the conceptual box again. The notions summarised under a SDG goal might be numerous or singular – which leads to a bias in results. “Bildung” in German finds also “Weiterbildung” = further or continuous education at the same time, not the English term education. Subtle differences, but potentially huge effects. Overall, an interesting exercise to analyse my/your own mind and business practice. Focused attention versus broad coverage of SDGs, each has its strength and weaknesses. Goal 17 to strengthen the means of implementation and global partnership may build just on many more organisations doing their SDG-homework. Name, Measure, Improve – that is the action. SDGs in Blog1-6

Goals SDGs

The Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) date back to 2015 for their enactment. The goal setting is a routine procedure for the UN and its subsidiary international organisations. This makes a lot of sense, because if you do not name the problems, you are unlikely to address them in a systematic fashion. Quantifying the goals is then a much more difficult task and that then already part of the ensuing discussion about idealist, illusive or realist goals. Most diplomatic exchanges focus on this goal setting and scheduled monitoring as well as more comprehensive evaluations of goal achievement. The SDGs comprise another strategic twist. Rather than concentrating on national governments, non-governmental organisations and businesses were encourages to actively participate in the implementation of the goals. After more than 7 years the achievements of intended improvements should become visible. Well, goal setting and monitoring over the last seven years is likely to reveal failure on several of the 17 indicators. Covid-19, disruption of supply chains, wars causing recessions and high inflation are major factors to explain failure. However, knowing the reasons of failure is a substantial part of improving in the next coming years. Returning to cooperation rather than confrontation could do the trick. Even after wars cooperation to organise relief is the only way forward to come closer to achieving the SDGs.
Bold initiatives like the Marshall-Plan for Europe in the 20th century made it possible to rise from the ashes. Countries that have been in ruins at that time, now have important roles as financial contributors to support other regions. The goals remain the same, the challenges as well.


Der vermessene Mensch ist im Kino angelaufen. Die deutsche Kolonialmacht im südlichen Afrika weilte nur kurz, aber überaus grausam. Das ist mit aller Härte im Film von Lars Kraume dargestellt. Zu viele explizite Gewalttaten im Film erlauben nur eine Zulassung ab 14 Jahren. Das sollte ernst genommen werden. Die Kolonialgeschichten der Imperialmächte sind alle mit abscheulichen Verstößen gegen Menschenrechte verlaufen. Da darf nichts beschönigt werden. Der Film bietet daher eine gnadenlose Abrechnung mit den Verbrechen der damaligen Zeit. Und das ist gut so.
Die Wissenschaft und viele der Wissenschaftler haben sich in den Dienst der Machthaber einspannen lassen und nicht nur die Wissenschaft, sondern auch sich selbst verraten. Karriere, gesellschaftliche Stellung und Ansehen winkten den Kollaborateuren. Da wurde viel für die späteren Greueltaten und abscheuliche Praxis der Nationalsozialisten vorgeführt. Wichtig und sehenswert, aber keine leichte Kost mit Safari -Atmosphäre. Die Vermessenheit des Menschen, als seine Selbstüberschätzung gemeint, ist nahezu ein biblisches und religiöses Thema. Das passt in die Fastenzeit und den Ramadan. Dieser ausgesprochen gute Titel bleibt mir jedoch beständig als “Der vergessene Mensch” in Erinnerung. Wir haben lange so getan, als ob wir die Verbrechen mit Vergessenheit abmildern könnten. Verdrängtes kommt jedoch meist mit größerem Bumerangeffekt zurück. Der Mensch und die Angehörigen hinter diesem Mensch, alle Opfer des Verbrechens, werden zu dem vergessenen Mensch. Auch Wissenschaftler vergessen oft den Mensch hinter ihren Theorie und Datengerüsten. Für jede Person, die das Vermessen vergessen hatte, kommt der Bumerang noch heftiger zurück.

Repair 2

Ever since the visit to the exhibition “Care, Repair, Heal” at the Martin Gropiusbau in Berlin the image of flying protheses rest with me. Repairing the human body is feasible in many fantastic ways. The inner wounds, however, are less visible and sometimes hurting even more. In recognition of the thousands of victims again in the Russian war on Ukraine’s territory and the atrocities causes by mines to injure humans, we have to assist in caring, repairing and healing. This has not changed since the Great War or the Nazi-induced mass murder and mutilations. Humanity is unable to ban such landmines despite international conventions trying to achieve this. The strong image produced by the protheses as clouds in the sky (Kadar Attia) remind us of the lasting effects of war. Images we had associated with the mutilated soldiers and civilians of the 2nd world war, many still around us in the 60s or 70s, are coming back to Europe. Writing about the 20th century, Aurélien Bellanger described in words a similar traumatising vision of flying protheses in his story of the lonely poet and philosopher. We cannot repair history, but we can work towards reducing useless additional suffering. It is part of the absurdities of our world that technology has created masterpieces to assist us and reduce suffering, but at the same time technology is applied to create the worst suffering as well. Rather than thinking of this relationship as 2 sides of the same coin, I prefer to hope for dialectic evolution towards a better synthesis solution using enforceable international law. Yes, I still have a dream …

On Noise

The 3 authors Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R. Sunstein have published in 2021 the impressive attempt to sell statistics to non-statisticians. The grip on the topic: “Noise. A Flaw in Human Judgment” is a bit misleading. Even the German translation (“Was unsere Entscheidungen verzerrt”), in my opinion, is grossly misleading. The work deals with judgment, or arriving at a sensible judgment. Decision-making is only the next step with a lot of other intervening processes. The German philosophical term since the enlightenment period has been “Urteilskraft“. We are all more or less familiar with the notion “bias” in judgment. Me, originating from the Moselle, will always be biased in favor of a Riesling compared to other vines. In addition to this naive bias I may apply a more professional judgment on wine. Testing several wines even from the same small area from the Moselle valley and then repeating the tasting I might make a noisy judgment.  “When wine experts at a major US wine competition tasted the same wines twice, they scored only 18% of the wines identically (usually, the very worst ones).” (p. 80). In addition to the previously defined form of “level noise, pattern noise and system noise” (p.77), we have occasion noise, when judgments vary from an overall statistical perspective.
Having received a second dose of a vaccination yesterday and having spent an unpleasant night my judgment for this review might be biased, because of impatience. So in order to reduce bias and variants of noise I shall repeat the review at a later stage. Let’s see what this returns. But for today, the Epilogue “A less noisy world” (p.377) appears rather odd to me. It is probably an illusion to believe that we can create a less noisy world, even with the best of wishes. The authors abstract from any strategic use of noise to influence judgments. The political form of choosing judges for Constitutional Courts in the U.S. needs to be dealt with. Noise in judgments is an important element, but strategic use of bias might be more influential to impact outcomes. Noise, when faced with a judge who has a reputation to be very tough in sentences might be overturned in an appeal court decision. There are plenty of procedural ways to overcome noise in judgments. I agree with the authors that you better know about the noise in judgments than ignore it. Awareness of random errors and noise involved in grading exams and recruitment decisions have determined many excellent “failures” to leave historic contributions to our world. In music, maths or literature some splendid talents probably have been impeeded at earlier stages of their life to make average or normal careers. Some of them left us with fantastic pieces thanks to the noise in judgment of others.
There seems to be an age bias in the tolerance of noise in the acoustic sense. Noise in the statistical sense has left a strong mark on me when I learned about white noise as error or stochastic process.
Image Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein 2021. p3.


Over the 20th century technology has pushed forward in many fields. As there were huge investments needed the public campaigns to support new technology without much further reflection of potential consequences have pulled many western societies into risky technologies. Except the Club of Rome there were very few to question the naïve beliefs that technological change will make societies rich and potentially even more equal. The recent report “Climate Inequality Report 2023: Unequal Contributions to Climate Change” has debunked both of these claims. More flying across the planet, particularly short city hopping, has allowed few persons to reap the benefits of the jet-set world, but contributed to climate change in excessive quantities. This is a fact when we compare major world regions among each other as well as within each country. It has to be the wealthy countries that have to shoulder the biggest share of the costs. It has to be the wealthy that pay higher contributions for their pollution. Society has to reign in technology more than ever before. Moreover, we still have to get the income and pollution distribution organised in a better way. It is not only an implementation challenge, but the major question of the 21st century to repair the damage largely caused throughout the 20th century.

20th Century

The 20th century has told us many lessons. History does not repeat itself, but it appears that new variants of old themes keep coming back. Slowly passing the century like a movie in decades instead of episodes, we witness socio-emotional tides. The first decade, the 00s intensify the beginning of urban planning and social revolutions. The 10s show the arousal and subsequent extinction of masses of people in trenches. The 20s were described as the Carefree Twenties. In the 30s we observed the rising tides of fascist organisations followed shortly afterwards by the disastrous 40s. After the Shoah and the World War the 50s were fabulous viewed from the U.S. and Western Europe. The 60s propagated sex, drugs and rock n’ roll spreading across continents. The wild 70s became almost inescapable through the continued rise of mass media. The 80s were depicted as the colourful 80s as the 2 previous decades had set the scene for psychedelic colours. The 1990s have been coined as the gay 90s by some. Coming out as a gay person became easier and Western societies more sensitive and open to diversity. The back cover of the recent publication by Aurélien Bellanger “Le vingtième siècle” (The 20th century) speaks of the book as “roman polyphonique virtuose”. I look back on the 20th century as “polyphone” in many respects. It would be an illusion to believe we can only keep the nice sounding harmonies without the tensions or dissonances.


1900 marks the year of the 5th world exhibition in Paris. The Eiffel tower, built for the 4th exhibition in Paris remains the iconic attraction despite the new architecture that is added to Paris as the Petit and Grand Palais as well as the 1st Metro line. Art Nouveau style adds to already impressive architecture in and around Paris. With the planning horizons of several years in advance of events, urban planning with all its facets of urban infrastructure and architecture becomes much of a defining scientific discipline for decades and for most of the time of the century. Grand urban architecture and design constitute just another form of competition between nation states. Most of them want to show off their imperialist acquisitions and, what they define as “curiosities” at the time.
Habib (2005, pp.502) singles out Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche as “heterological thinkers” who coin major thoughts in the late 19th century that shall influence the beginning of the 20th century right from the year 1900 onwards. “The world should be formed in your image by your reason, your will, and your love! And truly, it will be to your happiness you enlightened men!” (Nietzsche. Thus spoke Zarathustra 1978, p.110). In retrospect from the 21st century we shall doubt this overly positive approach to human intentions and their will to form the world according to their abstracting ideas only. Tensions between technology and society became visible and it took many decades before society became conscious that it is up to society to choose technologies they preferred.
The planning for the Brussel Expo 1910 started right after the previous Expo 1905 in Liège. Protests in Brussels accompanied already the choice of terrain for the Expo, but the governors and shareholders of the enterprise decided 1906 for a site near the “forêt de Soignes”, where trees had to be cut for access to the construction site and for future visitors under local protest. Women workers were present to exhibit the low pay of women in industries. Child labour was documented with shocking images. Around the globe labour movements started to raise attention.  In the U.S. the National Women’s Trade Union League (1903) was founded as well as the National Child Labor Committee (1904). “Bloody Sunday” in St. Petersburg (1905) saw the killing of peaceful protestors in front of the Zsar’s palace, which ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the creation of the Russian Parliament. Some of these issues (child labor) keep returning to our social agenda well into the 21st century.
Einstein’s publication of the theory of special relativity (1905) as well as challenges from social philosophy reflects the huge discrepancy between advancement of the sciences and the living conditions of the masses. Social theories and science advances foreshadow the violent turbulence throughout the 20th century.
(Sources: (1) Max Welch Guerra et al. (2023). European Planning History in the 20th Century: A Continent of Urban Planning. Routledge. (2) St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide: Major Events in Labor History and Their Impact, Neil Schlager (2004). (3) Images from I. Van Hasselt(1980) Bruxelles Expo 1910: l’incendie / de brand. J Stevens.


The 1910s have been eclipsed completely by “the Great War” between 1914 to 1918. The 1st world war certainly was the most horrific period of the decade of revolutions and mass arousal. From a global history perspective the years preceding and shortly after the humanitarian disasters deserve more attention, if we were to derive lessons for prevention of other world encompassing wars of imperialist states. The numbers 1st, 2nd, … 3rd (?) world war suggest an unescapable numbering of events. We no longer can think in this trivialising logic of war or historical determinism. Empires go to war more easily than democracies. This was the social scientists’ consensus after the Great War. It took several years for many European states to turn more democratic, allowing women to vote, or introduce more robust health and social security systems. Powerful aristocracies would not cede power easily, only the widespread poverty after the Great War and the human losses discredited many aristocratic regimes throughout Europe. The imperialist dominance of the beginning of the 1910s produced a spirit of ruthless conquest and exploitation of colonies around the world. It took another global war and almost half a century to dismantle these regimes. To understand global alliances and impediments of wars in the 21st century, the early 1910s are instructive as they inform the restitution of artefacts debate in the 2020s. In the history of ideas, the 1910s are probably best characterised as the period of attempting to turn “grand ideas” into political facts on the globe. The rise of Marxist ideology, liberal and fascist counter movements started to take powerful roots at the end of the 1910s. All these ideas and factual changes of the maps of power still seem to govern a lot of international politics even today.

20th Century

With 22 years into the 21st century it’s about time to dare to write the history of the 20th century. This is in many ways a steep challenge. Summarizing across so many decades (20s, 30s …) has to focus on a few events (wars) or topics (hate) that serve to characterize the century. Of course, intrinsic to the matter is the comparison to other centuries as well. Therefore, the task might be left to great historians only. Well other approaches are feasible as well and Le vingtième siècle” by author and journalist Aurélien Bellanger constitutes a literary version of the time span of a hundred years corresponding to the 20th century. Bellanger chooses Walter Benjamin as philosophical anchor, both his works and life history. But as this history describes maybe the first half of the century he extends the reach of Benjamin into the 2nd half by introducing a “history-repeating” character into the narration. A literary circle interested in Benjamin as philosopher of the 20th century inquires about another disappearance of a poet and philosopher. Whereas the 19th century literature was full of romantic drama and “Freitod”, the 20th century has characterising deaths out of despair. Walter Benjamin is a prominent example of this. The solitude of the democraticly minded critic who ends in despair of the rising tide of fascism. Despite his premature death trying to escape the persecution of Nazi Germany, his writings live on beyond the fascists attempt to erradicate his critical thoughts. Loneliness of writers and poets in the 2nd half of the century is of another kind, but still frequently marked by isolation. Even fantastic libraries like the 2 sites of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF) houses many artists and researchers literally lost in archives. Most of them escape tragedy by publishing splendid pieces of their own creative minds. The “economy of attention” allows only very short time slots of recognition. The “Entzauberung der Welt”, the demystification of the world no longer allows for secrets and splendour at the end of the 20th century.
Long exchanges of long letters were an intellectual ritual at the beginning of the century subsequently lost to ever shorter and faster email exchanges. Acceleration is the time stamp of the 20th century and time for interpersonal exchange and group formation or circles of artists as well as scientists. Aurélien Bellanger achieves a splendid masterpiece that invites us to reflect on our recent past from a philosophical perspective. The philosophy of language is an interesting angle to choose. A cubist perspective asks us to add other angles to describe and analyse the prism of the 20th century.


Construction as an industrial sector was growing strongly in the last decade. Corona crises, supply chain disruptions have slowed growth in the last two years, but the sector was still growing in terms of employment. The topic of skill and employee shortages hardened from year to year. In March 2023 the sector has more time to reflect on the somehow rapid, if not sometimes chaotic growth of the previous decade. The macro-economic scenario has changed now. Following on supply chain disruptions, we saw the high inflation rates of raw materials. The war of Russia against Ukraine caused energy prices to soar and eventually come down again. Latest worry is the increase in interest rates to finance construction projects of public, private and the business sector.
The whole sector is known for its economic role of forerunner of economic cycles, up or down. So, what are the prospects? Not so rosy, as the experts explain for example on the expert forum of the Belgian construction forum. The official from the Belgian National Bank announced a rather bleak outlook for the sector. New construction is stalling, but the renovation of buildings, especially for the purpose of reducing energy consumption is still strong and growing. Long-term reduction of emissions keeps the sector busy, thanks to the EU green deal in my opinion. The public, private and business investments in buildings all keep growth from turning negative. 2 big worries remain: (1) skill shortages and the lack of employees signalled in job openings in the sector is high and still rising; (2) the scarcity of women employed in the sector is still trailing most other sectors. Most companies have seen earnings grow over the last decade, sufficient time to build up reserves for the tougher quarters to come. Skill shortages and gender biases are harder to overcome. The Construction Forum in Brussels addressed both topics and tries to convince employers and the younger generation. Construction companies have to work on their male-dominated image was one of the take home messages Hélène de Troostemberg, the Director of Build Up pronounced.
It is not certainly not enough to have a woman as moderator of a panel and an all-female singers group accompanying the presentations. Women as architects, technicians and builders will make the sector even more attractive for the next generation of men as well. Aging of employees in the sector is another tough issue waiting for innovative solutions. Digitalisation of every step in the value chain is an additional necessary step. The leadership and trade unions in the sector are well aware of these facts. Maybe next year women engineers will pilot the robotics demonstration rather than being in charge of building a nice atmosphere with their songs. I must admit I liked the intro song to the Forum: “We build this city on rock ‘n role”, but I am less sure whether rock ‘n role will solve the gender and recruiting issue of the sector. However, naming and framing the problem(s) is already part of the solution.



Spring has sprung, a little bit early in 2023. On the 16th of March in the vicinity of Paris, where Caillebotte designed his impressionist garden. It is still 4 weeks until Easter. The spring flowers will hardly survive until then. Hence, we prepare for an early summer, nice because of less heating, but the vegetation is suffering in the region due to the lack of rain. Hay fever for millions of persons will start early this year as well. The damages from a fire in the nearby forest “Sénart” from 2018 have still not really disappeared. It is expensive and needs a lot of workers, equipment and knowhow to avoid the same old mistakes of planting mono-cultures of trees again. When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.


Gustave Caillebotte has done it again. Son of a great beneficiary of war efforts himself. He started with support from his father’s fortune on a painting career. Soon after his father’s death, he joined the group of “alternative artists”, later called the impressionists in France. On the 1.2.2023 the Musée d’Orsay acquired a key painting of Caillebotte for 43 Million € with the help of a donation by LVMH. Where does the hype come from? A catalogue of the exhibition of the painter “Gustave Caillebotte, The painter’s eye” from the National Gallery of Art in Washington from 2015 established Caillebotte again as a key person of the impressionist movement. Rich in diversity of motifs, the painter and supporter of the impressionists (Philantropist) has foreseen the challenge photography could bring to painting. The painter’s eye is well explained by Michael Marrinan (pp.22) in the catalogue. In fact, the spatial depth of the views of the streets of Paris is a precursor to many photographers and movies of several decades later. Caillebotte’s images of Paris depict well the mixed feelings about a daunting city size and the isolation of people captured in their own little inner circles with little communication despite or because of the noisy surroundings. Misty atmospheres allow to focus on impressions. Almost meditative walking in the city is his modern topic. Reflecting on painting as profession versus painting as artist is somehow an impressionist’s sociology of professions. Gustave Caillebotte did not have to paint for money and he was aware of social class differences as son of a factory owner. It did not spoil his artistic view with social facts, but rather tried to reveal the intrinsic beauty not only of landscapes, but ordinary working people. Other impressionists painted beautiful ballerinas, Caillebotte painted workers and sometimes more challenging parts of Paris in his early years. With climate change near Caillebotte’s home in full swing, we shall “adore” the rainy days in Paris even more. And in the countryside, too. The painter’s eye reveals a visionary view of the modern and post-modern world.

Flotow Stradella

Die Oper Stradella von Flotow wurde in 2006 eingehend besprochen. Sarah Hibbert hat ein immer wieder aktuelles Thema: Wie sollten vorherige Stilepochen in der Aufführungspraxis und der Komposition behandelt werden? Die Legende über den Sänger Stradella, der einem Fürsten die Braut ausgespannt hat und deswegen ermordet werden sollte, bietet einen interessanten (sex and crime) Plot. Wegen der Gesangskunst des Verführers, wollten die bestellten .Auftragsmörder den bezaubernden Sänger nicht töten.  Tatort ist der Auftritt der Sängers in einer Kathedrale. Fritz von Flotow und Louis Niedermeyer haben beide fast zeitgleich eine Version des Librettos vertont. Es stellt sich nun die Frage, wie denn am besten der historische Stoff aus dem 17-ten Jahrhundert darzubieten ist. Beide Komponisten komponierten im Stil der romantischen Oper des 19-ten Jahrhunderts. Flotow wählt eine stärker historisierende Variante der mittelalterlichen Musik der Stradella-themen in seiner Oper. Die Klangfarben der mittelalterlichen Kirchenmusik passen aber nur schwerlich zu den Erwartungen des zeitgenössischen (1830er) Opernpublikums. Daraus resultiert,en eine spannende kompositorische Aufgabe und entsprechende Herausforderung für die Aufführung des Werks. Darüber hinaus müssen noch Unterschiede zwischen der ersten mehr populären Form der Oper für Paris (Vaudeville) und der später in Hamburg uraufgeführten Version der Flotowschen Stradella Fassung beachtet werden. Historisierung mit Anlehnungen an Gesänge von Palestrina sind nicht der Geschmack eines jeden im Publikum und der Kritiker. Grund genug, in die Opern mal wieder reinzuhören.  Den Tenor, die Arie “Jungfrau Maria” singend, hätte ich wahrscheinlich auch nicht als Auftragsmörder töten können. Rolando Villazón ist darin recht überzeugend.
Quelle: Hibbert, S. 2006. Murder in the Cathedral. Stradella, Musical Power and Performing the Past in 1830s Paris. Music & Letters Vol 87 Nr. 4. doi:10.1093/ml/gcl081 (Photos, KS Kathedrale in Meaux, F).


In retrospect from the 1930s and in prospect from the 1910s, the 1920s may well be described as “The Carefree Twenties”. Several other summary notions are attributed to the 1920s. “Les années folles” in the French speaking world, “The Jazz years” within the U.S. or the “Wild 20s” in Germany coined the decade after the disillusion of the 1st world war. The economic and cultural revival after the period of atrocities has seen thriving city centres and comparatively little economic hardship until the Wall Street crashed on October 24th in 1929 the so-called “Black Thursday”. The party was suddenly over and a lengthy economic crisis spread globally. It was within this carefree spirit of the 1920s that the counter movements of the 30s started to take roots. The 20s saw the skyscrapers soar and the credit-financed speculation was at its highest. Pierre Boudon (1991, pp. 137) characterises the architecture of the 1930s as “l’inversion des signes”. The Bauhaus of the 1920s was later forced into emigration. The film of F. Lang “Metropolis” (1927) prolonged the constructivist lines of the 1920s to a haunting vision of big cities with its daunting acceleration of economic and cultural experiences. Walter Benjamin later referred to the method of technical reproduction as one of the major foundations for the mass movements and mass culture, which turned the relatively carefree 20s into the disastrous 30s. Indeed, many scholars group the 20s and 30s into one historical period as the rise and decline between the 2 world wars of the 20th century. Certainly in terms of economic development many countries witness as steep rise in prosperity in the 20s followed by deep recession in the 30s. What went up in spectacular terms in the 20s, economic development, democratic participation, came down in the next decade due the rise of Fascist movements. 100 years later in 2020s we still struggle with many of the same issues. Poverty and “Existenzminimum” as topic of the 2nd International congress of modern architecture in 1929 in Frankfurt reflects the ever lasting need to address “social questions” throughout decades, if not whole centuries of mankind.


Approaching history with a personal touch is a powerful way of attracting persons into learning about others and themselves. The use of some personal belongings as part of a “history box” can be the beginning of an historical journey into the 30s, 40s, 50s or any other decade. It is an empowering tool for learners of all ages. Digging deeper into personal histories, societal constellations and societal change becomes alive through tiny little things. Communicating about these artefacts blends old and new narratives, just as much as the life courses of the “common woman or man” with the celebrities of the time. “Getting personal” is the hype in the time when social media want to define our life though endless nudging. Reflecting on origins is not what we tend to do, PhotoAPPs create retrospects for us, take it, or leave it. History is catching up on us. The fashion world reinvents history on a seasonal basis. After all, a bag is a bag is a bag. Or is it different from the one a person took to Auschwitz.


White is white, we may say, just like in the song of the mid 1980s “Live is life”. Raimund Girke focused his paintings around the notion of white. White is pure energy he writes on his webpage summarising somehow his activity between 1986 and 1999 before he turned 70 years old. The energy of white can be experienced at the gallery and arts centre of Alex Vervoordt near Antwerp. Set in abundant white and otherwise empty space the paintings of white reflect Girke’s idea that white is rest and movement. The developmental process of white in the work of Raimund Girke reflects for me a conceptual proximity to the artists’ group of “zero”. Light and shadows are parts of the same coin. White is the sum of all colours, not only in the physical definition of it. Hence, white can serve as reflection of space and transposition of movement.
The experience in the gallery of Vervoordt allows to come to grips with our own perception of white. It needs a huge white space around the paintings to get into the mood of, maybe, purity. It is by putting colours together that white comes into existence in the spectators view. In seeing white, we see many additions of other colours. That creates the impression of energy. Up to you to test it, maybe, virtually live.


In retrospect the 1930s would deserve well the label of the disastrous 30s. In terms of human tragedy the 40s were worse, but the foundations for the millions of deaths through the Shoah and the second world war were enacted throughout the 1930s. My reading of the decade is dominated by the rising tide of hate throughout the 30s. The fascist movements in Italy and Germany were growing rapidly. From the entry number 185.729 (later committed war crimes in Ukraine) at the 1st of January 1930 the German NSDAP membership grew to 7.352.197 (Reichsakademie für Leibesübungen) on the 1.1.1940. This is still about 3 million persons less than at around the peak in 1944/45 of for example entry number 10.123.636 (later Foreign Secretary of Germany). The House of European History of the European Parliament in Brussels provides a good depiction of the spread of Fascism and dictatorships in Europe in the 1930s. Whereas Italy had turned Fascist already before 1930. Hungary was also under dictatorship already at the beginning of 1930. The rise of the German Nazi political party NSDAP turned out to be the most disastrous and devastating fascist movement and dictatorship throughout the 30s. The maps with timelines represented in the permanent exhibition in the House of European History reflect the spreading disaster for millions of persons. Many writers and social scientist had the correct apprehension and “apocalyptic imagination” (Pearce, 1971) to seek refuge early. But this turned out to be a not generalisable exit option for most persons concerned. Only few countries managed through early decisive action against the spread of fascism to escape from, better shield themselves, or fight against the rising tide. In the late 60s and the 70s youth at the time started to question the role of their parents in the rise of nationalist movements in Europe. An interesting reference for Canada is the teaching reform that materialised in the “box of the 30s” (Weinland and Roberts, 1972). The 1930s Multi Media Kit for teaching history contained photos (Guernica), radio clips, extracts from novels, but also recipes or recorded interviews. Make history speak and start with a “personal touch” to it. Avoiding the economic failures of the 1930s and the rising tide of fascists throughout the 30s are high on the political agenda 90 years later in the 2020s again.


Alkohol ist eine Droge, da Alkohol abhängig machen kann. Die Bewusstseinsveränderungen können beachtliche bis extreme Ausmaße erreichen. Das wissen wir alle und zwar seit Jahrhunderten. Mäßigung bei Rauschmitteln ist nötig, aber schwer erlernbar. Etwas Genuss ist gesellschaftlich nicht nur toleriert, sondern gewollt zur Förderung der Geselligkeit. Zu viel Genuss beeinträchtigt meistens andere und wird dann zu einer schwierigen Problematik. Ärztinnen, Psychologinnen und andere Heilberufe stehen oft hilflos, wie auch das nahe familiäre Umfeld, vor dieser Situation. Selbst neuere Studien weisen darauf hin, dass die Versorgung dieser Patienten (UK), bestenfalls in der Hälfte der Fälle als gut einzustufen ist. Die Studie zu Großbritannien beschreibt gleichfalls die Krankheitsgeschichte und -versorgung als „eskalierende Tragödie“. Für die meisten anderen Länder liegen keine wirklich guten Daten vor, die weder einen Handlungsbedarf noch auf einen gesellschaftlichen Gestaltungswillen hindeuten würden.
Die Radiosendung zum Thema „Umgang mit Alkoholkranken“ und die Initiative von Sänger Max Mutzke, „Kindern suchtkranker Eltern eine Stimme geben“ beschreibt eindrücklich die generationsübergreifende Bedeutung von Alkoholkrankheit. Alkohol ist eben nicht nur das Problem der betroffenen Person. Ein ganzes Umfeld ist betroffen. Das Problem wächst sich meistens aus zu einer Problematik für das weitere familiäre Umfeld, Freundeskreise und ArbeitskollegInnen. Es ist erstaunlich, dass wir seit Jahrhunderten keinen anderen Umgang mit alkoholbasierten Rauschmitteln gefunden haben, als alles erlaubt oder alles verboten, außer der Altersbegrenzung für Kinder und beim Autofahren. Der Maler Bruegel sah das wohl ähnlich. Den St. Martinswein kann sich heute jeder im Laden um die Ecke selbst kaufen. Mäßigung im Umgang mit Drogen ist nach wie vor ein schwieriger Lernprozess, für Einzelne (Jordaens – Der König drinkt!), wie für die Gesellschaft. ( fast betrunkenes Video Alko VLC Bruegel MRBA Bruxelles.jpg zur Bildexploration).

Aphorismen L2

“Man soll öfters dasjenige untersuchen, was von den Menschen meist vergessen wird, wo sie nicht hinsehen und was so sehr als bekannt angenommen wird, dass es keiner Untersuchung mehr wert geachtet wird.“ (Lichtenberg S. 50). Eine eindrückliche Warnung sich nicht nur den großen Wellen und Wogen der Öffentlichkeit oder der Wissenschaften hinzugeben. Wo viele nicht hinschauen oder bewusst wegsehen, da gibt es meist einiges zu ergründen. Die Soziologie der kleinen Dinge, der Alltagsgegenstände bringt faszinierende Erkenntnisse hervor. Nehmen wir nur einmal die Bekleidung beim Kochen. Von der Kittelschürze zum gestylten Outfit für die Kochshow zum Gesellschafts-cooking“ haben sich Kleidungsstücke und Berufe in ihrer Funktionalität gewandelt. Dem Anlass entsprechend wird sich gekleidet. Kochen ist von den Hinterzimmern mancherorts ins Zentrum der Gesellschaft mutiert. Wertschätzung von Handwerk und delikate Zubereitung sollten Rekrutierung erleichtern. Bleibt nur noch die Arbeit drumherum. Einkaufen, Einräumen, Einweichen, Abtrocknen, Aufräumen. Die Arbeit geht uns nicht aus, sie verändert sich nur. Wertschätzung der kleinen Aktivitäten, desjenigen, „was von den Menschen meist vergessen wird, wo sie nicht hinsehen“ kann so aufschlussreich sein. Hinschauen und Verstehen lernen bleibt angesagt. Lichtenberg weiter: „Man frage sich selbst, ob man sich die kleinsten Sachen erklären kann; dieses ist das einzige Mittel, sich ein rechtes System zu formieren, seine Kräfte zu erforschen und seine Lektüre sich nützlich zu machen.“ Aphorismen können ein ganzes Forschungsprogramm auf den Punkt bringen und so die kleinsten Beiträge noch als nützlich erweisen. (Foto: Schreibatelier von George Sand in Nohant).

Narrative economics

Narratives have been with us as long as mankind exists. They just take different forms and content nowadays. Whereby narratives have first spread orally, then much later through written words, images and movies, they are forceful ways of communicating. Robert Shiller wrote a good story about narratives related to the field of economics. Referring to the writing of the polymath David Hume (1742), main proponent with Adam Smith of the Scottish enlightenment, contagion like in pandemics is mentioned for the first time to explain that “the multitude will certainly be seized by the common affection and be governed by it in all their actions”. (Shiller 2019, p. 58). In order to understand narratives going viral Shiller mentions the importance for narratives to be embedded in “narrative constellations”. Holding truth against spreading false narratives might not be enough in itself. Strong, catching narratives seem to bypass or override even truthful information. Additionally, narratives never die, but rather offer opportunities for repetition. On content of economic narratives Shiller exemplifies stock market panic, consumerism, financial stability, automation and AI fears, speculation bubbles, evil business and labour unions. Topics like lazy unemployed persons, too early entry into retirement, too late entry into the labour market for youth, women or migrants, all have endured stigmatising narratives across time and/or across countries. With emotional and powerful economic narratives all around us, trust and authenticity become a very important meta-currency. The instantly printing camera now serves as proof. Beware of the scenery, actors and action chosen. Medieval painter Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667 Leiden-Amsterdam) had chosen the economic narrative of the “women baking pan cakes and the child as beggar”.  Ending up in a museum instead of the White House is probably the opposite of going viral. The same Photo in black and white might have more of a trustworthy documentary character than the suggestive colours.

Economic Narratives

Joseph Stiglitz (2003) provided a detailed description and interpretation of the economic history of the 1990s in his book on the roaring nineties. As a member of the Clinton Administration serving as a Chairman of the Council of economic advisers, he had first hand access to the information, debates about interpretations and conclusions drawn during the period. In the preface (2003, p.XII) he provides some of the lessons this work has provided him. “Today, the challenge is to get the balance right, between the state and the market, between collective action at the local, national, and global levels, and between government and non-governmental action. As economic circumstances change, the balance has to be redrawn. Government needs to take on new activities, and shed old ones. We have entered into an era of globalization in which the countries and peoples of the world are more closely integrated than ever before. But globalization itself means that we have to change that balance: we need more collective action at the international level, and we cannot escape issues of democracy and social justice in the global arena.”  The surprising approach by Stiglitz, as a winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize, to present no data in tables or figures demonstrates the need for telling convincing stories beyond throwing images and shuffled data at your audience. However, this is probably only feasible once you won a quasi-Nobel prize to not lose credibility among economists. Nevertheless, the issue is larger. Stiglitz manages to address the much larger audience of non-economists who construct or constructed their own “collective memory” of the legacy of the nineties as the “global 90s”.
The narrative of the 1990s grossly neglected the value of the biosphere. Asymmetric information (his shared prize winning issue) was and is still used in the market of natural resources to keep polluting the planet and push ahead with careless deforestation. The Exxon case is just one piece in the puzzle of asymmetric information and misinformation. Misguiding economic narratives play a powerful role. Maybe we need to write more about the “roaring failures” of economics and public policies across several decades in the 20th century. (red dots = forests lost on our planet A early 2000s, and there is no planet B)


Summary terms for the 1990s range from the “global 90s”, the “roaring (again) nineties”, the “fabulous 90s” to the “gay 90s”. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new era of reaping the economic benefits of more peaceful times had started. Re-unification or unification of Germany could have unsettled the balance of power on the continent. However, a firm integration into the European project and the withering away of the Cold War on a more global scale allowed economic growth in many countries and even continents. Joseph E. Stiglitz claimed it was the world’s most prosperous decade even. The overly popular view that unrestricted market principles will allow for rapid growth reached huge crowds before the new limits to growth (which were the old ones) and rising imbalances (in trade and among different firm sizes) became clear later on. The outlook of “America in the global ‘90s”, written in 1989 is overly optimistic. Nevertheless, it describes fairly well the almost euphoric view at the beginning of the nineties. “World economic growth will strengthen in the 1990s. Democracy and free markets are on the upswing. U.S. will retain its lead in technology and world trade. Openness to foreign capital, goods, immigrants is key. Budget and trade deficits will continue downward. America is a strong nation getting stronger.” (Kiplinger and Kiplinger, 1989 p.1)
Ten years make a decade, but the retrospective analysis might not make for such a rosy overall image. In other fields of study, many saw the real societal changes in the 90s in the liberation of views on gender. Gay movements and queer studies are on the rise throughout these years. The realisation of “Genders” beyond the male – female, binary vision captures more global attention as well. “Education reform in the ‘90s” (Finn et al. 1992) start to focus more on “higher-order learning skills, expanded methods of student assessment” (Joseph Murphy 1992 p.13) in addition to interdisciplinarity, core curriculum, original source materials and teacher choice. Diversification is high on the agenda, despite slow progress in social matters and high unemployment in many countries at the beginning of the 90s. Capture the peace dividend wherever it seems possible. Rapid globalization was the panacea of the decade; before the iron curtain would come down again 22 years later.  The photographic art by Didier Engels (Affordable Art Fair Brussels 2023) reflects the bright and colourful side of globalisation as much as the overload. The 90s made us believe mainly in the bright side of it.


The social sciences deal with time either as part of social theory and as part of social measurement in the broadest sense. The entry of time in “The encyclopedia of social theory” (Ritzer, 2006, p.837-41) reminds us that since the age of Augustinus, believing that time is a God-given concept, we have evolved with Kant’s notion of the “Ding an sich” that time exists within our experience, but also beyond our experience of it. It is Durkheim who sees time as a social institution and raises the issue of a social construction of the concept(s) of time. In the process of civilisation, Nobert Elias leads us to think of time as an evolving social process which allows us to reach higher levels of civilisations. Despite wars and other backlashes, the basic premise remains an eventual improvement on previous situations (Time 3). The phenomenological method applied by Husserl points at the “inner time consciousness” of persons, which finds its literary expression for example in Proust’s writings.
In addition to time as the object of social theories, we find frequent implicit use of concepts of time as a component of social theories. Life courses, social change, social mobility, social integration, learning, all these concepts are conceived with “time stamps” attached to the them. Their temporality, i.e. location in time and space, durations, sequential orders and interlinkages form huge fields of research. Whole societies have attempted to define when is the “normal”, “right” or “best” time to do something for the individual or the society as a whole. Social desirability is linked to time and space and varies accordingly. The 1960s probably were a decade where the questioning of social desirability was most obvious.
Social measurement of time and the location of social phenomena in time leads us to the empirical field of studying time or the treatment of time as a basic dimension in and of social processes. “The encyclopedia of social measurement” (Kempf-Leonard, 2005) list the sampling of time as a basic entry to the topic. Frequency of sampling, (yearly, quarterly), level of sampling (person, household, region, country), repeated surveys (prospective, retrospective) of same person or rotating samples of persons have their specific strengths and weaknesses. Analytical methods rely on the concepts of the measurement of time. It seems to be a fair observation that (Clarke and Granato, 2005, p.836) the future of time series analysis lies in the linkages to theory. After all, the 2 worlds of theory and empirical measurement are linked through the concept of time, despite the tendency to abstract from it or assuming a large overlap in the concept of time (and space) referred to. Clocks seems to be ticking differently in different places.
Image: Dali Paris. R. & N. Descharnes Salvador Dali Sculptures & Objects. Eccart. Ref. 615, page 238.


»Tempus fugit» (Latin proverb) time is flying, or time is escaping us. This is a classical quote. Students of Latin come across it in language acquisition.  “Carpe diem” make the most of the day, others responded. Some even raise it to a dogma of their existence. Whereas in classical times, time was more likely to be perceived as a linear concept (v = s x t), modern concepts discuss time as “acceleration” a nonlinear concept (a = v x t = s x t²)  or higher order non-linearities even (time³). Social time is embedded in such concepts of time. At some moments we perceive time as running very slowly, at other instances as running fast or accelerating. The synchronisation of time for friends, a couple, a family, lives, within a society or between societies is the big challenge. We tend to use calendars to synchronize our time acknowledging that time might be running at different speed for different persons. We have invented rituals of synchronisation like celebrating birthdays, departures at work, retirements or relative to seasons, with corresponding seasonal greetings. In between these events time fluctuates with different speed for different persons. Commonly in a kind of superficial objectivity, time is running in the same second-, minute-, hour-, day-like fashion, but considering activities or experiences, the same time span is widely different across persons. A lot of intergenerational conflicts have their origins in this non-synchronicity of time across generations. Bernard Guy (2018) reminds us of the link of time and space, as in the equations above, common in classical physics, where we could replace s with the change of coordinates of 2 GPS-signals. This space – time relationship complicates our simple reference to time. We have become used to think in time zones across the planet or within continents, however, our imagination is a bit stretched by imagining others sleeping while we are terribly busy on the other side of the globe. Global production and logistic processes have integrated the time and space framework for just-in-time delivery and optimisation of processes. As mankind we are still having a hard time to think about time and spend years “à la recherche du temps perdu” (Proust manuscript image below, BnF Paris2023).
Guy, B. (2018). Parler d’accélération, c’est aussi dire comment nous comprenons le temps. Dans : Nicole Aubert éd., @ la recherche du temps: Individus hyperconnectés, société accélérée : tensions et transformations (pp. 111-123). Toulouse: Érès.