Repair 3

Repair is our new mantra. Think of repairing in all domains as of now. Nature is showing us the way how to repair in many ways. Culture is also embracing the shift towards repairing as caring. If we really care about our planet, and there is no planet B, we shall have to repair in many more domains. We are used to repair bicycles, cars, roofs, windows etc. Repairing is never boring. You can improve the performance of a device or building by repairing it, even with relatively small budgets. Isolation of buildings is a good example of investing in upgrades through repairing. Rather than throwing away a functioning heating system repairing it with an energy saving device is enhancing its performance and produces fewer emissions in the short run. Heat pumps are the way forward for new installations. Shifting a sector, heating with gaz, to ensure longer lasting repair and improve options would save a lot of raw materials and CO2 as well. The construction sector has repair work almosts in its DNA, the energy sector will have to make that shift as well. Dare to repair.

Design Start-up

Es war wieder Designmesse. Klein, aber fein, in Berlin in den KantGaragen. Die Location weckt schon Hoffnung auf Experimentelles, Garagenhaftes, Handwerkliches. Das bringt Abwechslung in die sonstige, glitzernde Shoppingwelt. Das renovierte und entgiftete Parkhaus erlaubt einen Rundgang über mehrere Etagen, vorbei an Galerien und Ständen von DesignerInnen. Es macht sich eine anregende Brise von erfrischenden Ideen breit. Von Design im Raum mit Leuchten und Möbeln über Design von Mode und Schmuck lässt sich viel Schickes finden. Blickfang, samt Blickfang Akademie haben es geschafft, die Mini-messe in den KantGaragen zu etablieren. Es kann sogar Eintritt verlangt werden. Eine weitere Begleitung der Neuen auf dem Markt wird oft nötig sein, denn selbst gute Innovationen sind meistens keine Selbstläufer. Konkurrenz belebt nicht nur das Geschäft, es bleibt meist auch ein Verdrängungsprozess.
Die großen, vielfach schließenden Kaufhäuser in den Innenstädten spüren besonders die Konkurrenz der individualisierenden DesignerInnen mit ihren einzigartig anmutenden Realisationen. Singuläre Kauferlebnisse auf solchen Messen, in stilvollem Ambiente, selbst in einem alten Parkhaus sind, allem Anschein nach, ein Erfolgsrezept. Start-up statt Close-down schafft viele erfüllende Arbeitsplätze. Gute Arbeit wird nicht aussterben, sondern durchstarten.

De-risking

Risks are all around us. Risk is the spice of life. True, but this might be an elitist concept of life or business. Survival of the fittest or the best equipped to take risks might be the consequence. After the 3 crises, financial, covid, energy, we have a new impetus to thrive for de-risking. Certainly, concerning our health, we are aware that prevention is key to fight a pandemic. In order to stem an energy crisis, most countries start to rethink their energy mix and achieving more energy autonomy is a major step to shield against risks of delayed delivery or commerce with belligerent states like Russia. De-risking is key in supply chains for industries (automotive production, microprocessors) as well as service providers (cloud services, care givers) just as well. Mariana Mazzucato (UC London) urges us to develop a new narrative to accompany the transformation of our production and service provision models. Mazzucato advocates to learn from lessons from the ground of how to proceed in the best way. Copenhagen is a good starting point to observe how a metropolitan city manages the greening and decarbonisation of a city. It is important to not only target single policies but the coherence of several policies and approaches. In my view de-risking means for Germany and the EU to shield energy systems from foreign, malignant interference. Only local production of energy and nearby consumption of it will ensure the de-risking of energy provision and consumption. Let us start with massive investments in rooftop solar or small wind turbines. Nobody complained about millions of ugly television antenna all around us. Solar cells on balconies contribute to a basic local electricity supply, difficult to target millions of solar cells instead of a single huge and horrifically dangerous nuclear power plant. At the same time ,we reduce dependency on monopoly or oligopoly structures that develop their own agenda (Too big to fail, remember those?). I prefer the reverse statement. Because they are so big, they are doomed to fail and, therefore, fail us sooner or later. The Forum New Economy offered an open and accessible platform for exchange of ideas. That’s a good starting point to address de-risking. Reducing Risk is in the subtitle of Rebecca Henderson’s Chapter 3 on “Reimagining Capitalism” (short Review), but I would like to add the business case for household production of energy for de-risking supply failure and exploitation of consumers through excessive profit margins as a prosumer business case.

Hannover Messe

Es war wieder einmal Hannover Messe. Das jährliche Treffen der Industrie mit samt der neuesten und manchmal auch älteren technischen Lösungen bietet eine eindrückliche Plattform zur Repräsentation von technischen Problemlösungen (offizielle Bilder LINK) . Da gibt es Lösungen für Probleme, bei denen wir noch nicht einmal wussten, dass wir sie haben oder einmal haben werden. So überrascht es nicht dort einige Firmen gelistet zu sehen, die ihre Dienste und Produkte anpreisen für die Unterstützung mit künstlicher Intelligenz, aber eben auch das Erkennen von Mogelei unter Zuhilfenahme von künstlicher Intelligenz. Also so ähnlich wie auf einer Automesse gibt es auch eine Abteilung die Rettungs- und Krankenwagen präsentiert. Technische Lösungen denken, wenn sie gute Lösungen sind, eben immer gleich ihr eigenes Versagen mit. Es bleibt letztlich nur die Frage, wie viele Versagensschleifen mitgedacht worden sind oder mitgedacht werden können. Der menschliche Faktor (als Fehlerursache) ist dabei ein sehr schwer auszuschließender Problemfall. Das musste nun auch die Hannover Messe als Ganze erfahren. Wenn die Menschen, die die Menschen hin- und wieder wegbringen vom Messegelände streiken, dann kommt das nahezu einem GAU (größtem anzunehmendem Unfall) gleich. Es gibt nicht nur menschliches Versagen bei Maschinenabläufen zu berücksichtigen, sondern auch mangelnde Kooperationsbereitschaft oder gar Böswilligkeit. Dabei sind wir nun aber schon in der Science-fiction oder James Bond 007 gelandet. Artificial Intelligence wird nicht frei von diesen allzu menschlichen Schwächen sein. Ein paar Gedanken sollten wir als Interessenten einer Fortbestehung unserer Spezies schon haben. Zwischenzeitlich lasse ich ChatGPD mal die Frage beantworten, wie Angestellte der Deutschen Bahn effektiv ihre Forderungen durchsetzen können. Kein Wunder, dass autoritäre Länder bereits mit dem Regeln von künstilicher Intelligenz begonnen haben. Ich zumindest habe viel Energie und CO2 gespart, denn der Messebesuch in Hannover fand virtuell statt. Deswegen dann auch keine eigenen neuen Bilder. Zur Produktion von Fake-Images oder recycling-Bildern früherer Messen (Photoshoppen) fehlt mir die Lust, Zeit und wohl auch die künstlerische vielleicht sogar kriminelle Energie.

Printing

Printing is a more than 5 century-old industry. The invention of the printing press is mostly attributed to Johannes Gutenberg from Mainz. However, the Asian precursor of mobile type letter printing of Cai Lun of the Jikji dates back to 1377 in Korea. These early masterpieces of the inventors of print can be inspected at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The summary term for this technical innovation by historians is the “age of start-ups”. The procedure for Gutenberg to have 2 financing rounds with his “business angel” Johann Fust, who is later claiming even almost the full rights of the printed volumes, resembles the start-up spirit of today as much as that of the 15th century. Not belonging to the Patrician families, it was very difficult to defend your rights in courts of the gilds. The printers also became a very powerful intermediary themselves. They either sold pre-ordered books or had to take the risk of assessing the market for their product. The editors of today do much the same in the trading world of books and rights of authors and translators. Merchandising products of the church and later churches (protestants Luther Bible) had a particular value to both the clergy and its devotees, not to mention the shop keepers in-between as well. Pilgrimage business was another start-up industry still going strong in the 20th and 21st century and popular in all religions. The early prints and typographs applied are fascinating  in themselves, but there is a lot to be learned about the foundation of a new industries that still employs millions of people and is at the origin of learning revolution similar to the one we are living with the digital technologies today. The European languages with respect to printing had a certain competitive advantage, based on 26 letters of the alphabet, far fewer types were needed to print books than the more than a thousand different signs for printing a Korean text. In terms of printing this is cost-reducing and probably you do not need to be able to read yourself to be a printer or it makes proof reading more accessible favouring benefit margins. After all, the age of industrialisation probably had a precursor in the printing industry. The potential of the printing industry was only exploited much later to the full extent. Comparable to “peak oil” we hope to have reached “peak paper” at last as well for the sake of our planet and our own survival.

Bauhaus Haus

Zu den Ursprüngen des “Bauhaus” in Weimar gehört das Haus, welches die Feder von Georg Muche entworfen hat. Auch wenn das Bauhaus überwiegend mit Walter Gropius assoziiert wird, ist die Parallele von Georg Muche zu dem französischen Maler und Architekten Le Corbusier frappierend. Beide waren geprägt durch die eigene Malerei und Zeichenkunst. Die Entwürfe für Häuser oder Villen folgten Zeichnungen, die wiederum einer “cognitive map” mit Prinzipen der Konzeption und der Konstruktion folgten. Treu den Ansätzen des Bauhauses verwirklichte Muche bereits in 1923 sein Musterhaus. Modulare Bauweise, preisgünstige Erstellung, aktuelle Technologie, perspektivische Blickwinkel und Lichtspiel. Eine gewisse Parallelität zu der Villa La Roche und Jeanneret von Le Corbusier besteht nicht nur in der zeitlichen Dimension, sondern auch in dem Einfluß von kubistischem Spiel mit Perspektiven in Haus  und auf das Haus. Die von der Malerei herkommenden Architekten entwerfen ihre Räume mit “The painter’s eye“. Vielleicht kommt nicht zuletzt daher der Traum vom Eigenheim, der so prägend bleibt in ganz Europa und der westlichen Welt. Geprägt von den 1910er und frühen 1920er Jahren war kostengünstiges Bauen eine wichtige Rahmenbedingung. Relativ kleine Grundrisse, modular erweiterungsfähig, preiswerte Baustoffe sorgten trotz Schwierigkeiten für rasche Realisierungsmöglichkeiten. Eine gewisse deutsch-französische Parallelität drängt sich auf. LeMonde vom 6.4.2023 beschreibt ausführlich das Dilemma des 21. Jahrhunderts. Der Traum vom eigenen Haus wird für die nächsten Generationen schwieriger zu realisieren sein. Rohstoffpreise, Grundstückspreise, Arbeitslöhne, Kreditzinsen schnellen in die Höhe. Der Traum vom Eigenheim bleibt ein Traum älterer Generationen oder der glücklichen Erben solcher Häuser, fast unerreichbar für Durchschnittsverdienende. “Gemeinsam statt Einsam” ist die noch gültige Schlussfolgerung, die bereits Henning Scherf formuliert hat. Die neue Herausforderung für den Bau war, ist und bleibt die soziale Frage, der wachsenden Ungleichheit entgegen zu wirken.

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.

Repair 2

Ever since the visit to the exhibition “Care, Repair, Heal” at the Martin Gropiusbau in Berlin the image of flying protheses rests 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 bann 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! …

Construction

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.

 

Patient

The pandorra’s box is wide open. With ChatGPT applications the discussion has started to use it for more medical applications. As for much research having assistants to support you in routine tasks in your research is a standard procedure. Now the medical profession is also discussing the use of ChatGPT for the boring and time-consuming task to draft reports. The first study, published in the Lancet Digital Health, evaluates in a preliminary form the patient-sensitive form of communication between clinics and patients. Beyond chatbots, which organise information from calling persons, the obvious application is the use of ChatGPT to draft patient clinic letters. The example in the study is the skin cancer reporting. Lengthy reporting back to patients of lots of “hot and cold spots” might be done by AI with sufficient reliability. All depends on the correctness of the data base, the screening and samples taken. The communication between clinic and patient can then focus on other issues. ChatGPT just like neuroflash has its strength in being able to control for the “level” of the language. In addition to the choice of the output language it is possible to use, as it is required in the U.S., an average understanding level of patients. In other words, easy language rather than medical expert language is an option or even a requirement. Anecdotal evidence and the PISA for adults studies show how difficult it can be to talk the same language even if you talk the same language. There is ample scope for improvement and ChatGPT or neuroflash for German applications of AI are prime candidates to fill this gap in clinic patient communication. Considering that our mobile phones (can) do already most of the scanning of skin cancer dots and AI is used in pre-scanning the images and recommends to consult medical expertise, the next step to improve health delivery seems feasible. Whereas the statistical analysis explains 62% of “median humanness”, the score of 37% of explained variance of median correctness is a surprise as the basis of the model to explain deviation from correctness should be as low as possible. Medical data, like many other data, is not simply binary. The way forward is most likely relying on a “human-in-the-loop” approach for some time. A limited human input might reassure many patients as well.
Source: Stephen R Ali, Thomas D Dobbs, Hayley A Hutchings, Iain S Whitaker (2003). Using ChatGPT to write patient clinic letters. Lancet Digit Health 2023 https://doi.org/10.1016/S2589-7500(23)00048-1

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.

90s

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.

Sax and the Sax

Adolphe Sax is celebrated for his celebrated design of musical instruments in what it known and played as the Sax family of musical instruments. Most museums around the world have an example of an early Sax instrument in their collections. Beyond the many fascinating musical delights and emotions produced with the instrument, there is a century-old debate around the issue of the patent attributed to the various designs claimed by Adolphe Sax for the Saxophone among others. The patent attribution was hugely different across Europe in the 19th century (largely inexistant in other parts of the world at the time). The reason for this were differing laws guiding intellectual property rights. “In France no preliminary examination was necessary before a patent could be granted; in Germany examination was obligatory; and … British patent laws, which allowed makers to register designs or apply for patents for developments that had been copied from abroad (imported inventions), as long as they had not been published in Britain.” (Mitroulia and Myers, 2008 p.93). There is a well-documented controversy about the “Berlin valves” and the contested patent in France of it. Design of instruments, particularly popular ones, guarantee sizable earnings for producers of instruments. After 20 years of the 1846 patent in France 1866 the patent expired and the copies could become even cheaper. Some ugly disputes in the middle of Europe were fought around this issue. Remember that military music was still accompanying troops for better or worse. “Visionary or plagiarist? The authors are unable to give a simple verdict. … The fact that Sax claimed originality for some borrowed ideas seems in retrospect less important than the true vision shown.” (Mitroulia and Myers, 2008 p.135). We might not agree with this statement. The visit to the MIM in Brussels gives a good overview of the evolution of musical instruments over thousands of years and across continents, which pushes us to rethink the link of society and technology through the lens of music and technology. Welcome to techno music beyond patent laws. Pushing the boundaries of copyrights on sound sequences to new limits.
(Sources: MIM Brussels, Rice A. R. (2009). Making and improving the nineteenth-century saxophone. Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society. 35:81-122. Mitroulia, E., A. Myers. (2008). Adolphe Sax: Visionary or plagiarist? Historic Brass Society journal, 20, 93-141).

Flotow Singelée

Frédéric de Flotow hatte sicherlich in Jean-Baptiste Singelée einen Fan. 2 seiner frühen Opern, Stradella und Martha, wurden mit Fantasien für Violine und Klavier von Singelée neu arrangiert. Der Geiger, Dirigent und Komponist Jean-Baptiste Singelée, geboren 1812 in Brüssel (damals noch zugehörig zu Frankreich) ist in Ostende 1875 verstorben. Eine spätere Würdigung im Kursaal in Ostende mit einem Konzert verdeutlicht die Wertschätzung über sein Wirken als Konzertmeister und Dirigent hinaus u.a. in Brüssel. Sein kompositorisches Werk ist beachtlich, auch wenn seine einzige Oper vielleicht nicht so viel Nachhaltigkeit erreicht hat, trotz des einprägsamen Titels: „Les dentelles de Bruxelles“. Uns interessieren hier seine Fantasien basierend auf Themen von Flotow, die als Drucke erhalten geblieben sind und in der „public domain“ einsehbar sind. Interessant ist auch die gemeinsame Zeit am „Conservatoire Royale de Musique à Bruxelles“ mit Alphonse Sax, der später die Patente auf die Instrumentenfamilie der Saxophone erlangte. Klassische Musik populär machen, war schon ein frühes Bestreben vieler Komponierenden und Musikschaffenden. Ganz nach dem Motto: „Ich mag keine Klassik, aber das gefällt mir“ werden so Personen erreicht, die sich ansonsten für ganz andere Musik und Rhythmen interessieren. Da hat der Fritz oder Frédéric de Flotow vielleicht noch mehr Chancen in der Unterhaltungsmusik. Mit Jacques Offenbach verband ihn eine Freundschaft, die “Co-creation” hervorgebracht hat. Beide verdienten sich wohl etwas Geld für den Lebensunterhalt in Paris in jungen Jahren.

Animation 23

The animation festival “Anima” in Brussels is a good chance to catch up with new trends in the field (teasers). AR and VR animation is taking the first few time slots there as well. As much as it is important to allow visits behind the scene in opera houses, it is part of our common knowledge to understand the creation of animated films. This pedagogic mission is taken seriously at “Anima”. Taking the example of the animation “Un amour de cochon“, with several farm stages where Babs and Oink are exposed in the original small scale production scenery for the animation. However, it needs a lot of professionals to let a story come alive (Images below).
The short AR films represented seem to get carried away with futuristic city and landscape designs, which you experience in 360° turning your head with the heavy headset. Beyond the futuristic, historic or folkish settings chosen, the intended message, narrative or story is key. A metaverse immersion experience alone is tedious, if there is not a strong emotion or message connected to the immersive images. Sitting at the bar in front of a virtual drink is a bit dry, but the Paul Klee experience conveys a terrifying message. Totalitarian regimes use unimaginable brutality in wars and against their own people and artists. This has not changed. Animations catch specific (younger) audiences and therefore we surely will have more of this kind of imagination become real, or virtual or a real virtual experience.

Art Un-Fair

The Brussels Art Fair (Brafa 2023) with its long tradition is certainly a major highlight in the world of art in Brussels. In view of the languages spoken at the fair, mainly French and Dutch, some English with here and there a word in Spanish or German, the international reach is probably still not at the level of before the corona crisis.
The availability of established, internationally recognized art over many centuries on the art market is remarkable. Whereas before the crisis speculators bought art to shield their fortunes from a high inflation and/or politically instable period, nowadays it seems to me, that some art is returning to the market due to the need for liquidity of speculators or risks of confiscation in case of dubious previous acquisitions or ownerships. Renowned galleries, of course, provide impeccable certificates or information on them, a tricky business in itself. Anyway, the tour on the fair is a “parcour” through the history of art, mainly through the Western or European arts across centuries rather than decades. Most persons will find splendid examples according to their preferences of art ranging from paintings, sculpture, prints or other artefacts. Beyond the impressive individual art work, the arrangements and “mise en scene” of art is another learning experience at the fair. Whereas most public museums are happy to make accessible as much as they can of their collections and archives, the private art market has another objective. Effective and convincing presentation of the artefact is likely to “enrich” the value of art work as well as the seller and the dealer. Technology allows great lighting and some otherwise “sombre” artwork becomes a shiny little piece catching eyes, hearts and wallets. For some visitors it works probably the other way round.
For persons overly stimulated by art, I recommend to close the actual or virtual visit with a look at the little bit cheeky artwork presenting Belgian chocolate next to royalty (Gallery Delaive, showing Peter Anton’s “Paradise Variety” next to Andy Warhal’s depiction of a Queen, see below or their Instagram presentation). A sublime moment to repeat the experience at home at moderate prices with your very own box of chocolates. At a price of 10€ each box you can enjoy roughly 2000 of them for the price of the art work. The question is: What is more healthy? Think about mental health as well. Alternative question: Art on a Fair is fair, unfair or fair traide?

Writing

New research on the fabrication of writing allows to debunk some of the received ideas about writers as living and drafting in a solitary space. However, the facts frequently show something different. In the journal of the BnF (images 2022), (Chroniques des la BnF Nr. 95 p.9 pdf-file) the BnF makes transparent the creative cosmos of Marcel Proust (Exhibition closed). From correspondence and other influential images, we learn about the “fabrique de l’oeuvre”. Far from writing his books from front to end in a linear fashion, Proust drafts “isolated sequences which he mounts, demounts and regroups sometimes even years later. These clippings of text are arranged by him like a patchwork, a collage rather than following a linear progression. Just peeping into the writer’s studio, drafting style and “paperoles” is fascinating. What a mess, some would say. What a huge imaginative space he has been living in, despite being reported to draft most of his work while actually being in his bed (Lire Magazine 12-2022). Beds are not always for sleeping, only. Today’s start-up enterprises frequently start from home, a century ago Proust demonstrated a lot can result from a very tiny physical space, but an enormous space in mind.

Employment

Employment is back on top of the agenda. Not as we used to think, though. Previously unemployment had dominated societal concerns. Now it is the lack of persons seeking or available for employment. What has happened? The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the need of persons qualified to work in the health sector. From health care and urgency care, we are short of personnel in all these fields, everywhere. Then we discovered the role of essential services and the need to equip crucial infrastructures like ports, transport, shops, schools and ambulances with service persons resisting despite work overload. Larger cohorts leave employment to retire, some even early due to illness or burn-out. Additionally, war is back in Europe. Military personnel is in high demand again, drawing largely from younger cohorts. The need for conventional weapons. long thought to be oblivious, is forcefully back on the agenda.
Growth potentials are everywhere. However, these pre-modern facts encounter a population in the western democracies that insists on new approaches to employment. Beyond hard and soft skills, recruiters seek atypical skills, competences and trajectories. A parachute jump from an airplane, cooking and dining experiences, caring spells, periods in self-employment, all are directly or indirectly relevant for employment and teamwork. So, what is your specialty? Collecting stamps? Surely you are able to spot tiny differences in images with specific content. Fake news and fake image detection or video surveillance is in high demand, just try an application and discover the employment potential of your MAD skills. Sounds crazy? No joke. Skill needs are everywhere, just give it a start again and again. Read a serious newspaper regularly (here LeMonde 19.1.2023) for inspiration.

A for Action

The A is everywhere. A is the beginning of the Alphabet, Google is our new Alphabet, we just have not realised it. A simple A-rating in investment is not good enough, AA or AAA is the goal. All this calls for ACTION. Do not be stopped in your action by reading on “Action theory” by Parsons, Rational action is the basis of most economic reasoning before the behavioural turn of economics. It is commonly acknowledged now, that rational action might not always be as rational as we want to believe it is. “Frame selection” as theory to explain our choice of action is fashionable in the social sciences. Transforming values and intentions into actions is a big challenge. Many jokes turn around this issue, like intentions to get up early in the morning. Find out whether you are an actionable leader. You should have at least a few “actionable items” on your to-do-list. Of course, Microsoft recommends actionable items to improve our productivity while spending hours on emails.
Well, early philosophers already distinguished between “vita contemplativa” and “vita activa“. A lot is about finding the right balance here and Hannah Arendt’s differentiation of active life in labor, work and action. She puts emphasis on action as a way to distinguish ourselves from others. The same thought might lead to very different actions. Hence, acting on one’s belief or values could lead to very different policies for just 2 persons. Action Artists perform even in inaction. We are back to basic questions of democratic  procedures as a form to moderate between different opinions or possible actions. Lots of other A-words come up now: ambiguity, anxiety, alienation, affirmation, affect, affection. In Greek, A might be associated with Apollo, In German with the famous “Angst”, but French is overriding all this with “Amour”.

V for Value

 

Value in its singular form refers for most people to the value of things. Since Karl Marx we have been fighting about the surplus value of a worker’s work. Nowadays, we have to deal with speculation bubbles on the value of property or even basic elements of nutrition (Water, wheat, energy). Max Weber introduced us to the rigorous analysis of value judgements. In political science the plural “values” refers to basic human rights as fundamental values of humanity. Many other associations with the letter V pop up and arouse emotions: victory, video, view(s), vision, visit, voice, vote, vulnerability.
Creating lasting value seems to transform itself into part of our system of values later on. The longitudinal dimension of value is often neglected, particularly in the short-term focus of much of economic reasoning. Value over time, in addition to the distribution question, or as part of distribution over time, excites researchers of inequality and policy design for generations. Approaching the end of the alphabet increases the stakes of the “endgame”, it seems. Value for me, might not be of value for others. I hope you have found a person that values much of the same as you do yourself.
Interpersonal value, value exchange and intertemporal value are  own fields of research. Since the Scottish enlightenment and Adam Smith’s work on “The theory of moral sentiments (TMS)”, reciprocity in value exchange has been an issue, well before the utilitarian turn in his own writings on “The wealth of nations”. Even Adam Smith refers to happiness and interest as a kind of value and “very laudable principles of actions” (part VII.ii.3.15 in TMS).
Children learn and experience value as natural part of growing up. Material things which you valued highly as toddler, you are ready to trash or exchange a couple of years later at much lower prices. Above which monetary value are you ready to trade in your humanitarian values? Never? History and bargaining theory is full of experiments and experiences that teach us otherwise. Corruption is the prominent example of exchanging or trading material value against immaterial values. Reading Kwame Anthony Appiah on “Experiments in ethics” is highly instructive. This bring me back to the economist joke I used to tell in lectures: You know that you’re an economist, if you ask your child, whether s/he prefers 20 Euros in cash, a trip to an adventure park later, a basket ball set or a pizza party for the next birthday. Economists do all this to find out about the value of each item, the preferences, the time frame of delayed reward or discounting of value also called the net-present value. Reading up to here is equal to the value of, maybe, an online bachelor in economics or social science. In your very own life review of learnings you then can estimate the value of your readings to you, your community or humanity. Alternatively, enjoy the joy of just living in peace with optimism.

Digital Technology

Im Februar 2018 hatte ich auf dieser Webseite eine kleine Veröffentlichung mit dem kurzen folgenden Text angekündigt.
“A new research paper dealing with digital technologies is now published in the Open Journal of Social Sciences. The major impetus of the small scale project was to identify the potential of digital technologies to foster democratic procedures and decision-making. The paper investigates the role of new technologies to support employees and the trade union movement.”

The pdf-download free of charge is here.

Fast 5 Jahre später bräuchte das Paper eine Ergänzung, denn es gibt wohl eine interessierte Community dafür (1000+ Downloads, 3500+ online views-reads). Insbesondere sind neben die sozialen Netzwerke diverse mediale Platformen dazu gekommen, wie TiKTok, Mastodon, Twitch, Instagram und fast schon wieder vorbei  Twitter. Ergänzen würde ich wohl auch die Notwendigkeit, digitale Technologie einzusetzen  in der Bekämpfung von Korruption. So ließe sich automatisch in einer großen Menge an Zahlungen Auffälligkeiten wie hohe Bargeldsummen leicht identifizieren und Alarmsignale senden. Ebenso (Gruppen-) Reiseaktivitäten und zweifelhafte Abrechnungen könnten leichter zu Aufmerksamkeit führen.
Eigentlich freue ich mich bereits, dass dieser Artikel in eine damals recht unbekannten, aber eben “open access publication” doch eine so große Reichweite von aktiv Suchenden und Lesenden gefunden hat. Gut, gleich im Internet zu veröffentlichen und nicht in einem überteuerten Sammelband oder wissenschaftlicher Fachzeitschrift mit Bezahlschranke versteckt zu bleiben.

S for Society

At least since the “Greek Polis” became a subject of science, the study of society has filled libraries around the world. To catch up with the social sciences view on society, we may start with foundations based on Max Weber, Niklas Luhmann, Jürgen Habermas, Ulrich Beck to then move on to my predilection with micro-level foundation of social theory based on work from James Coleman. The history of sociological ideas runs from the protestant work ethic, autopoiesis in systems theory, ethics of discourse and communicative action, risk management to “1 to 1 relationships” as pillars of theorising about society. 10.000 pages later on, you might still ask yourself the question: what practical knowledge have I gained from this. Well let’s see. Imagine you want to learn about a friend and whether s/he is really a friend. Nowadays we would start with an online-search to find profiles of a person (facebook, Instagram, linked-in, twitter, twitch, mastodon). When the first entries pop-up, we start to learn about interests, looks, friends and preferences of the person. In which social media the person is (or not) participating tells a lot. We start to build an image of the person and her/his networks and communities. Soon we start comparing the person’s world reference framework with our set of values and characteristics. Welcome to thinking about society in small, and interactions within society or between groups of society. Adding some solid knowledge about statistics and you’re ready to start the science of society.
Yet, so many still open questions. When talking about society, we have to think about the trend of individualisation and ways to keep society together despite increasing plurality of life courses. “Solitude versus loneliness” is as much a social as it is an individual based issue. Community-building with inclusion, staying-on and exclusion processes have to be studied in detail. The whole process of civilisation or the study of suicide has been a sociological topic since its inception by Emile Durkheim. Imagineering is an additional tool to speculate in a systematic way about the past and future of society. That’s where all the arts come into the picture as well. The history of art is full of perspectives on society, its splendour, the misery of individuals, communities and societies. An emotional starting point is a very valid starting point, the science of society then moves on to abstraction and generalisations as well. The challenge is, to capture audiences emotionally, with short reflections on society.

R for Repairing

Without noticing for many people, we have shifted into the repair mode. Our planet needs repair work. Well beyond the less plastic, CO2, less oil, gaz and pollution in general, we have to actively repair what we have damaged, certainly since the industrial revolution. With nuclear waste we have entered into a phase, in which repairing is not really feasible. Areas around Tschernobyl and Fukushima speak for themselves. However, we seem to leave the repairing to future generations. Whereas for us currently it is an option, later on it will be an obligation.
The bionic interest has already turned to the Axolotl and Polycarpa mytiligera. Both species can repair themselves after the loss or a malfunctioning part of their body. Rather than producing externally, growing the spare part is a promising healing device. Nature provides many fabulous insights, if we were able to preserve the biodiversity. Repairing biodiversity is difficult, impossible for lost species which we do not even really know. Start to repair and build awareness that repairing can be fun. Beyond the gender stereotypes, women repair cars, men repair clothes, we have to learn from each other how to use our repair knowledge for many other things and devices. This applies even to our social, legal and economic systems.
In addition to reimagining, we need repairing everywhere. I have lots of stuff to repair at home. When do you start repairing? Welcome to the next trend: the joy to repair, repairs even joy.