Pressure or stress, in most humans, contributes to higher blood pressure. Sources for pressure are manifold and that is the basic problem. As it is hard to identify the major sources of high blood pressure, we often use a summary term “life style” in order to avoid shaming particular substances, (tabaco, red meat, alcohol to name just a few). Among life style elements is the daily rush to work and back home or bringing children to school and home again. Work itself is a major contributor as well. Leisure activities are not free of pressure in order to perform at a person’s best. As in many health topics, the balance does the trick. This is common knowledge beyond the Asian world as in their health philosophy of Yin and Yang. The Western world is proud to have the best and highest availability of medical treatment and hospitals for their populations, accepting some inequality in access nevertheless. For countries with less means for curative practices they have no choice and have to focus on preventive strategies (Lancet Study Link). Rural China, therefore, is a good case to study access and willingness to apply western medical type treatment of high blood pressure is too expensive and just not available in sufficient numbers. The good news is, with a preventive programme based on nurses rather than medical doctors the prevention of high blood pressure works reasonably well. Community health workers are therefore a cost-effective alternative in reducing blood pressure. Sitting is the new smoking, and driving around in a car rather than walking or cycling are health risks, even if the car or the chair is a very nice one.


Im Bundesarchiv in Berlin sind einige Fotos zu einer Variante der Vermessung von Menschen ausgestellt. Nicht nur in den Kolonialregionen wurden Menschen zu rassenideologischen Studien vermessen. Die Kurzbeschreibung dazu und die 2 Bilder reichen, um diese scheinbar wissenschaftliche Praxis zu dokumentieren. Zurecht wird auf den Skandal mit der weiteren Verwendung dieser Daten bis 1981 hingewiesen. Es gab Kontinuitäten von Wissenschaft die heute noch erschrecken lassen. Kritischer Umgang mit jeglicher Art von Daten gehört zu dem Curriculum guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis. Diese darf nicht vor ethischen Fragen Halt machen, auch wenn das die weitere Verwendung der Information blockiert. Der Kinofilm “Der vermessene Mensch” hat dafür erneut sensibilisiert. Ethnologen und Ärzte wurden vielfach in den Dienst von Ideologien gestellt oder haben sie willentlich vorangetrieben, oftmals aus persönlichen Beweggründen. Skandale in und um Archive gehören zur Weltgeschichte, wie die geschichtliche Erkenntnis selbst. Mediale Verbreitung und Bestätigung von Klischees werden schon lange verurteilt, aber mit wenig Erfolg, wie der Deutschlandfunk Kultur selbst berichtet (Link Sendung Fazit). Die Kitas und Schulen haben ihre Hausaufgaben ebenfalls schlecht gemacht (Link). Wo ein Wille ist, ist meistens auch ein Weg, aber wenn der Wille fehlt aufgrund von Stereotypen wird sich wenig ändern.


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 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 …


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.


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.


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


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.

Fukushima 12

12 Jahre nach der Kernschmelze im Atomkraftwerk der technologiebegeisterten Japaner stellt sich immer noch die Frage nach der Entsorgung der verstrahlten Reste und Kühlwassers. Laut eines Berichts und den veröffentlichten Bildern zu dem Kernkraftwerk Fukushima staunen wir über das weite verseuchte Umfeld und die riesigen Lagerstätten für den verstrahlten Abfall. Geothermie, Wasserkraft, Windkraft und Solarenergie könnten auf der Fläche sicherlich riesige Mengen von nachhaltigem Strom produzieren. Das hatte bis vor 13 Jahren niemand denken oder aussprechen dürfen. Heute nach 18.000 Toten und vielen Folgeschäden durch Krebs und geschädigtes Erbgut wird der Unsinn weitergehen. Da sind sehr starke Interessen am Werk, denen es nicht um Menschenleben geht. Atomkraft, koste es was es wolle. Die Einleitung eines Teils des verseuchten Wassers ins Meer ist wohl bereits erfolgt. Noch mehr wird folgen müssen. Über die Fische als Teil der Nahrungskette werden Menschen dann mehr Radioaktivität aufnehmen. Das war schon so mit den Pilzen nach Tschernobyl. Fukushima bleibt ein abschreckendes Beispiel weltweit, da helfen jetzt zum 12. Jahrestag ein paar Solarzellen als Trostpflaster wenig. (Bilder aus ARD Tagesschau 11.3.2023.

Aphorismen L3

“Was für Aussichten würden wir bekommen, wenn wir unser Kapital von Wahrheiten einmal von demjenigen entblößen könnten, was ihnen nicht sowohl wesentlich ist, als vielmehr aus der öfteren Wiederholung zuwächst.“ (Lichtenberg S. 50). Die Wiederholung ist eine starke Lernmethode. Sie wird seit Jahrtausenden erfolgreich eingesetzt. Alle Religionen bedienen sich am liebsten täglich dieser Methode, um sich der Treue der Anbetenden zu vergewissern. Der Glaube im Glauben ist: Oft genug wiederholt ist gut verinnerlicht. Dabei bleibt ein Glaube ein Glaube, selbst bei ständiger Wiederholung. Lediglich so manchem Mensch erscheint durch regelmäßiges Wiederholen die Botschaft als verinnerlichte Selbstverständlichkeit. Wahrscheinlich ist es beruhigender, sich nicht täglich zu fragen, ob das 1x,2x,3x mal tägliche Einmassieren von Chemikalien auf Zähne und Zahnfleisch wirklich nachhaltig gesundheitsfördernd ist. Alleine dem Markt wollen wir das Thema nun auch nicht überantworten. Warten wir weiterhin auf die nächste entblößende, hoffentlich wirklich unabhängige, wissenschaftliche Studie dazu. Mit den Pestiziden in der Ernährung hat das bekanntlich nur sehr bedingt funktioniert. Wie schön, dass alle Jahre wieder Frühling kommt und die finsteren Tage hinter uns lässt. Wiederholungen lassen Routinen entstehen, die uns das ständige Hinterfragen ersparen. Rasch gehen wir über Fragen von Kindern hinweg: Muss ich heute in die Schule gehen? Dabei ist Hinterfragen von Wiederholungen ein wichtiges Lernen, dem Mitläufertum entgegen zu wirken.

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.

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).

Thucydides on War

Thucydides (born around -460) has received a lot of fame for his “thick description” of the Peloponnesian War. He deserves continued praise even for inspiring statisticians. The account of events without emotions, but with lots of details, is often perceived as the beginning of historiography and history as science as well as empirical political science. The entry of “Thucydides” in the Encyclopedia of Social Measurement (2005, p.805) by P.A. Furia and A. Kohen cites the derivation of a causal or explanatory effect based on his historical account as a foundation of scientific approaches based on empirical data. “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon (i.e. Sparta), made war inevitable” (Thucydides, I 23). The empirical assessment of the growth of power is subject to controversial accounts. Power may derive from population, wealth, industry, weapons, munition or general military capabilities or skills. The assessment would also need to consider relative rather than absolute strength of just a one-sided approach. Here we are in the middle of the Russian war on Ukraine from 24.2.2022 onwards. Statisticians discuss, whether it is just a single variable that has the overall explanatory power for the beginning of the war and what other intervening variables might be important to take into account to avoid a selection bias. Beyond this materialist explanation we might stress the importance of the sociological concept of “collective fear” (links to approximation through trust, xenophobia) of the strength of Athens as the underlying causation of the beginning of war. The ideation of perceived strength gives rise to the construction of many intervening processes (Coleman’s macro-micro-macro linkages), which make a simple causal attribution just to material strength an illusion or risky shortcut explanation. The Thucydidean Method (p.806) exemplifies much of the dilemma and spice of social science analyses. Scholars of diplomacy challenge the empiricist perspective in arguing that the breakdown of diplomatic discourse several decades before was at the beginning of the causal chain. Here again we can make links to the preparation of war by Russia through strategic diplomacy as well as the risks taken through a break-up of diplomatic channels of communication. The perceived strength of the opponent in war might play a decisive role at the beginning and at the end of war. The charisma of leaders, democratic decision-making and political alliances with neighbouring states, Sicily at the time of the Peloponnesian War, were further intervening processes. This is perhaps not all too different from today, if we consider the role of Belarus in the aggression of Russia against the Ukraine. In fact, Thucydides seemed to be convinced that under similar circumstances human behaviour would reproduce itself. Therefore, thick description of historical facts might still inform political leaders today and tomorrow.
(Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, XV pp. 752,
Der neue Pauly, Enzyklopädie der Antike 12, pp.505 image below).

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.

Double bind

Knowledge and knowhow are a pair of notions that have strong links between each other. It is a challenge to see 2 knowledge systems, knowledges, to co-exist sometimes for a very long time. Medicine is a good example. The traditional Chinese medicine continues to exist in parallel to the western style science based medicine. It remains a challenge to analyse the effectiveness, efficiency and equality each system can provide. In terms of public health the border between knowledge and knowhow becomes more blurred. The knowledge about diseases needs to be transferred into knowhow of how to prevent the disease to the population at large. This is a steep challenge as the persistence of alcohol abuse, smoking habits and other drugs abuses show on a global scale. Knowledge alone on the negative consequences is far from enough to prevent abuse. The thin and blurred line between use and abuse of pharmaceutical products equally challenges our traditional views on knowledge and knowhow. In a knowledge graph knowledge would figure, for example, in the core and knowhow as a satellite on the periphery. However, despite the strong link between these 2 notions, knowhow has a lot of additional links to topics like health or yin and yang. Knowhow has a basic link also to notions like memory (techniques) or even war (equipment). The more abstract notion of knowledge, “le savoir”, has been seen for a long time superior to the less abstract notion of knowhow, “savoir faire”. Polymaths have been identified for touching on several fields of knowledge with little concern for the practical side of things, despite the fact that Leonardo da Vinci combined many fields of science of his time to improve technology of his time including visions for the future. The double bind link exists in the recursive element of a link between 2 notions. Rather than denying its existence we have a lot to do to incorporate the more complicated links into our scientific knowledge and the more practical knowhow.


In family histories we like to look on tree-like linking structures. Most frequently the choice is the descendant perspective (Top down). X, Y, Z have been the children of A and B and so on for a couple of generations. Bottom-up perspectives are equally feasible and modern patchwork families have more widespread representations of their families. Those representations were easy to do as families were lifelong bonds. Shorter family bonds, previously mainly caused by pre-mature deaths, are more common as people might have different partners and off-springs at different periods of their life course. Drawing family trees then looks more like a network structure of several families. History and literature is full of stories of how families aimed to keep their genealogy simple to the outside world. Modern days are no exception to this. Law had to adapt to these societal facts and changes thereof. Comparing decades over the last century there is, in my view, the remarkable trend to allow for more complexity in family histories, even after the 60s leading to many complete ruptures of family ties and links throughout the 70s and 80s.
With reducing fertility rates in most, not only western regions of the world, medical demography is back on the agenda. Similar to family trees, new forms of identifying promising pharmaceutical products have moved to more data-driven disease insights. Historically the local medical doctor had an overview about the likelihood of diseases following family’s medical histories over generations. Data-driven analyses, supported by data analytics and/or AI support, can learn permanently about potential and actual risks. New links of diseases are discovered this way extending the family doctor’s view of risks to watch out for in patients. Additional remedy and marketing potentials of existing drugs are also detected this way, beyond anecdotal evidence. Research published in the “Journal of biomedical semantics” by Vlietstra et al. (2020) classifies disease trajectories to construct knowledge graphs of biomolecular interactions. What previously a medical doctor in region could infer from his medical records in a less systematic way, can now be analysed on big data sets of countries, continents or even the global scale. Data is knowledge, and some already know, that this data-driven knowledge is worth a lot of money. Linking previously and seemingly unrelated facts or events, just like becoming aware of more complex family trees through DNA-analyses is the medical part of history. How we deal with this as families or societies as a whole, is the trickier part. Structural changes of societies are marked by decades-like changes, but specific events like “Fukushima”, Tschernobyl or other man-made rather than natural disasters have created new forms of contamination and the spreading of it. In addition to family trees we need broader consideration for knowledge bases to demonstrate, for example, the spread of cancer in the networked society. Additionally this evidence should have a stronger recognition in courts as prove of contamination lines. Statistical reasoning is more likely to become court-relevant. Hence, train the legal profession beyond what “statistical discrimination” is like. Causal mechanisms are manifold. Some are more likely than others. Semantic knowledge graphs remind us of the presence of reverse causality many relationships. Scientists need an optimistic state of mind to abstract from many intervening processes on health, be they tiny micro- or bigger macro-level societal effects.

From AI with Love

Love is action. Love is balance. Love is corruption.
Love is democracy. Love is enterprise. Love is freedom.
Love is god. Love is health. Love is imagination. Love is joy.
Love is knowledge. Love is law. Love is memory.
Love is nature. Love is optimism. Love is policy.
Love is question. Love is repairing. Love is society. Love is time.
Love is union. Love is value. Love is war.
Love is xeno. Love is yinyang.
Love is zero.
All you need is laugh. Love is all you need.


Eine Sammlung von Aphorismen, wie sie Georg Christoph Lichtenberg hinterlassen hatte, regten viele Denkende an, sich mit seinem Gedankengebäude zu befassen. Die prägnante Form der Zusammenfassungen, Hypothesen oder Vermutungen zu jeweils einem großen Thema hat ihn unsterblich werden lassen. In Form von Gedankenblitzen, Neudeutsch Tweets, vor mehr als 222 Jahren, gestorben ist er im Jahr 1799, zeugen von großem Weitblick, Tiefe und Breite seines Wissens (Polymath). Jede Person, die sich heute in der Schule mit der Infinitesimalrechnung befasst, der mathematischen Annäherung an einen GrenzwertS (Mathe Vorlesungsnotizen pdf), findet bei Lichtenberg zum Beispiel die Anwendung dieser Methode auf soziale Phänomene. Einer Wahrheit werden wir uns auch nur annähern können, selbst wenn wir sie auf unsere Weise, zumindest temporär, als solche definieren.  Vor mehr als 250 Jahren hat Lichtenberg bereits in seinem ersten „Sudelbuch“ interessante Gedanken niedergeschrieben, die uns heute noch Nachdenken lassen. „Unser Leben hängt so genau in der Mitte zwischen Vergnügen und Schmerz, dass uns schon zuweilen Dinge schädlich werden können, die uns zu unserm Unterhalt dienen, wie ganz natürlich veränderte Luft, da wir doch in die Luft geschaffen sind.“
Dem modernen Menschen ist das Bewusstsein, in die Luft geschaffen zu sein, fast vollständig abhandengekommen. Unsere Eingriffe, wider besseren Wissens, lassen weltweit jährlich Millionen Menschen vorzeitig sterben am Smog der Moderne. Innovation ist enervierend, wenn sie nicht vornehmlich den Menschen im Blick hat. Es sollte noch einige Jahre nach Lichtenberg brauchen bis Goethe Faust den Satz sagen ließ: Die Geister, die ich rief, ich werd’ sie nicht mehr los. Lichtenberg setzte das obige Zitat so fort: „Allein wer weiß, ob nicht vieles von unserem Vergnügen von diesem Balancement abhängt; diese Empfindlichkeit ist vielleicht ein wichtiges Stück von dem, was unsern Vorzug vor den Tieren ausmacht.“   Aus dem Akt der Balance den jede/r Einzelne zwischen Schmerz und Vergnügen im Lebensverlauf beschreibt ist längst ein gesellschaftlicher und politischer Balanceakt geworden, zwischen gesellschaftlichen Gruppen sowie zwischen Generationen. Die Abweichungen von einem Grenzwert oder von einem ausbalancierten Zustand sind ebenfalls größer geworden, so dass der ganze Akt ins Wanken gerät. Mit dem beschriebenen, unserem Vorzug vor den Tieren, könnte jedoch ebenfalls ein Teil des Problems sein, denn die Vernichtung der Biodiversität ist nun mal noch die Lebensgrundlage des homo sapiens. Seien es Schwankungen um einen Mittelwert oder immer kleinere Annäherungen an einen Grenzwert, wir wanken auf Pfaden, die Lichtenberg angerissen hat. Blogposts sind wohl vergleichbar den Einträgen in Sudelbüchern.  Aus vielen Puzzleteilen kann ein Gesamtbild entstehen, muss aber nicht. Die Begriffe „Random Walk“ oder „Brownsche Bewegung“ sind erst lange nach Lichtenberg entwickelt worden. Heute sind wir von dem „Random Walker Algorithmus“ begeistert oder erschreckt, wenn letzterer für „fake news“ statt Wahrheitsfindung missbraucht wird.

Photo K

The self portrait is a timely topic for an exhibition of photography. As part of the European month of photography (EMOP), the PhotoBrusselsFestival offers a good overview of what photography deals with in the 21 century. The Korean cultural centre (KCC) in Brussels has a long tradition to serve as an exposition in the centre of Brussels (Sablon) and is joining this year’s photo festival. The 2023 photography festival has the “Self-Portrait” as a guiding theme. Rather than entering the debate about “portrait chosen or portrait endured” (Photographica 5,2022) the self-portrait has more degrees of freedom in it. Even if it is apparently a choice to portrait oneself, there are ample examples, where the urge to produce a self-portrait is part of a wider concern for fundamental issues.
The exhibition of 5 artists from Korea at the KCC invites us to reflect on the pervasive self-portrait practice all around us. The self-portrait is not only a tool of self-reflection, which has a long tradition in art (just think of a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer of himself), but self-portraits are also pervasive on media and social media today. Additionally, the self-portrait is a powerful tool of thinking and imagining yourself at various stages of the life-course. For centuries it had been a social or political privilege to have your portrait taken. It still is to some extent, but only if the person taking the photograph, has a special reputation. In a market difference to the selfie, the exhibition of artists in the KCC highlights the process of self-reflection that is part of creating the portrait as well as the ensuing reflection by the spectator. In looking at the self-portrait of the photographer, we might involuntarily deal first with our own perception of the image. Danger, dreams, fantasy, sorrow, pain, self-assertion and reconstruction of the self, all these themes come to mind when confronted with the self-portraits of the 5 artists (Bae Chan-hyo, Jeong Yun-soon, Lee Jee-young, Ahn Jun, Choi Young-kwi).
KCC director Kim Jae-hwan names this collection, curated by Seok Jae-hyun, “An odyssey of images leading to self-re-flection”. In referring back to the protagonists in novels from Hermann Hesse, he points our attention to the “unique journey through images as they find themselves”. To embark on the journey visit KCC in Brussels, ask for a copy of the catalogue or start by reading the title of the exposition: “Who Am I” – it is apparently no longer a question after the journey. Is it for you?  More reflection on images and photos here.