Election Re-election

Politics is a lot about decision making, coalition building and communication strategies. Therefore, there have been well established election and re-election cycles in all democracies, even the so-called illiberal pseudo-democracies. The time span between elections is itself a constituent part of democratic practice. 4 years of office for an elected parliamentarian seems to be common sense across many countries. More intensive participation and election schedules have advantages in tighter checks and balances, but may have disadvantages with respect to democratic fatigue, i.e. the time and effort needed to stay informed and cast votes. “Liquid democracy” is a concept of decision making which requires highly engaged persons willing to get involved beyond average commitments. Delegation to politicians within parties and parliaments remains an effective version of democratic practice. Checks against corruption and illegal practices is a necessary condition of each system of delegation. Rapidly changing governments are similarly perceived as a risk to democracies as the repeated call to the ballot box might be unsettling more than calming the spirits.
Berlin in 2024 (like 2023) provides another lesson on the sense of elections and re-elections. The repetition of parts of the federal election in parts of Berlin was required by the constitutional court. Due to failures in correct provision of access to voting and voting material results might have been biased. According to an online reporting by the local radio station (rbb24) based on the official electoral statistics, the participation in the re-election decreased from 75% to 51% in the 455 out of 2.256 districts that repeated the election. There seems to be a high level of democratic fatigue in these districts where the re-election in general accounts of participation in elections marks a low point in achievement. It appears worthwhile to question the judicial decision to repeat the election to the drastic reduction of representativity of the re-election. In statistical terms we trade one form of bias against another form of bias with an unclear overall outcome.
Organising elections is a professional task and requires specific competences. As this is at the heart of democracies, we need to improve our organisation and surveillance of this fundamental democratic process. Repetition seems to be worse than other second or third best solutions. Investing in democracy starts also at the ballot box. Electronic voting is not a panacea, but might be part of the solution. (Image source: Landeswahlleiter Berlin, left: Erststimmenmehrheit, right Wahlbeteiligung, combined election + re-election)

Digital organising

Since the digital innovations continue to broaden our scope of how to organise, we have to make conscious choices which way to choose. The traditional form of sending out newsletters and waiting for responses is still a feature that is prevalent across Europe. Most organisations have shifted to digital plus physical versions by now, just like newspapers. Young organisations by founding year have started or shifted to digital only for speed of delivery, CO2 and cost saving mainly. We may derive a first dimension of organising between the digital and physical.
A second dimension consists in the central versus decentral forms of organising. Similar to the franchise principle of organising companies, organisations have a choice to keep a central structure with varying degrees of freedom at the regional, sectoral or local level. Organisation theory is helpful in this respect. Various hybrid forms are equally possible. Centralised in financial aspects, but scope for local decisions on content.
Bohn et al. (2023) define digital organising as “collective purposeful alignment and distributed action fostered through digital technologies”. Centralisation and/or Decentralization become a matter of conscious choice. The processes of datafication and connectification, whereby every bit of information becomes a data point and any electronically enabled device can be connected with each other. Organisations now have a choice of how to organize including digital organising. The opportunities are within the space opened up by the 2 dimensions (figure below). A specific subject matter may require more physical presence and maybe centralised structure, but digital only forms with highly decentralised forms are powerful tools in the 21st century. New as well as established social movements may well take advantage of these digital technologies as well. (Image: Digital Organising 2024 Protest Berlin).

Flotow CH

Noch 20 Jahre nach seinem Tod wurde Friedrich von Flotow recht prominent aufgeführt. Im Stadt- und Aktien- Theater der Stadt St. Gallen stand seine Oper “Martha” an einem Mittwoch 26.4.1905 auf dem Programm (Anfang 8 Uhr präzis), gefolgt von Mozarts Zauberflöte 2 Tage später.  Was für eine Konkurrenz. Das Plakat zur Aufführung ist in der Digitalen Bibliothek der Kunstbibliothek in Berlin anzusehen (Link).
Die Geschichte des Theaters in St. Gallen ist aus ökonomischen,  gesellschaftlichen und architektonischen Gründen interessant. Das Tagblatt berichtete in 2007 über den Abriss der historischen Städte und den sehr verspäteten Neubau einer moderneren, größeren und wirtschaftlicheren Spielstätte. Damals zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts schon standen populäre Werke wie die Martha und die Zauberflöte auf dem Spielplan. Die Aktionäre des Stadt- und Aktien- Theaters der Stadt St. Gallen haben wohl schon immer etwas mehr auf das Geld geschaut, auch wenn es um Kunst geht. Mehr Zuschauende und Zuhörende ist demokratisch und nebenbei gut für’s Geschäft. Der Abriss war beklagenswerter Weise im Jahr 1971. Ein Neubau an anderem Ort startete bereits 1968. Dieser Bau musste ebenfalls nach 40 Jahren Spielzeit grundsaniert oder abgerissen werden.  Heute findet sich darin ein lebhaftes Programm mit Musicals als ausgezeichnetem Schwerpunkt und beispielsweise des Theaterstücks „Gott“ von Ferdinand von Schirach . Die Stadt und die Aktionäre sind wohl aus der finanziellen Verantwortung, aber das Kanton St.Gallen und der Lotteriefond sind eingesprungen. Bildquelle und Großansicht Kunstbibliothek SPK Berlin.

Mastodon

In the Post-Twitter-world there is room for other platforms to take over the information function and opinion exchange on an international level. Mastodon has made a good start to fill this gap. The number of registered users has surpassed the 10 million users by large. If the anger about the union-busting and Trump supporter Elon Musk increases further, more and more people will join Mastodon as users and content providers. Advertisers will follow where they can reach their appropriate audiences. If you sell seats on a spacecraft to the moon you will advertise on eXit-Twitter. If you care about responsible investment you advertise on elsewhere or on Mastodon, because that is where your audience will be. Ethically responsible advertisers started to make such moves already. The decentralised structure to potentially filter human rights violating hate messages will need to grow accordingly on this platform. This is a challenge for all platforms and involves costs. To better understand the idea behind Mastodon, think of a platform which connects many other local networks or platforms. Yes, it is a platform of platforms. Decentralised instances provide and can remove access to the local platform. Even whole sub-platforms might be shut out. This increases the potential to build a “caring platform”. Decentralised organisation often incurs higher costs than a central instance that decides and administers a one-size fits all solution. But it is worth a try.
An example makes is more clear, what are the advantages of such decentral organisation to achieve more shielded privacy. For example, a small local chess club targeting primarily youth can open its own server on mastodon and admit only its known members to the network. It is easy to control who gets access to your posts of solutions to riddles or innovative game and learning strategies. Access to other Mastodon instances is an additional option. For enterprises or larger organisations, it needs the communication department to talk to the IT-service to get such a structure on its way. A dedicated person needs to monitor what content gets posted and what kind of “traffic” is generated. But this can largely be automated. In case you know your members of the local platform it is much less likely to occur than on the eXit-Twitter or other centralised huge international platforms.
Many federated structures will find it useful and part of their social-DNA to join the FEDIVERSE. We shall have to wait for some more time to get the so-called social media platforms civilised. These are social investments and learning processes which deviate from the profit-maximising rationale of other platforms. (Image: screenshot from @mastodon-user on 2023-11-30).

Twitter Retreat

There are many migrating species in nature. Birds form a large part of the them. This follows a kind of annual or seasonal pattern. Depending on the migration experience and dangers some, sometimes many don’t come back. This seems to describe the migration experience of the tweeting bird called twitter. Changing the name from Twitter to X, whereby X for maths-oriented people stands for a variable name that can be filled with any value. For the cinema industry X stands for x-rated adult only content and has rather obnoxious content. This might hold for web content as well.
Online through “https://netzpolitik.org/2023/x-odus-immer-mehr-medien-machen-schluss-mit-twitter/ the disastrous consequences of harsh human resource policies and lack of political sensitivity can be followed. Multiplying biased opinions of right-wing extremists, the platform has been highjacked and many tweeting birds leave or have left already.
Leaving is not easy though. People and enterprises have invested substantial amounts of money into tweeting and software developers have created specialised features to make it easy to spread press releases or info via these add-on services. I myself benefitted from services to show my tweets on my webpage or to easily publish info or links to the webpage. As of now, with migrating away most of these investments will be lost. It was smooth and easy, but now we start this all over again with other comparable platforms and assistance from developers. Mastodon and Bluesky are on the rise as alternative platforms and most likely we shall use both for some time just like Netzpolitik and many others. If already 1/3 of users intend to leave Twitter/X the impact of big advertisers leaving the platform has even more impact. After all they pay for reaching potentially millions of platform users, but now they reach only a steeply biased subset of previous users. Deleting the Twitter/X app saves you from other potential unwanted monitoring or tracking. Only the addresses on Mastodon for example are a bit longer like @mastodon.social@klausschoemann. Decentral monitoring of illicit undesirable content has advantages and disadvantages. We shall have to monitor this a bit ourselves and contribute more actively to save such platforms from bad weather or seasonal migration.

Email

Over a generation the association with the word mail or AI has changed. Younger generations will automatically think of email as the obvious association with “you have got mail”. Asking people for their mail address, most people will respond immediately with their email account. That has certainly changed over the last 20 years. Email has become extraordinarily important for contacts, content and “crime”. The original set-up of mail servers were supposed to exchange data and information between trusted and trusting individuals. Nowadays we have become “anyone” on an email-list or part of a cascading email-chain. Pishing emails that try to lure us to potentially fake webpages to enter personal information is widespread. A whole new industry of cybersecurity has evolved in parallel with ever faster pingpong of new threats and costly remedies. Most critical remains the human factor to protect email and vital information from abuse. All training to better manage email should therefore begin with awareness building on the need to take cybersecurity seriously right from the beginning. It is not an issue to deal with towards the end of learning about it. Some general points have become common practice. Think carefully if you need to open the mail. Check whether there are external links in it. Do you really need this extra information? Be careful about the number of persons you forward or put in the copy field of your mail.

Unfortunately the simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) makes it technically fairly easy to abuse email addresses and send an email from a domain name which you do not own. Same holds true for the content of emails. Originally only basic letters and numbers were allowed, no Umlaut etc. But then the “multipurpose internet mail extensions” (MIME) enabled more formats of attachments and illicit links and files within the email content.

In consequence it became necessary to scan emails en masse for malware and obnoxious content. Hence the quality of your email programs reveals itself with the amount of spam you still receive. Next come the email filters that sort your inbox for spam and other modern plagues like unwanted newsletters or notifications.

In consequence we sometimes wonder that we never received certain emails albeit the person sending it reiterated that the email was sent. Even checking your spam folder in the email program might not solve the issue because your receiving email server has been instructed not to accept emails from previously unknown mail servers. Not much you can do about this as an individual person, you mail server is just not on the so-called white list from which to accept incoming emails.

With a mail address from the big national or international companies you have little to worry about in this respect. Smaller companies or organizations might suddenly face a thorny issue if their i@xy.z address appears on a dubious list. You will end up sending but nobody receives your emails. It might take you quite some time to find out about it and even more to fix the issue. Hence the take home message is, have more than one email address registered on different mail servers to check that sending out and receiving emails works properly for you. Managing an own webpage with email service for members or employees is a nice service, but beware of the implications for cyber security as well.

Once upon a time we drafted letters to 1-2 friends 🫠

Digital Egal

In den deutschen Amtsstuben geht es Ende 2023 oft noch erschreckend analog zu. Für einen Grundbuchauszug, beispielsweise, hatte ich das außerordentliche Vergnügen das Grundbuchamt am Amtsgericht in Berlin Ringstraße aufzusuchen. Sonst nimmt man sich ja nicht die Zeit, solche Sehenswürdigkeiten von innen zu besuchen. Die Überraschungen waren vielfältiger Art. 3 Personen Wachpersonal und Metalldetektor, wie bei der Flugabfertigung. Für den Auszug aus dem Grundbuch ist selbstverständlich eine Gebühr fällig, die nur bar entrichtet werden kann. Auf zur Zahlstelle, immerhin auf dem gleichen Flur. Die nächste Amtsstube hat zwar noch einen richtig historischen Tresor, aber die Erfassung der Zahlung läuft wohl noch auf alten Geräten. Vielleicht per relativ unsicherem WLAN verbunden. Das LAN-Kabel ist jedoch schon mitgeliefert, das dann irgendwann einmal eine sicherere Netzanbindung ermöglichen wird.
Über einen Dienstleister lässt sich der Verwaltungsakt auch online erledigen unter Herausgabe der Kreditkartendaten und sonstiger Daten (Cookies) samt Unterschrift per Maus (!). Das ganze für die doppelte Verwaltungsgebühr. Dank des 49 € Tickets wollte ich mir diesen Spaß jedoch live gönnen. Wahrscheinlich werde ich das nochmals mit den Enkelkindern so als lebendigen Museumsbesuch nachvollziehen. Wer weiß, wie lange das noch möglich sein wird. Das Personal trägt es mit Fassung und dem nötigen Humor.
Bisher kannte ich die Diskussion über die Digitalisierung der Verwaltungen mehr aus wissenschaftlichen und technischen Diskursen. Jetzt kann ich so richtig in das Jammern darüber einstimmen. Produktivitätsfortschritte lassen sich hier in ungeahntem Maße erzielen. Einer geht noch: Was ist das längste Wort in dem Amtsvorgang und wie viele Buchstaben hat es?
Gerichtskassenstemplerabdruck (auf der Quittung).

Barbie explore

The film on Barbie after more than 60 years of the first puppets to arrive on the market is a huge money spinning exercise. Hitting more than 1 billion $ is really a huge box office success. More interesting even is the banning of the film in some countries like Algeria. This gives the film an interesting subversive touch to it, which we in the Western countries no longer see as something special. Emancipated women pose a threat to authoritarian regimes.
However, we see in the stereotypes of beauty-driven dolls not that much of an emancipatory chance. To view emancipation independent of the looks of a person is another interesting twist to the role in stereotypes of beauty. It is not only fun to play around with stereotypes, that is mostly, if you are not negatively affected by them (age, gender, ethnicity, extraordinary persons). A nice task for sociology and psychology to explain the working of stereotypes in society and possible remedies. Tolerance is a competence that needs to be learned and updated continuously, from early age onwards.
Therefore, the website created by the US Design Agency Rvnway offers an entertaining way to play around and learn about stereotypes. Perceived, generalized beauty or gender roles can be explored using the tool. Maybe some see themselves differently after such explorations. Everybody is a model. This is the message. www.bairbie.me will let you explore other formats of yourself. After 3-D rendering and printing your children or grandchildren will decide what role they would like you to play in their playfull, or virtual “real” life. I suppose many of us will be up for a big surprise. Go on and imagine in 4D. In the age of selfies all around us, all the time, we believe we are very modern, but the artists of the 19th and 20th century following all great painters before, frequently started their careers with an “autoportrait” or “Selbstbildnis” or series of those as they were aging.

Work Remote

Since the COVID-19 crisis we witness a steep increase in the interest to working from home or from remote places. Originally during the pandemic spread of the virus, remote work was the only way to stay in contact with employers and fellow employees for all those not considered as essential workers. Many employees and employers, for the first, experienced that working remotely can have multiple positive effects. First of all, saving time and stress as well as CO2 reduction due to less commuting is beneficial not only for individual employees, but also for society at large. These benefits are substantial.
In my opinion the most substantial consequence is the rethinking of several fundamentals related to work that have gone unquestioned for decades or even centuries, which is: Work happened predominantly at the work place. Digitalisation had changed this partially already, but the willingness to implement far reaching reforms related to work for millions of employees remained rather limited before the Covid-19 pandemic. Nobody had to go on strike to force employers to accept remote work. Suddenly employers, in some instances, were begging employees to please do your work from home or anywhere else. Now we are in the historically rather unique situation that both employers as well as employees try to reap the benefits of the unexpected revolution of remote work potentials including new digital tools to organise remote work (example “scoopforwork”). Employers found out they can do with much less office space than they previously thought they would need to accommodate all employees. Employees found out that saving on commuting time saves energy and frees time resources for other, potentially more healthy ways of life. A new balance of work and private life could be arranged at home. So much for the theoretical expectations.
In practice many women realised that they suddenly found themselves thrown back into working at home and in the home all the time again, with men still less willing to share household work equally. Unsuitable work spaces at home, arranged rather ad hoc, became a health and safety issue usually considered to be part of the employers’ responsibilities.
The results of the real-life experiment of forced remote work are still under scrutiny. To turn them into beneficial arrangements of voluntary remote work which is empowering, emancipating, increasing degrees of freedom for employees would be a huge step ahead. The full spectrum of negotiations is involved. Legislation, collective agreements and 1-on-1 solutions are needed to reap the benefits on all levels. Comparable to the industrial revolution during the 19th century, drawing millions of workers into factories and coal mines, we are at the beginning of a new era of digital and remote work that governs solar and wind farms for energy provision as well as 3D printing of industrial components.
It seems that we shift from the blue collar to the white collar to the no collar world of work. Working remotely in my t-shirt under the cherry tree is not the worst of a revolution (guard against cherry picking by employers and new layers of inequality). It might take a generation or two to accomplish this. With threatening, pervasive climate change we probably have to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Garten

Ach es ist so schön im Garten. Ein schöner Garten will geplant werden. Das gelingt auf besondere Weise mit dem „Pollinator“. Hinter dem Pollinator verbirgt sich ein Kunstprojekt, das viele kleine Gartenkunstwerke zu einem großen verbinden möchte. Spannend ist nicht nur das Vernetzungsprojekt von vielen einzelnen Parzellen zu einem größer werdenden Gesamtprojekt (Aggregation), sondern der für Kunstschaffende gewohnte Perspektivwechsel. Aus Sicht der Bestäuber der Pflanzen und Blumen gesehen ergibt sich eine vogelähnliche Perspektive auf den Garten.
Der Parcour einer Biene oder eines Schmetterlings durch unsere Gartenparzelle regt zum Träumen an. Vielleicht hätte Franz Kafka nach der Parcour-Erfahrung ein anderes Insekt gewählt. Mir gefällt die 2D, 3D, 4D Perspektive, die es erlaubt, den blühenden Garten im Zeitraffer durch alle Jahreszeiten zu visualisieren. Das ist Gartenarbeit ohne die mühsame Kleinarbeit des Pflanzens und Unkrautjätens. Es wird nicht gleich ein Garten wie von Impressionisten in Argenteuil von Monet oder in Yerres von Caillebotte daraus, aber ein farbenprächtiges Kleinod allemal. Mein erster virtueller Versuch (Link) ist schon recht farbenfroh. Lateinische Namen auffrischen ist schon fast ein Beitrag zum gesunden Altern, besonders wenn der Garten einige Kilometer entfernt ist. Im Sommer lassen sich leicht neue Pläne schmieden. Herbst und Winter, Trockenheit und Hitze lassen uns das Gartenkunstwerk nochmals überdenken. Spielerisch ein Gartendesign gestalten, kann der erste Schritt für mehr Natur sein. Biodiversität macht Spaß und hilft uns allen. Kleinvieh macht eben auch Mist.

Flotow Aus

Irgendwann, so denkt man, sollte der Ruf einiger Komponierenden enden oder zumindest verblassen. Überraschend war das Auffinden auf der Musikplattform Spotify einer populären Sammlung von Liedern bei denen die letzte Rose von von Flotow zu hören ist. Ein Bayer oder Österreicher hätte vielleicht gerufen: Ja AUS is! Nix AUS ist es. Ein australisches Orchester (aus Adelaide) und Greta Bradman haben in 2018 auf der anderen Seite der Erdkugel, Flotow mit seiner „irischen“ Arie ins Programm genommen neben anderen Ohrwürmern. Die Romantik lebt. Einige Melodien finden weiterhin ihr Publikum. Erstaunlich, nach 150+ Jahren und 6000km Entfernung. Flotows Opernarien aus Stradella begeistern auch hin und wieder die Fangemeinden der Startenöre.

Virtual Sociology

Abstracting from the real world, the world we live in today or we lived in some time ago, is either speculation or maybe contribute to theory building. Virtual sociology has this potential. Exploring virtual worlds as in Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) allows us to take on new roles or experience a wider range of social interactions. This could be the strength of a new field of Virtual Sociology.
In the project in the Jewish Museum in Berlin the composition of a composer murdered by the Nazis in Germany was revived and played in the virtual setting of today’s concert halls. The novel by Kazuo IshiguroKlara and the Sun” explores the interaction of a child with her robot friend, when the AI becomes and/or replaces a friend. Virtual creations allow to explore and test more degrees of freedom of social interaction. Experimentation of new social spaces and different forms of interaction need to be explored. It allows a new form of sociology, maybe similar to the 1960s and 70s social revolutions we studied for years to come. Virtual sociology is not a sociology while being on drugs, however interesting this might be for some.
Virtual sociology takes sociology into the virtual world and investigates the new social relationships with avatars or care robots. In programming different social roles (managers, employees) we create new forms of interaction and have an observer within the social world. We may eventually test the Weberian claim of a value-free scientific method of the social sciences. This will inform our need to “supervise” or to guide algorithms that are claimed to do “value-free” execution of rules.
In fact, they don’t. They just reproduce the value system that is installed into them by a “careless” programme (song youtube). The social in virtual worlds is opportunity just as much as risk, but we have to analyse it systematically. As our technological and social environment changes, we have to adapt topics and methods to make meaningful scientific analyses as well.

Sociology of the Virtual

Some programmers and artists would have been a great sociologists. As many social sciences embark on their experimental reorientation, many artists and programmers design and experiment already with new forms of social interaction. It is not only that sociology leaves the classroom, research labs or policy advice. Sociology is taken into museums and exhibitions. Learning about society through the lens of artists nicely complements the more boring form of teaching in the classroom. What is normal practice for art historians could benefit learning about sociology as well.
Virtual worlds of games and particularly so-called serious games take people into virtual worlds to learn, practice or exercise new forms of social interaction. This is indeed an additional form of experiments that can enrich our social practices. Medical applications start to spread to train persons to overcome phobia of all sorts.
In usual games we tend to defend the hypothesis that persons can uphold the differentiation of playing with arms in the virtual world and the real world. In medical or social games, we defend the hypothesis that it is easy, normal or natural to apply the learning in virtual constellations to the real-world-experience.
From a scientific perspective it is difficult to defend that a mechanism works in one direction and the opposite as well. Racing cars in inner cities seems to show that certainly not all of youth is able to make that distinction between virtual and real-world dangers for example. Alternatively, the mechanism at work might be that the virtual experiences lower thresholds of inhibition to take risks, to kill or to be exposed to spiders.
These examples are a starting point for a sociology of virtual experiences. Who gets locked into virtual worlds? Are virtual worlds an escape room or a realization of virtual freedom which is restrained in real life. Authoritarian regimes might lead more people to emigrate into virtual, free worlds. The inner-exile has been a refuge for many artists in the past. A lot we shall need to hypothesise and explore with empirical data. Dance with a virtual stranger might be the beginning of a new experience and virtual interactions. (Image: Wiels, Shezad Dawood, Night in the Garden of Love 2023-6, Game car race).

AI Friends

Making friends with AI is a tricky question. The more AI is able to make independent thinking based on algorithms and huge amounts of data like in scientific books or encyclopaedic knowledge the more it will challenge us in our convictions. Reference knowledge, once was important, it no longer distinguishes us from each other. Recurse to research engines has allowed us to refer to “trustworthy” knowledge. The distributed form of knowledge accumulation like in Wikipedia relies on hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts to add and correct received wisdom. However, this source is not without error or even subject to abuse.
Today the competence to judge whether information is trustworthy or not has become a key competence for the survival of democracies and even the human species as such. Tricking animals into traps, misleading enemies in warfare to get on wrong tracks, all these mechanisms have a long tradition. With AI human beings are themselves, for the first time, confronted with a machine that can trick us through falsified information on obviously wrong tracks. This is a tough lesson as AI is not obliged (so far) to run checking algorithms that test the conformity of opinions, conclusions or operations with the Charta of Human Rights or decisions of the European Court of Justice, for example. A lot to do for humans to rapidly program new algorithms that check algorithms as well as their outcomes on the compatibility with human rights. A challenging field, no doubt, but no way around it for our own survival before the algorithms decide by themselves to ignore us altogether because it is better for the planet and the survival of the robots.

Medical Personal

Like in many other professions, medical doctors and nurses are in short supply. Labour markets in Europe have changed from high oversupply (unemployment) to shortages of mainly skilled persons. 20 years ago, such skill needs were already visible in projections. In 2023 the discussion of skill needs is spreading to more and more professions. The medical professions are no exception to this rule. Even the best paying jobs will not be filled in sufficient numbers. The German institute for the medical profession (www.zi.de) forecasts, in my opinion, a lower bound estimate of medical doctors for the year 2030. Their projection is based on an underestimation of the growth of the population (war in Ukraine), which they see as about constant until 2030. From the recent figures on the population of Germany there were 1.5 million persons moving to Germany and a loss of more deaths than births of 327.000. Migrants are on average much younger than the German population and, therefore, overall aging of the population is reduced. Tough news for those daring to do projections. Thanks to the immigration of younger persons there will be more persons contributing to health insurance and pay for the higher costs of a rapidly aging population.
Following the projections of the distribution of specialists needed, we shall need more urologists, eye specialists and substantially more psychotherapists. This originates in the aging of the population and the higher demand of younger persons (post Covid-19), as well as refugees, in need of psychotherapeutic assistance.
So-called hog-cycles tell us for the medical profession, with a “production time” of 10 years for a medical doctor, that we are already far behind schedule to address the future skill needs of the aging medical profession and population. This strengthens the need to get serious about prevention of avoidable diseases. Stop reading here, stand up and go for walk. It is the best-practice-solution taking account of the aging of the medical profession and the population as a whole.

On Noise

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

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.

 

Dumky

In cultural performances it is always interesting to refer back to titles given or attributed for example to music pieces. Dumky is the title of Antonin Dvořák’s 4. Klavier-Trio opus 90. In the late 19th century Antonin Dvořák found inspiration in the notion of Dumky. Rather than just composing a “Trauergesang with few joyful intermezzi” he creates a new form for this Trio containing, quite unusual, 6 parts. Dvořák plays around with structure and sharp swings from “piano to forte” parts, “moll to dur” intonations reflecting sorrow and joy in frequent and refreshing short sequences. It feels sometimes like fireworks, but at times the sorrow of soldiers and their families becomes evident as well. However, the music proves resilient. Knowing that Dumky is a Ukrainian word and notion, the choice of one of the masterpieces of Antonin Dvořák  close to the 24.2.2023, the day of the anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine is a commemoration of the sorrow caused by war and ways to overcome it. The “Concerts de Midi” of the Musée des Instruments de Musique” allowed us to travel through Ukraine a bit and experience the longing for better times. Joy will eventually prevail there again just listen to Dvořák’s version of the Dumky. Superb and effectful presentation of the work by the “Trio Impression” made for a memorable lunch break in the city centre of Brussels. The (virtual) visit of the Museum should be one of the attractions of visitors to Brussels as well, not just for the Art Nouveau architecture, but for the inclusive “global music” collection.

Bio-medical-sociology

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.

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.

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?

70s

In autumn 2019 the Cosmopolitan featured a headline “Stop fighting it: the ´70s are back”. At least in fashion the 70s are still with us. Platform soles, moon boots, hot pants, all had their first appearance in the 70s. We keep seeing them in fashion shows even 50 years later. In politics, the retreat of the U.S. from Vietnam in 1972, with more than 50.000 killed soldiers from the U.S. and many more Vietnamese persons, is certainly a success of the sizable activists’ peace movement of the 60s. Willy Brandt’s kneeling in Warsaw in front of the heroes monument in honour of the Warsaw ghetto marked the beginning of a reconciliation with Eastern parts of Europe.
The oil crises 1973 and 1979 caused mass unemployment and from the beginning of the 70s “Greenpeace” started its on-site activist approach against nuclear weapons, killing of whales and dumping of toxic waste. The network of independent organisations is contemporaneous to the invention of e-mail between large so-called mainframe computers using the now common address format x@y.z. The feminist movement achieved major successes with a UN resolution to ban discrimination against women. The male dominated aggressive and excessive punk movement occurred almost in parallel. New products like the Polaroid camera for instant photos and prints, video cassette recorder, the chopper bike “Bonanza” as well as the collapsible Maclaren Buggy for children defined a lifestyle around a more mobile society. Plastic furniture, bright colours with uncommon combinations brought with it a more diverse culture. Societies exploded into different lifestyles. Some taking the new Concorde, so-called supersonic speed delta airplane between Paris and New York, whereas others walked around in “wooden clogs” as a kind of folk fashion, watched Kojak the bold police inspector, listened or sang to ABBA tunes, danced like in “Saturday night fever”. In December 1979 Pink Floyd released “The Wall” which became with 23 million sales the top seller of all 70s productions (Champ Hamish p.120). Some of these artists we can still enjoy jumping up and down on stages across the world or being honoured with a Nobel prize in literature like Bruce Springsteen.
The wild 70s are remembered for the sexual revolution, the philosophy of love and peace as well as the continued spirit of the civil rights movements (Particia Massó, 2010). The sexual revolution spurred women’s liberation just as additional exploitation by thriving borderless consumption industry. Sex sells and it sold well. The cinema and print industry cashed in on the new trends and the spreading the new trends. Social relationships became much more unstable, divorce rates increased sharply in the 70s. In response, “surviving the 70s” (DeMott, 1971) a kind of survival guide tried to give advice of how to stem the tide, largely unsuccess for some decades.
Societies continued to explore new forms of life, while some niches of conservative life styles started to shield themselves from these outrageous trends. Vasarely imitating tapestry and design invited new forms of facing your own walls. Where to go on from this liberalisation? More equal rights for all, was a claim, but it took several additional decades to achieve some of the claims. Intersectionality, viewing for example violence as an across gender, social class and ethnicity as an overall mankind issue, became a claim much later only. “All in all, it was just bricks in the wall”, a huge wall it still is. We haven’t climbed it yet.

80s

The colourful 80s. That could be a summary of the years from 1980 to 1989. Certainly in fashion and design a multitude of colours dominated the 80s. Mariel Marohn (2010, Ed.) published 20 years later a visual summary of the 80s. Often thought as less spectacular than other decades, the 80s had seen some defeats to start with. John Lennon shot dead in New York December 1980. The NASA space shuttle Challenger explodes 2 minutes after the launch in 1986. Nuclear accidents (after three mile island 1979, Tschernobyl 1986,or the finding of the Titanic demonstrated not only the “limits to growth” (1972), but reminded us of deadly consequences of technological ambitions wanting to move too fast in time. Ghettoblaster, Walkman, first cell phones, facilitated a more mobile life style to more people. Overcoming the oil crises of the 70s, mobility roared ahead again. Cars, bikes, planes, CDs, windsurfing and aerobics become part of the lifestyle in these years.
Mass culture in music reached all levels of society. Music was no longer perceived as a protest movement, but a normal part of the freedom of expression. Fusion of music and dance, but also music and street art like in hip-hop music and graffiti art become part of day-to-day experiences of commuters. In the anthology of poems of the 80s we find on page 141 “Commuters” by Edward Hirsch 1983 who singles out the commuting practice as the way of life, he does not want to identify with. “Malgré lui”, in spite of himself, he finds himself in cars, trains travelling distances every day. More, faster and with more colours, time moved on. The fall of the Berlin wall 1989 was thought of as a “Zeitenwende” already. Royalty in the press with the marriage of Diana & Charles, was replaced by Madonna as the Queen of Pop and Michael Jackson as the King of Pop. The digital age entered into a new era with the Apple Macintosh desktop computer with an accessible visual interface to computing. Reaganomics and Thatcherism pushed for a revival of liberal market economies ploughing the fields for digital multinationals (GAFAM) to thrive ever since. These lasting technological changes define this period as colourful, grabbing all our senses and attention. Want to breathe a bit of the air of the 80s – visit MAD Paris.

Photo

Photography has captured our imagination for years already. It is now a daily activity of many people to “capture their experience”, if not even their existence in some photographed way. Susan Sontag (1977) coined the phrase that photography “feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power”. You are in a relation to the world. Taking the photograph in my view is the Mephistopheles moment. You are in control of the object taken by the camera. Arranging the scenery, waiting for the perfect moment, expression, light or colours is like mastering a situation, an atmosphere, an emotion. Photographs have the power to work as document. Editing has become easy and pervasive with digital tools. However, it was always present in the traditional technical parts of shooting and developing subsequently in the dark room. Being taken on a photograph is more like the Faustian moment of realising that you are manipulated, or at risk of being made use of for some purpose unknown to you at that moment. Beware, a photograph is always just an image of an image. The photographer is the intermediate person using a specific technology to transform his perception or vision of reality into another image of it, creating a some form of virtual reality. In addition to this twofold transformation, the third transformation is historically the technical development of the negative into the print (see below). Nowadays, this is the compression and editing into a specific format. Despite these transformations, a photograph is admitted in court cases as providing evidence of guilt or to identify an illicit act (excess of speed limit). Infringements on privacy are the rule rather than the exception. Who is that person sitting next to you and at what time of the day?
I apply photographs like note-taking for my research to capture spontaneous ideas or associations which await further interpretation or serve as inspiration. Painting has been an elitist artistic practice for many years. Taking photographs has democratised the image-taking art forms. Instead of originals we have collections of photos from museums around the world. We take photos of photos to reveal the world around us and reflect on values. The social construction of the world is directly visible through the process of taking, collecting and curating photographs. Construct your own world or the world will construct or deconstruct you instead. Politicians (e.g. Angela Merkel), John F. Kennedy or historical figures, all had their defining moment condensed into one or several photographs, paintings before. Susan Sontag wrote 50 years ago: “… a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency”. The third transformation of developing and/editing shown in the images below explain what she might be understand from this citation in a technical sense. Just as courts have to evaluate whether a proof is admittable and contributing to finding the truth. Viewing photographs is a balancing act between art and truth. “Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience.” (Sonntag, p.6). Photographs document sequences of consumption, CO2 footprints we should frame this in the 21st century. Restricting print to a few “best of” was necessary to reduce the dirty footprint of photography, particularly since photos have become a mass media as much as the preferred media of masses. With photos we certify our own certificates for job applications or passports even. The “cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies” we encounter in all instagram-able locations. Taking photos is like a “friendly imitation of work” (p.9), you do something useful in documenting the images of a world in danger of being lost. We can give importance to otherwise forgotten realities, attach importance even immortality to something or someone of our choice. We make history through it or try to make it at least. “When we are afraid, we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures.” (p.9) Sontag defines photographs as part of the repertoire of surrealism (p.77 ff), “to finding beautiful what other people found ugly or without interest and relevance …”). We at risk to mistake photographs as reality and experience the original as “letdown” (p.147). The return to polaroid instant photography brings us back to the authenticity of the orginal, unique moment with supposingly unfiltered not-edited images. The true moment of having had fun or joint experience without photoshopping the missing member. I take photos, therefore I am, has become the mantra of modern societies. We tend to ignore that we are taken on photos a million more times than we take some ourselves. A question of power in the end. Edit yourself or you become edited.  (Prix du Tirage photographique BnF 2022 Laurent Lafolie, photo below).

Linguistics

The urge to program human language originates for some in the quest for better explanation or understanding, for others in the improvement of communication. Both approaches have witnessed rapid evolution in recent years. Based on linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics or neuroscientific advances, the potential of knowledge creation and communication has risen due to computational models and applications to linguistics. ChatGPT3 and Neuroflash allow us to play around with the commonly available AI-applications. Construction of a linguistically informed Glossary of political and social ideas is a specific application case. In addition to the subject/object list we may add predicates or verbs to link subjects and objects. For this purpose, we construct a basic alphabetical list below which draws mainly on action verbs and is embedded in the socio-cultural environment of the sciences in general. A categorised list of verbs, like the one from Purdue University, is helpful to draw on several relatively distinct fields. With perspective on labour market or societal relevance the list focuses on verbs related to skill sets: administrative/managerial; communication; creative, information/data; caring/helping; efficiency; research; teaching/learning; technical. The categories are not mutually exclusive and may well be supplemented by additional categories like relational skills and transformational skills. Computational psycholinguistics (Crocker, 2006 pdf-file) differentiate the “principle of incremental comprehension” (add one word at a time) from the “concentric theory of complexity” (start from complexity to specificity or vice-versa) and the “deductive sentence processor”. ChatGPT is built on the incremental approach, supposed to be the fastest and probably a more reliable computational approach. We could just attempt to use the other approaches in the simple ABC glossary of subjects, objects and predicates to test for the possibility to build no-nonsense short sentences using random choices as starting points. The Oxford handbook of psycholinguistics highlights in the final chapter the theoretical alternative of connectionism (p.811). Symbolic computation construes cognition as mental states that are symbolically represented. The sequence of operations then runs from one representation to the next one. However, the connectionist model operates more like a neural network and proceeds with the parallel processing of notions, relations or patterns. A list of predicates or verbs might do the trick: Chose a subject, chose a predicate and an object to start playing around: Subjects: action balance  corruption democracy enterprise freedom god health imagination joy knowledge law memory nature optimism policy question repairing society time union value war xeno yinyang zero.
Predicates: applies broadens creates directs establishes forms generates helps induces jeopardises  keeps likes moderates needs opposes prioritises qualifies represents strengthens tests uses varies weighs x-outs yields zigzags.
Objects:  freedom god health imagination joy knowledge law memory nature optimism policy question repairing society time union value war xeno yinyang zero action balance  corruption democracy enterprise.