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Happy Birthday, Annette… and In Praise of Love March 2, 2013

Posted by astridjohnson in Books, Love, Philosophy, Politics.
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And another birthday blog.

And another birthday blog.

Happy Birthday, my dear sister. You got this photo we took at the MOSI on canvas and a box with some more goodies is unfortunately still on it’s way. Never mind. I hope you have a lovely day with your beloveds in Cologne.

On the subject of love. I am reading Alain Badiou’s “In Praise of Love”, which my husband brought me from Foyles yesterday. and there is much this elderly French communist illuminates about the perennial question mark in “What is Love?”. The book is the script of an interview between Nicolas Truong and Badiou and covers politics, creativity and relationships.

The last paragraph here is about love for the world through relationship and wakes me up to review all of them:

…To love is to struggle, beyond solitude, with everything in the world that can animate existence. This world where I see for myself the fount of happiness my being with someone else brings. “I love you” becomes: in this world there is the fount you are for my life. In the water from this fount, I see our bliss, yours first. As in Mallarmeé’s poem, I see:

In the wave you become
Your naked ecstasy.

The bond with my sister is very deep and the abiding love I have for her took time to be seen and mature.


Happy Birthday, Mark! February 13, 2013

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Sorry, the blue theme is a bit cliché...

Sorry, the blue theme is a bit cliché…

As you are in Madrid on your birthday morning, here your virtual birthday table: balloons, presents, cake, candles and all. Happy, happy birthday, my beloved.

Here I opened your card for you… and you can read all of it when you are home tomorrow.

Sorry for revealing our term of endearment...

Sorry for revealing so publicly our term of endearment…

Sorry, this could also be a Easter card...

Sorry, this could also be a Easter card…

Sorry for revealing so publicly our song...

Sorry for revealing so publicly “our” song…

And here the tag lines for you present…

Because you view things differently.
Because there is hilarity and love where the two of you are.
Because you married a hipster Tscherman woman who thinks that some thing are not funny, but they are still funny.
Because it is about the “I” towards the “Thou”.
Because there may be some more philosophical devices to explore.
Because you like sounds.
Because sound needs context.
Because you want to play with sound.
Because you want to play with a different sound.
Because you need to relax.
Because things are sweet.
Because you need some trousers.
Because a nice shirt never goes amiss.

This makes all sense once you opened them… I hope.

Have much, much success with your project today and I look so much forward to seeing you tomorrow!

With love, Astrid

Sorry for so publicly revealing your age...

…you just have to blow them out now…

Valentine’s Card 2013 February 7, 2013

Posted by astridjohnson in Current Affairs, Graphic Design, Love, Philosophy, Politics.
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To use this Valentine's card you really have to love each other!

To use this Valentine’s card you really have to love each other!

I never sent a Valentine’s card in my life, nor have I ever received one. This year I felt compelled to design one though.

It is a bit mean, as it relates to quite a sad but sordid little story about probable bullying, coercion, disrespect, loss, victimisation, jealousy, revenge, lying, perjury and selfishness – which all does not sits well with “… till death shall do us part”. But is also quite funny.

Mass Observation – 12 May 2012 May 16, 2012

Posted by astridjohnson in Anthropology, Books, Current Affairs, Cybernetics, Graphic Design, Love, Philosophy, Politics, Vegetarian.
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I have been observed. By me.

The Science of Us

The anthropologist  Tom Harisson started the Mass Observation social research project on 12 May 1937 after the abdication in 1936 of Kind Edward VIII. The papers all wrote that the mood of the nation was really down and he and his team initiated a nationwide effort to document the feelings of the people and every day life in Britain by collecting anecdotes, interviews and diaries of one single day of untrained volunteer observers.

I heard a radio piece about the project some weeks ago and thought there were some interesting results, concerning gender and just in observing the “ordinary” and decided to participate this year.

The project ended in 1960s but was started again in 1981. The Mass Observation Archive is kept at the University of Sussex. They have records also of 12 May, 2010, and asked people to participate again this year.

Criticism for this project has been invasion of privacy (they did record conversations without consent etc.).

But are our lives really that private?

After I did my bit I looked at some entries for 2010. Many people were hanging their washing, as was I.

What they asked to do for this year was: Write as much as you can about what you do, who you meet, what you talk about, what you eat and drink, what you buy or sell, what you are working on, the places you visit, the people you meet, the things you read, see and hear around you and of course what you yourself think.

They also wanted a small introduction about who I am and what my profession is.

So, here we go. If you want to read a day in the life of…, however boring. please continue.

Mass Observation 12 May, 2012 – Astrid Johnson

Hi, my name is Astrid Johnson, née Gütt. I am 48 years old and a German national, but lived in the London for 5 years in the 1990’s and moved back to London in 2002.

I met my husband Dr Mark William Johnson in September 2008 in London. In May 2009 I moved to Manchester to join him and his then 8 year old daughter Isobel (Izzy) Johnson and we got married in the same month.

We now live in Rusholme in Manchester, in a terraced three bedroom house, built in 1910, which we bought last year. Izzy lives with us at least every other weekend, every Tuesday and much of the holidays.

I am an graphic designer with a 28 year international career as a graphic designer and creative art worker. Since 2010 I am running the design studio as a social enterprise for the charity First Step Trust. First Step Trust (FST) is a charity that provides real work, training and employment opportunities for people excluded from ordinary working life because of mental health problems or other disabilities or disadvantages. The studio is located at the Adult Forensic Services at Prestwich Hospital, part of Greater Manchester West NHS Mental Health Foundation Trust. My workforce are patients at the Edenfield Centre, a Medium Secure Unit. After working for decades for industry this is very rewarding work, as it includes more entrepreneurial aspects as I have done before and a lot of teaching. Less money though. I still do occasionally design jobs for private clients as well.

I expect this to be a usual Saturday, mostly at home, which means sleeping in and chilling from the week, as well as tiding the house a bit. This weekend is not an “Izzy weekend”, which means she will be with her mother, but I know we have a guest staying with us, so there will be even more togetherness than just being alone with my husband. The only plan we have is to go with Dai to the Alan Turing exhibition at the Manchester Museum.

I will not mention sexual activity. This is a common human behaviour I practice, but nobody needs to know if or when I indulge in it today. I will also not mention the gazillion times I will be cleaning surfaces in the kitchen or tidy away stuff as I move through the house nor the many times I am checking Twitter or other news stories.

Everything else is up for grabs.



Starting diary. Just went into back yard and had a cigarette. Did not have one for 12 days. Since a few month I smoke one or two a day, always on the bench our small back yard. Dai (Professor David (Dai) Griffiths), a friend and colleague of Mark at the Institute of Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton, is staying with us tonight before travelling back home in the afternoon to Deia, Majorca. He travels every few weeks to Bolton, when he is not going to some conferences and is sometimes staying with us. It is special to have him, but also a bit like communal living. I like that very much, as I lived most of my life communally and living with my husband is, although so rich and fulfilling, sometimes a bit of a too small community.

At this moment Dai is playing the violin in the kitchen, in order not to disturb the neighbours.

Our neighbours are a group of young people from Pakistan in the house on the left and a single man from Iraq, who only occasionally has his young daughter with him, in the house of the left.

We just came back from an Indian meal on the Curry Mile, Rusholme, and visiting a large UK chain pub afterwards. Over Easter, in Berlin, my sister introduced me to Gin and Tonic. Unfortunately this was very late in my life. I had a large one and one beer at the Indian place. So I am unusually intoxicated.

I am just finishing my coffee and will now go and brush my teeth. Mark does not like it when I smoke, so I always make sure I wash my hands and brush my teeth after a cigarette.

Mark is going through old diaries from the 1970’s, papers and letters of his father who died in January this year. Coincidence to hear from his old diaries and writing one myself today.

I am tired. Long week and not much sleep last night. Just briefly checking on Twitter who is also participating in the Mass Observation project today. Internet is terribly slow on my laptop since I installed Lion (latest OS X operating system). Seriously no luck with opening the Twitter site. Giving up now.

Going to find some pillows for Dai and off to bed…


Took my iPhone to the toilet to listen to BBC Radio 4 iPlayer The News Quiz, a satirical review of the week’s news chaired by Sandi Toksvig. while brushing my teeth. Main subject is of course Greece (they don’t have money to throw plates anymore, so they are using paper plates..). Very funny and very sad. I don’t think the Germans (and I know I am one of them) did right by the Greek.

We don’t have a TV or radio in the house, but use our computers and phones to see stuff or listen to radio. Glass of water for the night and quick tickle of Mark who responds with familiar and beloved squeeks. He turned around and I just put some cream on my face and put my blind fold on. Lights out. And sleep.


Just woke up. Woke up before at around 8’clock and had a cuddle with Mark. He got up shortly after.

Thinking about Greece. They are in the news about their inability to form a stable government and the question if they will stay in the Euro.

There is actually a fear in me of Europe falling apart. The whole idea of the Europe Union with its bureaucracy is the avoidance of war. The UK does some crazy wars, but further afield, recently in Iraq, but it does not really matter that the UK is not in the Euro and keeps its distance in some way’s. David Cameron, our prime minister, is a pompous git, but generally the UK’s liberal attitude and the nations wonderful self deprecating humour is a good addition to the talking table.

The threat of falling economies, the fractioning of the European ideal and rising neo fascism are all real dangers. Will we come up with a new economic model that ties in with intelligent compassion and democracy? Just on the point of neo fascism nowadays and as I am reflecting this morning on it, I understand it is born out of frustration and disempowerment, perceived and real poverty, lack of meaning in life and not necessarily profound right wing, fascistic idealism.

People are confused and want certainties.

Same in France and Spain. What will we do about this?

I am going to make a coffee now. World looks too gloomy without a morning coffee. (I use these little filter cones and filter paper to make a cup of coffee. Just recently discovered that the coffee you can buy in Lidl is not only cheap, but very good as well.)

Checking Twitter on the loo. Tweets show cousin of Mark is having a bit of a morning and Mark suggests we contact her.

Twitter exchange with Lee Chalmers

@leechalmers: Thought for my female followers: what would you do differently in your life if you were a man?

@tweetaj: I would stand up when I am taking a piss and assert less of my power or lack of it through manipulation and whinging.

@leechalmers: 🙂 Assertiveness seems a theme in answers. And peeing. Assertiveness comes from belief in power. This is a challenge for women

@tweetaj: Looks like it.


Mark is playing music to me from BBC Radio 3 iPlayer, Late Junction programme. He wonders if I know by whom it is. Bird noises, violins and voices. Oh, they are called Dolphins Into The Future. Now he is going through his Spotify list to find more pieces by them. Sounds all like slow meditation music.

Will now write a direct twitter message to Mark’s cousin. Invite her for an Indian meal tomorrow.

Talking with Mark about conversation with Dai yesterday. It was about Dai’s visceral and emotional response to the limitations of nationalism and Mark’s almost violent response to idealism, which can end in all kinds of narrow mindedness or at worst fascism. But what is the reason for the strong emotionality on these subjects for both men, which is almost as violent as extreme nationalism and idealism. I have always pursued idealism, to a large extremes, having been part of modern religious movements to the detriment of some decisions in my life which could have been more sane. I only moved away from this kind of world view a few years ago, but yesterday I got a further and real glimpse of the strength and beauty of Mark’s realism. He had to concede though to my argument that idealism pushes things forward, is the mover and shaker. But the question of why the emotional strength of their position remains, both for Dai and him.

Writing this it makes me think we were a bunch of students sorting out the world in a pub, rather than people in their 40’s and 50’s. But I guess people should behave like students or young people in that way throughout their lives.


Sorting out what needs to go into the washing machine.

Sending some fonts another designer needs via Dropbox and will then prep breakfast. But first Mark is showing me the programmes for the conference on “How scientific can the study of society be in the context of economics and business studies?” in Marseille in middle of June. He is one of the few speakers. Sounds really good and very relevant. He is looking forward to going and will have a blast.


Wrote an email to Leanda, another graphic designer in Manchester. That was a long overdue reply to her mail. Wrote a short reply to my friend Carin who is currently also a private client. I created a logo for her fruit orchard business and some labels which need finalising urgently. Arranged to phone her tomorrow. Went to back yard to have a cigarette and to make phone calls via Skype Out from my iPhone and left message on step mother phone to arrange a visit in Frankfurt at the end of this month. Tried also to call Annette, my sister in Cologne and spoke briefly with my youngest niece. Mark went to get The Guardian for me and Dai is us up now too. Conscious that we live a rich and privileged life. Getting dressed, while listening to BBC Radio 4.


Rebecca Brooks on the front cover of The Guardian. Scary woman. The Levinson inquiry about the Murdoch mess is the main topic in England for month (years) now. The Guardian is overdoing it a bit though.

Talked with Dai about his new living situation in Deia.

Put out all the cheese in the fridge, cut some bread and prepared a frittata with two green chillies, half a yellow pepper, two spring onion, fresh tomatoes with their skin removed, some sautéed spinach, home made curry powder, salt and six small eggs. Da made the hot drinks and helped laying the table.

All three of us had the meal together, talking about the trend of selling of Universities and Vice Chancellors

Nap. Tired after eating. While napping Mark did the washing up. How do I know? He played Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde overture via Spotify as load as his device allows to.

Napping on a cloud of Wagner is as close to heaven as you can get.

I am not going to elaborate on the Wagner issue now, but just to say. I have come more to terms with him since I heard exactly this overture on my first date with Mark at the Proms in London in 2008. But not fully.

Washing up is almost the only chore Mark does in the house. Mark earns much more money than me and does not have so many debts. He pays for almost everything, apart form groceries and the bi-weekly cleaners and I keep the house from a state of chaos. I am very grateful but not always happy about the amount of house work and the repetitiveness of the tasks.


Putting on make up. New love of matching eye shadow to clothes colours. Now Mark, Dai and I are in the car to drive to the Manchester Museum to the Alan Turing exhibition. Alan Turing, the mathematician, cryptographer and computer pioneer who came up with the morphogenesis concept. This is all related to cybernetics, which is the professional field of Mark and Dai and also very interesting for me. We’ve been before, but Dai hasn’t. Weather is nice. Blue sky and fluffy clouds. Surprisingly no rain and not too cold. Manchester is a lovely green city, but still wish I was living in London again.


Have time now to watch the little video about Turing.

Alan Turing died in 1954. Interestingly, 68 years after he committed suicide because people only accepted that he was a genius but not that he was gay, Obama this week has become the first president of the USA to endorse gay marriage, around the same time the first British prime minister does.

Quick twitter exchange with step daughter Izzy, who is now 12 year old:

Izzy: I think of Twitter as follows: Every tweet I make wastes away another 10% of my life. Since I have 177 tweets, I am supposedly D–E-A-D.

@tweetaj: If it is a waste than I would only give it 0.0000001% per tweet.


Mark, Dai and I are meeting on the sofa’s just outside of the exhibition. There is a little shelf with books about Turing, D’Arcy Thompson etc.. Mark is stretched out on the sofa and having a power nap.

I noticed that almost all the books have an endorsement by Stephen Jay Gould and I remember having heard about him before in the context of studies on evolution I have done. Dai tells me about Gould’s book, Wonderful Life – The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Dai has just come back from Canada where he has seen the formations in the Canadian Rockies. This is most fascinating. They are preservations of soft parts of fossils, which show the abundance of shapes and life forms which is contradictory to the idea that life was more simple in the Middle Cambrian time. Amazing creatures and one wonders how many other different life forms there were in other parts of the world during this time. These kind of talks make me always extremely happy about being alive and being able to appreciate the wonders of existence.


Dashing back to house to get Dai’s stuff. His plane is leaving at 5pm and he wants to be at the airport at 3.30.

Talking about gay people and the issue of AIDS. There might be a whole misconception about the virus, medication. A kind of conspiracy. We feel that with time there will be some machinations revealed. It has to do with putting gay or other “risk” groups in a box in unscientific ways.


Back in car with Dai’s luggage and on our way to Manchester airport.


Dropped off Dai at Terminal 1. He’ll be back in two weeks. We made loose appointment to meet again then.

In way back home checked Izzy’s movements in Twitter and Facebook on my iPhone. It is one way to be in touch with her, even when she is not physically with us. Technology is incredibly helpful with that.


Called our friend Yasuko, who had a small operation on her foot this morning. She is fine and I confirmed that Mark and I will come to her dinner party next Saturday.


Talked with Annette, my sister, for a long time. She is just one year younger, married with two girls (13 and 15 year old) and lives in Cologne, where we were both born. She told me about her new exercise regime, her wish for me to loose some weight and my stepmother who is currently in Uzbekistan (forgot that when I tried to call her earlier). We talked about Mark’s and my visit for her youngest daughter confirmation (protestant religion) on the first weekend in June, the French elections, the local elections last week in Schleswig-Holstein and the local elections tomorrow in North-Rhine Westphalia. We assume it will be a social democrat and green coalition. The Pirate party is gaining influence. An attempt at a new look at democracy. How cool is that.

Our mother died when we in our early teens and apart from my more wild period in my life (20’s) we are very, very close emotionally.

Eating toast with cream cheese and honey and watching BBC iPlayer Great British Menu North West Judging. Have strange obsession to watch food programmes with lots of dead fish and meat although I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Watching Newsnight edition from yesterday. Murdoch and care home scandal. Finalising arrangements for dinner with cousin of Mark  via direct Twitter messages.

Strange, this experience of writing for the Mass Observation project, it is like observing myself. At times can not fully interact with people, as I am recording or thinking about recording. Two levels at the same time: the observer is the observed and will then be observed by the Mass Observation team and/or the software they are using. But it is the same when I post Twitter messages, or take photos or use Instagram.

But the whole process makes me more aware about what a charmed day and life it is that I am leading. Very lucky.


Woke up from long nap. Woken by Mark, who just came back from library where he worked on his paper or rather the book review he is writing. His displacement techniques at home are playing piano and browsing the Internet. But when he goes to the library he really can work.

Going up to his room now to say hello and will hang the washing.


Mark is playing the 1. Prelude on the piano while I am tiding away Dai’s bedding in my study and hang the washing. There is a beautiful light in the whole house as the sun is going down. Mark asked me if I want to go the movies, but he only does so because he wants to procrastinate his work. He plans to work late and sleep in Izzy’s room tonight. This is the room at the top of the house, most quiet and he loves it to get real rest. I rather finish and tidy up the day’s notes for the Mass Observation project and we decide to stay at home.


Just finished hanging the washing, interrupted by conversation with Mark about the Mass Observation project. He wants me to mention that in the middle of our conversation he farted. I told him that I am writing a lot of detail in terms of the communication and entertainment devices I am using throughout the day.

If this is for prosperity then in 50 years time the reader might ask themselves “what is an iPhone?” or “who is Murdoch?”. Technology moves on in ever increasing speed, but they would know what a cuddle is, a fart and understand why one would make dinner dates with a relatives. At least that is the hope.

Made coffee and sitting with a cigarette in the back yard. Birds are singing in a distance.

Reading BBC news on my laptop.Greece is the major headline. Human tragedies the others. That is the same on The Guardian website and the German Spiegel website.


Sitting down to write intro for this diary and tidy up all the notes. Making a cheese toast with lime pickle on the lovely spelt bread we bought in St Albans last weekend. Today was a bread eating day only, it seems. Writing on my laptop and listening to BBC Young Musician 2012 via BBC iPlayer on my iPhone. There is not only a national obsession with talent shows, I think it is a world wide one. And I am a sucker for it too. Maybe it is for all of us with no special talents.


Attached my iPhone to the speaker system. Amazing recorder player on the Young Musician 2012. She is an grade 8 piano and violin player, but bravely chose the recorder. Fantastic sound!!! Mark made a tea for me.


Recorder player got through to the finals, as the young Chinese pianist. Still tiding up notes of the day.


As usual I missed the point when my laptop runs out of battery and it went black in front of my eyes. Got the charger from the bed room and went to indulged in another cigarette and some chocolate covered raisins. Turned off the heating. Watching ‘Have I got New for you” on the BBC iPlayer (I usually carry the iPhone, blaring, with me through the house) and heading for bed, via brushing my teeth and saying good night to Mark who quoted some unintelligible sentences from the book he is reviewing. In this instance they were unintelligible for both of us.


Last observations on the day of Mass Observations:

Not many mentions on Twitter about the Mass Observation day. I checked the hashtag #massobservation.

Another day with not eating the most healthy of food and with no exercise, which since a few years I regret, but otherwise this was an ordinary “non Izzy” Saturday, much as I expected. Reflecting on it I am grateful about how full of conversation and togetherness my life with Mark is. It is a young marriage and promises to be an interesting life together.

For posterity’s sake I am wondering how these things will turn out in the future:

Career of my husband.
My career.
My weight and health.
Izzy’s life.
Which place in the UK or country in the world we will move to in the future.
My nieces’s lives.
Economic crisis and crisis of economics.
Europe crisis.
The Middle East.
Religious fundamentalism.
Environment and nature’s recourses.
The fight against poverty.
Energy policies.
Education policies (Universities will be sold off to a few companies…).


I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in the diary to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Trustees.

In Memoriam of fathers – C. A. Johnson and Dieter Gütt January 19, 2012

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Tony and Mark in April 2011

My father in law died on 12 January, morning time. Mark, his eldest son, was just on his way to London to see him, when one of his brothers phoned him with the news. Tony had struggled with his health for many years, suffering from dementia with lewy bodies.

I met Tony first shortly after meeting Mark in Winter 2008, when his condition was already quite advanced. But the man I met was thoughtful, with a deep voice and a keen intellect and sense of the ridiculous.

But mostly I experienced Tony through the eyes of his son. There are all the stories, the life Tony led, his role as a headmaster of a Catholic primary school, his family, the two marriages he made, the children he begot, the decisions he made and the ones he maybe regretted. But on our walks through London Mark showes me places his father took him during his childhood on visits to theatres, concert halls, bookshops and museums. Mark’s experience of London and his love for the city was initiated by his father. Tony was a man of books and thinking and also that he passed on to my husband. And Mark’s daughter has inherited her wicked and lovely comedic talent straight from  Tony. His passion was the theatre, both as a connoisseur and lay actor.

It seems very pertinent to think about what parents are, how they shape us by their deeds, their presents or absence, what upbringing they are giving us, but also how their interests, pursuits, inner worlds… souls shape us and are part of us.

Mark wrote beautifully about the waves of mourning he is experiencing in this week after his death. What comes across is how deep a cut the loss is, but above all the profound gratefulness for the life of his father. The blog entry is here at his Improvisation Blog.

On the 24th January will be the 22nd anniversary of my father’s death. He took his own life.

I lost both my parents when I was very young and at that time not as able as when you are older to reflect on them outside of the dependent child/parent relationship. But maybe that time has come now.

In honour of his Dieter’s life and my gratitude to him here a wonderful obituary from “Die Zeit” (German weekly newspaper – similar to The Observer) from early 1990.

The obituary mostly concentrates on what a disputatious man he was, an uncompromising intellectual and journalist. Wonderful, actually. We could do with many more inconvenient people in our time.

Here the beginning of a translation. The German text is below:


It was not really possible to be indifferent about Dieter Gütt, especially for those who are complacent and in position of power. And specifically to those people he directed his ire and contempt. When he expressed himself he acted according to his motto: comfortable people should just become gardeners. As a most engaged journalist in writing and speech he preferred “explicit, powerful, articulate and unsparing” commentaries. They came like arrows and whom they hit, from the “professional” expellees* to greedy football managers. was left with more than a little scratch.

(*footnote: Expellees are the 13 to 16 million ethnic Germans or German nationals who were expelled from the Eastern territories of Germany after World War II. The territories are now part of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, as well as all former parts of East Prussia. Expellees were integrated into West German after the war, as from 1953 the “Law of Return” granted citizenship to any ethnic German. Many organised themselves in a Federation of Expellees. There were two main problems with that was that. Firstly, especially in the early days about a third of the Federation’s top officials were former Nazis. The second problem was that most of the “professionally” organised expellees (and their descendants) wanted to return to their ancestral homes. Given that Germany thankfully lost World War II and considering that none of the Eastern countries who so gravely suffered under German occupation really wanted to have them back my father fought tooth and nail to hammer some understanding and decency into those who had lost and were not gracious about it.)

This is the original in German:


Gleichgültig hat er kaum jemanden gelassen, schon gar nicht die Selbstzufriedenen in jedweder Machtposition, denen sein Zorn oder seine Verachtung galt. Wenn Dieter Gütt sich äußerte, dann handelte er nach seiner Devise, bequeme Leute sollten besser Gärtner werden. Ob er sprach oder schrieb, als stets engagierter Journalist bevorzugte er „deutliche, feste, artikulierte, schonungslose” Kommentare. Sie kamen wie Pfeile, und wen sie trafen, von unbelehrbaren Berufsvertriebenen bis zu satten Fußballfunktionären, bei dem hinterließen sie mehr als Schrammen.

Obwohl seither wenig mehr als ein Jahrzehnt vergangen ist, erscheint es heute beinahe unvorstellbar, daß einer wie Gütt je in öffentlich rechtlichen Diensten stehen konnte. Aber es gab einmal die Zeit, in der ein solch streitbarer Geist die Politik der ARD koordinierte und später sogar Tagesschau und Tagesthemen leitete. Von Proporzdenken („ ich kenne nur guten und schlechten Journalismus”) hielt Gütt auch in diesen Positionen nichts. Zustimmung war ihm deshalb nicht garantiert, auf Aufmerksamkeit hingegen konnte er immer rechnen, wenn er mit barocker Figur den Bildschirm füllte.

Seine Präsenz und geschliffene Suada verschafften ihm auch da Respekt, wo er sich als militanter Moralist auf Abwege verirrte.

Zuletzt bürstete Gütt in Kolumnen für den stem wider den politischen Strich. Leidenschaft, mitunter auch ein cholerisches Temperament führten ihm die Feder. Vor allem ein wiedervereinigtes großdeutsches Reich, wie er es heraufziehen sah, bereitete ihm Pein.

Vor Jahren hatte sich Dieter Gütt in einem TvlZ Fragebogen Gelassenheit beim Tode gewünscht.

Niemand weiß, ob sie ihm vergönnt war, als er in der vergangenen Woche im Alter von 65 Jahren starb.

Vienna and Constructivism November 22, 2009

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Grand Vienna.

Mark was invited as a speaker to the  2009 Heinz von Foerster Congress about Learning. He asked me to come with him and I gladly said yes.

I attended all the sessions, apart from on the second afternoon when I took off to the Leopold Museum to see some Schiele and Klimt (awesome).

It was not surprising that with the originator of radical constructivism, Ernst von Glasersfeld, just about to open the conference, the moderator made a point about the Third Reich and Holocaust to having been real. I appreciated that for three reasons. One is that the conference was taking place in a Germanic country, second, I have trouble with diluting the horrific reality of what my forefathers (and mothers) have done and thirdly, although I do appreciate the inter-subjective approach I like my constructivism slightly less… well, relative.

All the speakers, from a wide area of disciplines which ranged from education, the AI side of cybernetic in person of the venerable Margaret Boden, linguistics, biology, statistics and math, economics, journalism to some misguided instructors in awareness exercises, were in some way involved with in constructivist thinking (I think the latter weren’t or were too much) and cybernetics.

The main memory I take from the event is the lively engagement amongst the speakers to get to know each other and each others work  and explore ideas about their respective fields. The atmosphere was inspired and although at time I felt out of my depth I enjoyed the after talk and mini-seminar discussions immensely.

I deplore though the old-fashioned conference format. Speaker in front with qualitatively varying Powerpoint presentations (sorry, but the designer in me would like to report some people to the ministry for cruelty to design, layout and typography) or reading from scripts. It does not lend itself to a real participatory learning experience.

Ernst von Glaserfeld and Josef Mitterer, the moderator of the conference.

With Ernst von Glaserfeld, a student of Heinz von Foerster, giving the keynote speech and many of the people he inspired present there was a historical band weaving its way through the two days. I was not quite sure where it was pointing to though. Maybe cybernetics is at the cusp of moving into new relevance, but my experience was confusing. There is also something stagnant in the subject matter although energetically I felt people genuinely cared and were pushing into solutions for our troubled planet.

That brings to mind the memory of an Italian man, who had an uncanny resemblance to Einstein and was interrupting more than one session. He protested a lot, but unfortunately I can not remember what he protested for or against.

If you looked up to the ceiling during one of the sessions, this is what you saw...

There were a number of people who stood out for me. Ranulph Glanville, the English head of the American Society for Cybernetics – incredibly and bitingly charming. Pille Bunnell is a very serious and engaging woman and amongst other things editor of Maturana’s “The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love”, a book Mark had given me recently. She gave technically the best presentation but amongst all the other scientist I found her discourse the least grounded. Science and Love, a subject worth exploring though. Alfred Inselberg gave a chilling application of Parallel Coordinates to recognise hostile vehicles by their noise signature. He meant Russian cars, bought by Palestinian, being heard by Israelis. In itself interesting, but due to the humourous nature he presented the case I would wish he would have explored more the term hostile and to who else it might apply. Stuart Umpleby from The George Washington University gave an inspiring overview of the relevance of cybernetics and its future and Tatiana Medvedeva brought tales from a land where development in this area has not reached the western world standard.

At the end of the conference we were invited by the mayor of Vienna to a cocktail reception in the town hall. Vienna lives from tourists and conferences like this and it does feel pretty grand to get an embossed invitation.


We stayed in the town centre, between Stephansdom and the town hall, just behind the baroque St. Peter’s Church. After Paris this is the grandest city I have ever been to. There must be somewhere a more grungy and off-beat subculture, but unfortunately in that short space of time it eluded us. But we did enjoy the retro food and famous sweets. We have to come back for the Burgtheater, galleries, art, architecture and definitely more cake.


Grand in old and new ways, interior and exterior...

Mark, on his way to the session he was giving with Dai Griffith.

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