Wednesday, 31 December 2014
The tradition of dropping the ball in New York’s Times Square—and derivative celebrations, which began with the year 1908 after fireworks displays were banned in Gotham over safety concerns has much older roots that connect the count-down with navigation on the high-seas and reflect on the nature of time and time-keeping itself. The Naval Observatory in Washington, DC had installed a time-ball in 1845 for the benefit of fleets launching out from the Delmarva Peninsula for the antipodes that fell daily to mark high-noon. This temporal landmark goes back to the Royal Observatory east of London, which rests on the Greenwich meridian. While it was relatively easy for ships at sea to calculate changes in latitude (north, south) by gauging their position under the stars, reckoning degrees, minutes and seconds of longitude proved much more of a challenge.
A navigator could figure how far east or west one had traveled by knowing the difference in time at his present location relative to his point of departure, but clockworks did not yet have their sea-legs and it was not possible to keep good measure, until the development of the sturdy maritime chronometer, invented in 1737 in England, whose chief berth was at Greenwich, later declared to be the Prime Meridian in a convention chaired by US president Grover Cleveland. A bright red ball was installed on the observatory’s bell tower—visible from all around, that has fallen daily since 1833 as an aid cue for passing ships to synchronise their watches—although at 1300 since the crews were busy calibrating earlier with the noon-time angle of the sun. The newspaper magnate wanted to give the gathered crowds a similar cue, bereft of his former pyre and beacons, with a dazzling effect and commissioned the first illuminated ball to be lowered at the stroke of midnight to usher in the New Year.
Though Western music was officially restricted in Soviet Russia, some bootleg copies of jazz standards and the emerging rock-and-roll were already circulating in the 1950s and the privileged few who got to listen were starving for more and wanted to share—of course, the taboo experience with others. Vinyl as the media, however, came at a high premium and conventional propagation would have aroused the suspicion of censors, so the aficionados/bootleggers/pirates discovered an innovative and resourceful solution: raiding the dumpsters of medical facilities with radiology departments, they took discarded x-ray films and impressed the grooves of the music onto the radiographs. Colossal has a fine little gallery of these improvised albums plus several links that document more on the history of this phenomenon.
Tuesday, 30 December 2014
Though not to be characterised as weird or foreign and not exclusive to Austria, the country’s edition of the English daily, the Local, present a nifty summary of some of the ways Austrians ring in the New Year. Special credit, I believe, is due for not shying away from terms like agora- and ochlophobia (the latter being specifically the fear of crowds and not just being exposed and out in the open, fear of the Marktplatz) and molybdomancy (Bleigießen)—that is, divination by molten lead quickly cooled in water, complete with a description of the fun and an exhaustive Rorschach list of interpretations.
English speaking areas have the monopolisation potential as well with choices like .shoes, .pizza, .ninja—as if .biz and .free weren’t already chintzy and fly-by-night enough. All this cacophony strips dominance away from some appellation-squatters, I suppose—and maybe bursts a bubble for the online real-estate market, but it also makes for a lot of confusion too—where nothing’s not miscellaneous and not parsed and not delivered through search-engines.
I imagine most trafficking comes this way already anyway and most people are not willing to venture a guess at something new—for the very real fear of being led down a rabbit-hole and come to a look-alike site that’s maybe stealing one’s data. This move is rife, I think, for ideologues and for more spoofs, dodging and forgeries, but it is the off-chance that cartels go after one of the new domains that has people most concerned—seeing that confectioners are staking claim to the .kinder name to build brand loyalty to certain candies. What do you think? Are you prospecting for a new style, a manner of address?
Monday, 29 December 2014
Before the advent and propagation of the internet and search machines, the inquiring public relied on certain institutions and librarians in particular for answers.
During autumn’s travels in Normandy, which we’ve been woefully remiss in writing about, H and I stopped at the village of Veules-les-Roses—a darling little spot, whose mills and watercress (Brunnenkresse) bogs (cressonières) are fuelled by the shortest river in France, la Veules—only eleven hundred metres long, escaping to the sea through a breach in the high chalk cliffs of the plateau of Pays de Caux.
This village was a jewel to discover, even on a soggy day, and has been made the subject of literature and visual arts. It was very pleasant to have this pause amidst all the other history and dramatic views of this region.
elephant Hanno, which the Pope rode around the streets of Rome on. Sadly, after being admired in Lisbon and communicated to draughtsman Dürer, the rhinoceros went down in a shipwreck off the coast of La Spezia and never made it to Rome—doubly sad because the rhinoceros is an able swimmer and probably would have survived had he not been chained to the deck. Of course, this print became as famous as it did and still remains in circulation because of emerging printing-technology in Dürer’s home-haunt of Nürnberg, another aspect of the modern age.
Thoreau did also graciously accept help when offered by kindred spirits—including fellow author Ralph Waldo Emerson and his mother and sister who brought the hermit doughnuts. Most of us would think less of what Thoreau created because of that detail. What do you think? Do such aspirations only belong in the rarified world of artists or is it a universal and daily struggle?
Sunday, 28 December 2014
For Christmas from H, I received this wonderful Grumpy Cat stuffed animal. Better known by her stage name, the cat called Tartar Sauce made her human caretakers millionaires through a substantial media empire. Apparently, I am known to pull the same facial expression, from time to time. Though not exactly intended to convey cuddliness—more like, “...no, Mister Bond, I expect you to die”—I think she’ll make a very good mascot, nonetheless.
The ever brilliant BLDGBlog revisits the field-trip they got to take two summers ago to the secretive compound that manages the constellation of satellites that form the global positioning system for military and civilian applications.
Mental Floss has a semi-regular special series entitled Afternoon Map that invites one to pour over imaginative cartography and charts visualising demographics. With some concession to sea-levels and icecaps to keep geo-politics recognisable, contributors at Open Culture share the land masses aligned as Pangea with modern borders included. What is most amazing about such a venture is to think how much has changed before and since with continental-drift and we know a little bit about how those puzzle-pieces fit together.
Saturday, 27 December 2014
Thursday, 25 December 2014
catagories: holidays and observances
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
Reviewing a list of seasonal gift-bearers, I found it a bit jarring at first to see the list of regional variations on the familiar characters of Santa Claus and Saint Nikolaus to abruptly change to Saint Basil for the Greeks and other lands that follow the Orthodox Church.
self-sufficient monastic orders. Outside the gates of Caesarea, there was a grand campus called the Basiliad, which was a model for later monasteries with a guesthouse, hospital, a hospice and a library. This basic unit of government greatly influenced the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church and the monastic movement took hold in far-flung places like Ireland, helping to preserve learning and the faith with supporting institutions, like the Roman Empire, fell is but one accomplishment among the retinue of Basil’s legacy—plus bring presents.
Tuesday, 23 December 2014
Ship of Theseus is an epistolary novel, a story told through letters, primarily, but with the substantial subtext of the correspondence taking place on the pages and in the margins of a Bildungsroman, beloved and familiar to both of the main characters but grow to appreciate it more as their complimentary notes uncover more details and clues about the possible identity of the mysterious, semi-legendary anarchist author himself. It was a really fun and involved experiment that was quite an undertaking, not only in creating the parallels that stand on their own merits as plotlines but also a very accomplished work in terms of type-setting and book-binding: not only does the novel have the heft, appearance and smell of a much circulated library book, there are also numerous other artefacts tucked between the pages—postcards, newspaper clippings and even a decoder. The layers of action reminded me a little bit of The Never-Ending Story, and while I do not believe that the marginalia detracted from the reader’s imaginations, I also do not feel that every story might benefit from such a telling—though I think it is an interesting projection of the way we maybe read things—unafraid to mentally highlight certain passages for instantaneous research to their conclusion and cite our own footnotes.
Monday, 22 December 2014
H and I tried the beverage that is apparently enjoying a big following among hacker-circles and their associates called Club Mate. Like many energy drinks, Club Mate includes an extract of the yerba mate plant from South American but is not adulterated with sugar and caffeine that make cola and energy drinks disarming and potentially harmful. It was not quite to our liking, tasting a bit like a mix between tea and tobacco. As a cocktail ingredient, as when combined with rum, lime and cane sugar and called a Tschunk, I do not know if it might be more palatable.
Maybe it is an acquired taste and no matter—this venerable drink, around since the 1920s, has its own admirers, plus I do quite like the mysterious logo—which reminded me of this arresting, unrelated image.
Columnist Candida Moss approaches the subject of the lack of a biography of Jesus during His K-12 years, childhood and adolescence into early adulthood, through an apocryphal gospel known as the ΠΑΙΔIΚΑ (the Book of Childhood Deeds) or the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, written sometime in the second century.
Sunday, 21 December 2014
January: Latvia joins the European Union. The Syrian civil war crosses into Lebanon, threatening to engulf the whole region. Pot shops open their doors to recreational smokers in Colorado and big business quickly descends to turn a profit. A tragic sinking occurs in the waters off Lampedusa with many migrants fleeing violence in northern Africa drowning. A Chinese rover on the Moon, dependent on solar power, survived another two-week long lunar night to explore some more. We sadly had to say good-bye to singer and freedom-fighter Pete Seeger.
March: Russia annexes the Crimea at the urging of pro-Russian separatists. Sanctions against Russian interests ensue. The Chinese year of the Wood Horse begins. Researches discover the largest virus known in a sample of tundra ice. Territorial tensions mount in the Pacific, prompting America to focus its attention of Japan and China. A Malaysian airliner veers off course and disappears.
April: Former popes John Paul II and John XXIII are canonised. America throws its diminishing weight around in the international banking sector. Systemic discipline problems surface in the elite US Secret Service. Mickey Rooney, Bob Hoskins and writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez sadly departed.
May: The world at-large begins to recognise the severity of the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Poet Maya Angelou left us. Europe begins to solemnly commemorate the centennial of the start of the Great War. Former Soviet satellite states feel increasingly vulnerable as the situation in Ukraine deteriorates as Cold War tensions seem set to return. There is a military coup in Thailand.
June: A group of militants styled the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant aim to create a caliphate and begin attracting confederates from the West. A controversial and covert swap transpires between Guantanamo detainees in exchange for the release of an American prisoner-of-war. Germany wins the World Cup in football, and throws a minor hissy-fit over the National Security Agency’s spying practises when it is revealed that the chancellor’s phone was also tapped.
July: In response to kidnappings and killings, Israel launches a major offensive against the Gaza Strip, prompting the United Nations and others to condemn the reaction and declare solidarity with the Palestinians. The Drug-War in Mexico intensifies. The former French president is taken into custody over corruption charges.
September: America embarks on a campaign against Islamist militants in Syria but every overture, violent or peaceful, are in the main ineffective. Personality—if ever one deserved to wear that mantel, Joan Rivers left us.
October: India and Pakistan exchange fire over Kashmir. Protests break out in Hong Kong over reforms that would remove some of the special treatment afforded the autonomous administrative district, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tianmen Square massacre. Germany observes the twenty-fifth anniversary also of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
November: The successor to the Kyoto Protocols forecast dire and irreversible changes at human hands to the environment. The European Space Agency successfully piggy-backs on a comet. China surpasses the US as the world’s biggest economy ahead of schedule. The Duchess of Alba and author PD James also left before their time.
December: Massive protests erupt in several urban-centres in the United States over the slaying deaths of unarmed African American males at the hands of white officers while keeping to their beats of broken-window policing.
Inhuman terrorist act occur in Sydney, Yemen and Pakistan. The Central Intelligence Agency hinted at some of its suspected depravity by releasing a fraction of the files that documented the agency’s efforts to keep us all safe in a post 9/11 world.
Summed up in a rhetorical parallel: did the US condone and carry out torture, yes—and whether or not it could be justified in the minds of these perverse and duplicitous individuals, did it produce any actionable intelligence, no. The US moves to normalising relations with Cuba.
In the face of the precipitous downfall of the Russian rouble (₽) over a constellation of sanctions, perceived weaknesses, an alleged slack in demand for petroleum over weakened industrial demand, which is at the same time being offset by increased American production(which does smack as a bit suspicious, given the overall climate and charged accusations of conspiracy to undermine that seems like burning one’s wick at both ends), some economists are diagnosing Russia with the so-called Dutch Disease—which turns out to be a relatively recent market characterisation, describing the misguided attempts that the Netherlands committed in the 1970s when, after the discovery of off-shore oil reserves, began cultivating that natural resource at the expense of all other export sectors, whereas I would have guessed it to have had much more historic roots, like in the Dutch founding a stock-market based on tulips or an empire based on exotic spices.
By extension, they claim that Russia has no economy per se but rather is an oil company accorded the membership of statehood, but that is more than a little bit dangerous and near-sighted as the same could be said of most national marketplaces that call themselves post-industrial. America is hardly a competitive oil company—more a captive consumer—and is more akin to a name-brand that licenses its economic activity out to franchisees. This collective Schadenfreude over the fate of the rouble is woefully premature, too—I think, considering the range that the single currency has. Though by population and other measures of wealth, the rouble sphere of influence is not as great as the Euroraum, covering a large portion of Eurasia and extending from Norway to Alaska, the long way around and fully one eighth of the habitable land on Earth, I imagine that the internal needs of the country could still be met and indeed thrive without regard for external scalars. Moreover, if hostile voices insist on countering with the same poisonous rhetoric, I imagine that the foreign debt that Russia was formerly welcomed to both finance and borrow could be easily turned to tactical purposes. What do you think? Of course, there is real cause for concern, but there also might be old Cold War fears and prejudices pushing agendas as well—and not just the well-oiled oligarchs.
Friday, 19 December 2014
Back in 2004, then regime of North Korea made overtures to the Czech Republic to prohibit its cinemas from showing the movie Team America: World Police because of an unflattering depiction of Kim Jung Il in puppet form.
The Czech government rebuffed such demands, saying that those kind of requests have no place in free and democratic countries. Before that, Charlie Chaplain resorted to financing the production of his parody The Little Dictator, entirely with his own funds, because all the Hollywood studios were afraid to touch the subject and be seen as taking sides. Now a studio is in similar straits over a lampoon—and while I can appreciate the difficulty of the decision, with no pretentions of being a profound masterwork of a film, it may be not worth it to pick this fight and instead be accusing of caving to bullies and blackmailers—and is ultimately not releasing the movie to anyone. What do you think about that? Does the studio merit being foisted on its own freedom of speech and expression?
After being invented in the India sub-continent, the game of chess in its recognisable and modern was one of those cultural commodities, like language, writing and religion, which was quickly disseminated all over the world and was firmly entrenched by the year one thousand. The game was so popular and universally played that societies were also quick to undertake reimaging their boards and chessmen after their own iconography and values.