Saturday, 28 February 2015

munchausen syndrome

Though dishonesty in journalism is most indefensible, especially given the climate and standard that politicians, lobbyists in the agricultural and pharmaceutical businesses and even in the art world are expected to stoop to (vis-à-vis the last accusation in this list levied), I think some are made examples of and all the muck-rakers have to muck-rake on one another. That being said, one certainly owes oneself a little reprieve by checking out this hilariously mounting litany of charges against the disgraced anchorman pressed by Bob Canada.

stioch or yarn-bombing

Collectors’ Weekly curates another fine show-and-tell segment with the editor whose fascination with hobbyists of the 1970s, gleefully without the need to fill their off moments with one of an infinite number of distractions that all fall somewhere short on that spectrum called productivity, cultivated their creative juices through determined clacking, has helped in part spark a revival. These knitted fashions are are truly spectacular and in many ways—not just nostalgic feeling for the vintage, are inescapable, representing a sense of experimentation and a mentality of craftiness that we’re happily not ready to give up. Even though a lot of the sway of style is up to the fashionista-set, unconventionality is well tolerated, and maybe in part because that flair is just kept at a simmer by that same catalog of diversions that don’t hone skills and by a manic admiration for things consciously imitative of the the past, one’s childhood memories, whose template becomes something rather deflated and demystified, that originality, durability, security twice- or thrice-removed. When there’s too much sentimentality, I think, it’s easier for the authorities to step in and reintroduce some balance until the next iteration of discovery.

table-manners or gravyboat, showboat

I too, like Nag-on-the-Lake, would have though this table-top photo studio, designed to capture one’s meal in the most flattering light and one’s dish’s best side, was a very real offer that the wait-staff of restaurants or the social-media sommeliers would be bring around, like the desert wagon.  I think that probably the Selfie-Sombrero probably escaped into our dimension, first as a lampoon—as a joke poking fun at people’s vanity but I suppose we can’t put that genie back in the bottle now.  And though this demonstration #DinnerCam is meant to advance a discussion about how the internet and constant, omnipresent access is changing public deportment, I’m a little afraid that such spots, blinds and backdrops might become a thing.

Friday, 27 February 2015

rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy


five-by-five

canine confessions: Ze Frank presents Sad Dog Diary

hootenanny: big in Japan, owl bars are coming to London

a pox upon thee: gerbils should get the blame for spreading the plague

phonemic handshape: a video on how some of the latest slang and jargon is signed

monogrammed: dozens of vintage corporate emblems, mostly logographic to peruse

cross-promotion or courier-new

After learning about some clever entrepreneurs’ plan to partner an open all hours chain of diners with parcel delivery services for the sake of more convenient pick-up and drop-off—and just after hearing of a single US hotline number to order anything from pizza to a horse-drawn carriage ride around Fantasy Island, I must say, while clever and enterprising—and possibly well-connected, I don’t know about this middle-man economic model. Sim salabim!

People should not be discouraged from being resourceful and even innovate, and if for instance, car-sharing schemes, facilitated logistically, result in reduced pollution and profit all involved, then that seems like a very good thing. Hoteliers and taxi drivers ought not to have an industry monopoly, and there’s certainly the old way of connecting and sharing that I think will resist being compartmentalized by any middle-man, however ambitious and deemed indispensable, but there is too a certain level of expertise and the safe-guards of bureaucracy and that’s not acquired overnight nor by mere association. Besides, being a concierge, not even a courier, is I think not a career that one aspires to.

pious fiction or brother's keeper

This thoughtful essay from Æon magazine, which hangs the chief friction between faith and science on the transition of God from being a dissembler and a Noble-Liar for our own good to one incapable of deception, reminded me very much of a thin but engrossing book by Portuguese writer José Saramago called Cain that I read recently. Unflinching to the last, the author tries to answer that same paradoxical quandary that’s plagued philosophers and theologians since the beginning: why did a perfect and all-powerful God need to mislead or test his creations?  Cain, an ostensible victim of one of those trials (others including the expulsion of his parents from Eden, Sodom and Gomorrah, Job’s suffering, Noah’s deluge, etc., etc.) condemned to wander the Earth for the act of killing his brother—which arguably was not unprovoked, confronts God directly over this and other injustices perpetrated seemingly by a petty deity who was far from omnipotent, and doesn’t relent.
Neither side can afford to give in, nor really—kind of tenderly, is either willing to accept the argument that that business was all Old Testament or that God’s ways are mysterious and inscrutable, and the standoff echoes through the ages. In seeking to reconcile these founding inconsistencies, God, who was and is ever present, was made a bit mute and aloof and it was argued that was ever the case. In hardly something to pin one’s faith to but illustrative, Descartes posits that the feeling of being forsaken or deceived is akin to one suffering from dropsy (funky cold œdema), where one is retaining too much water but is nonetheless constantly thirsty. Our faculties are generally configured to drink when parched and one person’s unfortunate condition isn’t universal, invoking Ockham. A little strangely, Descartes also supposes that in the heavenly-sphere that God were to erase a star but still perpetuate the sign of it, it’s similarly a self-delusion that we ought not to project—though looking to the skies, we are looking to the past, which is a quandary that the philosopher could not have known, scientifically at least. What do you think? Has God stepped back after setting things in motion (as the re-discovered writings of the Greek classics that led to the Renaissance and Enlightenment revealed), have we gone deaf or is it something else that the troubled old folks have failed to question? I’d like an answer—and would even wrestle an angel for one.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

octopus’s garden

When I first saw this feature as the frontispiece of a rather venerable and unfailing website, I had a moment of misgivings—wondering if they had surrendered to those catch-penny walls of copy-pasta when one strays too near the lower bounds of a webpage.

You’ve seen, no doubt, those unpalatable grasping advertisement, covert, as 11 Things You Didn’t Know about the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV or Neglecting these 24 Things will definitely result in a Ghost Dog Peeing on Your Bed, but those fears were unfounded as this gallery of unearthly plants with a message to help keep such gardens growing was certainly up to snuff and worth a look. Sorry for the unwarranted criticism.  Catchpenny is such a better term than clickbait but I don’t know if there’s a better expression for copy-pasta, which for me connotes the writhing feelers of the cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—a fabulous argument to invoke—because...FSM—that I think can be wholly attributed to this same exceptional site.

positronic-reinforcement

The New Yorker has a nice, succinct piece on the recent demonstration of the artificial intelligence DeepMind, whose talents draw from two sources, a deductive network of filters and positive-reinforcement.
The program—instructed with only the protocol that winning was good and losing bad—dazzled the human audience with a stellar progression on a platform of classic arcade games with some very masterful and unexpected strokes. It is not that DeepMind is inside the game, like when one challenges the game, but separated like a human player, and quickly devised a sure strategy. The program, however, did not perform quite so well with certain games—like Ms. Pac-Man, and the handlers weren’t quite sure why. Some disparaging voices checked their enthusiasm, as milestones like Deep Blue beating a chess grand-master or Watson winning against Jeopardy! quiz-masters. These achievements, though not coddled and not insignificant, came about, however, through extensive coaching, whereas DeepMind is learning on its own. What do you think? Is growth going to be exponential and get very quickly out of human hands?

five-by-five

neat, petite: Agent Scully posing as Morticia Addams

dog and butterfly: some beautiful photography of an unlikely pairing

geisterstadt: there is a growing website of abandoned places and ghosts towns all over the world

de stiji: a print or tee-shirt of the TARDIS in the style of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian

a great rodd of birch: a character called Whipping Tom (with several copy-cats) terrorised Londoners in the 1600s, beating their hinders and shouting, “Spanko!”

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

howling fantods

The inexhaustibly fascinating Dangerous Minds features a look at the major arcana of a suite of tarot cards conceived by the brilliant artist Edward Gorey, who gave us the lovable in the macabre.
The cards are not properly prognosticating ones, however, as they all represent different aspects of our internal fantods, a word more than for the nonce, that describes our worries and anxieties and irritations and bode no hope for a bright and uplifting fortune. For instance, drawing the Feather can be interpreted to forecast obstacles of a most pernicious nature—including, rather specifically, blackmail, a forged passport, intestinal discomfort, and loss of eyelashes (which is called madarosis). The horror. Be sure to check out the link for more backstory and augury, and Dangerous Minds in general for some veteran discoveries.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

cowboys and indians: home-stretch

After the long, violent delay in Antioch, the Crusader army found itself on the last short leg through the Levant and onto Jerusalem. Though diminished in numbers and supplies, they met little local resistance in blazing a trail across the wilderness towards the heart of the Holy Land.
While the intervening populations, Tripoli, Haifa, did not exactly roll over, the Crusaders’ dread reputation for ruthlessness proceeded them and communities decided prudently that it was easier to aid and abet the advancing army and send them on their merry way rather than suffer their wrath and wind up slaughtered and cooked for supper. That act of cannibalism during the siege of Ma’arrat al-Numan grew in people’s imaginations and echoed, along with a lot of other misdeeds, through the decades and contributed to the so-called Great Schism, when the Eastern Church asserted independence from Rome. Another rumour—or rather a realisation began to circulate regarding the Crusaders’ ultimate goal, conquest of Jerusalem. Byzantium and Fatimid Egypt, while not exactly fast-friends, did maintain diplomatic-relations, since after all they had a shared enemy and shared national-interests in the Seljuk Turks, who’d captured many Byzantine lands and until only a decade or so prior, held Palestine and Jerusalem. The Shia Egyptians had expelled the Sunni Turks at a great cost, but now were wise to the Crusaders designs and did not want their hard-earned gains to fall to Christian occupiers. Egyptian leaders appealed to Emperor Alexios, offering terms that all parties could live with—safe passage for pilgrimage, protection of the churches and freedom of worship. Alexios had to concede, however, that the army had gone rogue, after failing to restore Antioch to the Empire and founding their own Crusade States (Egypt was probably also smarting for having spilled so much blood and treasure expelling the Seljuk Turks, while if they had been patient, this army would have been sent down from Europe to do the dirty-work and Egypt would only have light-duties), and he would be powerless to stop them.
The Crusaders too had gotten a taste of the Holy Land not as pilgrims but as conquerers and were far from sated. Egypt resigned itself to raising an army to dispatch with this nuisance, but the Crusaders’ pace was too quick and they ended up taking Jerusalem and unleashed a terrible and unconstrained massacre of Muslim residents before falling to that familiar routine of deciding ownership of the prize. Out of humility, no one in the end claimed kingship over Jerusalem but rather Advocate-in-Chief. And scene—well, not quite. The noble families of Europe who’d sat out the first Crusade, dismissing it as a fool’s errand, hearing reports of the glory and plunder of these instigators were kicking themselves for not having gotten in on the ground-floor, launching successive waves of sloppy-seconds raising more ire and polarisation hoping to maintain that tenuous hold on the Holy Land and secure greater conquests.

five-by-five

brotherly-love: these two siblings have been exchanging a single birthday card for twenty-seven years

worrywart: the not so obvious benefits of anxieties

ewe-net: wifi-enabled sheep aim to create mobile access points for rural Wales

honourable mentions: some of the contenders from Sony’s World Photography Awards

tip of the iceberg: research suggests that the unconscious mind is capable of mental acrobatics we usually associate with conscious deliberation

curtain-call and cat-walk

Sometimes a reminder is far better than a discovery.

Dangerous Minds admonishes us how David Bowie, fresh from the release of his album “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” toured with the theatre company performing The Elephant Man, playing the principal role. Fellow-actors and the audience attested that he played the part perfectly, without make-up or prosthetics. Other artists, reportedly, only craved the Elephant Man’s bones. The mobarazzi by fans was really to much to bear at times, and David Bowie took measures to protect himself. During the production’s run on Broadway, several luminaries caught the show, including Yoko Ono and John Lennon—who was killed by a crazed fan shortly afterward. This tragic act must have surely turned Bowie away from the stage, given the grasping he’d already experienced despite his talent. Be sure to check out the link for more details and a performance.

Monday, 23 February 2015

soundscaper

The notion of treating customers put on hold to a cord or two of background music while on hold came about quite by accident, instead of being invented by some clever marketer or instrumental-musician, although it did take one to exploit all possible formats and venues (the waiting room, the elevator, restaurants). Musak, in the wilds and not contained just with a telephone receiver, is composed with a subtle technique called stimulus progression, meant to make waiting-times seem to pass by faster or make workers within earshot more productive and focused. In 1962, the metal girders of a factory’s reception offices turned the entire structure into an antenna that picked up the broadcast from a neighbouring radio station and piped in the sounds when the circuit was flipped and callers were placed on hold. Instead of being irritated with this glitch, both the factory owner and patient callers found it rather novel and pleasant.

cowboys and indians: parallel construction

Once our adventure got off to a start, more as Pope Urban II had envisioned it and under the sanctioned leadership of penitent princes of Latin Christendom, there were quite a few trials along the learning-curve to sort out first and throughout the interminably long and punishing siege of Antioch. To begin with, a large contingent that the Byzantine Emperor Alexios was welcoming into Constantinople—already being a little miffed by his previously ungracious guests in the peasants’ army, were Italo-Norman mercenaries, the same group that had been conducting raids on Byzantine lands in the Balkans. Much of the rest of the princes were either very ambitious or were impoverished, landless nobility who sought to make their fortunes in the Crusade, and whom, like the poor serfs that did not hesitate over-much in leaving their estates, didn’t have much to lose and a great deal to gain, but there was the universally-respected Bishop Adémar of Le Puy, the papal legate who was officially in charge, and a few excellent strategists to hopefully reign in these more dangerous elements. As Urban had in part sold the idea of retaking the Holy Lands to Byzantium, whose blessing was absolutely necessary for the venture to succeed, with the promise of helping the Eastern Empire regaining territory lost recently to the Seljuk Turks, the Crusaders deployed first to this task.
Although a safe corridor for resupply was also needed, admittedly, these first conquests were a bit half-hearted, as all conquests reverted to Byzantium and the Crusaders, though they surely gained in plunder and spoils, saw less out of the deal than they’d wished for. These lands in Anatolia, extending into the Levant to Syria, were only taken by the Turks about a decade prior and there was still a sizable population, if not an overwhelming majority of Greek citizens in the towns and villages, whom—while not exactly persecuted and yearning to be liberated—were happy to lend aid to this army on the march and help to overthrow the Seljuk Turks.  The apparent cake-walk towards the Holy Land could also be attributed to the political landscape of the region, which was not much different from that of contemporary Western Europe from whence the Crusaders were recruited—local rulers were on the defense and the offense. Powerful families were forever trying to wrest more lands from one another, an there were the same old intrigues, sectarianism, dynastic concerns and marriages of allegiance plus that new order of hashish smoking Assassins to contend with. The Turks, though not wanting their lands attacked, also had little sympathy for seeing rivals suffer, and they assumed that the Crusade was just another bunch of soldiers-of-fortune sent out to reclaim some of the territory of the Byzantine Empire, not suspecting a greater, holier goal since the Crusaders’ deportment did not indicate otherwise. A Shia embassy from Fatimid Egypt, in fact, even visited the encampment, pleased that the Crusaders were making life difficult for their Sunni enemies. Edessa (then called Justinopolis but now known as Şanlıurfa) came under Crusader control, as the native Armenians wanted to free themselves from both Seljuk or Byzantine rule—as did a number of important ports along the coast. The advance halted, however, before Antioch, with its impenetrable fortified walls. Knowing it was vital to take this city, a Christian stronghold and important nexus—not to mention a place of considerable wealth, the Crusaders, numbering some thirty to fifty-thousand souls, warriors and non-combatants, families and support personnel which made up the bulk of the army, encamped themselves in the orchards and fields that lie beneath the city-walls, with designs to starve out the population.
The siege went on for months and months, like the Achaeans before Troy with moodiness and fatigue—not to mention privation, and still Antioch held. Misgivings aside, two events managed to allow the Crusaders access: one was a relationship forged between one of the senior leaders and a tower guard and later the visions of a poor monk. A watchman named Firouz agreed, after much consultation, agreed to toss down a rope ladder to allow an advance group access to the city, who would throw open the city gates to the Crusader army. Just as the Crusaders took Antioch, however, a relief force had arrived from Aleppo, allied with the ruler of Antioch, and greatly outnumbered the Crusaders. After months on end of the Crusaders spent at the gates, Antioch was depleted and now the Crusaders, inside the city-walls, found themselves under siege, the Syrian army encamped on the same pitch that they’d recently left. The second event that brought about the egress came when a priest and servant of one of the wealthy nobles approached Adémar and others, saying that he’d been told by Christ that the Holy Lance was buried beneath a church in Antioch and should it be retrieved; the army bearing the standard of the spear that the gladiator Longius pierced the side of Jesus with would be invincible. Some were a bit skeptical, being as there was already a Holy Lance, enshrined in Constantinople, but no matter as there is a Spear of Destiny today in Saint Peter’s and also one in the Hofburg of Vienna, part of the imperial regalia of the Hapsburgs (which was hidden and kept safe from Hitler, as it was believed to possess the same potent powers), and as the Crusaders had truck with relics, genuine and supposed, which were important monetary-instruments to secure re-supply from the Genoese and Venetians, they let the excavation proceed.
When the sought-after evidence was produced, it became at-large an amazing morale-booster for those invaders now become captives, and the Crusaders successfully fought their way out of the city. Once at liberty to continue their mission, however, the Crusaders did not march straightaway to Jerusalem.  Instead, rather, the squabbling continued as to who should govern Antioch and surrounding lands—no one wanted to cede their conquests to Emperor Alexios, but there were quite a few claimants, chief rivals being the noble that had turned the loyalties of the watchman and the patron of the monk that found the Holy Lance. None were budging and the arrival of re-enforcements by ship—now that the ports were under Crusader control, brought a pestilence to the army, taking many lives, including Bishop Adémar. Now the Princes were not only bereft of a consensus and direction, they also had to nominate a new leader and there was no placating anyone. The undermining was despicable and it looked as if the Crusade would never make it further than Antioch, with no one willing to relinquish his stake. A particularly shameful and needless massacre on the neighbouring town of Ma’arrat al-Numan, whose unspeakable carnage included acts of cannibalism and the eventual total destruction of the settlement—which was only targeted, expressly, to keep the Principality of Antioch under-supplied and at the mercy of the princes who were not vested with that land, really revolted many of the knights who began to march off without their petty leaders and the princes finally agreed that one among them would remain behind to govern the territory and they’d march on.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

five-by-five

let’s roll: elocution, gesture and rhetoric illustrated through marshaling the legions of the fallen in Milton’s Paradise Lost

la bambola: check out this awesome song and dance number with Don Lurio and Patty Pravo

mariner: here’s a fun and interactive guide to space probe missions

class-m: a pretty keen chart that breaks down the atmospheric composition of planets in our Solar System

handbag revolution: peaceful protests in Sweden over a decision not to erect a statue commemorating an act of courage and defiance

blast me barnacles

Possibly surpassing spiders’ silk for its tensile strength, biologists may have discovered a new candidate for a new class of more efficient and durable housings and casings in the humble but unmoveable but not immoblie limpet.

This sea-snail has evolved a rasping, conveyor-belt type of tongue called a radula in order to graze on the rough surfaces of inter-tidal rocks, plus to keep it in place whilst being bashed by waves or pried at by predators. Researchers found out that what’s preventing the snail’s drill-bit “teeth” from being ground away is that the creature’s chemistry incorporates nanoscopic fibres of a mineral called goethite, named after that Goethe, who was also an attested rock-hound, having assembled the largest collection in Europe. Such refinement was unexpected and is inspiring.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

vanity-plates

Ages ago, the private motor vehicles of Americas affiliated with the military stationed in Germany were plated with distinctive licenses, as if the major of American cars weren’t already conspicuous enough—with either the prefix HK for bumpers that took the short, standard US tags or AD for bumpers that could accommodate the longer, German style license plates.
These codes, which apparently did not stand for anything, were assigned since no county or city had claimed these particular combinations, e.g. KT for Landkriese Kitizen, M for Munich, S for Stuttgart, HD for Heidelberg, etc. Later, in the name of force-protection, vehicles followed the same naming-convention as their local hosts. With the devolution of the licensing and registration laws in Germany and districting reforms, a whole new slew of possibilities opened up, including the disused HK, that is now reserved for automobiles from County Heide (Landkriese Heidekrise) in Lower Saxony. We noticed this on our way back from Hamburg. The county seat of this area on the Lüneburg Heath is a town by the name of Bad Fallingbostel. The town is incidentally host to a garrison of the British Army—at least through this year, as the Ministry of Defense (MOD) plans to withdraw, as the Americans are drawing-down, all their soldiers from Germany by 2020.

oκλαχoμα, αρκανσας

Here is a pretty keen vintage map of the United States of America, printed circa 1927 from a Greek cartographer.

It is interesting to see how familiar names are transcribed into Greek script and how, for instance, Baja California is rendered Κατω (lower—reflecting the language before modern reforms that tried to reduce diglossia, the difference between between written and spoken speech—the later only imparted through academics). It is also an interesting bit of political commentary that Cuba is pigmented, perhaps, since even though the island was formally granted its independence from America back in 1902, the US retained control over most of the country’s domestic and foreign affairs until the early 1930s when the regime of Fulgencio Batista took control.

good housekeeping

Regular visitors may have noticed a few minor imrpovements and new features added to PfRC over the past few weeks. I hope that they’ve made this old blog a little better. I am happy to announce our fancy new, high-rent virtual address: one can now access this site via perfectforroquefortcheese.org (there goes the neighbourhood), but no fear, as all the old rants, postcards, post-scripts and randomness has transitioned over as well. I hope you enjoy. If you have any house-proud tips or advise, in lieu of house-warming gifts, please do not hesitate to share and thanks for stopping by.

Friday, 20 February 2015

among others

I don’t know why exactly I forsook reading science-fiction—although admittedly I did not have much of a literary foundation to spring from. I did read the Dune saga and A Canticle for Lebowitz and enjoyed them immensely—especially as the later was partially set in a post-apocalyptic Texarkana, where I was living at the time, per-apocalypse.

And although I did see the film adaptation of the former first, the story was so big and so well detailed, there was plenty of material left to explore in order to fully limn that universe. I suppose my mistake was in repairing to movies and franchise books that chronicled different aspects of a canon that was no so rich and immersive to begin with. Myth sometimes acquiesces to being frozen in carbonate—and I suppose it was a terribly snobbish attitude to take, not being willing to delve more into the genre, good or mediocre, but I harboured a dislike for the ilk I presumed to read science-fiction, and so probably condemned the whole parnassus, unfairly perceiving a tediousness like I felt for those who subscribed to the whole Che Guevara, peacenik or taoist iconography—movements that surely do not merit the disdain of a bumper-sticker. In fact, I felt a little embarassed to share some of my own proclivities as a loyal watcher of Star Trek, in all its incarnations, or the X-Files. I had, not long ago, a sort of belated wakening, however, when I was introduced to the author Jo Walton, who took my hand with allegory and direct-references through a grand gallery of sympathetic and imaginative writers. I realise that I have a lot of catching up to down, like staring down the exciting abyss of what’s undone and what’s giddily awaiting to be discovered, and began with Ursula K. Le Guin, a godmother of the genre who’s unfailing with her keen philosophic ideas and guarded allegory that’s us—but also something quite elevating.

mead hall or on tap

Via Colossal, comes a really brilliant bee-keeping set up, perfect for urban environments and for those maybe too skittish to be bee-wranglers, that harvests the honey by means of specially designed plumbing that allows it to flow, overcoming its great viscosity, from the comb under the force of gravity, like tapping maple sap for syrup production, and with minimal intrusion to the hive. I wonder if this trend of in situ condiments might spread, to something surpassingly fresh—or branch out in other directions, perhaps harnessing the natural preservative properties of nectar as a staple ingredient in for short-order items or make fresh mead (honey-wine) bars as popular as juice bars. Be sure to check out the link for more details and a demonstration of the system.

five-by-five

grand hotel paradox: a TED talk thought-puzzle on the nature of infinity

symmetry group: stunningly uniform modern architectural façades in a Turkish neighbourhood

echo parque: there is a popular attraction in Mexico that simulates the dangers of illegal border crossing

reinventing the wheel: a small collection of ingeniously useful and essential medieval apps

ramifications: happy lunar new year





Thursday, 19 February 2015

barbary states

I think I must just be a little naïve, because although I never felt that the threat that the Caliphate poses was not a very real one, proved wrenchingly cruel and callous but not potent many times over, though shock and determination which can sometimes make up for other shortcomings for a little while—and when it seemed their violence had reached a sort of plateau, unspeakably gruesome reports come that ISIL may be harvesting the bodily organs of its victims to sell on the black-market—I never saw the potential for Rome and the Vatican to become prime targets, but I suppose they always were. ISIL is gaining territory in Libya—the former Italian colony on just the other side of the Mediterranean. Taking advantage of the power-vacuum created with the overthrow of strongman Qaddafi, whom had ambitions for creating a superstate across the Maghreb as well, the group is finding another staging ground in a leaderless land, like that American mandate, Iraq, that’s also proved to be vulnerable over its vacuity in leadership. They’ll be no defenders forthcoming for that past peerage of dictators, but destabilising order, especially a tyrannical one, has consequences.

five-by-five


gotham drowing: a projection of New York City under a hundred feet of water

alternate history: new serial adaptation of the Philip K. Dick classic, The Man in the High Castle, is in the making

lady liberty: Bartholdi’s iconic statue was originally intended to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal on the Red Sea

through the looking glass: Physics Girl illustrates how mirrors work

sea monkey kingdom: the diminutive horseshoe shrimp is one of the oldest species on earth

cowboys and indians: side-show

A word or two more on the quite disastrous dress-rehearsal that preceded the commencement of the opening act: Urban II was not quite alone in stirring up furor, but surely the Pope’s summons inspired all the other holy-recruiters. The group that managed to get themselves, mostly, massacred in Anatolia, however, probably did not need to be enticed, over-much, to leave behind the drudgery of the manor to secure a blessing in a distant land, maybe even the Holy Land, which they understood to be the land of milk and honey. Being the first wave to embark on their crusade, the peasant army had easy going at first, but soon ran into complications.  Urban II orchestrated the details of the adventure carefully, delaying departure until after the autumn harvest, so the rear-detachment that kept the home-fires burning, already having lost a good deal of their manpower to the advance-party, would not be without food during the winter and the Crusaders might encounter farmers with their lagers full and would be willing to share their bounty.
 Aside from the awful mission-creep that excused the marchers to torment the Jews (which the nobility also championed though not condoned by the Church), it also apparently became license for indiscriminate pillaging and violence, plundering everything in their wake as they crossed the frontier into Byzantium, murdering any one who crossed them, even before the reached total desperation with their supplies dwindling, the local being left with little to share with the advancing horde, the summertime being the leanest season a thousand years ago, as the afore-mentioned crops had not matured and last year’s harvest was nearly depleted. By the time the rabble arrived in Constantinople, under escort, the Emperor Alexius was rather at a loss for words, as this group of untrained hooligans was not exactly the calvary he’d asked the Pope to send. In fact, camped outside the city walls while the emperor tried to figure out how to manage this influx, this relief army proved a much greater liability and terrorised the countryside even more than the occasional, more scrupulous raids carried out by the Turks and Normans—another desperate group of restless plunders suffering from mission-creep. Given a target in Turkish-controlled territory, the peasants decamped and were more or less summarily dispatched, but not without leaving an important blemish—not on the Crusades really since there are no winners in this exercise but on humanity. A few of the peasants even defected, as it were, to the other side, not that as if their convictions had not been tossed away long ago, and fight to expel the Byzantine Greeks. Once the professional crusaders came through months later, following the same route along the Danube to reach the Levant via Anatolia, they were regarded with great suspicion, locals fearing more of the same trouble and disappointment, and the Crusaders faced mounting resistance when it came to provisioning. Moreover, the Seljuk Turks assumed when the encountered this new army that it would be as handily rebuffed as the previous mob.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

spread-eagle

Looking at the cover of the latest edition of an environmental publication that I receive from time to time, I was immediately reminded of the way that the best-preserved fossilised examples of the fabled archeopteryx are framed and thought that this posing pigeon meant to call for their preservation also.
It’s just a funny coincidence, I suppose, and a gentle reminder that even the most innovative and integrated among us can face the same fate, and without even the courtesy of being fawned over by future generations.

cowboys and indians: on the way to canossa

The shrewd administrator and extremely accidental pope Urban II toured France and Italy, mostly to set aright the balance of the respective domains of Church and State—not to pull the twain asunder nor to eschew the clerics’ civic responsibility, which most would describe as meddling—by putting the secular powers firmly in their place. Urban was heir to the battle royale of the wills between the papacy and the imperial throne. His predecessor Pope Gregory VII had excommunicated Emperor Henry IV for his attempts to circumvent Church authority by giving out (or rather selling, what’s known as simony) religious offices as sort of grace-and-favour rewards to his loyal nobles.

Once excommunicated, the allegiance of his subjects was null and void and effectively ended his reign—except that Henry went one better and installed his own anti-pope in Rome to rechristen him as the Holy and Roman emperor of the Germans. The genuine Holy See elevated an anti-king, and so on. Urban was a powerful public speaker and his arguments and railing against the nobles appealed to a vast audience, but a chance plea for assistance from the Byzantine emperor of the East gave the resourceful Urban the cementing petition he needed to reassert religious supremacy over the landed-gentry. The Seljuk Turks had occupied the Anatolian peninsula and the Norman conquests had established enclaves in the Balkans and Alexius I Comnenus request for help (on behalf of the Eastern Church, ostensibly) to the legitimate Church became a seductive rallying point. Although the incursions in Byzantium which threatened its territorial integrity were recent developments and the mad, cruel reign of Caliph Al-Hakim bi Amr Allāh that over saw the destruction of many Jewish and Christian places of worship (to be restored and rebuilt by his predecessor) in the Holy Land was reportedly violent enough to be topical though it was some seventy years hence, on balance there was little strife among the three Abrahamic religions—and under Muslim rule, which had taken hold in the Middle East over four centuries earlier, practising other faiths was tolerated and even protected. Not everything was peaceable, of course, but given the threats that confronted daily life a thousand years ago, disease, brigandage and the general cheapness of life, it was a pretty manageable arrangement.
Such facets of the complicated geo-politics of the day (and the Muslims surely had their own sectarian and sacred and mundane intrigues to contend with and spin as well) were too bothersome to try to extract, so in the year 1095 with fire-and-brimstone Urban rallied the crowds to commit themselves to retaking the lands lost in the Eastern Empire—and, with spot-on improvisational skills, the Holy Land itself—with tales, harking back to the worse atrocities magnified of the mad caliph. Urban attached a grave urgency to this holy campaign, as churches were being desecrated and pilgrims tortured and executed—a pilgrimage being a popular way to atone for one’s sins, though Canossa was not arduous enough to impress Pope Gregory. The pope hoped to let his convocation germinate and give the feudal lords the chance to assemble men and supplies, but perhaps his speech was a little too persuasive, as instead of under the leadership warrior-bishops or the knights of those newly created recruiting orders (the Hospitallers, the Templars, the Teutons or the Maltese) the peasants marched off at their own accord, infused with righteous indignation. Some forty thousand massed in Köln and headed towards Constantinople. Along the way, I suppose to vent some aggressions and prime themselves for combat, they burned synagogues and harassed the Jewish population. Shamed into quick action and more importantly, deprived of the serf labour force needed to work the land and provide protection, the armies of the nobility marched the other direction, towards Jerusalem on their crusade—the peasants having all been captured or killed in their zeal by the Turks.

supercuts

It’s pretty difficult to point to something and declare it either original, visionary or retro and derivative.

Not that the latter are necessarily negative qualities or opposed to the former, I suppose that there is a bit of pride that’s attached to one’s contemp- oraries, which is a fine thing too, since I think not much ruffles the curiosity more than being disabused of smug creativity. Musician, benefactor and producer George Harrison, who was certainly among the farsighted and talented set, even had the courtesy to place a macro-image meme of himself in the inside sleeve, I was reminded, of his 1975 Extra Texture album—tucked away, like a time-capsule to remember later, just like the primordial LOL cats or early examples of viral shorthand.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

so goes the neighbourhood

Though some may posit that the refugees that come in hopes of settlement in better lands represent those whom did not make the cut in their homelands, and while that might have been a true characterisation of the pilgrims that landed on Plymouth Rock and the penal colony that was Australia, I think that it’s a rather placating racist thing to believe, allowing one to believe that he is refraining judgment on a whole people and culture while excusing the xenophobia one harbours for the neighbours.

Of course, hope and perception fosters the rarefied notions of ethnicity plus the attendant traffickers that promise to facilitate the transfer. Taking a stance that somewhat inverts the surge of, as reported, of South American immigrants on the southern border of the US, lured, some cry, by the guarantees of amnesty and a better life, the interior minister of Kosovo is demanding that western Europe repatriate the thousands of asylum-seekers, among the country’s most destitute, as quickly as possible. I am only cognisant really of this story, stuck in a traffic-snarl behind a tour bus whose advertised route shuttled between Pristina, the capital, and Düsseldorf, and I suspect the rush and crush is due to the responsible EU body proclaiming Kosovo to be a proper country and no longer meeting its criteria for granting sanctuary. The unlucky souls in the immigration lottery should be dealt with in an expedient matter and most importantly, perhaps, to defang the traffickers’ wiles by dispelling the bewitchment of the West. What do you think? Per capita, I’d venture that this statement is shielding people from disappointment and from harm while acknowledging that such routes are driven with allures of welfare as well.

green-shoots or brussel-sprouts

Though it is probably not possible to legislate morality or majority opinion with controls and tactics that paradoxically would not wilt before Corporate Europe Observatory’s latest fact-finding report, the group, which is devoted to uncovering cronyism, revolving-door political appointments and general corruption within the EU halls of power, hopes to at least sham-shame those European public-relations firms that play the willing sophist—with bogus, whitewashed blather—to some of the world’s most brutal regimes. One would think that one can only recognise ruthlessness in hindsight, given what image-makers can do, and how a little, well targeted character assassination can obscure real assassinations. The detailed study with eighteen cases can be perused at the link.

talvisota tai finmark

The young country of Finland found itself in a very unenviable position just after the start of WWII. Until 1809, Finland had been a part of the Kingdom of Sweden, until Imperial Russia conquered the territory to provide a buffer-region (a march) to protect Saint Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. This freshly created Duchy of Finland, however, took the chance to break free during the chaos of successive revolutions and civil wars that visited Russia and was able to declare independence in 1918, just before the peace was brokered for WWI.

The non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union also defined the respective powers’ spheres of influence, and Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries were ceded to the Stalin regime—Germany’s violation of the agreement with invading Poland of course was the catalyst for starting the fighting—and though Finland had made strong connections with the other neutral Nordic nations, the Soviet Union tugged on Finland, expecting it to assimilate as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had done. During the Winter War (Talvisota in Finnish) of 1939 the Finns rebuffed the Red Army, using among other conventional weapons, an improvised incendiary device, called the Molotov cocktail, named after the Soviet foreign minister whose negotiations had sacrificed Finland in the first place. The advance on the part of Moscow had given the League of Nations (precursor to the United Nations) cause to reject Soviet membership. Germany did not hesitate in making overtures to the precarious Finnish government after the Soviet withdrawal, which I think to everyone’s surprise, the Finns entertained. Ostensibly, the arrangement could be seen as an opportunistic quid-pro-quo—giving Germany the staging ground for its invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa)—though whether that was already in the making is unclear—and the chance for Finland to reclaim resource-rich territory lost, but I suspect that the damning, besmirching decision was recognised as the only alternative available and the vanities of legacy and repute were quickly cast away. The Finnish foreign minister, Rudolf Holsti, chose what he felt was the lesser of two evils by committing his “government” and not his country to support the Nazi regime—worded carefully so that the decision could be overturned by the next government, as it was, and would hopefully preserve Finland as an independent state, which it did. The Soviets attacked Finland for this treachery, but it avoided annexation. Though the definition of what a democracy is a very subjective one, the UK and the Allies’ attack on Finland, who’s since reformed its reputation and I think this chapter of history goes unknown outside of Scandinavia, in what’s called the Continuation War (Jatkosota) marks by some estimates the only war-time hostility between two democratic powers.

herbaceous or victory garden

A happy pair of Redditors shared these pretty awesome maps that depict some of the herbal resources found on the continents of Europe and Africa. Click on the images for larger samples. News of the snake-oil—or rather placebo (from the Latin, “I do no harm”) peddling that was taking place in the States, where some popular distributors were selling cheap substitutes to a trusting public may have managed to turn some off of the idea of herbs—whether culinary, homeopathic or sacred, but I think that the fascination is still there and not so much cynicism as to let corporate greed and callousness dry up all curiosity.
Whether an aspiring chef, herbalist or witch, this guides provide a nice reference for what potions you might be able to grow in your window-sill garden and gives a brief explanation of their traditional uses.  Like the contributors, I had problems sourcing these charts back to their origin—there’s only the shop’s website, an emporium, of course of herbs and spices, which does not seem to carry prints of these items, like those pretty ubiquitous mushroom and cheese medleys, but otherwise, it seems to be a pretty sly case of guerilla marketing.

five-by-five

crucible: Norway’s memorial to victims of its witch-trials


stereoscope: the classic View-Master gets a virtual-reality upgrade

there and back again: illustrations of the Hobbit from all over the world

fleuron and range-dash: rather convincing illustration of how typewriters have destroyed the art of type-setting

think different: one’s next ride could be an Apple product 

able i was, ere i saw elbe















Here are a few parting-impression of our little trip to Hanseatic Hamburg, one of three of Germany’s city-states but unique in many ways. Though our exposure was limited to the usual tourist-experience, it struck me as quite livable, more so than other metropolitan areas—though there were distinct signs of gentrification and I had the feeling that denizens were cleft if not to their class but to the demographics of their boroughs, a truth about gentrification that was probably peppered by the voting Sunday and campaigning in the air.
It was also quite striking to me how this city, this inland empire, as close to the Baltic as to the Atlantic, controlling only the narrows of the Elbe for trade, has retained its dominance, even as many other knots only over-land and over-sea routes have faded.
It seems a lot of naturally endowed infrastructure, staging has been forgot, whereas Hamburg remains an attractive force. There are outposts, once regaled in the same way, along the roads that once brought trade between the great cities, usually anchored to the seaways, but have only memories to show for their strategic locations. I am grateful, however, that Hamburg preserved its heritage and has only grown its capacity for import-export, without regard for how the paradigm of trade might have changed.
There’s a genuine character that’s formed and sustained the famous Reeperbahn (named after the street where the rope-weavers lived) and Saint Pauli, despite the tourists but maybe because. Not far afield from its renowned football-pitch lies a brutal-looking WWII era anti-aircraft tower. The finely- tiled old Elbe tunnel is buried deep underneath the river and the narrow lane is open to cars during rush-hour and not just foot traffic.
The bureaucracy has created a unique skyline, as has the corporate headquarters and the prestige-projects, like the newly added Elbe-Philharmonic, that are terriors of the shipping business that remains as big and prominent as ever. With some two-thousand four-hundred bridges, Hamburg has the most crossings of any city on Earth and has more canals than both Amsterdam and Venice combined.  I am not sure if that figures in number or volume, as Venice did seem to be unsurpassed in the quirkiness of its waterways.
The architectural heritage of the city, blocks of warehouses that until recently characterised a free-trade zone, are really transfixing when set against the history and machinery—the cranes and cargo containers, and, as office-space for any business wanting a foothold, still are prized real-estate and without, out-priced, denigrating where one might hang his shingle.  I am really glad that we had the chance to visit and spend a few days discovering, and I am looking forward to going back in warmer weather, even if that means braving the crush of other visitors and not having the place all to our selves.