Tuesday, 31 March 2015
Once the forgotten industrial prowess of Antiquity was rediscovered in the late Middle Ages, clockwork and associated applications began to promulgate slowly—however, European courts also were big for the theatrical, special effects. It strikes us as rather naïve and unreasonable to think anyone could be so primitive to mistake robotics for magic, like the cargo-cults that pray to air-traffic overhead to bring more humanitarian aid, but I suppose it is quite a bit similar to the modern phenomena of readily attributing past human achievement and future direction to extra-terrestrials or conspiracy. What do you think? Is technology demystified the closer in comes to appearing like actual magic? Maybe so long as we’re privy to the research-and-development phase, we won’t cower in fear and awe.
Though medieval times are known—particularly in Europe, for violence and brutality and tactical sophistication does not exactly leap out, there were a few rather interesting innovations that were given exposure during the Crusades and contributed to the arsenal of exchange of destructive play-things among the East and West—arsenal itself coming from the Arabic word, dār as-sināça, a workshop.
The mainstay of the European Crusaders was the siege engine or the catapult (battering rams and siege towers included), which although refined and improved, was a technology already known and utilised during antiquity—and that was really the West’s best game. They were skilled at building secure fortifications that would repel attacks but were also good an undermining defenses. The Seljuk Turks were highly skilled archers and were more mobile than European warhorses at staging ambushes however they were also in possession of a secret weapon, inspired by the so called Greek fire of the Byzantines. Still a mystery as to the exact formula, this was an incendiary substance, and like napalm, once aflame it was impossible to extinguish and would burn even across the surface of water or could be used like a flame-thrower.
Monday, 30 March 2015
tron, troff: vector map that renders cities as if out of the film Tron
sky hostess: gorgeous vintage collection of stewardesses in uniform, via Neat-o-Rama
phoenix: from out of the rubble, a show-and-tell of San Francisco rebuilding and reinvention after the great quake
digital syndicate: a roundup of podcasts to peruse
After stalling out at the strategically important but ultimately indefensible port of Damietta, the Crusaders were left with little option but to bid a retreat with no gains to show for their efforts, even with the Ayyubid sultanate of Egypt facing incursions on two fronts, with the previously unseen Mongols on their eastern boundaries. This threat is indeed not for another, separate story-line but folds fundamentally into our present narrative directly. The Crusader States in Cyprus and the Holy Land did not merely evaporate after Frederich II’s failed mission. The doubly-excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor was an Islamophile, having been exposed to the culture and religion early on in his court at Sicily and managed to negotiate a truce with the Egyptian armies that allowed the meagre holdings in the Near East to survive for almost another tumultuous fifty years.
Warrior pilgrims from Europe, however, were not content to be just tolerated under the conditions of standing treaties and came for a fight. The integration and cooperation, even if it was mainly kept up in order to vouchsafe trading-relations, was a bit of a revulsion for the newly-arrived and for leaders back in Europe, fatigued by their own civil-strife and lacking the will to bolster any harmonious middle-ground—as we have seen the Crusaders themselves do rather inexplicably time and time again when settlements of the Holy City of Jerusalem were offered and refused.
Though under continued threat externally and prone to the same problems of succession internally and civil war, the Crusader States had achieved somewhat of a happy equilibrium, similar to the case after the debacle of the Fourth Crusade and long-lull in adventuring. To the East, however, dust was stirred under hoof of the massive, unstoppable Mongol army, grandson of Genghis Khan, a talented and merciless general called Hülegü dispatched to conquer Persian and the Levant and expand the empire. Shocking, the Mongols sacked and utterly destroyed the ancient city of Baghdad and were making advances at Damascus and Cairo. The only lands that emerged from Hülegü’s wake unscathed were those that wisely, unhesitatingly surrendered, like the Kingdom of Armenia, without a fight and agreed to pay tribute and join the Mongol thrust. The ruthlessness and totality of destruction to the Muslim cities outdid even the worst of the Crusaders, but in a strange twist of history Hülegü spared the Christian inhabitants, allowing their churches to stand and for them to retain their property where all others were toppled and quickly relieved of the wealth and lives. The Buddhist khan had strong Christian sympathies due to the influence of his mother and number-one wife, who were both Nestorians, members of the Assyrian Church of the East.
Hülegü even returned lands that had been recently taken by the Egyptians back to the Principality of Antioch, and later traveled to Rome himself for a papal audience to urge a union of Mongols and Latin Christians to retake Jerusalem. It’s hard to say why this offer was not well received back in Europe—maybe Rome felt that the Nestorian influence was too radical and heretical to invite in. Had that project been undertaken or had the Mameluke armies, usurpers of the sultanate, not been able to turn the tide of battle at the walls of Cairo at Ayn Jalut (the Springs of Goliath), the Mongols eventually bidden to leave the desert so that their horses could graze, the world we’ve inherited, I think, would have looked very different. Once Egypt was able to recover from that harrowing clash, the Mameluke sultan, Baibars, attacked the Crusader States, chipping away at them over the years until they were no longer sustainable, first as punishment for having sided with the Mongols and then for violence unleashed upon the resident merchant population of the Crusader territories.
Sunday, 29 March 2015
German alchemists in Braunschweig (DE/EN), hoping to counter the ultimately violate nature of relying on a physical and slowly dematerialising objects for the definition of the kilogram—the prototypical and fiat Kilogram being a lump of metal housed in a safe in Paris, are hoping to restate the standard purely in numerical terms.
We are already in possession of a psychological rather than psychic bridge of telepathy in the form of empathy, and Æon magazine questions whether computer-aided telepaths might engender more misunderstandings than the resolve, what with the forced intimacy that constantly makes tiny course-corrections to align one’s moral-thinking.
People are already wired to be both vicarious and viral but those influences are well-mediated by our own ideas of self and the limits of expression that lannguage limns. Despite whatever parlour-tricks (and some very helpful and promising applications besides) that science has induced—and not to say that the research in neurobiology is not an important one and that we ought not to be introspective especially for the sake of helping the disabled, but we know very little still about how the mind works and probably could not well cope with being fully integrated into some network to keep our feelings on tack and steady forward. What do you think? Would complete transparency encourage sympathy—or quite the opposite?
Saturday, 28 March 2015
dansk: a glorious celebration of Scandinavian design
salton sea: Jovian moon Ganymede also has oceans
horny-toad: bizarre little frog that can radically alter the texture of its skin
if charlie parker was a gunslinger: discover multitudes through candid moments
Friday, 27 March 2015
The ever excellent Quartz magazine has an interesting piece of reporting for holiday-goers, that has some destinations affecting an accent and cultivating a culture in order to deliver to tourists the experience that they are expecting. Notwithstanding Bavarian taxi cab drivers and waiters really hamming it up, it seems to me that this programme is more than a marketing campaign and could transform into something positive.
de consumo popular: brilliant, hard-boiled galleries of Mexican pulp art
seeing-eye: “service dog fraud” is a burgeoning phenomenon
nocebo: a study behind the psychology of medical break-through hype
cardinal points: destinations mapped out through the lenses of contemporary art and design
As I am approaching the conclusion of the excellent and engrossing podcast series on the history of the Crusades that I’ve been enjoying immensely, at first whilst only during my commute and then, what with all the cliffhangers, listening to an episode whenever I had the chance, I decided to supplement my lessons with a departure into what most would disapprove of as poor scholastics—PfRC being the go-to source it is for all manner of experts.
Sorry to disappoint, but I found a paperback edition of the 1982 collaboration by Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh—Holy Blood, Holy Grail whose basic premise is probably more familiar to readers from the derivative thriller and subsequent film, Da Vinci Code. I am about half way through already and I am reserving judgment, because although the sourced materials have been violently discredited and there’s quite a bit of cautioning rhetoric that sometimes tends to excuse speculation and leaps and the Priory of Sion has been disowned as the work of a hoaxer, it does seem methodically well investigated and assiduously imaginative. The basic theory, elaborated and championed in other works of lesser-repute, posits that Jesus survived the crucifixion in human form and traveled to France, where Jesus and Mary Magdalene raised a family. The original Frankish Merovingian kings were descendants of that royal bloodline, but the Church seeing its power and influence undermined suppressed this account (not just as heresy but never letting it see the light of day) and installed their own pretenders to the thrones of Europe. It does not seem entirely implausible, especially given the Church’s historical insecurity, misogyny and the fact that at least some of the royal households claimed their legitimacy on being descended from Jesus’ half-brothers and -sisters. As I said, I am just getting into the thick of the argument, so we’ll see. In any case, we are probably wrong to judge the authors too harshly, since surely there’s no better way to get investigators off the trail than a red-herring, forged documents or Hollywood success and I am sure they were under retainer of the Priory.
Thursday, 26 March 2015
Quartz magazine features an interesting look at the reaction and reception that luxury watch-markers at Baselworld have for the newest onslaught of wearables.
The remarkable resource, the Public Domain Review, presents a really fascinating retrospective of how animation studios let slip the dogs, rabbits and ducks of war with patriotic cartoons parallel to the enlistment of Hollywood’s live-action actors in the 1940s, with a special look at the instructional cartoon series of hapless and sometimes reluctant Private Snafu.
Though it is no excuse for barbarous behaviour, the sacking of Constantinople occurred in part because of a populace complacent, as was Rome in its time, and unwilling to entertain the unthinkable—that these barbarians at the gates might ever breach their defenses and that the great Queen of Cities might be vulnerable.
Prætorian guard could be, recruited from native sources and subject to prevailing influences, Byzantine emperors had a long-standing tradition of importing personal protectors—much like the Swiss Guard of the papacy. The Varangians were originally Viking warriors who had expanded east to the Rus—westward expansion discouraged by Englanders who were willing to keep paying the Vikings tribute (called Danegeld) not to attack them. Eventually these Scandinavians encountered the Byzantines and after some initial clashes and subsequent conversion of the Kievian-Rus to the Orthodox faith, the leaders of the Varangians pledged a division of its fiercest, professional warriors as a sign of peace. As the displacing of populations was picking up, the Vangarian stock soon expanded to attract other landless individuals to join this foreign legion. Chiefly this army began to be staffed with ranks of men of Briton extraction, themselves having migrated from Germanic lands and settled in England, who in turn were dislodged by the Norman Conquest—the Normans being Norse mercenaries themselves. Having lost hearth and home, many Britons sought their fortunes in Byzantium. I do wish, however, this Varangian vanguard had been able to rebuff the Crusaders’ advances.
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
The inquiring minds over at The Curious Brain features a gallery of beautifully rendered, clever Hipster Animals, found at the artist Dynamoe’s Tumblr presence.
Not being terribly couth to all these new styles and affectations myself (I understand that there is a subculture calling themselves Lumbersexuals—and that is OK, I suppose), the sharp little barbs and references came out immediately. There were too many sly creatures, to a one all in the know, to choose from, so I’d encourage you to peruse the whole selection yourself, possibly also discovering your familiar or totem.
once and future sins: a projection on how future generations might judge us a century hence
club med: a look at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseilles
the mads are calling: a chart to rate evil geniuses
she doesn’t even realise she’s a replicant: descend into uncanny valley with these interviews with robot and mind-clone, Bina 48
brainy, hefty, jokey: explaining secular stagnation through the lens of Smurf Village
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
The massacre of the Cathars in Europe—particularly in their bastions of southern France is not just a historical curiosity, a footnote or something merely comparable with the ongoing plight and persecution of the Yazidi under contemporary righteous bullies and deserves much more of a mention than a few lines sandwiched between the more well-known campaigns of the Children’s Crusades and the Reconquista. What little that is known for certain about the beliefs and traditions of people grouped under the name Cathar, which means pure one but may have been applied in the pejorative sense to a whole spectrum of individuals with unorthodox tenets, is scant and suspect since it was chronicled by those who sought to exterminate heresy in all its forms. A few common accusations of the inquisitors sketches at least a faint outline of the framework of their belief—the dichotomy between the material and spiritual world, which are the handiwork of distinct gods, the former faulty, evil and covetous and the later perfection, goodness and love, and born to the dual nature of mind and body, they believed that they were duty-bound (as reflected by their manner of worship) to try to reconcile this dual-nature through a series of reincarnation until finally pure, having elevated and shed that physical form.
For decades, missionaries were sent into the Balkans, where the faith had probably originated, and into parts of southern France and Italy to try to reform the Cathars—but seeing no conversions for all their efforts and with the needed catalyst came in the form of murdered papal delegate, accompanied by Saint Dominic, and perhaps more pointedly, the tacit permission to sack Byzantium, a twenty-year long purge, called the Albigensian Crusade (named for the arch-diocese of Albi, which was in the centre of Cathar country), was launched to rid Languedoc of Cathar influences. Of course, frustrated clerics and nobles welcomed themselves to the spoils of the auto-de-fay. The story of this persecution, however, is an even greater crime than mankind generally unleashes on his own kind in that, like the destruction of Constantinople in terms of learning and culture lost to the world, the region that was home to most of the Cathars prior to the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Aude praire with the cities of Carcassonne, Narbonne, Perpignan, Nîmes, Toulouse and Avignon, was probably the chief contender for the most refined and advanced territory in all of medieval Europe—everything in between Ireland (with its monasteries, which were also irritants for the Church but remote enough to be left alone) and said Constantinople—which now toppled, exposed Europe to incursions from the Mongols and Ottomans.
mannerism: artist Matthias Jung creates beautiful architectural collages
landmark or bats in the belfries: cute series of animals posing as skyline familiars
psyc 101: some heuristic psychological hacks safe to try at home
singing telegram: tweets presented as antique wireless messages
Monday, 23 March 2015
The last thing that the County of Acre, then the dominant Crusader State, wanted was to have a bunch of uncouth holy warriors despoiling the calm but they were not in a situation to disinvite the coming armada of ships. A sizable Crusader fighting force landed at Acre and King John of the realm tried his best to occupy the restless men, who were additionally an onerous task to quarter, and as more forces from Hungary, Germany, France and Flanders arrived, King John was helpless to prevent the march on Egypt. The Crusaders sought control of the city of Damietta (Dumyāt) at the mouth of the Nile, which protected the waterway to the capital of Cairo, some two hundred kilometers downstream. Maneuvers were indecisive and guarded, the force strong enough to besiege the fortification but not strong enough to take the city outright and the months before the Crusaders decamped, they found that they had starved the population into submission. Once Damietta had fallen, the way-forward remained unclear as they were awaiting the arrival of relief-forces from the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II that would give them an unstoppable numerical advantage and could thus safely proceed. The armies of Sultan al-Adil, Saladin’s brother, were watching events unfold in a similarly vacillating manner, as internal strife prevented them from a certain counter-attack.
While at this impasse, the sultan ordered the destruction of the defensive fortifications that protected the city of Jerusalem, preemptively entertaining the idea that the Holy City might become an important bargaining token in the near future and if it was to fall to the Crusaders, the Muslims wanted them to have a city not easily defended, just as Saladin had directed for the town of Ascalon to be demolished to stop the earlier Crusaders’ advance from Jaffa to the Holy City, then resolved to negotiate with the Crusaders in order to end this stalemate and attend to its own affairs. The offer that the sultan’s ambassadors brought to the table was unbelievably favourable—concession of Jerusalem and return of the True Cross in exchange for leaving Egypt in peace, but what was even more unbelievable was how the Crusaders rejected the terms. Maybe they were sly to the dismantling of Jerusalem and did not want to take it just to see it lost again, but I think the only plausible logic behind their stance—which was not universal among the ranks, was that they were sure that they were going to triumph, with the wealthy and powerful Egypt and not just out of the way Jerusalem as the prize.
The papal legate, nominally in charge of military operations, was flattered with a prophesy that he fancied to be a sure sign that he’d personally led the Crusaders to victory—and besides, Egypt was apparently being attacked on its eastern border by the long awaited cavalry from the land of Prester John and so there was no way that absolute triumph could be denied them. Except that the papal legate had misinterpreted the augurs and having waited so long in Damietta, the Nile had again flooded and was no longer navigable and the fighting-force was bogged down once again. Frustrated, the separate divisions splintered and sailed back to Acre and then back home to Europe. One last exception was that Egypt was not under siege from a magnanimous Oriental Christian Magi, but rather these skirmishes with an unknown and fierce tribe marked the first encounter that the Western world had with Genghis Khan and the Mongol Hoard, but all that is for another story-line.
Before entering his illustrious Star Fleet career as helmsman, LTC Geordi La Forge served in the civilian world as chief librarian at the universal database of Memory Alpha. La Forge was tragically blinded by the incorporeal luminous beings known as the Lights of Zetar, but the potential handicap became a great asset for this future officer. But don’t take my word for it. In the evenings for the past few weeks, rather than watch television—which for me has become too much of a backdrop to properly hold my attention in most cases and is too conducive of darting off to other things, or try to scourer the internet for something novel, I have been absorbed in reading and returned to one of my all-time favourite authors, Mister Kurt Vonnegut, JRand finding while it’s not some lost art to process words on paper in ways both imaginative and respectful of the intended message, it really did strike me as surprising and dandy how with a minimal amount of resolve, that reading a story like “God Bless You, Mister Rosewater” with its clever language and relevant message was far outstripping any other form of entertainment or nicety that passes for interaction and engagement.
The back-drop of gross wealth disparity, the nature of altruism and what we’d I suppose now call poverty porn, salaciousness to illicit attention, sympathy or outrage, fits contemporary times just as well—plus the author makes his signature cameo appearance in that universe as science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout. LTC La Forge never sternly shushed the hapless red-suit ensigns, but seeing him on an away-mission always made me think of his earlier gig with Reading Rainbow, a public service provided by the United Federation of Planets. I was also pleased to be informed that the author gives this work high-marks himself. I don’t want to unleash any spoilers, so I’d highly recommend you check out the books of Vonnegut yourself.
Sunday, 22 March 2015
la brea: a fascinating look at seeping tar and pitch in Los Angeles county
self-published: disastrously awesome pastiche of electronic-book jackets
shoegazing: new wave pop stars portrayed as comic book super-heroes
rip van winkle: a fun map from 1946 by artist and folklorist William Gropper that illustrates many of America’s mythological figures
don’t much trigonometry: World renown Finnish schools are experimenting with overhauling education, getting rid of disciplines in favour of phenomenology
Saturday, 21 March 2015
first-flight: Slovakian Aeromobile will begin selling flying cars in 2017
look it up: bitchy resting face is a legitimate diagnosis, embodied by this cat
bikini-bottoms: fun map plots the location of cartoons characters around the world
hi-brow: museum-goers fawn over the artistry of a mass-produced print
spoil the broth: CNN lampoons the over-crowded incubator of political candidates
The Reeperbahn, a strip in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg is sort of like that Island of the Donkey Boys where Pinocchio goes to carouse and behave badly but it looks rather cleansed and tamed on cold, bright mornings.
The neighbourhood is named for the rope-weavers, surely an important component of the shipping-business who traditionally lived in this quarter. I didn’t notice until afterwards, sorting through pictures, that the motto of the polished and modern Keese hotel and casino, visible through the middling tree is honi soit qui mal y pense, old French for shame on him who thinks ill of it and the motto of the venerable and chivalrous Order of the Garter. It’s a badge that bears repeating in heraldic contexts all over and was quite delighted to find it hidden there too.
Friday, 20 March 2015
The Financial Times reports on a collaborative robotic-human experiment in the workplace. Unlike the industrial manufacturing application that one usually imagines when thinking about automation, these so-called co-bots are small and portable and can be mounted on a desktop to work alongside its human mentor, and assail tasks that benefit from nimbler and faster performance than human dexterity and can deliver.
píratar: Iceland’s dominant Pirate Party may extend shelter and citizenship to the Fugitive
kinematografii: a collection of vintage Czechoslovakian film posters
3 quarks for muster mark: some of the invented words of author James Joyce
birds’ eye: an eagle presents Dubai as he descends to his trainer below
be mine: camera embedded in a ring box captures marriage proposals from a face-forward perspective