Wednesday, 30 September 2015

einheit, zipfelbund

With a quarter-century of Germany unity being observed this weekend (and importantly, we’ve been afforded many reminders to reflect on the meaning and the different stages of the reunification process that led up to this formalised recognition), it seems especially poignant that this anniversary come at time when Germany is preoccupied with a refugee-crisis, which although of a different character, does revisit many of the same challenges.

Twenty-five years on, the West is portrayed as a gracious wrecking ball, welcoming their oppressed neighbours back into the fold, and though the exodus was not as overwhelming nor exotic, I am sure that there was a modicum of fear that these Germans, a whole generation cut-off from the free and democratic world, from the West’s perspective, might bring the same wrack and ruin that ushered in the dissolution of the Soviets. These East Germans, a trickle at first of brave souls escaping subjugation had become a regular deluge, had grown up with different conventions, atheist and conservative, and for many the clash of cultures still has not been resolved. Ossi und Wessi. Those are the same reservations that confront Germany and Europe presently. The observance was cemented in 1990, a little short of one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall in order to avoid Schicksaltag (the Fateful Day) already overloaded with meaning, but keeping the events linked—even in unlinking the dates—does allow the memory to reach back further to a time that witnessed an even larger refugee crisis not only perpetrated by the German people but one wherein they were also migrants. German citizens were exiled not only from new acquired lands but also from territories associated with German settlement for generations, like Gdansk, Kaliningrad and Prague and faced many challenges integrating into the metropolitan society. What do you think? What lessons ought to be taken away from this Day of Reunification?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

5x5

alba amicorum: the Dutch friend books of the seventeenth century, via the Presurfer


optotype: via Kottke’s extensive archive of Quick Links, a gorgeous history of eye chart typography

percival lowell’s canals: NASA confirms that briny water is flowing on Mars presently

magic kingdom: Banksy’s Dismaland will be deconstructed and repurposed to house refugees in the Jungle Camp in Calais

legacy system: Norwegian government pressures its physicians to give up their beloved, reliable floppy discs

Monday, 28 September 2015

fungiculture

Spargelzeit (Asparagus season) with all its fanfare and focus is a distant memory by now but one up-side to the change of seasons and the cool and damp days ahead is the advent of Mushroom Time. Pfifferlinge, a savoury scalloped fungus found on tree trunks, is my favourite—celebrated with just as much intensity, and while any foraging for these gourmet delicacies, such work is best left to seasoned experts, many keeping the faithful locations of the appearance of this heritage fruiting a secret guarded as well as that for a prized vintner, since there are many more varieties that are deadly poisonous than edible. This time of year, many restaurants adjust their menus—Tageskarte, Speisekarte—to showcase this time-honoured mania.

umbrage

This season was quite nicely bookended by two astronomical events, I thought, what with the partial eclipse of the Sun—for those of us in Central Europe—just as the weather was beginning to wax comfortable and the Blood Super Moon just as the daylights and temperature begins to turn. I was not able to capture either event that I witnessed too terribly well and did not do justice to the Moon coloured red and by no means lost in the pre-dawn horizon but I did like the airplane flying in its direction and of course most things are better imparted first-hand and every one of us will be treated to privileged spectacles, however the rarity, I’m sure.

world citizen

Perhaps a global crisis can only be solved by becoming more cosmopolitan, as this interesting article from Quartz suggests.
Faced with a comparable refugee situation in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution when all Russian expatriate were summarily stripped of their citizenship and made stateless—nearly a million diaspora and growing to include former residents of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations became the competent issuing authority for travel documents, realising that no one place could hope to absorb all the displaced. Bearers of the these passports, which were the laudable idea of Norwegian explorer Fritjof Nansen, included shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, artist Marc Chagall, author Vladimir Nabokov and composers Igor Stravinski and Sergei Rakhmaninov as well as hundreds of thousands of other souls, which entitled them to travel internationally and settle as appropriately. Such an elegant solution may need to be reinstated, with the reluctance national authorities have demonstrated for legitimising an undocumented refugee and much preferring to keep them in transit and making migrants seek out the help of smugglers rather than official channels and discard whatever official identity papers that they might have and preclude their chances of having a homeland to return to one day. Mindful that there is no place like Utopia, what do you think? Could such a scheme work again?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

queen of the palmyrenes

As if the destruction of of the ancient temples and yet to be fully studied and adjured archaeological sites by the keystone caliphate of Palmyra and other sites of historical significance were not already a great enough loss for our shared cultural heritage and the inscrutable past—purges and terrors always result in loss and revision, there is another personal legacy that I fear will fall into greater obscurity over the razing of her city, a historic character called Queen Zenobia (a somewhat strained Latinisation of the Aramaic name Beth Zaynab). Unlike her ancestor, Cleopatra of Egypt or warrior queen Boudica who’ve been celebrated for centuries for standing up to the Romans, Zenobia is mostly forgotten though her exploits.
Living during the latter half of the third century, the client province of Syria was experiencing a time of economic stability—removed from the political intrigues that were affecting the government of, a succession of weak rulers and the transition of the Empire’s capital to the East. The changing regimes did eventual visit Zenobia’s family with the usual paranoia of unproven power and assassinated the queen’s husband and heir-apparent. Instead of capitulating to the governor’s demands that the remaining royal family relinquish claims to the throne and devolve into direct Roman rule, Zenobia instead declared herself regent, ruling in the name of her infant son. Unprecedented in the potential for revolt among any of the peoples that the Roman Empire had subjugated, Zenobia socked them right in the bread-basket by conquering the province of Egypt, whose grain supplies were absolutely vital for feeding the populace, and when on taking large swaths of Anatolia (Asia Minor), crossing and controlling important trade routes, to constitute an empire that nearly rivalled that of the Sassanids on the periphery of Roman control and certainly with more strategic importance. The Palmyrene Empire was short-lived, just a mere three years but more than just a blip historically speaking as Rome had seen the year of three then four Emperors and that it survived politically in any form goes against reason, and Roman forces only were able to recapture Syria and Egypt by shifting troops out of its theatre in Gaul, effectively giving up those lands as unruly lost causes, and Zenobia was defeated on the fields of Antioch—taken to the capital in chains. Paradoxically, this revolution might have given the Western Empire the impetus to limp along a few years more. Perhaps Zenobia’s story can be a rallying point for good again. There are varying accounts as to what happened to her afterwards (Cleopatra rather dramatically avoided this humiliation—which is perhaps a reason why Shakespeare did not write a play about her) with the cheeriest accounts having the Emperor grant Zenobia clemency and she lived out her life happily in a villa in Tivoli—kept in the manner she was accustomed to and uncensored, playing a role in the community as a pre-eminent philosopher and active political advisor.

ernte

Though the official start of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere began earlier this week and the cue to breakout one’s wicker and seasonal articles has come and gone, I was able to take a nice stroll through Wiesbaden in the early autumn sun—appreciative how attractive this city can be, even under the light that one can detect is angled, skewed towards colder weather, and had the chance to visit the Herbstfest that has been going on all week. Traditionally, the first weekend after the change of seasons is designated as Erntedankfest—a thanksgiving for a good harvest, and the people of Wiesbaden held one on the lawn in front of the State Opera House, replete with all the trappings and trimmings.

day-trip: bonn

As H was away this weekend for a conference in Berlin, I thought it would be fitting for me to take a trip to the other Federal City (Bundesstadt), Bonn, former capital of West Germany, to scout out the area. Before coming to Bonn, on the Rhine’s southern reaches of megalopolis of the industrialised Ruhrgebiet and surrounded by the Siebengebirge—the seven verdant peaks with picturesque valleys, I stopped in the vineyard village of Königswinter and climbed the first ascent of the Drachenfels, the dragon cliffs.
There was a funicular train or donkeys for hire for journey but I passed those to try the steep hike myself. It was very beautiful with the Post Tower of Bonn’s skyline already visible and a host of castles and fortifications hewn out of the mountain-face but on this day, I only wanted to make it to the first station and hold off on exploring the whole trail until we could see it to together. Having learned about this strange attraction quite by accident and then having planned this little trip, I could not skip a visit to the bizarre, Art Nouveau temple to composer and myth-maker Richard Wagner, the Nibelungenhalle, dedicated in 1913 by a devoted fan-club on what would have been Wagner’s hundredth birthday. The interior included a lot of documentation apologising for the “Swastika” motif—explaining it was ancient Germanic rune and had a series of murals of the saga of the Ring Cycle.
The woman at the counter turned on the music after I had come in—being the first visitor, I suppose, and there were a lot of random, non-contiguous artefacts present that made me think of the curating work in the museum of the Colossus of Prora which was a lot of fun to try to unravel but I suppose sadly it’s not there any longer since there converting the Nazi resort to luxury apartments. After viewing this altar, one was to walk down through an artificial grotto (which was a little a frightening because it was not illuminated although one could see the way out ahead, one had to trust that the path was manmade and free of obstacles) that led to a small garden and then quite inexplicable to a good old-fashioned roadside reptile farm, with lots of anacondas and pythons curled up and rest and a couple of lively crocodiles.
I walked back down to the Drachenfels base camp and proceeded on to the main attraction, Bonn, only a few kilometres away. Bonn was chosen to be the capital for symbolic reasons, a small city and not the nearby Köln or Frankfurt or Hamburg that might have seemed more reasonable, because Berlin, east and west, was enshrined as the true capital and the situation was understood as only temporary.
Had a larger, more prominent city been created as the West German Hauptstadt, then Berlin might have lost its rightful place, though the temporary situation lasted for over four decades. Also the industrial heft of the Ruhr region and its natural resources was a point of contention just after the war. I enjoyed a very nice stroll along the Rhein and up and down the length of Adenauer Allee, the once and present corridor of power and governance, with six federal offices still stationed along this boulevard and venue also to the representative second residence of the Chancellor and cabinet.
The route paralleling the river, begins with the castle since turned into a university and concludes with a United Nations campus housing nineteen institutions. In between were the former residences of the chancellery, which were disappointingly inaccessible it seemed—although I was excepting to be able to traipse through the rumpus-room, I did think I might see the bungalow up close and not through a fence with bales of razor-wire. I also passed the zoological museum that hosted the Bundesrat and Bundestag for the first few years of the provisional government.
A stuffed giraffe and other taxidermical creations were witness to proceedings as they could not be removed from the gallery without being decapitated. Despite not having access to the halls of power, it was nonetheless, an interesting experience to reflect on everything that had transpired on this one street. Aside from the secular, recent history, I was surprised to learn of Bonn’s religious connections and significance as the seat of the archdiocese and did not have the wherewithal to explore the old town too much—there was some festival that rendered the market-square pretty hectic and crowded—but it did of course seem worthy of further investigation, with Beethoven’s home, its Roman origins and fortification and many corporate headquarters as a sign of homesteading in the former capital as prognosis for what’s yet to come.

Friday, 25 September 2015

adobe flash

Via Dangerous Minds’ Dangerous Finds comes a fantastic demonstration of a giant three-dimensional printer, inspired by the hives of wasps and hornets and architectural techniques from time immemorial, that can cheaply construct shelters out of clay or any other in situ building material, on Earth and for the off-world colonies as well. This fusion of ancient and cutting-edge still requires logistics and capital to bring it to the construction site, but 3-D printing is really starting to shine and come into its own as a cottage-industry in creative ways.

kalends oder guthaben

Finally having a telephone contract with all calls being free, I’ve graduated somewhat from being miserly about returning calls and reached a new plateau of parsimony, I’m afraid, with one’s monthly data allotment. I’ve adjusted to rationing my browsing and usually don’t deplete it until the end of the month (Kalends, as it was known to the Romans, and hence the calendar that counted backwards from the end, the Ides and the Nones from the month prior), but also lacking a land-line, wary to enter into a commitment for what’s a temporary housing situation—during the work-week, it can get a bit frustrating when there’s something interesting to research and investigate and particularly when it comes to posting something fun. There’s no real opportunities to poach a Wi-Fi connection—unless one is willing to loiter at a pay-phone converted into a hot-spot. It’s a strange, trifling dilemma to traffic in such abstract limitations. Slow I don’t mind but sometimes things just time-out and I think there’s plenty of incentives for decelerators, and I suppose I could always top-up but with just a few days remaining in the cycle, I try to avoid this little luxury.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

noxious

On first hearing of the scandal over a major German automotive manufacturer falsifying emissions trials to make their fleet of diesel vehicles appear cleaner than they were, I was naturally disappointed but I thought it was little more than the third installment of a series of bidden character-assassinations of German institutions of late.
Drawing sparse attention off the Autobahn, first a German driving club, which provides roadside assistance, was discovered to have auctioned off its accolades and awards for the most roadworthy cars to the highest bidder. Next, there was the FIFA football corruption case—which struck me as another rather open-secret that although it had certainly outlived it’s tolerability probably came to light through zealotry rather than necessity—the collapse of something corrupt and rotten and distractions from more serious affairs. Some people fall on their swords with a flair for the dramatic and others simply trip. I felt the same way about this latest sensation until, courtesy of Super Punch, I learnt that the amount of greenwashing, the phantom sustainability and good-stewardship could be measured in enormous terms, equated with the gross annual contribution of whole countries to air pollution and greenhouse gases.

5x5

sword and sandal: jazzy Italian cinematic score to enjoy 

cogwheel: insects had evolved gears long before humans discovered mechanical advantage

rubbing elbows: any and every New Yorker cartoon wants you to join them on LinkedIn

potus: obscure, offensive 1967 “Super President” cartoon pilot

pig-pen: each human has a distinctive cloud of germs that shadows us

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

primary packaging

Via the ineffably fascinating Mental Floss comes the innovative news that a design company in the UK is poised to revolutionise the way people transport, store and imbibe their beverages.
Called the Ooho, liquid is stored in a transparent membrane made mostly of algæ, completely biodegradable and even edible. Now one can stay hydrated like the astronauts that get to chase down floating blobs of water. Sloshing sacks that resemble silicone implants may not immediately strike the market as the intuitive alternative but, like wine skins, the small portions could be bundled to be delivered in larger containers and the idea confronts one immediately with unadulterated sustainability, using completely natural substances and forgoing the plastic bottle altogether.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

choose your poison or balance of trade

Not terribly keen on Western goods and for the most part self-sufficient, for European naval powers—especially the British with their particular weakness for Asian luxuries and tea—Imperial China from the early nineteenth century became known as the Silver Bone Yard. This comparison to a gilded grave was employed as the only enticement for the Chinese—the only reserve-currency that they’d accept, not wanting truck with pelts, flagons of beer, bales of wool, missionaries or whatever else was a typical European export at the time which was not derivative of what the Chinese culture had already perfected, like gunpowder and the printed word—was silver dollars minted from bouillon from the colonies in North and South America.
The discovery of New World silver had initially glutted the market and the commodity temporarily lost some of its shine. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British were willing to part with huge sums of specie in exchange for keeping up the trade in tea, silk and porcelain. As more and more silver went into China and none came out, however, a market-correction was due and again prices rose and the demand for precious metal grew, especially with wars to finance at home. In order to reverse the outflows of hard currency, merchants (with support of Parliament) plied the Chinese market with opium culled from poppy fields in Turkey and British-held India—which was an acceptable swap for a spot of tea, in lieu of coinage. Although used recreationally and for medicinal purposes—reintroduced to Western medicine as laudanum—use of opium as a war with drugs does strike me as rather unique, to flood one market to secure cheaper access to another, ostensibly equally habit-forming and ritualised item. Faced with a growing drug problem and traders flagrantly overstepping the bounds that had been proscribed for them, China capitulated (and the degree to which China was compromised is a matter of debate) by expanding access to British merchants that extended beyond a few select entrepôts and granting leases in perpetuity to foreign traders. Though of strategic importance and to modern eyes a serious territorial incursion, China had a standing practise of ceding land in the name of peace-keeping and appeasement, and in addition to the special administrative areas of Hong Kong (UK) and Macau (Portugal)—there was also Tsingtau (Prussia), Tianjin (Italy), Shanghai (Japan) and Shantou (jointly controlled by the English, French and Americans).

5x5: acoustic edition

nature sounds: meditative woodland megaphones in Estonia

milk-drop: the gorgeous music visualisation scheme called Panoramical

white-noise: addressing the Fermi Paradox, Edward Snowden suggests that highly encrypted communication becomes indis- tinguishable from cosmic background radiation

two-man band: the fabulous myriophone that mimics the effects of a full string orchestra section, via the resplendent Nag on the Lake

transduction: in addition to perceiving sounds, one’s ears also produce them

Monday, 21 September 2015

mountain high, valley-valley low

One of these days, we ought to sit down and plot all the routes we’ve taken to cross the Alps, as each time has seemed different and unique and taking the Splüngen Pass was certainly a memorable first. Not navigable during Winter, the roads took a zig-zag ascent up the steep mountain face, whose sharp curves were populated with serene looking cows that gazed at the passing cars unbothered by blind-corners and hairpin-turns.
The sentry-station at the summit was unmanned and seemed long-abandoned though not in ruin and lay at a nice geographical pocket of flatness to admire the peaks of the Bergamont Alps. We descended into the estuary of Lake Como, fed by the run-off waters of River Mera to return to a comfortable and picturesque campsite near the village of Sorico. I learnt that this terminus of the mountain range represents the easiest point for migratory animals to ford the Alps and there were scores of exotic birds to be seen at this cross-roads of African and Asian pathways.
I also learnt that the River Mera was named in honour of a wandering monk who roamed the hill tops over Sorico and venerated as a sort of miraculous rain-maker in times of drought for Lake Como below. Perhaps Hermit Mera was a little over-zealous at the moment as the deluge was unrelenting and the forecast did not bode any better. As a result, we decided to respectfully depart for sunnier weather on Lake Garda.

kapellmeister o frazione

Nestled in just the next sheltered cove over from Manerba, ringed by high cliffs, lies the fair village of Salò.
If it was not enough that this picturesque point had the same colourful and violent heritage as the rest of Lombardy during the early Renaissance, allying with the maritime Republic of Venice, hence the Saint Mark’s Lion, played a role in the burgeoning textile industry that was to eventually led to the Industrial Revolution, devolved into the Hapsburg Empire of Italy after the Napoleonic Wars and fostered the invention and refinement of the violin family—crafted and given language by native Gasparo de Salò, the community has another distinction of more recent times.
Elevated to the status of a city in conjunction with this promotion, from 1943 until 1945—when Il Duce was hanged by the next until dead from a lamp post in the town of Dongo, another place we’ve visited (leider, nur auf Deutsch)—Salò was designated as the de facto capital of the Nazi occupied Italian Socialist Republic, founded under extreme duress by Benito Mussolini.
To the south, Rome was still regarded as the Eternal City but administrative functions of the government and the fascist leader himself were removed to an ensemble of villas on Lake Garda in the north to be closer to Wehrmacht forces, who really controlled the puppet state and to be able to move easily between Milan and Venice.
Although sovereignty was only nominal, fascist factions were able to craft effectively an ideal (to their minds) totalitarian state, an achievement that had been blocked by the monarchy previously—and perhaps Mussolini did make the trains run on time.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

gone fishin’

Wandering Lake Garda, H and I discovered the great panoply ripe for the picking that the right dort of environment can produce. One of the more notable, vintage agricultural traditions was in the naming: in mavino, like the title of this church in the background of medieval Sirmione, San Pietro in Mavino, like Saint Martin in the Fields or Saint Thomas All Up in your Business was a local signifier of the Latin phrase of in “summas veneas”—San Peter Up in the Vineyards.
 The designation undoubtedly had the potential for overuse in such a place but seemed to be applied sparingly, with many settlements founded around this artisanal tradition in the arid hilltops.
 Sirmione, as seen from the lake and also celebrated for its thermal, sulphuric spas acknowledged since before Roman occupation for their curative properties, particularly for ear, nose and throat ailments, is the gateway to the popular theme-park Gardaland and whose front might have the well-curated trappings of some place made-up but is assuredly real as a grown-up and authentic get-away.

lake garda or watership down

After returning to Lake Como turned out to be rather a wash (more on this later), H and I decamped to the shores of Lake Garda (Gardasee, Lago di Garda and known in antiquity as Benaco where Roman forces defeated the Alamanni confederation—whose name is lent to the French and Spanish exonyms for Germany although Deutschland is Germania in Italian).
We chose a nice site on a south-western peninsula of the lake called Manerba del Garda—pleasantly peopled but not over-crowded since high-season was over but yet not too cold for a dip in the water. This region in general has been a sheltered one—eons before the tourist crunch, due to its climate and is the most northerly clime for citrus orchards, particularly lemon trees but not neglecting wine and olives, and the fact that many structures have foundations that reach into pre-history and neolithic times is probably a reliable indicator of the weather. The silhouette of La Rocca greeted us every morning, framed dramatically by welling clouds and though perhaps not the highest cliff on the lake, it was certainly the closest.
The old town centre rising up on a hill more inland was something to behold as well, but what we found to be the most delightful accent to the peninsula demarcating just one protected cove was the Isola San Biagio.
Separated from the main beach by barely a shin’s depth of water, one could walk to the little island along a path of pebbles to discover (though privately-owned, entrance just seemed to be not brining in outside beverages or dogs and maybe a visit to the snack-bar) free range bunnies (conigli). They were everywhere—tame and underfoot like the growing flock of ducks that visited every morning just in time for breakfast.
The rabbits appeared among the tents later on as well. Perhaps this reserve had origins as stock for a private hunt—which happily does not seem to be customary any longer, but makes me think rather on the origins of Manerba, which is believed to have been founded round a grove sacred to the goddess Minerva—the patroness of the hunt and harvest and other virtues besides. This Etruscan avatar of Athena overlaps what is properly the bailiwick of Artemis but there was a lot of cross-over for champions and I wonder if the keeping of bunnies did not reach back that far and into mythology as well.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

man was in the forest

Untamed, the water flees from human encroachment.

sorry, that name has been taken

We suggest you try “ITCHY-POOPZKID23.”  A title suitable for your pet or your band.

Friday, 11 September 2015

hiatus or ciao bella

We at PfRC have only had the chance to take one grand vacation this year—which we’re forever grateful for knowing that most do with a lot less and thankful too that this is an anomaly and not a worrisome trend, but happily we will have the chance to return to the Italian Lake District in a few days and returned from further adventures we will be refreshed and ready for more. In the meantime, you can visit our friends over at the Smörgåsblog or consult our extensive archives. Arrivederci!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

5x5

you know that’s Cyndi Lauper singing: a look into the making of the opening of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse

of all things the measure is man: an open letter to the Internet of Things

your hit parade: Kottke looks at the reemergence of the cover song and the throwback economy of imitation

bus stop sally: wonderfully bizarre public transport shelters of the USSR

tipple: specially designed snifter for enjoying a fine beverage in a micro-gravity environment


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

hermes trismegistos or copernican revolution

I was familiar enough, I thought, with legendary the Prague (Praha) of the late Renaissance and dormitories and laboratories constructed on the castle grounds for research into alchemy and the esoteric arts, but failed to appreciate that this commission and many of the scattered artefacts, both tangible and in the realm of ideas that challenge received knowledge, have a singular provenance thanks to the curiosity of one practitioner and patron, Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II.

Weary of the overtly hostile political ambitions of the his traditional capital of Vienna (Wien) and having no truck with neither the Protestants nearer to home nor the Counter-Reformation of his Spanish cousins, Rudolf chose to move his court to the ancient city—considered rather isolated from the rest of the Empire due to the recent and relatively successful Hussite rebellion against papal authority. There, collecting wonders and academics, Rudolf was able to carry on as a mad scientist in peace with the aims of ending factionalism in faith through miraculous demonstrations.
Not only did the discipline of chemistry develop out of the magicians’ trial and error—the aim was not to transmute base metal into gold but because gold did not rust, it was considered incorruptible and thus immortal—but also many mystic writings, including the undeciphered oddity known as the Voynich manuscript, were gathered together, studied in view of endless galleries of curio-cabinets.
These Wunderkammern were of course a treat to show-off to visiting dignitaries and an unparallelled collection of liminal objects which blurred the divide between Nature and artifice that also made a statement of the might of the Emperor—especially during a time of messy war with the Turks and the Finns—but primarily, there in the study-hall, were catchments of the art of memory and imagination. Polymath Pierre Hérgony himself was also a compatriot. University education or the time involved little research or experimentation and certainly did not invite unorthodox thought. There is quite a bit to unpack here and sadly the catalogue was broken up, lost, destroyed or hidden away—the perpetual motion machines, grimoires, unicorn horns and other unverified relics, so it is hard to declare Rudolf’s greatest legacy, but among the top contenders would certainly be the Emperor’s engagement with astronomers Tycho Brahe and Nicholas Copernicus, who during their tenure at court moved the centre of the Universe from Earth to the Sun and finally to a point in the void, a focus, around which the worlds revolved.

5x5

corso zundert: Dutch annual tournament of tulips parade

bromance: Donald Trump praises Silvio Berlusconi as a “nice man”

a pig in a poke: thoughtful, well-organized essay explores how the history of technology parallels the history of pockets

limestone: looking at the chemistry and biology of coral colonies, material science is developing cleaner cement

superhenge: hidden landscape project hint at the true extent of the ritual monument 

peculium and pittance

Prior to the early decades of the fourteenth century, the civil and spiritual landscape of Britain and the whole of Europe looked very different than it does today, and it is inexorably difficult for modern minds, I think, to grasp how very alien that proximity was. No one was more than an hour’s walk separated from a monastery or covenant—comparable to the fact that settlements were more or less paced out, before sprawl took hold, a day’s distance on foot from one another, and if one was not directly under the employee of the institution as a farmer, physician or teacher, one still benefited from the round the clock prayers that the members engaged in for the whole of humanity.

These traditions, unimaginable to the grand majority as the pre-Dissolution state of affairs is to us, untraveled, who only knew their individual sheltered realities that had been constant companions as far as living memory ran. For varied motives which included annulling yet another marriage that failed to produce an acceptable heir and to raise state funds to engage the French in battle (another constant and as a relic of the Norman Invasion, many reported to French mother churches), however, King Henry VIII split with papal authority and went on to found the Church of England, and appointed head minister Thomas Cromwell (ancestor of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell who abolished the monarchy for a time) vice-regent in Spirituals and charged him with the the task of dismantling those anchor institutions of community and appropriating their holdings—mainly through extortion and defamation, which was undoubtedly valid in a few cases but not in the main. The roles that monastic houses had served as schools—especially giving girls an alternative to the expected medieval drudgery—hospitals, hostels, welfare for the poor, sanctuary for the accused, brewery and kitchen garden went unfilled for centuries afterwards, if ever fully replaced by government and private organisations.
Overnight, monks, nuns and friars (embedded monks that went out into the community) found themselves evicted and their treasuries raided with anything of apparent value taken for the Crown and much of their libraries lost to history, and their relics—another major economic component as it attracted pilgrims—dissected and subjected to the burgeoning scientific method, and when there was no divine intervention forthcoming to stop this destruction and desecration, peoples’ doubts were reinforced. Seeing what was happening in England in terms of tempering religious authority, where one third of all property belonged to the Church, other European powers began to follow suit, buffeted by the emergent discontent of Martin Luther, albeit that the threat against vulnerable, smaller monasteries encouraged the sale of indulgences to raise the requisite hush-money against being shut-down, and adopted their own national confessions. For Henry, the resulting security-theatre saw few gains—although one positive legacy was the endowment to great universities that still represent the heights of learning, and although the change must have been great, the actions prosecuted in Prussian, Bohemian and Low-Lands was a measure less disruptive and immediately replaced by foundations meant to care for those less fortunate and co-opting an essential service once performed by a suppressed Church, seamlessly and solidifying later commitments and general characterisations of secular assistance. The past is not so simple.

winkie-winkie and the royal we

The Queen has now surpassed all of her forebears in length of her reign, with many other superlatives besides. We extend our hardy congratulations and best wishes for many more years.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

amici curiæ

The Notorious RBG and her fellow US Supreme Court Justices of the present class all have perfectly plausible names, but it always seemed to me that there was a disproportionate number of individuals appointed whom did not.
Albeit there has been one hundred twelve of them holding court that has ranged from five in membership to the current nine, but beginning with associate Bushrod Washington, Esq., younger step-brother of George Washington—there are quite a few oddities to be found, many packaged in familiarity and the expectation that such achievers ought to have unique monikers. There is Salmon P Chase hailing from Ohio, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar from Mississippi, Mahlon Pitney—and of course, Felix Frankfurter of Massachusetts and Potter Stewart. The often-cited Doctor Learned Hand, however, only rose to the position of Chief Justice on the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals—no doubt a prestigious position but not the court of last-resort.

Monday, 7 September 2015

apocalypso or head in the sand

Via the resplendent Nag on the Lake comes a look at the latest art installation of London sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, positioned on the banks of the Thames, not far from the Houses of Parliament. The artist who has executed many submerged galleries to surprise and enthral divers in Cancun, the Bahamas and Caribbean, has created ghostly likenesses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are only visible twice daily at low-tide as a statement against sanctioned environmental abuses and the adage that what’s out of sight is out of mind. The knights agee are modelled after businessmen but their mounts have their heads replaced by another sort of horse’s head, the pumpjack or nodding-donkey of an oil drill.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

unknown knowns or ignotum per ignotius

After being rather gobsmacked on learning that there was a single term, adiaphora, that could be used to describe all those non-essential conventions of a faith, I found myself looking askance towards my own humble quiver of vocabulary, to discover an antonym for omnipresence. An individual or a system described as parviscient could be said to know very little, but as the term is derivative (a back-formation) of all-knowing, it also suggests fancying oneself to be quite clever in one’s ignorance. There are a lot of awkward situations that could be diffused with such a word.