Tuesday, 30 June 2015

#grexit, #PRexit

Patriotism aside, the USA and the EU are in many ways organised around the same basic principles. Although I am sure that many would like to back away from such a comparison by pointing out important distinctions and the fact that the US is a more (or less, depending on one’s point of view) coherent bloc, despite or because of varying jurisdiction, taxes, etc.
The US cannot exactly boot out the recalcitrant and the under-performing and succession has been made an illegal-fiction—and while the fledgling EU has untried provisions to kick-out members or let them leave voluntarily, and perhaps more importantly, on balance with the insistence that this experiment will work, the ability to selectively invite new partners—which really isn’t a possibility for America—and the core of badly-behaving Europe achieve a new and hopefully better character in expanding its borders. Though many of the contiguous territory, in my opinion, are in far worse financial straits, the Colombian Union is baiting and beating up on one of its colonial outliers in insolvent Puerto Rico with mounting attention that may well match captivation that the Greek tragedy is providing.  Receivership does not seem like an option that will do anyone any good, other than the lenders of last resort.

5x5

ephemera: MOMA acquires beautiful set of postcards advertising the inaugural Bauhaus exhibition

mincome going dutch: Utrecht will test out basic income plus a look at historical experiments with eliminating poverty

redrum: food decoration inspired by Stanley Kubrick classic The Shining, via the splendiferous Nag on the Lake

proud as a peacock: charming round up of railings against the US Supremes’ decision to ban state-level curbs on marriage

neapolitan: biography of Rose Totino, patroness, of frozen pizza—plus a selection of inventive advertisements made with stock-images  

eyalets and encomia

Though now I know that the frigate on the obverse of the old drachma coin represents the vessel of the head of the Greek admiralty and freedom-fighter Constantine Kanaris, thinking on the possibly eminent return of the currency, the nature of nomos, numisma and the Union, the paradoxical Ship of Theseus—where one speculates if a boat is still the same boat if one has replaced a single nail, plank, sail, jib and mast, the entire deck and eventually though still called Theseus’ comprises none of the original composition.

Kanaris was celebrated by the Greek independence movement of the 1820s and 1830s for having destroyed a large part of the Ottoman Armada and eventually securing freedom from the empire. It’s enough fractious history for the West to understand the Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans and the associated Kleinstaaterei, but the parallel career of the land of the sultans, which was longer-lived, far vaster and far more heterogeneous is an equally if not more fascinating story. There was the same sort of mediatisation and devolution among kingdoms, principalities, duchies, condominia, and ecclesiastics but under other territorial titles—eyalets, sanjaks and beylerbeys. The Ottoman Empire, which grew from the ruins of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), saw its decline and ultimate dissolution in the aftermath of World War I. There’s of course not a direct correspondence between contemporary imperium and Greek rebellion—just as the patchwork of Europe is not the apposite pole to the Ottoman Empire and trying to force the comparison is a disservice but maybe there is something to be gleaned from the dissection and reconstitution in the end.

Monday, 29 June 2015

5x5

ostalgie: doll houses and dioramas of East Germany

in search of lost time: introduction to Alain de Botton’s series on how Marcel Proust can turn one’s life around

throughput: Disney corporate flow-chart for strategic success

sperrgebiet (dead link): Germany will transform sixty closed military installations into nature reserves, via TYWKIDBI

notorious rbg: US supreme court justice’s civil rights sojourn and superstar status

namely: peristeronic

From the Oxford English Dictionary Online Word of the Day comes a timely and useful bit of vocabulary in the adjective peristeronic—that is, relating to or suggestive of pigeons.

It turns out of course that it was never breeding pigeons that was considered not halal, given that pigeon exhibitionism is well-nigh impossible and not suggestive of anything except maybe when the male gets all puffed up and cooing to woo a reluctant mate. Rather—arguably equally incredulously, the keeping of pigeons was banned (despite the rich and long heritage that this practise has in the Arab world, including distinct strategic advantages with homing and messenger pigeons already in antiquity) was because some lecherous spies were using it as an excuse for being on the rooftop and from that vantage point, peeping at neighbours. Peristeronic. PfRC invites readers to build their treasury of words as well by visiting the OED Online and subscribing to the Word of the Day.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

daytrip: wetterau

 After being treated to a fun and festive Rhein river cruise courtesy of my employer, the next day H and I traveled a little farther north to a county named after a tributary thereof. It’s a little striking how much of German topography is named for streams and rivers instead of the other way around, like the Fulda or Heufurt closer to home that’s not where the hay, the straw can ford the stream (I would like to see that) but rather where there is an easy crossing on the Heu—and the name doesn’t refer to the weather, unlike the endless skies of this prairie land between the mountain ranges declaimed although feistier weather never materialised.
First we passed the ruins of a fortress on a hill called Münzenburg and stopped to visit. Unlike the name suggested to me, it was not a mint and the castle was built around 1160 by an administrator called Kuno I under contract of Emperor Barbarossa as a display of imperial power. The towers certainly dominated the otherwise flat landscape and was a treat to climb through the long-abandoned, neglected as other instruments of might became available, corridors and explore.
 Next we came to the yet vibrant compound of the Cloister of Arnsburg, just outside of the town of Lich where the popular brand of Licher beer is brewed. The compound embraced by the course of the Wetter, whose mother cloister is in Eberbach, fell into ruin with the dissolution of the monasteries in 1806, but parts have since been restored and re-purposed, including a poignant courtyard that is a sombre resting place for soldiers and victims of the regime of terror of the Third Reich.

Afterwards, we traveled onto the city of Wetzlar (home of Leica photography) and had a fine time walking through the winding cobbled streets of half-timbered houses that dated from a long time ago and reminded me of Frankfurt’s core Altstadt with a Hauptwache and squat cathedral.
I can’t wait until we have the chance to next time make a little more familiar what’s in the range of this backyard (plus from different perspectives) and look forward to exploring much more.

panorama or bread and butter

With this news item and its repercussions overshadowed by the visit of the Queen and then understandably wide-spread panic over the financial viability of Greece and the coordinated terrorist attacks that targeted tourists, it took me some time to realise that there is truly a landmark decision—pun very much intended, on the docket for the EU parliament. Standardising the so-called Panoramafreiheit, named after the German concept that images either framed or incidentally with art installations and works of architecture that are on display to the general public can be shared openly without fear of reprisal or accusations of commercial infringement, has suddenly become a priority. And while some are championing the German model be taken up in other lands where legal entanglements can make publicising a picture, especially of modern buildings whose likeness is controlled by some individual or brain-trust, difficult, others fear that the interpretation and enforcement of commercial-use could swing the other way in favour of the lien-holders. Tacky souvenir-shops seem to have gotten away with selling kitsch for years, whether copyrighted or not—Paris owns the right to the picture (and reminiscences thereof apparently) of the Eiffel Tower illuminated at night—and while I don’t think it’s necessarily right for some fly-by-night opportunist to profit at the expense of the labour of some genius architect and the outlays of a municipality by 3D-printing charm bracelets of some newly built sports stadium named after an on-line loan company—supposing there’s a market for such trinkets, no one should need to get permission and pay royalties for making their own personal postcards and sharing them.
The fact, however, that the venues where such things are shared are mostly unabashedly commercial ventures, the legal wranglings, suits and disappeared images would be soon to follow. Given that they are the bread and butter of the industry of sharing and of the gadgets that make this level of snapshots and selfies possible such candid postcards prompted this discussion—and probably gave someone a whiff of money to be made, it strikes me as ironic and necessary that there might be a degree of cooperation between those prying giants of the internet and their usual antagonists, the libertine Wikipedia and your friendly neighbourhood Pirate Party. It is strange to think of them being potentially on the same side.  I imagine that the social media networks would wither on the vine should the environment become as restrictive about broadcasting one’s whereabouts (with pictures) as bootleg has become.  Should the lawyers get their way, what is to stop it from progressing to even natural monuments, claimed as trade-mark by states unable to glean any tax-revenue off of those same internet giants that get off scot-free (which really does mean duty-free, hors taxes) though profiting greatly with local operations? Be sure to let people know how you feel about this and photograph everything as that’s the new graffiti.

Friday, 26 June 2015

5x5

colour-coding: three young people in the UK invent a condom that changes colours when it detects STDs, sort of like that Elfin dagger that glows in the presence of Orcs

zero, my hero: typoman, a gaming platform where the adventure hinges on switching single letters

snowden effect: majority of Germans no longer believe that USA respects personal freedoms

all gussied-up: interesting and in depth look at the history of cosmetics and glamour maven Helena Rubinstein

way-back: via the inestimable Kottke, an appreciation of the TimeMachine archives from a marketing and design angle

Thursday, 25 June 2015

nizza des nordens

A few years ago when the search for gainful employment was a dicier and more urgent manner, I remember lamenting over the way the fair city of Wiesbaden was described, ad nauseum, on a jobs website, wondering whether a place sometimes called, “the Nice of the North” might not be causing undue confusion—aside from the fact I had never heard it called as such outside of having the phrase beaten into me while worrying about my future in Germany. Happily things are more stable presently and I finally happened on the city being referred to by this slogan—auf Deutsch, Nizza des Nordens and in vintage bumper sticker form, the most reliable form of communication.

fire and ice or fisher king

Vice magazine interviews a pair of questors, one Italian cryptographer and Dante Alighieri scholar and one British psychic, who’ve been inspired to seek out the Holy Grail in remote part of Iceland based on certain clues and allusions found in the epic poem the Divine Comedy and an entry in the national register that mentions a mysterious delegation who met with statesman and fellow poet, Snorri Sturluson. This meeting took place during the height of the Crusades in the Holy Land and it’s supposed that these uniformed strangers were the Knights Templar, guardians of the Grail, and hid this cache of knowledge on the island for safe-keeping. What an idea—though there are much stranger legends. Quests, of course, have established objectives but part of the adventure is in the journey and this sounds like one I’d like to tag along for.

ex-libris oder mind-manifesting

Having been shown now it is strikingly apparent but before I never knew that not only the artwork that typifies the free-love and ecologically-grounded ethos of the hippie culture but also the movement itself were the direct inheritors of German fin de siècle sentiments. A counter-culture naturalist association known as the Wandervogel (migrating bird) spread these early Nature Boys, as they were called, throughout Europe and beyond. Members espoused ideas of personal freedom, vegetarianism, volksmusic and psychedelia and eschewed traditional bourgeois values—the suppression and persecution of this alternative lifestyle by the ruling classes caused waves of immigrants to settle in England and America, especially in the post-war years.
As above, an even more transparent donation of the turn of the century was in artistic influence and sensibilities—the filigree and fretting found in surreal and psychedelic posters originated in the style of Secessionist artist Hugo Höppner, who was nicknamed Fidus (Faithful) for serving a jail sentence in protest over a trumped-up charge of indecent exposure. The themes and rich symbolism of Fidus are reflected in the graphic arts of the 1960s. The artist himself descended into obscurity with the outbreak of World War I, deprived of the periodicals to which he regularly contributed, including a magazine called Der Eigene—the Unique, the first (anarcho-) gay journal. Despite joining the Nazi party and securing a few commissions (and despite himself, Fidus agreed with some of their ideologies regarding racial purity and not just their esotericism and fashion sense), his studio was eventually shut down and his art condemned as degenerate. Around a decade after his death in 1948, Fidus’ collected works were re-discovered and became again symbolic of a sub-culture.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

5x5

lovely rita, meter-maid: traffic cop in Karlsruhe tickets a public sculpture

imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: more DVD döppelgangers from Bob Canada 

vexillology: a humorous look at the other US state flags that are in need of a face-lift

no fortunate son: the long history of artists requesting politicians not use their music for campaigning

ornamentation: eulogy for Don Featherstone, inventor of the pink flamingo

felix, fido

Though the Urban Dictionary may yield a more colourful definition, someone described as fidious takes something on faith alone. One can find this element in the word perfidious, which jaunts off in rather the opposite direction to connote treachery or faithlessness, although the latter’s antonym is unperfidious—something that is not considered a breach of faith. A perfervour, again drifting off toward the other course is a zealous, patriotic individual—wholly fervid, heated and impassioned. Fidiousness is about belief and reliability, however, and not confidence and would probably be best opposed to a sceptical attitude.

5x5

volksmedizin: collection of unusual health tips from Austria

best face forward: social networking giant is developing algorithms to identify people from their backsides (auch auf Deutsch)

on the bedpost overnight: an absurdist’s look at paparazzi culture, framing celebrities with an old wad of chewing gum

cats and dogs: collection of foreign idioms for heavy rain

turnip princess: apocryphal assortment of newly re-discovered fairy tales

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

gorgon ou au revoir, ruby tuesday

The French edition of the English language daily, the Local, is tragically reporting that Ruby the Lamb, whose genes were spliced with those of a jellyfish in order to express proteins that would result in transparent florescent skin, was apparently inadvertently slaughtered and served to some hapless diner.

The poor little lamb was created, rather gruesomely, for research purposes (in order to better study organ transplants by allowing doctors to observe them directly) and local authorities are prosecuting the matter as a contravention of environmental regulations against genetically modified foodstuffs, though Ruby was probably safe to eat, chimera-experts opine. The vampire lamb pictured is still at large.

tadpoles and marginalia

Though rarely presented unmediated in its direct and unadulterated form, having been glossed and thoroughly pardoned by Church and civic scholastics through commentaries, the major difficulty in reconciling the philosophies of the ancients within the framework of medieval societies was the general notion of a detached, rational (and arrived at by rational means) divinity—as opposed to a personal and intervening one—and the idea that the soul was unperishing but not in the sense of individual souls.

Thomas Aquinas (influenced in turn by the translation and commentary of Moorish thinker Ibn Rušd called Averroës, who argued that reason and received holy scripture partook of one and the same truth, and that religious symbols and rituals were more expedient means to arrive at this truth since most people did not have the time or ability to figure this out on their own) was instrumental in bringing the traditions of the classics into the fold—but the differences were not resolved exactly, nor were they ever but rather minimised and marginalised. Plato, through Socrates, was probably most suppressed and kept under wraps for millennia, due to the fact he believed in the transmigration of the soul and there was already more than enough problems to go around with heretical sects that shared this belief in reincarnation. The teacher could be safely excised from the lesson but not so much for his student, Aristotle, whose practical contributions could not be ignored and medicine, forms of government, poetry and theatre all hinged and were beholden to the overall cosmology.

Though Aristotle, departing from Plato, did not believe that contemplating the Forms (that is the perfect, idealised and immaterial abstraction that are the templates for all the imperfect, corruptible earthly manifestations of things) was all that beneficial from a political point of view, Aristotle did nonetheless think the theory had weight. Parallel to the injunction of Averroës that there was only one self-same truth that could be arrived at by different approaches, it follows (I suppose, though highly contentious and probably best left alone as it was for centuries) that souls—disembodied—will be aspiring towards one Reason, pure and immediate intellect unburdened by personalities. The same otherwise, reincarnation where one does not remember one’s past lives although choose them seems pretty much the identical argument and conclusion. Rational thought and logic is the same for all and imagination is pared away—that Form of—say—Frog, the abstraction is something absolute and unaffected by whatever figments we might entertain, be it Mister Toad from Wind in the Willows, the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County, poor frog on a dissection table or frog in the wilds. For all the variety, they all partake of Frog (except maybe the toad), and are distilled into one abstraction that would transcend and even reject the individual paths that we took to get there.  I do not know if this dispassioned, rational sort of after-life would appeal to those expecting reward or punishment.  What do you think?  Would this sort of tempered enlightenment be any different in the end? 

5x5

wet-blanket: the concept of cooling the mark out is the opposite of cheering-on, warming-up

effigy: from our wonderful friends at Nag-on-the-Lake, the Donald in piñata form

http 403: the Caliphate is making everything forbidden

religious pluralism: images of amazing ritual costumes of the neo-pagans of the British Isles

armillary: nicely curated collection of star maps from Atlas Obscura

Monday, 22 June 2015

elite and anodyne

Though one thinks of the format of the seven-segment display to have been a fairly recent concept, it predates the electronic control-panels, trusty alarm clocks, pocket calculators and home entertainment gadgets by decades—the design first patented in the USA as early as 1908 with illuminated instrument panels following just two years later. The rendering of numerals—calculator spelling with 1337 and the like—in such a manner was not thrust upon the public all at once, however, with the advent of the liquid crystal display (LED) but was already a familiar sight on the vertical totems of petrol stations, quoting the current price and in the distinctive flip-flap boards of departure terminals.

panoply or watermark

The member states of the European Union hold diverse opinions on how to interpret and respect the right of panorama—that is, the ability to freely capture and use street photography, what’s in the public space, the commons, without fear of reprisal should those images have caught a spare glimpse of some building or piece of outdoors art that is under copyright. The creators of said installations that might be crowding up the skyline that a visitor is trying to frame are afforded a proprietary ownership of how the likeness of their creations are distributed, especially for profit, and ought to be allowed to gain off their works—notwithstanding their oft photographed location. Some have been found to be baiting the system—hence German legislators codified Panoramafreiheit to avoid legal snarls and keep public-spaces public and not subtle billboards. German EU representatives are urging all countries to enshrine such protections, which would surely leave a lot of attractions impoverished for the view. Other factions, however, want there to be uniformity of enforcement, siding with the clearinghouses. Given that people are quick to deputize themselves when it comes to enforcement in unclear situations, I hope that the matter is resolved definitively and in favour of the infringers.

al-gebra

Before that watershed moment in European scholarship when the rediscovery of the classics ignited the Renaissance, the rebirth of Greek academics and inquiry, there was a parallel precedent that took place in the Caliphate of Baghdad some four centuries earlier that secured for secular and religious spheres the systems of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and circumspection that dominated both oriental and occidental thought for over a thousand years. Plato’s dialogues and the spectre of Socrates the gadfly did not exactly dislodge the Aristotelian approach to government, civics and philosophical inquiry—that only really came much later with the enlightenment and educational reform that conceded that while the rote exercises that Plato’s pupil prescribed were excellent dress-rehearsals, they failed to prompt anything progressive. No school of thought that endured any rigour or scepticism is so easily exhaustible, but Aristotle’s early and spectacular reintroduction may have proved all-consuming in that it did rather launch an important and sustaining tradition of independent and original research, which was wedged in Western scholastics as an idée fixe by early theologians who knew no other Greek thinkers.
Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja’far Abdullah al-Mamûn ibn Harun, who ruled Baghdad in the early ninth century, had a dream, reportedly, in which the figure of Aristotle came to him with assurances that Hellenic thought was not in opposition to Islam but very much compatible with it. Al- Mamûn’s successors disagreed, but for a not insignificant run, Baghdad’s House of Wisdom was the premier repository of knowledge and research facility in the world. Academics and original sources were gathered and brisk business of translation grew up around the institute, all administered by the patron caliph who oversaw the curriculum and debating societies to further the pursuits. Whether because of the vision or because Aristotle was more fastidious in organising his writing than most (all of his works were plainly titled as opposed to Plato’s where one could not claim to know what the piece was about in a word even after having read it through), the work began with the most practical topics—biology, taxonomy, geography and proceeded to the ethics and sociology. Before the flagging support for this place of learning of al-Mamûn’s descendants and its eventual destruction by the Mongol invasion in the Siege of Baghdad, perhaps they had set out to tackle the whole of classical-thought but the venture fell victim to its own success, so to speak, as more and more discoveries and derivative writings came out of that first systematic endeavour. In the informal environment of the House of Wisdom, new and inspiring works with tangible advances being made in mathematics, surgery, engineering, map-making and star-charts. Plato and the other rarefied luminaries must have seemed old-hat.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

lullaby

Via Weird Universe comes a preview of the longest single piece of classical music yet composed, entitled Sleep by Max Richter.

The British-German artist will debut his eight-hour long performance in September at an opera house in Berlin, which will be outfitted with beds rather than conventional theatre seats so the audience, as Richter intends for his lullaby to be experienced while drifting off to sleep and even dreaming. Though some of us might be more prone than others to doze off at a concert and it is nice to be invited for a sleep-over, I don’t know that all artists would appreciate having their works subject to our different states of consciousness.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

5x5

joey: kangaroos favour left-handedness and all of Nature exhibits this sort of chirality

neo-noir: brilliant, retro animations by Argentine artist Kidmograph

beat the heat: researchers determine how silver ants of the Sahara survive the withering temperatures and imagine human applications

side by side-show: a look at the lives and career of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton

conspicuous consumption: philosophical quandary on what the take-away might be for alien-observers on the very mundane subject of chewing-gum—being contraband Singapore seems very antithetical to our ritual

staatsbesuch oder order of precedence

When the Queen and her consort come on a state-visit to Germany next week, they’ll be thronged by some adoring fans and followers. I wonder what sort of gifts will be exchanged. These two powerful women have everything but surely it will be something a little more dear and thoughtful than a bundle of DVDs her Majesty got that one time.

In the history of diplomacy, a lot of treasure, tribute and artefacts have been presented on state receptions, pandas, china, but probably the most priceless present was given by a scholar and magistrate of Constantinople called Gemistus Plethon during a council (summit) in the city state of Florence in 1430 to Cosimo d’Medici in the form of the complete works of Plato. These dialogues had been lost to Western academics for over a thousand years, since the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe and theological, scientific and philosophic thought had been governed by the teachings of Aristotle, Plato’s student. Medici, patron of the arts and scholarship, however, recognised the value of this trove of forgotten knowledge and commissioned priest Marsilio Ficino to translate the whole parnassus and provide commentary. The undertaking took decades (during which time it is also rumoured that Ficino may have tweaked the notion of a Platonic-relationship in order to excuse his own proclivities, and by the way, probably invented tarot card divination out of an interest for numerology he discovered in these new dialogues) but was probably the singular gift-exchange that sparked and sustained the Renaissance by shifting one’s perception of classical thought first in Italy and then beyond. This might be a tough one to top but I bet the Chancellor will present something meaningful.

Friday, 19 June 2015

5x5

archidirectors: cinematic visionaries imagined as architecture

needful things: revisiting the online emporium of haunted, cursed antiques

flying toasters: Dangerous Minds’ Dangerous Finds discovers that androids really do dream of dream of electronic sheep

de domús communis cura: condensed version and highlights of papal encyclical on environmental stewardship

b-moll: Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier performed by a twisting gallery of neon lights

mauvaise foi

If not for coming across an indirect quotation, I would have gone on believing that the saying “Hell is other people” was a lyric from a rock-song (I’m confusing “Hell is for children” I think) and a rather throw-away sentiment and not a line, in translation, from Jean-Paul Sartre’s one-act play No Exit. Just as words might serve us better if the title of the play Huis Clos weren’t rendered as Closed Door—or rather in chambers in the legal sense of private counsel that the phrase carries in French, it would have been truer to the original if Hell was understood as the Other.

I have grown a bit fond of learning about quotes misattributed, misremembered and miseducated lately, and if one knows anything about the French existentialist, it is those words he never said. On stage three bourgeois souls are condemned to a dreary waiting-room—not as an anteroom for something yet to come since over the course of eternity we’d adapt and resign ourselves to torture and not so much when it comes to unending anticipation. Sartre’s intent behind the line, which was the subject of curiosity and consternation, was that our judgments that we project and deflect became torturous because they parroted outside influences. What would the neighbours think? This is the damning mechanism—a relation to self and others that’s insufficient and apt to mislead but not unavoidable. I think that there was certainly a miss connection between Sartre and one essayist and theatre-critic who wrote a hundred years prior by the name of William Hazlitt. Hazlitt held that man’s chief mistake was in the delusion that one’s future self was in any way different than any other present interaction with another person. One’s future self was non-existent, emergent and determined by any number of intervening contemporary, non-aspirational encounters and to act counter, in accordance with selfishness and insecurity, is what leads people becoming inauthentic. Hazlitt was a staunch materialist, which is to say that he had no truck with immaterially things like the soul or the Forms, problematically but such an approach that could have really proved to be a saving-grace for Sartre’s inmates.

5x5

straβenverkkehrsordnung: a unique roadway configuration and the technicalities of traffic regulations means that one stop light has been red for three decades in Dresden

over the rainbow: MOMA acquires the pride flag and interviews the seamstress

four thousand holes in blackburn, lancashire: internet giant is checking computer reading-comprehension with conservative, sensational tabloids

electric babysitter: artist captures images of her children in listless, powerful moments of watching TV

raptor squat: honest-to-goodness zookeepers re-enacting pose from new Jurassic World

Thursday, 18 June 2015

von und zu oder king under the mountain

A nobiliary particle (Adelsprädikat) is such a brilliantly useful term that I feel I ought to have known existed already—being one of those things within the necessary periodicity of language that’s completed with jargon and technical talk—but didn’t have the word for. As the name implies, it is a catch-all for all those ennobling, aristocratic elements of a family that denote some sense of present or former elevation, like de, o’ (of), von, zu, af, van and others. In many cases in English the particle, which is the same as the adpositional word that form spatial relations—to, from, above, under—has become embedded in the name or just reverts to the name of the estate but clues are still given about ownership and heritage.

currently reading: hocus pocus, or what’s the hurry, son?

in which Kurt Vonnegut, JR appears as a benignly unreliable narrator, the namesake of reformer and labour rights champion Eugene Debs, to blithely contemplate the End Times in the early twenty-first century—having written the book in the final decade of the twentieth, knowing that God is not big into numerology. The phrase hocus pocus, according to some sources, is a parody of the priest’s seeming magic trick of transubstantiation during mass. Hoc est corpus meum. The first English language work to address sleight of hand and prestidigitation, incidentally, was an anonymous publication in the early seventeenth century titled Hocus Pocus Junior—which might have been the stage-name of the author.

5x5

rook to queen’s gherkin: the skyline of London in chess pieces

ossuary: sojourn around the world to reveal how the dead are kept among the living

blue harvest (dead link): Chinese theatres screen Star Wars saga for the first time nearly four decades after its release

consider yourself part of the furniture: aspirational lamp aims to earns its keep, like a character in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse

border-control: colourful gallery of world’s passports

nictotine

During the Golden Age of Exploration, French ambassador to the kingdom of Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain, undertook a voyage to the Portuguese new world colony of Brazil in 1560, bringing back with him a specimen of a tobacco plant, which he presented to the French king. The plant was studied and classified in Paris and incorporated the ambassador’s name into the scientific nomenclature—hence the chemical compound called nicotine.  Tobacco-use was promoted a defence against the plague and grew popular very quickly.  This tobacco substance was moreover as widely used as a pesticide as it was smoked, up until the 1980s when alternatives deemed less harmful to humans could be produced cheaply.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

feuilleton

Quartz presents a really fascinating and under-appreciated glimpse on the strange, strained affair that the Chinese government has with Western social-networking heralds and mavens.

The dominant sites are banned from public-consumption, although it is not as if the average Chinese citizens were unaware of their existence and most businesses and state organs maintain their own internet presence on the same blocked sites. Possibly in order to curb curiosity and assuage rebellion, the state news agency Xinhua is featuring a segment of selected tweeted and shared items to give its audience a glimpse of how China is portrayed around. The articles seem pretty anodyne and cherry-picked to cast the country in the best light, but then again most regimes have highly propagandised mouth-pieces. Learning of this and of the sobering, unfamiliar mirror universe of applications that the Chinese make do with reminded me of the living tradition of the “lectores”—that is, news-readers, of the Cuban cigar factories, which is a really rich and fascinating story in its own right. The scope is of course very different and attestedly, the individual whose job it was to read to the workers as they rolled cigars usually elevated by popular consent, there for the emendation of the others. The juxtaposition of someone first anchoring the national, official newspaper, however, and the moving on to literature in the afternoon—whether subversive, unvetted or otherwise, makes me wish that this broadcast feuilleton might prove just as entertaining and broadening.

5x5

put the needle on the record: hard-won footage of a stylus on vinyl on a microscopic-scale

your moment of zen: cat serenely balances anything placed on her foot

spoiler-alert: Interstellar’s four-dimensional finale was filmed on an actual set, not just a computer-generated green-screen

atomic gardening: lethal doses of radiation have been used since the 1950s to create heartier, mutated food-crops

moai: neglected colossal US presidential busts in search of a home

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

pulp fiction or the sackfull of news

Advances in printing and enterprising publishers of Europe’s early modern period led to an explosion of literacy and voracious appetite for reading material. Long before penny dreadfuls, comic books and social-mediums, itinerate salesmen touted a compact and cheap format called chapbooks (known as Volksbucher in German), a single sheet of paper folded to accommodate as many as twenty four pages and was stitched together rather than bound. Publishers, with low overhead and minimal exposure to the frailties of public taste, would sell supplies to sometimes hapless, wandering booksellers on credit, who went from door to door or had a booth at the market.
The seller’s prospects and the success or failure of given titles to sell provided invaluable feedback and helped determined what would be reprinted and the character of the genre. These pamphlets covered all sorts of topic, most literate adults also trying their hands at writing—history, education, health, politics, travelogues, often through anecdotal and superficially consulted sources with a repetition and formulaic approach, and often bore the viral, most popular woodcuts of the day—whether that illustration had anything to do with the content or not. Though much criticised as pap for the masses, the surviving bulk of these booklets are cultural artefacts that reveal aspects of life during the Renaissance that would not have been preserved elsewhere.

5x5

flight-path: merry prankster living near an airport welcomes fretful passengers to the wrong city

i want to believe: nature reserve in Vancouver had the most screen time of any of the X-Files stars

prefab: Chinese engineers and architects construct flat-pack skyscrapers in record time

the place of shining light: holographic projector used to recreate the Bamiyan Buddha

identity politics: 1967 Mike Wallace documentary on the homosexuals

forbidden colours or darkly adapted eye

I am not positive that the so-called chimerical colours aren’t an explanation of that dress and the phenomena doesn’t truly strike me as an optical illusion and something more akin to a more intense exercise than one subjects his or her eyes to, but nonetheless catching a fleeting glimpse of the stygian colours—that is something both dark and super-saturated, is something to behold. There are other flavours of colours outside the visual gamut, what can be displayed, reproduced, or seen due to the structure of our eyes or even imagined in the conventional sense, but these contrasting hues and resultant impossible blue are suggestive of the mythological river Styx that separated the world of the living from the underworld.

To achieve the effect, one ought to stare at the target within the yellow circle for a full minute, then glance over the black square. Staring at the bright spot fatigues certain colour and light receptors (not like an after-image burnt into a television screen) and then those receptors that are used primarily to boost night-vision are excited, and one should briefly see the contradictory spectre. Maybe some have the ability to see such things everywhere—although the concept of colours can be communicated to an extent, I suppose we never know what another person perceives, and there was probably also a time not too long ago when unnatural colours like hot-pink or the florescent- and neon-tinged ones were unheard of and novel. Other descriptors include luminous and hyperbolic, and I think it would be fun to give names to that whole spectrum of overlapping colours and challenge our brains and eyes to see the impossible. Are these chimera colours—like the hot, bitter, baby and shocking, once seen unable to be unseen or must they be conjured up every time?

Monday, 15 June 2015

everyone knows hoverboards don’t work on water

I used to pass this charity hospital chapel (Spitäle Kirche) that’s been converted into a gallery space for local artists in Würzburg almost on a daily basis while I was discovering the city.

This museum at the head of the Old Bridge over the Main below the Marienberg Fortress, once dedicated to the Fourteen Holy Helpers, always made me think of the courthouse that gets struck by lightning in Back to the Future. The first instalment of the movie trilogy was released for US Independence Day weekend exactly three decades ago and the sequel travels forward from the 1985 of the characters’ past-present thirty years to our future now of 2015 (21 October). Where are the flying cars I was promised? Maybe it really is like Alex P. Keaton said upon ordering his father to ask his mother out to the prom, “My name is Darth Vader; I am an extra-terrestrial from the planet Vulcan.”

justice served or shamers gonna shame

Writing for the Daily Beast, columnist Ben Collins, together with humourist and author Jon Ronson, confronts the grave and impending travesty of social-justice that social-media is courting to the detriment and inattention of most of the other potentially positive aspects of these different venues.

I suppose, like the general drift of the article, that memorialising faults and faux pas is a way to claim political power over others, whether or not disguised behind one or more masks or exposed, known and recognised, for otherwise pleasant and civil people who’ve no truck with politics—nor in indignities neither. Members of that good company would also not like to be confronted with past blunders, embarrassments or regrets—and one’s known by the company one keeps, but perhaps with the tremolo-courage of anonymity and expediency that has no time for manners (or reflection) they hope to bully others before they’re victims of the same treatment. What do you think? Not everyone has lost his or her shoulder angels, sense of self-censorship, and genuine yearning to learn something or have a conversation (an intellectual rather than visceral response) but in distancing ourselves from those users don’t we risk fuelling this phenomena all the same in abandoning certain forums as the domain of trolls?

sunday drive: gemünden am main

Driving back for the work-week—the weekends are always too short but the intervening time does not drag on too awfully—I decided to take the scenic route which we’d just traced the day before, exploring Lohr and that narrow projection of Bavaria that extends into Hessian territory all the way to Aschaffenburg.
 It certainly was a more pleasant experience than rumbling along the Autobahn and I took the chance to stop in the town of Gemünden am Main—so named because it is where the tributaries of the Sinn and Frankish Saale empty (the streams’ mouths) into the River Main. Naturally this confluence was a strategically important spot and sometime in the early thirteenth century the Count of Rieneck erected this castle and keep as a toll-station to control traffic and trade along the waterways.
Only ruins of Schloβ Schreneburg remain but the view is an impressive one and is now a venue for open-air concerts and a home for bats. Competing claims on the land by the dioceses of Würzburg and Fulda, especially after the line of the family Rieneck went extinct, even saw the construction of successively higher castles on the rolling hills above Scherenburg, since levelled, to dominate the Main below. The waterways are still important components of the transportation infrastructure for the region, and the rail-links that run parallel supplement the connections. I think I’ll start taking this route more often in fair weather and get a better taste of what’s here for us to discover.