Sunday, 30 August 2015

bouillabaisse

I remember noting how back in 2008 through declassified CIA service records that gourmand, connoisseur and television cooking show pioneer Julia Child had served in the OSS—the Office of Security Services, the agency’s precedent incarnation, and being rather surprised but also cognizant that thousands of other women who weren’t celebrities had to maintain absolute silence on their early careers as well, which was surely an insult after being let go at the factories and laboratories once the crisis ended and being condemned to being merely house-proud.
Bea Arthur and Doctor Ruth Westheimer are in the same class as Child with many others surely to be disclosed posthumously. Until recently, however, I had not appreciated what Child’s war-time contributions were: the Smith College graduate and heiress volunteered for a duty assignment in Ceylon, and despite having not yet discovered her passion for kitchen chemistry, undertook to develop an effect shark-repellent. Aside from attacking overboard sailors and ejected airmen, curious sharks were thwarting Allied efforts to blockade Axis submarines in southeast Asia by getting themselves blown up by mines. Heretofore, the only known shark-repellent was the rotting carcass of another dead shark, which was not a very palatable part of one’s kit. Though not a perfect deterant (which even for its faults might be added to the quiver of current beach life-guard crews), Child’s team did manage to isolate certain copper-compounds that approximated the aversion of having a dead shark in the vicinity. Child married a fellow OSS staff member and were stationed subsequently in post-war France but with only her husband commissioned as an intelligence official. Going back to those tradition house-wifely duties, Child was introduced to French cuisine as sort of a transfiguring experience and became resolved to share this joy of cooking—plus the consumption, pairing of wine with meals—with a wider audience and worked passionately toward this goal rather than resigning into the background. Bon appetit!

dodona and di-oscuri

In one of its latest acquisition released for all, the Public Domain Review presents the 1898 illustrated ethnographical exposition on bird-watching in the Bird Gods by Charles de Kay with decorations by George Wharton Edwards.  The book opens with a strong injunction against those who’d seek to preen their own image with furs, skins, plumage and big-game trophies, written at a time just after the herds of buffalo were wiped out in North America and about a decade before the passenger pigeon went extinct and goes on to address the cultural and religious connotations attributed to auguries in action and in their natural habitat.

Pigeon-fanciers might already be in the know when it comes to the extensive catalogue of metaphorical associations (a truce) connected with this breed of bird, but the notion that dovecotes are allegorically thought to represent the treasury of souls in-waiting (a containment unit) was new to me, as well as the personified traits given to all the fowls of field and forest—like woodpeckers as locksmiths and by extension, SWAT teams, crows as tailors, the cuckoos as manifestations of foundlings (Young Arthur being nicknamed Egg), or that placing an oath upon a swan (compare the old-timey expression I swanny or the German saying, “es schwanet mir”—it makes me shudder, like saying someone’s walking on my grave carries an obligation to be true to one’s word, since the graceful birds are known for being discrete and mute, except for the occasional hiss and honk, they’ll confess all during their swan song, its final dirge. Be sure to check out the Public Domain Review’s extensive archives and well-curated collections for more forgotten treasures.

fordlândia

Lensing the past giants of business and industry through the ephemera of the 1932 World’s Fair held in Chicago, JF Ptak’s Science Book Store captures the bombast and the scale of the pavilions’ instructive nature, especially for the apprentice public on the worshipful subjects of consuming and manufacture.
Before this grand showing, however, I learnt that there was another Fordlândia that predated the theme park by only a few years. Moralising industrialist and automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, wanting to avoid market volatility with the chief suppliers of natural rubber for his car tyres (the British Malay Peninsula enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the resource) purchased a huge tract of land from the Brazilian government in the Amazon Rainforest to develop a rubber tree plantation and tyre factory. True to his cult of personality, Ford provided amenable American style dormitory housing for his workers but forbade any loose behaviour, no wine, women or song, on the campus. The native workforce were not drinking the Kool-Aid however and snuck away to the Island of the Donkey Boys in the evenings. Over the years too there were several strikes and all out revolts over poor working conditions and values that the Amazon Indians did not ascribe to. Fordlândia floundered for years, plagued with dissatisfied workers and early hints at the impact of deforestation and mono-cultures that made the yield less than expected, but was finally abandoned and returned to Brazil in 1945 with the advent of cheap synthetic rubber in circa 1945 (by competitor Benjamin Franklin Goodrich under contract with General Motors) spurred by the escalation of US involvement in World War II.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

geoid projection

Via the media maven and Internet Caretaker, Joanne Casey, comes this brilliant little invention to keep in one’s back pocket—a street map printed on a stress ball, which magnifies the area one squeezes. It’s certainly more fun as a memento of one’s travels than some ephemera that one has to carefully fold or winds up tossing away, and interesting to think how the distortions that haunt the globe projected onto a flat surface are harnessed in this reversal of grid on a round surface. Follow the links to purchase one of these Egg Maps, available only for Budapest for now but sure to soon cover a city near you.

5x5

camouflage: beautiful landscapes with human figures painted in

midnight oil: astronomers find a pair of super-massive black-holes fueling a very luminous quasar

vitrification: a demonstration of 3-dimensional printing with molten glass

elementary: twelve occasions where Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes crossed-over

not from concentrate: a fascinating look at the Prohibition era wine-brick that saved the vineyards, via Nag on the Lake

social studies or regression to the mean

The brilliant Mind Hacks covers the landmark project that explores the reproducibility of classical experiments in cognitive science and psychology. The credence of the discipline, especially for some of the more dogmatic factions of academics and the public, is now hanging—not without controversy, on whether some of the foundational trials can be replicated with the same assuring results.

 The outcome is looking mixed—and for better or worse, no one can say, it does not seem as if the hallmarks of psychology and behavioural health practises are based on robust principles and may be driven more by publication-bias or the environment of care, coddling and what’s normative as a whole. This sort of peer-review and consistency is of course what makes or breaks research in other fields, and fraud should be weeded-out. Interestingly, much of Sigmund Freud’s archived sessions are still secret and not accessible to anyone some two centuries on—which is pretty ironic, I think, since Freud chiefly argued that repression will always out—mostly in strange and destructive ways. What do you think? This project does not necessarily invalidate what we not about psychology by highlighting the weaker argument but rather points to those areas which we can investigate with greater assurance. I am just afraid that these results will be communicated to the public in a way that sews distrust and rejection.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

e at delphi or the power is yours

According to legend, the location of panhellenic oracle at Delphi—sacred specifically Apollo but also the whole panoply of the gods—was fixed when Zeus dispatched two eagles in opposite directions to find the geographic centre of the Earth (the navel, ομφος of Gaia, Mother Earth—the name Delphi too is a near homonym for the Greek word for womb). Having circumnavigated the globe, the eagles collided above the slopes of Mount Parnassus and so by this unfortunate augury it was decided. The midair crash makes me think about the silly exchange between the uncatchable Teumessian Fox and the magical hound Laelaps who was destined to capture anything it chased—paradoxical nonsense that Zeus put to a stop by turning both beasts into stone, and setting them among the stars—Canæ Major and Minor. The sanctuary played host to sibilant soothsayers for centuries and attracted the patronage of the rich and powerful, whom for a donation, could entreat the Pythia for a suggested donation amount—all tributes and treasure artefacts of the wealthy trying to outdo one another.
Such gifts were left in hopes of currying favour with the gods and to gain some purchase on their prophesy—one which promised to be duplicitous and if the question was not framed careful, they risked an ironic demise. Not every donation was precious in the traditional or artistic sense, however, and probably the most enigmatic token was a simple letter E carved into a wall of a temple. No one really knows its meaning but Plutarch—a contemporary and friend of the high priestess, a retainer of the oracle—speculates in a rather in depth dialogue about what it could signify. Called E at Delphi (which always made me think of some diner, Eat at Delphi’s), Plutarch’s work underscores the singular nature of this inscription, which appears alongside two other famous dictums—Know Thy Self and Everything in Moderation. The intent already unknown and a bit of a mystery for visitors to guess about, Plutarch’s characters debate suggestions that the E could be the Greek numeral five—maybe a station of the tour and ritual, the verb form Thou Art, declined as an exclamation, or a hale and hearty greeting (pronounced like “aye”) from the god himself.
Despite the elite nature of the site—certainly not open to all seekers and the opening hours were rather restrictive, requiring a Delphic sponsor, a citizen of the settlement that grew up around the oracle, and sessions were only held on the seventh day of the month, Apollo’s day, and during long Greek summer—the nine months out of the year when snowbird Apollo dwelt in Greece before retiring to live among the Hyperborei (maybe the Britons) and Dionysus wintered in Greece—the panhellenic nature of the spot that opposed local patriotism and cults that was otherwise politically pervasive for the Greek people was really novel and Delphi and its traditions functioned in a sense like a central bank, a repository of wealth that was universally recognised. Those walls no longer stand, but other relics from that treasury have survived, scattered, like the bronze serpent column now in the hippodrome of Istanbul, brought from Delphi (in probably a bad choice of war trophies, in a karmic sense) to commemorate an ancient victory of the Greeks over the Persians. Perhaps, though, the E is enduring as well, abiding in a mystery that is as cryptic as the advice of the Sibyl.

5x5

found footage: transform crisp, high-definition videos into 1980s camcorder quality

23 and me: Æon magazine explores the ethics of genetic omniscience

used in a sentence: author composes stories taken from dictionary examples

huitzilopochtli, chutzpah: University of Connecticut fighting Hummingbirds

boondocks: a look at how language and culture define the Hinterland 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

press-gang or 1812 overture

While the deportment of history—when one scratches the surface—shows affairs to be far otherwise, international largess, hegemony seems reserved as a soft-power to just a select few or active belligerents, an encouraging word to play along. Learning a little bit, however, about the long-lived British practise of impressment. Comparable to the phenomena that goes by the name of crimping or shanghaiing, so called press-gangs of the Admiralty, in lieu of a standing order for conscription or compulsory service, the privileged purchase of impressment was enjoyed from the times of George I until the early nineteenth century by English navies.
This practise of policing the idle and the incorrigible into service at sea was widespread and took place at sailors’ haunts by hook or by crook, with the poor having no recourse other than to oblige themselves to a fixed term aboard that was subject to multiple extensions with pay offset by half a year and no defined career track for non-officers. Any by-stander might fall prey to this scheme—especially merchant seamen that betray some degree of acumen. As tensions in European waters increased in post-revolutionary France, Britain believed it had a moral right to impressment, and revisiting one of the many issues left unresolved in the American War for Independence—once Canadian had had its limit with poaching—Britain refused to recognise the concept of naturalisation—that is, renouncing one’s subjecthood in order to gain citizenship and enter the employ of the more profitably import-export business. The acquisition of this labour-force (and of course the pay for commercial shipping was far better than service for king and country), in the pall of the Napoleonic wars, ignited the conflicts of 1812. The northern US states attested that such conscription was routine, sealed by a shilling sunk in a drink, while the South was vocally against this kind of slavery and the federalist prerogative. Never an attempt to reclaim the North American colonies but rather with the aim of destabilising revolutionary forces, this bone of contention and forced repatriation makes me think of the uniquely American habit (Uganda is also party, to the denunciation of the US) of universal taxation and burgeoning desire to leave it all. It strike me as if there is a bit of no quarter to be found here either, no matter what civil society has previously conceded to—like living off the grid or shedding one’s birth-rite. What do you think? Are we all still so impressed to allegiance to one system or other and left with little choice?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

de minimis or new wine in old skins

In opposition to tenants and articles central to keeping the faith, there is the handy Greek term adiaphora that refers to those matters that one can leave or take—like, I suppose the holier-than-thou high-ground, that goes by cafeteria Christianity and related sleights. This originally Stoic concept means indifference—neither good nor bad, accepting of a certain latitude or license in organisation and practise—careful, however, not to pollute the conscious of one’s neighbour by lapsed and liberal behaviour. For something considered optional or neutral, there’s a pretty important lesson behind it—sometimes the law does deal with trifles.

you only live twice

Though by no means defined solely by any one role—which includes leading male in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and Darby O’Gill and the Little People, retired Scottish actor and producer Sean Connery’s most recognisable part was in the James Bond continuum. All future and past incarnations of the character the actor brilliantly limned are together to wish their primogenitor a hale and hearty eighty-fifth birthday.

Monday, 24 August 2015

suddenly seymour

In the on-going weirdness of my pet Venus Flytrap, after having erected a little sacrificial altar that lured several bees to their doom—and whose dessicated bodies have now been disgorged as the plant reopened its gaping maws, unsure whether this is a sign of grave displeasure or satisfaction, being sated, or whether the partially digested bodies are bait for bigger prey. Now, in a strange twist, the anemone-like bloom of a bunch of little, delicate white flowers has unfolded (I did not realise that they got flowers in the first place, much less such pretty ones but then again we’ve seen a lot of strange little bouquets on our veteran plants) and I wonder if I dare expose it to potential pollinators, since surely that will herald the beginning of the alien invasion. Da-doo!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

lunchtime safari oder it takes a village

Just south of the looming skyline of Frankfurt am Main in the foothills of the Taunus lies the Opel Zoo, founded by automotive magnate, benefactor and animal-lover Georg von Opel near the brand’s first factory complex in Rüsselsheim in the early 1950s as originally a research facility and preserve that grew around Opel’s own country villa. The word village, incidentally, is derivative (and not the other, self-sufficient way around) as the community of logistic-support for whatsoever great house. The inability of the municipality to care adequately for a trio of adopted circus elephants began the whole enterprise, which would evolve to save some species, like the Mesopotamian fallow-deer from extinction—though no longer extant in the wild.
I told H that I was happy to have the chance to see my people again so soon and we trekked through scores of installations, all expertly maintained and strikingly spacious and appropriately interactive, with swarms of hungry, tame goats to navigate through. Mostly we tried to pose with the inmates to our mutual success but the habitats constructed and selection in this Tiergarten was quite impressive, the whole menagerie seemingly at home and adapted to German climate—not because it’s gotten hotter and more sultry here but rather as a model of sustainability and accommodation, which is no small feat, especially for a small, private endowment.
There were parallel ranges for familiar creatures, like foxes, elk and deer with giraffes, camels and bison. Raccoons, mongooses, pythons and company, too. We had a bite to eat that surveyed the whole park below at the end of our little safari. The zoo was certainly worth the visit and I hope there’s more places like this—independent and impassioned because the difference is telling and appreciable, to discover and explore.

sprüdelhof, badehaus

Over the weekend, H and I took a day trip to the northern suburbs of Frankfurt am Main and visited the ensemble of bath houses, an incredible Jungendstil (Art Nouveau) tribute to hydrotherapy, known as the Sprudelhof, for curative techniques developed there—an effervescent, carbonated bath that was used to treat nervous diseases. The compound reminded me of the artists’ enclave Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt with its dominating Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower) and collection of other stunningly beautiful buildings.
As many other spa towns at the turn of the century, Bad Nauheim attracted many celebrities, including those of the scientific community. I had seen that iconic class-photograph of past, present and future laureates previously but had not realised that it was taken during a conference held on these grounds. Another influential luminary that often visited, as a child, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was brought there numerous times to take the waters. Not only did these memories later inspire FDR to build his own health spa, he also ordered that Bad Nauheim be spared Allied bombing during the war, despite its proximity to Frankfurt and to one of Hitler’s command centres—called Adlerhorst, the eagle’s eyrie (nest) and often conflated with theKehlsteinhaust near the Austrian border.
The complex is still a temple of wellness but seems to have lost either its exclusive luxury or democratic access—I’m not sure which but very happy the elegant, moderne setting was preserved and there to enjoy. Elvis Presley was also stationed there in the years just after the war—and though not as famous as the crosswalk on Abbey Road, used one of the gates of the town as cover art for his album, Hunk o’ Love.

Friday, 21 August 2015

asylsuchenden

With massive overcrowding in shelters and resources already under great strain, it ought not to be a surprise that tensions among refugees encamped are rising and tragically, there will be more violent flashpoints.
There was an incident in nearby by Suhl, that awful and uncivil as it was, that has been, I believe, wrongly classified as a hate-crime (a bias-based incident, to wit) whereas—with no excuse or solution forthcoming, the stress of the moment and environment did not allow for much pre-meditation—though putting a Quran in the toilet is not exactly blind passion either. Discomfort and fear is no excuse for bad conduct that’s making a bad situation far worse, but the leap to intolerance, rather than reflecting on finding ways to improve the stability of the homelands one is leaving or that some people just are jerks or that riots are bound to break out and there might be ways to mitigate them, is pressuring officials to call for segregating the Balkan refugees from the Syrians and the Afghans. Given the lack of shelter and support, separation does not seem like a feasible solution, and it rings to me a bit disingenuous if not paradoxical since integration and broadmindedness are being thrust at both guest and host but pandering to the prejudices of the few are spoiling the response and reception.

stadials and glacials

Listening to a really engrossing panel discussion of geologic ice ages and the usual state of affairs of the planet Earth—how the drama has gone on for æons without of intervention or influence and what level of detail can be teased from the rock and sediment of how the inaccessible past looked, I felt a little sad that although those taking part in the discussion saw no need for some moralising postscript because it still felt rather grubby and contrarian to be talking about the topic, though strictly in the framework of billions of years and the science of geology, without addressing the weather—and made one feel like a climate-change denier. People tend to shy away from taking about vaccines, evolution or the politics of race, irrespective of the setting, to avoid controversy and being tagged with such a label and science suffers, as does the way such things are debated and understood in the public sphere.
The language of academics seems almost more relaxed than the choice words of journalists and pundits, and I was delighted to be instructed. For the past fifty million years or so to the present day, the Earth has been experiencing an ice age, by the definition that there is permanent ice at one or both poles, and the Earth has been making the transition from Icehouse to Greenhouse conditions for all its history. Though the intensity of the cycles have varied and have gotten somewhat less extreme out of consideration for the living organisms there to witness these shifts (and the Earth has been mostly a hot-house—with only some fifteen percent of the geological record attesting to a colder climate), researchers believe that it’s the cusps of these changes that drive evolutionary development, the emergence of the creatures that would become us corresponds with switch that began about fifty million. The imbalance of climatic change—or the reason there are such variations in the first place, has to do with geography driven by tectonic shift: without a landmass near or at the top or the bottom of the world there is no polar ice and oceanic currents also play a big role, like the blockage of the Isthmus of Panama or the massive southern sea that encircles Antarctica that keeps warmer water at bay. Whereas Icehouse Earth has presented in the distant itself more like icy Europa and Greenhouse Earth has been a far more watery and steamy place, the carbon-dioxide that human industry and occupation has released into the shrinking wilds has pushed our greenhouse gases beyond the levels that Nature can tolerate in an Ice Age—as my sanctimonious coda. I wonder how the New North will fare?

Thursday, 20 August 2015

hypersurface

The Public Domain Review invites to delve into the fourth dimension with a spectacular gallery of diagrams that anticipate the concept of spacetime and non-Euclidean geometries by British mathematician and science-fiction author Charles Howard Hinton—who first coined the term tesseract (from the Greek τέσσερεις ακτίνες for the four rays that bridge the gap from the edges to the outer vertices) to describe the projection of a cube through a higher facet. As six square faces “net” into a cube, a tesseract—to be depicted in a two dimensional, flat environment—with its twenty-four faces rather defies experience and visualisation and unlike a sphere, cube or pyramid that’s only presented in one way (or perhaps two, rotated—folded or unfolded and face-on), and can be represented in a number of alternate ways (animation helps, and as with any process, some assembly-required) including the iconic cruciform study of Salvador Dalí or the hypercube of La Défense in Paris—a post-modern interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

überall or computer says no

A fascinating feature article by Frank Pasquale, writing for Æon magazine, called the Digital Star Chamber is an excellent articulation of some of the fears that harboured when comes the faith we’ve vested in the unaccountable algorithms and the predictive models that produce. The story is told through the lens of the new class of instaserfs who’ve entered into a contractual relationship, albeit voluntarily, that’s very much of balance and crushing for the entrepreneurial spirit.
Not only is the potential for mischaracterisation tremendous, not without human bias and prejudice but subject to the same slant as racial profiling and stereotyping despite being computer generated—the collected demographics and dossiers of markets have real world consequences beyond targeted advertisements, like the ability to get a loan or not due to the deportment of one’s neighbours or predictive purchasing habits, allowed on an aeroplane or into a foreign country, with whom one is mated, what kind of medical treatment that one receives, or even how one’s own shingle, enterprise, is framed. Such judgements were always there is formulae that companies employ for determining a good or bad risk, but now even the criteria themselves are obscured and there is no chance for appeal. Of course, in a broad sense algorithms must provide a a functional gauge and reliable measure, despite our instinct to style ourselves other than average, otherwise there would be no longevity to such routines and recipes and they are forever being manipulated in mysterious ways. It is nothing new or novel to compartmentalise individual behaviour for study, nor unfortunately is it a new development to blindly trust the results insofar as they are mechanical and supposedly non-judgemental.  Our reliance and deference, however, becomes very perilous considering how exposed we have allowed ourselves to become transparent and vulnerable as opposed to the voyeuristic and inscrutable number-crunching systems that stalk our every real and assumed step.  What do you think?  How ought such prowling agents be held to account?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

5x5

to boldly go: Nichelle Nichols’ Star Trek workout

cartel: film camera company squashed a digital camera design forty years ago

remains of the day: durable vegetal leather reclaimed from market day leftovers, via Nag on the Lake

: the UK is road-testing a special lane that recharges electric automobiles as they go

retrofile: 1970s gallery of stock photography shows how little we’ve progressed in marketing sophistication 

Monday, 17 August 2015

samapātti or avatar

Partially motivated out of neglecting to graciously receive the Dalai Lama when he came to me and missing a yoga session in succession but mostly out of a curiosity for reverence, I took a detour north during the weekly commute to return to Limburg and attend a meditation session with Mutter Meera, an incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess, Shakti, in her home below Schloß Schaumburg in the village of Balduinstein.
Careful not to misrepresent a divinity (though there’s certainly much to be gained by that industry) and there was certainly no pressure to make a donation or elaborate self-promotion, despite a quick study, I was not sure what to expect or what was expected in terms of protocol. After I had arrived, finding the hall pretty full already—a bigger audience than I had thought, one of the ushers asked me if this was my first time and sat me nearly directly in front of the presentation place. I was not the first to approach Mutter Meera, so I watched and had some idea of how to deport myself. Unshod, row by row, we inched from the back of the hall when called up to the dais, and prostrate, the avatar placed her hands on our heads and recalibrated our chakras then looked us in the eyes for an instant. I sort of felt like when I had queued up at the Vatican to touch the feet of Saint Peter and kind of rushed myself through it, cognizant of those behind me, sort of fearful that I would start laughing hysterically or manage to spill the contents of my pockets as I arose and couldn’t really immerse myself in the experience—regrettably.
Something sank in, however—not an immediate bolt that made me feel that I suddenly had my head on right, but rather as I returned to my seat and held that gaze in my mind and got to watch the rest of the audience—mostly veterans, I thought, with all their anticipations and expectations to unburden go through the same ritual up close. Some had worn holey socks, like I worried about, some betrayed a little smirk afterwards, and others I believe were a little starry-eyed just afterwards from the head-rush of having crawled across the floor, but judgment was somehow absented in the quiet procession, which is no mean task. The darshan (blessing) of silence and at minimum the opportunity for reflection that admitted no trappings of showmanship was something I am glad that I sought out (despite and because of the nasty weather that precluded routine investigation of the nice surroundings) this shared experience and hopefully have some positive energy to impart.

sampler or some pig

My mother shared with me this striking photo- graph of a rather inti- midating spider she spied in her garden. I’d seen such a big spider, called an argiope (silver- faced and named after a water nymph), once before, for whom a humming-bird or minnow wouldn’t be out of its weight-class (predators take on weird, liminal proportions when they’ll take on something bigger than a fly and especially with its doubled-up pouncing stance that announces it’s beyond the arthropods and in fact quadrupedal) but the web its weaved is particularly striking. I wonder whether the distinct zig-zag pattern, the signature I learnt of a male of the species, represents a kind of stitching sampler (and may well come to spell out something, like Charlotte’s Web, or suitable for framing or a throw-pillow), a repair to damage caused by some bumbling giant, or reinforcement executed with foresight. Any answer is pretty remarkable.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

5x5

ready for my close-up: a look at the directorial epic flop about a woman scorned, Madame Satan

worth 1000: iconic emojis that art history students would appreciate and we could all employ

neon-natal: an old street lamp flashes in silent celebration each time a baby is born in Ghent

seat-cushion becomes a floatation device: Victorian life-preserver and personal entertainment centre

patience: the real reason behind the inclusion of the classic games-bundle was to teach dexterity

an evening’s entertainment or byob

The ever-inquiring Nag on the Lake introduces a fascinating sociological phenomenon captured in the ephemera collected by poet and reformer Langston Hughes—intrigued by the little rhyming couplets on the header of invite cards, Hughes amassed quite a number of them when he first came to Harlem in the mid-1950s, that document the plight that black tenents faced in New York City from the 1920s onwards. Low wages combined with price gouging in certain boroughs meant that renters often needed to resort to creative measures (crowd-funding, I guess we would call it today) in order to meet monthly obligations. Many apartments opened up for house parties—which for a nominal entrance fee (refreshments not included), neighbours were treated to a night of music, dancing, card playing and general merry making. Proceeds helped the tenants to bridge the shortfall. Those invitations that Hughes held on to are housed in a special collection at the library of Yale University.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

her father beat the system by moving bricks to brixton

Hearing news of small-batch artisanal money being minted not to be collectible (while it surely is for a chance to get a Bowie or a Gromit back in change) but to be exchanged for goods and services on a very local level and to supplement the more widely acknowledged legal tender—at parity, it made me think of how for all the woes of globalisation, the phenomenon of hegemony, integration and degredation of native traditions and customs, it does also contain its own antithesis. The anti-globalisation movement is a global one itself and can, especially now thanks to the availability and access of communication, harness some of the same driving factors. Coordinating protests and fund-raisers worldwide among kindred strangers is probably the most apparent example, but evidence of the upside to globalisation is also found in these handsomely crafted bills, the organic and slow food movement, urban victory gardens, seeking out farmers’ markets and locally produced goods, and the increasing number of participants in the so called sharing economy.

rapture-ready or recursive self-improvement

In the labour market, the concerns about mass redundancy due to advances in robotics is undeniable and computing has gotten quite good at putting on at least a friendly persona, a clever mask for its subroutines that make it possible for the user (client) to engage with it.  Maybe humanity’s enduring and abiding mystery is a bit of a conceit itself, and surely the spark of conscious, self-awareness is dulled some if it only amounts to a convincing though banal chat with an automated customer service telephone tree, judged effective if the result is customer satisfaction.

The Singularity does not necessarily follow—and if it did, artificial intelligence won’t partake of the same negative and positive aspects of human character—on it’s own accord, at least, and needing human agency—like greed, ambition, kindness or curiosity that we would like to ascribe to it. Such an incubation period, even if at infinite speeds, does not given guarantee a survival instinct or evolutionary drive—gestating in an environment where it can only know, if know at all, those traits as abstractly material. There may only come a point when the robotics industry has taken all the jobs, writes sitcoms and the news, are our interstellar ambassadors, controls the economy and the defense apparatus—but by Jove, they’ll still be us curmudgeonly humans, managed but still with the advantage of being conscious, whatever benefit that affords. Maybe the Singularity is like the way that some fundamentalist Christian sects interpret the Rapture, the End of Days—for those not left behind (that is, made unemployable by the robot masters) they’ll be the chance for some sort of ersatz biological or uploaded immortality. What do you think? Are we just forever refashioning our hopes and fears?

5x5

pastafarian: avatar of the divine flying spaghetti monster spotted underseas

umbrella corporation: a web search engine redefines it corporate profile

hall-tree and hutch: Dangerous Minds explores how sci-fi films require long, branching corridors

fun house: revisiting Lucas Samaras’ 1966 mirrored room installation

baumbastik: a visit to the small Alpine village of Neuschönau and the world’s longest tree-top trail

Thursday, 13 August 2015

hand of glory

With the collapse of the banking system in Greece, a threatened haircut for private accounts and even the strict rationing of access to money, much of the affected population is understandably still wary of entrusting their wealth to any such institution. This lack of confidence and the physical lack of a safe place to park one’s money—the tycoons and magnates can be more resourceful and liquid, as the magnificent BLDGBlog inspects has led many stashing their cash and valuables under the mattress, and burglars are keenly aware of this shift.  Meanwhile, residents are resorting to creative methods of do-it-yourself security-measures in order to stave off or at least discourage break-ins.

I think that this practise and trend won’t stop at the borders and there will be an artistic revival in robbery and defense—skills that have very much atrophied as it was formerly more profitably and less risky to seek out victims virtually and at a distance or to simply exploit and abuse under a legal ægis—that, or just making neighbourhoods more gentrified. This scary and traumatic new landscape reminds me of some of the superstitious rites and rituals that I have encountered in my latest reading assignment: the Golden Bough, which goes into ethnographic detail over some of the totems and talismans that both crooks and potential victims employ.  The so called hand of glory—which sounds like a slumber party game, is a corruption of the word for mandrake root, which was also believed to possess paralyzing magical properties, but evolved into the ceremony of taking a desiccated, dismembered hand of some infamous master-criminal (although, like with the lucky rabbit’s foot not really a charm for the unfortunate rabbit, one wonders how the culprit was caught or lost that hand in the first place) mummified and given a candle to hold, which would supposedly render the inhabitants of the dwelling being burgled immobile. Various other gruesome candles made of the tallows of cadavers that met their fate in specific ways make the thief invisible or otherwise impervious and evade discovery or capture. As a recourse, victims could toss a voodoo doll, an effigy into a bramble bush to ensure that the thief would be caught and justice would be served. I wonder if in this new environment, where abstract things like a store of wealth becomes again made real, a regression that some of the sheltered, privileged classes will regard as positively medieval, new amulets and charms will be invented for the inventory of coping.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

unit of account

After all the concerted efforts to take the wind out of the sails of the various movements that called for fundamental economic reform and the overhaul of usurious and predatory lending practises by shaming, as it were, the indebted with some kind of defective moral flagrancy and inability to curb one’s own spending habits—invoking the osmosis of trickle-down and sop-it-up finances, it strikes me as odd and ironic that this time out of any is called forth as a uniquely disparaging hardship. Invoking the historic notion of jubilee, debt-forgiveness, only illustrates—to my mind, that this problem has visited humanity many times before and modern times is inviting another great reckoning. The popular and somewhat intuitive account for the situation that we all recognise is that barter and trade led to the gradual invention of representative, fiat money as a unit of account and a store of wealth and then to the idea of credit and debt as a sort of virtual currency. And while such a progression seems plausible, I do not think we would have bounded our self-appraisals—the value of our civility to others or even placed a bounty on our not forcibly occupying the lands of another down to something of finite, quantifiable worth.
Plus the ethnographical evidence over an society ever taking the leap to bargaining one cow for a coin redeemable for fifty hens, an acre of pasturage or some repairs to one’s hearth and home as a matter of course is sorely absent and there was no such model economy, as far as we know. With the advent of monetary vehicles, such exchanges were reserved for settling a peace or arranging a proper dowry and union between families and gift-giving persisted on the intimate level—reciprocation and something owed being implicit although returning something of equal esteem would have been regarded, across all cultures, as an insult and as sign of settling accounts and wanting nothing more to do with the relationship. It seems that the progression is reversed and our self-worth looms just as large—only that just a select few—the one percent, have the luxury of creating wealth out of abstractions.  From little to nothing, infinite graces can be tapped and flooded, like the familiar parable of the tulip craze that caused the first stock market implosion or the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church. Imaginative inflation is surely tethered to obligations rather than the accounting sleight of hand, compulsion and exploitation that buoy up the system. Debt and credit is mutually antagonising and though banksters and their ilk are hardly afforded a kindness, there is only a fast-drying well of sympathy for those on the receiving end of the ledger. Those who would dismiss the suffering of those reduced to poverty and desperation, the Greeks and the migrants that would pull everything asunder like their homelands, as a character defect, are themselves overestimating their obedience and abeyance, as it’s only a vanishing difference of a few tenuous degrees that’s purchased that security—albeit a false and vulnerable one. I would wager that many individuals crushed by debts—even many beaten down by inherited ones and knowing no other condition, would place a far higher price on regaining credibility and thriving than those who’ve merely managed to keep up with payments and appeasing one’s own creditors—which doesn’t seem like a very heroic moral high-ground after all.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

awimbawe

Learning the other day that the coastal west African nation of Sierra Leone was so named by Portuguese explorers for how its promontory mountain range looked from the sea like a sleeping lion, I was struck about how little I gave much of a thought to the vast and variegated continent. Whereas the doo-wop song was originally a Zulu piece composed in South Africa, whereas I thought the name was a colour like Burnt Sienna, whereas I feel confident that I am not alone in this omission, and whereas I reserved a bit of a purchase on the region by knowing before all the dread news of refugees and communicable disease and blood diamonds that Liberia had a special relationship with the United States by having formed the vague idea that it was somehow founded by freed slaves, I suppose that most people out of Africa regard it as some sort of terrible incubator of the above ills.

While our sleeping lioness is no stranger to the usual litany of exploitation, corruption and mismanagement that’s understood somehow to be endemic—though recently and uniquely a seated government was ousted democratically and went away in abeyance with the vote instead of holding fast to power and there is a marked degree of religious tolerance, it is the overshadowing, cursorily familiar origin of its neighbour that tells this country’s story. Liberia, with its counties of Maryland, Mississippi and Monrovia, named for US president James Monroe, is rather a singular peculiar in the scramble of colonialism being that it was founded under the auspices of a society rather than by a European power. Though the membership of this society were committed abolitionists in sentiment and action (whose rolls of donors included Abraham Lincoln), the society believed, like the British sending power of Sierra Leone, that the solution lied ultimately in repatriation. Once the Empire had outlawed slavery at home and abroad, the protectorate of Sierra Leone came to embody a studious endeavour in sending Africans back to Africa, regardless of course whether the diaspora had lived in western, coastal Africa beforehand or whether they had been in Europe, the Caribbean, or America their entire lives. It really wilts whatever unformed and tenuous idea of Liberia I held beforehand, making it into a place of resettlement for individuals that could not be integrated into the milieu of polite society. Sandwiched between the British colony and the French land of the Ivory Coast, without the protection of a world power behind it, Liberia’s territorial integrity was under constant threat and suffered significant losses. This perception of neglect engendered feelings of resentment and disappointment with America.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

5x5

markov-chain: a sub-reddit that harnesses the property of memorylessness by and for robots

memory & function (& memory): Nag on the Lake keeps us updated on what is afoot in Scarfolk, a township forever trapped in the 1970s

le grand huit: hundreds of brightly coloured café chairs form a static roller coast in Nantes

tempest in a tea cup: an interesting look at the anti-saccharine movement and the fickle sweet-tooth of Percy Bysshe Shelley who boycotted sugar and other staples that drove the slave trade in the Empire

spaceship earth: celebrating Star Trek’s pushing the envelop with George Takei

Saturday, 8 August 2015

tow the line or beyond the bumper sticker

Via Neatorama comes a cavalcade of crap to proudly show one’s party affiliation for the rather crowded class of contenders. I feel much sorrow for our American friends and what they’re about to be subjected to—no matter who pulls into the lead, and I sincerely hope that the candidates had no input whatsoever into what awful, hokey merchandise that there names are attached to. I couldn’t imagine any of this going through the paces of an official endorsement.
I suppose some of these high-ticket, collectibles could be a way of individual donors getting around campaign contribution limitations, but I do not know for sure.  Take a look at the full emporium at Gizmodo in case you find yourself in need of a Clinton beer coozie or a Bush guacamole bowl or a signed copy of the US constitution by an independent candidate. Given these dynastic struggles, I am not even sure what decade it is over there.

© and so say we all

Featured on the ever-excellent Boing Boing, writer Glenn Fleishman explores the fascinating and unexpected struggle over copyrights, ownership and lapsed licenses through the lens of the infamous and unnaturally long-lived legal wrangling of the Sisters Hill and the Happy Birthday song.
Perpetuated by the descendants in hopes of securing royalties for each instance that the song appears in television or film—for which it’s conspicuously absent and usually replaced with a rousing and somewhat incongruous chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” the unsettled lawsuits have really overshadowed the professional lives and scholarship of the pioneering Patty and Mildred Hill, who were respectively, at a time when most women did not have vocations, an early childhood educational theorist and an ethnomusicologist. Patty even worked with German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel, whose wooden unit blocks (Fröbelgaben) we all know, and helped to introduce the concept of these educational toys to the States. For a white girl, Mildred really had some soul and championed so called black music as a national treasure to be cherished. Later the sisters collaborated on musical compositions for school children, eventually producing the celebratory tune. No one is trying to rob their children and grandchildren of a birthright but this singular case (another type of block or brick, Lego, is maybe something comparable) illustrates a lot of the tricks behind creative-controls and the integrity of invention.

Friday, 7 August 2015

5x5

ration card: the wartime UK version of Monopoly had to make concessions to the fighting effort

cosmopolitan: beautiful overhead views of world cities

pet sounds: Cornell University digitised their huge library of animal calls and bird-song

sakoku or ttp: nineteenth century Japanese woodcuts of exotic, visiting Americans after America insisted on diplomatic ties

isobar: Stockholm airport invites passengers to experience the weather at their destination before departing

pequod

Via the Everlasting Blort comes a really keen vignette from the archives of Brain Pickings on an almost two year project undertaken by artist Matt Kish to illustrate, page by page, the entirety of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale using mixed media and found canvases in the form of discarded paperbacks. Melville himself labored almost to the day the same amount of time to author his great work. There’s an evocative gallery of artwork to peruse that really stirs the observer to reflect on all the complex themes and motifs aloft in that story—the action of the drama contrasted with the poetic mediation that defies the usual literary architecture.

5x5

warp factor: speed ratings of the fastest space ships in the galaxy

a gossip of mermaids: a delightful compilation of supernatural, ghoulish collective nouns, via the Wunderkammer that is Nag on the Lake

bling: uncompromisingly luxurious wrist watch that has an iWatch on the underside

plastic arts: prototype demonstration of a motorized sculpting glove

ennuigi: arcade game betrays Mario’s brother’s existential woes, world-weariness

psychobabble

The resplendent blog Mind Hacks confronts us with an elucidating list of fifty terms native to the industry—call them jargon or what you will—that ought to be avoided or especially refined from the way they are popularly featured and consumed. This catalogue of “maven” vocabulary is rather like the presumptuous way that connoisseurs describe, experientially and lusciously, the act of wine tasting, “velvety while a bit twiggy with a hint of brisk after-shave and the surprising suggestion of a soggy bonnet.” This warrant to speak of a nip in such rarefied language is a direct inheritance of the idea of dining libations as a medicinal complement to balance one’s humours, unsurprisingly like the prognoses and diagnoses of mental and behavioural conditions that fall under the protection of a certain ægis. Some words are better put back in the cabinet.  Such florid and expressive terms of the cognizanti that try to gain a purchase on unique cases ought not be banished from polite mention but should be used to forward dialogue on the common currency.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

spoilers ahoy or mise-en-scène

Via Dangerous Minds’ Dangerous Finds, comes this brilliant cinematic critique of the current trend in Hollywood blockbusters’ expositions that have become impenetrably complex, byzantine and shamelessly porous. Rather than a simple, straightforward—however unlikely—plot that can be pitched in a few word, like if the secretary fails to type under forty words per minute with fewer than two typographical errors, the bomb hidden in the office will explode, which will then be buoyed up by a series of stunts and explosive precursors or with the sponsorship of a can of Mister Pibb consumed conspicuously. Cut and scene.

Since directors and producers have been dredging nostalgia for all its worth, perhaps having even travelled through time themselves in attempts to affect revisions and acclimate themselves to discontiguous time lines, however, it seems that movies have indeed become more ambitiously inscrutable. Perhaps this confusion is in part owing to franchises that hope to encapsulate and rehash universes and characters—who perhaps have cemented their identities in the minds of some fans as something iconic and inviolable or perhaps not by people less familiar with the particular genre and not as well studied as the filmmakers believe—that have been in development for decades. A ninety minute reel—though there’s also a trend in longer and longer movies, can hardly expect to distill an entire saga—even when a sequel or prequal is already a foregone conclusion, paradoxically. Whether or not a feature can holds its own outside of a triptych and creative minds are not concerned with resolution in storytelling, it does not satisfactorily explain the wherefore of escapades internal that settle as jarring and baffling for the audience afterwards. It’s not a memory that sits well, not like a stirring monologue or particularly spectacular chase scene, but rather something nagging and regrettable like proofreading one’s own missives after it’s already been published. Maybe the missing element that accounts for nothing shed on the cutting-room floor is, as the article suggests, that the license to syndicate, to portray a film centered around a defined group of superheroes adjudged to be iconic. Proprietorship probably does turn the process in ways that don’t pan out well on the screen. Of course I am not privy to any bemoaning examples, but some near equivalent might include a video game adaptation that could materialise in the near term or being able to offer one more action figure or variant in a different wardrobe already in production. It’s rather like the make-believe of security that the prop-masters, gaffers and grips—the stagehands of bureaucracy and contractors, that are ingrained and implicit in the theatre that stays behind the arras so the audience might never know. What do you think? Are you finding action movie plots a little too adventuresome and unhinged as well?

slaget i hafrsfjord

The intrepid adventurers at Atlas Obscura sends a picture postcard from Stavanger of the monumental commission of Sverd i fjell, which was among some our parting shots from our extended Norwegian vacation a few years back.
The peace declared that united the three warring factions of the western reaches of the kingdom under the leadership of good King Harald the Fair Hair (Harald Hårfagre) is really kind of obscured by the sheer scale and sight of three giant swords plunged into the beach of Madla—though the event is very much celebrated and romanticized in popular culture and stands just as large in the shared imagination. One thousand, one hundred eleven years after the decisive battle, King Olaf V degreed that this Viking victory be immortalised and it was wrought and wielded in 1983 by native sculptor Fritz Røed. One of these days, we’ll make it back to those shores and find those swords half buried regardless of how much time and tide has passed.

5x5

kool & the gang: Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem rock out to Jungle Boogie

shill: dreadful social media spoof campaign that perhaps hits too close to home

avtovaz: gorgeous gallery of vintage Soviet automobile advertising

good libations: an animated history of adult beverages

parallax barrier: guide to rigging one’s smart phone to project a holographic image


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

pokédex or psychomanteum

I suppose both iterations of the popularity of Pokémon came at the wrong phases of life for me since I really never understood the appeal of collecting pocket-monsters but I nonetheless found the fact that this bestiary, via Neatorama, has origins rooted in Japanese mythology and folklore—with sometimes a direct correspondence though the inspiring legendary creatures are far more imaginative and disturbing—really fascinating. Tornadus is basically the Shinto Elder god Fūjin—master of the winds and cultural-transmission of the Greek demi-god Boreas (Septentrio to the Latins).
Whishcash (I love these naming conventions that make me think of the Wizzrobes, Peahats and Octoroks of the Legend of Zelda) is patterned after the observed behavior mortal catfish thrashing about and swimming erratically just prior to a tremor and it was believed that a gigantic cousin, the Onamazu was in turn responsible for causing earthquakes by throwing its weight around. There are several more darker fables and ghost stories to read at the link. Moreover, this fascination with play and acquisition (got to catch ‘em all) is not a recent phenomenon either, but dates back to parlour games hosted in the homes of seventeenth century Japan. This was a very superstitious age for many, correlating with the popularity of séances and spiritual mediums in Victorian England and of course later incarnations—that sort of slumber party game, like light-as-a-feather or looking into the bathroom mirror with the lights off and conjurating Bloody Mary or that new elevator ritual where one runs the risk of being trapped in a parallel ghost dimension, and as night fell men and women came together for the Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales and took turns exchanging nightmares, folktales and general unexplained encounters. After each round, the player retreated into a separate room, a sort of containment field where a wall of one hundred paper lanterns stood opposite a single mirror and extinguished one light. Generally the evening’s entertainment—involving elements of catoptromancy, divination from mirror gazing, which saw new demons and monsters summoned up with each epic session, did not last all one hundred rounds and was customarily called off by ninety-nine out of fear that all those spirits would become uncontrollable and their haunting permanent.

5x5

fine motor skills: Japanese surgeons in training undergo a battery of delicate, microscopic exercises   


ex libris: via Kottke, the Bodleian is making over 100 000 images and manuscripts freely available on-line

gelotology: an overview for the neglected research into how a baby’s laughter could hold profound psychological insights

fun, fun, fun auf der autobahn: Rick Moranis covered Kraftwerk in a 1989 album

skullduggery: ancient peoples may have buried horse skulls under the floors of homes and churches to achieve a sought after acoustic effect

Monday, 3 August 2015

vermicious knids or many mouths to feed

Although my Venus Flytrap seems to be thriving quite well—despite the dietary restrictions I’ve enforced and certainly don’t want it to suffer any malnourishment in the meantime, it is rather presenting me with a moral dilemma.
To begin with, I wonder what my ward might think of me being a vegetarian, not a carnivore—however passively, but a committed planter-eater, ravenous even. The opportunity to sacrifice an annoying indoor housefly, usually a persistent and irritating occurrence but presently the apartment is strangely silence, has not yet presented itself and I am not sure, unable to swap a pest but only shoo it away, if I could avail myself to the task. I admit that it’s probably a silly thing to rend my hands over, but I’m hoping that I might get away with a crime of omission, that the balcony might an adequate environment for insects in transit or find some unfortunate bug dead or dying of natural causes or not wholly splattered and disintegrated on the car’s grille. I don’t know if that would work. I bet the other, more sessile plants are getting a little jealous of this sort of doting and negative attention. What would you do?