Thursday, 31 December 2015

hagiography or quid pro quo

Despite having presided over the Church at a very foundational time, which saw the endorsement—not just tolerance—of Christianity by Constantine the Great after the purges and persecution of the emperor’s predecessor, Diocletian, the rather strenuous and politically-taxing Council of Nicaea that sought to define the nature of God and what constituted heresy, and the great building campaign that produced the Lateran palace, Santa Croce and the original Saint Peter’s Basilica, very little can be said about Pope Silvester (whose Saint Day is New Year’s Eve) with much confidence. Silvester apparently does not even enjoy a special patronage, while I expected him minimum to share some degree of conflation with Janus, the two-faced Roman god that looks ahead to the future and behind to the past (hence, January) or Father Time.  Patron of pyrotechnic artists? Champagne-bottlers?  We get nothing.
Though Emperor Constantine’s conversion to the Christian faith is usually attributed to his victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on the outskirts of Rome while marching under a “heavenly divine symbol,” another story is told that as pontiff, Silvester healed a impenitent emperor of his leprosy, not wanting to listen to any spiritual counsel on why he ought not to take a second wife. Supposedly, out of gratitude, Constantine accorded the papacy with ecclesiastic power over all of Christendom and secular authority in the Western Empire. The so called Donation of Constantine, however, that records this agreement is universally acknowledged as a medieval forgery, crafted some five centuries later when the Church was the only vestige of Roman institutions in order to bolster legitimacy for Church’s supremacy and independence (and wealth) from the crown of state. No one is certain, but the document seems to have been produced and cited for the first time in the eight century, when Pope Stephen II crossed the Alps to crown Charlemagne’s father as Franconian king—to say thanks for the granting of lands that became known as the Papal States and for his help in stopping the Muslim invasion of France via Catalonia—and thus extinguishing the dynasty of those pesky Merovingians. The thirty-first of December preceded the beginning of the New Year in the Roman calendar since a thousand years before Silvester’s time, but curiously the celebration for New Year’s only was shifted around during those high middle ages until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar around the time that officials admitted that the Donation of Constantine was a hoax, with some locations observing the change-over in late March, when Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel and told she was with child. Those malingerers who did not readily accept the new date-structure, which cost the world two weeks, were referred to as April Fools.

cheers, darlings!

Happy New Year everyone and thanks for visiting. While you’re getting ready for your own count-down and celebrations, check out these veritable rodeos of this past year’s superlatives, expertly compiled and curated by Miss Cellania—first, the media, second humanity and then third, the virtual domain. One thing that’s for certain for next year is that we will be seeing a return of Eurydice Colette Clytemnestra Dido Bathsheba Rabelais Patricia Cocteau Stone—Patsy, Patsy Stone.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

fermi’s paradox or good fences make good neighbours

In the 1950s astrophysicist and futurist Enrico Fermi posed the question that encapsulated not whether we were alone in the Universe but rather where is everybody, and given his lack of the cosmological observations of the present, put forward a pretty stupendous conjecture that’s but puzzled over since. Granted that at the time, many of the important criteria were know—the extreme old age of the Universe, its size, the commonality of stars but significantly, the commonality of stars harbouring planets, approaching one hundred percent and it would probably be more unusual for a star not to have a solar system, still the expectation remained that there ought to be alien life out there in abundance. This postulate has inspired a lot of debate by individuals with far superior credentials but I think it’s a very worthwhile exercise to try to imagine the counterintuitive:

  • Intelligent life is something rare or unique—seemingly unlikely across the eons and vast distances, populated with stellar and planetary bodies, though natural cataclysm might account for relatively short-lived civilizations
  • It’s in the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself and others—more likely given our track record (seminal events like harnessing the destructive power of atom or bad environmental stewardship) and the fittest life forms to evolve would force out the weaker
  • We’re listening but not too chatty ourselves—the totem space-invaders depiction of the Arecibo Message represents one of the few times humans have intentionally reached out
  • The Earth is dismissed as something too exposed—hardy humans don’t hide within Dyson spheres and those with more delicate constitutions could not imagine that place being hospitable or like us, they’re turning in on themselves, content with virtual reality, fantasy and vicarious living or worried about economic and social disruption as exploitative schemes become unsustainable
  • Humans are intentional kept at bay—we are excluded as inmates of an alien zoo, they fear us given that our imagined portrayals of contact are often brutal, xenophobic and catastrophic
  • Aliens are too alien—their sense of timing or scale may be totally out of sync with ours or our symbols, glyphs and patterns go unrecognised like theirs do for us

What do you think? Do you have any theories? We don’t have any basis of comparison of course, except ourselves and though unlikely to disburden ourselves from esteem and bias, it is rather extraordinary that in the time that humans have existed, physiologically and intellectually recognisable as humans, all of recorded history—rounding it off to a segment of ten thousand years—could have repeated nearly two dozen times or more already, if allowed to play out from its inception to conclusion. All that fits into just the last few million years and does not even touch the billions that came before. The paradox itself could be responsible for this silence as a sort of self-propagating disbelief across the galaxy that surely we cannot be the first to reach out or be contacted.

hail to the chief

Dangerous Minds shares this terrific send-up of the outsider candidate Donald Trump’s “platform”—produced rather surprisingly by a group of Arizona Republicans—in the form of well-choreographed and spot-on on-point Country music video.
Despite the message (and I suppose the satire is of a subtly that could mask the ridicule for a few nanoseconds), some supporters are ironically using the song during campaign rallies. Incidentally, the pomp and circumstance of Hail to the Chief—adapted from a Sir Walter Scott poem about the Lady of the Lake with references to Beltane, the Golden Bough and Druids—was originally somewhat of a bombastic parody, a useful signature tune to draw attention to less imposing office-holders, whether they wanted to be noticed or not.

5x5

gnomon: sundial with exacting perforations shows the time of day in digits with instructions to make your own

race to the bottom: more and more countries are outfitting outposts in Antarctica, via Superpunch

biscione: the heraldic serpent borne on the Alfa-Romeo logo is a viper eating a child—or possibly a Moor

out standing in the field: more winners and runners up for National Geographic’s photography contest

fist-bump: handshaking protocol from around the world

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

444 days or ajax and argo

Some thirty-five after their release on the cusp of the Iran-Iraq War, captives of the US-Iranian Hostage Crisis are going to receive compensation for their long ordeal—which was mostly spurned in the ensuing decades over the revolutionary government being granted immunity from prosecution. Passing through this hall on a daily basis, I am keenly aware that the place where I work was the evacuation point for the rescued hostages but at the same time keenly aware of my own ignorance in the incubation and execution of these events.  For me at least, the diplomatic intrigues like the initial coup to secure a bridge in WWII north Africa for the Allies but then descending into greed over oil, the US hosting of the deposed shah for medical treatment, citizens of the “Great Satan” being issued Canadian passports so they could be smuggled out of the country, US spy agencies attempting to broker power despite the fact no operatives spoke Persian, remain overshadowed by the complaint of Ronald Reagan that the release overshadowed his inauguration ceremony—though the timing may have secured his election.
In retaliation, Iraq was given materiel and intelligence support by the US to prosecute the attack on its neighbour, and off we go. Ajax, the Trojan anti-hero, was the code-name for the operation that originally toppled the regime of the shah, and Argo, in reference to the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, was the cover for the caper that the Canadian embassy carried out that fronted the filming of a sci-fi movie—vis-à-vis shooting Tatoonie on location in Tunisia. Insofar as it’s knowable, this affair seems to figure quite large in the continuum of degrading relations and proxy warfare with unexpected and long-reaching consequences.

colour me purple

The latest instalment in Atlas Obscura’s rogue No One’s Watching Week—that winterval wherein the editors can publish their oddest discoveries with confidence that few will see—features the history of the adult colouring book and its sustained popularity in the early 1960s. Much like today’s passing fad, their attraction was short-lived (through with brief revivals when reintroduced, assured that enough time had passed), but their subversive subtext, I think, is far more edgier and original that forgotten nostalgia can conjure up—even if they were a gimmick to boost crayon sales. Check out the article in its entirety for links to more complete panels.

chain-letter, chain-mail

Though a little late for a Christmas gift—but well in time to gird one’s New Year’s dharmic security, PfRC presents Auroral Cat, whose super-absorbent halo will ward off any ill-effects and soured luck aggressively threatened for failure to repost the other talismans and charms that are in circulation. Of course, there’s no need for reciprocation, and should one choose to spread the cheer (unafraid) of other trinkets and anecdotes, Auroral Cat’s filter is discriminating enough to rebuff bad fortune and channel good luck through. You’re welcome. There’s nothing wrong with propagating prayers and well-wishes but one ought not agonise over it or feel compelled to, on pain of a ghost dog peeing on one’s bed.

de-icer

Though I’ve been peevish and a little fraught with worry over the balmy and unseasonable weather, scraping ice was not the challenge I was looking forward to this morning. It was that rippled, thick window ice too—I wonder if there’s some special Eskimo word for that… I commiserate with you, Sweet Brown.

homage or the hero with a thousand faces

Quiet a few vocal critics have accused the continuance of the Star Wars saga of being too derivative—and yes (sans spoilers) it would have been more enthralling to have a bigger constellation of strange fellows in some Mos Eisley dive or Jabba’s throne room to wonder about. a musical number or to see all the characters to gather together at the end like in previous parting shots and wondering whether it was “no bigger than a womprat” did sort of draw me out of the experience, I think unfairly. The arc of each episode—maybe to exclusion of the exposition—faithfully follows the monomyth, that boon of New England scholar Joseph Campbell for innumerable tales past and present that resonate as something whole and satisfying with tribute to something universal.
That terms is borrowed from James Joyce’s writing—sourced with another handy moniker, the quark. Campbell crafted the study of comparative mythology following an unending infatuation with CG Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious and the archetype and unvetted released his comprehensive thesis, The Hero with 1000 Faces, in the 1940s and echoes in the best of contemporary story-telling, drawing from the cues of classic myth. Episode III, point for point, unfolds as a monomyth—wherein a reluctant hero (Luke Skywalker, moisture farmer) is visited by a celestial messenger (the droids and Obi Wan Kenobi) to present his mission and hone his skills and embarks on a quest to find his muse and divine lady (Princess Leia—but thirty-eight year old spoilers: really his sister) but finds himself in the proverbial belly of the whale, like Jonah or Pinocchio (the dianoga in the Death Star trash compactor) before being forced to confront his father. All the best stories seem to twist in this wind, whether classical mythology, founding tales or biblical previsioning—tapping into formulaic stories that ring as believable and upbuilding. The Parnassus and individual instalments—as myth is fluid and not fixed practise self-plagiarism with certain and popular troupe. The authoritative editions are those most successful and resonate with our own collective unconscious. The re-telling is more than a reboot.

Monday, 28 December 2015

indignation

Smacking very much of the ongoing coddling of minds and egos, Vox staffers present a rather sombre but rollicking look back at the year in phony outrage.
It’s deviously brilliant that none of us (me included) really has to choose our battles any longer and can unleash whatever venom, vitriol or hissy-fit at the world at large with little fear of consequence or aspersions being cast back at us. These reverse scandals are rather telling as anger, however tepid by day’s end once the media attention has been spent, seem to be the initial and unmediated reaction to upsetting our cushions of comfort and probably the feeling and response that we are best acquainted with—whether dispatched as an attack on our personal values or otherwise. The antithesis is true also, for as lightly as our fury is tugged so are our heart-strings with feelings of unanimity and accord.

point nemo

Mental Floss features an interesting article on a collection of the most remote human settlements. I always enjoy perusing such profiles of remote and lonely places and despite the forlorn familiarity, it’s always fun to learn more.
The list’s ostensibly top of the pole of inaccessibility is Tristan da Cunha—which is far closer to South Africa than the Island of Saint Helena, where Napoleon spent his exile, that it’s administratively coupled with—the British having bought the archipelago from Dutch Cape, first evicting a trio of American squatters who claimed the Refreshment Islands as their own, of Good Hope so the French might not use it as a staging platform for a rescue operation. Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the main village, was evacuated in the early 1960s when a volcanic eruption threatened to engulf the whole island, and when residents returned to find a city-limits sign installed on a path leading into town, I recall reading once, there was a minor clamour over this bureaucratic insistence, as no one happen there without great determination.

trivium and hoi polloi

I’ve really been enthralled with my latest podcast discovery in Doctor William Webb’s Heritage Podcast project (thanks to a hale and hearty recommendation by Sharyn Eastaugh, creator and hostess of The History of the Crusades, to get on board with the syllabus before the ambitious project gets too expansive to catch up on back episodes) and had a welcome reminder on the virtue of a Liberal Arts degree—not just one in name but one that’s true to original core curricula as it was expounded in ancient times.
With participatory democracy burgeoning and society becoming more hierarchical but also urban, leaders of the Polis recognised the need for a basic civics education requirement to attract and retain individuals with the ability to distinguish philosophy from sophistry and developed a three-pronged prospectus called the trivia—grammar (the basic rules of communication—stringing together λογος), rhetoric (the art of persuasion and articulacy and perhaps the training to wield it for one’s own ends) and logic (the faculty to soberly judge the validity and truth of argument and perhaps keenly peer beyond grandiloquence). Once the tradition of active and engaged citizens started to be supplanted by feudalism and the fealty of labourers and the political man became a subject, his affairs rarefied and to be managed by hereditary kings, as the Classical World came to an end, basic education was something seditious and there was no demand for an informed and potentially rebellious under-class. Of course, the institution of the Church—with its own vested interests in sustaining a community of inquisitive and engaged members—was the mainstay of continuing-education—augmenting the trivium with four additional disciplines: mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy.
Perhaps these subjects smack of something a bent a bit toward the practical and vocational, their coursework—as with the unfolding of word, language—however, can be expressed as the germination of number, leading to number in space, number in time and then with astronomy, number in time and space. Perhaps we’ve again entered a time when a liberal education (the motto of my alma mater—which evolved out of a preparatory school and is rather a singular beast in higher-education is a Latin malapropism “facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque”—I make free men from children by means of books and a balance) is something to be disdained as a superfluous luxury or even a liability when the plebiscite is expected to keep its collective head down and not stint the ceremony of elections with engagement and activism that goes beyond party-membership and reinforced believes. Being schooled in a little bit of logic seems especially vital now for countering the techniques in the media and politics that present the fallacious and specious as something incontrovertible, and something (regardless whether one becomes a charismatic or not—I think one can’t truly start believing his or her own deceits if discovered through honest means) for disabusing ourselves of our own biases. Despite the tenor of the age, there’s no excuse for letting one’s faculties atrophy. Don’t let it rest on the President’s desk. Q.E.D.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

5x5

over-extended: the Swiss will vote to effectively ban banks from creating money by lending more than they have in reserve

noch einen koffer: chilling contingency plans to destroy East Berlin in the event the Cold War turned hot

superlatives: the top fifteen Colossal vignettes of the year

360°: Slate has a whole uplifting calendar of daily goodness for the past year

port-of-call: these giant, wanton cruise ships look like Star Destroyers trawling the canals of Venice

hey mister tally man

Via the inestimable The Browser comes a really fascinating piece on the supply chain logistics of the banana trade and the demands it manufactured to satisfy. Like the Egg Council, Juan Valdez and the California Raisins, who really can be bullies and not just advocates for farmers, Big Fruit created various banana republics in the process of perfecting its delivery techniques, inciting coups throughout Central America and even precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis and enduring tensions, all in the name of ripeness and minimal flecking.

The other aspect to this drama lies in the monoculture of the produce—at least as it’s presented to shoppers in the West. Whereas we might have an embarrassment of choice when it comes to apples and oranges, exotic bananas are all clones of one cultivar—threatened with extinction with the irreversible march of one fungal disease. The way bananas are marketed and grown make them especially susceptible to being wiped out by pandemics, and interestingly the type of banana consumed just one human generations had vastly different characteristics—fruitier and creamier and with a much slicker peel, and hence all those jokes about slipping on a discarded skin that seems physically impossible in the supermarkets of today.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

æon of horus or top row, from left to right

Just before Christmas (Sun in first Capricorn and Moon in ninth Gemini, just a day’s breadth from the Soltice), the historic Boleskin Manor on the shores of Loch Ness, owned by mystic Aleister Crowley and subsequently bought by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame (for its connection with majick) was partially destroyed by a fire that had broken out in the vacant residence.
Crowley choose this spot for its particular geographic resonance (appearances of the Loch Ness Monster could be attributed to certain demons and familiars from his pantheon) with his philosophy of Thelema and his mission of occult outreach and made some major modifications to the house to these ends. Ostracised as a traitor and corrupter of youth, Crowley repaired to a commune in Cefalù—by Palermo, Sicily—to establish his church, an anti-monestary in this ancient Greek outpost, until being banished under the same suspicions by Mussolini. Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same was filmed on the grounds of Boleskin and the motto “do what thou willst” features prominently in the band’s discography, as well as enjoying other pop culture appearances. The Sicilian abbey is currently on the market, though in grave disrepair.

pride of lions or queens and toms

As first seen on The Queen is not Amused, researchers have found lionesses in Botswana that have evolved to express more traits, like the mane, colouring and roar, of their male counterparts—perhaps to better protect their families from potential abusive mates or perhaps to sneak up on prey, since it is the females that do the lion’s share of the hunting and a lithe gazelle might not be so quick to react to a marauding but outwardly loutish lion.

The term evolution is put out there but it is more environmental influences in utero that is producing masculine cubs, so maybe cultivation is a better word. Nature is forever springing surprises and animal sexuality has been shown to be successively as varied and nuanced as our own, and many populations—under duress—have willed themselves gender-reassignments in order to continue the species. Who knew, however, that gender roles and those mantles of authority were just as variable and not well understood—even for creatures that we would not count as liberated? We’re not so clever as we’d like to believe—confident that a rooster would never allow a hen to crow at the sunrise, and I wonder if we’ll ever be compelled to drop gendered naming-conventions, as masters and husbanders, like lioness, nag, jack and jenny.

silk road or moshi moshi

Just to demonstrate that the Priory of Sion and associates do not have a controlling monopoly on the troupe of Jesus surviving (erm—or rather, skipping out on that whole ordeal) the Crucifixion and to later die in advanced old age after raising a family, Atlas Obscura explores an unlikely final resting place in a remote fishing village of Shingō/Aomori in northwest Japan that boasts the tomb of Christ—plus an adjacent burial mound with the ear of Jesus’ brother and a lock of hair of the Virgin Mary. There being no established account of Jesus’ adolescence, one creative gospel tells that Jesus sojourned to Japan for further instructions on the divine and returned to Israel to spread His message. Once realising that the message was not quiet resonate with the powers that be, Jesus’ brother (half-brother, I suppose) called Isukiri volunteered to be crucified in Jesus’ place...
Not that it is any less non-canonical, I think that name signifies “Jesus-brother” rather than a specific individual, and after all Jesus is really named Immanuel, God is with us. Fleeing the Holy Land, Jesus returned to Japan, carrying the only two relics that could be salvaged, a lock of His mother’s hair and Isukiri’s dismembered ear, to retire and become a rice-farmer. The family that claims descent from the Messiah are devout Buddhists.

velvet mafia

Dangerous Minds shares an interview with bon-viveur and iconic gadfly Quentin Crisp, wherein he reviews and rates his favourite gangster films, as the portrayal of violent death can be rather life-affirming. 
Most of the movies that make Crisp’s top-ten list are classics from the Howard Hawks, Prohibition era (strange how most of the mob comes out of nannying) but interestingly also include a couple contemporary (to the time of the critique), like Millers’ Crossing and Reservoir Dogs. Mister Crisp (perhaps most unrecognised to modern audiences as Queen Elizabeth I in the adaptation of Virginia Woolfe’s—another poisoned-pen—Orlando) was himself celebrated as the titular character in the Sting song Legal Alien/Englishman in New York.

shop-class or genie back in the bottle

Though sometimes touted with great optimism as the desk-side Industrial Revolution, democratizing manufacture and taking the power away from big business (and one ought not to curb one’s aspirations on this account), invoking how inkjet printers did not put the publishing magnates into arrears Wired! magazine presents more of a tamed but nonetheless important speculation on the possibilities of 3D printing with modelling to help artists and artisans perfect their final product.
Sort of like confronting a first draft with red ink and the necessary detachment from one’s own words, 3D modelling and experi- mentation allows one to explore folds, contours and stresses nearly as on the native media and approach the potters’ wheel, as it were, with a bit more confidence. But what do you think? There’s probably much to be gained by the return of cottage-industry or the ability to assert some independence from the factories and sweat-shops or even one’s warranty and service-agreement by being able to produce one’s own quasi-unauthorised replacement parts. Perhaps the desktop revolution did not occur with printing and self-publishing (at least, not to order) in part because the presses were so cheap but the ink so dear. Designing our own printers, however, perhaps we won’t let that short-coming materialise, unless we are placated with instant delivery on demand and the tumult of obsolescence.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

'twas

No long winter’s nap for us but as we take time out for the holidays, please enjoy this dazzling Christmas tree—or alternatively, this Yule Log. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

very merry

PfRC would like to extend season’s greetings and salutations to all that have visited. Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Thanks for stopping by and have yourselves a merry little Christmas time.

tolerance and withdrawal

From the news bureau of Weird Universe comes reports that the United States Air Force has been forced to recall hundreds of tubes of promotional lip balm due to trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol in the hemp oil component of the salve’s ingredients.
Though airmen and family members that were potentially exposed to this reefer madness at an Alaskan base were not at risk of getting even a mild high from this tiny, tiny amount—nor even risked showing up hot a drug-screening, although some argue that lip-balm can become habit-forming and lead to dependency—it would not have been in keeping with the armed forces zero-tolerance policy nor in the spirit, I guess, of the office and service that this give-away was endorsing—the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response coordinator, otherwise known as the installation SAPR.

mister fezziwig

Dangerous Minds shares a holiday tradition that channels a recitation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas (to wit) to be enjoyed by in whatever medium one prefers—though I’d agree that this séance with the venerable narrator Vincent Price ought to be one’s first resort.
It’s been argued that Dickens’ novella created and established the holiday in its received customs—nearly with a single, resonating stroke that elevated the celebration to his current status, but the classic story that gave Christmas and charity new leases (apparently both under attack) was originally envisioned as a pamphlet. The draft whose working title An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child encapsulates Dickens’ motivation and concerns was penned in response to the network of crushing debt, obligation to work and dehumanising competition among employers sprinting towards efficiency. Realising that such a petition would only reach a limited audience (perhaps persuaded by spirits himself), Dickens decided he could possibly affect more social change by telling a story.

yule log

Via the fabulously odd Everlasting Blort comes a cavalcade of holiday—both for Christmas and New Year’s—customs beautifully illustrated by a jewellery designer called Vashi and Marie Muravski. I was surprised to see how many of the traditions pivoted on the fortunes for all the single ladies in the upcoming year.
And while many rituals and trappings of the season seemed quite touching and original—except perhaps the endorsement that a certain favoured purveyor of chicken-product is accorded as a Japanese institution and the contentious hidden gurken in the tree ceremony. Though still culturally reinforced, and it’s nicer to believe that some Civil War soldier received life-saving sustenance from his captures in pickle form on Christmas Eve or it’s an enshrined Old World custom—and these versions don’t seem in any way commensurable—rather than be disabused by being told that the story was a marketing manoeuvre for a retail outlet overstocked with pickle ornaments. What sparked the decision to make so many of such decorations in the first place still strikes me as a bit mysterious and perhaps there is a deeper Christmas miracle behind it still.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

5x5

like genghis khan bathed in sherbet: the unlikely mantis shrimp is one of our favourite animals too

en voyage pathologique: a select handful of the throngs of tourists visiting the City of Light come down with the Paris Syndrome when it fails to live up to their expectations

jingle-jangle: mid-eighties Alpine White song was a strong forerunning carol in the assault on Christmas

axial precession: the December solstice falls on the twenty-second this year—plus nine bonus facts

life-savers: the marketing and minting of mints

Monday, 21 December 2015

c.h.u.d. oder down in the underground

Though I think my preoccupation with manhole covers contains a mostly untried yearn for urban exploration that I’ve rarely managed to summon up the courage (probably sensibly) to carry out, I would risk being caught trespassing to see what lies beneath Wiesbaden.
When I was a little kid, I can recall wading through flood canals in Oklahoma teeming with crayfish (crawdads—sort of giant sewer shrimps that one would readily barbecue) and once following a tunnel underneath the old officers’ club in Würzburg (formerly the local Nazi party headquarters) big enough to drive a tank through to it cemented up conclusion. H doubts the veracity of this latter Goonies’ adventure.
 A clever Redditor posted this portal—which I came across by accident—and to the turn of the century infrastructure that lies below. The city’s manhole covers (Kulideckeln) seem rather plain and haven’t really interested me like those that celebrate coats-of-arms and this entrance to the underworld, which I had crossed over without notice many, many times before, even less so. The protagonist, Harry Lime, of The Third Man descended a similarly constituted stairwell.
 Instantly, I knew right where it was—the vaunted brick arches reflecting other utilities of the age, like the landmark Gründerzeit water-tower in Biebrich, on the square adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof but I didn’t go to examine it right away—though it might be a time when others might be checking, as I discovered it’s secret while frantically searching for news on the evacuation of the train station, due to a terror warning that has not yet materialised. Out of an abundance of caution, the Christmas market was also cleared out. Presently, maybe it’s best to leave such spelunking to the professionals, the CHUDs and Morlocks.

403 - forbidden

Gizmodo reports how the supposedly sedate and apolitical group of infrastructure programmers called the Internet Engineering Steering Group have approved a new draft HTTP status code, along with the familiar bunch of bugs and failures that users might encounter—404 Not Found, designated as 451 (as in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) for pages and files suppressed due to pending legal demands—a takedown notice served or government censorship. Disclosing and logging what’s being blacklisted by whatever standards, be it the political views of dissidents or what’s considered blasphemous or people privileged enough to be forgot, does go quite a distance towards, if not reform itself, then at least towards assigning blame rather than hiding behind technical problems.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

humbug and hyperthermia

Grumpy Cat is stopping at NO but the rest of us here at PfRC are getting into the spirit of the season, despite the eschatological forecast and unseasonably warm weather.

mmxv: annus horribilis

These end-of-year annuals have become somewhat of a tradition here (here, here, here, and here too) at PfRC but never before in these annuls of time has one period been so stand-out negative and gloomy.  We tried to accentuate the positive but that was yeoman’s task, so this year-in-review is coming out a few days early in hopes that the holidays will be a time of lasting good cheer to cleanse the palette and that some last minute joys might befall us all.  There were a few bright points which mostly involved accomplishments in space exploration, but on balance, we are happy to be saying good riddance to bad rubbish.

january: Unpegging the Swiss franc from the euro unleashes more turmoil on financial markets and oversees the gradient of reserve currencies levelled out. With the situation in Ukraine still very tense, the Eurasian Economic Union comes into being. In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s brutality goes unrestrained. Elements of the Cosplay Caliphate in Paris assassinate cartoonists and satirists.

february: Faced with its own deck of sanctions, Russia drafts and submits to the United Nations for passage Resolution 2199 that provided for asset-freezing and curtailing financial resources for the Cosplay Caliphate, strongly condemning as well the group’s destruction of ancient archaeological sites in Syria. The Egyptian armed forces retaliate for the beheading of Copts in Libya by the Caliphate—with more atrocities broadcasted. Sadly, Leonard Nimoy passes away.

march: A space probe visits the Dwarf Planet Ceres. An unholy alliance forms between terror groups as al Qaeda tries to distance itself from these extremists. A suicidal pilot deliberately crashes an airplane full of passengers in the French Alps.

april: A massive earthquake causes destruction across south-east Asia.  Writer Günter Grass and performer Percy Sledge passed.

may: Ireland, by popular-vote, legalises same-sex marriage. Truer to the original, audiences began getting hints of the continuation of the Stars Wars saga to be screened later in the year.  We had to bid farewell to musician B. B. King.

june: Fédération Internationale de Football Association chief resigns pending an on-going criminal probe into corruption allegations championed by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation. A real estate magnate and beauty pageant judge announced his candidacy for president of the US.  The Caliphate perpetrates several horrific attacks during Ramadan. Actor Christopher Lee died.

july: Greece becomes the first country to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund and political revolt is unable to extricate them from this web of debt. New Horizons visits the dwarf planet Pluto. Cuba and the USA normalise diplomatic relations after half a century of hostilities. Video game godfather Satoru Iwata passed away.

august: The march of refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to Europe via the Balkans in unending.  We had to say goodbye to philosopher Oliver Sacks.

september: Liquid water is confirmed on Mars. A major German automaker was found to have doctored the cleanliness of their fleet of vehicles. The proxy war continues in Syria, with Russia launching air-strikes and powers are at odds with which party to back. Personality Jackie Collins died.

october: The Caliphate sabotages a jetliner of holiday-goers in the Sinai Peninsula. Maureen O’Hara departed.

november: Turkey destroys Russian fighter jets for violating a tip of its airspace, possibly setting off World War III. The Caliphate again attacks Paris with horrific and terrifying efficiency. Weeks later, the UN holds its climate change conference in the same venue. Former Chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt passes away.

december: Tragically, yet another mass shooting takes place in California, inspired by religious fanaticism. A wayward Japanese space probe that over-shot its mark five years ago gets a second chance to rendezvous with Venus. Stone Temple Pilot Scott Weiland passed away.  Recognising what the world needs now, Pope Francis threw open the Mercy Gate at the Vatican.

Friday, 18 December 2015

4x4

yavin 4: a graphic designer from New Zealand designed flags for one hundred planets of the Star Wars expanded universe

hang low the mistletoe: an appreciation of the parasitic plant whose Yuletide tradition is probably its least interesting attribute

oracle bones: Quartz furnishes an engrossing account of the historical development of Chinese writing and the language’s font foundry

non-canon: the next Star Trek film will treat the last as apocryphal

ghost of christmas weird

Dangerous Minds curates a truly bizarre gallery of antique Christmas greetings cards, gathered from various sources, whose message and associations with cheer and the season are rather—through the filter of a given vintage—lost on modern audiences.
There’s Krampus, of course, who’s a much greater deterrent to naughtiness than a lump of coal—which I’d wager that some Victorian street urchin would be very grateful to receive, but beyond this cautionary example these salutations are just fraught with surreal imagery—duelling frogs, dead sparrows, revolting sparrows, murderous emus and polar bears. What’s truly classic is universal and enduring (kittens, perhaps) and maybe these cards illustrate the consequences of things passing out of style and humour becoming obsolete. Be sure to check out Dangerous Minds to pursue the full selection.

klaxon or blues and twos

I vaguely recall learning that emergency response vehicles—ambulances, fire-trucks, police cruisers—in the States at least bore complementary flashing lights in red and blue to shine at the most visible spectrum both during the day and at night—though I could not remember which colour was best for either condition.
In Germany (and for the UK as well), those same beacons are just blue—arrayed for each kind of dispatch a bit differently with distinctive sirens but only on the one wave-length. If the two-coloured light system had a higher visibility profile—I wondered, why it had not been adopted everywhere. It turns out that the insight into the discernability of different spectra—which figures in traffic lights as well, and the reason for Germany’s blue lights date to 1938, like much of the German infrastructure—the Autobahn and the people’s coach. It does not have anything to do with psychological colour associations or some Doppler effect, but rather anticipating the possibility of air-raids as Europe once again began to take a belligerent posture, field-engineers experimented with different colours and discovered that while red lights sent up a beacon high into the atmosphere, attracting the attention of bomber-pilots, blue light dissipated at a much lower altitude. The convention, like equipping windows on homes with Rollladen (roller shutters) to effectively black out the lights, has endured.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

parkour and pageant

Neatorama shares an interesting cinematic comparison, some blocked scene for scene of Quentin Tarantino’s extensive neo-noir filmography and the directing that was his inspiration. Far from producing derivative works, Tarantino and his repertory, company of actors, have become the subjects of study and inspiration themselves.

may the force be with you (and also with you)

Amid rumours and parallels some are wont to draw, saying that Jedis are prone to radicalisation like jihadists (I am covering my ears because I don’t want any come across any spoilers—and still to this day, I feel a pang of regret when I think how I spilled one of the surprises to a nurse while at a doctor’s appointment right after seeing Return of the Jedi and informing her that Luke and Leia were brother and sister), Atlas Obscura, with its signature daring-do, reports how for the Fourth Advent the Zionskirche in Berlin will host a special Star Wars service—like the Nine Lessons and Carols celebration that I attended last week, I suppose but with morals drawn from the saga. The accomplished organist will also of course be performing a selection of the film soundtrack.

5x5

purl two: upon request the BBC would send out the knitting instructions for the Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf

uppruni: a young Björk reads the Nativity story for an Icelandic television audience

food pyramid: Vox examines at different ways nutritional guidelines are influenced and imparted globally

zodiaco: Salvador Dalí’s astrologic menagerie plus a hint into the obsession the artist had with his departed elder brother, Salvador Dalí

tween: proposed EU rules would raise the social media age of majority to sixteen

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

grand moff tarkin

Writing for The Atlantic, David Sims presents us with a wonderfully literate appreciation of one of the minor conscientious bureaucrats who manages to survive amid the toxic leadership of the vast galactic Empire in the character of Admiral Piett (portrayed by the actor Kenneth Colley who is arguably most recognised for his role as Jesus in the Life of Brian—I wonder what the Kevin Bacon Number is for that connection).
Highlighting the original banality of evil—oriented towards dominance and tyrannical to be sure but otherwise nebulous, formalised and diametrically opposed to the rebel scum—Piett was elevated to the next rung of the enormous hierarchy after Darth Vader impulsively telepathically strangled his predecessor for his shortcomings and manages to keep his head about him until the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star. There’s little virtue in keeping one’s nose clean and walking on egg-shells, but the admiral’s veiled disgust for his boss’ methods and sheer tenacity does warrant a bit of a cheer.