Sunday, 31 July 2016


Incredibly with little notice but overwhelmingly positive results, the government of Portugal decriminalised (not legalised but offenses are addressed as a matter of public-health resulting in a referral to counselling services but not incarceration) all drugs—fifteen years ago.
Usage has not skyrocketed (as some opponents to the change feared and use vociferously as an argument against reform in other countries presently) and moreover, deaths from over-dose or infections spread by using dirty needles have plummeted to essentially zero as has gang activity, and probably just as significantly, there’s far less of a problem in Portuguese cities with novel synthetic experimental substances or ones that skirt the pharmacological standards as legalish highs. There are of course probably other systemic problems, like political corruption and inequalities in sentencing that has been reduced as well. I should think that if Portugal’s long-running experiment was the success that it appears to be, other countries would have been emulating it for a long time. The places, however, with the biggest drug and crime problems also reinforce the most wrong-headed understanding of abuse and addiction, I think, treating dependency as a sin or some kind of moral-failing and treating it almost exclusively with the corrective measures, penance, that held that other ailments where a curse that the sufferer brought upon himself. What do you think? No other disease diagnosis questions moral fiber or attributes a relapse to a lack of willpower.  Do we expect the addict to take the retribution that he had coming like we did lepers and other outcasts not so long ago?

winzer oder vitis vinifera

Over the weekend, H and I were treated to a tour of an award-winning vineyard and wine-tasting on the escarpment over the River Main outside of Volkach. This chalky cliff-face (Volkacher Mainschleife) winds around the river and produces an ideal micro-climate for the cultivation of grapes. The guide was quite funny and informative, teaching us about how the colour of a grape is not an indicator of the character of the end product and cultivars are only identifiable before they ripen by the shape of their leaves.
At another juncture before climbing further into the vineyards, the guide explained the origin and advantages of the distinctive canteen-shaped bottle of that region, called the Bocksbeutel—which folk-etymology suggests was named for its resemblance in shape to a ram’s (Bock) scrotum (Beutel, sack)—but was probably derived from the term for a book satchel that one could swing over his shoulder for easy transport, such containers also being the approximate size of a book in the hands and amenable to being carried in such a way.
Moreover, the design was easy to balance and would not roll away out of doors. Higher up and among the vines, we learnt about the vagaries of the weather and what impact that had on harvests and found out that the hedgerows used for wind-breaks were always rose-bushes, sometimes centuries old like the grapevines, because like the proverbial canary in a coal-mine, they were the first to show signs of disease and might also be a stop gap for the spread of pests. The local wines we sampled while on our hike were exquisite and a very pleasant reminder that there is a lot to explore close to home as well.

soy cuba

This collection of vintage Cuban political posters (propaganda is always such a dicey and loaded word) of curator Michael Taylor of Bath, UK comes to our notice via Messy Nessy Chic’s intrepid searches. Circa the early 1970s, most of these artworks were commissioned to mark the annual Tri-Continental Conferences that Cuba hosted through its Organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL in Spanish) to bolster support for human rights, social development and the ideals of socialism as a counter-weight to imperialism and globalisation. Due to a lack of ink, during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, production dropped off, but there was a resurgence beginning in the year 2000 and still publish to this day. A comprehensive gallery of organisation’s posters can be found at this partner-site, Docs Populi.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

beyond the uncanny valley of the dolls

Apparently, there is a market (novelty restaurants or Renaissance Faires, I am thinking) for talking automaton, which a firm specialising in such custom, made-to-order dolls.
Dangerous Minds features a selection from the company’s exactingly bizarre and surpassingly creepy catalogue, and while these animatronic characters aren’t realistic they nonetheless can elicit unease and there’s a strange resemblance in all of the models to celebrities and politicians that does not seem intentional but comes through.

vegetable lamb of tartary

I had heard of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary beforehand—the way that scribes in the Middle Ages first passed on their second-hand accounts of a mysterious thing called cotton, but all the fantastic taxon of chimera put forth in this bestiary from the Medievalists’ Network.
All these strange creatures, with the exception of the Monoceros (the unicorn), were new to us, and we especially enjoyed learning about the legendary Barnacle Geese that were believed to spontaneously generate at sea on pieces of drift-wood, instead of the usual route of reproduction. It reminded me of how post-Enlightenment biologists thought that exotic birds of paradise lived a purely ethereal to never touch ground nor roost. The name for both the barnacle goose and the goose barnacle (from whence they were thought to hatch) has persisted as well as the prohibition of the eating of these geese during Lent for their unnatural life-cycles. Be sure to check out the whole strange menagerie and find more interesting articles at the link above.

Friday, 29 July 2016

krebs’ cycle

Researchers at the University of Chicago are perfecting a solar-capture process that mimics closely the process of photosynthesis rather than traditional photovoltaic that converts sunlight directly into electricity. Instead, the membrane of an “artificial leaf” uses solar energy to convert atmospheric carbon-dioxide into a fuel that can be burnt. The engineers are achieving efficiencies not quite at botanical levels but at least as something comparable to the (sunk) costs of refining gasoline.

foot traffic

Quite used to our Ampelmännchen, I haven’t encountered a wordy pedestrian crossing signal for years but I did rather enjoy pondering the poor punctuation of the lack of an apostrophe in don’t—which I’d never noticed.
Granted, apostrophes can be confusing and prone to abuse and especially glaring and galling and when superfluous but I suppose in its omission—not so much, but it is wholly unrelated to the recent assault that British civil engineers launched on diction on the roadways in hopes of staving off confusion for navigation devices. It turns out—and there’s some interesting diversions and detours along the way—no one really knows why that tradition was carried on, but one’s best guess is that it was for symmetry and easier to make the NT a ligature with the earliest sign illuminated by neon tubes and skip the apostrophe.

gravy train

A retired farmer hailing from Fort Worth, Texas named Eugene Bostick began taking in unwanted dogs that people would abandon on his property and by the time he had acquired nine new canine friends, he realised that taking them all on a walk would be a much too daunting task. Thus, we learn via Twisted Sifter, Bostick got inventive by hitching plastic barrels to his tractor and puttering through the countryside on weekly outings to the sheer delight of all.

still life with wine and cheese

An interesting meta-analysis from Cornell University of over half a millennium of food and drink in art—without even the need to repair to the food-selfie iteration of the still life—reveals that we’ve always had a penchant for the exotic and indulgent and much more likely to capture that in portraiture—or as a social snapshot, rather than every day fare. With license, certain subtle messages were encoded with the spread that appears on the table and this in depth study is an appetising reflection of how tastes evolved over time and even, through the lens of the Last Supper, how portions have grown. Take a look at the gallery of artfully arranged meals for yourself to better understand what the statistics and trends disclose.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

fjord fairlane

Although I was delighted every time we had to take a ferry whilst navigating Norway, I could imagine that the routine could get a little grating for a daily commute, and so as TYWKIWDBI informs—the country may soon be offering drivers an alternative in the form of tubular floating bridges that are buoyant at a point several metres below the surface of the water. The unconventional engineering is required, which should be rather seamless for drivers in a land already replete with underwater tunnels, as the fjords’ terrain is too difficult to raise a traditional bridge and delve too deeply to drill a regular tunnel—plus spoiling the scenery too, I suppose.

well done, sister suffragette

Through the lens of a hideous gaff of a prominent news organisation that recently resurfaced to face ridicule making the social media rounds, Collectors’ Weekly has curated a nice but unsettling assortment of posters and trading cards from America and the UK that went viral as a backlash to the growing movement to secure the right to vote for women. Looking through the gallery gives one a shudder but also an appreciation for how far society has come in terms of equality and how pernicious that last mile to go can be.

gathers no moss

Halfway between Copenhagen and Gothenburg, a family picnicking in the forest on the estate of the late Swedish parliamentarian Alfred Bexell discovered in 1925 hundreds of hidden aphorisms and maxims carved into the moss covered boulders several decades earlier.
Known as Bexell’s Talking Stones, it was later discovered that the landowner had employed two masons to work the engravings over several seasons but Bexell never declared his motivation to share these bits of wisdom or why he kept it a secret, but it does seem rather enchanting and rangers have ensured that visitors can trace their own path of discovery. Dygd âr makt translates to “virtue is power.”

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

These jihadi hijinks are engineered to foment a religious war and sew more distrust but are the work of disgusting nihilists.
Now these terrible events are cycling in and out so quickly as to stint every one of us of the time to mourn and reflect. Appeasement is concession and not accommodation and certainly not tolerance.
Here are some scenes from some of the places where such dread and brutal violence was visited just in the past month at more tranquil times.


Being something of a manhole-fancier myself (that sounds like an awful indictment so perhaps the German term Kanaldeckel is better), I really appreciated being introduced to the urban artist called Raubdruckerin by the fabulous Nag on the Lake. This exhibitionist has made a circuit of dozens of cities to pirate the impressions of the signatures of the plumbing that lies underneath the asphalt but can really be iconic symbols of a place on to tee-shirts and tote-bags and just as representative as a skyline.

creative commons

For a decade, Wikipedia has held an annual competition to showcase the best photography that freely licensed for anyone to use, and Twisted Sifter has a finely curated gallery that features the superlatives from this past year and links to see all the winners lauded since 2006. There’s some really amazing and iconic images to discover, and the effort and enthusiasm really highlights the importance of this community of volunteers.

offworld colonies

Messy Nessy Chic transports us to the Mojave Desert where NASA and visionary artist and Andrea Zettler share the other worldly landscape for the elective and investigative outdoors activities.
While the space agency is field testing accom- modations for the Moon, Mars and beyond, Zettler is expanding on a dream to camp like alien with these fantastic self-contained pods that recede into their surroundings. Zettler’s science-fiction æsthetic is an exploration that certainly has the potential for cross-over into the realm of applied engineering and design, as well as the social needs of people living in isolation. Learn more about the Wagon Station Encampment in the deserts outside of Joshua Tree at the link up top.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

cozy bear, fancy bear

US intelligence agencies are lending credence, BoingBoing informs, to the suggestion that the Russian government contracted hackers to leak Democratic National Committee internal emails that would besmirch Clinton’s candidacy and throw the presidential election in Trump’s favour.
Given the mogul’s disdain for institutions like NATO and attested admiration for the Russian leader (not to mention business connections), the conspiracy seems more and more plausible. Yet this development might be a double-bluff to bury an even more diabolical plot. Asked what the bureau’s next move might be in the investigation, experts owed that their scope could be quite restricted and outside of their jurisdiction, as while bypassing computer security is a crime (even white hat hacking) trying to influence the outcome of a vote is not, and, unlike the unabashed media, the government would not want to risk fowling the waters—poisoning their own wells. What do you think? Being frank and forthright is a rare commodity in politics.


Dangerous Minds has a nice appreciation and curation of the kinetic work of French-Hungarian design pioneer Victor Vasarely, acknowledged as the founder of the op art movement, whose formal apex came some three decades later on the cusps of the Midcentury Modern style—and revival. The panels and the henges of psychedelic monoliths are pretty amazing, and though artistry is maybe lost to the dazzling and dizzying the principles of teasing the perception lives on in optical illusions and Gestalt frameworks.


Primarily referring to weasel or stoat society (from the Greek word for ferrets and minks), galeanthropy can also be used to define the mental delusion that one is becoming a cat, replete with feline mannerisms. Well, what do you know about that? I wonder if there’s a special term specifically for the way cats and kittens are anthropomorphised on the internet.

bell, book and candle

Having just recently made the acquaintance of Marginal Revolution and reading the blog with some regularity, I was intrigued to learn of an upcoming book by its caretaker, Tyler Cowen.
Titled The Complacent Class, the work examines how relentlessness and insistent perseverance (first observed by Alexis de Tocqueville in his travelogue Democracy in America) that once characterised American gumption or at least framed the American Dream—with due caution for the dangers of exceptionalism and appreciating that such phenomena carry with them a Manifest Destiny that does not respect borders, is being eroded into a sort of smugness that’s cushioned by apathy and disengagement by what Tyler identifies as the “matching culture.” Just as there are fewer and fewer of Noah’s Arks of apartment buildings, no menageries from all walks of life housed together, and people self-segregate—much of our thinking, choices, loving is governed by algorithm that while delivering the kindred and the resonant also threatens to isolate and insulate. Of course demagogues, media and marketing have always been instruments of manipulation but we have not been able to so exclusively people our world’s—thus limiting our horizons—with like-minded and reaffirming furniture. I was excited to see the preview of this publication and think it will be a very worth-while read.

Monday, 25 July 2016

ancinne régime

At first I thought that the high concentration of châteaux along the Loire, some three hundred and each more picturesque than the last, was at first something like a competition among the favoured and bourgeoisie, like the skyscrapers of San Gimignano that were built taller and taller to try to keep up with and out-do the Joneses, but I quickly realised that side-by-side comparisons of grand-opulence were not possible as the stately homes were located on vast, landscaped estates—well away from any prying neighbours. Once I thought there was another palace within view but found out that that was just the carriage house.
The monarch of France throughout the Middle Ages until the dawn of the Renaissance only ruled a very small kingdom—confined to the region around Paris, the Île de France, but consolidating power in the capital caused the landed-gentry to shift their power-base as well but rather than abandon their beloved countryside in Central France for the city, ancient fortifications were transformed into outstanding summer residences, maintained at great expense but keeping the fertile river valley (the Loire being the longest river in the country) in the hands of the aristocracy.
The walls, moats and high-ground locations betray their defensive roots but the structural elements of castle and keep were civilised after a fashion and converted into quite luxurious accommodations. Each rich with heritage and history, the three châteaux we visited were (from top to bottom) Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord and Chenonceau but we know we must return soon for more exploration.

glaubengeist or calling doctor bombay

Via Strange Company’s weekly link amalgamation, comes an interesting look into the rebellious character of early Renaissance Swiss alchemist and physician Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim—better known by the handle Paracelsus (for surpassing Aulis Cornelius Celsus, the heretofore authoritative source on anatomy and medicine from Ancient Rome), whose unflagging disdain for convention and endless curiosity places his genius up there with his less well traveled (engaged as a field surgeon) but better-known contemporaries Copernicus and da Vinci.
Though criticised by the establishment for rough-manners, constant drunkenness and sacrilege, Paracelsus’ scientific approach that held no deference to past experts (scholastics) and experimentation brought about the discovery of toxicology when most alchemists—not to mention gold- and silversmiths, were content to douse themselves with lethal doses of poisons and the concept of the Glaubengeist: not that the agents of disease were purely of a psychical nature nor that contagion was telepathic but rather invasive entities. Glaubengeister were distinct from the pathogens, germs that Paracelsus believed caused and spread most ailments as notion of a sickness, mania or panic having psychosomatic, restricting the idea of moods and humours to only in specific cases and to specific individuals, and not demonic possession. Carl Jung famously, centuries later, incorporated Paracelsus’ occult alchemic flow-charts and symbols into his own work in the field of psychoanalysis, believing that dialectic encoded the experience of the shared and idiomatic unconsciousness.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

mo(u)rning in america

Via Marginal Revolution’s curated links, we are invited to check our punditry-meter when considering—or privileging—the current political landscape in America and abroad. Rhetoric is certainly spun-up to a fevered-pitch but the other thing about persuasive or sophistical speech is that is also serviceably modular and forgettable. While there is certainly cause for alarm and precedence for danger and intrigue and an awful redux of some things we’d thought we had dispatched, maybe there’s little novel in the present situation to bemoan.
Looking at these melodramatic instances from recent campaigns and critiques, I am reminded of far older politicking that conceived the polarising two-party system of the US: like the Tea-Partiers of the last election cycle, there was in the mid-1850s a movement called the Know Nothings—being a quasi-secret society whose membership and activities they’d never divulge to outsiders, owning up to no knowledge of whatever accusations. Even more anachronistically, they called their political caucus the Native American Party in order to balance out the political vacuum with the collapse of the of the Whig constituency and existed exclusively to warn-off the decent suffragans of the country about the dangers of immigration—especially of the Catholic persuasion with marching orders from the Pope to subvert the country. Unsuccessfully, they campaigned to reinstate former president Millard Fillmore and in the wake of the US Civil War, sublimated themselves into the grandees of the GOP. Fillmore had the first bathtub put in the White House, among other things. Even compared to contemporary events, the politics of America seem almost abruptly passé, given that BREXIT has effectively already built that border-wall, Theresa May has been installed as an unelected Prime Minister (though a Bremain-supporter, is quite a boon to an Anglo-Saxon named Status Quo) and dotty former London mayor Boris Johnson has been elevated in the caretaker cabinet to the office of Foreign Minister. America, for once, might have an uphill battle for lunacy.

art funéraire

While touring the Île d’Oléron and stopping to explore the village of Saint-Pierre, we were struck by this significant though rather mysterious monument from the Middle Ages.
This model so- called lantern of the dead (lanternes des morts oder Totenleuchte) dates from at least the 1150s appear throughout western France, and though the oldest and highest at twenty-eight meters, inland, it was not visible for great distances—mostly on the periphery of cemeteries, as this one is, probably was kept as an eternal flame or lit to recall the parish to funerary rites. No one knows for certain to their custom and origin, however.
Most presume that these free-standing spires were early dedications akin to wayside shrines (Weg- oder Bildstöcke) that commemorate accidents or escapes on pilgrimage routes, but given their sturdiness and clean polygonal symmetries (the church of the village had similar early gothic angles), people entertain all sorts of influences (cheminées sarrasines they are sometimes called perhaps as a memory from the Battle of Tours) and forgotten rituals, perhaps even originally to purpose as warning of quarantine or danger, despite the continuance of history.

du hast den farbfilme vergessen

Via Der Spiegel (nur auf Deutsche), we are introduced to a demonstration project in artificial-intelligence “deep learning” in the form of an algorithm that can add a splash of colour to black-and-white photographs.
Like the routine that offers to caption one’s images, the better it gets (provided it is not subject to abuse and ridicule) the more experience it has. It is interesting how when context is available, it’s already very good at inserting the proper soft hue to grass and half-lit canyons, but for historical photographs, things start to fade and come up a wash, as it cannot guess the colour of Kaiser Wilhelm’s dress-coat or differentiate building colour among sepia tones. Give it a try yourself and also help improve the algorithm’s confidence.

trademark, earmark

Though there is no law proscribing that an American president cannot be engaged in private commercial activity—though most are more discrete about it, having their income tied up in plantations, speakers’ fees, book deals or in other monetary instruments, no other candidate has founded his pre-political career on image and personality so as to seem inexorably inseparable from the brand as our mogul Silvio Berlusconi.
Notwithstanding the inherent conflict of interest that presents itself when pledging to restrict Muslim immigration despite lending his name to business towers in Istanbul and Dubai, there are a whole array of products, like premium vodka, subscription steak deliveries, cologne, a winery, a diploma-mill in addition to the casinos and beauty-pageants that the candidate might have to divest himself of. With the campaign slogan, “America—you can be my ex-wife,” I wonder who the lucky recipient of this alimony might be. I suspect Berlusconi or a coalition government formed by one of Stevie Nick’s shawls and the scalp of Trump’s own balding pate might make for a more beneficent rule.


While it is probably almost always amateur-night at the False Flag, depending on how chuffed one imagines oneself to be and the target-audience to be duped—despite what the hecklers may counter, the manufactured junta, military coup that the current and long-standing regime of the Turkish government sprung in the midst of tragic distraction and suffering ought to be a cue to the world that this Ottoman cabal ought not be accorded the respect and confidence of a legitimate and democratically sourced power any longer.
The rolls of undesirables to be purged were at the ready to be released in the immediate aftermath of the orchestrated failure, like the enemies-list of some paranoid Roman emperor (the attested role of country’s military’s executive estate being to preserve the standard of secularism in the face of the blurring of Church and State) and ushered in the lock-down of thousands of educational, judicial, media and charitable institutions accused of subversion, not counting the depleted ranks of the army and untold political dissidents in the sweeping process. The staging of the whole theatre was sloppy—but also was the media coverage and critical-analysis. Such disdain for difference of opinion certainly and basic human-rights could not be the hallmarks of accession to the European Union—not that the muzzled majority of Turkish people should suffer more for the tyranny of their leaders, nor does it seem to be an ideal location for the US to store its nuclear arsenal or consider its NATO partnership a reliable one. Let’s hope that this pretend narrative could lend momentum to the real thing.

house-arrest ou le château d’oléron

The settlement that has grown over the centuries around Le Château d’Oléron is arguably most famous as the place where Henry II held his troublesome but otherwise irreproachable wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine captive for sixteen years for conniving to replace him as sovereign of England and outremar with their eldest son.  

Surely not the worst of places to wile away one’s sentence, but it turned out to be all the more endearing to us with the hindsight of nine hundred years that we’d visited this place (at least the Vauban fortifications and harbour) a mere five years hence and had forgotten about it—like the Wizard Gandalf said, “I have no memory of this place,” but being as function follows form for citadels, certain patterns start to emerge that tend to blur together.
Happily we had not remembered as we got to discover more, including the rows of former oyster-mongers bright water-colour shacks that had been conserved and converted to boutiques and studios—which reminded me of the laboratories and dwellings of the court alchemists of Prague whose workshops around the castle were resigned to a similar fate but didn't cost an extra entry fee to see—strongholds of Protestantism where the Huguenots had refuge given the island’s remote location, the Jesuit abbey converted into the Mairie, the city hall and chamber of commerce, and the historic square with a fountain that marked in neo-Renaissance style the inclusion of Île d’Orélon on the circuit of the Tour de France, acknowledged some ninety years after a jibe with competing publishers of a bicycle and a car magazines decided to put rubber to the road.  
Our bike trekking here, though no where near epic, took us through some really amazing landscapes of the island.

caveat lector

Though perhaps an object lesson in the reliability of the tabloid-press and this fast-food franchise does carry the daily issue of this particular publication in its restaurants for its diners’ reading pleasure, it seems very tragic that the German outlets would blindly carry this edition the following day after the murderous rampage in Munich, oblivious to the irony. In the main, German journalism is more reserved and sparing on speculation or salacious details (to protect the parties involved) and may never disclose names until one event is overcome by the next catastrophe. ISIS is the Cosplay Caliphate by its nature attracts losers and cowards to its sick and contorted cause, and operating under the principle that there is no such thing as bad publicity, gladly will accept someone settling personal scores under their ægis and allow the media to will connections that may or may not be there.

Saturday, 16 July 2016


We discovered on the Atlantic stretch of beach leading to the lighthouse (Phare) of Chassiron on the northernmost tip of the Île d’Oléron thousands of stone piles (cáirn).  It was a really arresting and surprising composition, like a landscape from the imagination of Anton Gaudí.  The collected and arranged stones were obliviously bleached and hewn by the sea, pock-marked and made me think of the received folk-belief of the Hühnergotten (equivalent to the Celtic idea of the Adders’ Stone) that a rock with a naturally (or preternaturally) bored hole is a lucky charm—presumably because it can be strung through easily and worn as an amulet.  Not all of these stones could have been eroded by time and tide to specifications like this one I spied but left on the beach to achieve a perfect poultry-form (I realise that hühn has nothing to do with chicken but it is an association that gets reinforced like Sparkasse as Cheese Bank) as I think that would have been too magical.  I knew, however, that each stone was tending in that direction at least as we stacked and balanced ours along the beach as well before proceeding to the lighthouse and latter day ensemble at the promontory.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

revenons à nos moutons

With it being Bastille Day, one could be forgiven for taking the title to be one of the rousing but lesser known verses from La Marseille, but it is actually a French idiom to the effect “but we digress,” which sometimes makes an appearance in English too as a turn of phrase.
From an anonymous medieval play called La Farce de Maître Pathelin, an anti-hero and petty thief tries to confuse a county magistrate trying him for sheep-wrangling but introducing details from a second crime—to which the judge cries “but let us return to our sheep at hand.”