Tuesday, 26 September 2017

public-notice

Chillingly, the US Department of Homeland Security has posted it proposed policies for monitoring the social media accounts of all migrants and their associates to the Federal Register (the official journal of the government) and is soliciting comments from the public. And while there will always hopefully be institutions to challenge the expanding reach of Big Brother (which has been in development for decades and something we’ve all been complacent about and complicit with) and the bureau probably won’t be granted everything its asking for, it is disturbing that any semblance of privacy (and Americans ought not be privileged over the rest of the world by dint of their citizenship since soon they won’t be) is becoming a rarer and rarer luxury only for the powerful and the duly deputised.

6x6

brick and mortar: the trajectory of on-line retailer Amazon very closely mirrors that of Sears and Roebuck  

corporate sponsorship: former London mayor tried to secure funds for the Thames Garden Bridge by allowing Apple to plop a store in the middle of the river

choo-choo: an incredibly charming hand-drawn train journey animation, via Waxy

songun: striking and iconographic ephemera from North Korea

tree of life: a look at how many species and varieties that each plant and animal emoji represents, via Kottke

ama: highlights from an interview with Monty Python alumnus John Cleese

sologamy

A thoughtful, reflexive essay on the trend of self-marriage, after indulging us with a personal peek at the private-public declarations of matrimony (held in a karaoke bar in the former no-man’s land between East and West Berlin), poses the question whether the rite is an emancipation from having to prove one’s worth by merit of relationship status or an oppressive, pathetic totem of self-absorption and a photo-opportunity.
While marriage and companionship has had a lot heaped on it in the past few decades—radically transformed from a utilitarian and practical arrangement that was essentially a commercial transaction to one with heady, superlative expectations of romance, protection, friendship, counsellor and a dozen other roles that might have been cast across a wider social network, it still seems robust and resilient enough to bear that burden. For those whom marriage might not impart an element of social mobility, however, self-marriage might not just be the trite amour-propre of narcissism that it seems to be and rather the staging that culminates in a ceremony (executed or not) is certainly a rebuke for spinster and crone (or whore) and all the other nasty terms that society directs at single women—who are the majority of participants. What do you think? Commandeering social conventions are a way of highlighting the constraints and limitations of our society but rather than betraying ourselves as needy and infantile, and I believe the author’s exercise was neither endorsement or condemnation but rather an expose and exploration worth contemplating on the nature of sanction and the sacrosanct but we’re probably each other’s own best allies for keeping us in good health, accountable and sane, morally and ethically.

Monday, 25 September 2017

jump-cut

Despite its novelty and notwithstanding anecdotes of panicked early audiences rushing away from the screen at the sight of an oncoming train, cinematographers put together and edit scenes and montages in much the same way as humans augment their visual experience by allowing their brains to fill in the gaps, as we learn from Æon Video via Laughing Squid. Previously we were introduced to the rather vexing notion of saccade-masking and how we are effective blind to the outside world a significant portion of the day and how smooth, sweeping transitions are illusory compared to the fragmentary and clawing reality of our sense of sight, and this short documentary does a very good job of demonstrating how resolving focus, peripheral vision, intention and attention collaborate to produce a director’s cut of remembered sight whose stage and screen parallels perhaps couldn’t be appreciated until deconstructed.  Aside from the rather remarkable fact that we were so willing to take to the format and venue and are now more willing to engage with our flat things than the real dimensions around us in terms of narrative and belief, the genius of film-makers for exploiting this visual conceit for story-telling was something taken for granted as well.

triumvirate

While it is no doubt terrifying that for the first time since 1957 (before the liquidation of the Deutsche Reichsparte and Vaterländische Union) there are openly fascist elements in the Bundestag (plus representation in the parliaments of thirteen out of sixteen Bundesländer) and that a small percentage of the voting population has given a mandate to such a world-view, it is definitely preferable to suffer a thirteen-proof dotard than take the full, unadulterated wrath of bigoted despotism.
Perhaps it is better to give Nazis the stage to fail spectacularly than expend the efforts—better spent elsewhere—to convince the world that this is not a lesson, couched in the same terms, that we need to revisit. And while the share is not a controlling one and other minority, anti-establishment parties will I am sure will I am sure be willing to cast support to the CDU and SPD (though unexcited about the prospects of continued teamwork) in order to retain a viable government without having to resort to engaging a chauvinistic political bloc, these are untested times and no matter how one interprets the outcome, the AfD still finished in third place. I don’t know if governance by consensus and dialogue can continue with such a foil that represents something far more obstructive rather than constructive, and in this fragmented environment I expect more legislation to succumb to gridlock and internecine fights and flounder. What do you think? We’re grateful that Merkel retains the chancellorship but are repulsed by the way xenophobia and totalitarianism is regaining purchase.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

stimmzettel

It’s federal elections in Germany and every suffragan is given two votes—one to choose their local representative to send to Berlin for the Bundestag (the legislative and constitutional body) and the other to select a political party affiliation that determines the mandate each political group carries. Though voting may translate to a cult-of-personality, Germans know that they are not electing a chancellor in any direct sense, just operating under the assumption that a party will want to retain their present leadership and form a government with the assent and cooperation with those garnered a share of seats in Federal Diet. Though it’s not beyond reproach to argue that forming the same coalition among senior and junior partners is not ideal for democratic institutions but it is certainly preferable to chaos and antithetical compromise, and while there are two major groups, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) that usually have to work towards solutions that both can live with, the landscape is wholly other the binary natures of many other national constituencies. There’s the pro-environmentalist Greens plus the Ecological Democrats and the Animal Rights Party, two sorts of independent-voter movements plus those seeking secession for various states, the Pirate party, the further left-leaning, the Marxists and the Communists as a robust counter-balance to the hard right elements Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschland—die NDP which considers itself a successor to the NSDP.
I was also happy to see that among the contenders on the ballot was die PARTEI—an intentional mockery and miscarriage of politics, whose satirical rotation of representatives (listed candidates take turns at the EU and retire after a month) in Brussels won on the slogan “for Europe—against Europe” in 2014, just like Frontfrau Alix Schwarz advocating for both peace and war. The group’s political activities this election-cycle has been infiltrating the social media circles dedicated to AfD adherents and lampooning their message with rather destabilising consequences. Refreshingly, unlike many other joke campaigns, die PARTEI actually had a plan for what it would do if elected to high office.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

shibboleth, cool whip

 Recently we were introduced to a phonological concept that struck as completely novel though we’d been acquainted with one of its most cited examples for some time: the rhyming passkey—in a sense—Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa’t dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries (Butter, bread and green cheese; who can’t say this is no authentic Frisian) was employed during an early sixteenth century revolt to weed out Danes in their midst, reasoning that only native speakers could pronounce all the words properly.
The term shibboleth is from a biblical battle where accent and pronunciation similarly distinguished friend from foe and can figuratively refer to not just a language test to differentiate in-groups from out-groups—given that scripts are adapted to the set of sounds unique or common to every language—but more broadly to cohesive, meaningful jargon, shared experiences, anthems, prayers or other common cultural touchstones. I suppose the term could further be abstracted into sort of an anti-alphabet or anti-lexicon of limitations, like asking a German to say “squirrel” or any number of tongue-twisters that it would be a challenge for a foreigner to master. Do you know your own personal set of shibboleths? We are all outsiders and misfits to some group and that’s perfectly fine. Why are you saying it all weird?

Friday, 22 September 2017

6x6

1995: a retrospective of the first five web applications that informed the internet as we know it, via Waxy

travelling matte: a thirty kilometre long art project for train passengers between Jena and Naumburg

bellerophon: incredible Roman mosaic discovered by amateur archaeologists in the Cotswolds

lay of the land: different proposals for visualising maps and daily journeys through the lens of time

mona lisas and mad hatters: other Elton John songs that Dear Leader uses to refer to world leaders

phase shift: pumping air through sand makes it behave like a liquid, first spotted here  

Thursday, 21 September 2017

devil’s on the doorstep

Thanks indeed to TYWKIDBI for giving us the chance to re-visit the engineering superstition (not pictured) that considered feats of medieval architecture so far beyond the capacity of human builders—especially bridges—that local populations would have had to enter into a diabolical compact in order to have their commission fulfilled.
Certainly encountering such marvels would have been rare and awe inspiring, but people, vastly under- estimating their own abilities, attributed them to more ancient, pagan times (the opposite direction from another bit of German lore, the Schwedenschanze (EN) that mistook ancient fortifications and earthworks to be remnants of the Thirty Years’ War with Sweden rather than traces of prehistoric humans).  During the Middle Ages even the relics of Roman roads were considered to be too logistically sophisticated and in excess of mortal requirements to not be the product of some Faustian bargain.  I wonder what sort of preconceptions are clouding our vision presently that we will only be able to dispel with hindsight.

cheminées sarrasines

We enjoyed this article on the enduring mystery of the so-called Lanterns of the Dead from Amusing Planet and reminded us how we were first acquainted with the structure while on holiday on Île d’Oléron.
The purpose and origin of the towers that appear predominately in southern France but are also to be found in other European countries is unsettled but one theory suggests that the towers were guideposts built along ancient pilgrimage trails that pointed the way to the Holy Land—the French word for moors (maures) misheard as the word for “dead” (morts) and the new appellation eventually held. The use of the towers to gain one’s bearings—or orientation, of course comes from the lands to the East where the sun rises.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

l’autre moi

We’re again indebted to the brilliant Nag on the Lake for bringing us quite a fascinating biography of two brave and creative individuals whose story and contributions to the resistance went untold with the life and times of step-siblings and life-time partners Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe—also known as Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore.
Pioneering selfie-artists and authors, Cahun and Moore (the other me, as Cahun called her lover) challenged traditional gender roles and honed their identity and craft at a time when the world was going full-on fascist and fled Nazi-occupied Paris for the Channel Islands. Up to this point, their situation reminded me a bit of that of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas during the war but seeing that after resettling in Jersey in 1937, they really stuck their necks out rather than keeping a low-profile as Jewish lesbians might do. Nazi forces invaded the island in 1940 and the two risked their lives with a psy-ops hearts-and-minds campaign to make Nazi soldiers believe that there was a large-scale, professional effort to take back Jersey imminent, aided by a typewriter and translated text to lend credence to their claim and helped with the liberation of the island. They were eventually taken into custody by the secret-police but their stance was enough of a reprieve to stay their punishment until the Axis powers in Europe surrendered.

rocket man or unga chunga

The imbecile Dear Leader was given a platform at the United Nations general assembly which to the consternation and alarm of not only those US allies in the region but I’d venture every soul departed, on Earth and yet to come pledged to “totally destroy” North Korea and its twenty-five million residence should it continue to menace its neighbours and America.
Despite his past criticism for the international body for inaction and inefficiency (and cheap emerald marble backsplash), he flinched, thankfully, in his pugilistic rhetoric by heaping the onus on the UN by saying that hopefully a military response wouldn’t be necessary: “We’ll see—that’s what the UN is there for.” Such bluster is not only a grave embarrassment that strips America of all credibility—and although Americans might distance themselves from their leadership, the rest of the world is losing patience fast with those apologies and pretenses—it carries consequences and responsibilities that Dear Leader has proven himself incapable of assuming.

6x6

hello, I am a bear: ursine pondering and poetry, via Dave Log

alles in ordnung: German government being sublimely dull

down in the underground: the forgotten catacombs underneath Brussels, via Messy Nessy Chic

muted: hushed and concise social media is reviving the cinematography of the silent film

orbit city: celebrating the life and work of Gin Wong, the architect who inspired The Jetsons

adult swim: synchronised images of Soviet-era public pools

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

port authority

Though we’ve previously encountered some of these fantastic, never realised plans for buildings and infrastructure in New York City as isolated proposals, like a gargantuan skyscraper by Antoni Gaudí or an elevated ten lane highway crossing Manhattan, having the chance to see many of this past visions as an ensemble superimposed on a scale-model of the great metropolis is completely transformational.
Among the many innovative and utopian ideas that we were introduced to by this nicely researched and curated exhibition to be held in the Flushing neighborhood of the bureau of Queens the urban air authority was our new favourite—a massive airport and runway built over the docklands along the Hudson River.

co-morbidity

Some cancers are more pernicious than others oncologists are finding due to bacteria that can metabolise a certain strain of cancer-fighting medications taking up refuge in tumours and gobbling up the drugs before it can be used to combat the malignancy. Developing resistance to traditional treatments is potentially catastrophic and if we lose the efficacy of all antibiotic remedies we’ll find our healthcare reverting to that of the Middle Ages but this seemingly novel resistance through a sort of unintended symbiosis certainly bears out further study and may be more prevalent than expected—all the more reason to protect what resources are in our quiver.

sign and shingle

An exhibit at San Diego’s Mingei International Museum features sixty nineteenth century kanban (billboards or hoardings) commissioned by shop-keepers from professional artisans who handcrafted them. These Edo-era pieces were designed to be attention-grabbers and often were crafted in the form of the wares on offer to allow shoppers to navigate crowded commercial streets and markets intuitively, like the pictured canting kanban for a spectacle shop. Be sure to visit Hyperallergic at the link up top for more curious curations.

omphaloskepsis

One hears the phrase navel-gazing bandied about quite often in a (mostly) figurative sense to call-out egotism or indulging in self-absorbed pursuits, but we failed to realise that contemplating one’s belly-button is an ancient prescribed practise rooted in yogic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Mediating on the navel—the seat of the sacral chakra—is a heuristic tool that aids in reflection on the self and the wider Cosmos or inducing a trace-state.

any port in a storm

Taking advantage of a constitutional crisis that has promulgated the dissolution of parliament (I can remember when a nation’s collapse into chaos garnered more coverage), neo-Nazi internet refugees behind the publication of The Daily Stormer have taken up residence in Iceland, and not because of the country’s pledge to create a sanctuary of internet freedoms but rather because enshrined within that legal framework it is stipulated that only the executive can revoke an .is domain and it appears that they’ve won at least a few weeks’ worth of reprieve since Iceland is lacking one. As repulsive as hosting such a presence might be, Iceland ought to be proud of this technicality and have some extra motivation to form a stable coalition to be rid of this parasite soon. The present editor-in-chief to the publication is heir to Julius Streicher’s (Gauleiter of Franconia) original Der Stürmer that focused chiefly on the problems of miscegenation, an unofficial weekly digest for useful idiots which became a growing embarrassment to the Nazi party who was nonetheless executed in Nuremberg for war crimes.

Monday, 18 September 2017

ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

Researching another topic, I came across the line that reportedly one of der Führer’s favourite go-to sayings was that “politics is applied biology,” misattributed to nineteenth century biologist and educator Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel, who did remark that the social sciences—a much broader retrospective of human affairs—are instances of applied biology.
It’s also another mark against him too that he espoused rather racists theories couched in the language of science but without scientific basis, captured in the title phrase (that may sound familiar) that an individual’s biological development is a summary and reflection of its evolution as a species—based on the imaginative though equally incorrect premise that human embryonic stage resemble a progression through more primitive forms of life—which I recall being taught in elementary school. Haeckel’s vast body of work and contributions to life sciences aside from these significant missteps define the way we view the natural world and his place in the scientific community (like his favoured non-Darwinian Jean Baptise Lamarck who privileged exercise and atrophy over natural selection) ought not be excised from history. Haeckel did a lot for scientific literacy, having introduced the public to the rich ecological diversity at scale all environments support and prefigured the ascending understanding of genetics by introducing concepts like the stem-cell and the missing link.  In his way, Haeckel also started the discussion ethics in biological research and experimentation and how humans might one day soon not only be able to understand but also to edit Nature. Despite the fact that Nazi propagandists selectively exploited some of his research and he reinforced the prejudiced views of race of the day, the political movement that Haeckel founded in 1905 centred around pantheism was disbanded in 1933 and disparaged—along with all other partisan groups—and Haeckel would be dismayed to see his teaching perverted had he lived to see it.  As a war correspondent late in life, coined the term “First World War” for the beginning Great War, a term that did not come into common use until its post-mortem six years later, worried that this European conflict would spread. Despite having the same ambiguity in both German and English, we did not need to wait until there wasn’t a First World War II for it to be clear whether people feared for an expanding global battlefield or whether the richer countries of the planet were fighting amongst themselves, as that classification scale was a Cold War invention.

othello

The social construct of race—a figment though its derivative racism is very much a reality—was coined with the debut performance of the stage play Thomas Middleton’s The Triumphs of Truth on 29 October 1613 in which the character of an African king addresses the audience and remarking upon the amazement that beset the faces of all these white people.
At the time of the playwright’s career, the colour lines were already coming into sharper contrast but that sense of otherness had lied just as much between the English and the Irish or the Italian and the Sicilian and was without respect to racial identity. The language and concept of race grew out of tribalism (ancestry) as a way to justify colonialism, enslavement and secure international trade—but there was not always a time when such superficial and broad classifications of one’s complexion was accorded so much power. What do you think? Though as handmaidens of ideas that we’ve matured beyond, prejudice and bigotry no matter how unwelcome cannot be said to have outlasted their purpose—since one group will always want to claim dominance over another and needs divisive abstractions to these accomplish these ends—but perhaps by dint of the transformative and relatively very short histories of race politics we can again foster societies that don’t ascribe to such standards that foist affiliations on others by their outward appearance.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

panopticon

For any of you humans brave or fool-hearty enough to tread into heretofore uncharted neural network territory, Waxy presents AI Spy, an absurdist version of the game meant to impart a sense of patience in children during prolonged travel and in waiting rooms where one is pitted against machine-learning in a sort of augmented reality setting, the computer asking the user to limn its surroundings in photos and selecting interesting artefacts to tease out. Part of an on-going series of weekly projects, playing requires some suspension of disbelief and asks humans to think like machines

masquerade

Over-sharing (indeed the utopian oblige of it all) and the way we’ve filled in the gaps of celebrity as a crisis of character and of history through nostalgia and an endless series of hails, salutes and remembrances has made a parallel world in our own image that’s apparently of more consequence than the real physical world—without even venturing into the myriad ways we’ve disrupted Nature with unnatural selection—where we’re held hostage to those who know (that is have to incontrovertible, time-stamped evidence) those things that we are not the most proud of and would never want to promote as part of our on-line and public persona.
Even if the forces that be are not malevolent spirits and have no intention of betraying one’s secrets, it’s still a regime of unease and blackmail that really mentally challenging to endure and as a result—whether we’d admit to this revolt and backlash or not since complacency and the status quo have been accorded higher sanctities—people seemed instead of dealing with this aggregated dossier without alibi to turn pre-emptively confessional and willing to excuse past indiscretions no matter what they were nor whom the peccadilloes belonged to, either out of unrelenting fear or mistaking empathy for whataboutery—the sophistry of appealing to one’s opponents’ apparent past hypocrisy as relevant to the present situation. Perhaps it’s a very American trait to ignore a very large problem like the concentration of data and having no control over how its interpreted and shared or stolen because it would be complex to solve and require a lot of sacrifice to deny there’s a problem at all and instead excuse the symptomatic being caught red-handed or being made to eat one’s words as some sort of shared consolation-prize that exculpates any bad behaviour.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

brimful of asha

The neighbourhood bodegas (cognate with boutique, Spanish for wine-cellar and ultimately from the Greek ἀποτίθημι for to put away in the sense of a repository) or corner shops (or dépanneurs) are the anchors of communities, and a tech start-up that’s telling consumers to shut-up whilst they’re being disrupted is developing a rather unpopular business model that aims to replace these indispensable institutions with vending machines stocked with whatever honour-bar and tone-deaf line of merchandise vying for dubious product-placement. What do you think? Unicorn-chasing—much like ambulance-chasing, surely fuels the rank-hypocrisy of misguided confidence that assumes that complacence and convenience is paramount.

fluid dynamics or bonzai kittens

A French physicist wins the coveted Ig Noble prize with his thesis that felines exhibit both properties of being both solid and liquid states simultaneously.
It’s sort of like the superposition of Schrödinger’s Cat, studying the creatures’ remarkable limberness and ability to fill any space and assume the shape of its container. Prizes also come with an honorarium of ten trillion (Zimbabwean) dollars. Read more about the other laureates in different categories, including an unconscionable experiment that compared the brain waves of cheese-lovers and cheese-haters (also taking place in France) to see if the source of aversion could be pinpointed, at the link up top.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

objets trouvés

Thanks to the forever marvellous Nag on the Lake for directing our attention to the romantic and indulgently thoughtful Parisian institution of the city’s central Lost and Found Bureau.
The repository for mislaid personal items collected from the metro and museum networks or turned in by caring individuals that hope possessor and object can be reunited has a long history, sourced by to the reign of Napoleon I, just a spare two decades after the Revolution that radically redefined the sense of ownership. Whereas under the feudal Ancien Régime, lost property of tenets generally reverted to the landlord—and still is in Anglo-Saxon legal frameworks what with possession being nine-tenths of the law (just consider this place where Hoggel resides), finders were no longer necessarily keepers and the right to ownership was enshrined as a fundamental and inalienable one. The curation of the collection and compassion of the staff is rather incredible. The dignity of an individual is of course greater than the sum of his or her things, but I think the greatness of one’s character comes through with these intimate, emotional reunions and allowing things to shift from expendable to indispensable.

hms semaphore

One automobile manufacturer recently outfitted a test-pilot as an empty driver’s seat in order to gauge public, man-on-the-street reaction to autonomous vehicles, not so much for the rubbernecking effect that driverless car illicit but rather a means to study how such cars might signal their intentions and how quickly traditional vehicles and pedestrians sharing the road might pick up on that newly minted language. Presently drivers get a lot of mileage out of a tap of the horn or flashing high-beams but apparently a more sophisticated system is needed to interact with human controlled traffic. While some useful data was gleaned off of the stunt, the methodology reportedly was not the best.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

the commons

One could be forgiven for missing this one announcement from Apple amidst all the other novelty surrounding the occasion marking a decade since such gadgets have come to be an extension of ourselves and of living remotely, but we agree that Apple’s presumption to tout its sleek stores as the new town squares is telling of the pseudo-public and pseudo-democratic nature of online engagement.
The notion of the third place—a hangout, a haunt, like a favoured bar or café, that’s neither work nor home—has been on the wane in most societies, and doubtless the smart phone was a major contributing factor to that decline. A visit to one of the flagship boutiques is a pleasant experience without the usual trappings and overt pressure of a retail establishment but just as social media or any other major platform on the internet, that space or forum is the absolute nadir of openness and cannot be a guarantor of freedoms. Possibly Wikipedia is the virtual exception that manifests as the physical rule. What do you think? People can of course build the momentum to counter unpopular policies and practises and these platforms, untethered have been the catalysts at revolutionary moments but social media sites, businesses beholden to their investors, cannot be accorded, flattered with the crime of censorship, since to do so cheapens and imperils authentic democratic institutions and the responsible exercise thereof.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

wahlkampf

Weeks ahead of the relatively anodyne federal elections in Germany, we appreciated this retrospective on campaigning here from Rebecca Schuman (complete with pronunciation help)—where despite the fact that partisan battles are severely curtailed and essentially limited to poster format, there are no political television commercials and just a few government sanctioned debates, we have the gall to feign campaign fatigue. Though the incumbent can be assured of her re-election, there’s still much at stake, including battered relations with Turkey, and we ought not become complacent or disengaged. There are an awful lot of posters, however, as I suppose the one thing that’s not regulated and they’ve canvased every tree and lamp post—and those slogans and messenging are deserving are deserving of critique.

hail to the chief as we pledge cooperation

As obedient as my workplace was in acknowledging their new Commander-in-Chief, I had assumed that the portrait of on the hierarchy board was a stylistic choice, a scowling Dear Leader looming rather exaggeratedly with the White House in the background, and not a provisional screen-grab that various agencies and offices have agreed to use in lieu of an official photograph—that’s yet to be taken and distributed across the government. Many offices, in fact, absent an official photograph that matches those on lower rungs in the chain of command have chosen to display no picture for the past nine months. A few weeks ago, I overheard someone urging their companion to take the elevator up one flight with them rather than taking the stairs so as to avoid having to look at the big wooden tablet hanging on the wall in the stairwell. It is a rather demoralising sight to behold as a daily reminder.

6x6

all the lonely people: the backstory of Eleanor Rigby and a chance to own a rather macabre piece of Beatles’ memorabilia, via Nag on the Lake

nuda veritas: the murals of Gustav Klimt re-enacted with live models, via the Everlasting Blört

poker face: lessons from a professional player that apply to life outside of the game

weblog: eulogising Jerry Pournelle, who was not only the first to write a book solely on a computer but also one of the pioneering bloggers

field guide: understanding the symbols of hate may prove empowering in shaping the trajectory of society for the better

enduring mystery: those claims of having deciphered the Voynich Manuscript were a mix of unprovable claims and already surmised details  

fungus among us

Inspired by the diversity of toadstools and mushrooms we came across recently on our walk in the woods, I was drawn to a special exhibit at Wiesbaden’s museum (previously here and here and probably in more spots) on the nutritive, toxic and social history aspects of fungi.
From classification and identification to application and preservation, the displays were engrossing and enlightening as they ranged from the culinary, pharmaceutical and their oversized role as pigments for dyes and warrior cosmetics and I especially liked the artistry of the dioramas with a section dedicated to the workshop that created these diverse, liminal (neither animal nor vegetable)  mushroom mannequins.
Actual specimens, like creatures of the deep, wouldn’t survive public scrutiny and many could potential offer hazard and models were made and placed in their native environments to illustrate their role in the ecologies of various biomes. The exhibits on the usage of fungi were supplemented by local anecdotal enterprises, like a crafty woman who coloured wool in many shades with mushroom sourced pigments and another who was a successful farmer and we’re thinking of cultivating our own in our root cellar and have embarked on a course of study to those ends.
It is strange to think how these elaborate and embellished fungal fruiting bodies are just vehicles, ultimately, to spread spores and propagate the species but I suppose that the same is true for ourselves, however we might consider ourselves the refined heirs of a long line of succession. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

gaudeamus igitur

Though possibly too late for this year’s matriculating class of freshmen, we enjoyed coming across this McSweeney’s index of honest Latin mottoes for the over-rated alma mater—especially deserving for those schools whose elite status is only by dint of exorbitant tuition and not academic excellence. Per aspera ad malam occupationem (though adversity to a bad job) does look sufficiently pithy to be an actual maxim but the whole list is funny—sort of like the faux binary nomenclature of Road-Runner and Wile E Coyote. As much pomp and circumstance that is accorded to the title hymn (So Let Us Rejoice), the composition gently pokes fun at the sacred cows of university life and has been a beer-drinking song from at least the early eighteenth century on.

an offer you can’t refuse

The data breach at a clearing-house agency that adjudicates the creditworthiness of individuals and corporations world-wide represents an incredible half of the population of the United States and potentially three-quarters of the UK but is still only about a tenth of the information that the company has aggregated on some eight hundred million entities of all shapes and sizes.
Not only did the company delay disclosing the loss of consumers’ data until executives could divest their portfolios of what would surely be a hefty financial liability, it’s also seeking (as one does, I suppose) to capitalise off this crisis those scope cannot be fully appreciated by demanding that those whom they’ve wronged (and we’re all guessing here since despite counter-claims apparently one cannot get confirmation that one’s personal and financial records have been compromised or are secure until one submits to the terms and conditions of their credit monitoring service) enrol in their credit integrity programme. The initial period is free to the consumer but the following years come with a cost unless they disenrol—which might not even be an option going forward. Even if a sizable majority remembers that their trial period is about to expire and opts out and the fee is a nominal one, the potential for profits are still huge—recalling it is half the population of America that’s affected and probably untold others. Who operates like this? We have to look out for each other.  The even bigger snare in joining this phoney consumer protection plan is that in the fine-print, by accepting this handout, one agrees to army of arbiters’ negotiations on settlement and will not engage in any grievance against the company (I imagine that this is legal boilerplate nowadays for most transactions of any type) in the future—essentially signing away the ability to sue the company for damages outside of a framework that’s constructed to be more sympathetic to big business.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

sunday drive: kallstadt

On a lark and taking advantage of the late summer sun, I drove towards Mannheim and visited the village of Kallstadt.
Though ancient and punctuated with moments reaching back into prehistoric times through the Roman Empire and the Frankish kings and the wine and tourist industry are quite robust, the settlement has garnered some unwelcome attention for being the ancestral home of Dear Leader.
Friedrich Trump, considered to have too delicate of a constitution to work in viticulture with his siblings, was appreciated to a barber at age fourteen but soon realised that his hometown didn’t have enough of a population in need of a scalping to earn a living. Approaching age of conscription for the Imperial German Army, Trump’s mother urged him to immigrate to America.
Arriving in Battery Park in 1885, Trump indicated on his immigration papers the fact he had no profession and lived with relatives in the Lower East Side.
After five years, Dear Leader’s grand- father left Man- hattan and followed the Gold Rush to San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest and made a fortune operating boarding houses and bordellos. When the boom began to go bust, Trump decided to return to Kallstadt in 1901 and married but eventually attracted the attention of Bavarian authorities that stripped Trump of his citizenship and right of abode due to having left the country to avoid military service and the family moved back to New York.
Kallstadt’s residents certainly don’t want their nice little town to become a pilgrimage destination for Dear Leader’s fanatics (there are much nicer houses than this last one and they’re more fond of their other son, father of condiment purveyor Henry John Heinz) and we’re certainly no enthusiasts, but maybe seeing the village and sampling the local wine might unlock and dispense some chthonic sympathetic magic and improve the prospects for future immigrants.

frontispiece

While I was not exactly expecting ancient aliens or magical rites and happy that scholarship has prevailed and that concern for women’s well-being was a matter taken seriously (though purportedly a bit gimmicky and patronising) in the 1400s, it was a little bit of a let-down to learn that the mystery of Voynich manuscript, released to the domain of citizen-science recently, has been deciphered.
The bizarrely illustrated treatise (especially when taken without context) rediscovered on the antiquarian circuit in 1912 had an unknown provenance with text that defied decoding captioning strange rituals and unrecognisable flowers and herbs. Created just on the cusps of the introduction of the printing-press in Europe and probably for a patron’s personal use and reference, the manuscript represented one of the last vanity publications of the times and was riddled with abbreviations, ligatures and shorthand that would be known to contemporary medical students but not necessarily to linguists and cryptographers. While we are sure other academics will want to weigh in and there is probably a useful tip or two contained in the volume, in hindsight given the Roman penchant to regard bathing as a panacea and the general paucity of writing on women’s health, it seems rather amazing that it went misunderstood for such a long time. At least we are left with the intentionally coy and evasive Codex Seraphinianus to ponder over the meaning of—though its author is just as unlikely to confirm or deny our interpretations.

mediterranean diet

Marginal Revolution correspondent Alex Tabarrok clues us in to the mysterious and probably lost herb favoured by the ancient Greeks and Romans called silphium, which was so renowned as a flavour-multiplier and for its pharmacological merits was worth its weight in gold—or salt.
Despite their best efforts to cultivate the plant in their own lands, however (and there are surprisingly many familiar staples that still defy cultivation), silphium, fantastically also known as laserwort, would only thrive in a narrow band of terrain in Libya and was the essential export item of the city of Cyrene—critical to its trade and economy—and while remembered in coinage and heraldry, no one seems quite sure of its actual appearance and properties or whether the valued herb went extinct or survives in undisclosed pockets in northern Africa. The plant’s reputation as a means to allay the maladies of those struck with love and as a mediator for one’s germinative functions may also have given rise to the ♥ symbol (as well as having been accorded its own special glyph for the flowering plant) and its connection to romance and shared affections on the speculation that supposedly related species have heart-shaped fruits. Maybe this spice being extolled as a super-food is a bit of an embellishment but the world may never know what culinary and medicinal treasures might be absent from our dining experience.  I wonder what other secret ingredients out there that have remained unknown, lost to history, over-consumption or lost of habitat. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

cis-gendered

Via the always engrossing Nag on the Lake, we are confronted with a rather fraught and ethically challenging application of machine learning after researchers imbue an artificial intelligence with gaydar.
It’s not perfect and perhaps it is picking up on some other sign that we’re overlooking, but by studying the facial features in just a single photo, the neural network was fairly accurate, approaching the eightieth percentile for both men and women, and raises interesting questions about the role of biology in sexual orientation—a debate that’s not settled here but that we also couldn’t have concluded on our own, apparently. And as potentially annoying as the prospect already seems, it’s not just about targeting demographics with advertisements that the computer thinks you might also like—but could also be abused to malicious out individuals and could be quite harrowing for those in positions or communities that are not open to such behaviour or sentiments. What do you think? It’s really no one’s business—and even trusted those algorithms that claim anonymity and discretion all end up tattletales, and the programme is not one hundred percent accurate and generates mischaracterisations and wrong assignments.

Friday, 8 September 2017

proclamation 4311

Our faithful chronicler Doctor Caligari reminds us that among many other notable events, on this day in 1972 US president Gerald Ford issued a pardon to Richard Nixon in order to spare his family further humiliation.
“Theirs is an American tragedy in which we have all played a part.” Not to underestimate the fickle nature of US sympathies nor the ego of a narcissist and with the understanding that despite how unrewarded it seems that at the end of the day, it does not matter if Dear Leader is given credit for prodding the world towards a more social just state by re-branding the striving of past generations to those whom are direct beneficiaries, but I do still harbour the hope that there’s little tolerance for revision and that the whole criminal syndicate goes down together.

ballast and binnacle

An 1815 travel guide to Madeira and the Caribbean is illustrated with a series of supplemental plates that contain sort of a first-mate’s log and the account of parallel trade voyage pictographically—with hieroglyphs, as the author states. These little drawings that capture the day’s events (or lack thereof) is a rather a novel story-telling device for the time and of course prefigure the idea of scripting oneself in emoji. Be sure to visit Public Domain Review at the link above to browse the full volume and to discover more antiquarian delights.

garden variety

Housed in a deconsecrated church and owing its existence to landscape artist, botanist and curio collector John Tradescant the Younger who designed the surrounding gardens and was entombed there along with twenty-thousand other souls, London’s unique Garden Museum is reopening after a year and a half of careful renovation that protected the character of the medieval structure.
The structure was abandoned and slated for demolition in the early 1970s until it was saved and converted into a celebration of garden design and history by an impassioned couple, with exhibits on the social and practical aspects of the craft. Tradescant (1608*-1662†) frequently made excursions to the new world and introduced many new varieties of plant-life (the taxonomy of many flowers are so named in his honour) to England and acquired in his travels new artefacts to add to his familial cabinet of curiosities—the Ark, which was the first collection of its kind put on public view in England and included a specimen of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. The Ark was also seed that germinated into the Ashmolean collections of Oxford but has been reunited with its curator and is now also to be found in a niche of St Mary-at-Lambeth’s.