Wednesday, 23 August 2017

solar cell

Via Gizmodo, we learn of a potentially truly crowning achievement in the discipline of synthetic biology in the form of an experimental culturing of a strain of bacteria that are more efficient than plants at harvesting the energy of the sun and sequestering carbon-dioxide. They’re considered cyborgs as the molecule the bacteria uses as a photo-receptor is radically different from chlorophyll, and the addition of a few chemicals give the bacteria little crystalline solar panel shields—a natural but overlooked defensive-mechanism to heavy metals in their environment. The by-product of the bacterial respiration is acetic acid, which can be used as a food source for other bacteria or to create bio-fuels and bio-plastics. This process does not need to take place in the laboratory but merely in a vat in the sun and is scalable without the need for manufactured electronic components.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

litfaßsäule or post no bills

Recently, H and I learned that those purpose-built advertising columns like this one in my neighbourhood in Wiesbaden, known as Morris columns in English-speaking venues after the French printer Gabriel Morris who brought them to Paris, are called Litfaßsäule after the Berlin printer and publisher Ernst Litfass who first originated them. Repulsed by disordered pamphleting of walls, storefronts, fences and trees with random advertising and notices, Litfass received permission to erect Annoncier-Säulen in public places the city in 1855 and earned his title König der Reklame (King of Advertisements) by renting advertising space. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the columns also became lighting-rods and showcases for propaganda.  Litfass maintained his monopoly until his death, oddly enough, in Wiesbaden in 1874 and afterwards many municipalities undertook building their own pilasters.

next exit

Marking a year since the photographer’s passing, the US Library of Congress has curated a digital catalogue of over eleven thousand images captured over three decades and a hundred thousand miles of the highways and byways of America of John Margolies.
Margolies’ odyssey sought to collect the vanishing vernacular architecture that embellished roadsides that made potential customers take a second look and made the passing landscape a little less monotonous. Many of these structures are only conserved in Margolies’ archives, which he selflessly placed in the public domain so others would be free to enjoy in the nostalgia and embark on road-trips into a lost past. See much more at the links up top.

Monday, 21 August 2017

snowflakes

Via Nag on the Lake, we not only learn the etymology of the term scofflaw but also how a bar in Paris—a country that’s demonstrated its sensibility previously for not experimenting with government imposed prohibition on alcoholic beverages—took advantage of the ensuing hoopla and stumbled onto buzz-marketing.
A Boston banker and staunch Prohibitionist named Delcevare King, seeing that the experiment was a failing one with the otherwise law abiding flagrantly flouting the law (the constitutional amendment was in force from 1920 until 1933 when it was repealed by a second amendment) and criminal gangs forming to create a lucrative black market, sought to find the perfect derogatory term to shame the misguided into compliance. To that end, King sponsored a contest soliciting the best epithet and enticed over twenty-five thousand entrants with a prize in the form of two hundred dollars-worth of gold—an inconceivable ransom for a wordsmith in 1923 and it made the papers worldwide. King’s efforts to “stab awake the public conscience of law enforcement” choose—over boozeshevik, boozocrat and many others, the neologism scofflaw but was himself made a rather international laughing stock for publicly harbouring such puritanical condemnation. Seizing the opportunity, Harry’s New York bar (an American extract from 1911, shipped to the City of Light) patronised by the expatriate community named a cocktail after the new term. A recipe and review of the Scofflaw can be found at the link above, a clever project linking letters and liquor through history.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

sinecure

Not contended with merely rubbishing the high office to which he was elected nor making a mockery of the agencies under his purview by installing chiefs antithetical to the cause they’re to champion while being content to allow vital appointment to go unfilled and even thanked Russia for culling its staff at the US mission to Moscow, Dear Leader has thanked fellow serial presidential candidate and “Contract with America” architect Newton “Newt” Leroy Gingrich for his early and consistent loyalty and support with a Holy See ambassadorship for his current and third wife, documentary film-maker, author, political aide and noted adulteress Callista Louis née Bisek—subject to congressional approval.
The grace-and-favour posting to the Vatican has only formally existed since 1984 (as was the case with a lot of non-Catholic majority countries) established and credentialed under Reagan and Pope John Paul II with personal emissaries representing papal and American interests previously. Though I suspect there’s little responsibility or symbolism attached to the job—especially after such an announcement—it still would have been a privilege to be a plenipotentiary along with the some one hundred and eighty countries that maintain diplomatic relations and it has not been without controversy—recently back in 2009 with Pope-Emeritus Benedikt XVI over tensions with Obama’s push for equality in marriage.

living in a powder-keg and giving off sparks

Though not quite as infrequent as a total solar eclipse, it is a rare occurence to find out new facts about the same musician back to back.  We learned earlier in the week—but still not in time to book passage on the sold-out cruise—Miss Bonnie Tyler will be performing her signature 1983 power ballad on deck to guests (and surely with guests) as the ship passes in the path of totality and the sun is blotted out.
Total Eclipse of the Heart lasts slightly longer that the two minutes and forty seconds of civil twilight that cruiser-goers will experience, but there’s no word if there’s a special abbreviated performance might be given. Incredibly this is not the only news regarding the song from this past week—as Miss Cellania points out, the piece was originally written for Meat Loaf and was to appear on his next release but as his own 1977 landmark  Bat out of Hell album was such a run-away success and a tough act to follow, he dismissed his lyricist to rethink his next project. A few years later, the songwriter realised that the number would be the perfect way to showcase Tyler’s operatic talents. While I appreciate that perhaps in the grand scheme of things, pop songs may not be of the greatest pith and moment, but it’s a bit rough to imagine how karaoke nights, the development of the music video and the eighties genre might be radically different had things turned out otherwise.  What do you think?  Turn around Bright Eyes.


import/export

On display at the corporate headquarters based in Memphis, Tennessee is by good fortune and foresight the overnight shipping and cargo airline firm Federal Express’ first delivery van, a second generation Ford Econoline van from 1973. Founded in the same year by Fred Smith, confident that time’s value was on an upward trajectory, the company now has the rather redundant title of FedEx Express and more competition from courier services have come on to the scene but the corporation still remains the leader in overnight deliveries—plus had the wherewithal to conserve its humble beginnings. Be sure to visit Just a Car guy at the link above for more automotive wonders.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

disbanded

When sixteen out of seventeen members of Dear Leader’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities, whose duties include overseeing the doomed National Endowment for the Arts, resigned en masse (the one public official—the honorary chairman found her hands tied), the signed a collective thoughtful and urgent letter expressing their disgust towards the White House’s response to last week’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. If one takes the first letter of each paragraph after the salutation and puts them together, the acrostic reveals a hidden message. Additionally note the opening line, “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms.”

black jack

Though always eager to be the centre of attention be it through palace intrigues or disgraceful provocation and the news that Trump dismissed his chief propagandist to return to the managing the media properties that helped create the landscape that made it possible for this regime to seize power became the dominant headline, Trump’s doltish antics ought not to cause us to be distracted from his awful reaction to the violence in Barcelona with an appeal to a patent and self-plagiarised falsehood.
Ironically, the public figure who just the day prior berated the press for speaking before they knew all the facts (unlike himself) related a crass story that he was already told was untrue. Instead of condolences and statements of solidarity, Trump offered that Europe should study Pershing, most likely—although restricted to one hundred and forty characters, one has to fill in the blanks sometimes, to the military commander’s nation-building exercise in the Philippines and his tough stance on terrorism with an apocryphal account of executing Islamic terrorist in a defiling manner and how the example set ended insurgency in the region. Who is feeding this troll?  Do not make this tragic moment and movement about you.  While this libellous, revisionist and frankly criminal fable is unlikely to do anything other than cause more inflammatory feelings, the injunction to study General “Black Jack” Pershing might be illuminating in terms of understanding what America’s foreign “policy” might become going forward with a return to imperial aspirations and what sort of messenging (through a restored Bannon) that might entail.

Friday, 18 August 2017

an army marches on its stomach

Though the idea has spread far and wide at least on informal terms, the French were the first in the seventeen-hundreds to acknowledge and commission the commissariat corps styled vivandièred or cantinières. These women were for the most part affiliated with those on the battlefield and could provide far better fare and refreshment than what the military was capable of providing. These women at the front also experienced quite a lot of mission-creep—often omitted in histories, figured quite large in the outcomes on the battlefield.

strumming on the old banjo

Rising above the ranks of unabashed, unapologetic romancing of statues of Confederate military leaders, Damon Young shares his encounter with a surpassingly offensive monument that he’d managed to overlook his whole life, despite being in the same city. The bronze of US songwriter Stephen Collin Foster was cast and dedicated in 1900 in the city of Pittsburgh near the campuses of the Carnegie Institutes (not that the provenance is any excuse for the portrayal) and depicts Foster elevated over an African America ostensibly performing some of the minstrel tunes that either inspired Foster or rather that Foster just committed to sheet-music and took the credit for.  Standards of decency and propriety had advanced, at least one could be forgiven for thinking, that is until one reads an excerpt from a city newspaper article written one hundred and ten years after its dedication (which directed the author to the statue’s existence in the first place) that is couched in dated, racist terms.  You’ll do a double-take too.

beyond the long now

Acclaim for Kottke for directing our attention to the well-curated Wikipedia property that concerns itself with distant future scenarios for the known Cosmos as we presently understand it, beginning with events postulated to take place beyond ten thousand years from now.
As illustrated in this timeline, due to the gradual shift of the lunisolar calendar, in AD 20 874 Gregorian and Islamic calendars will share the same year number, just a few hundred years after Chernobyl becomes once again safely habitable for humans, and still five thousand years until the earliest possible receipt of the Arecibo message by an alien intelligence. Assuming the same limitations still apply, a reply would take another twenty-five thousand years—coinciding with the planned return and unsealing of an orbiting space time capsule to be launched in 2019. There’s a lot of fascinating facts to wade through and I’m sure everyone will find something resounding to stand in awe of. Off this scale by many orders of magnitude and of course a gradual and on-going occurrence, astronomers poignantly believe that by one hundred billion years in the future the Universe will have expanded to the point that no civilization would see starry night skies and look up to wonder about their neighbours.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

jai guru deva om

Against the advice of his gurus and meditative-betters, philosopher and author Robert Wright not only took notes to be later adapted into a book during his silent retreats, he also shared his feelings of inadequacies and failing when it comes to practicing mindfulness.  
Why Buddhism is True does not privilege it above other religious traditions and articles of faith are not addressed but is rather true in the sense that its core teachings and methods of coping—suffering comes from misunderstanding and meditation leads to liberation—work on a physical and psychological level because they allow us to transcend the inscrutables of billions of generations of evolution. The great chain of being that has led to you and your condition is miraculous but also has brought the hitchhikers of history which may have conferred advantage (Fear is the mind-killer.) at one point when our lives were more precarious but are now nuisances and sources of unbidden bias and anxiety. Perhaps not to be edited away could we identify the offending gene, the willingness to be still and confront and embrace the distressing renders it less powerful. The take-away is—by the way—that there is no wrong way of being attentive (Do or do not. There is no try.) and that daily practice yields daily reward.

oppède-le-vieux

Having discovered and explored this enchanting place ourselves back in October 2013 but not knowing the full story behind how the town came to be abandoned and left to fall into disrepair only to see a brief resurgence, we really appreciated this travelogue by Messy Nessy Chic correspondent Luke Spenser on Oppède in Vaucluse, near the Côte d’Azur. From the Latin for town (oppidum) this place is actually comprise of two towns, a valley settlement (Oppède-les-Poulivets, “with the nice view”) and an old town, Oppède-le-Vieux, hewn into the ramparts of the Petit Luberon mastiff. As picturesque as the old town was, the local agricultural community grew less and less willing to make the arduous climb up and down the mountain to work the fields every day and eventually transplanted themselves to the valley permanently. Roofs of buildings above were removed so the former residents were no longer liable for property taxes. During World War II and Nazi occupation, members of the resistance formed a short-lived artist colony amid the rubble and ruin. One member of that community was writer and artist Consuelo de Saint Exupéry (née Suncín), who was the inspiring but rather tumultuous muse for the character of Rose in her husband’s work The Little Prince. The article brought back some nice memories and I think it is high time to return to that part of France.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

algorithmic engagement

We’ve previously explored numerous times how fraught social media is with manipulative and inscrutable sets of instructions that determine what content one is presented—or confronted with—that has led to people bemoaning the changes in myriad ways. We ought not be so obsessed with what’s hot off the presses but missives can grow stale and many times pledges and opinion do not age well—and it’s a psychological distressing struggle that a billion denizens charge towards daily and mostly fail by the hour.  People rate what comes across as an asynchronous jumble from a nuisance when they’d just care to experience events chronologically without some strange dream sequences or unbidden flashbacks to something more sinister when something from weeks and months past is unearthed.
Considering the geopolitical climate of the present, however, it seems that the war for our attention is going far beyond the vaguely menacing to the patently terrorising insofar as the figurative war is being translated into very real ones in the name of optimising revenue and we lose on both fronts. Online engagement is perhaps its own apotheosis in reality, but sensationalism distorts our perception of threats and given that our experience across all demographics is necessarily either dogmatic and doctrinaire or impressionable because of the limits of what we can know and can take part in have suddenly been made rather unlimited and the propagandists were the first on the scene.

very fine people on both sides

Trump’s lie-filled, unhinged tirade that passed as a press-conference taking reporters’ questions after delivering a few prepared remarks on the state of US infrastructure (“We’re like a third-world country.”) is indefensible and for those who hadn’t already caught on further evidence of the urgent imperative to dislodge him and his entire regime, but please do not allow Trump to make what transpired over the weekend about himself.
This does affect all of us, but the events that transpired are not about how not all white people are bigots nor how not all Trump supporters are white supremacists—that’s the same sophistry of moral relativism that Trump and his handlers have used to re-craft his stance. The mixed-messaging is revolting but we already had strong suspicions about Trump’s character and that he harboured such sentiments and even a resolute denouncement would probably reveal itself to be less than genuine. There is blood on his hands, assuredly, but the fact that his natural constituency is comprised of such an angry, disaffected mob bearing tiki-torches is the issue at hand, and as much as we’ve drilled to withstand the forces of hate and rabid nationalism when confronted with this raw, unmediated and stultifying meltdown, we are unsurprisingly are ill-equipped to frame.  Shock and shame are not to be conflated with surrender or acculturated normalcy. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

the bell that rings the hour

Along with rather urgent plans to remodel and refurbish the Houses of Parliament, London’s public works will also be silencing Big Ben from next on to 2021 (with some exceptions, like for New Year’s) for repairs to the clockwork—and groaningly, the addition of an elevator for tourists.
Although not the first intermezzo for this icon, we hadn’t appreciated what a cultural touchstone and cue that the chimes could be for those outside of ear-shot. More used to hearing the pips, we weren’t aware that a live broadcast of the bells attended the 1800 and midnight BBC dispatches and the station surveyed the whole of the UK for a substitute for the interim. The chimes of Nottingham Council House (Big Tom) were considered but as the bells do not toll at midnight and weren’t an exact match, the network decided to use a recording during repairs.

6equj5

Forty years ago this week not only saw the launch of the Voyager, our cosmic embassy, probes and also the reception of the Wow! Signal by Ohio State’s Big Ear radio telescope, discovered a few days later when volunteer astronomers were reviewing the print-outs.
Though never repeated (and it’s worth pointing out that for all our errant broadcasting, we’re not particularly chatty, either—the pixelated Arecibo message of 1974 is one of the few interstellar missives humans have sent) the strong, narrow-band that blip remains the prime and sole candidate for an alien transmission. The alphanumeric values represents the intensity variation of the signal over about a minute of time and appears to have originated in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.

viva piñata

Via Dangerous Minds, we find ourselves regaled with the sculpturally elegant and fantastical piñatas inspired by the monsters and chimera of Hieronymus Bosch of south Texan artist Roberto Benavidez. All connoisseurs would of course perish the thought of assaulting any of these exquisite papier-mâché creations with a bat. View more of the artist’s gallery of works at the links above.

idling

A preliminary but rather brilliant year-long trial in Denmark is demonstrating that parked electric vehicles can help to regulate the power grid. Recharging batteries overnight and during work hours can place stresses on utilities infrastructure and is already changing peak hours and demands but by keeping cars otherwise engaged and active players in their refuelling, the grid could selective reduce, increase or take back energy from the batteries (plus presumably store excess capacity) on this extended grid. As if this was not incentive enough in itself, the exchange—which is something I’m sure we’ll being taking for granted in the near future, can also earn some money for the vehicles owners paid out by the grid’s operators.

blogoversary

Remarkably on this day nine distant years ago, PfRC began as a little travelogue. Still wanting for a theme and some direction some four thousand posts later, we hope to continue making it worth your while to visit for years to come. Here are our top ten most viewed posts of all-time for your consideration, the rankings possibly being somewhat skewed due to gentle vandalism (or shameless self-promotion) but such is the architecture of things on-line, we suppose:

10: a recipe for a vegetarian shawarma sandwich




9: a collection of links from April of 2017




8: discovering the Germanic Yuletide demon and friends






7: civic disengagement does not correlate with religiosity





6: a Russian parking garage employs holograms to discourage able-bodied drivers from occupying handicapped spaces




5: the tenants of ´pataphysics and its discontents





4: socio-realism in art movements






3: a periodic table of typefaces





2: some office-place ephemera of the Satanic panic of the 1980s





 1: a collection of links from November 2011






Thanks for stopping by and making this hobby an enriched and rewarding experience.  Please stay tuned for continued curiosities and adventures.
 

Monday, 14 August 2017

david bowie, david bowie

The photographer Gerald Fearnley who took the cover-image for the artist’s eponymous first studio album (“Sell Me a Coat,” “Maid of Bond Street” and many others titles) in 1967 is sharing some of the unused outtakes. One can see the germ of some of his other personalities that would be developed fully later in Bowie’s career present and exposed already on this one roll of film.

orpheus und euridike

Forty years after its first publication and three decades since it was translated into English the research and culminating work Male Fantasies (Männerphantasien) of ethnographer Klaus Theweleit are tragically enjoying particular relevance and probably should have never been allowed to recede into relative, academic obscurity.
Fascist movements and the undercurrents thereof defy the narrative of explanation that we look toward at such fraught and pivotal moments because fascism by its nature is a mockery of reason and rises by viciously attacking the framework of education and emendation that normally protects society from the worst manifestations of despotism from getting a toe-hold. In efforts to come to terms with the horrors his country committed when he was an infant, Theweleit looked first to the usual bellwethers of economic pressures and charismatics and discovered that such explanations fell short before turning to the disaffected paramilitary pulp fiction that circulated in the last days of the Weimar Republic. A critical reading of this previously ignored corpus of literature and ephemera that reflected the Zeitgeist of fear informed Theweleit’s brutal, psycho-political, fantasy-driven collage and collective unconscious. The sprawling study exposes the pre-Œdipal male psyche that cowers behind the tough personæ of foot-soldiers and deputised goons that lives in abject fear of the feminine other—couched in terms that are not too different than what passes as dialogue these days, a morass that’s an enticing and perilous deep, a swamp to be drained, something visceral, fluid and fount of all sorrow. The body politic is inseparable, it seems, from our fragile psychology, and is ironically financed by a further appeal to vanities through our equally reason-defying obsession with appearance, stopping the dissolution of our physical bodies and in turn our virtual avatars. This social imprinting comes from within and until society can confront this, our worst tendencies are not calmed but primed to erupt at any moment.

sunday drive: die siebenschläfer

For a few weeks now there’s been a detour due to major roads construction on the way from home to my work-week apartment that necessitates that one drive straight up a mountain range to get to the Autobahn, and there’s been some new vistas to enjoy despite the dodgy weather. I made it a point to visit a little wayside, hilltop chapel near Ebersburg dedicated to the Seven Sleepers.
Click on the images to enlarge them.  Both Islamic and Christian traditions share the story of seven young men who flee persecution in Ephesus around the year 250 AD by hiding in a cave to emerge from a long slumber three centuries later, at a point in history when the Roman Empire had a more favourable view of Abrahamic religions.
Indeed under Emperor Decius, such religious practises were outlawed as antisocial and subversive but the Empire turned to adopting Christianity as a state religion.  One story names the youths as Achilledes, Diomedes, Stephanus, Eugenius, Probatius, Sabbatius and Quiriacus plus their loyal dog who stands watch the whole time.  According to other accounts, the seven are still sleeping and there is also a bit of conflation and cross-over with stories of Joseph of Arimathea as the keeper of the Holy Grail, identifying the Chalice Well in Glastonbury as the cave of the Seven Sleepers. 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

form follows function

After having my interest piqued regarding different legislative bodies around the world, I tried my hand at surveying parliaments by their emblems but this uniform and minimalist approach, via Nag of the Lake, which an Amsterdam-based design firm has taken is immediate, imagining how spaces of assembly and debate are influenced, restricted or otherwise facilitated by comparing and contrasting the seating layout of various national and supranational constituencies. Most parliaments adhere to five typologies (architecturally-speaking, the layout, the accommodation)—opposed aisles, classroom, semi-circle, horseshoe and tending towards full circular. These theatres in the round are typical for newly constituted legislatures and are most democratic, according to the authors’ research—while a semi-circular typology is most conducive of consensus-building, but I also suppose that the number of parties would factor in as well.  Other, arguably outmoded set-ups seem to hinder governance.

la terre est habitée

As a little kid, I remember distinctly seeing this short animated that posited extra-terrestrials observing Earth might be forgiven for assuming that automobiles were the dominant life forms of the planet with human beings just some parasitic infestation (though parasites, despite their reputation aren’t lower life forms) and being quite alarmed at the idea that we might be overlooked while the scouting-party compile an ethnographic account based on what they can extrapolate about car culture and society and make informed guesses on cars’ grooming, feeding, mating and funerary rites. Our appreciation to Fancy Notions for showcasing this feature and letting us experience it again. What on Earth! (ou La Terre est habitée!) is a creation of the Canadian Film Board by Les Drew and Kaj Pindal and was first released in 1966 to critical acclaim. I wonder what visiting aliens might make of Earthlings if they came today to throngs of screen-gazers, communicative and engaged by not necessary in outward appearance or with those in closest physical proximity. Maybe such customs would be too inscrutable for outsiders to interpret.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

mouse potato

Quartz makes an interesting study on how the maturing fears and foibles of a society are reflected in their neologisms through a dictionary tool that records the year when new terms began to be appearing in print, making a fairly direct correlation between what people were experiencing by what they hadn’t quite the words for and needed redefinition and nuance.  Like with other examples, it’s surprising to learn that what one might regard as a contemporary nonce word is actually somewhat older and just returning to common-parlance: cisgender (1994), humblebrag (2002), carbon-footprint and meh (1992) to date a few. The term mouse potato describes someone who couldn’t get enough screen time was coined in 1993 (the same year as metrosexual, unfriend and binge-watch) but never caught on. Maybe its time has come around again.  Visit Quartz at the link up top for more words and to conduct your own year-by-year lexical survey.

canopy or mind the gap

Kottke introduces us to a growth pattern that some types of trees display called crown shyness that will have us looking up. Why and how the trees stop short of touching each other is somewhat a mystery and it can happen in stands of trees that are the same and different species, but botanists suggest it might be a defence mechanism to prevent the spread of pests, wind-abrasion or perhaps just out of respect for personal space.

call and response

Frighteningly, the president of the United States of America can unilaterally order the launch of nuclear missiles in roughly the time it takes to compose a tweet and while the world can only hope and pray that the bluster and provocation of the present regime will be shown to be just that, it seems unwise to signal a belligerent posture on a social media platform that’s made subject to influence by mob-rule—especially once household atomics are brought into the picture. The sabre-rattling from North Korea isn’t new and the people of South Korea and Guam seem relatively unfazed by the latest threat, and the North has long had the ability to launch a devastating first-strike on the peninsula and Japan with traditional weapons.
It is the reaction of America that is more vexing.  In a stand-off, such as the one Dear Leader has provoked with fairly vague pledges of retaliation to which North Korea responded with a specific plan to demonstrate their capability by firing a volley of missiles into the ocean around thirty kilometres off the coast of the US territory of Guam. There is a grave potential for a miscalculation and collateral damage—not precluding that the US might attack North Korea for the provocation pre-launch. Meanwhile, China has stated that it will do nothing should North Korea be the aggressor and America presumably responds in kind. The strategic presumption being that North Korea will strike first because there is no option of a second since it has a limited arsenal. Thing’s tend to escalate quickly. Of course, it’s devilishly difficult to define what it means to strike first from all points of view, and China reserves the right to intervene should the US be the first to act. I’d like to think that Dear Leader wouldn’t even consider actions that would endanger the people of the region—especially the families of US service-members stationed in South Korea and other American assets. No military option seems tenable and all would result in death and destruction and signal a dangerous willingness to use nuclear weapons that could embolden other armed powers, like Pakistan and India or Israel against the rest of the Middle East, to play out their bellicose fantasies. The fact that evacuations are not yet underway and China’s assessment was put out there makes me think that the ratcheted-up rhetoric and the beating of war drums on social media will be unable propel the regime towards making a grave miscarriage of might. Maybe this is all a ploy on the part of China—allied perhaps with Russia—to rid themselves of two problematic autocrats in a single blow.

Friday, 11 August 2017

the birds and the bees

Though I take a little exception with the assertion that humans are the only beings to have recognised the connection between sex and babies (even considering the gestation period does put a lot distance between conception and birth), I had never really appreciated how profound reproductive awareness and how defining that hallmark of humanity can be.
Evolution and our genes drive us to procreate and perhaps, achieved though realising that the consequences of the act of mating, we’ve ritualised courtship and matrimony in such ways that transcend and indeed run counter to our genetic self-interests. Certain cultural norms and taboos that are contemporary and abiding may have their origins in more socially nebulous but just as focused times and civilisation accommodates. What do you think? Was this the revelatory epiphany that led us outside of the moment and ourselves and informed our cogitative abilities? I’d suspect that a lot of thoughts and feelings, especially the repulsive and unwelcome ones of fear and anxiety, are also genetic baggage developed during far more fraught days. The ability to understand outcomes and plan for the future (even if the biological process remained a mystery and prone to superstition and visitations from the gods) girds the imagination and allows humans to not only work on their own pedigree but also to practise animal husbandry and agriculture—another subversion of natural selection—and advance to the point (we still need to be humble and recognise that we’re quickly getting into uncharted, untested territory) where we can create wholly synthetic beings.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

a more perfect union

From the conclusion of World War II through the Cold War era there were fears of occupied Germany—both divided and reunited—becoming too powerful and growing resurgent with its domineering tendencies and in part the European Union and its antecedents were created as a framework to contain Germany, but we had never come across this radical, radial proposal to politically unite central Europe by parsing it into twenty four cantons.
Each ray contained one major city each on the continent and emanated from a central capital, Vienna reflagged as Sankt Stephan after the city’s landmark cathedral, but no member was a nation state in the traditional since as the bands included parts of at least two countries and in most cases took in a broad spectrum of language, culture and heritage. The map and model government, which called on for a rotating presidency and shared administration of colonial lands, were proposed in 1920 as the world was still coming to terms with the horrors of World War I, with the authors confident that allowing boundaries to be drawn along ethnic lines (their Esperanto-speaking utopia broadly classified four constituent tribes of Europe: Teutons, Slavs, Magyars and Romans—and each canton was configured to mix the groups) was an obstacle to lasting peace.

back catalogue

Delightfully true to its roots, Nintendo continues to sell the traditional card and board games that the company got its start with in 1898. In addition to decks of Western-style playing cards, mah-jong sets and go games there are the traditional hanafuda cards that were the first company’s first popular product. While the kanji characters that make up the company’s name (任天堂) probably does not translate to “leave luck to heaven” without taking a lot of license with the language, this examination into why it’s most likely too good to be true is a fascinating romp through the company’s history and a good primer for traditional gaming culture in Japan

surplus to needs

Writing for McSweeney’s Ben Kronengold (via Waxy) delivers the perfect point for point lambasting of that misogynistic screed circulated through the offices of one internet giant, which got the author summarily dismissed by advocating that women don’t belong in the tech industry and arguments to the contrary were harmful to morale and workplace cohesion, by suggesting from the point of view of a robot that believes humans are biologically unfit to have jobs in the sector.

…Furthermore, just when we started to catch on to Captcha codes, we had to face new tests: the “check-this-box-to-prove-you’re-not-a-robot”—talk about hurtful language—and the “click-all-the-boxes-that-contain-street-signs.” The latter recently cost my friend a job in Ad Sales when he bet it all on “Yield” being a type of tree…

Be sure to visit McSweeney’s at the link up top to read the diatribe in its entirety and discover more humorous, pitch-perfect articles.

burg frankenstein

I had visited the grounds of Burg Frankenstein in the outskirts of Darmstadt with my parents years ago—in fact the same day my Mom adopted her little dog Zu-Zu—but never returned, not realising that it (along with a lot of other attractions—we really must get better about breaking away from the routine more often and have PfRC on assignment) was just around the corner, until learning of the transmedia edition of the eponymous gothic novel by Mary Shelley and other events happening over the course of the year leading up to the bicentenary of its first publication.
Hiking through the Odenwald to the hill’s summit, I enjoyed a late afternoon exploring the eleventh century ruins and the chapel—that’s apparently become a rather popular wedding venue—and trying to imagine its history and influence. Though Shelley does not explicitly mention the castle or the legends associated with it, in 1814—a few years before writing the novel—she toured the Rhein and stayed in the nearby village of Gernsheim (an adventure for another day) and perhaps heard tales of one of the infamous residents of Burg Frankenstein: the alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.

Though the only attested product of Dippel’s experiments was an oil made of pulverised animal bones that was supposedly an elixir of life (there’s also a fountain of youth in the forecourt) but was used as chemical weapon during World War II to taint enemy’s water supplies, side-stepping the Geneva Protocols by dint of being non-lethal, rumours abounded that Dippel was conducting unnatural anatomical experiments and succeeded in resurrecting chimerical creatures and may have been the inspiration for Doctor Frankenstein.
Myths and folktales from this region—Odin’s wood, haunted by measurable magnetic anomalies, the site of a witches dance like in the Harz and was also the setting for some dragon-slaying action of the Nibelungenlied, could have also be communicated to Shelley through her step-mother (who was apparently the archetypal step-monster who didn’t foster her step-daughter’s literary talents in any other regard) Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin that were related to her directly from the ethnographers, the Brothers’ Grimm. Some doubt that any connection exists—Frankenstein being a rather commonplace name and designation, but I like to think there’s a triangulation of traditions focused at this place.