Friday, 20 October 2017

nosce te ipsum

Despite the prevalence, pedigree and seeming verisimilitude and versatility of the maxim, Know thy Self, Professor Bence Nanay writes it is a potential dangerous directive, making a pretty persuasive case that we’re wilfully blind to the gradual changes in our personalities, tastes and characters and sticking with the self-same choices and preferences, which are importantly within our control but yet may be misinformed or no longer complimentary to the person we’re becoming, may help perpetuate this delusion.
Not that there are no consistent qualities and abiding principles in our lives, but holding tenaciously on to a self-image that may not be an accurate reflection of oneself is a potential source of tension and impetus to keep doing things that one does not particularly care for and even resents because we mentally shroud the contradiction with cognitive dissonance that makes us think our choices are own rather than a resigning to habit because we’ve squandered all of our energies on self-censorship and keeping up appearances. What do you think? We especially liked the quote from André Gide on how “A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly.” We ought to strive to reacquaint ourselves with ourselves daily to avoid repairing to vanity and pandering.

give me a bouncy c

Taking a cue from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a major internet retailer, we learn via Marginal Revolution, has developed a sort of tonal pass-key that admits or restricts users from collaborative projects on the basis of being in tune with those discordant or cacophonous ones being identified as inauthentic members.
Although I like to keep my computing time quiet and on mute, I think I might prefer this sort of harmonious CAPTCHA (which is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, which I think machines have out smarted already) to the usual tests of humanity. Many of the firm’s ideas reportedly have not progressed beyond the sandbox of claims jumping but it’s nonetheless intriguing that being able to sculpt mashed potatoes into Devil’s Tower or that subterrainian subterfuge might be indicative of alien visitations is certainly worthy of examination.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

lemma, lexeme

Engrossingly, Mental Floss tells the story of the criminally insane former American civil war medical officer and surgeon who was one of the founding (and among the most prodigious) contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary, Doctor William Chester Minor.
The crowd-sourced, definitive reference book differs from other dictionaries insofar as it is a descriptive account of the language that traces the development of words (from the nonce, to slang and to jargon) and changes in meaning and nuance—rather than a prescriptive effort that informs speakers of the correct way to speak, and in order to capture a comprehensive picture of the spoken and written word, the editors enlisted thousands of volunteers to tease out shades of meaning, and confined to Broadmoor asylum, surrounded by stacks of books from all eras, Minor found new meaning for his existence and working on the project alleviated his mental condition during daylight hours—at least. A combination of a severe persecution-complex and undiagnosed nymphomania (sexually frustrated due to his upbringing by strictly religious, missionary parents) eventually led to his honourable discharge from the army, and wracked by a recurring nightmare that quickly became a consuming reality—probably also exacerbated by the horrors of the battlefield and being made to brand a defector with a “D” on his cheek with a cattle iron.
Hoping to escape his nocturnal visitations, Minor used his retirement windfall to relocate to England but to his horror, the mysterious intruder had followed him and menaced him still.  Minor acquired a pistol so as to defend himself and when the intruder presented himself next, Minor brandished the weapon and the intruder fled.  Minor pursued him outside and shot the first bystander he encountered and was thereafter institutionalised for the rest of his life.  Not to make light of mental illness and certainly working on compiling a dictionary that is a reflection of English as she is spoke throughout the ages brought the inmate moments of great lucidity as he helped give to the world a great academic resource, but I do have to wonder what it means that our etymology and shades of meaning is influenced by one so haunted by incubi or succubi.   Minor stopped contributing to the project after being one day possessed of bereaving himself of his member but even that did not cure him of his psycho-sexual burdens, but not before the publisher behind this enterprise got to meet with his chief benefactor and quickly forgot that the encounter was taking place in an insane asylum.


We had not realised that the upper Rhein valley acquired its present appearance not by Nature but rather through extensive engineering until reading this profile on Johann Gottfried Tulla.
Of course many of the ancient palaces and fortifications that lend the river its romantic airs existed prior to Tulla’s excavation and construction that worked to straighten meandering sections, deepen the bed to improve navigation and remove numerous islets that began in the first decade of the nineteenth century, but the character of place was really transformed by the efforts to tame the marshlands and regulate flooding. Transportation infrastructure was the primary motivation and not tourism, but the manicured embankments did make for a good monumental showcase. Virtually unrecognisable from an ecological standpoint, Tulla’s landscaping and construction would be considered criminal today and an assault on the environment, it’s hard to imagine villages developing in swampier climes and malaria (which Tulla himself ultimately succumbed to) was rampant in the area. The efforts to mitigate flooding in the industrially-important cities of Koblenz, Bonn and Köln produced flooding further downstream, and presently work is being undertaken to re-naturalise and de-constrain the river as much as possible and allow it to choose its own course.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

after glow

The detection of gravitational waves from the impact of the collision of two neutron stars (the event is named a kilonova)—thanks to the addition of a third facility near Pisa—allowed astronomers to triangulate the source of the bloop and trace it back to its origins in the sky and pair the visual the remnants (the previous soundings involving black holes) of the explosion with its sound-profile.
Equipped with this extra dimension of data, scientists were able to study the coronal spectra to confirm the conjecture that such violent events seed the Cosmos with gold and other heavy elements and are the source of gamma ray bursts. Moreover, measurements once refined may show the lag time between the propagation of waves of light versus waves of gravity and if seen to be reliable in their spread, could be a second cosmic distance ladder to compliment the Doppler shift of distant objects moving away or moving towards us.

minority report or criterion theatre

Piccadilly Circus is being transformed into an experimental panopticon, Gizmodo reports, with hundreds of cameras embedded in LED billboards to inform the advertising canvas what it suspects the passer-by what might take an interest in.
Algorithms have a reputation for being either judgy or tone-deaf by turns and of course one can ignore the ploys and constant pelting—up to a certain limit—but to be forever mischaracterised in public and in private and to have false assumptions made about oneself would probably quickly grow intolerable. How would omnipresent network of consumer surveillance see you? Though the zealous marketing-managers behind this digital street experience will probably never have to confront the abject horror of a colossal erectile-dysfunction commercial or an exercise-campaign was meant specifically for them and the rest of us are made to adopt and accept this latest form of oppression, perhaps that discomfort for prejudice will resonate with a broader demographic and will engineer empathy for the marginalised who face racism and discrimination all the time.

Monday, 16 October 2017


Via fellow internet caretaker Messy Nessy Chic, we discover that lexicographer Lars Petrus has undertaken the task of defining the creative names for IKEA furniture and accessories. Many items are named for geographical features in Småland, but many other are quite abstract and poetical, like NUTID (present tense) and ÖDMJUK (humble). What are some of your favourites?

ручной труд

Calvert Journal, through the lens of two individuals directly impacted by the prohibition, outlines the infamous Article 253 from Russia’s labour code that makes it illegal for Russian women to pursue a whole tranche of trades, nearly five hundred professions that are focused around manual labour.
The vestigial and conflicting ordinance—dating from Soviet times when the state took a preternatural interest in the reproductive powers of its female population and wanted to shield them from back-breaking work and indeed contains provisions to protect women from workplace discrimination—broadly spares women from potentially hazardous work and specifically stipulates that women on the job cannot be made to lift objects heavier that ten kilograms more than twice per hour—among other things—but has translated in modern times as way to exclude women acquiring and making a living through practical skills and becoming a member of a well-paying guild, like plumbing or carpentry or coach-driving. Though many seem contently unaware of the law, it still has wide effects beyond the labour-market with many Russian women growing up without practical repair skills.

mon calimari

Having undergone a profound image transformation thanks to science and exploration—though the ocean depths remain a mystery, giant squid and their smaller cousins have gone from the monsters of mythology (consider the trope of the land octopus) to objects of fascination and even adoration, with some advocates suggesting that they replace the giant panda as the World Wildlife Fund’s spokes-animal. Nautilus treats us to tantalising glimpse (for that’s all the headway we’ve made) into behaviour and culture of a group of cephalopods via the way they communicate through incredible control over their pigmentation, and not just for camouflage. Their intellect is so alien from our own it seems in ways unknowable, but it’s as if they wear their neurons on their sleeves and meaning and intent come through mediated by a visual language.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

österreich entscheidet

Polls close in Austria mid-afternoon local time today and the some six million eligible voters in a country of nine million seem posed to elevate foreign minister and ÖVP (Österreichische Volkspartei, the Austrian People’s Party) chair Kylo Ren Sebastian Kurz to chancellor and head the coalition of conservative, anti-immigration and anti-EU factions to form a government, dispensing with the need for seeking cooperation and compromise with minority liberal voices in the Bundesversammlung. This snap-election is the conclusion of a series of inconclusive votes that occurred last year and were revisited over the summer but failed to break a statuary threshold needed to validate the outcome. The thirty-one year old Kurz has pledged that his party’s platform reflect his personal crusade and frightening coincides with Vienna taking the helm of the rotating European Union presidency—and just as Brexit arrangement are finalised, associates of a single opinion that Brussels meddles far too much in national affairs and that the UK is better off outside of the customs bloc.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

sopwith camel

The municipal airport serving Sonoma county was renamed in 2000 in honour of cartoonist and long-time Santa Rosa resident Charles M Schultz (Sebastopol to be specific whom Schultz created a contemporary of Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt called Five for short but whose full name was 555 plus the postal code of the town, 95472, which is one of the few restrictions, numbers, on naming children in American) we discover thanks to Just a Car Guy, adorned with the logo of Snoopy outfitted in flying ace attire and piloting his dog house.
The former army airfield is not only a tribute to the creator of Peanuts and his cast of characters but also the chief staging area for California’s forestry protection against and where the firefighting aircraft battling the wildfires ravaging the state deploy from.  Sadly, we learn the Schultz’ homestead was also consumed by the fires along with untold thousands of others.

heat sink

A group of clever researchers have managed to create a pump and containment system out of ceramics—a material capable of withstanding very high temperatures but usually too brittle to take such stresses—that can handle a volume of white hot molten tin and this breakthrough is potentially revolutionary in the arena of renewable energy by allowing solar cells and wind farms the opportunity to off-load its surplus power in times of excess for when its needed.
Storing energy for later use—as sunshine and blustery days are often at cross-purposes and rarer yet correspond to our peak electrical demands—has attracted a raft of creative and novel means for saving power from batteries, to expanding the electrical grid with idle cars as active members, to the potential energy of gravity. All of these are brilliant schemes but a lot is lost in terms of efficiency—which is where the liquid tin (or metal of one’s choice comes in—tin is especially a good candidate because its liquid state lasts over a range of several hundred degrees kelvin before it boils away) because in the exchange of excess energy to keep the metal hot and later withdrawing on that deposit, because of the laws of thermodynamics, very little (relatively) is lost and higher storage temperatures yield higher storage capacity.

charge-parity symmetry

Though the search for non-baryonic “dark matter” that accounts for around thirty percent of the composition of the Cosmos (compared to the around five percent of the familiar luminous matter—all else is radiant or dark energy, astronomers believe) continues unabated, researchers can claim a significant victory in having found the remaining, heretofore undetected “normal” matter of the Universe. Of that conjectured five percent of the total, only an astonishingly small ten percent could be definitively pointed to by star-gazers. That missing matter (or at least a good chuck of it), however, seems to have been found through two independent studies that suggest it is diffusely spread out over immense distances in a network of intergalactic filaments of hot gas. The nature of these strands that link the cosmic web opens yet another mystery to investigate.

sic transit gloria mundi

Humanity may indeed be caught aware by the Singularity—assuming that it’s not already occurred—and not wanting to spread the bombast of street preachers but this inevitable development, as Wired! magazine reports, of learning software writing its own, improved (in novel and unexpected ways) learning software makes me think that we are lurching ever closer to that reality.
Presently the machine is learning to build neural networks that optimise search results and targeted marketing across one relatively knowable, shared plane of existence, but should human programmers by side-lined into a sine cure, directorial role will greatly accelerate the pace of transformation—which with too much human intervention could really turn into an experience fraught with the tantalisingly tremolo-fulfilling and the unchallenging. What do you think? Not only will the way we interact online change in exponential ways, fully-automated and autonomous, self-generating learning software will also spread into the real world much faster and take helm not only in transit but also in legal, financial and health services and be accorded a role in civil and corporate governance, making it not only more difficult to justify wealth disparity but also calling into question our economic models and priorities to begin with.

Friday, 13 October 2017


Presenting a particularly woke feature for Public Domain Review, English professor Ross Bullen shows us how carnival barkers of the past too could conjure up a rather indirect but in no way allegorical nor subtle forum for airing racial tensions and expounding on ideas of white supremacy—pointedly in late nineteenth century America just two decades after its civil war.
Circus impresario PT Barnum’s latest acquisition was about to go on display and the public was abuzz with excitement, only that what was billed as a sacred white elephant (which Barnum’s agents had procured at a high price from the Burmese monarch and Barnum himself tried to curb the audience’s expectations) didn’t prove to be white enough with one critic even calling the creature more like a “mulatto.” A figurative meaning was already attached to owning a white elephant as both a blessing and a curse as the prestige of it was also burdensome and impractical but the stock usage of white elephant swaps, the adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure or as a commentary on costly to maintain projects (but unable to dispense with) and under-utilised infrastructure really became cemented in common-parlance after this episode. Despite Barnum’s reputation as one to pass along hoaxes and the fraudulent as authentic, this genuine curiosity couldn’t keep his spectators enthralled and precipitated a broadening culture war with elephant bleaching and racist soap advertising campaigns, and those who did come to behold the sacred white elephant were met with the reflection of their perhaps unformulated, unarticulated ideas about identity and the other turned back on them.


As an update to a project first covered last summer, we learn that an international consortium of engineers and alchemists have brought the first negative-emissions power plant on-line in Iceland.
The scientists and their backers were understandably muted about their works and successes—hoping that industry would do a better job of policing itself and leave direct-air capture—having filters sequester atmospheric carbon-dioxide by transforming it into stone—as an absolute last-resort. Additionally, despite the fact that we’ve probably passed that pivot point and considering what’s at stake, the scientists were also not wanting to seem too pie-in-the-sky considering the prohibitively high costs associated with constructing the facilities—but desperate times call for a symmetrical response and right now with many places battered by climate-change driven natural disasters—hurricanes, wildfires, no price can be too dear. This first prototype plant paired with the geothermal generating station in Hellisheiði (to make it truly carbon-negative) is so far able to reabsorb the annual emissions of an average family home, but a May demonstration project in Geneva captured the equivalent of twenty households with costs coming down.

Thursday, 12 October 2017


Disturbingly—though the US only rejoined the international body promoting education, scientific research and preservation of cultural heritage from hegemon in 2002 after an eighteen-year hiatus that Ronald Reagan initiated, accusing it of betraying a bias towards Communism—Dear Dotard has unilaterally decided to withdraw America’s membership from UNESCO (also the purveyor of international days of observation and the committee behind the creation of CERN, for starters) predominately over what’s characterised as its anti-Israeli leanings demonstrated by making Palestine a full-member and for (in July) inscribing a site in Hebron to its World Heritage List. Fiduciary concerns were also cited as contributing factors—including some half a billion dollars in back payments that America has yet to repay. Following the US announcement, Israel expressed its intent to leave the organisation as well.

nacht und nebel

We’ve previously confronted the highly disturbing tolerance and even admiration that certain elements of the American populace have displayed (and woefully continue to do so—just now with more abandon and zeal) for the National Socialist political party of Germany and knew of the rally held in Madison Square. It always struck me as a secret, shameful episode that despite mounting anecdotes and evidence was something that was buried and few knew of, so we were grateful to learn that a short, straightforward documentary called “A Night at the Garden” by Academy Award nominated director Marshall Curry has been complied from all available footage. It is absolutely inconceivable to me that with the benefit of hindsight and historical distance, a bunch of Cosplay Nazis are convinced that holding these views are acceptable. 

non verbus, sed rebus

We enjoyed pouring over the pictorial kanji typography from artist Nozzdesu that makes Japanese writing a bit more accessible to the illiterate and reminded us of a similar experiment with Arabic script. The calligraphy (shodō, 書道) of Japan, as with many other places, has gone through many stylistic shifts and some glyphs broach the recognisable and selecting for geometry, colour and style can go further in helping to impart meaning for outsiders. Pictured is the word eiga (映画) for movie.

må jeg skjære ham i fingeren? må jeg rive ham i håret?

Synchronised to a two-dimensional physics simulation, animator DoodleChaos’ line-rider rendering of Edvard Grieg’s (previously) In the Hall of the Mountain King was a rather thrilling sled ride. You should definitely have the speakers on full blast for this one and watch it through to the end when it gets really harrowing.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

rogues' gallery

While previously on PfRC we were exposed to the teaching and methodology of Inspector Alphonse Bertillon whose research into how anthropometry could be applied as systematic way of identifying repeat offenders and informed our notions of biometrics, we hadn’t actually seen his superbly complex diagrams and composite “mug-shots” until now.  First working as a transcriptionist for the Paris police department, Bertillon grew frustrated with informal, instinctive forensic techniques that were failing to reduce recidivism rates—and encouraged bolder criminal behaviour since it appeared unlikely one would be caught and the potential reward made the risks acceptable ones.
No doubt Bertillon was a dedicated pioneer whose legacy lives on in all precincts, but something about him strikes me as very Inspector Javert (from Les Misérables who became obsessed with capture and punishment of Jean Valjean) especially considering his growing eccentricities and loss of credibility when he claimed that there was a mathematical infallibility to his technique (when there demonstrably was not) and his false testimony was used to sentence Alfred Dreyfus (of the divisive Dreyfus Affair, a study in anti-Semitism and grave miscarriage of justice in which a captain was incorrectly accused of treason whilst his superiors, the real culprits, deflected the blame) to exile and imprisonment. Eventually Bertillion’s comprehensive system of markers was collapsed into the complementary but competing method of dactyloscopy, once the inspector himself perfected a way to retrieve latent fingerprints from smooth surfaces.


Treating the needlework sampler as the record of a life overlooked, the Fitzwilliam Museum of the University of Cambridge has curated a collection of over one hundred of these crafty examples (both words have the same Latin root) from the sixteen hundreds up until modern times—often with the morose realisation that these creations made to demonstrate literacy, stitching skills as a future home-maker and cottage-industry entrepreneur are the only trace of their existence remaining. The exhibition also explores how symbolism and subject shifts with time and how in depth research centred around these artefacts—which also were the makers’ creative outlet—can reveal further details about the fortune and circumstance of the individuals and their families.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

mossery (with frippery to taste)

Researching the subject for another recent post, I came across the Victorian craze for ferns and mosses (dubbed pteridomania) which went beyond collecting and on to cultivation.
This particularly fine and verdant specimen cleaving to a stone wall near home, dabbled in just the right mix of light and shadow, reminded me of the nineteenth century garden-feature known as the mossery, a covered slatted wood box with northern exposure. Samples stuck into the cracks would grow and fill the box if moistened regularly. Though not able to find plans for a mossery—like a guide for building a proper beehive for apiculturists—I think we’ll experiment and report on success. Meanwhile and alternatively there’s a wide range of moss-centric terrariums and moss-centric forums for one’s emendation—with ostentation and folly (sunken ships and treasure chests in aquaria) to taste.


microcosm: an annual photography competition invites us to explore the world around us just below the threshold of the naked eye

the luwians and the trojan war: the intriguing tale behind the lost frieze that may document the collapse of the Bronze Age

point and shoot: using algorithmic processes to inform the shutter when a photo-worth opportunity presents itself, one internet and technology giant is offering an automatic camera for home use—relatedly

gastaloops: one hundred day push to create gorgeous, encircling animations—via the Everlasting Blört

high rate of staff turn-over: activities offered at the White House adult day care facility

extinction cos-play: crocheted costumes for the common pigeon to highlight the importance of biodiversity and fighting to protect endangered species—via Nag on the Lake

trek ‘splaining: a visual physics lesson on the problem-fraught workings of as seen on TV teleportation

(rainy) day-trip: büdingen

The weather in Wetterau is not always cooperative and most days like these would see cancelled excursions, but on my way back to my work-week apartment, I took a detour to try to see the fortified and well-preserved medieval town of Büdingen. I recall having visited before—when it was still host to a US Army housing detachment—but that was ages ago and probably one of the wind-shield tours I was taking at the time and having tried to visit again once before during a trip to Burg Ronneburg but was overcome (incredulously) for lack of parking, so despite the dodgy skies, I marched up and down the still charming but be-puddled streets of town.

Described variously as the Rothenburg of Hessen and with other superlatives, the heavy stone defensive walls were formidable and impressive and all the streets of the historic core were awash with the idiosyncratic geometry of fine half-timbered (Fachwerk) structures—angular unto itself, rays emanating off in all directions—and there was a stately church and castle. The town in the centre of a marshy valley and the fortress and Altstadt are resting on millennia old matrix of oak planks and beech poles. Whereas a lot of German town have papier-mâché cows or lions to celebrate local craft and heritage, Büdingen uniquely has a collection of frogs, its unofficial mascot.
The rain, however, didn’t relent, and while I knew that every place is unique and embraces their stories of pogrom and plague, witch-trials and religious tribulations—and perhaps it was the combination of the rain and vague spatial memories, I was feeling rather disoriented and it was hard to take in the scenery, echoes of other places resonating strongly to the point I could recall the town’s name when relating it to H afterwards.
I suppose those discomforts are indicative of why sensible people (unless on holiday abroad when one has no other choice than to go out and enjoy the grey and drizzle) wouldn’t choose this battle for a rewarding tourist-experience. H and I will have to choose the opportunity to return and give Büdingen the attention and intention that it deserves.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

great waters

Much like the contemporary movement to furnish the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with all the trappings and legitimacy of a sovereign member of the United Nations so that others might take the issue of marine pollution with the level of urgency it demands of us, in 1975 a US federal judge briefly championed the idea that Lake Michigan—the only Great Lake not shared with Canada but with interstate shores shared with Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan—be incorporated as America’s fifty-first state, so as to be better equipped to protect herself from the infringements of over-fishing, contamination and other exploitation. Failing full-fledged statehood, the judge, who was an emeritus steward of the pollution and water resources commission of Chicago, offered that managing the lake under a scheme similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority would be a suitable compromise.

aka manto or things that go dump in the night

As part of its annual celebration of the spooky and ghoulish leading up to Halloween, Atlas Obscura gives us a brief but intimate—to let one’s imagination get the better of oneself—primer on the Japanese yōkai (previously here, here and here) that tend to haunt private bathrooms and public, communal facilities.
The bathroom horror trope, predictably, since one is by all rights alone (or within maybe uncomfortable earshot) can be terrifying and could easily become more than one cares to indulge (even the idea of looking in a mirror can be hijacked into a horrific prospect with the right milieu) so consider oneself forwarded, but most seem to be just mischievous, muttering just out of range, making untoward noises or swiping toilet paper and other pranks, if not pitiable spectres and there’s a very specific ritual to summon up, sort of like scrying Bloody Mary (or if you’d rather, Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter), these tortured ghosts that inhabit certain stalls (the third one or the last one) and people are supposedly due for an encounter with these ghosts within a month after learning of their sad fates. Others still seem more sent to clean-shame those who might not keep theirs in the most hygienic of conditions, with a nasty little water sprite that’s said to lick the mildew off of one’s sink and bathtub. Visit, if you dare, the links above to learn more.

murder was her hobby: the nutshell studies

Via the always brilliant Nag on the Lake we find ourselves rather taken with these detailed, macabre dioramas produced in the 1940s and 1950s by smart and crafty lady Frances Glessner Lee—who being denied the chance to study criminal sciences herself became a sort of den mother for aspiring Harvard medical examiners and made immeasurable contributions to modern forensic science. Each of her miniature crime scenes were based on real, sometimes unsolved cases and contained a multitude of clues and evidence to cull and work out how the murder was committed.
An investigator-in-training examining one of the Nutshell Studies for the first time would not necessarily know what to look for and where the significant clues lie but the intricate little tragedies who hopefully keep him engaged and thinking critically and maybe learn to appreciate how everything may not be what it seems and that everything was not an open-and-shut case. Be sure and visit the links above to see more of the dioramas and find out details for their upcoming exhibition.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

501(c) or because i was not a trade-unionist

Failing to pass any meaningful or positive legislation, the nihilistic regime of Dear Dotard has advanced a tranche of legislation that privileges religious conviction (or at least the claim, pretense thereof as the expanded language no longer requires that an employer or service-provider have a stated religious purpose) as promised—this is the nightmare that we choose—over not just laws offering protections to employees aimed at reducing discrimination and increasing equal employment rights but woefully also over women’s health and reproductive choices, education, marriage equality to include miscegenation laws, economic opportunities and community health—as it’s surely designed to allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children too.
This false dichotomy of pitting lifestyle choices, identity and, yes—this is what we’ve returned to, women’s health against religious adiaphora (no central article of faith is based on hate and fear) and is of course the same sort of culture war that propelled these miseries to high office and will make it impossible to dislodge the criminal syndicate any time soon. How far backward could we go?  Previously, it was possible for objectors of certain provisions provided in health care coverage to argue their case to the government and secure the right to be exempted from the requirement but the process was public with due controls—but under the relaxed rules, corporations can distance themselves from the controversial, bothersome or potential costly just by asserting its stance to its insured staff with no requirement to notify state or federal authorities.  It’s easy to tease out trepidation and hatred and no force of law is required but the one manoeuvre underlying both the attack and roll-back of gay and women’s rights is what’s known as the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 addition to the US tax code that prohibits non-profit organisations—like churches and charities—from endorsing or opposing political candidates at the peril of losing their tax exempt status. This key component in the separation of church and state was recommended and adopted without controversy by then Texas senator Lyndon Baines Johnson and remained as something sacrosanct until it all of a sudden wasn’t and came under assault after a Rose Garden speech back in May, pandering to religious conservatives. Using the same argument that restricting their religious expression to vote as a congregational bloc infringes on their fundamental freedoms, the White House has essentially eviscerated the intent of the regulation by directing agencies of the executive to not enforce it any differently than it would against a secular (profane) entity in so far as taking sides.

fount of ambiguity

Ultimately sourced to the public affairs office of an aluminium manufacturer and required reading for all who matriculated through the agency, thanks to the CIA CREST scheduled releases to the public domain after fifty years the slim forty page, mimeographed volume on the intelligence service’s guide to semantics intersecting with proxemics, forensics and profiling through achieving clarity in communication and effective inquiry. The brochure in its entirety is available over at Muckrock and though somewhat dated still offers time-tested methods for recognising and deflecting fake news with means-testing that seems obvious but is something we’ve conveniently forgotten. The evergreen lament that “too much government is bad for business” is deconstructed through semiosis—offering that you will probably garner some enemies, at least temporarily rather than disabusing anyone—but some basic clarifying questions should be put to that rather meaningless (for the target) assertion.

Friday, 6 October 2017

the quicker picker-upper

While I try to ignore the boorish antics of Dear Dotard for as long as I can manage, the time in between one transgression that can’t be ignored until the next insult is galloping in frequency.
Given the fact that a majority of Puerto Ricans are still without essential services not to mention reliable internet connectivity, maybe the reaction to Trump’s reluctant visit to the island territory was somewhat muted (it’s just like making fun of the Amish, you Sh*t Gibbon), the game show, carnival-barker atmosphere was far more surreal than I could imagine. After calling-out the island’s indebtedness again, praising their optimal weather excepting the recent hurricane and saying that the number of casualties were acceptable given the scope of the storm, the humanitarian took it upon himself to distribute aide by lobbing paper-towels at the assembled crowd. No one should be allowed to forget that this is the nightmare we choose (no matter how we were influenced should we be tolerant or complacent) and that actions have consequences.

proletarskaya kultura

Calvert Journal contributor Samuel Goff gives us a rather tantalising preview of a collection of the bold illustrations, erotica, story-boards and caricatures of cinematic pioneer Sergei Eisenstein—probably best known for his silent films Battleship Potemkin and documentary on the 1917 October Revolution and later historical epics Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky. The experimental Soviet artistic institute that employed and supported the edifying endeavours of Eisenstein, who was also a leading influencer in the use of montage in filmmaking and editing, and his fellow creators was called Prolekult (Пролетку́льт)—a combination of the Russian for proletarian culture.
The visionary director’s graphic output was prolific, ranging from this frieze humorously depicting the start of the Trojan War to a dehumanising series called Idolatry inspired by events Eisenstein witnessed in Moscow during the terrors at the height of Stalinism, but was mostly unknown and went largely unacknowledged. The upcoming publication of a curated collection of his artworks called Eisenstein on Paper—with a foreword by Martin Scorsese—is attempting to remedy this oversight. Be sure to visit the link up top to learn more about Eisenstein’s career and legacy.


Amusing Planet educates us about an unusual geological formation that occurs in South Tyrol in the hinterlands of Bolzano, Rifiano and Merano called earth pyramids (piramidi di terra in Alto Adige, Südtiroler Erdpyramiden).
These tall pillars formed out of the moraine clay deposited by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age and regularly alternating periods of drought and torrential rains that wash the soil away. The boulders atop these spindly, precarious-looking structures prevent the soil directly underneath from being eroded away, and especially in sheltered Puster (Pusteria) and Toblach (Dobbiaco) valleys where they are protected from the wind make some truly outstanding scenery. The spiky confection is a Swiss product and has a different inspiration—a portmanteau of the creator’s name (Theodore Tobler) and a type of Italian nougat whose shape is meant to recall the Matterhorn (Il Cervino). I think we will definitely need to make a special detour on our next trip south to marvel at these uniquely frozen landslides. 

petit voiture

Just a Car Guy graces us with the bracing find of a 1903 model of a De Dion-Bouton vis a vis voiturette (a four-wheeler) charging through the streets of Paris, outfitted with pneumatic tyres, patented by a French inventor named Alfred Ducasble, to ride rough-shod over the cobblestones without sustaining wear and tear. Gifted toymakers turned automotive engineers Georges Bouton and his brother-in-law Charles Trépardoux, under the patronage of automobile pioneer and marquis Jules-Albert de Dion, founded the automobile and railcar company in 1881 and originally made steam- and electric-powered models before turning to the internal combustion engine, and was until the 1920s the largest automotive manufacturer in the world, churning out a volume of two thousand vehicles annually from its factory on the banks of the Seine in Puteaux.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

sphagnum, p.i.

From the science desk at Gizmodo we learn that algae are not monopolising the bio-fuel revolution and there’s another contender in the lowly but amazing moss. The superficial achievement of engineering a fragrant plant so a patch of one’s garden might smell of patchouli oil is just the beginning. If developed responsibly, moss could become a universal, self-sustaining medium (peat, turf was until modern times after all the only fuel resource we knew how to effectively collect and use) that could be genetically tinkered with on demand and deliver flavoured, edible, nutritious compounds to be moulded and presented as a mealtime skeuomorph, effectively the replicator from Star Trek.


For its Branded in Memory project a marketing and demographics website challenged one hundred and fifty Americans (most of the corporate logos are global brands but there are some specific to American markets) to recreate—without peeking—a batch of famous marque emblems and afterwards arranged the entrants from least to most accurate. The results are pretty insightful and illustrate what logos reside in our conscious and which are somewhat less ingrained. Colours were consistently correct (unless one was attached to a logo that the company retired long ago). How would you fare? I think it would be a fun project to recreate this experiment for those (probably woefully uniform) shops on your local high street or for the labels from your usual grocery shopping inventory.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


what you’re saying is called “internalized misogyny” face: McSweeney’s growing index of alternatives to resting bitch face

heartbreakers: Tom Petty’s daughter shares personal photographs and memories plus more tributes from Everlasting Blört

escuela nacional de arte: the abandoned, unfinished architectural masterpieces of Cuba’s state art school campus

southern exposure: Ernest Shackleton entertained crew members during Scott’s expedition to the South Pole with an illustrated magazine, which reminded me of this other travelogue

airs on a shoestring: a growing cartographic representation of over fifteen hundred samples of musical genres, via Kottke

electric sheep: the eponymous Replicant bounty-hunters, Bladerunners, were named after a black-market healthcare system set in the imagined dystopic Manhattan of retro-future 2009


Though the seven continents that we are best acquainted with have corresponding landmasses that rise above the waters, there’s no reason to hold landforms to this requirement, there being no universally accepted geological definition of what constitutes a continent, and there’s a movement, we discover thanks to TYWKIWDBI, to have an eighth land-mass adjacent to Australia so recognised. Most of Zealandia (or alternatively, Tasmantis) remains submerged below the surface of the Pacific with only New Zealand, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island peeking above the surface. What do you think? It struck me at first as the same sort of technicality that downgraded Pluto, but I do wonder how much sense our thresholds and naming-conventions make outside of sentimental attachments.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

plenary session or lingua franca

We enjoyed considering the strange but sensical dialect called European Union English, via Miss Cellania, that’s a sort of jargon by committee that arises in international institutions where groups of non-native speakers (and it naturally wouldn’t be only in the working-language of English, and one might wonder if post-Brexit it will still have the same official standing, but similarly coding errors would be propagated through French and German and others as well) develop a highly formalised cant and bend words to their experience.
Using to dispose of to mean to avail oneself for a chance or opportunity or being vexed by the false friends of actual (Aktuell meaning current rather than existing) and eventual (Eventuell being a possibility rather than an eventuality, a foregone conclusion). That last linguistic Flascher Freund, Fauxami leads us into even more interesting territory with examples that don’t mean what one could be forgiven for thinking they do. Whereas in German or Spanish punctuality might be anything related to a particular moment or juncture, punctuality in English only refers to the quality of being at the agreed upon place at the agreed upon time and has that former sense of punctiliousness and periodicity in EU documents—whose turn of phrase appears in translations down the line. Perhaps—if stereotypes are to be believed, Germans are a bit nonplussed at the fact that tardiness is such an epidemic problem that there needs to be a special word to describe the virtue vis-à-vis the vice. We could certainly imagine other scenarios where the existence of an opposite, essential trait would be indeed baffling. Similarly (though no rules of grammar or precedence to suggest otherwise), standard-issue English uses the term opportunity as a synonym for chance rather than conferring the quality of being opportune or timely to a given event. Be sure to review the whole list of odd usage compiled by the supranational body itself at Mental Floss. Has your profession bumped up against the limits of translation only to transcend them? Although these constructed definitions and how they might come across to native speakers as an entertaining and engrossing thing to see unfold, I wonder if those snatches of Latin frozen in legalese struck those outside of the profession as vulgar and amateurish rather than venerable.

a well-regulated militia

American society, despite ample evidence to the contrary that more stringent gun-control laws curb violent shootings, is unwilling and incapable of reform and would rather indulge an illusory and contingent freedom and risk the unavoidable horror that is bundled into the selective reading of the intent of their Founding Fathers rather than take the stance that is apparently the tougher of the two—though those who’ve lost a family member, neighbour or a teacher probably have an easier time of deciding. Those directly affected by these tragedies, and they surely have great ripples across millions of lives, certainly deserve our emotional support and help tending to immediate needs—but for those of us digesting this all too frequent occurrence, we must needs be willing to confront something darker and also to know (not accept) that it is doomed to happen all over again.
This isn’t a taunt or challenge: America has perfected the script and there’s no deviation in its reading. Myriad chances for change have presented themselves and at times when there was far greater political will and political prowess, but the people of America choose again and again to embrace the message that surrendering a modicum on the right to bear arms represents run-away erosion on their liberties. Upbringing and the founding mythology plays an out-sized role in this self-destructive tendency, but so too does the gun industry and their lobbyists. Not that it changes anything, here is a directory of the congress men and women who accepted campaign donations from the National Rifle Association, legislated accordingly and now offer their thoughts and prayers in return.  The other uncomfortable truth we need to confront is how the event is not ultimately classified by its toll or audacity but by whether the shooter, perpetrator is white and has a name that doesn’t betray too much of a foreign origin. Rather than terrorism, it’s mental disease (which strikes me as something very harsh to intimate to anyone who is already suffering a lot of distress) and prosecuted accordingly—whereas, if the crimes are presented by someone with brown skin, it’s another point to the argument that we need to be able to defend ourselves from those who hate our way of life. It’s the latter conceit that’s among America’s most successful exports lately, and while fortunately the world is not willing to liberalise its weapon-laws down to American levels (a prominent German gun manufacturer has in fact pledged to stop selling munitions to corrupt regimes) real danger remains that we will start believing in the veracity of America’s underlying narrative and justification rather than reconciling it for what it is: the driving force behind this puerile, perennial display of helplessness to feel more secure in one’s own complicities and prejudices.


We were certainly not disappoint at the lengths that the internet went to admonish us that this recently cinematic release was not the first adaptation of Steven King’s It and the 1990 television mini-series featured none other than accomplished stage and screen actor Tim Curry as the creepy, shape-shifting clown Pennywise. I’ll leave it to viewers to decide who played the role better.

Monday, 2 October 2017


Although some seventy percent of the voting populace in Catalunya were in favour of holding a referendum on the matter of its secession from the Kingdom of Spain, prior to the police brutality and voter-suppression that occurred at the ballot-stations in Barcelona, Girona and a few other locations (prominent places surely but hardly not blocking all of them), the people were split on the issue with only some forty percent unconditionally voting for independence.
Spain’s central government maintains it is illegal and unconstitutional for a constituent region to declare its autonomy—and it is the government’s right and arguably its responsibility to try to kept its soverign borders intact and cohesive, like those currently strategizing over what a Kurdish homeland might mean for Iraq and Turkey (or for that matter, what the experience might be for the first US state to remove itself from the Union) or how the creatures of Brexit’s court rallied around Catalunya’s right to self-determination, but its violent response to stop voting altogether reportedly translated to an incredible outcome of over ninety percent—perhaps that show of might smacked too much like the totalitarian regime of Francisco Franco that came to an end a scant four decades ago. What do you think? In the aftermath of the plebiscite and the violence that marred it, Catalunya’s leadership have since softened the rhetoric of an immediate withdrawal and amid all this chaos it’s impossible to predict how things will progress moving forward.