Monday, 22 July 2019

and whitey’s on the moon

While the achievements of Apollo 11 were universally awing and captivating, for those in America who were politically and civilly disenfranchised and marginalised, people were left wondering why such focus and resources weren’t also being committed to bring about social justice and eliminate inequality. This led influential jazz musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron (*1949 – †2011)—best remembered for his essay “The Revolution will not be Televised”—to compose “Whitey on the Moon” in the following year.  Though there’s no evidence for a connection of any kind, the opening cadence makes me think a little bit of the 1979 song from The Police, “Walking on the Moon.”

I can’t pay no doctor bill. 
(but Whitey’s on the moon) 
Ten years from now I’ll be paying still. 
(while Whitey’s on the moon)

Sunday, 21 July 2019

rajio taisō

Broadcast calisthenics (ラジオ体操), a morning staple in Japan and areas with a sizable Japanese diaspora—have been a popular routine since it was instituted nationwide on the ascension of Emperor Hirohito in 1928, the idea for radio exercises coming from a US life insurance company that sponsored a quarter of an hour regiment from the 1920s offered as one’s daily constitutional.
This approximately three-minute (that’s a commitment that I could make and make room for in between coffee and a shower and dashing off to catch the bus) programme, now under the auspices of Japan’s public broadcaster, is part of school curriculum, social groups and some businesses utilise it to energise employees and build morale and cohesion, but—knowing the structure by heart, many also tune individually—having grown up with the familiar format that’s remained the same for decades.  Learn more from The Guardian at the link above.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

statio tranquillitatas

Yet embroiled in a lawsuit levied against the US space agency by the founder of the American Atheist association for the astronauts’ recitation during Apollo 8’s lunar orbit during Christmas Eve of the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis and demanded that they refrain from evangelising while in space, after touching down on the Moon, in the six-hour interim before stepping outside the lander, flight engineer Buzz Aldrin—in that spirit—took Sunday communion in private.
A church elder of a Presbyterian congregation, his kit was prepared ahead of time by his pastor and the chalice used during the lunar ceremony is in possession of the church near Galveston, Texas where Johnson Space Center exists today. The chalice is used for a special commemoration on the Sunday closest to the original date each year. The remander of the time was a designated sleep-period, but too excited, the break was cut short. “This is the LM [Landing Module] pilot,” Aldrin said, taking the com, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

unternehmen walküre

On this day in 1944, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg orchestrated a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and remove the Nazi party from power. The culmination of several co-conspirators representing a coalition of resistance groups from across Germany, the coup d’état (Putsch) was to dislodge the party loyals and the Gestapo and make peace with the Western Allies as soon as possible.
The attempt to detonate an explosive planted in the conference room in the Wolfsschanze failed to achieve their objective and precipitated in the arrest and execution of hundreds of co-conspirators and a purge of military personnel—the army using the event as a pretence to settle old scores and a way to settle grudges even if there was only a very tenuous connection to the opposition. Had the plot succeeded, members had been designated ahead of time to assume government and cabinet positions and leave no room for others to claim power in the ensuing chaos, including Stauffenberg as the Minister of State to the War Department and staunch detractor of the Nazi regime Carl Friedrich Goerdeler as chancellor—though the latter was a source of incriminating evidence and was apparently willing to implicate others, consigning all to the same fate as martyrs. Despite the fact that the Führer’s reign of terror continued for almost another year afterwards with more death and destruction, the bravery of the plotters showed to the world that Germany was not monolithic in their thinking and outlook.

chryse planitia

Touching down on this day in 1976, the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Viking 1 became the second probe to successfully reach Mars after the Soviet Union’s Марс-3 five years earlier—beginning what would turn out to be a rather incredible six-year monitoring mission (sadly, the previous effort failed after seconds) with a battery of biological experiments to search for evidence of life.

Scientists were also able to use this distant beacon that’s sometimes occulted by the Sun to confirm the phenomenon of gravitational time dilation as predicted by the theory of General Relativity, the Sun’s gravity causing delays in transmission times. The Viking sent back this incredible panoramic vista (landing site in the title) shortly after its arrival.

konkrete kunst

Here is a tondo (a circular enframed work of art, from the Italian rotondo, “round”) from Swiss artist Fritz Glarner (born on this day in 1899, †1972). Heavily influenced by painters of De Stijl movement, particularly the geometrical studies of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, Glarner’s style focused on “relational” schema as revealed through architectural patterns. Studying in Paris, Glarner spent most of his professional career in New York’s Long Island artist colony, before retiring to Locarno in 1966.

Friday, 19 July 2019


I think we are all this film review of the upcoming “live,” demented deep-dreaming nightmare adaptation of the musical Cats. So many questions that dare not seek answers.
The 1981 piece is based on a collection of epistolary poetry that T. S. Eliot (previously) composed to entertain his godchildren in the 1930s—presenting a sociological tract on a tribe of felines and their nomination of one of their members to ascend into a paradisaical afterlife and be reincarnated, and the new production, starring an ensemble cast of screen and stage luminaries projected onto cat-sized avatars, is seemingly riding the coattails of attempting to revive old properties with live-actors aided by digital graphics, dispensing the need for imagination and suspension of disbelief, illustrative of what happens when creative outlets are not constrained by a budget and no one has the courage of conviction to say when a project is going in the wrong direction.

meine tochter nimmer mehr

Featured in Amadeus, a favourite of the endearingly incompetent Florence Foster Jenkins and dispatched to the Cosmos on the Golden Records of the Voyager emissaries, we’re all familiar with the challenging coloratura passage, the trilled run spanning two octaves, of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte but I failed to appreciate the piece’s message and that it’s classified as a rage aria (which sounds quite fancy—Yas Queen, the Italian terms being aria agitate or aria infuriate).
Entitled “Hell’s Vengeance Boils in my Heart” (Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen), the Queen of the Night delivers a knife to her daughter Pamina and on pain of disownment, assassinate her arch-rival, the high priest Sarastro, whom had recruited her daughter and would be rescuer Prince Tamino and sidekick Papageno to his school of thought. Familiar with her vocal talents, Mozart wrote the part for his sister-in-law Josepha Hofer who first played the role, with words by librettist Emanuel Schikaneder—whom himself played the part of bird-catcher Papageno in the opera’s premiere.

bonjour farewell

In a private meeting between French and US presidents during the Ottawa G7 Summit of the summer of 1981, François Mitterand disclosed to Ronald Reagan of the existence of a Soviet defector, Colonel Vladimir Vetrov, a French intelligence asset codenamed Farewell with the notion that if apprehended the KGB would assume he was working for the Americans, and turned over an extensive collection of documents, referred to as the Farewell Dossier, demonstrating that the Soviets had been routinely surveilling and incorporating US and NATO partners’ research and technology.
The files also identified the espionage network that had taken years and considerable expense to build and thus precipitated the expulsion of hundreds of spies from countries in the alliance, but prior to taking action, the US Central Intelligence Agency instigated a counter-campaign of disinformation and disseminated faulty designs in the hopes that the Soviets would try to steal these sabotaged plans as well. Though the correlation is disputed and quite possibly just reflects the angst expressed by the Reagan administration that British and West German support for a trans-Siberian natural gas export pipeline would compromise their allies and make them reliant on Russia for energy, according to some accounts, the CIA delivered a Trojan Horse to pressure control relays that caused a massive explosion in the winter of 1983. The US was already imposing sanctions on the Soviets and restricting the sale of supplies needed for the monumental engineering project, which became operational despite these setbacks.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

it’s the assault on freedom of the press. but it’s not just the assault on freedom of the press.

This essay, via Miss Cellania, from David Rothkopf at first glance reminded me of a punchline from Michelle Wolf, part of her monologue which ultimately led to the rubbishing of a time-honoured journalistic and comedic tradition for the White House Press Corps: “Trump is so broke he had to borrow money from the Russians and now he’s compromised and susceptible to blackmail and possibly responsible for the collapse of the Republic. Yay, it’s a fun game!”
It goes to demonstrate, however, how far we’ve lost ground and how present the threat of normalising, despite forewarnings, has become. Droning on in the best spirit and practise of demagogues, “It’s the dead in Puerto Rico and the at the border. But it’s not just the dead in Puerto Rico and at the border. It’s turning the US government into a criminal conspiracy to empower and enrich the president and his supporters. But it’s not just the turning the US government into a criminal conspiracy to empower and enrich the president and his supporters. It’s weaponisation of politics in America to attack the weak. But it’s not just the weaponisation of American politics to attack the weak.” Rejecting this point-of-view keeps it marginalised and keeps us focused and reminds us that this is not normal.

freigegeben ohne altersbeschränkung

Concerned that the Occupying Powers in post-war Germany had not prioritised censorship and protecting impressionable young minds from negative influences portrayed in film—also as a way to head off government- or military-mandated controls by demonstrating that the industry could police itself, those charged with rebuilding West Germany’s film industry (see also) with the consultation of the church and psychologists created a ratings scale—modeled off the US Hays Code and the standards that it imposed on cinema, finalised and submitted to the allied authorities for consideration on 18 July 1949, approved and granted autonomy on 28 September, one of the first prerogative that the country was entrusted with after the war.
The self-regulatory body (FSK, Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft) is based in Wiesbaden and since 2009 headquartered in the Deutsches Filmhaus, which also serves as a museum, theatre and broadcast studio, located near the Schlacthof Cultural Centre.

les horrible cernettes

Sharing their initials with the future Large Hadron Collider and with office chart-topping hits such as “Antiworld,” “Mister Higgs” and “Strong Interaction” the trio, the Horrible CERN girls, became the first music group to have its image on the world wide web when this cover became one of the first images (originally as a GIF) posted there—the photograph taken on this day in 1992 and then scanned at the request of Tim Berners-Lee so he could publish them on some sort of information system he’d just invented. Sticking together for two decades before disbanding, the members got back together five years afterward for an anniversary reunion concert in Geneva in the summer of 2017.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

share and share alike

Though arguably the worst-kept secret in the international defence alliance but the inadvertent disclosure, confirmation of the location of the US nuclear arsenal forward-positioned in Europe seems at least to me a pretty dangerous exposé and far more tempting of a fools’ crusade than the storming of Area 51 to extract some supposed extra-terrestrial beings. An open-secret already with Wikipedia articles on the towns in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey and Italy that reflect the stationing of warheads, security and launch protocols one wonders how tautological and self-referencing the news is.
Indeed there are relics of a hopefully bygone era all over Europe (with official admission at least broaching the subject) and let’s hope there’s no new arms race with Russia that necessitates a further build-up, but seeing this unsourced report, since removed, reminds me of an anecdote—also from Wikipedia, that related how during the DDR, East Berliners referred to the grand boulevard now called Karl-Marx-Allee as “Stalin’s Bathroom” (Stalins Badezimmer) owning to the tiled facades (Fassadenfliesen) of the showcase buildings. Included in an article on Berolinismus (Berliner-isms, that is pet names for structures and other architectural features like the Bierpinsel instead of the tower-restaurant Steglitz or “Telespargel” for the TV Tower or the East Side Gallery), this new moniker was picked up by many journalistic outlets (both foreign and domestic) and perpetuated in the media. The contributor later admitted that it seemed to him like a fitting a term of affection and that the list was incomplete and he could help by expanding it but no one ever referred to Karl-Marx-Allee as Stalin’s Bathroom. I wonder if it might be a similar case of commission in the case of the nuclear weapons as well.


Founded by entrepreneur, computer historian and member of the Unicode Emoji steering committee Jeremy Burge in 2014—a year after starting the reference site Emojipedia—today has been set aside as World Emoji Day.
The date was chosen in deference to the default date already displayed in the calendar application software of Apple systems (iCal) between 2002 and 2007, itself in reference to the debut of the cross-platform scheduling and sychronising assistant at the Mac World Expo that summer. Though now apps are dynamic and display the actual date, this design artefact is retained and reflected in modern parlance and used in most operating system emoji vernacular. How do you plan to celebrate?

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

sad foot, happy foot

Via Super Punch, we learn about a sign for a podiatry practise that’s become a landmark on a corner of Sunset Boulevard over the past four decades and a daily portend for residents on how their day will transpire—depending on what side of the revolving sign greets you first, which will be dismantled shortly as the doctor prepares to retire. An interview with the Echo Park practitioner is a segue to consider all of Los Angeles’ endearing and ritualised kitsch and the prompt to notice one’s own local architectural mascots.  Eye-sore is such a cruel phrase but do you have one you wish upon?

space race

Via Mysterious Universe, on this fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 from Cape Canaveral we learn that according to one imminent historian, John F Kennedy, who famously charged his nation with committing “itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” did not intend for the Space Race to become the bi-polar, ideological struggle and ongoing rivalry that it since morphed into but rather entertained it might be an international collaborative effort that might help foster peace and cooperation.
In an interview granted to the Telegraph (possible paywall) ahead of his book release, John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute and former member of the NASA advisory council. Delivering that speech before Congress in May of 1961 with the Bay of Pigs standoff only recently diffused, US-Soviet tensions were heightened and the private meeting between Nikita Khrushchev and JFK in Vienna a few weeks later was probably dominated by negotiation on nuclear proliferation and spheres of influence, but there is evidence to suggest that Kennedy might have broached the idea of a joint mission to the lunar surface. Later even entertained before a United Nations assembly, it’s a matter of some speculation why this did not occur but is nonetheless satisfying to indulge what the common effort might have looked like for geopolitics. Though crewed landing on the Moon was not itself a shared endeavour, the détente and cooperation was ushered in with the last mission of the programme itself, with the Apollo-Soyuz test project conducted in July of 1975.


Polish graphic designer Jacek Walesiak invites us to celebrate some of the modern, more off-kilter holidays and observances through a special, commemorative run of postage stamps that also fête the country’s rich op art heritage.  The collection includes sheets that mark International Day of Vegetarianism (1 October), International Sock Day (4 December), Towel Day (25 May), Trolley Drivers’ Day (see also) and International Day of Caps Lock (observed semi-annually on 28 June and 22 October).  

Monday, 15 July 2019

happy little clouds

Painted in triplicate for each episode of The Joy of Painting’s eleven year run, over a thousand originals of Bob Ross’ landscapes exist.
Lovingly curated, however, the paintings are not part of the behemoth art market, turning masterpieces into stores of wealth without patronage but are rather stored in a central repository in Virginia with plans to put some on display at a national gallery. Not tempted to break-up the collection by present pressures, the caretakers of Ross’ legacy are confident that he’d much rather inspire emulation and imitation to create something by one’s own hand over being a sought-after acquisition.

series g

Replacing industrialist partners Matthew Bouton and James Watt of steam-engine fame, the Bank of England’s next batch of £ fifty notes will feature on the reverse mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose pioneering work not only helped defeat Nazi Germany by decrypting transmissions between command and control and the front but was also indispensably formative in how we regard electronic cognition and artificial intelligence.
Speaking of his work programming the British Bombe, one of his code-breaking electro-mechanical machines, the bill has the quotation, “This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be.” Although this statement does not amend past missteps—Turing’s contributions only much later acknowledged and rehabilitated and the country’s marked ingratitude, such decisions are consequential and meaningful, standing in marked contrast to the United States, whose money mostly only features dead presidents and the planned roll-out of a black, female abolitionist on the $ twenty note was delayed and deferred over the current pretender’s affection for the observe as it stands, featuring a president infamous as a slavery apologist and for his genocidal treatment of Native Americans.

team democracy

Provocatively the US Sh*t-Poster-in-Chief launched an attack on a group of progressive congress members, unbidden but not quite of the blue, that rounded the gauntlet for racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Tweeting throughout the day Sunday, Trump criticised the four freshmen representatives, known as the Squad for disrespecting America and America's allies and spoiling morale and cohesion within the rival Democratic Party.
While it is unclear what is the best strategy to pursue to dislodge the Trump syndicate from government, the infighting is far from sectarian and disagreement is healthy for democracy and certainly does not merit the ugly arson of language unacceptable in any context—Trump telling the duly elected representatives and their constituents (and Trump’s supporters since all this transpired very publicly) that they should not presume to dictate to a great power such as the United States of America how it ought to operate and instead invited them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” All four members of the Squad are America citizens and all but one were born in the US. Though not the first time Trump has used such hateful vitriol to pander to his political and ideology base—his political career such as it is premised on amplifying a narrative that called into question the legitimacy of his predecessor based on lies about his citizenship, this schoolyard bully may have finally picked the wrong fight.  Trump was not wrong in his own assessment that their government is a catastrophe and in urgent need of reform and made unequivocally clear that his regime is only focused on retaining power to keep him unaccountable and out of court. 

Sunday, 14 July 2019


From one of our favourite weekly features, Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links, we are invited to ruminate over the fact that while most countries are named after one of four things—often tautologically, especially in translation—that are sometimes not very consequential to present geopolitics, there are some notable mavericks that defy or really lean into categorisation.
With nearly all countries named in deference to either a cardinal direction, a distinguishing geographical feature, a tribe or clan or an important personage, we’d wish that the campaign to make America great again was an effort to improve scholarship on the Latinised name of a fifteenth century Florentine cartographer from the Vespucci family but alas and alack.  There are nonetheless some notable (and notably disputed too) outliers as well. Our favouites being Malta named for bees (Μελίτη, honey-sweet), Mexico after a simplification of an Aztec city (Mēxihtli) that meant in the navel of the Moon and the Pacific island nation of Nauru, possibly derived from the native conjugation anáoero, I go to the beach.

чеховское жвачка

Our thanks to Memo of the Air for referring us to this low-stakes version of the dramatic principle of narrative parsimony and the clearing away of MacGuffins and red-herrings that’s come to be known as Chekhov’s Gun—appearing in the collected correspondence of the renowned Russian playwright.
Like the host not wanting to presume that we need the joke explained to us, but as Anton Chekhov implored his interlocutor, fellow author A. S. Gruzinsky, to “remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter [act] that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third it absolutely must go off. If it is not going to be fired, it should not be hanging there.” Contrarily, other writers—like Ernest Hemingway—have put extra stock in these incidental details, insisting that the reader wants and deserves a subject to read into even if there’s no payoff, like bottle-episodes and (see above) Monster-of-the-Week.  Read the rest of the comics from Ruben Bolling (previously) at the link above. 


We enjoyed this informative graphic by xkcd (aka Randall Munroe, previously) on flag interpretation and special hoisting protocols to signal distress, mourning, respect and apparently also bewilderment—the flag lowered, at least in accordance with some traditions, to make room for an “invisible flag of death” on the flagpole to fly above it. Visit the link above to see all the panels and discover more of Munroe’s comics.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

gouden eeuw

Similar to an ongoing restoration of a Johannes Vermeer work in line with the artist’s intent, Cynical-C directs our attention to a work by Dutch Golden Age painter Judith Jans Leyster (*1609 – †1660), an avowed talent among her peers and accepted into the Haarlem Guild but rather tragically forgotten after her death, called The Last Drop.
Somewhat rehabilitated and recognised as a pioneer among her cohort around the turn of the last century (though this painting was still misattributed until a keen observer noticed her JL* monogram on the tipped tankard), it is thought that a dealer committed the act of overpainting the skeletal figure brandishing an hourglass—which surely held significance as the dissolution that revelry ultimately brings as there was an accompanying genre piece called the Merry Trio (one dropped out apparently) that depicts an earlier phase of drinking, to make the work more marketable and less moralising when it was acquired by the Guildhall gallery in London in 1908. After extensive research and x-ray analysis, curators were able to bring back the original scene in the 1990s.


Because the concrete and steel canyons of New York City follow a grid that’s offset from true West by twenty-nine degrees, the sunset does not align with the summer and winter solstices but rather on dates spread out evenly around them, namely 31 May, 12 – 13 July and on 22 December, drifting slightly from year to year. Here is a picture courtesy of Space Weather from last evening taken from one of the best vantage points in the city, looking down 34th Street. Relatedly, when planning the layout of Milton Keynes in the early 1960s, developers consulted Greenwich Observatory to arrange the corridors of the town centre to frame the rising sun on Midsummer and sunset on Midwinter


fly me to the moons: an interactive atlas of the Solar System’s two hundred known natural satellites—via Maps Mania 

favourite things: ten things beloved by US president John Quincy Adams

canopies: stunning forest photography from Manueli Bececco—see also

placă ceramică: an introduction to the incredible geometries of Romanian socialist era tilework

fine deerscald: a neural network brews up a cuppa—previously

sinistral teichopsia: antique illustrations of aura signatures (scintillating scotoma) that precede the onset of a migraine

republic of minerva: how an utopian micronation and sea-steading caused an international incident in the early 1970s

orrery: four thousand confirmed exoplanets charted in sight and sound

plainsong or novum organum

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are invited to remix a studio session of Gregorian chant, adding hum, reverb and more church bell as well as a number of preset modes and voices.  Although traditionally credited to Gregory I, the musical style is likely a synthesis of Roman and French choral customs, evolving into an elaborate, articulated system of chords and cadences as performers and composers became more keenly aware of the numeracy of song, though assuredly championed by the music-loving Pope. Notation and scale developed from this chant tradition, with the eventual eight modes being Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian and their (hypo-) subordinates.

Friday, 12 July 2019

herd immunity

As the Chorus bemoans in Sophocles’ Antigone, “Nothing that is vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,” technology—impelled in part by not only the forces of capitalism and the need to maintain market and industry dominance but also by dint of our own inclination to laziness and decision-fatigue—has been an incredible support and source of solace and progress but likewise delivers a vehicle for remorse and helps us to bite off far more than we can chew. We are not good at self-assessment and postponing gratification. This latest edition of NPR’s TED Radio Hour explores the topic of digital manipulation and what lies behind the screen from several angles and is definitely food-for-thought.


After the storming of the Legislative Council building on the 1 July anniversary of the 1997 return of the former UK crown colony of Hong Kong to China, protesters have embraced non-violent ways of continuing to express their displeasure and fear that the residents of territory will see liberties erode further.
Taking a cue from the Lennon Wall in Prague, activists have canvased any available space with colourful self-adhering notices, an outlet that’s passive and anonymous enough to keep most individuals out of danger but still one that the authorities cannot easily ignore and now the symbols themselves incite rallies around pro- and anti-government camps. The title refers to the spontaneity of the walls as “blossoming everywhere.” These mosaics, with tens of thousands of missives advocating for freedom and democracy, originate from a central display in Hong Kong five years earlier, erected during the Umbrella Movement, a seventy-nine day occupation of the city to demand transparency in municipal elections—which were perceived to be controlled by Beijing. Protesters carried umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas that the police lobbed at them to break up the crowds.

running up that hill

Via the always excellent Nag on the Lake, we are treated to this stunning music video, Meg Myers’ cover of Kate Bush’s classic composed of thirty-two hundred frames illustrated by over twenty-one hundred school children.  Director Jo Roy achieved the rotoscope-effect by first filming Myers and then printing each of the soon to be decorated cells as a colouring-book page, which were artfully completed by elementary school students in Canada and the US. Much more to explore at the link above.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

yo gafa gafa

Despite US threats and the spectre of more retaliatory tariffs from a regime that has a diminishing quiver of tools of statecraft at its disposal, France has voted in favour of a retroactive digital services tax regime (previously) that would seek to recuperate and going forward glean revenue from multinational—though nominally America when it’s convenient—corporations, who currently pay little to no corporate tax domestically, despite demonstrable earnings in the country. France will net an estimated four hundred million euro this year and hopes other nations will join in demanding that the tech, social media giants pay their fair share.


At around four-thirty in the afternoon universal coordinated time (plus eight hours local time) on this day in 1979, debris from NASA’s abandoned but not unsuccessful space station project Skylab that was not incinerated upon its uncontrolled re-entry landed in the Shire of Esperance on the coast of Western Australia.
Fortunately the space junk caused no injury or damage and there was a media frenzy of speculation of where and when the craft might crash-land with contests and wagers made. A few days afterwards local farmers recovered a huge oxygen tank and it was decided by show masters-of-ceremonies to display it as a prop on the stage of the Miss Universe pageant that had been scheduled for later in the month in nearby Perth—hosted by The Price is Right’s Bob Barker—whose weight combined with seventy-five contestants assembled to sing a rousting rendition of Waltzing Matilda made the dais a little structurally unstable. Fortunately no beauty contestants were harmed in this mission either. Having garnered valuable lessons from the first attempt, the US planned next for Space Station Freedom whose programme would eventual merge with the International Space Station, commissioned in 1998.

for here am i sitting in a tin can

Though lyrically and stylistically informed by the previous year’s release of the Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey (previously), David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (previously) had a delayed release—a version was recorded back in February—owing to an earlier split with his old record label and Bowie’s new artists and repertoire managing group decided to release the song on this day in 1969, just nine days ahead of the Apollo 11 mission, to capitalise on the publicity of that event. Due to the tone and the unresolved finish, the BBC network of stations refrained from playing the song until the crew of the lunar excursion were safely back on Earth.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

without fear nor favour

Chillingly and contemptibly, one of the forerunners to be the next Prime Minister of the UK refused to lend his support to the country’s diplomatic corps which precipitated the resignation of a long-serving civil servant and ambassador to the US after having become the target of Donald Trump’s virulent attacks and being effectively froze out of affairs of state as UK’s ombudsman and chief representation.
A frank and unapologetic (not to mention wholly accurate) missive framing the regime as incompetent, thin-skinned and depressingly perhaps not a single-term prospect emerged—which is precisely the sort of candid assessment that an ambassador is supported to deliver, currying Trump’s disfavour and the candidate husting for leadership (also former Foreign Minister) essentially acquiesced and allowed UK foreign policy to be undermined and dictated by a foreign power. Not to credit either of these dolts with a shred of strategic thinking, this travesty might have been suffered because of the UK’s precarious situation and need for the US as a trading partner post-Brexit and desire to keep America happy and on friendly terms. Diplomats were quick to anger and quick to forget the regrettable characterisations revealed by Wikileaks and the cable-gate fiasco but equally realise the importance of being able to express honest opinions. In the same debate, the party heir-apparent also refused to rule out suspending parliamentary proceedings in order to force through a no-deal Brexit. Whilst one of the original arguments in favour of leaving the EU was to preserve the sovereignty of Parliament, the ministerial candidate would leave the option of proroguing on the table to safeguard against a legislative impasse and further delays, a power not exercised since 1629 with Charles I—something that eventually led to the king’s executive and the interregnum with rule by Oliver Cromwell. A matter of royal prerogative, the new Prime Minister would need to seek permission from the Queen in order to suspend Parliament, pulling her majesty back into politics and the Brexit question.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

minimal republics

As part of an on-going series called “Stupid Borders,” Nag on the Lake introduces us to the work of artist and activist Rubén Martín de Lucas who cordoned off several one-hundred square metre parcels of land on the outskirts of Madrid and lived in then for a full day in order to underscore the very abstract and othering concept of national boundaries. Dangerous and deluded as such ideas may be, it is worth reflecting on how the accruing of the unreal—be it faith in a fiat currency or any type of self-interested association, has the fate of civilisation and the world entire hinging on it.

starfish prime

As part of a series of nuclear armaments testing called Project Fishbowl, begun in response to the USSR’s announcement that it would be withdrawing from a mutual moratorium on test launches, the above high-altitude explosion took place on this day in 1962 about four hundred kilometres above Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.
Though nearly fifteen hundred kilometres away, the afterglow and aurora was visible in Honolulu and the electromagnetic pulse it generated (part of the stated goals of the tests were to have a better understanding the disabling effects of the weapon’s fallout)—even in an era when electronics were not so pervasive and indispensable—knocked hundreds of streetlamps and cut off telephone communications. The radiation belt of high-energy electrons lingered in the atmosphere (see also) and caused at least six communications satellites to fail, including the UK’s first satellite, Ariel 1, put in orbit just in April of that year.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

urban dictionary

Our thanks once again to Nag on the Lake for directing our attention to the 1909 compendium of nineteenth century slang by J Redding Ware called “Passing English of the Victorian Era.”
Some gems that ought to revived—though one needs to filter through a lot of phrases that have gladly passed out of fashion—include Puncheous Pilate, defined as the jocose address to another in protest of some small asserted authority, S’elp me, Bob, an appeal to the nearest authority at hand, Totty All Colours, a young person who has contrived to incorporate most of the colours of the rainbow into his or her outfit, and mafficking—that is, to get rowdy in the streets. Page through the dictionary and let us know what antiquated slang we ought to champion.


Though maybe I am just doing a better job paying attention—which certainly counts for something too—and being engaged with the consequences of our behaviour for the environment or maybe it’s the recently adopted legislation and agricultural reforms made to be more sustainable and friendlier for pollinators, while I’ve noticed that crop-rotation and allowing fields to be fallow for a season, recharging the soil by sewing clover or grasses and letting it rest, I don’t think I’ve seen before sections of land, vast swaths of it, wholly given over to wildflowers like I am seeing now.
It isn’t just the margins and shoulders along tractor trails that are teeming with blooms but also deep into the interior of grain crops, thick with cornflowers (Cyanus segetum, Kornblume—considered endangered due to over-use of pesticides), poppies (Papaver rhoeas, Mohnblume), baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata, Schleier-Gipskraut—that is, chalk-loving), thistles (Silybum marianum, Disteln) and daisies (Bellis perennis—pretty everlasting, Gänseblümchen), the fields are droning with the buzz of bees.

evening of the seventh

Japan, ascribed to the Gregorian calendar, will mark Tanbata (meaning above, たなばた or七夕) on this night. Common to several countries in the region that keep this star festival in their own ways, the celebration marks the reunion of two star-crossed deities called Orihime and Hikoboshi—represented by Vega and Altair (α Aquilæ and α Lyræ, which form a bright asterism during the high summer in the Northern Hemisphere)—whom are kept asunder by the gulf of the Milky Way and only allowed together on the seventh day of the seventh month.
Originally introduced to Japan in the mid-eighth century under the more utilitarian label of “The Festival to Plead for Skills” and included customarily the opportunities for girls to wish for better sewing and crafting skills and for boys to wish for better penmanship. The ceremony was conflated with the folklore tale “The Cowherd [Hikoboshi] and the Weaver Girl [Orihime],” a hapless couple whose passion for one another caused each to shirk their duties and allow their talents to atrophy. In order to restore balance to the Cosmos, the two were only permitted visitation once a year, the magpies forming a bridge that crossed the expanse. Contemporary festivities include composing wishes—in verse—on small strips of paper and hanging them from a bamboo wish tree, which are then burnt as votive offerings or released down a watercourse to bare the postulants’ prayers aloft.

calpe mons

In response to a constitutional convention held regarding the promontory’s sovereignty and continued allegiance to the British crown—affirmed by a referendum of Gibraltarians not to become a condominium, Francisco Franco closed the land border with Spain on this day in 1969, stopping ferry services and cutting utilities. The border would not be fully open with egress and ingress restored until 1985. The near unanimity of the 1967 vote to remain an overseas territory is mirrored by the Gibraltar’s strong rejection of Brexit and the contention Spain’s own disputes with Morocco over its exclaves on the Africa side of the straits, Monte Hancho in Ceuta being the complimentary Pillar of Hercules.

Saturday, 6 July 2019


Previously we’ve encountered bypassing censorship and sanction through bootleg distribution of Western recordings pressed on exposed x-ray film, so we were a little surprised to see a resurgence in the method—albeit in a symbolic sense to protest current prevailing attitudes towards censorship and cultural heterodoxy in Russia. A consortium has partnered to release a vinyl with tracks from various groups labelled as subversive.
The title refers to the term roentgenizdat—that is, music on ribs or bone music and the improvised recordings whose centre hole was made with a cigarette burn and resulted in awful fidelity that could only be played around five times before the stylus destroyed the record altogether. True to tradition, the new vinyl editions can be played but with the same limitations as before with the tracks rubbing away after a few iterations—which seems sort of a useful feature rather than flaw of the media, especially in terms of plausible deniability if caught with contraband. Much more to explore at the links above.

me + t

Having explored the proven and somewhat more esoteric ways that plants are networked and sustain one another in the past, we really appreciated Open Culture’s take on plant communications and how, if the titular character of Shel Silverstein’s story, had not been in isolation a You Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree would have intervened when the giving came to taking. See a suite of lessons on how trees talk to one another at the links above.


A new and hopefully long-term resident of our garden is this bright orange torch lily (Kniphofia, named after the Erfurt botany professor Johann Hieronymus Kniphof) is a healthy exemplar of a species native to South Africa first imported and described by Konrad Mönch in 1794.
The contemporary of Carl Linnaeus (see also here, here and here) who also formally classified Echinacea (though its reputation as a folk medicine long preceded its classification), Moench (Conrad, using the Latin spelling of his name professionally as was the style at the time) thought that the decorative plant would thrive, despite the obvious differences in climate, in German parks and gardens and they have proven themselves to be pretty wide-ranging indeed.

Friday, 5 July 2019


Though not totally out of the woods (like the paradox that holds one can only wander half way into the forest because after that point, one is on the way out), Swiss researchers bring the encouraging news that planting a trillion trees could reduce carbon dioxide levels by fully two-thirds, sequestering the green-houses gases that man has been flagrantly pumping into the atmosphere for the past quarter of a century.
That last third will be tough to eliminate but together with continuing emission reductions, dietary changes and advancing technology, the task at hand no longer seems as hopeless—the boost from the trees, according to new models, far greater than expected. Not only would the massive greening of the planet be logistically tenable and a bargain too great to pass up—at around thirty cents per sapling, it would cost all of three-hundred billion dollars—and despite the considerable space that this many extra trees would need to grow, continental America plus China, surveyors have found room at the borders and verges and in derelict land without taking any places used for growing crops and urban spaces—though more trees would dot pasture lands and be to the benefit of grazing livestock. Everyone can take part and aside from the intrinsic and aesthetic value of trees (helping to stop erosion, drought, flooding and preserve biodiversity), it’s moreover an intervention that is not predicated on convincing the nay-sayers and science-deniers otherwise.

essential amino acids

Developed in partnership with a state research centre and a prestigious Finnish university, the protein powder provisionally called solein, brewed by microbes fermenting the gaseous by-products of the simple electrolytic reduction of water—pliable into any form and with magnitudes less of an environmental impact than traditional agricultural, needing no extra irrigation or arable land, certainly sounds intriguing.
What do you think about that?  Considering how much territory is given over to livestock grazing and the ecological pressures that creates, it is time to re-evaluate our priorities. Fortified and chemically flavoured, the start up behind it which aims to scale-up to produce two billion meals per year after its initial debut says that the powder base can be adjusted and improvised to fit any palette.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

nebra skydisc

On this day in 1999, near the eponymous village in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt two tomb-raiders discovered the Skydisc (Himmelsscheibe) of Nebra (previously), a four-thousand year old bronze artefact with inlaid gold symbols interpreted as the sun and lunar crescent and a cluster of stars that correspond to the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) with an arch at the edge thought to represent the Chariot of the Sun, the band of the Milky Way or a rainbow.
Unlike anything else so far discovered dated to the era, it was originally thought to be a forgery but is now accepted as authentic. Unlicensed and prospecting with a metal detector, the amateur treasure hunters that found the prehistoric cache, which included swords, a hatchet and some jewellery besides, knew that their find would be considered looting and the hoard was traded on the black market through several collectors until the going rate exceeded a million Deustche Mark and the public became aware. The Nebra Skydisc is now on display in the Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte (the State Museum of Prehistory) in Halle.

annual reminder

Staged at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall yearly since 1965 to admonish the government and the public that gay people did not have basic civil protections and reputations and careers were precarious and subject to the caprice and prejudice of others, the final march of picketers took place on this day in 1969. After Stonewall, organisers decided to hold the subsequent parade on its anniversary, the last weekend in June, to commemorate the riots and moved the venue to New York City, holding the first Christopher Street Liberation Day in 1970.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

time to make the doughnuts

Having famously unyoked itself from one fast-food giant several years back—with the artefacts to prove it—one doughnut (kleinuhringjum) chain has already come and gone and now with a second one to follow, having grossly over-estimated the market demand.
I hope that this trend continues and such onvasive, unnecessary operations kindly remove their toe-hold in train stations and the high street in cloying hopes of being seen and establishing brand loyalty. Placeholder-boutiques, having dispensed with initial curiosity if the appeal was ever there much less sustaining, are a huge drag on resources and real estate that could be put to much better use.


the farmer and the cowhand can be friends: a racy revival of Oklahoma! as a heuristic tool for exploring identity

eggcorn: celebrating malapropisms (see also) and mixing of idioms

horologium floræ: botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus noted the opening and closing times of different species of flowers and proposed that one could reliably tell time by their routine

do not pass go: the downfall of Atlantic City (previously) reflects the psychopathic Schadenfreude of Trump’s evangelic of opportunism

skin deep: facial recognition payment systems will start applying beauty-filters so users don’t feel self-conscious

brick-and-mortar: anchor retailors offer to help US government scrutinise their online arch-rivals

toypography: 1990s play things turned into letters of the alphabet—see also