Wednesday, 18 May 2022


Signed on this day in 1977 in Geneva—the Environmental Modification Convention—formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques—entering into force in October the following year, the international treaty—party to some eighty nations and binding for all UN members after ratification, it originally bans weather warfare to induce damage or famine. Expanded later to include instances of destructive geoengineering and modification to the atmosphere, the subject of herbicides, like Agent Orange, is contentiously unaddressed as how the framework of this convention might now be interpreted and applied to those territories most vulnerable to the effects of global warming and sea rise.

Sunday, 15 May 2022


We quite enjoyed revisiting the topic of a mysterious, most-favoured herb of Antiquity called silphium (previously)—considered a gift from Apollo and used as condiment, perfume, aphrodisiac, and seasoning and with medicinal uses ranging from anti-haemorrhoidal to contraceptive, imported into the Greek and Roman world from a narrow, microclimate in Syria that was resistant to transplantation. Over-harvesting and over-grazing coupled with climate change curried its abrupt disappearance from cupboards and medicine cabinets two millennia hence and serves as a warning best heeded about our own culinary staples and how familiar and enriching flavours and seasoning might meet the same fate. Much more at the links above.

Tuesday, 10 May 2022


A cinematic masterwork in its own right, the film by director Hajrudin Krvavac, premiering just over a half century ago in mid-April, Walter Defends Sarajevo, stands on its own merits with intrigues, betrayals, complex characters, action sequences and an overarching message of triumph and defiance aligned with the Yugoslav ideal of harmony and inclusion in a multi-ethnic state, the film tells the story of heroic resistance to occupation in a plot to foil the Nazi forces 1945 attempt to withdraw from the Balkans and regroup, based loosely on the sacrifice of partisan leader Vladimir Peric who fought under the code name and whose real identity was unknown to the enemy, and has the distinction of being a real contender for the most viewed production of all time. Its release coinciding with the gradual introduction of foreign films and during a time of tensions between the Soviet Union and China, the censors began admitting select works—mostly documentaries from Romania, Hungary and the Yugoslav Republics—but Walter Defends Sarajevo was unique among this class and unlike what most in China had experienced beforehand. Previewed as a radio-play a generation committed the dialogue to heart before the screenings began, playing to a billion individuals over the course of a year in theatres, schools, factories and village squares. Spoiler alert: the operative of the Sicherheitsdienst deployed to capture and kill ‘Walter’ muses during the film’s iconic ending why he was never able to find his nemesis and comes to the realisation—“Sehen Sie dieses Stadt? Das ist Walter!” Still shown to the this day, its influence can be seen in the Chinese film industry.

Monday, 25 April 2022

san marco

Variously identified as the cousin of Barnabas and textually as the anonymous water-bearer of the Last Supper and the Naked Fugitive during Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (see also), the Mark the Evangelist, fêted on this day, would go on to author one of the gospels—by traditional accounts—and to found the episcopal See of Alexandria, among the most important of early Christianity. Sharing the iconography of the winged lion with the saint, he is venerated in Venice as the city’s and thalassocracy’s patron and in Lithuania, where he is regarded as the guardian of the harvest and there is a general fast prescribed as a well as a prohibition on disturbing the earth as to give the land a rest before the planting season begins. 25 April is a national holiday throughout Italy, but not as Saint Mark’s Day and rather as marking the 1945 anniversary of the liberation of the country by the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation and the puppet government of the fascists.

Sunday, 24 April 2022


Founded and headquartered in the The Hague in 1991, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation was constituted to champion the marginalised with membership made of indigenous peoples, minorities and unrecognised or otherwise occupied territories with an aim of achieving political autonomy and self-determination with the rejection of violence and terrorism as tools of policy. Current localities and groups on its rolls (not without controversy and in-group dispute) are Abkhazia, Bretagne, Catalonia, the District of Colombia, Guam, the Hmong, Savoy, Sindhudesh and Tibet. Former members Palau, East Timor, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia and Armenia have attained full statehood and independence.

Thursday, 7 April 2022


Appearing a bit like the Microsoft start button, this remarkable halophilic (salt-loving) microorganism classified as Haloquadratum walsbyi was discovered in the 1980 in briny pools on the Sinai peninsula. The single-celled creatures are virtually flat and nearly perfectly square and often form colonies of “sheets” visible to the unaided eye in order to maximise solar reception and contain tiny gas vesicles, which look like crystals, that help the cell remain buoyant and near the surface of the salty water they inhabit.

Friday, 18 March 2022


the fiume endeavour: Neutral Moresnet and other countries that fell off the map 

international male: thirty-three national costumes from the 2022 Mister Global pageant via Miss Cellania  

odette and odile: a diminutive chihuahua and human handler perform Swan Lake  

smpte colour bars: a BBC test pattern jumper and mural—see also  

bad actor mode: an AI normally tasked with developing new, novel medications had its parameters switched seek out toxicity and suggests tens of thousands of chemical weapons and poisons in the space of a few hours—via Slashdot 

 cameo appearance: Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams portrayed the President of United Earth on the season finale of Star Trek and brought the planet back into the Federation 

state-of-the-art: ten breakthrough technologies online now that could change our trajectory for the better—via Kottke  

geopolitics: charting the advance of democracy

Saturday, 12 March 2022


w / n / p / a/: the beauty and brutality of the natural world—via Web Curios   

fly around: a happy tune from Bill Wurtz—via Waxy 

skramm-ellegepladser: what Scandi culture can teach the world about fun and playfulness 

 theatrum orbis terrarum: the first modern world atlas, created and published in Antwerp in 1571 by Abraham Ortelius 

llên gwerin: illustrated Welsh cats from 1910  

grand tour: visit the great cities of Europe all within the confines of Ohio—see also  

best in show: a selection of the superlative entries for the 2022 Sony World Photography Awards—some are quite accidentally like a Renaissance painting

Saturday, 5 March 2022

spheres of influence

Though not coined by the British statesman and by then former Prime Minister, the use of term Iron Curtain metaphorically to describe the demarcation of Western and Eastern Europe saw its popularity and parlance cemented in an address given by Winston Churchill on this day in 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Originally used in the literal sense as fire break—Eisener Vorhang—installed in theatres to prevent flames from spreading from the stage to audience or vice-versa but used figuratively several times to denote the end of a geopolitical arrangement in time or space (now whose tract and trace is repurposed as something verdant—see also here, here and here), Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” speech, delivered soon after the end of World War II was a lecture on tensions and strained relationships that led to the Cold War, that term itself promulgated five days later in a newspaper article by The Observer correspondent George Orwell.

Friday, 4 March 2022

for what it’s worth

Via Kottke we are directed to a highly compelling project from Dillon Marsh that visualises mines in South Africa with a scale model representing the specie, minerals or gemstones extracted from it—like in this composite photograph of the Jubilee Mine in the Namakwa District and the sixty-five-hundred tonnes of copper ore dug from the Earth. Gains seem particularly marginal, inefficient and pathetic in comparison to all the hardships in cost of human toil and exploitation and environmental damage. More at the links above.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

uncontrolled deorbit

Unhinged and counter to the continued spirit of competition and cooperation that sustained a polarised world—at least until billionaires started sucking all the air of the room with their ambitions, the chief of the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) suggests that a not asymmetrical response to mounting sanctions levied against Russia for invading Ukraine would be to crash the International Space Station with North America, Europe, India or China all being within the path of impact. While Russia modules do help keep the five-hundred tonne structure aloft and help to dodge space debris, the process would note be immediate and orbit would degrade over several years, with time for it to be restored.

Thursday, 17 February 2022

to know wisdom and instruction—to perceive the words of understanding

Venerated as a saint in multiple faith traditions, Mesrop Mashtots (Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց), early medieval linguist, theologian and statesman, passing away on this day in 440 (*362), was the inventor of the Armenian alphabet—the first phrase rendered in that new script said to be the above passage from the Book of Proverbs. Further credited by some scholars as the creator of the Caucasian Albanian and Georgian forms of writing, Mashtot’s contribution first in royal court in service to the king and later after taking holy orders ensured that Armenian literature and identity was preserved rather than being absorbed by its larger neighbouring empires of Persia and Syria. Finalised around the year 405, the Greek-modelled system endured in its original form of thirty-six letters until the twelfth century when three additional ones were added—for f- and o-sounds, the Armenian word for alphabet, aybuben (այբուբեն) comes from the first two letters, ayb (ա) and ben (բ).

Sunday, 13 February 2022


Via Bad Ethnography, we enjoyed this musical anthology of otherwise unreleased West African artists found in the cellphones (used as a multimedia device absent personal computers, cloud-computer or reliable internet access) of denizens of the Sahara. Though over a decade old there are three volumes to discover now with many of the musicians found and given proper attribution for their accompaniment that sustained many caravans through literal and figurative the desert.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

giuseppina bakhita

Declared a saint of the Canossian order in 2000, Mother Josephine Margaret Bakhita—the first Black woman to be beatified by the Catholic Church in modern times—escaped from a life of enslavement in Darfur (*1869 - †1947) and eventually entered a sisterhood at a convent in Schio outside of Vicenza. Credited by villagers as sparing the town from casualties when it was bombed during World War II, Josephine Bakhita ( بخيتة ) Arabic for lucky, Fortunata, her family name lost to the trauma of her early life) is the patron protectress of Sudan, South Sudan and survivors of human trafficking. Upheld as an example of hope and determination, her legacy includes several charitable and social justice causes in her original and adopted homeland.

Friday, 24 December 2021

adam’s rib

Though not referred to as saints historically nor theologically in Ordinary Time, during the vigil of Christmas, corresponding with their feast day, this first couple and primogenitor (technically, Eve was cleft from her husband since Lilith as a co-creation didn’t work out as planned, Adam is called Father alone) of the human race, as Mary is called “the New Eve, Coremptrix” with Jesus “the New Adam,” celebrated on the next day. The cultural appropriation of the Christmas tree is sometimes attributed to “paradise plays” recounting the narrative of Genesis reenacted, fully-clothed I imagine at this time of year (they being the co-patrons of gardeners and tailors), on Christmas Eve, with greenery (a Paradise tree) decorated with red apples (later baubles), acting out their sin of disobedience and being expelled by the angels and made to toil.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

small astronomy satellite a

Launched on this day in 1970, Uhuru (also known by the above designation) embarked on fourteen-month mission to perform a comprehensive scan of the entire sky in a first of its kind demonstration of x-ray astronomy. Scanning space for cosmic x-ray sources, Uhuru, among other achievements, identified the first strong candidate for the then theoretical black hole and triangulated an entire catalogue of extragalactic sources. The satellite was named after the Swahili word for freedom in recognition of the hospitality of Kenya, where the launch took place, from a former Italian operated off-shore oil platform converted into a spaceport near Mombasa and on the equator.

Monday, 6 December 2021

schleicher's fable

Dying this day of tuberculosis in Jena in 1868, (*1821, Meiningen), linguist August Schleicher informs our contemporary views on the Indo-European (previously) family of languages and attempts to reconstruct a common ancestor.  Previsioning or at least parallel with the development and advancement of Charles Darwin’s evolution of species, Schleicher's comparative study was grounded in the natural descent and competition and pass through life-cycles as any living being among world language and established a system of classification based on the taxonomy of botanical varieties, modelling a Stammbaumtheorie, a family tree showing trunk, branch and twig.  Working backwards to a common ancestor, the hypothetical and at times conjectural—though malleable and subject to revision, Proto-Indo European (PIE), Schleichter illustrated his concept, vocabulary and its antecedents and what inference can be made about cultural norms and outlook through reconstruction with a brief fable

Using modern spelling conventions, his [The] Sheep and [the] Horses (das Schaf und die Rosse) is rendered: 

H₂óu̯is h₁éḱu̯ōs-kʷe h₂áu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osméi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁ést, só h₁éḱu̯oms derḱt. só gʷr̥hₓúm u̯óǵʰom u̯eǵʰed; só méǵh₂m̥ bʰórom; só dʰǵʰémonm̥ h₂ṓḱu bʰered. h₂óu̯is h₁ékʷoi̯bʰi̯os u̯eu̯ked: “dʰǵʰémonm̥ spéḱi̯oh₂ h₁éḱu̯oms-kʷe h₂áǵeti, ḱḗr moi̯ agʰnutor”. h₁éḱu̯ōs tu u̯eu̯kond: “ḱludʰí, h₂ou̯ei̯! tód spéḱi̯omes, n̥sméi̯ agʰnutór ḱḗr: dʰǵʰémō, pótis, sē h₂áu̯i̯es h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ gʷʰérmom u̯éstrom u̯ept, h₂áu̯ibʰi̯os tu h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁esti”. tód ḱeḱluu̯ṓs h₂óu̯is h₂aǵróm bʰuged. 

A sheep without wool saw two horses, one slowly draughting a heavily-laden wagon and the other quickly carrying a man rider.  Addressing the horses, the sheep said, “My heart pains me, seeing man driving horses.  In reply, the horses said, “Listen sheep, our hearts pain us when we witness man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself, leaving the sheep with no wool!”  Having attended to the lesson, the sheep fled into the plains. A version of this allegory appears in the Alien prequel Prometheus in a short exchange between an android and the ship’s computer to prepare for first contact with the “engineers.”

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

balmis expedition

The operation officially named Real Expedición Filantrópica de la Vacuna, the Spanish healthcare mission under the leadership of Doctor Francisco Javier de Balmis set sail on the María Pita from a port in Galicia on this day in 1803 and would vaccinate, using the technique developed by Edward Jenner, untold millions against smallpox, calling in the Canary Islands, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, China and the Philippines, even offering surplus to the colony at Saint Helena on the return route, despite animosities between Spain and Britain at the time. Undertaken to make amends for the Old World diseases that ravaged North and South America and to attempt to wipe out the contagion that proved fatal for nearly half a million individuals annually in Europe only, the complement and crew included twenty-two orphaned boys designated as successive carriers of the cowpox virus (there being no refrigeration or other means to isolate and transport the vaccine), which would help recipients acquire immunity to the deadlier version.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

saint catherine of alexandria

Counted among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, one of the counsellors who appeared to Joan of Arc and whose cult according to some academics was cover for sympathies for the murder and defamation of Greek philosopher Hypatia with a broad patronage that includes potters, millers, milliners and spinners for her tortured martyrdom on the breaking-wheel, scholars, scribes, secretaries, stenographers, etc. was a late third century daughter of the governor of the Egyptian centre of learning who converted to Christianity, aged fourteen, and evangelised to many with her winning eloquence and persuasive reasoning—and is venerated on this day. Once persecutions of Christians resumed under the reign of Maxentius, Catherine embarked to Rome and rebuked the emperor. Rather than dispatching with her instantly, the emperor instead assembled a retinue of fifty of his most skilled and pagan orators to challenge Catherine to a debate and refute her arguments. Not only did Catherine roundly carry the day, her words also managed to garner some new converts to the faith, all of whom were summarily put to death with Catherine confined in a dungeon and made to endure terrible tortures daily. A dove and a host angels healed her wounds nightly and Catherine survived her torment for twelve days, persuading the emperor to ultimately proposing marriage to her. Refusing to yield to Maxentius’ overtures, Catherine said she was happily taken by her spouse, Jesus Christ. Enraged, the emperor first had her bound to a spiked breaking wheel (now also known as a Catherine Wheel) and then beheaded for good measure.

Thursday, 11 November 2021


Although one might be forgiven that the initial summary conclusion of semiotician—a student of processes and signifiers, like flow-charts and equations—Charles K. Bliss (*1897 - †1895, born Karl Kasiel Blitz in the Austro-Hungarian Empire but migrated to Australia after the war and release from concentration camps via Shanghai) was that the strife in his homeland was caused by the inability to communicate, we suppose that one only need look at his Blissymbols as a precursor (see also) to our extended character-set of emoji. The constructed ideographic writing system first expounded in 1949 and elaborated subsequently, even assigned its own ISO script block. Originally championed as a heuristic for teaching grammar to those with learning challenges, a set of Blissymbols were adapted into the universal suite of directional and informational glyphs found at train terminals, airports, stadia and hotels following the tourist explosion and jet-setting of the 1960s. More to explore at the links above.