Monday, 12 October 2020


Being the load-bearing day it already is with the celebration of indigenous cultures and identity, the Feast for Life (birthday in 1875) of occultist and Thelema founder Aleister Crowley, the start of the first Oktoberfest in 1890—plus Thanksgiving / Action de grรขce for our Canadian friends this year, this date also is observed as Freethought Day, held on the anniversary when colonial governor of Massachusetts Bay William Phips (*1651 – †1695) was moved to recant and contact the privy council of William and Mary to recommend that they disband the witch tribunal that Phips himself had established in order bring legitimacy to a process that was widely seen for the petty court of retributions that it was by finding “spectral evidence” inadmissible.

Despite his good intentions, Phips’ reforms came up short and the witch trials were effectively ended in North America where they had lingered longer than in Europe. Humanist, secularists and freethinkers eschew heterodoxy and prescriptive rather than descriptive world-views and organisers hope to portray atheists and the non-aligned as just the same as everyone else (a concept that is glaring absent in politics) and induct honorary figures as examples of those that embody autonomy and reason, whose ranks include Thomas Paine, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain, Mary Wollstonecraft, Hypatia, Fredrick Douglas and George Orwell.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

future imperfect

NPR’s excellent podcast Hidden Brain (see previously here, here and here) explores the halo effect and hindsight bias, the tendencies to reframe past events as more predictable and straightforward consequential than they could have possibly been once the outcome is known and discount the difficulty of forecasting and intentionality for the future, through a pair of tragic post-mortems that were nonetheless accidents no matter how haunting and haunted we assay our incidents. Not to say that there are no sinister motives and bad, ill-informed choices but certain narratives have appeal because it allows us to assign blame and preserve a sense of agency when confronting the real chain of events might seem too dicey, too random. Far from being exculpatory, finding meaning in successes, calamity and near-misses is empowering. 

Friday, 18 September 2020

the long now

Having previously (see here and here) assayed the conundrum of deflecting curious future explorers from spelunking in our present nuclear waste, we were intrigued to see what sort of out-the-box solutions our artificial intelligencer Janelle Shane (see previously) might be able to coax out of her neural network to serve as a ten-thousand year warning.  Summarising the schema to the GPT-3 routine, its designs seemed to match that of its human engineering inspiration to intrigue as much as dissuade any future civilisation. Giant tube worms and a field of Tulips Shrieking Madness might deter exploration but I am not sure about Dangerous Stairs or Disrupted Pollen Lines. Much more to explore at the links above.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

doom loops

Via Cory Doctrow’s Pluralistic blog, we are directed towards an excellent, circumspect column from Ed Yong outlining nine reflective and recognisable factors driving the pandemic spiralling spread in the United States—as that country’s death toll surpasses two-hundred-thousand with no signs of improvement or organised mitigation measures on the horizon.
How many of these factors resound for you—not just as a criticism of others but a trap, a fallacy that you’ve fallen for yourself to a degree? We especially appreciated mulling over what Yong frames as the “serial monogamy of solutions”: only paying attention to one intervention at a time and rejecting it for its perceived short-comings when a success, prevention takes a multi-pronged approach. We can also relate to the regression to personal blame—beggaring one’s neighbour for not taking the situation and rituals as seriously as you have decided it is within the Overton window (which is also a heuristic for examining creeping normalcy and regression to the mean) of margins of behaviour—not flagrant violations thereof—that have been put out (or not) by authorities. One not only needs a coherent, universal policy informed by science to strengthen individual convictions (no matter how faithfully I wear a mask and avoid crowds, I can’t do that for others) one also needs to redress systemic problems that are obstacles to recovery, like social programmes and access to health care.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


fast car: the timelessness of Tracy Chapman’s ballad

call me trim tab: inspiring words from Buckminster Fuller (previously)

call of the wild: New Guinea’s singing dogs are not extinct outside of the captive population after all—via Nag on the Lake with bonus content

brick and mortem: a thoughtful reflection on the disappearing traditional high street, via Things Magazine

syncopation: time-lapse films of plants sprouting with a jazzy musical accompaniment

shine bright like a diamond: researchers in Bristol create betavoltaic batteries out of nuclear waste and gemstones that could last for millennia—see previously

Saturday, 29 August 2020

the secret teachings of all ages

Having joined that Great Beyond on this day in 1990 (*1901) and perhaps finding out the accuracy of what he taught, Canadian-American mystic and prolific lecturer Manly Palmer Hall was best remembered for the eponymous ambitious and comprehensive survey and fusion of wisdom literature.
An encyclopaedic outline compiled and ultimately published in 1928—volumes sold per subscription prior to publication (which strikes one as exceedingly modern though such funding methods, cash-on-delivery, have a long past) and recruited top talent in all departments, including printers, the eminent illustrator J. Augustus Knapp and book designers once employed by the Vatican and great universities—as a concise and accessible digest of metaphysics that challenged one to examine symbols, convention and ritual though the lens not of a received religion but rather as a heuristic tool for probing universal truths. Travelling from his native Los Angeles to Europe and Asia, Hall acquired many rare books and manuscripts on esoterica as original sources and due to the success of his publication of The Secret Teachings of All Ages and some generous patrons (also not a new scheme) and in 1934 founded public trust called the Philosophical Research Society—still in operation, to further his studies, curate collections and host events and seminars on the occult and mythology.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020


Foregoing the space bar, the United States of America’s newest military branch has outlined its vision and mission couched in very jingoistic and war-like language how it will establish and maintain dominance in the firmament. Unlike the Space Race that ran parallel to the nuclear build-up that was marked by achievements and milestones of one-upmanship that the Soviets indisputably won—with the exception of the crowning technical success of landing a crew on the lunar surface and bringing them back safely repeated over several iterations—there’s not so much a spirit of competition and exploration, with shining moments of cooperation, but rather sabotage and denial of access for those aspiring to join.

Monday, 10 August 2020

clientes com distรบrbios e atrasos na fala

The latest instalment of This American Life had a particular resonant first act that really lingered and prodded in ways that I was not quite expecting.  Composer and musician Jerome Ellis became a joyful rule-breaker for a captivated audience and gave with his performance piece a real object lesson on the reasonable accommodation of time and pacing that most of us don’t spare a thought for lest we’re able to indulge our impatience and cast aspersions on others for being too slow.
Introduced by way of a Brazilian law that provides a half-price relief for mobile subscribers who are diagnosed with a speech impediment—a severe stutter like Ellis has, the state government tried to make allowances for the normalised and preferred fluency that none of us has by degrees. While I don’t exactly stammer and don’t pretend to come from the same place experientially, I felt I could relate by getting annoyed when one supplies (or tries to) the elusive word too quickly or finishes my sentences for me—and I know it’s just meant as a kindness whether in English or in my non-native German when I struggle, which is usually—and then not knowing if it’s worth the effort to finish one’s thought and growing by degrees a bit more taciturn. Our temporal expectations can be impositions just like any other but also an opportunity for exchange.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

endliches und ewiges sein

Along with Bridget of Sweden, Benedict of Nursia, Sts Cyril and Methodius and Catherine of Siena, Edith Stein—taking the religious name of Teresia Benedicta a Cruce—who is venerated as a martyr for her murder in Auschwitz, along with her younger sister and nine hundred eighty-five others in the same deportation, on this day in 1942 (*1891) is considered one of the six co-patrons of Europe and is the only one from the modern era.
Philosopher, teacher, women’s rights advocate, Stein was of Jewish heritage but was not practicing and was later an avowed atheist until turning to the writings of church reformer Teresa of รvila (see above) to help her process the human toll the Great War had and was member of the community and on staff at religious schools in Speyer and Kรถln and tempered her theological beliefs with scholarship and introspection, authoring several metaphysical treatises, including On the Problem of Empathy, Finite and Eternal Being and The Science of the Cross. Stein’s protestations to the pope may have encouraged the Vatican’s censure of the Third Reich but the timidity of the papacy paled Stein’s deserved criticism. Stein is called on for intercession by the converted, called or coersed and is the patroness of orphans and the displaced.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

read mean tweets

Obloquy is, to most men, more painful than death; that is one reason why, in times of collective excitement, so few men venture to dissent from the prevailing opinion.

—Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1921

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

the inauguration of the pleasure dome

Via Weird Universe we are acquainted with the portfolio and curriculum vitรฆ thus far of underground filmmaker and author Kenneth Anger (*1923) whose anthology of short works explore Thelema and its adherents through his eponymous 1954 (remastered in 1966 for 1978 for wider audiences as Anger’s original concept included projecting the action on three screens simultaneously) through the cinematic filters of surrealism, the occult and homoeroticism.
Playing the goddess of magic Hecate himself, the short also stars Anaรฏs Nin as Astarte (Ishtar) and fellow director and pioneer of New Queer Cinema Curtis Harrington (*1926 – †2007, whose credits include numerous television series—Baretta, Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels and also Orson Welles’ unfinished The Other Side of the Wind) was in the role of Cesare, the somnambulist from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and was inspired by the ritual fancy-dress parties that founder Aleister Crowley would host that invited guests to come as their madness and a recitation of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s atmospheric poem. More to explore at the links above.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

die erste internationale dada-messe

Lasting through the end of August, the first Dadaist art exhibition opened on this day in Berlin in 1920, the movement having originated four years earlier during the war with the establishment of a bar in Zรผrich called the Cabaret Voltaire—invoking the namesake’s view that society was a theatre of arrogance and error.
The original salon and adherents only lasted for six months but parallel associations and artists like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp (alter-ego of Rrose Sรฉlavy) helped forward this approach to the discipline and practise which rejected sense and meaning and was a counterpoint to Expressionism—which espoused the global conflict as judgment from God and an earned punishment. Bertolt Brecht joined the Dadaist as they held a touring art fair through major German cities, the playwright styling himself as an engineer in line with the overarching idea that works of art weren’t more ingenious or inspired than technological creations and were amenable to fusion and recombination.

Sunday, 21 June 2020


Celebrated annually since 2015 after its nomination and adoption by the United Nations General Assembly the year prior, this day has been set aside for reflection on the ancient practise and its practitioners of healthful and mindful, spiritual aspects of yoga. It is an occasion to perfect one’s exercise and perform essential asanas—poses—and the meditative quality of the session. See if you can improve your form and awake body and mind.

Monday, 8 June 2020

xx. prairial

Corresponding with the above date on the Republican Revolutionary calendar—the equivalent of today on the Gregorian—lawyer and statesman, Maximillen Franรงois Marie Isidore de Robespierre aghast at the idea of complete rejection of the role of god and religion, sought to achieve a happy medium between Roman Catholicism and the agnostic Cult of Reason, proclaimed in Year II (1794) of the Republic the Festival of the Supreme Being, Fรฉte de l’รŠtre suprรชme.
Meticulously planned and with holidays scheduled in advance every tenth day—the equivalent of fortnightly celebrations, many saw the courtly and bureaucratic nature of the event as a substitution and surrogate for the old ways that the movement had sought to overturn, especially the paternal nature of this civic, state religion that believed that reflection and threat of retribution were necessary for a democratic society. The Thermidorian Counter Revolt (so called for taking place not long afterwards on IX. Thermidor II—27 July 1794) was in response to this re-imposition and precipitated Robespierre’s downfall and his guillotining—the agenda of observances falling away immediately thereafter, with Napoleon restoring Catholicism by Year X.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


Though this image is just about three years old, one of the parting shots of the Cassini probe before it descended into the atmosphere of Saturn, we appreciated the reminder, a sense of proportion that’s much needed right now, from Strange Company of the Earth and the Moon framed by the Encke Gap of the gas giant’s rings—see previously—and for couching it in the POV of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s Total Perspective Vortex, a device (see also) originally built as a heuristic tool to demonstrate causality by extrapolating a model of the Cosmos from a single atom.
In application, however, exposing the mind to such a humbling vision of reality was overwhelming and the technology was mainly useful as an instrument of torture—execution, that is, with a final moment of clarity and transcendence. The only biological brain subjected to the Vortex to survive unscathed, protagonist Zaphod Beeblebrox, was only able to do so through the protective bunker of a computer-generated universe that was created specifically to shield him, and with the confidence, hubris that he in fact was the most important person in his paracosm was able to get through the ordeal with minimal amount of insight to put him in his place.

Monday, 1 June 2020

ubu roi

Dangerous Minds’ rediscovery of the oedipal trilogy of Ubu the King (1896)—the titular first play, Ubu the Cuckold and Ubu in Chains—by French surrealist playwright Alfred Jarry (*1873 – †1907) and reinterpreting this allegory for contemporary times—including the impeached, cowering, nincompoop pretender Trump whose personality and temperament fit the tragic bathos of the befouling, infantilely-engaged, self-serving protagonist as if the part were written for him also gives us the chance to revisit the work’s philosophical underpinnings in 'pataphysics. Learn more from Dangerous Minds at the link up top and see a 1966 television production of the play, as performed by marionettes after Jarre’s singular showing.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

anthroposophy and apogee

Acknowledging the esoteric dangers that have emerged from the pseudo-scientific disciplines that arose towards the end of the era of Enlightenment just on the cusp of Modernity that try to reconcile the onslaught on evidence that the Cosmos is far older and complex than we can account for with the Bible and founding mythologies, Geoff Manaugh introduces us to the writing of one Sampson Arnold Mackey by leaning heavily into the paradoxical nature of such ethnography and theosophy that it’s in the effort of nailing down a narrative that brings up the problematic nature of speculation and amateur pursuits.
Never going away just repackaged and given a different sheen, we look at impossible epochs and receding events that disappear from the archeological record dredged up from archetypal memories and leading down pathways—some branches potentially problematic, either in fiction, espousing dangerous ideology or adopting thinking that rejects any achievement outsized in the mind of the beholder technically or sensibly has to be the work of the supernatural and one is left to deal with various theories that state the Pyramids of the Ancient Egyptians and Nazca Lines were the work of aliens. Mackey’s The Mythological Astronomy in Three Parts published in 1827 is no different than modern day disaster movies that gainsay the slow creep of environmental degradation with something dramatic like the flipping of the Earth’s magnetic poles and makes a deep and earnest investigation into a pet theory relating to the procession of the zodiac—that we’ve moved on from the Age of Pisces to the Aquarian one, except that Mackey hoped for more cataclysmic and drastic transitions—plunging humankind from an time of general prosperity into an “Age of Horror” plunging the world into deep enduring winters and arid droughts. Life and culture are driven so far as we know by stability and not swings between extremes, however distance that time out of mind may be. The work presents calculations, and like trying to pinpoint the primordial flood that haunts and informs our collective memory is a way to privilege one original story over another and suggest in was the deluge that formed the Mediterranean, for example, or makes some similar loaded and elaborated assumption—which again seems to be the overreach of amateurism that breeds more fables—but still invites one to ponder if these larger, unfathomable cycles might not have some bearing on belief and behaviour and constitution and how disaster imprints and lingers and that instinctual awareness of a pendulum fuels dread and hope.

Monday, 25 May 2020

toki pona

Invented in 2001 with its full lexicon published on this day in 2014, the eponymous constructed ‘language of the good’ has a sparse, flexible vocabulary of around one hundred and twenty root words set forth by linguist Sonja Lang whose minimalistic qualities championed by a small but strong community of enthusiastic ascribers employs a few words to express big and broad ideas and promote positive thinking—the project developed as a form of self-therapy out of a dark place—in line with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity that posts that one’s grammar defines one’s world-view and outlook.
Basic ideas can be used to communicate increasingly complex and nuanced meanings but only through an additive process that’s just as easily parred back down to its elemental concepts. Despite being rejected as imprecise by authorities, Toki Pona was among the languages subject to an investigative study on the ability of machines to understand natural language (even naturally occurring examples are parochial and political with prescriptive grammar) in context, significantly outperforming English and others. Because of the limited lingual inventory and morphemes, aside from the Latin script, two logographic writing systems were developed by Toki Pona students: sitelen pona and sitelen sitelen, the latter glyphs pictured along with the banner of constructed languages, designed by Christian Thalmann for the CONLANG family—Lang’s experiment not intended as an auxiliary form of communication but having in a way attained that status.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

floating in a tin can

Via the latest Link Pack from Swiss Miss, we are enjoying watching this sort of anti-compilation as imagined from the privileged perspective of an astronaut aloft far above the world and peering into random living rooms seconds before drifting away almost as much as looking at any intentional anthology of cursed clips. These videos—which one has the option of watching through if so taken—are gleaned from internet with the only provisos being that they are unedited, no categorisation or description and have virtually zero viewers.

Friday, 22 May 2020

dรถstรคdning or duolingo

Revisiting an endearing collective of librarians sharing the best of the worst from their best housekeeping practises, we also are finding ourselves re-acquainted with another morbid-sounding term (like culling) that’s really practical, affirming and necessary as part of a personal and professional project in Swedish Death Cleaning.
Taking decluttering to the next level and not just its inevitable conclusion, the exercise—the foresight not just for those who need to clean up behind you but also for one’s own piece of mind—translates literally as death-standing and signifies over and above the tidying up that is to be assayed on a regular, unending bias (sorry, dying’s not even a release from those chores) but rather a more permanent and reward type of organisation. Working from home, our librarian is unburdening from their stacks of two copies of a workbook that touts learning German in ten-minutes a day, which in hindsight probably was not the most effective approach to that undertaking.