Thursday, 30 June 2016

bathing beauties or adult-swim

From around the mid-eighteenth century through the Victoria Era, females wanting to take the sea air and enjoy a day at the beach were wheeled out past the maddening crowd of potentially gawking and leering males in personal stage-coaches, as Presurfer informs.
Etiquette and modesty (though these rules were recent impositions and far different from the practise of mixed skinny-dipping) dictated dictated that women bathers would enter a mobile changing booth, “bathing machines,” in formal street garb and disrobe, doffing her dress in for an equally concealing swim-suit and in the shallows, be allowed to frolic on a tether or at the strong hand of attendant. After this experience, the swimmer would be escorted back, drying off and donning her street clothes again for the sake of decorum. Maybe this production is less showy and less inclusive than a burkini.

lingua franca or brexit, stage left

To the disdain of the Maltese and Irish—whose concerns are being downplayed as they elected to make their first official languages Maltese and Gaelic, respectively, some in Brussels want to see the use of the English language in official parlance scaled back. Although there’s no legal status accorded to the “working languages” of the European Union and French and German are only spoken by tradition, some feel that the UK should take its linguistic and cultural dominance with it. What do you think of this proposal? I am already a little fearful that a large percentage of the world might forget about Europe as some byzantine amalgam that’s just alien and just the end of some long, strange continuum of foreignness without the Anglo-Saxon element.

gort-appointed attorney

Though I’ve always dreaded the day when torrents of tut-tutting virtual attorneys scour the internet like ambulance-chasers seeking out and perhaps even provoking legal contests, as yet another presence that is liable to force people from the web, I do tip my hat to the young individual who has created a rather Turing complete electronic barrister that has, pro bono, appealed nearly of a quarter of a million parking-violations, winning far more than half and getting human (and perhaps robotic ones too) drivers out of four million dollars in fines in New York and London. I suspect, however, the metropolises might turn litigious in kind.

books—check ‘em out!

The Vault’s Rebecca Onion has a nice appreciation of the Mid-Century Modern posters of Mary Joan Egan and Cynthia Amrice, commissioned as part of the US Congress’ Library Services and Construction Act of 1962 that sought to provide federal assistance to public libraries in order to expand their services—especially in blighted and rural areas. Sadly, due to shrinking budgets, the initiatives have been all but discontinued since the mid nineteen-nineties, but this gallery is a nice reminder of what libraries were (and are) capable of and, beyond their educational value, makes one appreciate how technologically astute these neighbourhood institutions could be with micro-film readers, photo-copiers, typewriters and film projectors and reach back to a time when office equipment seemed more magical and curious.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

sectio aurea or shoe-gazing

Via the always sublime Nag on the Lake, we discover that there exists a pocket-scope that helps a photographer triangulate his or her shot in order to telescope the proportions of the Golden Mean. I wonder how such a compass—integrated as an æthetic by-law into one’s picture taking might result as perfectly-timed, perfectly-framed images. Such a comely and perfect ratio probably comes both by accident and by design.

the price of eggs in china

Via the ever brilliant Kottke we are treated to an excellent primer on the origins of data-visualizations: infographics ISOTYPEs as persuasive tools and encapsulating representations, the mapping of information beyond geography, began to come into their own in the early nineteenth century. Of course, in line with our inherent distrust of Big Data and opinion polls that can be leverage for any message whatsoever, statistics can be biased and incomplete and return a not-so-flattering composite, but being able to present analysis in a way that’s not just publicly-digestible and nearly intuitive but also can disabuse certain assumptions and specious causalities.
Since compendious research was first presented in this format by a gentleman economist and apprentice of steam-engine inventor James Watt, called William Playfair, champion of the infographic and in turn inventor of the pie-chart was able to illustrate the relation between wages and taxes or the true cost of importing commodities or these elegant so called “rose charts” drafted by pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale that conveyed the causes of death for soldiers in the Crimean War was far surpassed by poor sanitary conditions rather than combat—previsioning the germ theory of disease and infection, among many others, helped to dispel native prejudices and create a more informed public. Let’s hope that there’s still honesty in demographics and polarity, but such compiling of numbers outside of individual human experience does beg the question whether we developed this way to limn huge volumes of data—which is rather taken for granted, out of a need to communicate what does not fit to lay wisdom and perhaps common-sense or that we compile facts and figures to rarified levels in order to showcase our drawing talents.

ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

A few days ago in the raw aftermath of the latest mass-shooting, I recalled seeing a fleeting headline that one ought not be so quick to turn to the seemingly lone and mutually exclusive alternative explanation for such tragedies—aside from the matter of stricter gun control: mental health, assuming that imbalances and deviation from the norm risks further alienation by being a second to terrorism.
I didn’t know how to feel about something that at least initially struck me as backdoor apologies and perhaps cryptic political-correctness, and this essay by Steven Asma, for Æon magazine, that identifies the thread of toxic masculinity (the weaponized loser) I can’t say settles the matter but does add another dimension to ruminate over. Failure to domesticate and thus manage inchoate male aggression and drive is a failure to socialise an individual as a member of broader society, and a theme repeated again and again sometimes manifesting itself in awful ways. The scenario of the disassociated savage plays out equally badly in whatever context—be it the Cosplay Caliphate and cadet groups or a jilted young man raised in a civilised framework, just add ammunition to the equation. As much as civilisation seeks to domesticate these instincts, there are also coping mechanisms just as deeply ingrained and arguably all the trappings of society were engineered to curb, redirect or harness this drive. What do you think?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

invisible touch

After somewhat of a hiatus, I learned recently that the dangerously fascinating National Public Radio series Invisibilia is back on the air with a new season and more intriguing stories about the invisible forces (and those who hold truck in them) that rule our lives and mold our perceptions.
I did enjoy reading the shows transcripts from time to time, but besotted as I am with my fine constellation of BBC Radio 4 podcasts (just listening to my stories), it did not occur to me that NPR might be served up in the same format. Be sure to check it out and ponder some intriguing and provocative profiles that very nicely compliments their cousins across the Drink. Closing every episode with a dance-party is all the more reason to tune in: she’s got something you just can’t trust, and it’s something mysterious and now it seems I’m falling for her, falling for her…


Given that more and more applications and gate-keepers are relying on biometric markers over passwords for authentication and the quite justified fear that such irreplaceable and fixed latch-keys are in the wilds already to be exploited, a clever design student has created prosthetic thimbles (Fingerhüte), which are fleshy, randomised and durable enough to be recognised by the bouncers that are to protect our privacy and integrity. Such sophisticated but simple accessories perhaps would not be as prone to dusting and lifting as our forensic evidence that is not so simply retooled through lock-smithy or the trust of said institutions. While much of the world traffics in skeuomorphs for many things, the designer’s native China has done away with lock and key for residences as well and this was the impetus to deliver the alternative of rubber finger-tips.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

royal prerogative or we are not amused

It’s been speculated for some time that the media mogul become presidential contender—and perhaps the next US president, might be a sort of Manchurian Candidate installed under the auspices of a once and future syndicate, engineering to propel the opposition into power. Though this conspiracy seems quite far-fetched, maybe it’s not beyond the realm of political possibilities, a parallel scenario, judging by recent events, seems almost assuredly more likely in its absurdity.
I think the Queen may use this opportunity to seize back the powers eroded of the monarchy and run her majesty’s own government for the time being rather than letting the presumptives and heirs-apparent take office. Perhaps (and I’d venture for a lot of the voters who voted leave, respect for the royal family is also a shared demographic and would submit to rule by some unelected German and some unemployed Greek on public-assistance) it would be a dereliction of her duty to faithfully defend the kingdom not to. What do you think? I recall how a few years ago Belgium was suffering a constitutional-crisis for failure to cement a coalition government and elevate a prime minister—for a period surpassing war-torn Iraq going without a formal leader, and me wondering why the Belgians were so concerned, with already having a king and being the seat of the EU parliament.  Winkie-winkie.

secession sessions

Though, as has been proposed for California, Texas can choose to break itself up into five smaller states—for better regional governance, but cannot—peacefully at least—secede from the rest of the US. The UK’s voicing its intent to divest itself of European Union membership has resulted, however, in encouraging secessionist groups the world around—even before the the buyers’ bregret might sink in, including a very vocal camp deep in the heart of Texas.
While Texit may seem a little too obvious and perhaps movements will rally around hashtags instead of the other way around, apparently fully one quarter of the American population would not be opposed to their state of residence going it alone, although most of this silent minority is admittedly not actively pursuing the matter. What do you think? Do you support your friendly neighbourhood partitioners? Maybe Britain’s lesson will caution us to be carefully what we wish for and maybe love our umbrella institutions enough to make them reform, lest we not only be let go but rather expelled with prejudice.

ghostwriter, ghostrider

Though not quite a Gobot, this innovative roadster called the Blackbird, having recently won several accolades from international film juries, is a camera carriage whose frame can be adjusted so after some computer-aided rendering, can morph, getting the dimensions exactly right, into any make and model of automobile that one wishes to portray. Not only is it a good understudy for commercials, shooting several different cars at the same time in rugged, dramatic landscapes where their actual drivers will probably never venture without the expense of dispatching a fleet of vehicles (the cars having actually never ventured there either, I suppose), but is also good for filming convincing chase scenes without collateral damage.

Saturday, 25 June 2016


As the ever-faithful archivist, Doctor Caligari, informs (among other things) on this day back in 1967, the planet was treated to the first global television special via the new medium of satellite broadcasting (invented, proposed by visionary Arthur C. Clark of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) called simply Our World.
With a viewership of four- to seven-hundred million, the live simulcast was nearly a year in production and included vignettes—much like the time-honoured Eurovision song contest being first proposed to test cross-border communications, from nineteen nations, with the stipulation that all content must be live and that there could be no political undertones. The gala variety show, beamed from NASA intelligence-satellites (the Soviets having withdrawal just days ahead of the broadcast in protest to the West’s stance on the Six-Day Israeli-Arab War). On air, the sequences cut from one feature piece to another, including footage of a cowhand in Canada, the Tokyo subway, the operatic stylings of Maria Callas and the Pablo Picasso experience. The nearly two and a half hour broadcast concluded with the Beatles making their first performance of All You Need is Love, scored especially for this very special episode—a simple message but technically byzantine like the coordination.

frexit, nexit or waiting for the other shoe to fall

It seems that authorities at the European Union would like to hasten the UK out of the bloc and not prolong matters, for fear that lingering would result in extended economic turmoil and that it might cause contagion.
Not only might Oxbridge, Gibraltar, Scotland and County Ulster choose secession from England, votes and sentiments more or less split down these internal borders, there’s a cascade effect already happening and I am not sure how earnest it is—though I think Brexit came as a shock to many, and if lessons imparted from Britain’s going alone will prove discouraging of revolt. The Netherlands, France and Hungary, all championed by emergent right-leaning politicians, are calling for their own plebiscites. If they do materialise, let’s hope they’re awarded better acronyms and portmanteaux, and that in the long run we don’t lose sight, amid business interests or the complaints—and some of them certainly valid ones, about EU-House rules, of the long-range objective of this Union of promoting peace, cooperation and understanding in this war-torn continent and to avoid the jingoistic mistakes of the past.

circadian rhythm

Writing for Æon magazine, Jessa Gamble posits that chronotherapies may be the next leap in healthcare and offer more focused and less intrusive (in terms of spill over and mission-creep) options for healing and preventative medicine. Clearly, judged by personal experience, our biologies resist synchronising with the pace and step of modern worlds and time pressures that mean little to our bodies and psyches but nonetheless exact a great toll on both.
Better coordination can ensure that our bodies and our schedules are not at cross-purposes. The thoroughgoing and lucid essay, with the primary prescription being to know thyself and that we fortunately are not usually able to outsmart our bodies, ought to be appreciated in its entirety, but the idea of internal (and internalised) versus external chronologies is made immediately apparent by Gamble’s opening parable of her mutant hamsters: engineered to have their bodies’ clocks set to days foreshortened by four hours or so, they were dealt a mortal blow by the terminal jet-lag of living in a twenty-four hour a day environment. If the days of these not of this world hamsters—truly aliens whose diurnal journey around some hypothetical star at some middling orbit is different from ours, are set to their altered state, then the experimental hamsters happily thrive.

cat’s cradle

Via Dark Roasted Blend comes a fascinating overview of an assortment of demonstration projects of applied robotics in construction running in various universities from Stuttgart to Barcelona. From self-building bridges and spray-on façades architectural to drones that stack and weave students are exploring what sort of recursive programming could be used to automate and innovate the building process.
Not only could these novel methods, with feedback from the robot-builders about what works and what doesn’t, provide emergency shelters and repairs to existing infrastructure, such techniques could also be applied to space exploration and offworld colonies.

Friday, 24 June 2016

common market

The only other quasi-precedential withdrawal from the European Union was in 1982 when after devolution and greater independence from metropolitan Denmark, Greenlanders held a plebiscite and by the same narrow margins (a fifty-two/forty-eight split) voted to leave.
The chief motivation to leave (a decision that suddenly reduced the landmass in the then fledgling European Community by about sixty percent) was the fishermen of Greenland being told how much they could catch and then sharing that quota with trawling powerhouses. Negotiations between København, Nuuk and Brussel took over three years, but the untried exit mechanism, Article 50 that came with the Treaty of Lisboa of 2007, was not yet in place and no things being equal in the parallels of recent times (in terms of complexity)—one can rest assured that the EU and the UK will reach a new, neighbourly deal in no time. Maybe this was one of those times that America tried to buy Greenland wholesale. I think it was around this time that the US Three and a half decades on, Greenland, wishing for greater leverage and protection to curb other manufacturing nations from flooding their domestic markets, is now contemplating returning to the EU.

morlocks and eloi

Geoff Manaugh’s always-brilliant BLDGBlog’s latest feature article treats us to some speculative but none too far-fetched spelunking beneath the island city-state of Singapore that’s outgrown its confines and could only expand in one direction. Not only does the reporting of the project, entitled Subterranean Singapore, showcase the technical and artistic side of the country’s underground ambitions, it also poses important sociological questions about what kind of societies such massive excavations might produce, with heaven and hell rather inverted and those left above ground, exposed to the elements perhaps at the mercy of those dwelling beneath.

photo-finish or vox-populi

It’s a little hard to wrap one’s head around what impact and further repercussions the outcome of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union will have, as a framework for discharge needs to be crafted first for this separation to be in any sense amicable—countering arguments that the UK is instantly free from any obligation to the bloc of European nations, since even if they don’t want to be welcomed back into the fold with open arms, no one wants to spoil trade or travel relations—but it does illustrate how quickly that one half of a population can turn against another.
Although Britain has examined and relooked its relationship with and in the EU for over four decades now and sides had been fermented long ago, the escalation that might cascade to other polities and break-up the whole experiment did come rather abruptly, fueled in large part by social mediators. No one ought to be faulted for sharing his or her opinion and beyond guess-work, none of us can say whether this bodes fair or ill, but the referendum also illustrates I think the rationale behind representative democracies—even when at the pinnacle of that hierarchy, one finds monarchs or unelected eurocrats—who assume the responsibility to protect us (often falling short) from our own immediate wishes. Delayed or deferred gratification for the sake of the longer view may not be as appealing as whatever is trending at the moment, and politicians serve (supposedly) to manage those expectations and (supposedly) are culpable for the miscarriages of governance. Those who launch teapot-tempests, no matter what the result, are exculpable and there’s no one held to account in mob-rule to pick up the pieces if things fall apart. What do you think?  Will other members follow Britain’s lead?  Perhaps democracy in action delivers what the voters deserve. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016


There’s a new film that could be described as a modern-day, Scandinavian retelling of Don Quixote called Kill Billy (DE)—a play on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
A frustrated purveyor of traditional home furnishing (solid, quality pieces that were to last forever) is forced out of business by a Swedish furniture and lifestyle giant—maker of the eponymous and ubiquitous billy shelving-system—and thus resolves to kidnap the company’s executive officer. Though the Swedish magnate could not be reached for comment, it appears the company’s reception of the film was a positive one as well—after all, they were frank enough to admit that we’d reached peak curtains.


A poor python at a reptile centre in Australia was captured on camera having managed to moult its scales (ecdysis) perfectly within itself and capturing itself in its own skin. The snake eventually freed itself, none the worse for the experience, and its moment of fame recalls the ancient symbol of the ouroboros (literally, serpent eating its own tail), interpreted as a primal force in both philosophy and later psychology, but maybe that is what these pursuits can lead to.

so dark the con of man

Though perhaps the more cynical readers will interpret this magnanimous gesture as some kind of karmic penance for either plagiarism or promoting a hoax as academics (or both), but we nonetheless thought that this news item was pretty keen: one popular author is commissioning the digitalisation of some of the rarest manuscripts on esoterica and early incunabula of holy scriptures in order to donate them to the on-line world, including the definitive authority on Hermetic wisdom. Check out the article from Quartz magazine to find out more about these precious documents and their historic context.

fesche may never happen

Though we don’t reside in the deepest heart of stereotypical Bavaria (wir sind Franke danke) and try not to employee too many regionalisms, I found that I had encountered beforehand every one of these words and phrases—with the exceptions of “pfiat di”—an abbreviation of “behüt dich Gott,” bye-bye from God be with thee, and fesch, meaning chic, appealing. I was not able to learn much more about the etymology of the Bavarian term (although it was a lyric in a song sung by Marlene Dietrich in 1930) but did make me think about fetch from Mean Girls, when one character is accused of trying to start a trend by making up slang. I wonder if fetch was not completely fabricated, after all. “Stop trying to make fetch happen; it’s not going to happen.” Check out the whole list from the Local, Germany’s English daily.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

transposed and truncated

Seeing these reclaimed fragments of porcelain transformed into a line of “translated vases” by Korean artist Yee Sookyung struck me too as a contrast to the Japanese tradition called kintsugi (金継ぎ)—the golden repair, wherein prized pottery is not discarded but rather elevated like a reliquary and enshrined with precious joinery and whose battle-damage is highlighted as sound beautiful and proud. Yee drew her inspiration for this series, whose forms evoke to me the notion of ancient fetish figurines, from the practise of her native potters of tossing out the factory-seconds or pieces deemed otherwise imperfect. In a disposable world, even if one cannot tease out the æsthetic, one can reliably find at least the therapeutic and the venerating in bothering to mend something. One can find out more about the artist and both these traditions at Colossal.

numeracy or oh, throw me a bone

At a recent BREXIT debate, one young audience member posed a clever but rather straightforward to the interlocutors, which of course left both parties baffled and stammering: to paraphrase—when politicians and pundits speak of billions (in whatever denomination) in costs or potential economic losses, are we using the long-scale or the short-scale (échelle longue et échelle courte) of a billion?
One million—universally, is ten to the sixth power, but the word billion can either be understood as one thousand millions or, in accordance with its original etymology as bi + million, the second power of a million, one followed by thirteen zeros (10¹²). Like America, England and Ireland use the short-scale most of the time—but not always and quite different from the convention on the continent that employs the long-scale, for the most part, but the distinction is not like driving on one side of the road versus another, as the distribution is more equally spread and not necessarily rooted in colonialism or empire. Most languages other than English don’t use the terms interchangeably or loosely and a billion (or some cognate) means a trillion—like the German words Millionen, Milliarden, Billionen, and it certainly is more heated and anchoring to speak of trade deficits and debt in terms of run-away trillions—rather than in more manageable and meagre billions.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

prayer circle

When I first saw this little video game reminder making the rounds that we can do better than to recuse ourselves, saying that a change in legislation could not have prevented yet another abject tragedy in the only Western country where this regularly happens, I did agree with the message, though thought it was perhaps overly cynical.
After learning, however, that one powerful doyen and determinant of lifestyle and communication used its leverage to excise gun emojis from its platform and vocabulary (a symbol of a gun is not a gun, of course, but like an assault weapon who legitimately needs that in any circumstance?) and that the US Senate failed to enact any meaningful reforms to gun-control, I think that these elected representative, in hock to the firearms lobby, deserve every bit of contempt and ridicule that not only their constituents but also the whole world can muster.


The always brilliant Nag on the Lake shares the time when Sir Edward Rayne, designer of couture shoes for the well-heeled and fashion ambassador at large, was inspired by the signature blue jasper and cameo earthenware of Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, a fellow royal warrant holder.

Wedgwood’s jasperware line was in turn inspired by an ancient Roman bas-relief glass urn, called the Portland Vase, which was lent to the porcelain company’s founder as the paradigm of what the artist was struggling to create in his workshop—and then went on more or less permanent loan to the generations of this family, whose branches include naturalist Charles Darwin, economist John Maynard Keynes and writer Thomas Huxley. Those are quite some taxonomic credentials, but even though elevated footwear might seem unnatural and impractical, this type of shoe underwent a process of evolution as well—originally contrived to help keep Persian warriors in the saddle. I wonder what other cross-over collaborations have taken place between fashion and homeware in the past and what pairings would make potentially good candidates in the future.

saga eða von og von brigði

Combining the finest traditions of epic, slow television and the road-trip, Reykjavík based post-progressive rock band Sigur Rós is making a circuit of the entire island nation in order to compose and document a soundtrack that’s generated, through specialised software with a commanding and adaptive perspective on the band’s style, by their ramblings around Iceland.  No one quite knows how this soundscape will turn out, much like any prolonged tour returning the unexpected, and will be used to open a music festival later this summer. I wonder if this experiential aspect for incidental music, machines inspired by nature or the draw of the road, is going to take off. Von (hope) was the band’s first album and while vonbrigði means disillusion “von brigði” means, as double-entendre, variations on Hope. Visit the link above to see the whole saga with musical accompaniment.

who lives down drury lane

Via the latest edition of Marginal Revolution’s assorted links, we are introduced to the discipline of civil engineering that’s inexorably connected with the streetwise and politic archeology that either celebrates or banishes the heritage of place through time.

As the most present and immediate sign of the times, either true and tethered to some landmark or subject to the revisionists of history, physical addresses—inherited or imposed by a regime that in the name of order wants to assign residents of a ghetto or favela to a fixed abode—carry an enormous burden, often but not always a reflection of the desired and generic demographic and favoured figures of the times.  Walking through neighbourhoods, one does often encounter streets named for local sons and daughters, for a certain landmark, mills and water-wheels no longer there, a craft-guild or spot reserved for certain commerce, but more often than not there are rather pedestrian and sanitised thematic quarters (and not just in newer developments), named after trees, non-controversial artists and composers, the next village along the road’s route, European capital cities, etc. This obvious (or subtle) reflagging does pique one’s curiosity to find what naming-conventions addresses had in prior years.  What do you know about your street’s name and history?

Monday, 20 June 2016

metadata or mal d’archive

Fraught with the prospect of a digital dark age where our “content” has been either corralled in walled-gardens that can both facilitate communication or become a memory-hole at the whim of fortune, interest and competitive forces (reflect for a moment on all the effort spent cultivating a mySpace profile or application to any number of now defunct services) or are all but lost to rampantly changing forms of media storage (think what might be forever trapped in a spool of CDs that one does not even have the player for any more or in one’s old digital picture frame—like General Zod and the other criminals from Krypton) and presentation in incompatible software, the internet’s founders are launching an initiative to make the work of a few dedicated archivists much more distributed and less tied to any single agenda, no matter how altruistic or self-interested.
In part, like voluntarily over-sharing too much about what we’d prefer to be private and not construed with little detective-work, it is our own fault that so much of what we’ve created is subject to segregation, forgetting or censorship, and the impetus to return to a landscape that’s organic and a bit unkempt is strong for a lot of reasons.  Certainly there’s no way of knowing what sort of studious record-keeping (in any format and on any subject) might benefit future generations and as awash as we might be with the onslaught of information and different ways to leverage and nuance it, there is no need for something to pass to the ages by our own negligence. Who can say? The cookies and tokens of today might even have an important structural or descriptive component (and may even be the engines behind an internet that backs itself up) that we cannot not appreciate in this contemporary billboard jungle.

chirality or stage-directions

Though H is most charitable and patient and even anticipates my reflexes by giving my idiosyncratic directions their expected (correctly) and opposite responses, I was glad to learn that I am not quite alone in distinguishing my (or others’) right from left.

As Kottke ponders, as we begin to lose personal, native points of reference, I wonder if this incapacity might become something more endemic and more tolerated, like excusing a city-dweller for having not substituted equally personal landmarks and routines (for not seeing the rising or setting of the Sun and stars) for the cardinal directions. I wonder if having to face and flip one’s own reflection (as sometimes I feel that to be an impossible challenge) might be a skill-building activity for its own sake.  Divination from a mirror darkly is called scrying (though usually in the form of a crystal ball) but could possibly also broaden one’s cognitive frontiers or perhaps at least recognise one’s inward focus.  Despite or because of my orientation awkwardness (and maybe others becoming more comfortable with their own), I am noticing that it is more of a challenge to communicate it to others and do echo in wondering what it means when there no longer a dominant hand (of course these are not taken, like the side of the bed that is inalienably one’s own, away but our cues, like wrist-watches may be going out of style) or no clockwise orientation as an internal guide.

Sunday, 19 June 2016


Though it might be safe to assume that the Aztec Empire of Mesoamerica was already doomed by the arrival of Europeans bringing Old World diseases with them without the ambitions of Conquistador Hernándo Cortés, it is hard to say what fortunes hinged on the ingenuity of one of expedition’s (entrada) artillery units, named Francisco Montoya.
While most of the slaughter and abject destruction was perpetrated by the Spanish with what would have been traditional weapons at the time (swords and arrows and missionaries that the natives knew and could repulse) and was indeed somewhat facilitated by client states of the Aztecs (a modern fiction to simplify a rather politically complex and strained alliance that referred to a mythological region called Aztlan somewhere in the north where the people had migrated from—sort of like metaphorically calling England Avalon), willing to throw off the yoke of Tenochtitlan, who’d just consolidated power only six decades before the arrival of Columbus, and sided with the Spanish.

Possibly too was an unfortunate series of coincidences and the way their calendar was constructed to stir superstition and resignation, which certainly could not compete with Spanish manifest destiny and prospecting for treasure. Although equipped with plenty of munitions, canons and muskets, the primitive gunpowder that had recently been communicated to western Europe from the Chinese was in short supply. The prepared mixture was unstable and unsuitable for sea-voyages, and though most of the constituent ingredients were available in situ, sulfur was a rare commodity. Our clever Francisco Montoya (prepare to die), determined not to have brought all these weapons for nothing, led a daring mission into the caldera of an active volcano, Popocatepeti (probably sacred to the Aztecs and a place of worship and sacrifice), to collect sulfur and produce enough gunpowder to compel the Aztecs with shock and awe to capitulate in less than two years (heady with the recent and parallel achievement of the Spanish crown called the Reconquista, recapturing lands on the Iberian peninsula that had been under Muslim control for seven centuries) after the expedition arrived in 1519.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

post-modern prometheus or the year without a summer

The anecdote that without the catastrophic eruption of Mount Tambora was responsible for the birth of the Gothic genre, since—if not for the volcanic winter that spoiled their holiday weather, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin), her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley and some literati friends would have been able to enjoy the scenic shores of Lake Geneva and wouldn’t have had to resort to telling each other stories around the campfire (so to speak) and finding other indoors diversions.
The story behind the origins of what became Shelly’s famous Frankenstein is fascinating on its own, this summer of discontent marking two centuries since the 1816 delusory and haunted visit to Switzerland, but like the milieu of the Canterbury Tales at another time of crisis, does tend to overshadow the grave consequences of the release of so much ash into the atmosphere which—beyond poor weather and anemic sunshine, perpetrated a global famine, dread and the last one to affect the Western world on that scale. Although the Modern Prometheus is usually interpreted to be about the encroachment of technology and the creation escaping control of his creator (as a cautionary tale for artificial intelligence or genetic-modification) and there’s the feeling that the happy band were far too self-occupied, making the most of a rainy day, to concern themselves the plight of the hoards of weather-refugees coming into the cities after their crops failed. Though there’s a danger in transposing even the timeless to contemporary events, there’s much resonance to be found in the season of today, brilliantly investigated and considered further in this essay from Public Domain Review. Far from disdaining the suffering that was happening just beyond their guesthouse confines like the Lit Crit response to the debates on global-warming or migration politics, Shelley did notice this encroachment too and incorporated it into her novel and it could be read in that bleak light of the sun in that year with no summer, even if that monster was not of our own making.

armorial achievement or ladies companion

The College of Heralds, as Boing Boing astutely informs, has established protocols for the management of shields and devices for the union of same-sex couples, which would pass muster during a royal heraldic visitation. “A man who contracts a same-sex marriage may impale the arms of his husband with his own on a shield or banner but should bear his own crest rather than the crest of both parties…” No matter what one thinks about the landed-gentry and old-money or the relevance of such institutions, it was nice to learn that even such a conservative and exclusive custom can become receptive to change.

pastiche or ultraviolence

The subversively engaging Dangerous Minds has a nice appreciation for the 1969 Japanese counter-culture work of director Toshio Matsumoto called Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列). The film, itself based on Sophocles’ Œdipus Rex, focuses on the misadventures of a cadre of transvestites in contemporary Tokyo, and was a major stylistic influence on Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange—thematically, no equivalence in delinquency—along with the short story Flowers for Algernon, which sort of makes the idea of inspiration material and footnoting all the more dissonant and it takes an artist to understand the echoes of homage.

media black-out or all the news that’s fit to print

While after having its servers compromised and fearful at the DNC that whatever muck has been raked (which ought not be such a bombshell, we suspect) might be released prematurely and spoil their impact, meanwhile the Republican National Committee has been presented a challenge by the third estate.
Although we have serious objections to the concept of denying dissenting voices a platform out of fear of causing trauma, the threat, pledge of journalistic abeyance strikes me as an effective way to take the wind out of certain sails. The time and resources formerly dedicated, thoughtlessly and without stint, to covering every stump speech would instead be pledged to uncovering the veracity of such claims that might only pass as the news ticker. Media organisations would also petition the party for the reinstatement of their credentials and access, revoked for having crossed the presumptive candidate. What do you think? Just apply the resolution equitably (when any candidate denies an audience to media outlets because it is not supportive of his or her platform) to preserve journalistic integrity and spare us all the awful spectacle. Is it biased or undermining to deny demagogues their expected and free publicity?

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

lavoiſier or eisenhower sez

I am overly fond of these sorts of anecdotes, and appreciate a fellow typographical aficionado sharing an intriguing enigma—after a stranger left this mysterious mcguffin on her doorstep, begging for authentication.
Apparently in the 1950s, the New York Times experienced a kerning dilemma on finding that the headline EISENHOWER SAYS was just a tick too big to fit in a single column, which certainly sounds deflating but probably far less frustrating that margins that try to outsmart the type-setter. In order to preserve the spacing of their copy, the newspaper turned to their foundry and commissioned, for the nonce, a super-skinny “S”—reminding me of the old-fashion Latin long minuscule s, that I think I first encountered in an older book about scientist Anton Lavoisier; I called him Lavoifier. To find out if this rumour could be substantiated, please check out the full investigation at The Atlantic.

daisy bell or oneironaut

A bit ironically—as I think this Stanley Kubrick classic taught us rather to start worrying and fear the machine, artist Bhautik Joshi, as the always brilliant Colossal shares, transformed the entirety of 2001: A Space Odyssey into a neural dream sequence, a routine that enhances visual input by trying to recognise patterns and begins—logarithmically, to tease them out of every detail, sort of the artificial intelligence (one assumes) version of human pareidolia. Some adjustment to the protocols allowed Joshi to reinterpret the visual style of the movie after his favourite artist Pablo Picasso, which makes for some wildly hallucinogenic scenes. Be sure to check out Colossal to watch the full feature and learn more about the artist’s oneironautic (pertaining to dream-travellers) adaptions of other visionary sci-fi films.


уотергейт: working independently, hackers Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear breached the database of the Democratic National Committee

feather-brained: scientists are discovering why birds are so preternaturally clever and that Nature has more than one approach to crafting cognition

kardashev scale: astrophysicist posits that there have been advanced extra-terrestrials but there may be a Great Filter behind the Fermi Paradox

two weeks: concept art for the David Cronenberg directed Total Recall that could have been

capilla sixtina: the glorious frescoed ceiling by Michelangelo reproduced to scale in México

equal time or frontierland

Vice Magazine gives us an important reminder that debate regarding the UK’s withdrawal from European Union membership is not only championed or disparaged by the alternatively shrill and even-keeled political figureheads that try to mold public opinion and secure votes, to the exclusion of the opposing antagonism—but there are also underlying ideological battles that strangely are not the bailiwicks of our familiar ideologues.
Left of centre proponents’ arguments to leave the EU include that the union is akin to empire and client states are unable to fulfill the social-contract to its citizen subjects, owing to the fact that so many laws and regulations are crafted at the supranational level and thus estranging governments from their responsibility for good governance. Local authorities could rightly throw up their hands in frustration over the deficit of influence they and their constituents have on big issues, like trade policy, that have global effects. Alternately, with trade also as the driving vehicle, those liberals in the bremain camp argue that an insular Britain detached from the EU would strip-mine labour protections and cost many their livelihoods, which the common-market fosters. Next week, Vice will air the views of the right-wing on the referendum and perhaps the squabbles for and against won’t be the televised predictable pedantry either.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

brussels calling

Chief diplomat to the European Union’s delegation to Turkey, Hansjörg Haber, has abruptly resigned, reportedly (angeblich), over Ankara’s conduct regarding a deal to create an immigration buffer-zone in exchange for visa-free access to the EU bloc of nations for Turkey and refusal to live up to its end of the bargain.
This rather cantankerous behaviour is to be expected from a nation that realises it has the EU over a barrel with the refugee situation, even if Europe does not itself fully appreciate the situation. This further fracture comes at a time when tensions are already running high over a lack of candor about the present and the past that has seen German journalists being denied entry and German officials of Turkish ancestry being given police protection, worried that there could be retaliation for their votes to label the massacre perpetrated by the Ottomans as genocide—and campaigners in the UK are vocal with a political hot-potato that EU ascension for Turkey is either imminent or otherwise will not happen within our natural lifetimes but that Turkey should nonetheless strung along with a glimmer of hope to maintain good terms. I’ve wanted to say to the Leave camp, “You know, Brussels can hear you?  They hear all those awful things you are saying about them.” Perhaps the Remains need to have the same thing pointed out to them about Turkey.

birthday suit or trooping the colours

Though I’d say that the Queen’s choice of posh-frock for her birthday procession was a slight wardrobe malfunction, but the Photoshop battle royale that it inspired was in good spirits. Her highly visible dress (not quite day-glow) did really look like a chroma-key green-screen—and the fun ensues.

Via Madam Jujujive’s Everlasting Blört, comes a moving gallery of grief and solidarity of vigils and memorials voicing support for the victims and families of Orlando.

and now for something completely different

For many years, Atlas Obscura has been our expert tour guide for many weird and wonderful places and always a good resource to consult when vacation planning to discover what oddities might be hidden near one’s desitnation. We continue to find the web-site’s edifying, educational trips to be quite serendipitous as well—like the recent sourcing of the iconic mashing foot, animated by Terry Gilliam, that segued from the opening-credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, to a detail in the mannerist masterpiece of Agnolo “Il Bronzino” di Cosimo called Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time—wherein Cupid seems about to carelessly crush a hapless dove with his hammer-toed foot. One can view the entire allegory that inspired the surrealist troupe in the National Gallery in London.

rotoscope or dance, dance revolution

Here’s a delightful and spirited celebration of the amazing, evolving possibilities of motion-capture technology from Method Studios. Follow the link to watch the show-reel and experience the full performance at Colossal. Such special-effects are already at our disposal and we can have a dance-off as well and try our hands at composing this sort of choreography. 

mugshot or surplus to needs

Formally it seems that one could easily hang some signature accessory on a villain, a passably sinister profile, trim of moustache or a particular brand of smokes that might be forever reviled by the horrified public and associated with notoriety. Currently, however, we are all essentially naked with no distinguishing uniform or props (other than the occasional posing) and are just left with rather non-descript—though susceptible to certain judgments, reflective, innocent, ill-informed, poorly counselled, discordant, overly-tuned or just plain skanky in the same fashion as we might rate the cascade of loose-associates—parade-ground of our social-mediators, I wonder where those strains of repulsion dwell, unsafe in the knowledge that we all have a virtually immediate connection. We ought to all delete our accounts—if that meant more than acquiescing to an archive. There’s incubating speculation as well about how the perpetrator of the massacre in Orlando worked for a security contractor that supplements services to the US government’s Department of Homeland Security, including the goon squads at airports and the farming out of newly arrived immigrants by bussing them to points beyond. And while the parent company may enjoy such a position of public-trust and does perhaps deserve to have its employment-screening practises looked into, that particular fiend only had the warrant of a mall-cop. It’s chilling nonetheless, to imagine that he might have been deputised as something more, although this identification and aversion (like the avatars above) is like the high incidence of engineers attracted to radical groups. It is not that they are recruited for their potential bomb-making skills, as one might think, or for their ability to design some diabolic juggernaut, but mostly because they’ve pursued a certain career path and found that there’s not the jobs in the industry to support their numbers. The preponderance of (failed) engineering students is not a commentary on the field, but rather a criticism of the schooling systems of many places in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that puts all its resources in post-primary education for the few, mainly males who survive a childhood of neglect and discouragement.

Monday, 13 June 2016

mordantly queued litheness

Though perhaps better known for their compendia of infernal characters, the Lesser Key of Solomon (definitively edited by Aleister Crowley) and the Pseudo- momarchia Dæmonum (the False Hierarchy of Demons) that inspired the former, the grimoires also contain a range of mandalas—magic circles for summoning and casting-out above referenced malevolent forces, but naturally (although unlike the cleromancy of I-Ching divination or Tarot whose permutations are mathematically defined and all possible oracles are set forth) not all variants, whose compliment of iconography includes fimbriation suggestive of the works of Piet Mondrian and bar-codes and all sorts of symbols, could be contained in a single tome, no matter how big. The Lesser Bot, however, could—in theory—generate every possible spell. This achievement sounds quite dangerous but without an incanter, I wonder if it counts.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

With such hate and suffering in the world, nuancing the politics of the outcome with a foresight that’s only the lens of hindsight mean that truly the Tea Party teaydists have won and are playing right into the clutches of chaos and division that obscures any chance for change for the better.
As much as we all are united in prayer for the victims, family and friends (and for those who’d discharge compassion without stint or judgment), I think we most also rally behind the prayer for strength to stand up against tyranny and intolerance, whenever and wherever. One cannot simply throw back the argument that those who want a better homeland, be it America or Syria or Afghanistan, must be willing to fight for it is not wholly fair as there are significant roadblocks and the same intrigues erected all around that can lame an uprising (mostly by proxy) even before it can be conceived, but I’d wager that immigration policies—whatever the intent—have attracted a desperate class who’ve gotten out through alternate routes that are in the minority but mostly undifferentiated from the network of rubbish and opportunist smugglers that brought them and would willing exchange roles. Any one of us can gain security through strife but it is not a rewarding boon to pass along, neither as guest nor host.