Objects on trial

January 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Wikipedia’s article on In Rem Jurisdiction is a thing of beauty. It’s about the situation where the defendant in a court case is an object rather than a person. Some of the case names are poetically bizarre: United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs, one of many obscenity cases prosecuted in this way United States v. Forty Barrels and…

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Some MoD FOI responses

January 19th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Some MoD FOI responses

I’m enough of a FOI nerd to occasionally delve into the collection of released information at What Do They Know. Here are a few that caught my eye from the MoD: Of the UK military trainers in Iraq, none speak Arabic or Kurdish The Minister of Defense can classify civilian aircraft as military. He apparently has not done so; this request would be worth repeating in a few years. Service personnel…

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Manhattan is not burning

January 18th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Manhattan is not burning

Reminiscences of New York in the 70s, and how it came to be that way. Broke, with the Federal government out to destroy it, and where the police were handing out leaflets entitled “Welcome to Fear City“: One consequence of New York’s forty-year transition from junkie to preppy overachiever is that our stereotypes are out of date. Hence the continual problems for location scout Nick Carr —…

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January 18th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

They used to navigate by raven, the Vikings, there being no stars visible at such high latitudes in summer. The old sagas say that the Viking settlers of Iceland took ravens. Out of sight of land, wallowing at sea, they would release a raven and watch it climb the air until it was high enough to sight land. Where the raven headed, they followed in their open boats.

Sightlines, Kathleen Jamie

January 17th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Wonderfully-titled science piece to please the goths in the gallery: “Ravens have paranoid, abstract thoughts about other minds”:

Cementing their status as the most terrifying of all the birds, a new study has found that ravens are able to imagine being spied upon – a level of abstraction that was previously thought to be unique to humans.

Homo Mentis

January 16th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

What separates humans from animals? Having a chin:

“It’s really strange that only humans have chins,” says James Pampush from Duke University. “When we’re looking at things that are uniquely human, we can’t look to big brains or bipedalism because our extinct relatives had those. But they didn’t have chins. 

With ‘er ‘ed tucked underneath ‘er arm

January 15th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The big question in medieval art – when a decapitated saint carries their own head, where do you put the halo?

A cephalophore (from the Greek for “head-carrier”) is a saint who is generally depicted carrying his or her own head; in art, this was usually meant to signify that the subject in question had been martyred by beheading. Handling the halo in this circumstance offers a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have the saint carrying the halo along with the head.

Final word goes to Stanley Holloway:

Medieval Death Metal

January 15th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Metal is the true cultural heritage of Scandinavia. Proof is the Arab merchant who visited 10th century Denmark and reported: “Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig (in Denmark). The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed.” [This is the immediate source, though it seems to be one of those too-good-to-be-true…

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Mental Waste Collection and Disposal Service

January 14th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Via MeFi:

The MWCDS turns psychic garbage into physical trash. A telephone landline (AT&T) and cassette tape answering machine (Panasonic KX-T 1920 EASA PHONE) is available 24/7 for waste drop off. All calls are confidential. All cassette tapes are sealed in concrete after recording. After the cassette tapes are sealed in concrete a site is determined for burial or storage. The placement into this site involves a ritual administered by the GROUNDSKEEPER. 

Tracking dots in printers — a history in government documents

January 13th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Tracking dots in printers — a history in government documents

For twenty years, many color laser printers have included a hidden tracking code on each page they print. Made of microscopic yellow dots, the code can reveal to the police the unique identity of your printer.An example of the yellow-dot tracking pattern The EFF and others have reverse engineered a few of these codes, shedding light on how the system works technically. What they have not…

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Speed dating in Iran

January 13th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Speed dating in Iran

I don’t 100% believe this, but it tickles me anyway. Supposedly, car-based flirting in Iran avoids the (potentially illegal) need to be alone with a member of the opposite sex: Rules of the game? Pile in a car and head with your same sex possie to one of the city’s flirt strips, cruise up and down until you spot a likely target, being careful to pick a car that’s broadly your car’s equal and then…

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January 12th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

We’ve just (re-)launched Aleph, the project I’ve been working on with OpenOil. It’s a specialized search engine for oil, gas and mining, aimed at helping activists, journalists and government officials make sense of the torrent of regulatory and financial information that comes out of those industries. Julien Bach made a beautiful video to explain what’s going on:…

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January 11th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

in Greek mythology ‘Hyperborean’ refers to the people who lived in a land of sunshine beyond the north wind, though the word was employed in the 19th century to describe either frozen zones populated by barbarians or (conversely) communities of forward-looking thinkers.

Interplanetary Kangaroos

January 11th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Among crank mail received by Seymour Cray was “a long treatise from an inmate at the county jail who had a theory of interplanetary transportation involving kangaroos whose energy output would be measured in “gigahops”.”


January 10th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Things are awful. Everything is terrible. And the worse it gets, the more energy I feel. It’s like some generator that only feeds on horror. I mean, I’m terrified for my kid, and for my own old age, but goddamn I love getting up in the morning (well, afternoon) and seeing what new shapes the world has twisted itself into. Everything is on fire and I love it. I dole out advice on how to deal with these ice storms of shit that we’re living through and counsel people on how to protect their brains from it all and console people and tell them that we’re all going to find ways to get through it and I am seriously just sitting there with my feet up and an espresso in my hand and feeling fine as the planet eats itself.

January 9th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Apparently, during second-wave feminism, socialist feminist housewives and sex workers considered each other to be allies because, frankly, if your livelihood depends on you having sex with a man, you’re a sex worker. It’s fascinating to me how radical feminists and socialist feminists came to basically the same conclusion and had radically different responses: radical feminists were all “therefore sex work and marriage both need to be abolished!”, while socialist feminists were like “therefore both sex workers and housewives are members of the proletariat who need to organize for better conditions in the short term and work for the revolution in the long term!”

January 9th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

One day, deep within the forest, Agaso, then about 13 years of age, found himself with a rare good shot at a cuscus in a nearby tree. But he only had inferior arrows. Without the slightest comment or solicitation, the straightest, sharpest arrow of the group moved so swiftly and so stealthily straight into his hand, I could not see from whence it came.

At that same moment, Karako, seeing that the shot would be improved by pulling on a twig to gently move an obstructing branch, was without a word already doing so, in perfect synchrony with Agaso’s drawing of the bow, i.e., just fast enough to fully clear Agaso’s aim by millimeters at the moment his bow was fully drawn, just slow enough not to spook the cuscus. Agaso, knowing this would be the case made no effort to lean to side for an unobstructed shot, or to even slightly shift his stance. Usumu similarly synchronized into the action stream, without even watching Agaso draw his bow, began moving up the tree a fraction of a second before the bowstring twanged.

January 8th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

I often reflect on the fact that I rarely (more accurately, almost never) have come across the term “masochism” in hundreds of books I’ve read on battle, warfare and soldiers. The title of Steven Gardiner’s paper, “Heroic Masochism,” provides illumination.

The Unknown Citizen: WH Auden on the limits of data

January 7th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The Unknown Citizen: WH Auden on the limits of data

As the best and the brightest pour their brilliance into chasing our data-trails, WH Auden’s take still feels fully applicable: The Unknown Citizen He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be One against whom there was no official complaint, And all the reports on his conduct agree That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint, For in everything he did he served the…

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Why I love Howl

January 6th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Why I love Howl

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is permanently associated for me with winter in Berlin. It fixed itself there in the winter of 2009-10. I’d fallen in love, in a way that I’d not believed myself still capable of, and my emotions had burst open into areas I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager. It was also one of the coldest winters, and cold has always energised me. I’d go out the door in the morning, onto…

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