believe nothing until it has been officially denied

April 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Soergel was a Bauhaus architect and author of a number of works on design and far more ethereal, floating-castle ideas. His most spectacular contribution—incubated in the mid-1920’s and still clinging by its fingertips as an idea among some current thinkers—was to put a dam across the straights of Gibraltar. The dam would generate electricity of course, but most importantly to Soergel, it would also empty an enormous amount of water (lowering the sea by 200 metres)  from the Mediterranean leaving vast new expanses of land to be developed and colonized over generations into the future. The water of course would have to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the Sahara Desert, somehow in its wake creating farmable and productive lands. Soergel was creating a certain, very wide, fantastical future of uncertain monumental prospects.

A “brief outline” of the idea was published in this four-language pamphlet, Lowering the Mediterranean Irrigating the Sahara (Panropa Project), which was published by J.M. Gebhardt in Leipzig in the very bumpy year of 1929. (The Weimar years in Germany were already into deep bumpiness; the rest of the world would follow suit in October of that year.) To be fair, Soergel didn’t plan on emptying the entire Mediterranean, just a bunch of it–at least enough to be able to rename it.

[Here’s a map of the new Mediterranean, or the Mediterranean that would be made to go away. As you can see at this point Sicily and Italy become enormous, and the Greek Islands are combined to form one large land mass–this last bit alone is enough to form total and complete resistance to this idea. Also at this stage perhaps 150 or so miles of new lands have been reclaimed from the sea all along its former borders–more so in Turkey. There is no mention as yet of any new islands that are formed in the sea water’s wake.]  As it turns out Soergel thought that this plan would add at least 660,000 KM2 to the base of the surrounding countries of the Mediterranean, or roughly the equivalent of the combined land masses of Italy and Germany. Having the sea pulled back from hundreds if not thousands of seaside towns and cities would no doubt be a “problem”, for them; but that doesn’t matter to Soergel, as they were inferior thoughts to the grand idea of emerging a new continent.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Juergen Teller

come on she said just make like you want me

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

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What are voices in the head? In pursuit of the origins of spontaneity in 20th century music I have been reading largely forgotten writers who experimented with automatic writing and what William James described as stream-of-consciousness. Mary Butts is one of them, an author whose short and turbulent life included the largely thankless task of assisting Aleister Crowley with the editing of Magick in Theory and Practice. Her novel Armed With Madness (1928) opens with a sentence that makes you want to love it – “In the house, in which they could not afford to live, it was unpleasantly quiet.” A description of listening and silence as uncanny and occult follows, not dissimilar to passages written by Virginia Woolf at almost exactly the same moment in history.

Dorothy Miller Richardson is another. Her Pilgrimage series of 13 novels, the first published in 1915, was a meticulous, if highly selective recording of a life, each instalment given an enticing title, each of which could be the name of a film I would pay to see: The Tunnel, Pointed Roofs, Honeycomb, Deadlock, Revolving Lights, The Trap, Dawn’s Left Hand. The protagonist – Miriam – lives a modest, unspectacular  life. In The Tunnel (1919) she is ecstatic to be renting a dingy room that gives her some measure of independence. Time barely seems to move, yet the cycles of life, day and night, the cruel measurement of work and time off, drudgery, disgust and tea, the tasks to be performed at a given time within the patterns of her job, her walks through a London that feels both hostile and magical, the surging and ebbing of feelings, convictions, confidence and often silenced opinion open out, fold upon fold, light and dark as she learns how to live and finally to write. The reader is caught in the streaming of this interior monologue (as Richardson liked to call it), absorbed, like Robert Ashley, in the particles of life: “As she began on her solid slice of bread and butter St. Pancras bells stopped again. In the stillness she could hear the sound of her own munching. She stared at the surface of the table that held her plate and cup. It was like sitting up to the nursery table. ‘How frightfully happy I am,’ she thought with bent head. Happiness streamed along her arms and from her head. St. Pancras bells began playing a hymn tune in single firm beats with intervals between that left each note standing for a moment gently in the air.”  read more

ART: Jake Brooks

Volatile women are always sexy when you first meet them but two years down the line you’re sort of saying things like, “Can you just put the lids back on these jars, please?”

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The brain was not designed for reading.  read more

ART: Tim Hallinan

not some reedy solo voice eternally practising the monotonous scales of its ‘feelings’, ‘memories’ and ‘impressions’

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Just a few short days ago, it looked like Citigroup was on the ropes. The company’s proposal for redistributing capital back to shareholders was rejected by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Given the global bank’s repeated fiascos – including most recently the theft of around $400 million from its Mexican unit – it is hardly surprising that the Fed has said “no” (and for the second time in three years).

The idea that Citigroup might now or soon have a viable “living will” now seems preposterous. If top management cannot run sensible financial projections (that’s the Fed’s view; see p.7 of the full report), what is the chance that they can lay out a plausible plan to explain how the company, operating in more than 100 countries worldwide, could be wound down through bankruptcy – without any financial assistance from the government? According to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, failure to submit a viable living will should result in remedial action by the authorities.

Such action has now been taken: CEO Michael Corbat has been named to a top White House job, with responsibility for helping to develop “financial capability for young Americans.”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Nicholas McLean

There is no better dodge than one’s own character, because no-one believes in it

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

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What’s out of sight is out of mind. It’s perhaps not surprising that relatively rare predatory birds like owls are faithful to their sexual partners. After all, if they don’t come into contact with many other owls, any temptation to stray would be easier to resist.

For one species of owl, though, the lure of a different sexual partner can be just a few steps away. The burrowing owls of Argentina have embraced town life, nesting in large numbers in urban areas near cities including Bahía Blanca. While owl nests in rural areas can be separated by as much as 15 kilometres, urban nests may be little more than 10 metres apart. So do urban owls stay faithful, like their country cousins?

Burrowing owls get their name for their tendency to set up home in abandoned mammal burrows – the only owl known to do so. They stand a little over 20 centimetres tall, on a pair of strikingly long legs. Those come in handy during hunts, during which the owls often run down insects and small mammals on foot rather than swooping on them from above.  read more

SCAN: Modern Mechanix

Teen sex education class gatecrashed by rogue snake

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

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“Coffee,” Rossini told me, “is an affair of fifteen or twenty days; just the right amount of time, fortunately, to write an opera.” This is true. But the length of time during which one can enjoy the benefits of coffee can be extended.

For a while – for a week or two at most – you can obtain the right amount of stimulation with one, then two cups of coffee brewed from beans that have been crushed with gradually increasing force and infused with hot water.

For another week, by decreasing the amount of water used, by pulverizing the coffee even more finely, and by infusing the grounds with cold water, you can continue to obtain the same cerebral power.

When you have produced the finest grind with the least water possible, you double the dose by drinking two cups at a time; particularly vigorous constitutions can tolerate three cups. In this manner one can continue working for several more days.

Finally, I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins. It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.

I recommended this way of drinking coffee to a friend of mine, who absolutely wanted to finish a job promised for the next day: he thoughthe’d been poisoned and took to his bed, which he guarded like a married man. He was tall, blond, slender and had thinning hair; he apparently had a stomach of papier-mache. There has been, on my part, a failure of observation.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Uta Barth

Strata’s ideal resident is an altogether wealthier breed of pioneering urbanaut

March 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

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More than 400 years after Shakespeare wrote it, we can now say that “Romeo and Juliet” has the wrong name. Perhaps the play should be called “Juliet and Her Nurse,” which isn’t nearly as sexy, or “Romeo and Benvolio,” which has a whole different connotation.

I discovered this by writing a computer program to count how many lines each pair of characters in “Romeo and Juliet” spoke to each other, with the expectation that the lovers in the greatest love story of all time would speak more than any other pair. I wanted Romeo and Juliet to end up together — if they couldn’t in the play, at least they could in my analysis — but the math paid no heed to my desires. Juliet speaks more to her nurse than she does to Romeo; Romeo speaks more to Benvolio than he does to Juliet. Romeo gets a larger share of attention from his friends (Benvolio and Mercutio) and even his enemies (Tybalt) than he does from Juliet; Juliet gets a larger share of attention from her nurse and her mother than she does from Romeo. The two appear together in only five scenes out of 25. We all knew that this wasn’t a play predicated on deep interactions between the two protagonists, but still.

I’m blaming Romeo for this lack of communication. Juliet speaks 155 lines to him, and he speaks only 101 to her. His reticence toward Juliet is particularly inexcusable when you consider that Romeo spends more time talking than anyone else in the play. (He spends only one-sixth of his time in conversation with the supposed love of his life.) One might be tempted to blame this on the nature of the plot; of course the lovers have no chance to converse, kept apart as they are by the loathing of their families! But when I analyzed the script of a modern adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” — “West Side Story” — I found that Tony and Maria interacted more in the script than did any other pair.

All this got me thinking: Do any of Shakespeare’s lovers actually, you know, talk to each other? If Romeo and Juliet don’t, what hope do the rest of them have?  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: DHA