A unasinous balls-up

From shambles to disaster, the vocabulary of failure has had an unhappy airing this results seasoniNews
Synonyms for “fool” abound in the dictionary, including the “saddle-goose” and “buffard” from the 1400s, “little Witham” from the 1500s (apparently after a village whose inhabitants were well known for their stupidity), and “niddicock”, “noddypeak” and “dizzard” from the 1600s. All of them led up to today’s “nincompoops”, “wallies”, “sapheads”, “chumps” and “plonkers”.

If, hypothetically speaking, all those fools came together and acted in extreme combined idiocy, they could be described as “unasinous”, a word with only a single quotation in the OED, from 1656, but which is surely due a comeback. A riff on “unanimous”, it means “united in stupidity”, and comes from the Latin unus, “one”, and asinus, “ass”. Worth bearing in mind when the buffards begin to bray.

(between the lines)

Who knew there was so much to say about punctuation, those strange squiggles that sit in between the usual carriers of meaning, the words?

How to punctuate with style: Lewis Thomas’s charming meditation on the subtleties of languageBrain Pickings
Thomas opens the essay, the whole of which is strewn with clever meta-demonstrations of his points about the marks, with a Russian nesting doll of punctuational observations:

There are no precise rules about punctuation (Fowler lays out some general advice (as best he can under the complex circumstances of English prose (he points out, for example, that we possess only four stops (the comma, the semicolon, the colon and the period (the question mark and exclamation point are not, strictly speaking, stops; they are indicators of tone (oddly enough, the Greeks employed the semicolon for their question mark (it produces a strange sensation to read a Greek sentence which is a straightforward question: Why weepest thou; (instead of Why weepest thou? (and, of course, there are parentheses (which are surely a kind of punctuation making this whole matter much more complicated by having to count up the left-handed parentheses in order to be sure of closing with the right number (but if the parentheses were left out, with nothing to work with but the stops, we would have considerably more flexibility in the deploying of layers of meaning than if we tried to separate all the clauses by physical barriers (and in the latter case, while we might have more precision and exactitude for our meaning, we would lose the essential flavor of language, which is its wonderful ambiguity)))))))))))).

As found in Maria Popova’s ever-wonderful Brain Pickings blog. She illustrates that post with images taken from Rathna Ramanathan’s artwork for a modern graphic design edition of Christian Morgenstern’s 1905 poem “In the Land of Punctuation”.

A darkly delightful 1905 poem celebrating punctuation, newly illustrated in silkscreened typographic artBrain Pickings
Morgenstern, a sort of German Lewis Carroll who crafted literary nonsense with an aphoristic quality and a touch of wry wisdom, was in his early thirties when he wrote the poem — a jocular parable of how dividing a common lot into warring subgroups produces only devastation and no winners. That he died mere months before the start of WWI only lends the piece an eerie air of prescient poignancy.

Please rewind — and stay behind

You can now stay over at the world’s last Blockbuster video storeMoss and Fog
This final store in Bend, Oregon has been operating for years, and has a pretty loyal following. The Coronavirus, however, has put a major dent in their business. Now they’ve opened up the store as a rentable Airbnb, outfitted with a little living room, and all the nostalgia you’d want out of a video store.

75 years later, it’s now 100 seconds to midnight

It was the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this month. This account, from The New Yorker, is from 1946.

HiroshimaThe New Yorker
The children were silent, except for the five-year-old, Myeko, who kept asking questions: “Why is it night already? Why did our house fall down? What happened?” Mrs. Nakamura, who did not know what had happened (had not the all-clear sounded?), looked around and saw through the darkness that all the houses in her neighborhood had collapsed. […]

In a city of two hundred and forty-five thousand, nearly a hundred thousand people had been killed or doomed at one blow; a hundred thousand more were hurt. At least ten thousand of the wounded made their way to the best hospital in town, which was altogether unequal to such a trampling, since it had only six hundred beds, and they had all been occupied. The people in the suffocating crowd inside the hospital wept and cried, for Dr. Sasaki to hear, “Sensei! Doctor!,” and the less seriously wounded came and pulled at his sleeve and begged him to come to the aid of the worse wounded. Tugged here and there in his stockinged feet, bewildered by the numbers, staggered by so much raw flesh, Dr. Sasaki lost all sense of profession and stopped working as a skillful surgeon and a sympathetic man; he became an automaton, mechanically wiping, daubing, winding, wiping, daubing, winding.

A long time ago, but still within people’s lifetimes.

Why we must remember the reality of HiroshimaNew Statesman
That August day, I was told, was colourless. The sky, like the radioactive rain that left my grandfather bedbound for months following the attack, had turned black, and it seemed to stain the city and everyone in it. “It was like someone had smeared ink over Hiroshima,” my grandparents said. When they remembered the bombing, it was in black-and-white images.

The inscription on the cenotaph in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park reads, “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the error.”

A statement on the bombings of Hiroshima and NagasakiBulletin of the Atomic Scientists
[O]n this awful 75th anniversary, the Doomsday Clock stands at 100 seconds to midnight. The Science and Security Board calls on all countries to reject the fantasy that nuclear weapons can provide a permanent basis for global security and to refrain from pursuing new nuclear weapons capabilities that fuel nuclear arms races.

Japan PM sparks anger with near-identical speeches in Hiroshima and NagasakiThe Guardian
The apparent decision not to tailor the statements to each city’s experience angered survivors of the bombings, who are known as hibakusha. “It’s the same every year,” Koichi Kawano, head of a hibakusha liaison council in Nagasaki, told the Mainichi Shimbun. “He talks gibberish and leaves, as if to say, ‘There you go. Goodbye.’ He just changed the word ‘Hiroshima’ to ‘Nagasaki.’ He’s looking down on A-bomb survivors.”

Hiroshima marks 75th anniversary as survivors call for changeCBS News
“Could you please respond to our request to sign the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty?” Tomoyuki Mimaki, a member of a major survivors’ group, Hidankyo, implored Abe. “The milestone 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing is a chance” to change course. Abe insisted on Japan’s policy not to sign the treaty, vaguely citing a “different approach,” though he added that the government shares the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

And here’s an article about another survivor.

This 392-year-old bonsai tree survived the Hiroshima atomic blast & still flourishes todayOpen Culture
Three decades later, in a rather remarkable act of forgiveness, the Yamaki family gifted the pine (along with 52 other cherished trees) to the United States, during the bicentennial celebration of 1976. Never did they say anything, however, about the traumas the tree survived. Only in 2001, when a younger generation of Yamakis visited Washington, did the caretakers at United States National Arboretum learn the full story about the tree’s resilience. The tree survived the worst mankind could throw at it. And kept its beauty intact.

Not all parts of our natural environment are as resilient, however.

Deep in the ocean’s trenches, the legacy of nuclear testing livesAtlas Obscura
Scientists recently discovered evidence of radioactive carbon, also known as “bomb carbon,” in the tissues of crustaceans—up to seven miles below the surface, in iconic trenches such as the Mariana, Mussau, and New Britain, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

How to build a nuclear warning for 10,000 years’ timeBBC Future
“This place is not a place of honor,” reads the text. “No highly esteemed dead is commemorated here… nothing valued is here. What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.”

It sounds like the kind of curse that you half-expect to find at the entrance to an ancient burial mound. But this message is intended to help mark the site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) that has been built over 2,000 feet (610m) down through stable rocks beneath the desert of New Mexico. The huge complex of tunnels and caverns is designed to contain the US military’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

And if you want your own piece of US military nuclear architecture, something’s come up for auction.

For sale: A Cold War bunker and missile silo in North DakotaAtlas Obscura
Keller says calls have been coming in about the site from all over the country. Some calls have been from history buffs, some from entrepreneurs, and some from doomsday preppers, seeking a solid foundation on which to build their bunkers. “You’ve got Covid-19, you’ve got civil unrest—I got a call from one guy who thought this’d be a great place to have a server farm,” Keller says. “It’s safe, secure, and tornado-proof.”

It’s in Fairdale, North Dakota, just off 111th Avenue, and online bidding is available, if you’re interested.

A rewriting of history too good to be true?

Olympic-sized hoax? ‘Lost’ Krautrock warm-up tapes mysteriously surfaceSPIN
Neither interview includes photographs of Zeichnete, and he doesn’t appear in a series of promotional videos for the release … And the more you listen to the music, the more it begins to sound both too pristine, given the tapes’ alleged age, and too stylistically perfect in its aping of Neu! and Kraftwerk. The resemblance is almost uncanny.

Sounds good to me #2

Abbeys, acetylene torches, acid blobs, Africa, air conditioning, air raids, aircraft, airports, alarms, America, amplifiers, angels, animals, anti aircraft batteries, applause, aquaria, army, articulated lorries …

BBC Sound Effects
These 16,000 BBC Sound Effects are made available by the BBC in WAV format to download for use under the terms of the RemArc Licence. The Sound Effects are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license.

… revolvers, rickshaws, rivers, roadsides, roadworks, rocket ships, rockets, Romania, routers, rubbish tips, rumbles, sanding machines, saws, schools, scratches, screams, scuba diving, seawash, seventy-eight RPM records, sewing machines …

Human authors have nothing to fear—for now

A new AI language model generates poetry and proseThe Economist
But the program is not perfect. Sometimes it seems to regurgitate snippets of memorised text rather than generating fresh text from scratch. More fundamentally, statistical word-matching is not a substitute for a coherent understanding of the world. GPT-3 often generates grammatically correct text that is nonetheless unmoored from reality, claiming, for instance, that “it takes two rainbows to jump from Hawaii to 17”.

Laughing at him, not with him

It’s hard to understand the guy’s appeal.

British writer pens the best description of Trump I’ve readLondon Daily
Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

That’s not to say he’s not a rich source of humour. He is funny, in a if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry/I-can’t-believe-he-actually-said-that/thank-god-he’s-over-there-not-over-here kind of way.

Hilarious video edit poses Trump bickering with himself about the virusBoing Boing
Justin T. Brown’s Donald Trump is the Dumbest Man in America² cleverly edits Trump’s catastrophic interview with Jonathan Swan so that Trump is arguing with himself.

He would do well to read this succinct summary.

Coronavirus epidemiology in a nutshellTYWKIWDBI
The spread of Corona virus is based on two factors.

1. How dense the population is.
2. How dense the population is.

Often the best part about going to the cinema

Trailer Time Machine – Watch random film trailers from a year of your choice!
All the trailers are hosted by YouTube and may or may not turn out to be what they claim they are. Films are sorted into years by whatever they’re listed as on IMDB. No, I don’t know why the trailer for your favourite film isn’t on there. Yes, I expect some films with the similar names have got mixed up.

Staying in

It’s a crazy world out there sometimes, for some of us.

Introverts are excluded unfairly in an extraverts’ worldPsyche Ideas
The main cultural problem is that introverts are widely seen as not adapted to the environment, instead of it being acknowledged that the environment is designed to profit extraverts. Society’s praise and acceptance of extraversion as the norm has led many introverts, along with many ambiverts, to suppress different aspects of their personality, or to see them as flaws. This state of affairs is bad not only for introverts, but for society as a whole.

By way of example:

The ritualised excess of life aboard a cruise ship is tragic and parodic by turnsAeon Videos
The observational documentary All Inclusive drops viewers head-first into the strange rituals of tableside conga lines, captain meet-and-greets and pool cannonball contests that characterise the cruise experience. While the Swiss director Corina Schwingruber Ilić’s tongue-in-cheek tone permeates throughout, the film offers more than just an invitation to gawk, as ‘fun’ plays out in a series of over-the-top pastimes, hinting at the economic and social stratification between guests and workers.

I’d much rather watch this than be there. The film’s style reminds me of that short documentary about the drive-in church service, something else I’m happy I’ve seen—from a distance.

So, farewell then, Argos catalogue

Some sad news via Bill Bailey.

Argos axes ‘book of dreams’ catalogue after 48 yearsBBC News
“The laminated book of dreams,” was how comedian Bill Bailey jokingly described the plastic-coated Argos catalogue. But 48 years on from its launch, the catalogue is finally coming to an end. The encyclopedia-like catalogues, the basis of many a child’s Christmas wishlist, will no longer be regularly printed by the end of the January 2021.

And I see that the link to the catalogues from the 70s onwards that I shared last October has gone now, too. What a shame.

Update 01/08/2020

Here’s a working link (for now, at least) to that back catalogue, via things magazine.

Walk a mile in someone else’s screen

TheirTube – How do the recommended videos look on their Youtube home page?
This whole project started when I was in a heated discussion with a person who thought climate change was a hoax and 9/11 was a conspiracy. Through conversations with him, I was surprised to learn that he thought everyone’s YouTube feed had the same information as his own feed. When we showed each other our YouTube homepages, we were both shocked. They were radically different. And it got me thinking about the need for a tool to step outside of information bubbles.

Leave a message after the tone

More red phone boxes adopted in Yorkshire than are left in traditional useYorkshire Post
In Stutton near Tadcaster, the decommissioned box was converted into a Christmas card last year, passing on festive messages to neighbours and friends. There is an art gallery in Settle, while York’s oldest phone box on Duncombe Place now houses a defibrillator.

On the shelf

I’ve a number of posts here about libraries, but I’ve never seen one with such substantial shelving.

The Old Cincinnati Library before being demolished, 1874-1955Rare Historical Photos
Built in 1874 on the site reserved for an opera house, the Old Cincinnati Library was a thing of wonder. With five levels of cast iron shelving, a fabulous foyer, checker board marble floors and an atrium lit by a skylight ceiling, the place was breathtaking. Unfortunately that magnificent maze of books is now lost forever.

Some rather more genteel shelving on display here.

One of the world’s oldest reading rooms at the University of OxfordThe Mind Circle
This collection of images of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, while not of the most impressive library interior, are actually extremely rare, and most likely the best images of the interior available anywhere online. Photography of this library, which dates as far back as 1487 during the Medieval period, is usually completely prohibited as it contains many priceless original books, including manuscripts of the gospels of the Bible from the 3rd century, a Shakespeare First Folio and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (one of 42 left in the world).

I’d like to add you to my professional network

How a Chinese agent used LinkedIn to hunt for targetsBBC News
Former government and military employees and contractors are not shy about publicly posting details of their work histories on the website in order to obtain lucrative jobs in the private sector. This presents a potential goldmine to foreign intelligence agencies.

Paintings with punch

Banksy paintings worth an estimated £1.2m to be sold at charity auctionThe Guardian
This triptych hangs in Sotheby’s galleries alongside works by some of history’s greatest landscape painters, including Bellotto, Van Goyen and Turner. Banksy’s work, however, stands alone for its potent political message.

He can’t help himself

A new Will Self short storyWill Self
It’s usually a mistake for a fiction writer to rush into print with a story that takes flight, imaginatively, from events that are still underway, and which are affecting large numbers of people. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, this injunction to keep out would seem to be as strident as the black-and-yellow striped tape swagged about a crime scene.

Playing again?

Our concert halls might be re-opening in the summer, but in the meantime:

A cello concert in a swimming pool – this is classical music during COVID-19 distancingClassic FM
The concert took place south of Stuttgart, in the empty swimming lanes of the Entringen outdoor pool. We fancy the shape of the pool, with its steady slope and cellist against a wall, would have provided quite a fantastic acoustic.

Some people are staying indoors, though.

IndoorsScottish Ballet
With 28 doors and 36 dancers, Indoors is a playful new work by Sophie Laplane, set to Mozart’s ‘Papageno, Papagena’. Rehearsed via Zoom and recorded in lockdown, the short film explores ways we can open our doors to new possibilities, all in Laplane’s distinctly unique style.

A taste of things to come?

Around the world, we’re getting a glimpse of what live music looks like post-lockdownClassic FM
Theatres reopen in Europe and concert halls around the world have started to implement social distancing policies to stem the spread of coronavirus – here’s how music, of all genres, looks in a new era.

Science fiction, present tense

23 of the best sci-fi books everyone should readWired UK
It is a pro-science novel that at its heart shows Dr Frankenstein as the callous fiend of the story, who created a being and was not willing to accept responsibility for his actions. In an age where the space between technical life and death is narrower than ever, and scientists are playing with the makeup of what makes us humans, Frankenstein can still teach an important lesson: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Feeling well?

Insane after coronavirus?London Review of Books
My mind had moved a few inches to the left of its usual place, and I developed what I realised later were actual paranoid delusions. ‘Jason’s cough is fake,’ I secretly texted a friend from the bathtub, where I couldn’t be monitored. ‘I … don’t think his cough is fake,’ she responded, with the gentle tact of the healthy. ‘Oh it is very, very fake,’ I countered, and then further asserted the claim that he had something called Man Corona.