Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dark Skies

All Transylvania Gentlemen (and ladies) are urged to join us in supporting The International Dark-Sky Association, a noble unit devoted to decreasing human-generated electic light pollution at night. As their website puts it:

Once a source of wonder--and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze. Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

But most importantly, perhaps, our interest in their efforts are twofold:

For one, we prefer a night sky uncluttered by electric lighting because, simply, that's the way things used to be and is therefore better.

And secondly, because light pollution clouds out the details of the night sky and tends to make it easy to forget that we're actually standing on a tiny rock hurtling through outer space on the edge of a giant galaxy that itself is speeding at unfathomable speeds through an infinite Universe. We don't want people to forget that - we want them to be more cognizant of it than ever.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Scent Box

Scent boxes, also known as vinaigrettes, were tiny boxes made of silver or sometimes wood, in which a tiny perfume or oil-scented sponge lay in repose under a hinged grill or screen. They were universally used by men and women alike in the 19th century and earlier, this being before the advent of the atomizer spray bottle (invented in 1887 for medical purposes but not popularized for perfume and cologne until after the turn of the century.)

Then, as now, a gentlemen needed a lot of pockets to hold all his stuff. In addition to a scent box, you would also have your snuff box, your silver cigarette case, your silver cigar tube, a spare stickpin for your cravat, several cloth monogrammed handkerchiefs, keys, a pocket watch, a small flask of brandy or bourbon, boxed vestas (matches), Maybe a deck of cards, some hand-carved bone dice, and a condom made of cloth linen or animal bladder.

I'd love to bring the concept of the scent box back, but I frankly already have way too much stuff to lug around in my coat pockets as it is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Known and Not-Known

There once was a time I regarded Donald Rumsfeld as one of the most evil men on Earth.

After all, at a glance, it seems a no-brainer, right? He was a key player in the Nixon, Ford and Bush II administrations. In the Watergate tapes, Nixon praises "Rummy" for his ruthlessness. His complicity in the "weapons of mass destruction" lie, and in the Gitmo atrocities - including continued defense of them even after the human rights violations were made public - would surely drive any sane person to condemn him. Right? And the mission statement and member list of his Project for the New American Century read like a virtual instruction manual and Who's Who for fascism, right?

And yet... and yet. Rage against the machine though we rebels may, let us never lose sight of the fact that Rumsfeld and his ilk do indeed have access to classified information that we do not, and that we cannot truly know why these sort of people do the things they do without knowing what they know. Without apologizing for the atrocities committed under Rumsfeld's watch, at least let us entertain the remote possibility that he knows something that, if we knew it too, would change everything. But like imagining what the fourth dimension is like, we can't even begin to speculate on things that we don't even know that we don't know about.

One of the best indicators to me that old Rummy is less of an Illuminati-esque power-broker and more like a subservient victim trapped like a cog in the gears of a greater beast, is his statement made on public television on February 12, 2002, in which he actually attempted to educate the masses on that very mindset I just spoke of. One might even call it a cry for help via a very telling shibboleth. What he said was:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."

This is one of the most algebraically elegant, illuminating, and jaw-droppingly truthful things I've ever heard come out of a politician's mouth, and here it is coming from a conservative Republican generally regarded as a shill for the military and mega-corporations.

Most people, however, couldn't even make sense out of Rumsfeld's statement, and immediately his comments became the butt of jokes around the water cooler and among the media talking heads, who said he was talking gobbledygook. That's about the beginning of when I really started feeling like I was living in John Carpenter's They Live and I'm the guy with the special sunglasses. Or at the very least, glad I don't consume the dumbing-down artificial sweeteners that keep people from seeing the Fnords.

Am I ready to join the Donald Rumsfeld fan club? No, far from it. I doubt he and I could ever see eye to eye on much of anything, though the more I learn about him, the less I thought I knew. And I have great difficulty convincing myself that any man is truly evil incarnate - they may do horrible and wicked things due to some sort of mental aberration, or because they were acting on bad information. Old Rummy was, it must be said, a fighter for civil rights in the 60s and 70s, which sets him squarely in a different league than the gray-faced old racists in the Nixon administration that he ended up servile to. The man was an Eagle Scout - which is an organization I hold in high esteem - and he was close personal friends with, of all people, Sammy Davis, Jr., hardly the kind of chum you'd expect from a man reputed to be slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.

Even more eye-opening, there is a possibility that Rummy was actually making a sort of reference to a similar statement made in the 14th century by the Islamic mystic poet Ibn Yamin Faryumadi:

آنکس که بداند و بداند که بداند

اسب خرد از گنبد گردون بجهاند

آنکس که بداند و نداند که بداند

بیدار کنیدش که بسی خفته نماند

آنکس که نداند و بداند که نداند

لنگان خرک خویش به منزل برساند

آنکس که نداند و نداند که نداند

در جهل مرکب ابدالدهر بماند


One who knows and knows that he knows: This is a man of knowledge; get to know him!

One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows: This is a man who's unaware, so bring it to his attention.

One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know: This is an illiterate man; teach him!

One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know: This is a dumb man; and would be dumb forever!

I also find it worth mentioning that Rummy's autobiography, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, depicts him standing in Taos, New Mexico with the Plaza Blanca mountains behind him. This general area is a paranormal/conspiracy nut's wet dream, what with the Taos Hum, the Taos Vortex, the nearby UFO crashes, the spooky volcanic Ice Caves, and the haunted Taos Inn.

Friday, April 22, 2011

JFK Demanded UFO Files Just Before Death

Not long after the announcement of a memo to J. Edgar Hoover about a crashed UFO, now comes information about two memos from President Kennedy - instructing the CIA to turn over all available UFO intelligence.

Kennedy never saw that data, however. He was assassinated just ten days later.

What does it all mean? The Daily Mail suggests that JFK was worried that the Soviets would mistake actual alien UFOs for U.S. spy craft. suggests that the word "Unknowns" in JFK's memo is actually code for the aliens, and that the phrase "defensive responsibilities" refers to our need to defend ourselves from aliens, not the Russians. They also host scans of the "Burned Memo" which, although lacking the provenance of the other JFK UFO docs, does seem to add corroboration - in it, the CIA director notes that "Lancer" (code word for the President) "has made some inquiries regarding our activities, which we cannot allow."

The burned memo also alludes to Project MAJESTIC, Project JEHOVAH, Project EVIRO, Project PARASITE, and Project PARHELION.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pluto's Anomalous Atmosphere

The planet Pluto has always been something of an anomaly. Scientists can't even stop bickering over whether it's even really a planet or not (take our word for it, it most certainly is.)

Many scientists insist that Pluto and its largest moon Charon, should be considered a binary system because the barycentre of their orbits does not lie within either body. Those confused bureaucrats at the IAU haven't been able to come up with an "official" definition for binary dwarf planets (Meanwhile, the rest of the solar system is doing just fine without the IAU's arbitrary proclamations).

Having been declassified from planet status, Pluto is now considered part of the Kuiper belt. But it's unusual among Kuiper Belt objects in that it has an atmosphere. In 1988 it was discovered that Pluto, presumed to be a tiny clod of rock and ice, possessed a very thin methane atmosphere that extended no more than 85 miles above the planet's surface.

The existence of this atmosphere is, in itself, anomalous, but it gets weirder: researchers are now stunned to find it's growing by leaps and bounds. According to, the atmosphere has been steadily expanding and currently extends for about 1865 miles. Scientists had assumed Pluto's atmosphere would actually shrink as its orbit takes its further away from the sun's warmth, but the opposite is happening. No one's sure why.

Not only that, the chemical composition of it is spontaneously changing: carbon monoxide is now showing up there where it never had before. Again, no one's sure why.

As wisely opines:

Mainstream astrophysicists are continually "surprised" by new data sent back by space probes and orbiting telescopes. That ought to be a clue that something is wrong. New information always sends theoretical astrophysicists "back to the drawing board". In light of this, it is curious that they have such "cock-sure" attitudes about the infallibility of their present models. Those models seem to require major "patching up" every time a new space probe sends back data.

Monday, April 11, 2011

FBI Releases Declassified Alien Memo

Hold on to your hats, because this is the biggest major step towards full disclosure that the U.S. Government has made yet: the FBI have released a 1950 memo regarding flying saucers crashed in New Mexico that yielded three humanoid corpses.

No, really.

"An investigator for the Air Forces stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed flyers and test pilots.

According to Mr. [name censored] informant, the saucers were found in New Mexico due to the fact that the Government has a very high-powered radar set-up in that area and it is believed the radar interferes with the controlling mechanism of the saucers."

Ironically, the memo was declassified years ago, and could have already blown up a media frenzy if people had known where to look. With the FBI's new "Vault" site releasing more and more documents to the internet, there will probably be more revelations about all manner of things for which it is the appointed time.

As Javier Ortega is commenting today, " Although this is three years after the reported Roswell incident, the fact that such a cable exists in the hands of the FBI should raise some alarms in your head. If these things are just weather balloons, then why do these cables talk about disc-shaped objects and 3 foot tall beings? More importantly is this last cable. It was directed towards J. Edgar Hoover."

Let's just be real quiet for a few minutes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes

Germany tends to get the credit for mankind's first ventures into space, having sent the first V-2 rocket above the Earth. But long before that, the theoretical groundwork was already trailblazed by American researcher Robert H. Goddard, who began studying rocketry in 1898, inspired by the writings of H.G. Wells. By 1919 he was ready to publicize his findings, and wrote a progress report for the Smithsonian Institution entitled A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. Goddard was the first to suggest that it would be possible to create a liquid-fueled rocket of sufficient power to reach the moon. He soon became a laughing stock in the newspapers for his suggestions. Many educated men in academia and science understood that Goddard was on to something, but the average Joe Q. Public just couldn't be made to grasp the idea (How little times have changed.)

By 1929 he was past theory and actually building prototypes. As an article in the July 18, 1929 edition of Missouri's St. Joseph Gazette explains, citizens and law enforcement agents were shocked to see one of Goddard's experimental creations hurtling through the air. Having no frame for reference for such a thing, most assumed that what they were seeing must have been an airplane of some sort (How little times have changed.)

Curiously, Goddard made Roswell, New Mexico his base of operations in 1930, on a remote property called the Mescalero Ranch. The U.S. Army wasn't very interested in his research despite his repeated attempts to get their attention. However, he had the attention of the Germans and Soviets - spies from both nations were trying to learn all they could about his plans. After World War II, Goddard examined remains of a German V-2 and was certain they had built it by stealing his work. Goddard suddenly came down with throat cancer in 1945, and died just a few months later. The U.S. space agencies posthumously gave the accolades he should've receieved during his lifetime (How little times have changed.)

Friday, April 8, 2011


The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica has an entry for Duk-Duk:

DUK-DUK, a secret society of New Britain or New Pomerania,
Bismarck Archipelago, in the South Pacific. The society has
religious and political as well as social objects. It represents
a rough sort of law and order through its presiding spirit Duk-Duk,
a mysterious figure dressed in leaves to its waist, with a helmet
like a gigantic candle-extinguisher made of network. Upon
this figure women and children are forbidden to look. Women,
who are entitled in New Britain to their own earnings and work
harder than men, are the special victims of Duk-Duk, who
levies blackmail upon them if they are about during its visits.
These are generally timed to coincide with the hours at which
the women are out in the fields and therefore cannot help seeing
the figure. Justice is executed, fines extorted, taboos, feasts,
taxes and all tribal matters are arranged by the Duk-Duk
members, who wear hideous masks or chalk their faces. In
carrying out punishments they are allowed to burn houses and
even kill people. Only males can belong to Duk-Duk, the
entrance fees of which vary from 50 to 100 fathoms of dewarra
(small cowrie shells strung on strips of cane). The society has
its secret signs and ritual, and festivals at which the presence
of a stranger would mean his death. Duk-Duk only appears
with the full moon. The society is now much discredited and
is fast dying out."

Does this secret society still exist today? The traditional Duk Duk costumes are still employed by hired dancers as a tourist attraction, but what of the true inner elite cabal of men carrying out Duk Duk's will?

And what of the actual spirit of Duk Duk himself, who, even if he wasn't real before, most certainly is now?

Curiously, the Duk Duk is also being kept alive and in circulation as a thoughtform via a popular pocketknife called the "Douk Douk", manufactured in France by the M.C. Cognet company since 1927 and still available today. It features an engraving of Duk Duk on the handle.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Petrashevsky Circle

In 1844, Mikhail Petrashevsky formed what came to be known as "the Petrashevsky Circle", a small, close-knit secret society of freethinkers and scholars (including Dostoevsky) who held regular get-togethers to read and discuss philosophies and literature banned under the rule of Nicholas I. They were especially concerned with utopian socialism, materialist philosophy, and the histories of past revolutionary movements. They were devotees of the French utopian François Marie Charles Fourier, founder of the La Reunion commune and coiner of the term "feminism".

In 1849, Mikhail Petrashevsky was arrested and sentenced to death. In an interesting bit of psychological torture, he and other members of the Circle were brought to the Semenovsky plats of St. Petersburg (the customary place for official public executions), blindfolded and tied to stakes. Then, at the very last moment, it was revealed that it was only a charade to frighten them - they would not be killed after all, but sent off to various locations of punishment like Eastern Siberia.

If Nicholas I thought this "execution ritual" psychological trick would help instill submission and gratitude amongst the members of the secret society for sparing their lives, it didn't work out that way. Petrashevsky continued to fight the government and speak out until the day he died in 1866.

Nicholas I tends to get a bad rap, historically, because of his clamping down on free speech, revolts and demonstrations. But it's interesting to note that Nicholas found himself in the all-too-familiar position of being a leader of a people who were ignorant, selfish, and ethically in the wrong. Nicholas strongly wanted to abolish slavery and serfdom in Russia, but his advisors warned him that to do so would turn the people against him and cause a violent uprising. It's one thing to promote "power to the people", but sometimes the people are dumber than a box of rocks and sometimes they're downright evil.

According to Wikipedia: "He did make some efforts to improve the lot of the state peasants (serfs owned by the government) with the help of the minister Pavel Kiselev. During most of his reign he tried to increase his control over the landowners and other influential groups in Russia."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The Ultraists were a literary movement founded in 1918 by Jorge Luis Borges (pictured at left), his brother-in-law Guillermo de Torre, and a group of assorted Spanish malcontent poets.

The Ultraist Manifesto was published in Nosotros magazine (Buenos Aires, 1922), and Borges described their objectives:

1. Reduction of the lyric element to its primordial element, metaphor
2. Deletion of useless middle sentences, linking particles and adjectives.
3. Avoidance of ornamental artifacts, confessionalism, circumstantiation, preaching and farfetched nebulosity.
4. Synthesis of two or more images into one, thus widening its suggestiveness.

These issues are so arcane and specific to their own place and time, that today they are nearly incomprehensible. But they were a dedicated lot, who fought hard in their day for a new artistic vision that included "evocative imagery, references to the modern world and new technologies, elimination of rhyme, and creative graphic treatment of the layout of poetry in print" (as Wikipedia puts it). Even though looking back today, the results are quaint at best and pretentious at worst.

More interesting to me than the movement itself is the fact that it was hatched via the tertulia concept, a lost tradition of holding important artistic convocations in bars and cafes. These gentlemanly proceedings, usually surrounded with copious food, coffee, alcohol and tobacco, were a sort of scholarly lodge meeting without a lodge, commandeering a public cafe for that purpose.

Variations of the tertulia concept still survive today in a way, when we see organizations holding meetings at a table in a restaurant or at Starbucks (I used to mock such people and say "Starbucks is not your office!" and now I've become one of them!), but it's only a pale vestige of the golden days of Spanish tertulias or the Viennese Kaffeehauskulture.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Victorian Catalog Scraps

Found inside a wall in the 150-year-old house I live in: several fragments of Victorian-age catalogs from Bellas Hess. There'll be plenty more of these images to come:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Penny Black Stamp

Strange as it may seem, until 1840, persons receiving their mail from the postman had to pay for it upon delivery each day, or else face it being returned to sender.

Then Sir Rowland Hill's idea to charge the sender rather than the recipient was implemented, and a paper adhesive stamp was used as proof that payment had been received.

And from that day, stamp collecting was born.

Just days after the Penny Black came the Two Penny Blue. Whereas the Penny Black allowed for mail to be sent anywhere in Britain with a weight of under a half ounce, the Two Penny Blue was good for a full ounce.

Although the Penny Black was in use for only a little over a year - it was replaced by the Penny Red in order to better show a postmark - it is not a rare stamp. The custom of the day was to place the address and stamp on the outside of the folded letter itself; therefore, any saved correspondence from this period bears the stamp. Curiously, Hill also invented the envelope, out of a similar brainstorming attempt to improve the postal service. Once the envelope became popular, people would often save the letter but throw the envelope away, leading to harder-to-find philatelic specimens.

Even now, as then, British stamps are the only ones on the planet that do not mention their country of origin.

Meanwhile, in the United States, individual postmasters were inspired by the example set back home in England, and a few experimented with the idea of postage stamps strictly on a random local basis. The first official U.S. postage stamp, however, came in 1847 with a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and a 10-cent George Washington. With America still being a very young country and lacking the infrastructure of Great Britain, our stamps were costly from the getgo. Regardless of weight, the 10 cent stamp was used for mailings involving over 300 miles.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Genetically Engineered Sugar

Proterro, a company specializing in "synthetic biology", has announced their development of Protose, a "fermentation-ready sugar feedstock that will enable the economical and scalable production of biofuels and chemicals" based on genetically modified bacteria. Says Technology Review:

Today, almost all of the sugar for biofuels is made from corn or sugarcane, and several companies are developing processes for making sugar from abundant cellulosic materials such as grass and wood chips. But as a feedstock to make biofuels, "sugar is still too expensive," says Kef Kasdin, Proterro's CEO. Only sugar from sugarcane is cheap enough to make economic sense, and that can only be grown inexpensively in some locations, such as Brazil...

Proterro's microbes naturally produce sucrose when the water that they're growing in becomes too salty—it's a defense mechanism to keep water from being sucked out of them into the surrounding water via osmosis. The company has identified the genes that trigger this mechanism, and engineered the organisms to switch it on. The researchers have also engineered the organisms to secrete the sugar, which makes it easier to collect.

In theory, we're intrigued by Proterro's bold move to create a biofuel that doesn't take food from the mouths of the world's starving (as does biofuel based on corn). On the other hand, we can't get behind their claiming of a life form as their own intellectual property - which is something their website spells out in no uncertain terms.

Furthermore, we are uneasy at the idea that this sugar intended for industrial use could end up in the food chain. Given the fact that rogue countries like China will put anything - absolutely anything in the crap they export to us, it is a certainty that they will sooner or later swipe Proterro's technique, mass-produce this stuff, and put it in their food products that end up on American grocery shelves.

It's also rather unfortunate that Proterra has named their product "Protose", given that this term is already quite well known as a vegan meat substitute foodstuff developed by John Harvey Kellogg.