Friday, January 29, 2010

Atlas Obscura: Gabinetto Segreto with some fondness

From the very informative Atlas Obscura:

Amongst dozens of stone penises, phallic wind chimes, and naugthy mosiacs, one item became the most famous: The Goat. This piece de resistance was a detailed carving of a satyr having intercourse with a female goat, her cloven feet pressed up against his chest as she gazes back at him at him with some fondness.


Atlas Obscura is a compendium of this age's wonders, curiosities, and esoterica. The Atlas Obscura is a collaborative project with the goal of cataloging all of the singular, eccentric, bizarre, fantastical, and strange out-of-the-way places that get left out of traditional travel guidebooks and are ignored by the average tourist. If you're looking for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, phallological museums, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you'll find them.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paideia: The spirit began to turn inwards upon itself

John William Godward | The Delphic Oracle | 1899

It shook all moral laws; it struck at the roots of religion. If the disaster was to be repaired, the process must start with religion and ethics. This realization entered both the theorizing of philosophers and the day-to-day life of average man; because of it, the fourth century was an age of constant endeavors at internal and external reconstruction. But the blow had struck so deep that, from this distance, it seems doubtful from the very start whether the innate Greek belief in the value of this world, their confidence that they could bring the 'the best state', 'the best life', into being here and now, could have ever survived such an experience to be re-created in its original purity and vigour. It was in that time of suffering that the Greek spirit first began to turn inwards upon itself - as it was to do more and more throughout the succeeding centuries. But the men of that age, even Plato, still believed that their task was a practical one. They had to change the world, this world - even though they might not manage to do it completely at the moment. And (although in a rather different sense) that is how even the practical statesmen now envisaged their mission.

- From Werner Jaeger's Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, Volume II: In Search of the Divine Center

 One of the finest quotes on 4th century Greek thought that I have ever read. It is testimony to the power of Jaeger's prose that the catastrophe alluded to - the Fall of Athens - feels current with our time.  One begins to examine "the state within" in terms of "original purity and vigour."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dier Mar Mousa: A positive voice in this collective scream of anguish

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From the New York Times: Modern-Day Pilgrims Find Interfaith Bond in Ancient Syrian Monastery by Robert F. Worth

DEIR MAR MOUSA, Syria — As darkness falls over the vast Syrian desert and the first winter stars emerge, a trail of modern-day pilgrims is slowly climbing the stone steps of this remote cliff-top monastery.

They are a motley crew of religious seekers and backpackers from a dozen countries, some hoping for divine wisdom, others merely curious. But all are hoping to meet the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, the burly and dedicated Jesuit priest who has made this ancient sanctuary a center of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“Some say this church looks like a mosque,” said Father Dall’Oglio, as his guests warmed their frost-stiffened hands over a wood-burning stove. “We are very proud of that.”

[ source ]

Father Paolo, as he is known here, presides over a group of 10 monks, nuns, and volunteers who welcome guests year-round and struggle to build harmony around a religious fault line that has only grown more volatile since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. His passion for interfaith dialogue — he recently published a memoir titled “Believing in Jesus, Loving Islam” — has helped draw ever-larger flocks of visitors up the mountain to sleep in the monastery’s stone huts and take part in its multilingual prayer services.

Father Dall’Oglio, 55, is a big, ebullient Italian who seems constantly in motion. He is almost single-handedly responsible for restoring the monastery of Deir Mar Mousa, which is set in a craggy hillside 50 miles from Damascus, the Syrian capital.

When he first came here in 1982, he found only an abandoned Byzantine ruin, with faded 11th-century frescoes open to the wind and the rain. He spent 10 days praying and meditating here, he recalled, and conceived the idea of building a new house of worship that would help to address the region’s religious conflicts with an emphasis on manual labor and common spirituality.

“At the time, the Lebanese war was on, the Israeli-Palestinian problem was getting worse, the Islamic movement was growing,” he said.

Father Dall’Oglio set to work at once, and has lived here full time since 1991. Today, the frescoes and church have been painstakingly restored. Stone guest houses blend seamlessly into the hillside, along with offices, a library, and a broad esplanade where guests gather and eat. Recently another monastery was refurbished 30 miles away, along with some ancient caves where hermits once took shelter. The monastery draws thousands of visitors a year, many of them Muslims, who often come during religious holidays to pray. Father Dall’Oglio also works with local Muslim leaders on educational and environmental projects, and convenes conferences on theology.

In a sense, Deir Mar Mousa is one of the last outposts of a shrinking faith. When monks built the original monastery in the sixth century A.D., this was the geographic center of Christianity. Today, Christians are a minority, and many feel increasingly beleaguered, with the rise of militant Islam and the violent persecution of Iraqi Christians.

But Deir Mar Mousa’s rituals emphasize mutual understanding rather than Christian preservation.

“We try to be a positive voice in this collective scream of anguish,” said Father Dall’Oglio.

That voice can be heard in Deir Mar Mousa’s prayer rituals. On a recent winter evening, candles provided the only light in the chapel — a cavelike structure whose walls bear inscriptions in Arabic, Greek and Syriac, an ancient Aramaic language that is still used in the liturgy of Syrian Christianity. Two dozen visitors sat meditating for an hour in silence, a standard feature of the prayer ritual. A fresco showing the Last Supper glimmered on the wall opposite the altar.

Then Father Dall’Oglio entered and donned his robes. Gazing out cheerfully at the visitors, he explained the Syriac liturgy, like a college professor giving a familiar lecture. He recited prayers in Syriac and Arabic. Later, he cheerfully asked visitors to contribute their own prayers and thoughts, shifting easily from fluent Arabic to English to several European languages.

Afterward, the visitors slowly trailed out the church’s tiny door, and filed into a makeshift tent where supper was served: a hot lentil stew, with bread and olives spread out on the floor of a makeshift tent. Meals at Deir Mar Mousa are a cooperative affair, with guests helping prepare the food and wash the dishes. Accommodation is free, but visitors are expected to bring food or make contributions.

“As you see, our dinners go back to the Eucharistic tradition of the Lord,” Father Dall’Oglio said.

Part of Deir Mar Mousa’s tradition, Father Dall’Oglio added, includes manual labor as a spiritual exercise. Guests cook and clean, and help collect trash from surrounding hillsides.

As dinner ended, visitors huddled around a wood-burning stove, drinking tea and discussing theology. They were a remarkably diverse group: Indians, Japanese, Palestinians, various Europeans. As always, they plied Father Dall’Oglio with questions.

“If you hold one belief about God, and I hold another, aren’t we bound to come into conflict?” said one earnest-looking American.

Father Dall’Oglio weighed the question, rubbing his thin beard and looking a little tired after a long day. “I don’t claim to know the absolute,” he said. “I consider it a road, a path, that we are on together.”

Thanks, Shelton

Monday, January 18, 2010

Delorem Ipsum: Men Beguiled and Demoralized by the Pleasures of the Moment

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I've been doing some side-work in layout design and, as always, have spent more than a fair amount of time looking at this passage of "placeholder text:"
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.
At one point in time, I remembered that it was from Cicero, but I had never bothered to look at a translation.  With the fine assistance of Wikipedia, I discovered that it was indeed Cicero, although curiously modified:

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

The translation:

But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

But most interesting to me was the next passage, which translates as:

On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammelled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.

Most placeholder text is non-sensical, the Cicero only having provided the prime source.  Still, there are echoes that have an almost uncanny meaning, latin roots resonating through the ground of the Englsih Language.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Doomsday Clock: It Is Six Minutes to Midnight

[ source ]

NEW YORK CITY - January 14, 2010 - Citing a more "hopeful state of world affairs" in relation to the twin threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of its famous Doomsday Clock one minute away from midnight. It is now 6 minutes to midnight. The decision by the BAS Science and Security Board was made in consultation with the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates.

BAS announced the Clock change today at a news conference in New York City broadcast live at for viewing around the globe. The new BAS Web platform allows people in all nations to monitor and get involved in efforts to move the Doomsday Clock farther away from midnight.

In a statement supporting the decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, the BAS Board said: "It is 6 minutes to midnight. We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons. For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material. And for the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable. These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilization--the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change."

Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted only 18 times prior to today, most recently in January 2007 and February 2002 after the events of 9/11. By moving the hand of the Clock away from midnight--the figurative end of civilization--the BAS Board of Directors is drawing attention to encouraging signs of progress. At the same time, the small increment of the change reflects both the threats that remain around the globe and the danger that governments may fail to deliver on pledged actions on reducing nuclear weapons and mitigating climate change.
          - From The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

[ source ]

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Three Stages of Reading: Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood




Sound of a stick upon the floor, a sound
From somebody that toils from chair to chair;
Beloved books that famous hands have bound,
Old marble heads, old pictures everywhere;
Great rooms where travelled men and children found
Content or joy; a last inheritor
Where none has reigned that lacked a name and fame
Or out of folly into folly came.

A spot whereon the founders lived and died
Seemed once more dear than life; ancestral trees,
Or gardens rich in memory glorified
Marriages, alliances and families,
And every bride's ambition satisfied.
Where fashion or mere fantasy decrees
We shift about - all that great glory spent -
Like some poor Arab tribesman and his tent.

We were the last romantics - chose for theme
Traditional sanctity and loveliness;
Whatever's written in what poets name
The book of the people; whatever most can bless
The mind of man or elevate a rhyme;
But all is changed, that high horse riderless,
Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode
Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.
              - From Coole Park and Ballylee, Yeats

Sunday, January 03, 2010

When The Darkness Passes Away: If William Blake Played a Banjo

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I remember seeing Danny Barnes with the Bad Livers back at the Hole in the Wall in Austin. Always impressed me. Great version of Agony Column's "Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles" - on extraordinary banjo, as usual.

Fuck With The Best
You'll Lay With The Rest
So Get Out Of My Fuckin' Way
I Can See You're A Punk
Who Could Use A Good Beating
So Come On And Make My Day
Start This Fight
You'll Lose Tonight
Cause You Got More Mouth Than Muscle
You Cry Death Before Dishonor
But First It's Brave Words
And Bloody Knuckles

But this, this below, is an entirely different beast altogether.

Doing the nightly rounds, started reading about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem on Danny's website, stumbled across a video of him playing "Raise Four" by Thelonius Monk. It just blew me away.

I won't say much about it because you need to let it unfold in front of you. I will tell you that just as soon as you think it can't get anymore over the top, he starts reading the following passage from Blake. Best thing I've seen all year.

An Angel came to me and said: 'O pitiable foolish young man! O horrible! O dreadful state! consider the hot burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art going in such career.'
I said: 'perhaps you will be willing to shew me my eternal lot & we will contemplate together upon it and see whether your lot or mine is most desirable.'
So he took me thro' a stable & thro' a church & down into the church vault at the end of which was a mill: thro' the mill we went, and came to a cave: down the winding cavern we groped our tedious way till a void boundless as a nether sky appear'd beneath us & we held by the roots of trees and hung over this immensity; but I said, 'if you please we will commit ourselves to this void, and see whether providence is here also, if you will not, I will?' but he answer'd: 'do not presume, O young-man, but as we here remain, behold thy lot which will soon appear when the darkness passes away.'
- Wm. Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell