Archive for April, 2022


April 30, 2022

Back in 2014, I wanted an athletic sponsorship to Antarctica. But because I’m only a mediocre athlete I needed a hook. My plan was to pitch Red Bull on a series of Jackass-style videos I’d film along the Antarctic coast. My colleague Jim Young said he could get me a meeting.

I was going to show up at their Santa Monica office mushing a team of huskies on a rollerblade-wheeled sled while wearing a full-length hooded fur parka, hand the valet an Igloo cooler full of raw steaks and tell him to “keep the engine running.” Once everyone was together in a conference room, I’d start laying out the vision.

For Episode 1, I’d jump into a deep crevasse. A ruggedized, accelerometer-activated Red Bull balloon would inflate around me as I plummeted, wedging me between the ice walls. Then I’d wait until a katabatic wind started up, and rip the cord on a propellant-powered parachute scoop. As soon as it caught that first roaring 200-mph gust, I’d be yanked out of the crevasse and dragged across the glacier, bouncing along in the balloon at terrifying speeds, probably screaming (not that anyone would be able to hear me).

For Episode 2, I was going encase myself in a big rubber ball with a handle on it, weighted so that it always righted itself handle up. Then screw a trebuchet to the top of an iceberg (anticipating recoil) and launch myself up over open water at another iceberg. The handle was there because I expected to fall short and/or smack into the side of the second iceberg repeatedly before I finally stuck the landing, and would need to be crane hooked out of the ocean and reloaded. I’d tell them about the time I asked some physicists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory about my idea to ease public transportation in Portland by catapulting children encased in Nerf across the river to schools rather than busing them. They did some quick calculations, estimated the kids would pull as many as 20 g’s in flight, and expressed concern that, “I might liquefy some kidneys.” “So, impractical, but not impossible,” I summarized.

Episode 3 was meant to be a version of the old dollar bill trick. For context, orcas will beach themselves to capture baby seals, then shimmy backward into the water, where they’ll bat a seal pup back and forth like a shuttlecock until its skin loosens from its meat, then tear in. My plan was simple. I would hide inside a seal costume on the beach, attached to a cable. As the orca came for me, I’d be dragged just out of reach. The orca would try a little harder, and I’d get dragged a little farther bermward. And so on.

In the fourth and final episode, I would jet ski to a cove filled with 25,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins, announce my intention to avenge Apsley Cherry-Garrard, tell them I would “take on you big fellas one at a time, and you little ones as fast as you can come,” and start in on a squawking, flapping, kung-fu melee.

At this point, gazing fixedly at the perplexed executives, I would let them know, quietly, but very intensely, that “I just have one question.” Then activate the ruggedized Red Bull body balloon, which would explode out from under my furs and envelop me. After waiting a few beats to let the fact of what just happened sink in, I’d slash at it with a big knife, pull it open, grinning, blade in hand, and ask them, “Are you in?”

Nazca wereorca carrying a knife and human heads (100 BC-500 AD)


  1. To be clear: I have no intention of harming any animals (other than myself, perhaps) in the context of such polar imbecilities, or even irritating them overmuch. If it can’t be done without such an impact, it won’t be.
  2. In a recent interview Steve-O did with director Jeff Tremaine, they both seemed wistful about not reaching Antarctica for their short-lived MTV nature show Wildboyz. So perhaps I should pitch this directly to Tremaine and his co-creators of Jackass, Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville.
  3. Among the clutch of ideas I’ve laid recently are a few motley ones – obliquely related to my PhD work – that I’ll have to find some way to stage, document, and share with a very select group of friends (lest some too-casual acquaintance, horrified and with the best of intentions, try to 5150 me).
  4. Athletic sponsorship or no, I may be heading to Antarctica this December to climb Vinson Massif. I still also have half a wedding ring that’s destined for the Phlegraean maw of Erebus. If I can make it down to Ross Island for that chore before I return from the continent, it might be my best chance to shoot coastal footage.

Instructions for Cave Wall Drawings, 1-20

April 24, 2022

As soon as my friend Eric introduced me to Sol LeWitt’s instructions for wall drawings, I started having all sorts of (mostly superficial) ideas for how to riff on them – e.g., building out a 3D structure, designed in SketchUp and rendered with a game engine like Unreal or Unity, with examples of every piece LeWitt left instructions for drawn on its walls; or else, using his instructions as rules for procedurally generating infinite versions of the drawings on the walls of that 3D structure at some regular interval; or else, projecting those procedurally generated drawings on the walls of a brick-and-mortar gallery/museum/commercial office setting – and redrawing them every day; or even continuously, like a screen saver.

Why stop with the great indoors, though? One could use these instructions – or develop new ones – to draw on the sheer headwalls of mountains (although one probably shouldn’t; or, at the very least, better not do it in a permanently destructive way, lest one both risk the wrath of an Apu and an all-too-human ass whupping at the hands of one’s fellow mountaineers). 

One could draw them as intaglios atop mesas, or as some other sort of large-scale desert geoglyph only properly visible from the air or Earth orbit (never mind all of the many extraterrestrial possibilities).

One could draw them on cave walls. 

Palimpsest graffiti within the Cuma Caves

I’ve been thinking recently about a version of LeWitt’s drawing instructions adapted for the small caves that pock Monte Cuma beneath the temple ruins and oracular complex. To be executed (among the many historical graffiti already present) in scratched stone, pigment, char, etc. – or some less-permanent medium I can efface after photo-documenting the work. Or else, by manipulating the growth of microbial mats (if they already grow – or can be encouraged to grow – in such an environment) with biochemical “paintbrushes” (e.g., breadcrumbs of yummy minerals they want to devour, gases they’re greedy for, powerful light they want to creep toward or away from, etc.). 

Or perhaps just capture microbial excretions of ethylene, methane, etc. in little plastic baggies that might enable an art-oracle, huffing a quantity of this pneuma, to relay drawing instructions from Apollo to be executed in some other medium. 

Or cultivate mats of methanotrophic, etc. bacteria that will themselves consume pneuma, shit oil, and grow however they do – obeying the God’s drawing instructions directly (or perhaps this in combination with independently determined, anthropogenic markings: a collaboration with the local unhuman). 

Who knows? This sort of thing might even become the basis of a new oracular practice – i.e., presenting Apollo with binary choices of answers marked on a stone substrate and then monitoring whether a microbial mat grows toward one of them pronouncedly; or n number of choices, and, say, measuring the mat’s biomass distribution to determine the weighted probabilities at any given moment. Etc.

Pursuit of Trivia – Part 1

April 22, 2022

Only 3%-14% of the sunlight that strikes the moon gets reflected. Because of the moon’s sphericity, not all of that is available for capture here on Earth. Enough is, however, to briefly power an LED bulb using a residential solar array on a clear night under a full moon (so long as several capacitors are enchained). 

Presumably, this set-up could be optimized and scaled: more panels, more capacitance; perhaps even something like a ‘moonshine catchment’ or concentrator. Etc. The vast majority of the incident sunlight that hits the moon is absorbed and re-radiated as infrared light. Unfortunately, photovoltaic cells can’t produce electricity from IR. Yet. There are definitely teams working this angle, though. One in Saudi Arabia recently demonstrated a ‘rectenna’ technique for capturing thermal waste and converting it into electricity that shows, ahem, potential.  

In general, I think the sort of “lunar panel” one might devise if its materiality, modes of capture and transmission, etc. didn’t all need to be optimized in terms of cost-per-unit production is an interesting open question. Something I eventually hope to discuss with a friend of a friend, who has been described to me as an “electricity witch”.

This sort of hypothetical efficiency notwithstanding, I had some preliminary (and admittedly goofy) ideas last year to take advantage of the current state of the art. For instance, I wanted to fly a kite or balloon tethered by electrically conductive wires/fibers to a large desert solar array in order to pulsingly illuminate the body and tendrils of a sky medusa floating high above the sand. Or else to light a spheroid covered in LEDs, like an artificial moon powered by moonlight that floated directly below the actual one: two white orbs divided by black horizon.

Very 70’s album art, I realize. Probably don’t get me started about my idea to trigger a coronal discharge “laser” show in the Coral Triangle under the Milky Way (i.e., to create a planetarium whose stars are the actual stars) while playing Pink Floyd for a bunch of Sama-Bajou sea nomads on their boats.

Anyhow, it also occurred to me last year that the artificial moon could be sited underground instead. 

Which leads us to Hekate. 

Hekate’s Roman name, Trivia, refers to a three-way crossroad (thus uniting her with the lunar deities Selene and Diana; or else, Selene, Diana, and Proserpine in Hekate). Such a crossroads needn’t be planar, of course. It could also be volumetric – i.e., indicating X, Y, and Z axes. Which makes total sense, given Hekate’s role as the psychopomp of anabasis/re-emergence.

That’s a long way of saying that I’ve started working out the practicalities of a lunar-panel-powered installation for the grove (sacred to Diana-Hekate) of Quercus ilex that has surrounded Monte Cuma – the site of the Cumaean sibyl’s oracular complex – since before the Venusian mater of Aeneas dispatched her doves on his behalf to perform an aerial reconnaissance for the Golden Bough. Since before the Cumaean sibyl supplanted her Avernus-based “Cimmerian” predecessor. Hell, since before Avernus itself erupted 4,000 years ago, probably. 

Beneath the full moon, in a clearing of that ‘forest dark’, I want to use lunar panels – black fruiting bodies atop a buried rhizome of capacitors (Leyden jars I blow the glass for myself, ideally) – to feed energy farther down into a subterranean chamber – whether dripping it, like the slow build-up of an electrical karst feature, or decanting it all at once from a hypogeal Marx generator – for purposes of illuminating a chthonic moon. 

Or else, to provide exit lighting from Hades. Or else, to cause the branch of one of the holm oaks aboveground to glow aurically. Or else, to cook with moonlight. Out of obvious aesthetic considerations, I want to boil an egg with the stuff.

Gold is the Metal

April 19, 2022

According to John Emsley in the third edition of his weird The Elements, there is an estimated 0.2 milligrams of gold in a 70 kilogram human body. That’s probably a smidge massy for a global per-human average, but let’s assume it for purposes of this asinine post, so that 1 gram of gold = 5,000 people.

As of 05:57 GMT (20-4-22), the global population was estimated by Worldometer to be 7,941,528,342. So I’ll round that up to eight billion, slightly before our species does.

8,000,000,000 people * 1 g Au / 5,000 people = 1,600,000 grams of gold.

The spot gold price is currently $62.48 USD per gram.

1,600,000 g Au * $62.48/1 g Au = $99,968,000. In the antique spirit of rounding, let’s call it $100,000,000 USD of gold that’s currently locked up inside living human beings.

Not that I’m imagining ways to extract it from them or anything.

Bough wow wow yippie yo yippie yay

April 18, 2022

 Receive my counsel. In the neighb’ring grove 

There stands a tree; the queen of Stygian Jove 

Claims it her own; thick woods and gloomy night 

Conceal the happy plant from human sight. 

One bough it bears; but (wondrous to behold!) 

The ductile rind and leaves of radiant gold: 

This from the vulgar branches must be torn, 

And to fair Proserpine the present borne, 

Ere leave be giv’n to tempt the nether skies. 

Virgil, Aeneid

Combining two longstanding interests of mine – in geobotanical prospecting and the mythopoetics of the Campi Flegraean volcanic province – I want to bioengineer a ‘golden bough’ as a passport for the underworld by hyperaccumulating gold into a Quercus ilex, the holm/holly oak from which the auric branch was yanked in Book VI of the Aeneid.

That won’t be easy to do – despite Q. ilex being a good bioaccumulator of lead and other base metals – given how insoluble gold is under normal conditions. So I’m researching experimental phytomining techniques (e.g., ) for enhancing gold’s bioavailability.

Wish me luck.


On a related note…

La Porte de l’Enfer

The gates of hell are open night and day; 

Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: 

But to return, and view the cheerful skies, 

In this the task and mighty labor lies. 

Virgil, Aeneid

If it wasn’t Joseph Brodsky who wrote, “Some doors are only good for one’s getting out,” then it was me, imitating him.

I had an opportunity to visit the Musée Rodin in Paris last weekend and re-familiarize myself with The Gates of Hell. One of the other five existing copies of this massive sculpture is installed in a garden on the edge of the university I attended as an undergraduate. I used to sleep on top of it occasionally. And listen to what ominously sounded like knocks coming from behind the doors (a function of temperature fluctuation in the metal, probably).

That’s me in the death’s head mask, almost thirty years ago; the other guy, as it turned out, was the actual monster. Anyhow, although I am 99.9999% grateful that people didn’t carry cameras with them everywhere back then like they do now, I do wish I had a photograph of the time his sister and mine unsoberly scrambled up the front of the Gates together, side by side.

My mind is a graveyard of past selves, haunted by memories – bad and good. And I do, fortunately, have a snapshot of the poetry reading now-novelist Nicole Krauss and I delivered at the Gates back in 1997. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone then a-bed should think themselves accursed they were not there, or hold their aesthetics cheap while any speaks who was, but, as the poet Brandon Downing later recalled in his 2006 Verse review of a chapbook I’d just published, it was a very special occasion.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Avernus (another of my old stomping grounds), you can still pay visit to the so-called “Cave of the Sibyl”, through which the Cumaean oracle is supposed to have led Aeneas into the underworld. It’s actually one end of a military tunnel Agrippa commissioned Lucius Cocceius Auctus to build between Avernus and Lake Lucrino during the civil war. Even so, local tradition puts the entrance to Hades – specifically, access to the shore of Styx – down one of its flooded stone stairwells; and the chamber of an even more ancient – Cimmerian – Sibyl down another. Unfortunately, thousands of years of bradyseism and the nearby eruption of Monte Nuovo in 1538 have fucked the subterranean complex up beyond ancient recognition.

Given all the intertextual echoes, this should also be the gate that Virgil led Dante down through. As you can see below, it’s somewhat more modest than the Rodin. Our attempts to find “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate” inscribed on the rock above the portal were in vain, but I wouldn’t put it past a local to have sledgehammered it off and put it up over their waterbed.

Throwing out the bottom lip here in a Mr. Pitiful because despite what the Sibyl says about the gate of Dis always standing open, it’s actually padlocked these days. For this reason, I decided to name my bolt cutters “The Golden Bough”.

Nicky the Fish

April 17, 2022

Last month, between churches, the painter Eric Sweet hankered to fix eyes upon a peculiar monument across from the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II: the bas-relief of a figure on Via Mezzocannone (a street which the poet Salvatore di Giacomo once called “the filthy intestine of Naples” – really saying something) variously described as the hunter Orion, a ‘wild man’ (in the vein of Enkidu), and/or a legendary amphibious scugnizzo named Colapesce (i.e., “(Ni)cola Pesce”, or “Fish Nick”). Nicky was a sort of mer-made (in the sense that his mother cursed him to become half-piscine) who came to the attention of Frederick II. The Holy Roman Emperor supposedly took him out by boat into the Bay of Naples, dropped a gold coin in the water and charged the boy with retrieving it. Colapesce dove down, found the coin, and brought it back to the king. Frederick then took off his golden crown and threw it into deeper water. Colapesce swam out, dove again, and again brought back the king’s treasure. Finally, Frederick hurled a golden chalice into the deepest waters.* Colapesce dove again, but never returned.

Well, not never. Not exactly. This is Naples we’re talking about. According to Eric, Colapesce became the religious focus of a divers guild that evolved into something like an aquatic mystery cult which also worshipped Poseidon and the siren Parthenope and cultivated a special alga that helped slow respiration for extremely deep dives. For all I know, it still exists.

Most of Italy’s manufacturing is in the north, but Naples is a factory for producing religious sects. Since his death in 2020 – just for one instance – images of Diego Maradona have become so pervasive throughout the city and its outskirts that I joked he might be worshipped as a local saint within five years, if he isn’t already in some quarters. The very next day we saw a large drawing of La mano de Dios with outstretched arms: ecstasy of the hat-trick, surely, but also the pose of that other sacred three-in-one. Beneath it was scrawled, “Santa Maradona”.

*NB: Maschio Angioino, the fortress Frederick II built in Naples shortly before he died, was – according to the Aragonese kings who later occupied it – supposed to house the Holy Grail. Just saying.

I sing the body electric.

April 14, 2022

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “[I]n a plasma sound wave the electrons and ions become slightly separated owing to their difference in mass, and an electric field builds up to bring them back together.”

Might it then be possible to sing into a plasma environment and, by one’s song, produce not just sound but electrical (and magnetic) fields?

As I have written elsewhere, I’m trying to work out how best to generate a 100 kV/m electrical field so I can induce St. Elmo’s Fire between the antler tips of a theriomorphic headdress and dance on a West Texas plain alone in the star dark with my skull enveloped in a gossamer blue cloud of lightning.

If I can also bark divine spark while spiral-stomping the earth, even better.


April 7, 2022

Sometimes, telling oneself a single constraining ‘no’ is better than infinite yeses. So, for now: less sibilance, more Sibyls.

Pages torn from the notebook:

I’m imagining the final retreat of the glaciers at the end of the Wisconsin, and subsequent explorations/settlement of the newly revealed land as an awesome, cosmogonic moment in prehistory. Thinking of it, I hear that almost inaudibly faint first phrase of Wagner’s Das Rheingold…

The ice retreats, exposing eskers and other mysterious land forms snaking along a scoured earth which slowly, imperceptibly, begins to heave back up after thousands of years of being weighed down by the Laurentide, transferring strain to an ancient zone of weakness that resulted from a failed rift during the Cretaceous, thereby initiating a new seismic regime that would have coincided with the arrival of pre-prehistoric ancestors of the Muskogee, already on the continent, but concentrated at more southern latitudes during the late Pleistocene. These people, who would eventually become mound builders, enter a newly exposed world of landforms so like the ones they’d eventually construct themselves that there was confusion about whether some esker/kame groups (e.g., those south of Dayton, Ohio) were anthropogenic in origin until the early 20th century.

Floods. New rivers; old ones, newly swollen and changed in course. Cultural spheres of interaction swelling, popping, reforming: Hopewell, Mississippian, Southern Death Cult, the backscattering of tribes. Cataclysmic shaking that drowns land and habitation, tears and uplifts earth, makes rivers flow backward, spews cataracts, causes sand to boil out of the ground, for miles in some cases; sand that swallows everything, then itself is swallowed back by alluvial depositions and vanishes from sight – taking houses, middens, bones down with it: a geologic urne buriall.

At the beginning of all this, a holocaust: a terrible, deafening noise, the blinding white flash, a blackened sky. Much later, it happens again. This time, there is no doubt people were watching. The Miami tell us a huge, fiery snake dropped shrieking from the sky, knocked every living thing flat, and plunged into the river, into the earth.

We know what happened down there — a little bit, at least: it became king, ruling over writhing swarms of lesser serpents, so many they weren’t just an army, but also the architecture, of the underworld: waves; waves of earth, of rivers, of air, of sound, vortices, sand blows, floods, liquefactions, quakes, magma, lava, occulted knowledge, dark power, power in the dark, down beneath the water, in the caves, in the faults, antlered tie-snakes, horned serpents, underwater panthers, comets, ice, sacred fires — a more difficult, riskier, path for medicine people (but still possible); a terrifying danger, to strangers and relations alike (but still willing, however capriciously, to form its occasional alliances, to render aid) — the stomp dance, revolutions, unsettled ground, ungrounded settlements, NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, the quakes of 1811, 1812, Tecumseh and the Prophet, the Trail of Tears, the Natchez Trace, Oklahoma, the Snakes uprising, the seismograms, the fractured land, the black rivers, the oil

Nihil impossible est.

April 4, 2022
Me and David Copperfield, October 30, 2021

Do nonhumans experience wonder – or something akin to it? An assertion: for any given phenomenology, one might design a ‘vanishing act’ based on the nature of the specific sensorium.*

I half-jokingly describe gravity spoofing as “a magic trick for machine gods”, but there is something seriously wonderful about the idea of making a thing disappear in different ways depending on what’s looking at it.

David Copperfield’s huge, private museum of magic on the outskirts of Las Vegas is an open secret. One day, after gravitationally spoofing the disappearance of Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (a piece I should definitely not call Quadruple Negative, or even Double Positive), I hope to get research access to its stacks.

In any case, if I ever do have a chance to speak with Mr. Copperfield again, the first thing I’m going to ask him is what he thinks of F for Fake. I forgot to, somehow.

*A correlate: one might also cause things to ‘magically’ appear. For instance, I want to harness the atmospheric conditions of a Fata Morgana for a general-purpose projection system – and use it to raise an illusory drowned city from the sea (of course, I have a mind to uplift an actual submerged city too, but by a very different mechanism). I also want produce a giant hole in the Earth, but only in certain channels of perception.

In some sense, the world is constantly performing such tricks – obscuring and revealing itself (or, rather, aspects of itself), at all scales, for various phenomenologies. Whether by “world”, I mean as divinely revealed, made sensible by human inquiry, merely – and indifferently – constituent of nature/cosmos, whatever, I’m not sure. Honestly, if you are, I suspect you are also, at least partially, mistaken.