Intellectual Warehouse

Vannevar Bush seated at a desk

In a recent article, The Memex Method, Cory Doctorow unpacked the notion of making a public database of your commonplace book. The idea is based on Vannevar Bush’s 1945 ‘As We May Think,’ in which Dr. Bush posited the idea of a memory expander: Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted … Read more

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

Page from Pushkin's manuscript

I think it was the George III who is reputed to have said to the great historian Edward Gibbon: “Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?” Apocryphal or not, the sentiment is the apologetic title of another great historian’s book: Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill & My Mother by Simon Schama. It is a glorious read that, like all of his work, lives up to John Clive’s assertion: ‘historical wisdom only deserve[s] to endure if it ha[s] a proper quotient of wit, force and literary power.’ No matter your predilections, there … Read more

I Saw The World End

Hiroshima Aftermath, cropped version

I went up to the hillside and took a panorama view of the city and found the whole city on fire. – Kiyoshi Tanimoto, Japanese Methodist minister.

The devastation that unfolded in the seconds following the explosion in Beirut has been likened to an atomic bomb. The timing of the analogy is striking as #onthisday in 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Read more

Late Abroad Again

A short letter from Samuel Pepys to John Evelyn

August 16th 1665
It was dark before I could get home; and so land at church-yard stairs, where to my great trouble I met a dead Corps, of the plague, in the narrow ally, just bringing down a little pair of stairs – but I thank God I was not much disturbed at it. However, I shall beware of being late abroad again.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

And ‘late abroad again’ it seems the people of Melbourne can’t be for some time. The Premier of Victoria introduced stage four lock-down restrictions last night. Residents will be subject to a curfew for the next six weeks. Banned from travelling more than 5km (3 miles) from their home.

Read more


Defeat of the Spanish Armada

At midnight #onthisday in 1588, the English ignited eight fire ships and cast them into the Spanish fleet which was menacing Blighty. Though the Spanish misjudged the situation, fearing the vessels were hellburners, the effect was to break the crescent formation of the Spanish ships which had hampered English attempts to engage with the fleet.

Read more

The Struggle is Topic

Charles de Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June

Yesterday I wrote about the challenge of mental indigestion, but today I am vexed by that other perennial spectre of blogging everyday: topic.

This is not to say there is any dearth of ideas. So far, today alone, I have pondered writing about policing of people, policing of bookcases, freedom of speech, shoulder taps on social media, online censorship, fair market value, Mosasaur eggs and great pizza shops near Vatican City. Each pondered and rejected in turn as the research involved exceeds the allotted time for this daily challenge.

Read more

Peasants’ Revolt

The Death of Wat Tyler

#OnThisDay in 1381, Wat Tyler is beheaded following a skirmish during the Peasants’ Revolt.

But the tale of the revolt begins some months earlier and ultimately had its roots in the socio-economic dislocation which resulted from the Black Death pandemic some forty years before in the 1340s.

Read more

Damnatio Memoriae

Portrait of family of Septimius Severus

Damnatio memoriae is a Latin phrase which loosely translates as ‘condemned to oblivion.’ It was, or given the modern cancel culture perhaps I should say it is, the practice of removing a person’s name from history. Like many Roman practices, it originated in another culture. One of the earliest examples is to be found in the reign of Hatshepsut, who reigned as pharaoh of Egypt in the fourteenth century BC. As ever with modernity, it is seldom that modern.

Read more

Media Archipelago

Solzhenitsyn with Heinrich Böll

If [journalists] have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn, a long standing critic of he Soviet Union and communism, knew much about the use and abuse of public opinion. After serving in the Soviet Army during World War II, he was sent to a labour camp for eight years after criticising Stalin’s policies in a private letter.

Read more