Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Anniversaries: Lest We Forget Tiananmen Square

Image Source: Guardian.

I noticed when the uprisings in the Middle East began in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt this spring that, for media and Web commentators, this was the social media youth revolution.  Millennials see these events as the dawning moment for Generation Y, wherein decades of passivity exhibited by previous generations has been swept away by educated, Internet-savvy, globally-aware twenty-somethings.  I also noticed that there have been some noises specifically made about their Generation X predecessors not being conscientious enough to overthrow tyranny and oppression.  That was odd.

On that note, today is the anniversary of the army massacres at Tiananmen Square in 1989. We should not forget what social and political protest looked like in the period just before the Information Age kicked in - otherwise, we might not see the long term pattern of these events.  The Chinese government has not forgotten. According to a Guardian article, Zhou Yongjun, a former Tiananmen student leader, was arrested in 2009 and was held and tried for fraud. In 1989, he was 21 years old.

In other words, the Tech Revolution is indeed a decisive factor which does coincide with the fact that the majority of populations in developing nations are now under the age of 30. But the spirit and momentum of these democratic conflicts was not born this spring, in the same moment as the birth of Millennials' generational consciousness. To confuse the confluence of these three things is to misunderstand the larger conjunction of technology and democracy that has been transpiring for over two centuries. Below the jump, contemporary news coverage.  Seeing these reports is déjà vu - all over again.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Teenage Mutant Nazi Pilots

Roswell Daily Record (8 July 1947). Image Source: Wiki.

The Space Review has just published a scathing review of a new book by Annie Jacobsen.  The book, entitled Area 51, claims to explain the 1947 UFO mysteries and conspiracy theories about aliens at Roswell.  The Space Review is having none of that though, and angrily dismisses the book:
Although many reviewers claim that her research on atomic weapons tests and classified aircraft projects in the Nevada desert is well-researched and informative (it isn’t), the part of her book that the critics end up tripping over comes near the end of the 523-page book. That is where Jacobsen claims that children, perhaps as young as 13 years old and genetically or surgically altered by Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele, flew a Nazi “flying disk” into the United States as part of a plan by Joseph Stalin to cause mass panic of an alien invasion. The plane crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The United States then engaged in unethical Mengele-like research at Area 51.

Read that paragraph again. I’ll wait.

Now a normal, sane person would read that claim and conclude that Jacobsen is a nut, or, at the very least, pretty gullible. Unfortunately, we don’t live in normal, sane times, and various reporters have been eating this up with Cool Whip and a cherry on top and acting if the book is so well-researched that Jacobsen at least deserves the benefit of the doubt about the mutant Nazi teenage big-headed pilots, no matter how crazy that story seems. The New York Times even referred to the book as “levelheaded.”
I suppose once you're in Fox Mulder territory, you should go with the flow.  If you're going to get into UFOs, you have to be prepared for things to get - strange.  The Space Review is not willing to look at this book in the way the NYT has; the NYT made tongue-in-cheek references to Jacobsen's "dogged devotion to her research," which involved her talking to "a security guard — who, it turned out, had worked at Area 51 and became one of her most valuable sources."  I find it hard to believe that that is a serious statement.  Perhaps the NYT is standing back from this a bit, and taking the book as, say, a summer read that is an exercise in pop surrealism - or a metaphor for the Cold War?  What would a serious investigation into Roswell look like, given that it is a cultural phenomenon in and of itself? It's the ultimate Millennial gnostic puzzle box. You can't get to the bottom of it, as this BBC reporter attempted to, without acknowledging the conspiracy theories. It's impossible to get to the 'real truth' - nor does anyone really want to.  Jacobsen's book is out just in time for Roswell's 64th anniversary; the story still reflects a captured imagination about the incident, whatever it was. The most credible explanations I have seen point to some kernel of truth involving experimental aircraft and espionage.  UFO reports conceivably prevent accurate information from circulating about new aviation and weapons systems. There may be some basis to this, considering the recent furor in the press about the downed helicopter in the bin Laden raid, which revealed stealth technology. But that notion just opens up a new maze of conpsiracy theories. Along those lines, there has been an upsurge in UFO reports and sightings in the past few years.  See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for a few of many examples.

But with this review, The Space Review touched on something far more important about information sourcing, journalism and copyrights in the Internet age, where 500+ page books can be written based on the testimony of agile sources and a Web full of wild materialThe Space Review criticizes the professional credibility of the NYT reporter Janet Maslin, asserting that journalists should have held Jacobsen to account for her sourcing.  One reader of The Space Review agrees: "The reception for this book - good reviews in the [former] mainstreet media despite its obvious flaws - echos the similar reception that Craig Nelson's train wreck of a book, Rocket Men, got in 2009. One can only conclude that journalism standards simply no longer exist and the NYT, WaPo, NPR and the like, only are interested in selling papers or pumping up ratings."  The review concludes that Jacobsen swiped her idea from a James Blish sci-fi short story, Tomb Tapper, in the December 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

What struck me was what Jacobsen said about her sources: "When pressed about it on Nightline by Bill Weir, the only reporter who seems to remember what his job is, Jacobsen stated that as long as a source is credible to her, anything that source says is automatically credible and doesn’t require questioning—even if it defies common sense."  Her subject matter and the degree of seriousness it merits notwithstanding, Jacobsen's statement reveals the erosion of previous standards for discerning reality beyond ourselves. This is the ultimate twisting of the purpose of citation, which is supposed to introduce some measure of historical objectivity into a study, by acknowledging a variety of opinions on a given question.  In this case, Jacobsen's statement betrays a credo that expresses the opposite value.  This is Postmodern subjectivity taken to a new extreme.  It's a latter-day, Millennial version of the Boomer creed, "I'm OK, you're OK."  If the source is 'believable' to Jacobsen personally as an individual, then it's 'good enough.'  This makes me think of the hazards of egotism on the Internet, where narcissism is so often rewarded as an end in and of itself.  Distinguishing truth from falsehood can be a tricky business at the best of times.  But if the only modality for sorting out the difference is what any given random Internet egotist 'feels is true,' then we might as well say that in the Information Age, when data has triumphed, the means for recognizing truth and fiction in that data, as we once knew them, no longer exist.

Addendum: CIA documents have just been declassified that outlines some of the work done in Area 51:  see reports here, here and other CIA information was released today, see here.

See all my posts on Aliens.
See all my posts on Copyright.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Internet Shadows in Broad, Sunlit Uplands

Image Source: Mac Tonnies Website.

On May 14, a blog devoted to the memory of the late Mac Tonnies, Post-Mac Blues, posted a fascinating piece (here) about how Tonnies's work lives on on the Web.  It refers to a German 3sat television production (which you can see here) that mentioned Tonnies as an example of a growing Millennial problem.  This connundrum will be unique in the history of humankind, and will start when the Internet generations - X, Y and Z - begin to die.  What will we do with the Web content legacies that once-active online users leave behind?

Because Tonnies was so young when he tragically passed away at the age of 34 in 2009, and he also had a strong online presence, his death highlights this problem.  The information that remains - his reviews, his Website, his blog Posthuman Blues, his tweets, and so on - act like a Platonic shadow.

Many films around the turn of the Millennium dealt with the gnostic idea that the camera can act like an objective, outside observer, which tells us the real truth beyond our subjective perceptions.  The same might be said for the Internet.  What comes from us as subjective reflections, tweets, Facebook updates, and e-mails can be later compiled into an objective existence of a 'self' beyond the Self.  This legacy somehow transcends the previous characteristics of personal records and private papers.  There really is a ghost in the machine now. I do not know how archivists and historians will even begin to grapple with the problem of sorting through the mess of pseudonyms, avatars and daily info-junk that everyone online now generates.  Nor can I imagine how our online presences will be interpreted as historical documents.

Ironically, some Baby Boomer proponents of radical anti-ageing concepts have suggested that downloading our consciousness into an online virtual reality will be the best way to live on after we die physically.  See my post on the idea of mind uploading, here.  Will this really free us from the incessant tension between the concrete world and our consciousness?  Is some virtual reality corner of the Internet going to become the dimension that houses a billion disembodied souls, forever?  Here's to the freedom of our shadows in broad, sunlit uplands ...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Look Skyward: Eclipses, Eclipses, Eclipses

22 July 2009 total solar eclipse.  Image Source: World Culture Pictorial.

June and July bring three eclipses, spaced two weeks apart.  The first is a partial solar eclipse, visible in the Arctic regions, on June 1; the second will be a total lunar eclipse, visible in Africa and India, on June 15; the third is a partial solar eclipse, visible in the Antarctic regions, on July 1.  A short comment from National Geographic reminds us: "Watching an eclipse, even a partial one, is an opportunity to witness the ongoing cycles of our solar system, Telus's Dyer said. ... 'Though we can predict eclipse with astonishing accuracy, they are created by forces far beyond our control,' he said. 'Eclipses remind us of our place in the universe.'" But because these events inspire such awe, superstitions are never far away. They seem to mark moments when the clockwork of the heavens, which can be rationally measured by bodies like NASA, overlap with our sense of the larger meaning of that clockwork (however defined). Hence, there is an eclipse in Homer's Odyssey: "The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world."

Incidentally, astronomers have calculated the one noon-time full solar eclipse in the time when and region where Homer might have written his epic poem - April 16, 1178 BCE. However, the actual time when Homer lived is disputed, and is set either as the 12th or 8th century BCE. The debate over when Homer lived and who he was is called the 'Homeric Question.' There are no reliable sources from antiquity to confirm the life of Homer as an individual, and the Iliad and Odyssey are dated differently (8th century BCE) than their author is.

4 May 2004 Lunar Eclipse in Prague © Astronomy by Frank.

At any rate, astrologers are making a very big deal about this month.  Janet Kane at Janet's Planets reflects:
Eclipses appear often in the mythology of different cultures most often as symbols of obliteration, fear, and the overthrow of the natural order of things. Eclipses were the great omens of fated, large-scale events. The word eclipse comes from a Greek word meaning "abandonment." Quite literally, an eclipse was seen as the Sun abandoning the earth.

Every six months, eclipses show the turning points in our lives. They indicate what we are to accomplish for the following year to 3 years. They bring in news and events that are sometimes "out of the blue". Time seems to speed up. In a positive sense, eclipses can clear what may obscure the way forward. Remember that the key words for eclipses are emphasis and crisis. Eclipses are contrary to the status quo. If impacted by one of these eclipses, your life will not run on the same track it has been on. But that can be a good thing.
Susan Miller concurs, and believes we will all face massive changes in our lives: "eclipses are the most dramatic tool the universe uses to create vast change. We'd never make those shifts ourselves."  She's spending the whole month giving us eclipse updates.  Plus she has a page devoted to eclipses, where she says that eclipses, "always bring a twist that you won't expect."

2009 Partial solar eclipse as seen from Manila Bay in the Philippines. Image Source: National Geographic.

The blogger at Adventures in Astrology proclaims, "The eclipses are coming! The eclipses are coming!" and insists that eclipses pull the veils from our eyes, forcing us to see the truth in things: "Astrologers usually talk about how shadow and light are 'revealed' in an eclipse and how this symbolizes revelations in our lives as well--revelations that can cause big deal changes." Elsa P., astrologer at Astro Dispatch, declares: "Doors must open. ... Have a back-up. Know when to give up. Or when to click over to the other thing. The summer 2011 eclipses may close doors and open new passageways previously unimaginable."

Solar eclipse of 1 August 2008, at the Jiayuguan Fort on the Great Wall of China. Image Source: Telegraph/Reuters. 

Cornelia Jones at Horoscopes Within asserts that the changes apparently brought by eclipses, and even their associated omens, are all secondary to the fact that eclipses mark the turn of time. They mark the points at which time bears fruit, so to speak. Jones believes this particular 2011 eclipse cycle is characterized by the theme, 'holding the powerful accountable':
The Babylonians were the first to discover that eclipses belong to a larger pattern with a beginning, middle and end. Each eclipse belongs to a series of eclipses and each series has its own unique characteristics. The characteristics of an eclipse are repeated approximately every 18 years 9 -11 days with some minor variations; however the eclipse will have moved approximately 10 degrees through the zodiac. This long term pattern is called the Saros Cycle. ...

At any given time there may be several dozen different series of this cycle in effect and each Saros Cycle will take well over a thousand years to complete.

The ancients believed an eclipse to have irrefutable consequences if it touched a key planet in a persons birth chart. The ancients could often predict an eclipse, however they did not know what caused them. They were feared and viewed as omens due to the appearance of a dark shadow consuming the light of the moon. The reddish color of the moon during a lunar eclipse put fear in their hearts believing that the moon was being eaten or consumed. Though the ancients did not understand what modern science has discovered about the causes of an eclipse, they did know that an eclipse could change the course of history for an individual, or a nation.

Astrologically, eclipses have been viewed as wild cards in a person’s horoscope. ...

A solar eclipse signifies a fresh start which can also bring about radical change, like a new chapter beginning in your life. The effects of a solar eclipse are shown in the outward expression of our circumstances and can present us with very exciting and joyous developments. What develops due to a solar eclipse will be visible to you and others in your life. On the other hand, if a solar eclipse afflicts planets in your birth chart, the message of the eclipse could present a challenge that must be overcome before something new develops.

A lunar eclipse occurs at the time of the full moon when the sun and moon are in opposition to one another. The sun and moon are at the point of maximum stress and represent the culmination of events or the end of a matter. Lunar eclipses often influence relationships because of the polarity between the sun and moon. A lunar eclipse becomes a catalyst from which dramatic change occurs based on what has already been experienced in your life. A lunar eclipse often brings with it a sense of finality, or unavoidable conditions to the area of your chart that it touches.
There you have it. According to the astrologers, the wheel is turning. For those who prefer a more sober outlook, the NASA page on eclipses is here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Time Lapses: Ageing Backwards

Sam Klemke recording his life. Image Source: Hypervocal.

Yahoo News has a special interest story running about Sam Klemke, a 55-year-old caricature artist, who has been filming himself every year for 35 years.  He has put together a (now viral) Youtube video, wherein he ages backwards over that time. As he moves backwards, the technology gets worse and worse too; given the connection he draws between video and time, the degradation of the tech constitutes an implicit subplot in this man's life.  It's another illustration of the weird confluence in our era between empiricism and gnosticism.  We believe that our technology can somehow function as an objective observer, and capture the real essence of ourselves, freed from the confines of time - thereby showing us a higher truth.  Good luck with that one. From the Yahoo report:
Sam Klemke began filming himself 35 years ago long before the term vlogger even existed using Super 8 film and a separate audio recorder because his camera couldn't record sound.

He hoped that one day he would have the technology to merge the video and audio. He has been recording himself every year for the last 35 years, and last month he posted the edited clips in a single video that shows his life backwards.

The video has gone viral, racking up nearly 700,000 views online. Klemke now finds himself doing interviews with stations all over the world. He is even being called the first vlogger by some.

"I've always had this fascination that you could capture time with a movie camera," he says to KVAL News. "I remember being fascinated that you could look at a film with Jimmy Stewart in the 70s. And then you could also look at one of him in the 30s and you could see, oh my God, you could see a 40-year span of his life right before your eyes with two separate movies."
See the video below the jump.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, when Americans commemorate their combatants who have died in all wars. For my earlier posts on Remembrance Day, go here, and a second post on the topic, including an American video for Memorial Day, go here.

Shiloh by Herman Melville.

A Requiem.
(April, 1862.)

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh--
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh--
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there--
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve--
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

Among American First World War poets, John Allan Wyeth has recently been rediscovered by critics for his plain language and avoidance of romantic conventions of the time (see here and here).  A famous American World War II poem is The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner (1945) by Randall Jarrell.  One anti-war poem condemning death in the Vietnam War is John Balaban's In Celebration of Spring (discussed here).

In an interview below, Robert Hedin ponders the dearth of poetry coming from soldiers who served in the Gulf War and current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He also feels that technological changes in weaponry contributed to a decline in the idea of romantic heroism that was expressed up to World War I; this, in his mind, has increased the disillusionment and harsh imagery evident in American war poetry subsequently written.

Interview with Robert Hedin, editor of Old Glory: American War Poems from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism. Audio Source: NPR.

Nuclear Leaks 10: A Beautiful World

Nuclear Memories (14 August 2009). Image © ~cuber/Vladimir Petkovic/Vladimir Studio. Image reproduced with kind permission.

Today, the news is grim, but not as dire as it was on 27 May, when a Super-typhoon known as Songda, then a catergory 5 storm, appeared set to hit the Fukushima plant directly.  By 28 May the storm was downgraded to a category 3 and changed its path slightly.  As 'Tyler Durden' at Zero Hedge remarked: "The good news: by the time it passes over Fukushima, Songda will be merely a Tropical storm. The bad news: by the time it passes over Fukushima, Songda will be a Tropical storm. As the latest dispersion projection from ZAMG shows, over the next two days the I-131 plume will be covering all of the mainland."  The fallout will also be blowing over the Koreas, eastern China and eastern Russia at this time.  The real danger from Songda (aka Chedeng), aside from the nightmare of coping with three simultaneous meltdowns in a typhoon, is that radioactive fallout will be carried up into the atmosphere by the storm system.

Image Source: Weather Underground (Hat tip: Zero Hedge).

Video Source: ZAMG via Zero Hedge.

In addition to the position of the I-131 plume (we're not even talking about the presence of plutonium at the site, which isn't being discussed much), there are almost 100,000 tonnes of radioactive water at Fukushima, not including the radioactive water already released into the sea and polluting the immediate vicinity in the Pacific.  And while the amount of radiation released is currently 10 per cent of that released at Chernobyl, a TEPCO official has estimated that Fukushima's radioactive fallout released may eventually exceed that of Chernobyl.  There is a constant trickle of problems reported, most recently, a fire at the neighbouring Dai-ni Fukushima plant (not the one where all the problems are) and cooling system failure in Reactor #5 at the Dai-ichi plant.

There isn't much on the Web that states how storm systems like typhoons, hurricanes and tornadoes might carry radioactive fallout along with regular wind patterns.  Certainly, a tornado carried fallout at Kyshtym, when it touched down on a radioactive dried lake bed where waste had been dumped, turning the site into a nuclear disaster zone of seriousness equal to Hiroshima.

You can trace the daily radioactive plume over Fukushima here.  You can follow the daily Jet Stream projections over North America, here.  Meanwhile, the American Midwest is getting catastrophically battered by tornadoes, which not only potentially carry Japanese fallout while spreading disaster; they have caused little-reported damage to American nuclear plants in Alabama as well. When you add the flooding that damaged other nuclear plants along the Mississippi River, which involved the release of radioactive water into the river system, followed by tornadoes that pick up the water and carry it into the atmosphere and an unusually high level of North American spring rainfall - well - it's starting to look like a house of cards.

Meanwhile, as if matters in the civilian nuclear sector were not bad enough, nuclear weapons problems are also looming.  Even in circles noted for sober assessments, observers commented this past February that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within one year and missile capabilities within two years; according to Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London: "Whichever method were used, at least six more months would be required to convert the gasified HEU into metal and fashion it into a weapon. The minimum timeline, then, for the first weapon, is over two years under the Pakistan method and one year for the batch method. Developing a means to deliver a nuclear weapon adds to the timeline. Last May [2010], in a companion Strategic Dossier on Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities, the IISS concluded that Iran’s Sajjil-2 missile, which has a range of about 2,200km, is still two to three years of flight testing away from becoming operational."

But even in the face of horror, we can find something beautiful.  Two stories on Fukushima and Chernobyl are reminders of this.  On the day of the Japanese earthquake, the telescope at the Hoshi no Mura ('Village of Stars') Observatory in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, cracked in half; one portion of the telescope, weighing about three tonnes, rolled down and crushed the seat of the astronomer. Fortunately, the director, Hiroaki Ohno, was away at lunch.  Despite being only 33 kilometres from the plant and just outside the evacuation zone, Ohno is still attending to the facility.  He is also seeking to help local evacuees, and has been travelling to shelters with small telescopes.  Taking advantage of the fact that all city lights are turned off in the region, he is teaching them how to look through these telescopes to see the stars.  From the Japan Times: "'A bedridden woman came out of the evacuation shelter once in a wheelchair to take a peek. She told me she could distinguish the rings around Saturn,' Ohno said. The planets and stars appeared to provide much-needed cheer in the evacuees' lives, he added."

The twenty-fifth anniversary of Chernobyl last month also inspired a renewed appreciation of the natural environment in the evacuation zone.  Boing Boing ran a piece on the sounds of birds, animals and insects there at dawn and dusk (-Thanks to J.).  The recordings were made by London sound artist Peter Cusack in 2006; you can listen to them here.

In addition, a charity album of dark ambient and horror music, Remember Chernobyl, was composed to commemorate the anniversary. There is an album sampler from Ambientaria Records, below the jump.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Historical Events Change Language

A traumatic event can spawn a whole bunch of new words.  People on the other side of the event have a new vocabulary.

How do historical events - especially traumatic ones - change language?  One way is through the coining of neologisms. For example, while the 2008-2012? Great Recession persists, Time has done a little online piece about 'Post-Recession Lingo':
Adding to the list of post-recession terms such as "unbanked" (individuals without checking or savings accounts), "anti-dowry" (student loan debt holding you back from getting married or buying a house), and "Groupon remorse" (regret felt upon buying a daily deal you can't use or never really wanted), here's a roundup of zeitgeist-y phrases, including "squatter's rent," "light bulb anxiety," and "not retiring." 
"Financially Fragile"
If an emergency occurred and you needed to come up with $2,000 within 30 days, could you do it? (Legally, hopefully?) If not, then you'd be categorized as "financially fragile," and researchers say that nearly half of Americans fit the description. ...

"Light Bulb Anxiety"
This fear, based on oft-misunderstood legislation intended to phase out usage of traditional incandescent light bulbs, has caused business owners and everyday consumers to stock up the old-fashioned bulbs by the thousands, according to the NY Times. Why all the hoarding? Many people just prefer the light given off by incandescent bulbs over LED or compact fluorescent bulbs. Also, there are plenty of people who aren't sold on the idea that the new-fangled bulbs really save all that much money or energy: In one survey, one-third of homeowners who paid for energy-efficiency upgrades (including switching to CFL bulbs) hadn't seen the decrease in energy bills that they expected.

"Squatter's Rent"
Also referred to as "free rent," it's the money a homeowner—soon to be ex-homeowner, most likely—gets to keep each month when he stops paying the mortgage and has yet to be kicked out of the home. "Squatter's rent" around the nation is estimated to come to a total of $50 billion this year.
I have suffered from Light Bulb Anxiety, so I guess I'm glad there's a term for it.

New techniques in expression and new terms are needed to think about that which was previously unthinkable.  New words are signposts, showing us where the 'before' and 'after' of history are.  The removal of words indicates a break with the past.  But what happens to these linguistic reactions over the long term?  Do neologisms survive?  Do obliterated words, once forbidden by historical memories or historical shame, ever make a big return?  Sometimes, a population does away with their whole language altogether, and switches to another one, apparently better suited to the aftermath.  Finally, traumatic histories tend to produce new forms of language focussed on changing our understanding of time.