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, August 13, 2011

Anniversaries: 50 Years Since the Building of the Berlin Wall

Preserved sign at Checkpoint Charlie (August 8, 2011). Image Source: Xinhua/Ma Ning via CNTV.

Today, Germans marked a minute's silence to observe the building of the Berlin Wall, which began today in 1961 and divided the city for 28 years.  Between 136 and 700 people died trying to cross the Wall in the city.  Parts of it were still up around Berlin until the mid-1990s.  Some even argue in favour of rebuilding portions of it, so that people understand what the divided city was like and what it meant. 

The Wall symbolized a punishing occupation inflicted by the victorious Allies, the growing intransigent stand-off between left- and right-wing political ideologies, and a terrible national defeat and failure, preserved in stasis for an entire generation.  It overshadowed a lost Cold War era of painful debate and broken introspection.  With time, novels like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and its masterful 1965 film version (including a critical scene at the Wall) demonstrated that that pain extended throughout the western world, perpetuating an unspoken but deep-seated sense that things had gone terribly wrong. See my post on the dismantling of the Wall in 1989 here.

Image Source: Tabloid Edition.

Anniversaries: Remembering H. G. Wells

Today is the 65th anniversary of the death of H. G. Wells, known for his fin-de-siècle 'scientific romances,' published in the 1890s through the 1930s: "Following "The Time Machine" was "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1896), "The Invisible Man" (1897), "The War of the Worlds" (1898), "When the Sleeper Wakes" (1899), and "The First Men in the Moon" (1901). After this point he turned his prolific pen to social topics, history, and even a bit of hopeful prophecy with books like "Anticipations" (1901), "The Discovery of the Future" (1902), "Mankind in the Making" (1903), "The War in the Air" ,"War and the Future" (1917), "The Open Conspiracy" (1928), "The Shape of Things to Come" (1933), and "The New World Order" (1post on the anniversary of the author's death at 939)."  There is an excellent retrospective at Dark Dorset, here.  You can read many of his books for free at Project Gutenberg, online here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Electronic Circuits Now Embeddable in Skin

Image Source: IO9.

eXistenZ, here we come!  That particularly creepy Cronenberg movie gave us a taste of what was to come (see it on Youtube here), and now it begins.  The title included a Magyar pun: Isten means God in Hungarian.  Pretty soon, we'll be checking our social networks on our wrists, with screens embedded in our arms.  The positive medical implications are great, at least.  IO9 is reporting:
A team of engineers today announced a discovery that could change the world of electronics forever. Called an "epidermal electronic system" (EES), it's basically an electronic circuit mounted on your skin, designed to stretch, flex, and twist — and to take input from the movements of your body. EES is a leap forward for wearable technologies, and has potential applications ranging from medical diagnostics to video game control and accelerated wound-healing. Engineers John Rogers and Todd Coleman, who worked on the discovery, tell io9 it's a huge step towards erasing the divide that separates machine and human.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death of Heroism and the DCnU Rebirth

The Justice Society of America, the first team of superheroes in comic book history, drawn by Alex Ross. (Hat tip: It's a Dan's World.)

I've written before about comic book superheroes as ancient gods that still survive in our culture.  They represent our most enduring grasp of right and wrong, the archetypes that come to us across the ages (see my post on Ur-memory of those ideas here), incredibly across thousands, perhaps even millions of years.  Looking at Green Lantern on a lunchbox or backpack, that seems an absurd assertion.  Perhaps we tolerate this pantheon of pagan deities in an era of mainstream Millennial religions precisely because the ancient gods have dwindled down to figures in comic mythologies that we tell children and youths; and these myths are not taken that seriously.

Yet the archetypes embedded here still have weight.  They also constitute serious commercial interests. That raises the question of why these archetypes over the past twenty years, and especially in the last ten (when DC has been under Dan Didio's leadership), have been undermined?  Why is DC Comics, the original classic superhero comics company, so preoccupied with the breakdown of heroes and heroism?  Why are their heroes dying?  Why are their characters being wiped from existence or rebooted in ways that taint them?  What does it mean when their core values are stripped from them?  Why are they being benched and sidelinedAnd why are the Outsiders, classic Titans, Justice Society, and Doom Patrol the key casualties in this reboot?  I've commented on the JLA-centric generational and Bat-commercial aspects of the reboot which left the JSA, Doom Patrol and Titans out in the cold here; and my posts on what the Titans and Doom Patrol signify are here and here.  There's a good series of posts this week on what fans are losing as the DCU dies, over at It's a Dan's World (here).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Anonymous Vows to Destroy Facebook

Image Source: All Facebook.

Oh, imagine the chaos if Facebook were to be eradicated.  PC Mag reports that Anonymous is planning to do so November 5 (as in, Guy Fawkes Night, V for Vendetta, etc. etc.):
Anonymous has vowed to "destroy" Facebook on Nov. 5. Or more accurately, somebody has set up a Twitter account and YouTube channel to announce a plan dubbed "Operation Facebook."
With the loosely affiliated hacktivist collective, it's always tough to know what's real, what's a feint, and what's a solo effort by some ambitious Anon to marshal the troops.
If Operation Facebook is real, it could mark a new phase for Anonymous, which in recent weeks has joined forces with the remnants of the more tightly knit hacker group LulzSec to target law enforcement agencies in an ongoing operation called Antisec. 
The "press release" announcing Operation Facebook does tie it in with Antisec, however. 
"Facebook is the opposite of the Antisec cause," reads the release, a full copy of which plus a video version is published below. Facebook, which "knows more about you than your family," according to the press release, "has been selling information to government agencies and giving clandestine access to information security firms so that they can spy on people from all around the world." 
The author exhorts others to "join the cause and kill [F]acebook for the sake of your own privacy."

Religion and Time

Religion and time. Image Source: Symposia.

Is time the silver bullet that explains a lot of Millennial tensions and nameless dread?  From collapsing time to the end of times, from life cycles to prophecies, from religious seasons to the afterlife, a journal coming out of University of Toronto, Symposia, is investigating the pressured quality of time in the new Millennium and its relationship with religion. So far, it has more questions than answers.  The editors are:
investigating the link between religion and time. Ours has been described as a society suffering from space-time compression, a state in which ‘time passes us by’ and we are forever ‘running out of time’ as global capitalism speeds up the pace of life. Closely related to this, some might argue, time plays a key role in many of our anxieties – in the ‘panicked nature’ of reactions to perceived emergencies, in which action is constantly required now, lest delay bring disaster, or in the nervous approach of December 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar. As a cultural element, religion is not immune to these influences, as we observe with the eschatological guessing-game of some Christian groups. But how are religion and time related in a given context ...?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pre-History Meets Post-History

First aerial footage of 'uncontacted' Brazilian tribes (February 2011) © BBC/Funai/Survival.  Video Source: Uncontacted Tribes.

Prehistory is about to encounter Posthistory.  Reports are coming out of Brazil that 'uncontacted' Amazon tribespeople, who live in near-Prehistoric conditions and until now were only periodically buzzed by their lobby group and the BBC, are about to be overrun by drug traffickers (Thanks to C.).  The area where they live is surrounded by guard posts built by the government, and these have been breached.  Evidence suggests that traffickers, moving in from the nearby Peruvian border, have already made contact.  From Scoop:
The Brazilian guard post protecting the uncontacted Indians who were filmed from the air earlier this year has been over-run by heavily-armed men, suspected to be drug-traffickers. It has been ransacked and vital equipment destroyed. Fears are now mounting for the welfare of the Indians after workers from FUNAI (the government’s Indian Affairs Department) found one of the traffickers’ rucksacks with a broken arrow inside. A rapid survey by government officials has shown no trace of the Indians, who made worldwide headlines in February. Police have reportedly found a package containing 20kg of cocaine nearby. It is feared the Envira River, where the post is located, has become an entry point into Brazil for cocaine smugglers from Peru.
There's more on this situation at Neglected War

Look Skyward: The Perseids

A Perseid falling star in 2007. Image Source: Wiki.

The Perseids meteor shower is peaking this week and next in the Northern Hemisphere.  The meteors are the spacedust chunks from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and named for the the word Perseides (Περσείδες), those born of Perseus and Andromeda.  Go outside, look to the Northeast near the North Star, and make a wish.  There is some concern that the full moon will block the view.  Rich Talcott, senior editor of Astronomy magazine:

“The key thing is to position yourself so there’s a tree or building blocking the moon. That won’t solve the whole problem, but it will mitigate it. ... [Or avoid the moon by going] out at 4 or 4:30 Aug. 11 [the shower's peak]: There will be a 30-minute window after the moon sets, and you might see 15 to 20 meteors an hour.”

Even if you live somewhere where you can't see them, they're there.  The ancients believed that stars fell when the heavens opened and the gods peeked down to regard Earth, spilling stardust upon us.  And just for that moment, if you caught their ear, they would hear you and answer your prayers.  See my earlier post on the mythology around falling stars here.

Image Source: Astronomy Magazine via News Press.

The Ethics of Simulation

Screenshot from Namco's 2003 video game, Kill Switch.

Researchers in Munich are studying the ethics of behaviour when people interact with video games.  They are running a one day conference, Kill Switch: The Ethics of Simulation, this November to discuss the morality of so-called 'simulated acts.' From their H-Net announcement:
How can one adequately address the ethics of a video game player's actions? There is a field of rapidly growing importance in ethics that has not yet been mapped sufficiently, a whole category of acts that has not yet been the focus of ethical theory, acts that are neither actually performed nor merely contemplated: simulated acts. Ethical theory has spent considerable energy investigating performed or contemplated actions, with some of the major ethical theories like consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics divided along these lines. Even the ethical interest in (passively) contemplated acts has recently increased with the rise of ethical criticism in literary studies. But our culture today is increasingly influenced by advanced systems of simulation that provide their users with a sense of agency that is as interesting as it is problematic for ethics. ... This conference wants to approach the question of how ethics can adequately deal with the special status of simulated acts.
One key to their inquiries must be the component of simulation, of separation, the lack of social consensus to set common standards, the divorce from real consequences.  The study of ethics of gamers is a short step from the ethics of how people behave when dealing on the Internet, on social networks and Cyberspace.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Worst Famine in 60 Years

Image Source: Dag Blog.

Ana the Imp has a penetrating comment on the current famine ravaging Somalia, the worst in 60 years:
Commenting in the Times on the present famine in Somalia, Tristan McConnell said that that the situation is set to get worse – “There are no rains expected for months and there will be no harvests until the end of the year at the earliest.”

Wherever the rain falls it does not fall on Somalia. It’s a disaster, an act of God, a theme taken up by the various aid agencies last month, who were blaming it on the “worst drought in sixty years.” Yes, it’s the worst drought in sixty years apart, that is, from the heavy downpours that have been flooding refugee camps in Mogadishu, the capital of this state that is not a state, over the last few days.

The simple fact is that the whole thing is a lie: God is not responsible for the starvation, people are, and the people I have in mind are the Islamists of al-Shabaab, who, as Aidan Hartley reports in the Spectator, control large parts of the south, ruling “over the population in a style reminiscent of Pol Pot’s Cambodia crossed with the Taleban.” Somalia is suffering from a famine alright, but it has political rather than natural causes.
I take her point.  But I can just see the assessment of what is happening in Somalia furnishing much material for political talking heads.  Radical Islam versus Global Warming.  A disaster is a disaster is a disaster.  How do we see beyond interpretations on which contending bloated political establishments have grown fat; and beyond the cloud of meta-information encouraged by television and the Internet?

Politics should be sidelined in the name of tackling reality.  In this case, the bottom line is that "more than 29,000 children under the age of five have died in just the last 90 days in the southern part of the country."  Yet how to aid Somalia's starving people gets lost behind the arcane process by which that reality is labeled.  Time - the long view (60 years) and the short view (90 days) becomes just another rhetorical tool.  The interpretations of why the event is happening become more important than the fact that it's actually happening.  And meanwhile, reality worsens, percolating beneath the hype.

Artificial Intelligence Grows: From DNA to Telepathy

Image Source: Geeky Gadgets.

There are some new developments in artificial intelligence. There are two paths in the field of A.I., which sooner or later are set to converge.  One is the deliberate creation of artificial intelligence systems.  The other is the artificial intelligence system we already have - the Internet and Cyberspace.  Two reports indicate that researchers are pushing the boundaries on both fronts.

The 21 July issue of Nature published results from researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  Geeky Gadgets: "What they did was build simple neural networks composed of four neurons each that exhibited a capability to employ an input/output network."  This artificial neural network was created "out of DNA, creating a circuit of interacting molecules that can recall memories based on incomplete patterns, just as a brain can."  They "asked, instead of having a physically connected network of neural cells, can a soup of interacting molecules exhibit brainlike behavior?"  The answer is yes; moreover this system can complete an incomplete pattern, an essential component of conscious recognition.  See the report here (ref: Nature, Volume: 475, Pages: 368–372 Date published: (21 July 2011) DOI: doi:10.1038/nature10262 Received Accepted Published online .

Meanwhile Business Insider is reporting that the National Security Agency (NSA) is building an artificial intelligence system that can read minds (Hat tip: Dobroyeutro).  It's based on the personal information accumulated on the internet, through marketing schemes, and on social networks:
It's called "Aquaint" (Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence), and PBS's James Bamford takes a stab at explaining how it works: "As more and more data is collected -- through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records -- it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think. "Whether it works or not, we know that it's so intrusive that at least one researcher has quit over the idea of placing such a powerful system in the hands of the an agency with little to no accountability."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Inching Toward the God Particle

Image Source: Mark Evans via Cosmos.

The summer's big particle physics conferences kicked off today in Grenoble (see here).  The Large Hadron Collider results are going to be presented and there's a lot of buzz on the Web that researchers are getting close to finding the Higgs boson particle, which, if discovered, will resolve inconsistencies in theoretical physics.  But Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), feels that they won't pin the God Particle down until 2012.  Just like everything else, apparently.

Mission to Jupiter

 Image Source: NASA.

On 5 August, NASA launched Juno, a robotic probe that will explore the planet Jupiter and help us understand the origins of our solar system.  It is set to arrive and begin orbiting Jupiter's poles on 4 July 2016.  See a video below the jump explaining the mission's aims.  NASA's Jupiter page is here.

Juno takes off, 5 August 2011. Image Source: Bill Ingalls/NASA/AP via Christian Science Monitor.