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 16, 2012

Photo of the Day: The Pool - with Cloisters

A privately-owned back yard on the edge of Palamós, in Girona Province, Spain, with hitherto unknown breath-taking architecture. Image Source: Medieval News.

Medieval News reports that a Spanish 12th century cloister, unlisted by the historical conservation authority, has been brought to public attention by a scholar in Italy (thanks to -S.):
An exceptional 12th-century cloister has been sitting for half a decade inside the garden of a private home in Girona province without anyone knowing about it, except its owners and a few locals. Gerardo Boto, a professor of medieval art at Girona University, unveiled the discovery at a recent Barcelona art convention, where he amazed Romanesque architecture experts with a detailed description of the find, which is already being compared to the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in Burgos. Most remarkably, it does not show up in any official inventory, nor does it enjoy cultural protection from any public agency. Click here to read this article from El Pais.
The owners have not given scholars permission to have access to the property. This is a good illustration of the ongoing tension between public and private, wherein private worlds can still preserve historical artifacts untouched for centuries, as in a time capsule. And public knowledge has not extended absolutely everywhere, yet.

See all my posts on Real Estate.

Friday, June 15, 2012

In Time

Image Source: 20th Century Fox via Biology of Technology.

Time is money. Benjamin Franklin's quip drives Andrew Niccol's 2011 film, In Time, in which human lifespans, hard-wired in people's arms, are traded as hard currency. While the film is an average sci-fi thriller, it is conceptually interesting from a Millennial point of view.

In this story, the Singularity, so trumpeted by today's Boomer gurus such as Michio Kaku and Ray Kurzweil, has arrived. No one ages physically past age 25, and after that, they are given one year to live. They can extend that span and live forever if they can earn, buy, beg or steal the extra time. Citizens' lifespans can be automatically increased or decreased through clasping arms or accessing time terminals.

In the film, the Singularity has created a viciously hierarchical society, with the highest ranks accessible only to those who have time to spare. Police officers are known as 'time-keepers' and geopolitical jurisdictions are called time zones. The wealthiest zone, where people live with over 100 or even 1,000 years of excess time stored in their arms, is dubbed New Greenwich. In the poorest zones, people have only a few minutes or hours available to them, and they constantly have to scrounge to gain a few more minutes of life. There is enough time in total for everyone to live a normal lifespan, but the wealthy have accumulated and stored that time, keeping it from the poor, so that the former may live forever. The film has a generational message. In New Greenwich, most people are middle-aged and elderly, although they look young. In the slums, most people are actually young, and they die young. Immortality, enabled by gadgets embedded in the body, masquerades as Darwinian capitalism.

The balance of power see-saws between haves and have-nots, hinging on a clunky Bonnie and Clyde plot that recalls the Great Depression. This 1930s' reference reflects the Great Recession and the explosion of technology in our own time, and suggests how tech is changing our society and our economy.

Above all, the movie promises that technology creates and will create ever-worsening inquality, chronic debt and inflation, a decimation of the middle classes, and a small, super-rich class. While the poor are legally free, they are bound by their lack of time. One character remarks: "The truth is, for a few to be immortal, many must die." In response, an Occupy-type rebellion disseminates millions of human life years among the temporally impoverished in the name of equality.

This film offers a pretty conventional 20th century critique of evil capitalists. Its flaw is that it never questions the high tech Singularity which enables the entire dystopia. Despite this, the film implicitly confirms a fact never discussed in the mainstream media and business papers, namely, that our current recession is causally connected to the explosion of new technologies.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Monster TV Nostalgia Watch: Dallas Reboot

Image Source: Seeking Alpha.

The energy economy has not changed in a generation. Maybe this is why the famous nighttime soap, Dallas, which dominated ratings from 1978 to 1991, rebooted yesterday so successfully. People Magazine focuses on Millennial nostalgia for the 1980s, rather than a decades-long stalled energy crisis:
Like finding an abandoned Teddy Ruxpin at a garage sale or discovering a Swatch watch at the bottom of a Trivial Pursuit box, hearing the theme song to Dallas opens an instant wormhole to the '80s.

Wisely preserving the iconic tune – along with the now-retro scrolling opener – this updated take on the classic nighttime soap pulls off a 10-gallon-hat trick: It's both old and new, a comfy piece of nostalgia that doubles as a fresh guilty pleasure.
A few years ago, I discussed Dallas with someone who dismissed it blankly as trash TV. Aside from the characters and flashy sets, I felt the show had a lot of interesting themes. It was grounded in a stereotyped, but recognizable Texan history of established cattle ranches overrun by oil wells, dramatized in movies like Giant (1956). That film was based on a novel from 1952 about the impact which the discovery of oil had on Texan society.

And in the end, the television soap reflected reality: in the years that followed the show's height, a Texan oil family entered the White House more than once. The whole world became Dallas. Real business connections and intrigues, of precisely the kind featured in TV drama, became the stuff of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Either way, the theme song (below the jump) brought back waves of nostalgia, and the subtle stylistic changes over time show how a formula endures.

Millennial Extremes 10: Random Wingsuits

The joys of wingsuits. Image Source: Wiki.

It's summertime in the northern hemisphere. As the recession grinds on, some people are happily passing the time with extreme sports. This month, base jumpers and sky divers have established the World Wingsuit League; in October 2012, they will hold a race at Tianmen Mountain, Hunan province, China. The competition is nicknamed, 'Formula 1 in the air.'

It's an incredibly dangerous form of entertainment. Within fractions of seconds, it places humans at the edge of everything nature and death have to offer. On 16 January 2012, renowned American base jumper Jeb Corliss crashed into an outcrop of South Africa's Table Mountain at 120 miles per hour (193 km/hour) and survived. Rather like the mountain climbers who film the bodies which litter Everest, Corliss is not naive. Sportsmen and women who court death go into extreme situations knowing exactly what they face. Why does Corliss do it?
Corliss never fears talking about fear. "I am scared of the same things other people are scared of."

The first time he jumped off a plane, he admits he was "scared to death".

"But you cannot stop doing something you love just because it scares you. You live with your fear, control it and use it to make more careful preparations."

When he smacked into the rock on Table Mountain, he did have a quick thought that maybe he was going to die. He has seen friends die.

Australian wingsuiter Dwain Weston, known for his daring low-altitude acrobatics, was a mentor to Corliss. In October 2003, they planned to do a combo jump from a plane flying above Colorado's Royal Gorge Bridge.

Weston struck the bridge railing, which tore his body in half. Corliss kept flying but when he landed, he was covered in Weston's blood.

"Dwain was doing what he loved," Corliss says. "I guarantee you he would prefer dying like that than he would in a car accident, or from cancer or from almost any other way of dying."

What matters in life, Corliss believes, is not how long it is, but what one does in the limited time available.
And so, after his South African accident, Corliss is back; he just uploaded a video (see it below the jump) to announce the establishment of the League; the video is a seamless Millennial blend of high-powered marketing and people throwing themselves off the tops of mountains.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dim Prospects

How not to get a job: study English. Image Source: Forbes.

Forbes just did a piece on the 'Best and Worst Master's Degrees for Jobs.' The top 10 degrees for getting a job fell in the computer sciences, physics, mathematics, the medical professions, business and economics. And the absolute worst Master's degrees for getting a job, according to descending pay and projected prospects, are:
  1. Library and Information Sciences
  2. English
  3. Music
  4. Education
  5. Biology
  6. Chemistry
  7. Counselling
  8. History
  9. Architecture
  10. Human Resources Management
Yes, at the turn of a Millennium, we see history and architecture, down at the bottom. And at the very time when the technological revolution has caused global literacy and written communication to explode at a scale never before seen in human history, all the major disciplines which teach written expression and analysis are relegated to the bottom of the employment and pay scales? And in a global economy, the study of foreign languages, rhetoric and grammar also have no prospects? Really? Did politicians, economists, jobs analysts, bankers and financiers learn nothing in 2008? Why are they still allowed to control the balance of power in our societies?

Forbes did not mention other subjects in the traditional humanities - law, philosophy, classics, linguistics, fine arts, theatre, dance, theology or the applied arts - presumably because these fields did not even offer numbers high enough to enter their sample statistics. Nor did Forbes touch on social sciences beyond economics, except for psychology, which is listed via the underrated discipline of counselling.

No wonder there is a terrible recession on, when this unimaginative, blinkered, conventional view still predominates. This view places supreme value on activities which generate a communications revolution and the basic infrastructure of international trade. Forbes hands us a world of middlemen and technicians who apply knowledge rather than discovering it: administrators, marketers, managers, industrial designers, economists, engineers, medical personnel and computer scientists. Empiricism is king. Positivism and neo-positivism consume all mysteries.

If there are any twinges of uncertainty, there are mass marketing machines and media cultures which create the false impression that the human aspects of the Millennial tech revolution have indeed been addressed. But they haven't. In a recent interview, indie author Craig Stone attacked the cult of celebrity, a myth of paramount creativity drummed up by marketing and industrial business concerns, which are no longer the popular commercial model:
I think with social media and Kindle we finally have the fairest way to find the world’s best writers chosen from a pool of millions – rather than what we have had traditionally – the best writers presented to us by the publishing industry who choose for us from a limited pool.

Is Stephen King the best horror writer in the world? No – but he is the best horror writer from a small pool printed by the publishing industry who resist other writers to maintain the reputation of writers that are household names.

In this new dawn, those previously thought of as writing gods are going to be revealed as just writers. Good writers, perhaps, but not the best because for the one Stephen King published there are hundreds ignored to sustain his reputation as the best because it’s easier and more profitable to publish a terrible Stephen King book than a great new book by an unknown writer.
Ironically, wildly popular Millennial reality talent shows seek to combine the two creative realities Craig Stone identifies. But these efforts are slickly produced and do not really solve the problem. Faux creativity is draped gaudily over every new gadget and applied software suite. Social networks build the Big Lie of the Individual, made 'special' by 'friends,' 'connections' and personal preferences. At some point in the 1980s and onwards, the word 'club' was used constantly in marketing lingo to confer special membership and privilege, when in fact it denoted that one had been absorbed into another featureless herd.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pulp Horror Nights

Web of Evil #17 (1954). Image is in the public domain. Image Source: The Digital Comic Museum.

When most people think of America after the Second World War, they think of 1950s' prosperity and the baby boom. But the post-war period also saw societies and cultures around the world - including those of the victors - digesting the horrors of war.

Two popular American genres which embodied that process were film noir and pulp fiction. Pulps had earlier roots running back through the century. The Shadow is one of the most famous of pulp heroes from the Depression, whose popularity endured into the 1950s and up to the present day, due to a fantastic radio show (listen to one episode here). By the 1940s and 1950s, pulps had evolved into comic books.

If you have ever been curious to see these rare pulp-style comics from the early Cold War era before horror themes were censored, you can see some of them for free online. Since 2010, the Digital Comic Museum has made Golden Age comics in the public domain available for downloading, here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Remembering Jack Horkheimer

Today, Jack Horkheimer would have turned 74. Happy Birthday to a dear and sadly departed man. From the mid-1970s to mid-2000s, he captured something of the best of that era, a hopeful, optimistic fascination with science, merged with the infinite possibilities of imagination (see, here, here, here and here). By contrast now, information is everywhere, but there is much less wonder.

NASA's New Mars Rover En Route to the Red Planet

Artist's impression of Curiosity, the new Mars rover, due to land on Mars on 5 August 2012. Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Today at noon EDT, NASA is hosting a teleconference on its new Mars rover, Curiosity (also known as the Mars Science Laboratory). Curiosity is bound for the Red Planet and is due to arrive there this August. You can follow the teleconference here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Netspeak Tales

LOLcats were the first Internet trope to make Netspeak universally popular, starting in 2005-2006. Image Source: I Can Has Cheezburger via Macmillan Dictionary.

The personal pronoun is dying. On Twitter, texting and instant messaging, in newspapers and other written media, technology prompts writers to drop the personal pronoun so that sentences begin with verbs, and the pronoun is assumed. Where possible, even the verbs are chopped, as: Meet u l8r. So much on 2day.

Sometimes, language crumbles in the other direction. Around 2004, I read a great transgressive short story about disintegrating Millennial language. In the story, an increasingly alienated protagonist gradually loses his ability to speak to other people. He begins dropping words from his sentences; the linguistic break down signifies his helpless and unstoppable withdrawal. In the end, he can only say the word "I" repeatedly. The affliction is called aphasia. It is not the loss of actual physical ability to speak out loud, rather a psychological loss of will to utter words, a frightening mental block between one's inner life and the outer world.

The author and title of this story escape me; the publication might have been the New Yorker, The Observer or the TLS; maybe one of the blog's readers will recognize the plot. Incidentally, the story about aphasia was published alongside Chuck Palahniuk's story, "Guts," which is another fictional example of trauma of the protagonist breaking through social reality of the reader. You can read it here.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was in a terrible car accident, and in the aftermath became mute for a time. It was a descent into silence, an invisible wall with which no one could argue. I realized that while language is held by intellectuals to be the hallmark of civilization, the willful erasure of language is ironically a moment of power, a last defense against total collapse.

And yet, George Orwell pegged his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in the brutal rise of Newspeak, a gutted, simplified language that signified the soullessness of the society. Some blame top-down policies of schools before they condemn the grassroots spread of technology. This complaint kicks a hornet's nest about educational agendas popularized over the past fifty years, which no longer permit spelling and grammar to be taught. So which is it? Is language collapsing and heralding a brutish, dystopian future - or are we on the verge of a linguistic renaissance?