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.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mortality and Immortality: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Image Source: 2 Oceans Vibe News.

Mortality and Immortality: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), African National Congress leader in the 1990s, who spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid in South Africa, has died. He became that country's first black president in 1994 and was one of the great figures of the 20th century.

Nuclear Leaks 31: The Good News and the Bad News

Sea stars are dying along the whole west coast of North America. Image Source: Time.

In Fukushima, Japan, there is good news and bad news. First, the good news. A 2009 report that scientists have made mice immune to radiation may find application sooner than we expect:
In a breakthrough that could change the lives of cancer victims, pilots and nuclear power plant workers, researchers might have found a way to protect cells from radiation damage. 

In a study published in the new AAAS journal Science Translational Medicine ... researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute found that they could protect healthy cells from radiation injury by turning off an inhibitory pathway that regulates nitric oxide. ...

Dr. Isenberg and his team made the discovery that by switching off a related inhibitory pathway that controls nitric oxide, they could give animals "near immunity to record levels of radiation," he says.

In mice, when Dr. Isenberg and his team introduced a drug that prevented a protein, thrombospondin-1, from binding to a surface cell receptor called CD47, the animals could endure almost unheard-of doses of radiation with virtually no ill effects.

In cellular studies, cells could withstand up to the tested amount: 60 Gy. And in whole animal studies, mice could endure the limit they were given: 40 Gy.

"Primarily, [on mice] people are using 5-10 Gy. This is off the scale from what they've published," he says.

Shockingly, the irradiated rodents were almost completely unharmed. Other than some mild hair loss at the site of dosage, there was almost no cell death or damage when histological samples were checked.

"There was no skin laceration or muscle loss," Dr. Isenberg says. "When we stained for cell death, we didn't even see significant loss of bone marrow, which is exquisitely sensitive...to radiation damage."

In comparison, control mice -- who didn't get the pathway-blocking treatment -- were eaten away with tissue loss and "frank necrosis of the limbs."
In other good news, the Japanese government issued a draft report on 3 December 2013; the report states that in seven years, the government expects to be able to stop dumping heavily contaminated water which TEPCO is using to cool its crippled nuclear reactors. Since March 2011, TEPCO has been dumping between 300 and 400 tonnes of contaminated water every day into the Pacific Ocean, but its officials only acknowledged that fact this past summer.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chinese Duplicature

An Eiffel Tower over a road in Hebei province. Image Source: Robert Harding/World Imagery/Corbis via WSJ.

In February of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Chinese fakes, knock-offs, copies and duplicates of western goods, landmarks and famous buildings. It is a great example of how globalization can spawn confusion and cognitive dissonance. A caveat: some critics of related reports assumed that this story was part of an anti-Chinese wave in the western media. Even if it is, it still exemplifies the Millennial taste for twins, doppelgangers and facsimiles.

Venice Water Town, Hangzhou. Image Source: Image Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

In the west, copies are derivative, inferior products. Almost always, respect goes first and foremost to an original inventor, creator, designer or architect. Copies are considered to be disrespectful and unoriginal because they violate the western principles of intellectual and commercial creation and ownership. Those principles derive from John Locke's labour theory of property, "a natural law theory that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources." You own what you create. And if you created it first, then you get the credit for breaking ground first. There are some exceptions, particularly in American cities like Las Vegas.

Luodian Town, a Scandinavian-themed town. Images Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

But generally speaking, in western eyes, Chinese fakes constitute an admission that western creations (and even culture) are superior, and all the Chinese can do is furnish pale imitations of models established by stronger societies.

This is a misunderstanding.

The Wall Street Journal described a theory from author Bianca Bosker, namely, that when the Chinese make copies of another society's best goods and greatest buildings, they are asserting their cultural dominance over the other society. The other society is being symbolically diminished, incorporated and absorbed:
This "duplitecture" is not meant to flatter the West, nor is it a form of "self-colonization." The copies are built as monuments to China's technological prowess, affluence and power. The Chinese have seized on the icons of Western architecture as potent symbols for their own ascension to—and aspiration for—global supremacy.
It is an impulse with deep roots in Chinese architectural tradition, dating back thousands of years. In pre-modern China, emperors demonstrated their dominance by re-creating rival territories within their own: Sprawling imperial parks, which featured flora and fauna assembled from remote lands, buttressed rulers' authority by showing their ability to both create and possess an elaborate facsimile of the known universe.

China's emperors also used copycat buildings to convey their mastery—actual or anticipated—over their adversaries. In the third century B.C., the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, commemorated his conquest of six rival kingdoms by ordering that exact replicas of their palaces be built in his capital. Today, the ersatz Eiffel Towers and Chrysler Buildings symbolize China's power to control the world by transplanting Europe and the U.S. into its domain.
Traditional Chinese attitudes toward replication also help to explain the trend. While Americans view imitation with disdain, the Chinese have traditionally taken a more permissive and nuanced view of it. Copying can be valued as a mark of skill and superiority.
Knockoff of Tower Bridge in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province. Image Source: Daily Mail.

The BBC reported on the Chinese mash-up of English municipalities - Thames Town:
As you enter Thames Town, the honking and chaos of Chinese city life fall away. There are no more street vendors selling steamed pork buns, and no more men hauling recyclables on tricycles. The road starts to wind, and then, in the distance, you see what looks like a clock tower from a Cotswold village.
"It has this almost dreamlike quality of something European," says Tony Mackay, a British architect, and the master planner for the Thames Town housing scheme and the surrounding district of Songjiang.
When local officials hired Mackay in 2001, he found farms and ducks here.
Today, there are cobbled streets, pubs and half-timbered Tudor houses. There's even a statue of Winston Churchill, and a medieval meeting hall that advertises chicken wings and beer in Chinese characters. But Mackay is not happy. "It doesn't look quite right," he says. "It looks false." 
Mackay says the architects who took on the designs for the buildings created a pastiche, throwing together different styles, and abandoning authenticity. Some of the half-timbered houses are six storeys high, for example, and the windows on the church just don't look right, he says.
"The proportions are wrong. The use of the different stones is all wrong. It would never be used like that in the genuine English church," he says.
The houses in Thames Town were largely bought as investment properties, so the town has always been quiet. It is only just beginning to develop a real sense of life and community.
To Mackay, the place looks like a film set. In fact, one Western blogger said it reminded him of the film, The Truman Show. ...
But Fan Yu Zhe couldn't care less. ... Fan and his bride Sun Qi Yao look ... deeply into each other's eyes as a photo assistant showered them with flower petals. Thames Town is crawling with young couples who want to have their wedding photos taken here. "I love European football, so I'm very interested in things from Europe," says Fan. "I really hope I can visit the real Thames River one day, sit along the banks, drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the British sunshine."
... Elsewhere in China, there is a replica Eiffel Tower, a mock Tower Bridge - even a recreation of Stonehenge.
Statue of Winston Churchill in Thames Town, Shanghai. Image Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

I09 reported on China's copycat craze without pinpointing its underlying message. See more copycat buildings from i09 below the jump.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chatroom Suicide Attempt

Image Source: Yahoo.

Advent can be a difficult time. It has long been recognized as a period when the mind turns to morbid thoughts and memories of the past. This is why ghost stories are popular during December. Psychology Today explains (here) why people get depressed at Christmastime:
We are told that Christmas, for Christians, should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.
Yahoo reports on a student who broadcast his (thankfully unsuccessful) suicide attempt while those watching the stream egged him on:
A young man, thought to be Canadian university student, broadcast his suicide attempt online Saturday night, downing pills and booze and setting his residence room on fire. While the disturbed 20-year-old huddled under his bed and keyed in what he expected were his dying thoughts, some of the 200 people watching egged him on, Postmedia News reported.
A report of the bizarre incident first surfaced on the Daily Dot web site Sunday, Postmedia News said. It apparently began earlier Saturday evening when the man, identified as "Stephen," posted a notice on 4chan, a notoriously freewheeling bulletin board, that he was prepared to kill himself on camera but needed help setting up the broadcast. ...

Once the chat room was live, Stephen swallowed some unidentified pills and chased them with vodka. He then set a small fire in the corner of his room using a toaster and crawled under his bed, apparently bringing his laptop with him.
“#imdead," he typed, according to Daily Dot. "#omgimonfire."
While some of the 200 viewers – with more clamouring to get into the chat room – urged Stephen to stop, others apparently encouraged him, even suggesting better ways to kill himself, such as dropping the toaster in the bathtub, Postmedia News said.
Others complained the thickening smoke from the fire was obscuring their view and those who couldn't access the video stream demanded frame grabs, according to an account in Britain's MailOnline.
The spectacle ended when firefighters burst into the room, doused the flames and hauled Stephen out.
Stephen's identity has not been revealed but reports suggest the incident took place at the University of Guelph in southern Ontario. ...

The incident has focused attention on 4chan and especially its /b/ Random site, which Postmedia News said is home to some of the web's strangest and most disturbing stuff. Users there quickly dubbed Stephen "Toaster Steve" and some mocked him for not actually dying.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Boomers Discuss Death over Dinner

The cast of The Big Chill (1983). Image Source: Fancarpet.

The latest Baby Boomer trend is the 'death dinner,' where Boomers gather with family and friends over dinner and discuss difficult topics like final wishes, wills, cremation and burial. Bloomberg reports:
At a Manhattan dinner party, former Citigroup Inc. ... executive Steffen Landauer gathered an eclectic mix of guests at his apartment off Fifth Avenue to sip pinot noir, dine on seared salmon -- and talk about death. 

“I think about it a lot and talk about it very little,” Landauer said to the group, which included a filmmaker, a private school principal, and a professional storyteller. Not to be confused with a macabre parlor game, the evening was conceived to confront real-life issues wrapped up in death and dying that few people like to acknowledge, let alone talk about at a dinner party. Would I want a feeding tube? Does dad want to die at home? What happens to my kids if I die in an accident along with my spouse? 

Those questions are getting asked more frequently. Over the past month [September 2013], hundreds of Americans across the country have organized so-called death dinners, designed to lift the taboo around talking about death in hopes of heading off conflicts over finances and medical care -- and avoiding unnecessary suffering at the end of life. It’s a topic that is resonating as baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, deal with the passing of their parents, even as they come face-to-face with their own mortality. 

About 70 percent of adults don’t have a living will, a legal document detailing the medical interventions they’d want or not want if unable to communicate, according to the Pew Research Center. As many as 30 percent of Americans 65 and older don’t have a will detailing what should happen with their assets, a Pew survey found. If those discussions don’t happen ahead of an illness or death, it can leave family members conflicted over what to do. 
See a video report from Bloomberg on death dinners below the jump.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beauty, A Measure of Time

The Venus de Milo (130-100 BCE). Image Source: Milos Island.

Except for the Golden Ratio, there is no template for beauty. But you would never know its infinite variety if you looked at the world's movie and media industries. Roughly every half decade, western popular culture has held up an iconic feminine type. The same is true of men. For example, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire shared similar fame and features in the early-to-mid 2000s.

Does a beautiful woman determine the fashion - or do designers set the trend by promoting a particular look? This is a chicken-egg question. I would argue that fashion, movie and media designers do not entirely decide the trends. For a brief window of time, a small bevy of beautiful women somehow channel the aspirations and desires of the Zeitgeist - and then their style becomes a fashion. The ladies who rise to prominence often resemble each other - or they are made up to resemble one another. Below the jump, see a few examples from 1980 to 2000.