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, January 11, 2014

Time Capsules Inside Time Capsules: Paris, 1942

Marthe de Florian (1898), by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Image Source: The Meta Picture.

In 1942, a French socialite, Madame de Florian, fled her apartment on Paris's Right Bank near the Opéra Garnier. She paid rent on it until her death in 2010, but never returned (hat tip: The Meta Picture). The apartment has sat, sealed and untouched, with nothing moved since the Second World War, gathering dust.

After 2010, the estate opened the apartment and began selling the contents. They included the portrait (above) of the apartment's absent tenant's grandmother. It was painted by Italian portrait painter Giovanni Boldini, and recently sold at auction for €2.1 million. From AnOther:
Florian resided in a breath-taking apartment on Paris' Right Bank, which she left to her granddaughter, Madame de Florian. At the age of 23, amid the chaos of the Second World War, Madame de Florian fled Paris for the South of France, apparently never to return, but she continued to pay rent on the building until her death at the age of 91. From 1942 then, until a wintery December afternoon in 2010 – when it was entered by auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry – the decadent apartment remained frozen in time, a time capsule recording the precise moment of de Florian's sudden flight.

Amid the luxurious if dusty furnishings, the wizened taxidermy and mountains of ephemera ranging from dressing tables to Disney toys, Choppin-Janvry came across a mesmerising Boldini portrait of a beautiful woman wearing a pink muslin dress, accompanied by a stack of ribbon bound love letters, including some from Boldini himself, addressed to Marthe de Florian. It became clear she was both his lover and the beauty in the painting. A reference found in Boldini’s wife's records has confirmed the identity of the portrait's subject, dating it to 1898, when de Florian was just 24 years old.
There is some historical confusion in how this story has been reblogged across the Web. The apartment was already outdated during the 1940s, having been passed to the tenant (Madame de Florian) from her grandmother (a different Madame de Florian). The apartment still had love letters on the premises to Marthe de Florian (the grandmother) from the artist Boldini. It actually reflects a frozen 1900 carried to 2010 by the wartime conditions of the mid-20th-century. The now-famous Boldini fin-de-siècle portrait above of the tenant's grandmother is a time capsule inside a time capsule. It is one turn of the century relayed to our turn of the century by an auction house at the end of the tenant's life at age 91.

Nevertheless, this time capsule is a reminder of how much 19th century was still alive and well at the mid-20th century. It gives a glimpse of the world that was swept away during World War II and was subsequently replaced by suburbs, cineplexes, shopping malls, travel points, credit cards and iPhones.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Time Lapses: Focus and Futility, Fact and Fiction

Gen Y videographer Ben Blennerhassett, with Chewbacca. Image Source: Ben Blennerhassett.

Australian freelance designer and photographer Ben Blennerhassett recorded one second in every day of his life in the year 2013. He compiled these clips into a video now making the rounds online. Others have come up with similar projects, notably Noah Kalina who broke ground with two such videos in 2006 and 2012 (see my posts on Kalina here and here).

Blennerhassett's record reveals that it is nearly impossible to focus in post-Postmodern life. Time has become plastic and life can be artificially manipulated into a social media networking product. There is nothing fun or cute about that. View these videos one way, and they highlight the futility which accelerated technology brings to our lives.

Blennerhassett's final compilation shows something that eludes the videographer in his initial concept and practice. He has not captured anything. Instead, the clip captures him. He has recorded something about his life that is not evident except through the video compilation: a lack of control. There is an eerie point at which the medium spins away, beyond the eye and intention of this artist.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Look Skyward: Solar Storms and Northern Lights

"Monster sunspot AR1944 was directly facing Earth when this region on the sun released an X-flare on January 7[, 2014]." Image Source: NOAA NWS Space Weather Prediction Center via EarthSky.

An X-level solar storm is the most intense class of explosion on our star. On 7 January 2014, an X1.2 flare peaked at 1:32 p.m. EST (18:32 UTC). A coronal mass ejection exploded from a sunspot the size of our planet and the sun was facing earth when it occurred (Hat tip: Spaceports). This means that particles from the sun will collide with gas particles in our atmosphere today and tomorrow; the American National Weather Service is predicting a G3 (strong) geomagnetic storm. We will likely see the northern lights or Aurora Borealis down to lower-than-usual latitudes on January 9 and 10.

Counting Down in North Korea

"Kim Jong-un climbs into the saddle as he inspects the training ground of a horse riding company of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 534 at an undisclosed place in North Korea." Image Source: KNS/AFP/Getty Images via the Telegraph.

As far as modern media go, North Korea is a testing ground. In the Age of Communications, North Korea is one of the few places on earth where there is no constant feed of data with the surrounding, outside world. The state still controls its population with 20th-century-totalitarian-style propaganda.

North Koreans' only exposure to the outside world is through pirated DVDs, which are having an impact on attitudes in the country. As one North Korean 2010 defector put it in 2012, "I was told when I was young that South Koreans are very poor, but the South Korean dramas proved that just isn’t the case." The main report on this issue comes from Intermedia in 2012 and is entitled: A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment:
Global watchdog organizations such as Freedom House and Re­porters Without Borders routinely rank the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) as the country with the least free media in the world. Indeed, for more than half a century, North Ko­rea’s leaders have relied on a domestic media monopoly to control what information North Koreans can access and how narratives around that information are presented. But the situation on the ground is changing, thanks in large part to North Koreans’ expanding access to unsanctioned foreign media and information sources. ...

The project’s assessment of the current state of the media environ­ment in North Korea suggests that substantial numbers of North Koreans are able to access various forms of foreign media. These include foreign TV and radio broadcasts, and particularly foreign DVDs brought into the country from China by cross-border traders and smugglers. Other vectors for information from abroad include smuggled mobile phones capable of receiving foreign signals, and the exchange of illicit foreign content on otherwise legal MP3/MP4 players and USB drives.
Even the secretive régime is changing part of its Stalinist approach and has its own Youtube channel, here. This is odd, since most North Koreans don't have access to the Internet, which means that the channel is aimed at foreigners. Kim Jong-un has approved strange media events, such as an American basketball exhibition game, promoted by Dennis Rodman.

The Technological Revolution has sparked social and political upheavals across the globe. Will Millennial revolutions reach North Korea as well? Observers feel that they are counting down to a change for this communist dictatorship. Can online media expose and realign the ruling dynasty's power relationships? Kim family members vary in their engagement with the modern media. Most live completely outside the public eye. Others show a slowly developing media savvy.

Some commentators speculate, with Kim Jong-un's recent effort to "eliminate factionalist filth," that conflict between North Korea and its neighbours is inevitable in 2014. They argue that external conflict could unite the country's leadership and halt the pace of change.

As far as uniting the leadership goes, those commentators may be wrong. North Korea began 2013 with apocalyptic nuclear threats, and the Americans responded late in the year by flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the Korean peninsula. Critics argue that the Americans have been threatening North Korea with the 'Hiroshima Doctrine' for fifty years. The North Korean leadership seems to have taken a message from the 2013 Korean Crisis. This year's New Year's news in relation to the outside world was quieter, but from inside the Hermit Kingdom, there are reports of internal dissent at the top, of hair-raising purges and possibly-attempted palace coups.

In December 2013: "Very good likelihood of survival: Kim Jong-un with his aunt Kim Kyong-hui." In January 2014, those odds dropped for Kim's aunt, who has lately suffered from ill health. Image Source: AP via Sydney Morning Herald.

When patriarch and leader Kim Jong-il died in 2011, the world's press assumed that his youngest son and heir would fall under the sway of his paternal aunt, Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Sung-taek. What happened next over the following two years is unclear. State news blackouts foster a black market in information, the more grim and outlandish, the better. Jang was later sensationally arrested by Kim Jong-un's elder brother Kim Jong-chul. Almost no other country could then have a rumour circulated that Jang was stripped naked, along with five aides, and executed by 120 starving dogs in December 2013 - and have people believe it. Other reports state that Jang and his aides were executed with anti-aircraft machine guns.

On 24 December 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald thought, nevertheless, that the leader's aunt, Kim Kyong-hui's chances of survival were still "very good." But on 7 January 2014, the National Post reported (via the Chosun Ilbo newspaper) that Jang's wife has died either by heart attack or suicide; she last appeared in the international press in December. Her daughter, Jang Kum-song, Kim Jong-un's first cousin, committed suicide in Paris while studying there in 2006, after her parents opposed a marital proposal.

"Kim Jong Il’s half-brother, Kim Pyong Il, with daughter [Eun Song] and son [In Kang]." (2007) Image Source: Daily NK.

Starving dogs or no starving dogs, the leader's family members are dying off. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:
In the mid-18th century, Korea was ruled by King Yeongjo, who governed according to austere Confucian principles. One day, he began to hear reports that his son, Crown Prince Sado, was addicted to wine and women; more worryingly, Sado would wander the streets at night, randomly committing murder. There were even rumours that Sado sought to overthrow the king and seize power. Fearing for the safety of his kingdom but unable to order the death of his own son, Yeongjo ordered him placed outside in a box used for the storage of rice. Most Koreans know what happened to the "rice box prince," as Sado later came to be known - he died of starvation and suffocation, as those in the palace heard his cries for help. Fast-forward 250 years later, and we're back asking the same question: Is blood really thicker than water?
You may want to keep track of the rest of the family. Kim Jong-il had "one younger sister Kim Kyung Hee [now deceased] (married to Jang Sung Taek [now deceased]) as well as half-brothers (to different mothers) Kim Pyong Il [above, with his children], Kim Young Il (deceased 2000) and half-sister Kim Kyung Jin (51, married to Kim Kwang Sup, Ambassador to Austria [in 2007])." If you want to know more, check out the blog, North Korea Leadership Watch, which has profiles on family members. It also has information on the Party brass, the generals, and figures in North Korea's security apparatus.

Kim Jong-nam was the heir apparent in North Korea's leading communist dynasty until 2001. Image Source: NPR.

Kim Jong-un's oldest brother, Kim Jong-nam, fell out of favour with his father in 2001 when he was caught secretly attempting to visit Japan to see Tokyo's Disneyland; he was traveling under a "Dominican Republic Passport while using the Chinese name Pang Xiong (which means 'fat bear')." He "was [also] known as a 'familiar figure' at a bathhouse in Yoshiwara, which is one of Tokyo’s red light districts." There are rumours that his uncle was executed in December 2013 for secretly meeting with him. The 42-year-old playboy lives in Macau, the last European colony in Asia, which was Portuguese territory until 1999. In 2010, a South Korean reporter cornered the disgraced heir against an elevator in the Altira Hotel in Macau:
A JoongAng Sunday reporter confronted Jong-nam, 39, in the 10th-floor elevator bank of the Altira Hotel after a late-morning meal with an unidentified woman, who looked to be a Korean in her 20s. He had previously given interviews to the Hong Kong and Japanese press, but for South Korean media it was a first.

Jong-nam appeared cool as he allowed his picture to be taken, blue Ferragamo loafers and all. But he kept the talk and his answers short.

Asked how he had been, he said, “Fine, now are you satisfied?”

As to rumors that he had been telling people in Macau that heir-apparent Kim Jong-un, who was born in 1984 (although North Korean media last year reported he was born in 1982), is the son of one of his father’s mistresses, and thus should be out of the line of succession, he replied “I do not have any idea of what you just said.”
Kim Jong-nam now feels that his younger brother, aged 30, will not last long as dictator and he advocates reform in his country, with improved relations with South Korea.

Kim Jong-nam's son, the leader's nephew, Han-sol, sparked a scandal in 2011 when South Korean media discovered his Facebook page. Gawker:
South Korean media discovered Kim Jong-Il's grandson's Facebook page on Saturday and are having a field day picking over his blog and photo galleries. Turns out he's just a geeky high schooler who likes American movies and gets in comments flame wars. ...

Han Sol's blog posts and Facebook status updates also caused a stir, as they seem to be at odds, politically with his grandfather. According to the Chosunilbo, he posted a poll on his Facebook account asking if people preferred Democracy over communism, saying he liked the former. This is not surprising, given that Han Sol's father was exiled from North Korea over his pro-Western leanings. But pretty sure grandpa would purge him for less than that!

Han Sol had a couple Twitter accounts as well, and a blog (all since deleted)—the blog listed Love Actually and Remember the Titans as his favorite movies, and his interests as traveling, photography and "spa." Good to see he's not taking after his grandfather and secretly building nuclear weapons in his spare time.

However, Han Sol apparently shares Kim Jong Il's distate for Americans, as evidenced by a long flame war he apparently got in with someone named NickyAmerica in the comments section of a YouTube video posted to North Korea's official account. "Fuck off fatty," he tells NickyAmerica…. "go drop your cigarette and your cheesburger and go read a book. I'd suggest you to go study some geography."
Han-sol gave an interview to a Finnish TV network in Bosnia in 2012. The 17-year-old said:
"I’ve always dreamed that one day I would go back and make things better and make it easier for the people there. ... It’s really sad I can’t go to the other side (South Korea) ... . But we can, if we put in a little effort, step-by-step, come to a conclusion and unite."
In April 2013, Bosnian media reported that Kim Han-sol had gone missing. But reports from December 2013 stated that he had resurfaced under police protection in Paris where he is studying at Sciences-Po. You can see the 2012 interview with him below the jump.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Problem with Memory 9: Remembering to Predict the Future

Image Source and © Traer Scott Photography.

Researchers at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Raboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands are studying how to erase painful memories which are the main symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. On 22 December 2013, Time reported that the Dutch researchers found that specific and recent bad memories could be targeted and erased with shock treatments. But they have not established that entrenched negative memories, typical in PTSD sufferers, could be so treated.

Image Source and © Traer Scott Photography.

This post and this post noted similar memory-erasing research currently undertaken in California and Massachusetts. All of these concepts recall the grotesque treatment dramatized in the 2004 sci-fi film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Some researchers find the notion of erasing memory to be "too invasive"; they are instead trying to decouple memory from associated negative emotions. And they acknowledge that erasing negative memories of important events is akin to erasing the primary sources of history:
Elizabeth Phelps, professor of psychology and neural science at New York University ... and other researchers have previously used far less invasive techniques to reduce the emotional charge attached to a memory— rather than eliminating the memory itself. For example, one study exposed participants to smells paired with shocks and then wafted the same scents into their noses as they slept.  The volunteers didn’t forget which scent was linked with the shock— but they no longer had a fear response to it. “If you could take away the fear associated with the memory and keep the memory, that would be more optimal,” she says.

[T]he potential uses of a technique that erases personal memories raises profound ethical questions. Our memories are deeply related to our selves and many survivors of trauma get a sense of meaning and purpose from knowing what they have conquered. If negative or challenging memories are selectively removed, what would they leave behind?

“What if we wiped out all of the memories of the Holocaust?” asks Greely, “That would be terrible.  On the other hand, the suffering caused by some memories is really powerful and I would want to prioritize letting people who want to relieve their suffering, as a general matter, relieve their suffering.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

Antarctic Time Capsule

Never before seen: from Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Image Source: Antarctic Heritage Trust New Zealand via Petapixel.

Happy New Year! The blog starts 2014 with a hundred-year-old time capsule. On 10 December 2013, the Antarctic Heritage Trust published photographs from negatives discovered in Captain Scott's expedition base at Cape Evans (images of Scott's hut are here). The found photos were taken on Ernest Shackleton's famous and ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917:
The Trust’s conservation specialists discovered the clumped together cellulose nitrate negatives in a small box as part of the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project which has seen more than 10,000 objects conserved at Scott’s Cape Evans hut. The negatives were removed from Antarctica by the Trust earlier this year [2013]. Detailed conservation treatment back in New Zealand separating the negatives has revealed twenty-two images. The photographs are from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Ross Sea Party, which spent time living in Scott’s hut after being stranded on Ross Island when their ship blew out to sea.
One of the most striking images is of Ross Sea Party member Alexander Stevens, Shackleton’s Chief Scientist, standing on-board the Aurora.
Although many of the images are damaged, the Antarctic Heritage Trust was able to recognise landmarks around McMurdo Sound, although the identity of the photographer remains unknown.
Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition marked the end of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Two ships served on this expedition, the Endurance and the Aurora; they had separate missions.

While the Aurora sailed to the other side of the continent, Endurance became trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea; it broke apart and sank. Shackleton and five of his crew sailed a life boat to South Georgia, climbing a mountain once he landed ("the first-ever confirmed land crossing of the South Georgia interior"). Shackleton found help and saved his whole crew. T. S. Eliot immortalized this incredible story in his 1922 poem, The Waste Land (see my earlier post here).

As the press release mentioned, the found photos below the jump are from the Aurora's leg of the expedition. The whole collection is here.