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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beware the Ides of August

James Foley, US journalist, before execution, in a video released by IS on 19 August 2014. Image Source: Buzzfeed.

I have a friend, R., who is a retired British army colonel. He once said to me: "March is not the problem! Beware the Ides of August, when everyone goes away on holiday. That's when the real trouble happens, when no one is at the helm." After that, I paid more attention to what happens in the second half of August.

News stories ebb and flow as the MSM turn their attention from one item to the next. They create the false impression that one issue disappears while another suddenly intensifies. Ebola flares up alongside the crisis in the Ukraine. Those stories subside, combined with a ceasefire in Gaza, which draws attention to Ferguson, Missouri. This morning, Ferguson quietened, following news of the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/ISIS).

The MSM initially covered the Foley story with numbing euphemisms such as 'risks journalists follow in conflict zones.' The Guardian was more concerned, citing 'outrage' and a need to identify James Foley's British executioner, who was obviously chosen to spread even more fear in the west. The euphemisms are a sign of fear. But this was the organization that even frightened Al Qaeda - until its Yemen affiliate decided formally to join forces with IS on 19 August (see report here).

MSM journalists' rationale for downplaying IS is that not reporting on IS deprives the group of media sway; the MSM outlets refuse to be commandeered into becoming IS mouthpieces. However, the flip side of this decision is that the mass of people - unless they search online - do not know what is going on at all!

MSM coverage misleads further, because all these news stories are ongoing and interrelate. Twitter surged to cover Ferguson's police brutality, witnessing the rise of America's police state. Michael Brown's shooting in Missouri also confirmed Obama's individual significance. His presidency marks a turning point in the history of race in America. The only problem is that troubles in Ferguson just happen to coincide with the total failure of Obama's foreign policy.

The media seamlessly divert attention from foreign to domestic affairs without acknowledging what that diversion means. In a similar way, Clinton's 1998 impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky scandal obscured his foreign policy failures in Africa in the 1990s. One could argue that those failures helped pave the way to 9/11.

There is a reason why Putin now flexes his muscles in the Ukraine, whereas in 2002, Russia's relations with NATO were cordial. In 2010, the Moscow Times commented on why Russia will never join NATO. It boiled down to Russia's refusal to mingle domestic democratic accountability with foreign policy:
NATO requires that its members have civilian and democratic control over their armed forces. This is a fundamental princip[le] that allows for military integration and inter-operability among members. Although NATO countries have different political systems — some are presidential republics, others are parliamentary — they all have transparent defense budgets and public and legislative oversight over their countries’ military affairs. This includes independent investigations into military failures and abuses, parliamentary control over how funds are allocating — or not allocated — for weapons programs and constitutional checks and balances on a leader’s ability to send troops to fight in foreign military operations. In Russia, however, civil control over the military is anathema to the basic principles of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s vertical power structure, which has effectively folded all three branches of power into one huge executive branch. Any autocratic power, by definition, rejects public accountability in all spheres of government — and this is particularly true for its armed forces.
America's domestic accountability for her foreign policy is one reason why ISIS has overrun Syria and Iraq. IS took Mosul and are battling to recapture the Mosul dam - a critically important site left vulnerable in a desert country. That the Mosul dam and the Haditha dam are in jeopardy is a catastrophic failure in terms of American military and political strategy in Iraq. American airstrikes allowed Iraqi government forces to regain of control (barely) of the Mosul dam. The execution of James Foley was an IS media counterstroke for that IS defeat.

Obama's passivity in this gathering storm confuses even his critics who expect him to do nothing. The trouble lies in the extended domestic sensibility America brings to its foreign politics. While Obama is emblematic of everything the Americans struggle with when they look inward, he has also epitomizes everything they struggle with when they look outward. How can this superpower, founded in revolutionary anti-imperialism, accept its mantle as an imperial global superpower? Many Americans reject any imperial legacy as uncivilized, autocratic and cruel. The president of the republic cannot become caesar. Progressive Americans demand at the very least that American foreign policy function as an arm of domestic values. Meanwhile, America's critics regard the US as a hypocritical power because it often acts well beyond that domestic democratic remit; and critics see the USA spouting democratic cant while secretly, tactically promoting vicious dictatorships.

How can Obama respond to the Islamic State? As a domestically-minded superpower, America is trapped between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Whether they are hawks or doves, Americans can't win. No mindset of small town democracy, with its civic and legal orthodoxies, will defeat the people who executed James Foley and who have tortured people across Syria and Iraq. The US cannot meet IS actions  with hand-wringing, moral pleas and media blackouts. But if America moves ruthlessly to crush these brutal opponents, the USA becomes an agent of chaos, a torturer, a democracy that betrayed its best values. Others would argue that it is the USA itself that pulls the strings behind the curtains of conflict. It is one of the oldest problems in the book. Power corrupts. The American position changes depending on perspective. But whatever perspective on the USA you may take, one thing has happened that no one expected: America has found a way through.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Laugh of the Day: Deep Water

Anyone who has ever been suspended between thought, decision and action will identify with this video. To quote Trans-D Digital blog, there is more to the frozen struggle inside suspended animation:
"It is possible to undergo a profound crisis involving non-ordinary experiences and to perceive it as pathological or psychiatric when, in fact, it may be more accurately and beneficially defined as a spiritual emergency."
- Stanislav Grof; quote found here.
When there is a gap between thought and action, one may enter the realm of the extraordinary; perhaps that alienated vision comes with a spiritual crisis, but more likely it marks the start of a spiritual resolution and renewal.  (Thanks for the video link to -J.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Problem with Memory 10: Alzheimer's Portraits

Year 1.

Tragic and terrifying, Alzheimer's disease proves that having an accurate memory of oneself and the world is essential to sanity, health and life itself. New research from June 2014 points to genetic new approaches to understand and treat the disease. Yes, there is a gene for forgetfulness, and it is deadly. From imgur: "Alzheimer artist's self portrait over 8 years' time from onset until he forgot to send portrait to care facility management." See the full set of portraits below the jump.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Hard Day in Hollywood: Losing Lauren Bacall

Betty Joan Perske, about to become screen legend Lauren Bacall (1944). Image Source: Say It with Silence.

Lauren Bacall, a sultry bombshell who was one of the last surviving actors from the Golden Age of motion pictures, has died, aged 89. It is rare to find a woman who could embody so many ideal elements: she projected as much independent intelligence as Hepburn, as much beauty as Taylor. I loved her calm through the brooding threat of Key Largo (1948) and felt that she could be as alluring and comedic as Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). She was a rare woman who not only possessed all these qualities, but matched other female stars who respectively epitomized cleverness, classic beauty and sexual attractiveness. Perhaps it was because Bacall was so genuine. Many cinematic stars use an outward screen persona, while carefully guarding their inner, real person. Bacall, despite her name change, always appeared to be utterly herself. She did not need to put on another identity; she was real through and through. Bacall's obituary at the Guardian is here.

With Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944), in which she delivered (here) one of film's most famous lines. Bogart left his wife for Bacall after they co-starred in this movie. She was 19, he was 45.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Farewell to Robin Williams, a Long Goodbye and Peace

To Robin Williams, who made us laugh and inspired a generation with one scene (here) in Dead Poets Society (1989), I am so sad that he is gone.

I have mentioned that carpe diem scene, sentiment and stars many times on this blog: here, here, here, here and here. That speech is one of the reasons this blog exists. You only have so much time in your life; if you have something to say, you had better say it. I have thought about Dead Poets Society for years. With that role, Williams showed his insight, depth and versatility as an actor. He went on to play other characters who grappled with social alienation (The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo).

Dead Poets Society asked a question about how the individual can find validation in a world of conflicting values, while struggling with conformity and non-conformity, the pressurized demands for achievement, the futile sense that time is always running out, and a final, redemptive creativity: "Only in their dreams can men be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be."

Laugh of the Day: Techwife

(Click to enlarge.) Image Source: Twitter.

Look Skyward: The Perseids Return

A Perseid over Glastonbury Tor (2010) © M. Kempsey. Image Source: Telegraph.

Caption for the above photograph: Somerset: Meteor at Midnight, Glastonbury Tor by Mike Kempsey (DT6 Photographic) (UK). A meteor captured streaking across the sky by Glastonbury Tor in Somerset on 12 August 2010 at the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids is one of the most prolific showers, often with around 80 meteors an hour during its peak. Nevertheless, meteors are hard to catch on camera: the photographer has used a continuous shooting mode so that the camera was photographing non-stop in order to catch this fleeting image. Photo: Mike Kempsey (DT6 Photographic).

The Perseids, the star attraction among annual meteor showers because of their long viewing time in late summer, have returned. These falling stars have been observed around the constellation Perseus for at least 2,000 years, since 36 CE, or earlier in Eastern sources. They are visible from late July to late August. They are visible mainly in the Northern Hemisphere in the east/northeastern sky. This year, a Google doodle commemorated this brightest moment of the amateur star-gazing calendar.

Google gives background on the 2014 Perseids Google doodle here.

You can see a worldwide map on where to look for them according to your location, here. For tips on watching them, go here.

The meteors will peak on Wednesday, 13 August, from 1 a.m. to dawn. A bright moon will interfere with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, so the best views may be earlier in the week.  Spacedex:
In 2014, The Full Moon on August 10th and the Waning Gibbous Moon occurring on August 12th will have a negative impact on the visibility of the Perseids. Due to the bright moonlight, the fainter meteors may not be visible. It is advisable to observe the meteor shower during the predawn hours on the mornings of August 11, 12, and the 13th. With up to 60-100 meteors per hour predicted, observers may catch several bright meteors streaking along in the night sky.
Stellarium star-gazing freeware shows the Perseids falling according to time and location of the place on earth and spot in the sky; you can download it, set the view to your location, and cycle through times of day/night until you find an optimal viewing window when the moon does not obstruct the view, yet it is still dark.

Watching them is worth the trouble: seeing one meteor, let alone a storm of them, reminds one of ancient star-gazing traditions, and gives a sense of the unity between the earth and the heavens. Although they are just burning space rocks, they have a miraculous effect on the psyche.

Read my earlier post on the myths around falling stars, here. Ancient tradition said that you could wish on these meteors because they represented a moment when the firmament opened and the gods looked down onto our world, knocking some stars down as they did so. Although they are normally deaf to human entreaties, because they are listening at that moment, they will hear your requests.

Look east/northeast to find the constellation Perseus. Image Source: NASA.

Click to enlarge: the northeast area of the night sky to watch the Perseids near their peak for Ottawa, Canada, 12 August 2014. Image Source: Stellarium (a free downloadable software that lets you look at the constellations in your area).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Anniversaries: Hiroshima in Colour

This week (August 6 and 9) marks the 69th anniversaries of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were two terrible legacies from the Second World War, never fully understood, which became mainstream post-war and were insidiously repurposed into false positives. The first legacy involved discoveries made around social control, derived from Nazi propaganda and the Holocaust. The other legacy was nuclear.

The latter paved the way for the Cold War, atomic weaponry and the 'green' nuclear energy industry. Nuclear tests, such as 1954's Castle Bravo (above), punctuated a line of technological developments which eventually led to the rise of the Internet. At that point, the two legacies came full circle and reunited: the Atomic Age gave birth to the Digital Age.

Image Source: PBS via ENE Energy News.

These underground continuities are rarely recognized, but they are all around us; they include the most recent Fukushima headline - that 11,000 metric tonnes of subterranean trench water containing uranium and plutonium are leaking into the Pacific. Finally, on 6 August 2014, PBS reported that the China Syndrome is indeed occurring, and the radioactive core is exposed to ground water. In 2011, commentators estimated that the molten core - which is basically radioactive lava - could melt through the concrete floor of the plant within hours. The report claims that the core - in Reactor #3? - has melted two feet into the ten-foot concrete floor (or further? and in which of the three reactors?), although how this reassuring fact has been confirmed is a mystery:
3:30 – Miles O’Brien, PBS: Three of [Fukushima Daiich's] cores are now melted down, still steaming hot, their steel containment structures breached. Engineers believe some of the nuclear fuel has melted right through the steel containment vessels on to a concrete basement floor, where it is exposed to groundwater. [...] Each and every day, about 100,000 gallons of fresh groundwater seeps into the basements of the plant, where it becomes contaminated with a witch’s brew of radionuclide. [...] No one disputes the plant is steadily leaking radiation-tainted water into the sea. ...

14:05 — Masuda: Unfortunately, the fuel itself is exposed.
14:10 - O’Brien: Melted through?
14:15 — Masuda: Melted through the pressure vessel, and coming down to this room and it goes down to the floor.
If you think PBS ran this story on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing by coincidence, you are not paying attention. The Japanese hope to invent robots which can remove the radioactive melted cores at the Daiichi plant by 2020. In the meantime, expect continuous pollution of the atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Photos of the Day: Roman Shoes

Woman's shoes, Roman, 2nd-3rd century CE. Image Source: pinterest.

Today, from the pinterest page, Roman clothing, we have pictures of Roman shoes.

What Roman Londoners wore. Image Source: Museum of London Archaeology via pinterest.

"These Roman shoes were found between 1979 and 1982 during archaeological excavations at Bar Hill fort on the Antonine Wall (In Scotland). The Antonine Wall was built between 139-140 CE." Image Source: pinterest.

Monday, August 4, 2014

World War I's Sunlit Picture of Hell

From Siegfried Sassoon's diary: The Soul of an Officer (1916). Image Source: Sassoon Estate/Cambridge Digital Library, via European Pressphoto Agency and NYT.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of conflict in World War I. Commemorations are taking place in Mons. To observe this anniversary, the Digital Library at Cambridge University has placed Siegfried Sassoon's war journals online. One of the most famous poets of the war, Sassoon (1886-1967) was an officer who was decorated for bravery on the Western Front; his actions included the single-handed capture of an entire trench from 60 German soldiers.

He kept diaries in the trenches, later famous for their poetry, drawings and reflections. They show his contemplation of the soul of the war. NYT: "My inner life," he wrote, "is far more real than the hideous realism of this land, the war zone." He witnessed the most terrible battle of all, the Somme, where over one million combatants died. He described the Somme as a "sunlit picture of hell."

You can read his journals - over 4,100 pages - here. One poem, Memory, shows the stark line drawn between the pre-1914 world, and the bloody loss and shattering disillusionment that followed.


When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Entropy and Immortality: An Interview with Miguel Coelho

Dr. Coelho at the Murray Lab, Harvard University. Image Source.

Today, Histories of Things to Come is very pleased to interview biochemist Dr. Miguel Costa Coelho, a Postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, who has done ground-breaking research in the field of ageing. He is based at the Lab of Professor Andrew W. Murray and the FAS Center for Systems Biology at Harvard; and he is also affiliated with the Human Frontier Science Program.

Coelho's doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute in Germany traced the way a type of yeast actually gets younger as it ages. He found that when a stressed mother cell divided, it passed on all cellular junk associated with accumulated damage (the process we know as ageing) to one daughter cell, which died shortly thereafter. This left the other daughter cell pristine. Normally, both daughter cells would inherit cellular junk, allowing damage to accumulate in both over time. Coelho likened the outcome in this study to "the eternally young and beautiful Dorian Gray, and his corrupt and damaged portrait in the attic" (public access here; the full article is here).

There we have it, published 17 June 2014: under certain conditions, these yeast cells can grow toward immortality via compartmentalization, segregation and consequent elimination of progressive cellular damage as they divide over time. This finding was widely reported in the international press.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Arctic Oil's Distant Early Warning

Image Source: Arctic Institute.

Recently, there was an upswing in French linguistic nationalism in Quebec. Commentators have drawn parallels between Quebec separatism and Scottish calls for independence. The vote on whether Scotland will stay in the UK draws near: 18 September 2014. The calls for separation, the conflict in the Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East all have something in common: Arctic energy.

Sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian conflict happen to block Russia's progress in Arctic oil exploitation. In the Arctic, a 2008 United States Geological Survey estimated that there are likely 90 billion barrels of oil and 44 billion barrels of natural gas. From the Russian Geographical Society:
While most offshore areas have not been surveyed for resources, the extensive continental shelves in the region are believed to hold huge reserves of oil and gas. In 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) completed the most comprehensive assessment of potential hydrocarbon reserves to date, using computer modeling to evaluate 25 Arctic geological provinces. From this, the USGS estimates that the “undiscovered, technically recoverable” stores of petroleum include 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural-gas liquids. These figures suggest the Arctic may hold about 22 percent of the undiscovered conventional hydrocarbon reserves untapped worldwide.
Roughly 85 percent of these potential reserves are thought to occur offshore at depths of 450 meters or less. The majority of untapped natural gas probably lies within Russian territory, while most of the oil is located offshore of Alaska. The assessment indicates that more than 70 percent of the petroleum stores are concentrated in only five geological provinces: Alaska; the Amerasian Basin (underlying the Arctic Ocean); and the East Greenland Rift, East Barents, and West Greenland–East Canada basins.
That amount of energy resources is sufficient to redraw the whole picture of geopolitical power and global conflict, and gives a glimpse of the future. From Ernst and Young: A "USGS study estimated that the Arctic could hold about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and as much as 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves." Russia claims around 50 per cent of potential Arctic oil and gas resources. The USA claims approximately 20 per cent; Norway 12 per cent; Greenland 11 per cent; and Canada claims roughly 5 per cent of these resources. Other estimates place Canada's share at a much higher 20 per cent. There are disputed Arctic areas which determine these countries' relative wealth and power in the region. Metro:
“It’s the opening chapter of what’s going to amount to be a very long story, and people are playing nice and working together — for now,” says Robert Huebert, a University of Calgary professor and expert in circumpolar relations and defence policy.
Non-Arctic powers also stake claims in polar regions: "As the Arctic ice melts, the area is predicted to become a center of strategic competition and economic activity. Last year [in 2013], China signed a free trade agreement with Iceland and sent an icebreaker to the region despite having no viable claims in the Arctic."

To put this into the Middle Eastern perspective: OPEC states that the Middle East, Africa and South America have an estimated 1.2 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves. The Economist predicts that demand for oil in some developed countries will fall, due to technological and sustainable energy innovations.

But in developing countries, consumption of oil is rapidly increasing, as is the population. A 2013 BP study projected energy needs up to 2030:
  • Population and income growth are the key drivers behind growing demand for energy. By 2030 world population is projected to reach 8.3 billion, which means an additional 1.3 billion people will need energy; and world income in 2030 is expected to be roughly double the 2011 level in real terms.
  • World primary energy consumption is projected to grow by 1.6% p.a. from 2011 to 2030, adding 36% to global consumption by 2030. The growth rate declines, from 2.5% p.a. for 2000-10, to 2.1% p.a. for 2010-20, and 1.3% p.a. from 2020 to 2030.
  • Low and medium income economies outside the OECD account for over 90% of population growth to 2030. Due to their rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and motorisation, they also contribute 70% of the global GDP growth and over 90% of the global energy demand growth.
By 2035, global demand is expected to reach 101 million barrels of oil per day.

In 2011, The Economist estimated the world's total proven oil reserves (reserves that can be extracted with current technology) of around 1.38 trillion barrels would run out over the next 100 years. Most analysts foresee a decline of output and corresponding importance of the Middle East, with a turning point around 2030. Real Clear World: "There may be as many as 7.9 trillion barrels of potentially recoverable oil [i.e. unproven reserves] left in the world from all sources, according to the IEA, with more than 90 percent of it outside the Middle East."

Click to enlarge map. Image Source: Global Research.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

History in the Echo Chamber

Erasures from history are hallmarks of dictatorships. Image Source: Business Insider.

History is up for grabs. In the malleable global media, parts of history are being denied, erased or changed beyond recognition to suit new agendas. What is being changed, by whom, and where it is happening, all foreshadow coming trends in politics and daily life.