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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Syria's Conflict and Ancient Plunder

One of at least 18 Odyssey mosaics reported stolen from northeastern Syria in early 2013. This is a detail of Odysseus tied to his mast, resisting the sirens. Despite reports, conflicting information originally places this mosaic in Tunisia, not Syria. Image Source: Past Horizons.

Since 2011, reports have circulated that Syria's classical heritage is being ruined or plundered by the conflict in that country. When war began, there were some 78 formal archaeological digs in the country. Then the conflict between the population and the government, followed by the Islamic State, led to an obliteration of Syria's precious past. Islamic State militants, like the Taliban, abhor graven images, although they are still willing to sell the stolen artifacts which they don't destroy. They are not alone on that black market.

Full mosaic: Odysseus and the Sirens at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia (2nd century AD). Image Source: Wiki.

On 2 September 2014, the New York Times reported that the Islamic State has set up a nasty sideline selling Syrian archaeological artifacts:
We have recently returned from southern Turkey, where we were training Syrian activists and museum staff preservationists to document and protect their country’s cultural heritage. That heritage includes remains from the ancient Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods, along with some of the earliest examples of writing and some of the best examples of Hellenistic, Roman and Christian mosaics.
In extensive conversations with those working and living in areas currently under ISIS control, we learned that ISIS is indeed involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but in a way that is more complex and insidious than we expected. ...
ISIS permits local inhabitants to dig at these sites in exchange for a percentage of the monetary value of any finds.
The group’s rationale for this levy is the Islamic khums tax, according to which Muslims are required to pay the state treasury a percentage of the value of any goods or treasure recovered from the ground. ISIS claims to be the legitimate recipient of such proceeds.
The amount levied for the khums varies by region and the type of object recovered. In ISIS-controlled areas at the periphery of Aleppo Province in Syria, the khums is 20 percent. In the Raqqa region, the levy can reach up to 50 percent or even higher if the finds are from the Islamic period (beginning in the early-to-mid-seventh century) or made of precious metals like gold.
The scale of looting varies considerably under this system, and much is left to the discretion of local ISIS leaders. For a few areas, such as the ancient sites along the Euphrates River, ISIS leaders have encouraged digging by semiprofessional field crews. These teams are often from Iraq and are applying and profiting from their experience looting ancient sites there. They operate with a “license” from ISIS, and an ISIS representative is assigned to oversee their work to ensure the proper use of heavy machinery and to verify accurate payment of the khums.
In addition to the looting, ISIS seems to be encouraging the clandestine export of archaeological finds, which is primarily centered on the border crossing from Syria into Turkey near Tel Abyad, an ISIS stronghold. There is reason to suspect that ISIS has approved and encourages the transborder antiquities trade.
To control history, especially to squander or erase it, is to control the future. There are some 10,000 archaeological sites scattered across the country. All are now vulnerable.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Photo of the Day: Bergs of a Comet

Images Source: ESA via BBC.

Tomorrow, the European Space Agency is planning to announce how and where its spacecraft, Rosetta, will land on the comet 67P/C-G. This Jupiter class comet, discovered in 1969 by Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, is a 10-billion-tonne mass of ice and dust, which is currently about 400 million km from earth. Here are some photos of Rosetta has already taken of the comet's surface.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Blue Sunsets in Crimson Skies

A blue Martian sunset in a red sky, photographed by Mars Pathfinder (August 1997). Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Are you sick of the world's turmoil? Take a fresh perspective and go off world. What does the night sky look from the surface of Mars? Are the constellations different? Does astrology change? Below, see more Martian sunsets and the view of one of the Martian moons, Phobos, from the surface of the Red Planet. The sky on Mars, like the soil or regolith, is orange. At sunset, the sky turns crimson. Sunrises and sunsets are blue. Wiki:
Around sunset and sunrise the Martian sky is pinkish-red in color, but in the vicinity of the setting sun or rising sun it is blue. This is the exact opposite of the situation on Earth. However, during the day the sky is a yellow-brown "butterscotch" color. On Mars, Rayleigh scattering is usually a very small effect. It is believed that the color of the sky is caused by the presence of 1% by volume of magnetite in the dust particles. Twilight lasts a long time after the Sun has set and before it rises, because of all the dust in Mars's atmosphere. At times, the Martian sky takes on a violet color, due to scattering of light by very small water ice particles in clouds.
On Mars, the Earth appears as the 'morning star' and 'evening star,' just the way Venus appears to us before sunrise and sunset. Our planet is the second-brightest object in the Martian night sky. From Mars, you can also see the Terran moon:
An observer on Mars would be able to see the Moon orbiting around the Earth, and this would easily be visible to the naked eye. By contrast, observers on Earth cannot see any other planet's satellites with the naked eye.
The Martian sky at noon is yellow-brown, imaged by Mars Pathfinder (June 1999). Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Martian sunset at Gusev Crater, photographed by Spirit rover (May 2005). Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Photo of the Day: Tethys

Image Source: NASA.

Today, from NASA, a photo from 22 July 2005: "Seen from ice moon Tethys, rings and shadows would play across fantastic views of the Saturnian system. Haven't dropped in on Tethys lately? Then this gorgeous ringscape from the Cassini spacecraft will have to do for now. Caught in sunlight just below and left of picture center, Tethys itself is about 1,000 kilometers in diameter and orbits not quite five saturn-radii from the center of the gas giant planet. At that distance (around 300,000 kilometers) it is well outside Saturn's main bright rings, but Tethys is still one of five major moons that find themselves within the boundaries of the faint and tenuous outer E ring. Discovered in the 1980s, two very small moons Telesto and Calypso are locked in stable locations along Tethys' orbit. Telesto precedes and Calypso follows Tethys as the trio circles Saturn." (Hat tip: Starship Asterisk.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Time and Politics 12: College Days Before the War

Click to enlarge: application form to Elon College (1913). Image Source: Elon University via Chronicle for Higher Education.

For today, as classes start at universities across North America this week, see a college application from 1913 to Elon University, North Carolina, USA. It's only four pages! The source is a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Those were the days when liberal arts were both progressive and considered a solid background for doing just about anything (including, unfortunately, dying in World War I). Post-2008-recession, critics consider the liberal arts to be politicized breeding grounds of the hopelessly underemployed, unemployed and unemployable. Today's defenders of the liberal arts insist that the arts and humanities teach their students critical thinking. Part of that critical thinking can extend to considering how progressive the new Millennium really is.

A friend, J., observed that at Elon University, "They didn't mention that, until 1963, only white people need apply!" He suggested that the progressive view now recognizes that the western-centric view of history - which this application embodies with its emphasis on classics - has given way to a broader, enlightened world history.

I agreed that this is the current prevailing view, although I feel it contains an anachronism. We now assume automatically that the western-centric vision is causally bound to racism, inequality, slavery, oppression, patriarchy. The notion that today's discipline of world history is more advanced than the previously western-centric, classics-focused liberal arts curriculum includes its own hubris-laden, anachronistic assumption about contemporary progress.

In 1913, people could not travel or communicate the way we can now. So why would we automatically expect people from that time to have the same broad global vision we do? Yes, it was an oppressive, unequal, patriarchal system. But at the time, wasn't the classics curriculum the founding source of liberal arts education? Wasn't that curriculum considered the epitome of progress in 1913?

One hundred years from now, what will people say about late 20th century and early 21st century liberal views of inclusion? Probably they will say that it was woefully benighted and reflective of its own time and place. We could equally say that today's world history discipline derives from perspectives informed by economic and political globalization, not the expansion of tolerance - even though it looks that way. Isn't it true that in today's globalized world, whose official creed is advanced progressive, tech-driven liberalism, there are more slaves now than at any time in history? And beyond that conventional definition of slavery, isn't technology not-so-quietly enslaving the entire plugged-in population? Bondage happens. That brutal reality - namely, that inequality, loss of freedom, vicious hatred, and violence are integral to the shiny, ultra-advanced globalized Millennium - breaks through heady tech dreams in unpleasant surprises and shocks.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Video of the Day: One Melody in the World

Today, see a beautiful Russian-language animation about Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), the great German Baroque composer noted for perfecting the 'one melody in the world,' also known as many-voiced polyphony. This is Сказки старого пианино Бах, or Tales of the Old Bach Piano (2011); the film was directed by Elena Petkevich, written by Irina Margolina, with animation by the South Korean Studio MIR in the series Tales of the Old Piano (Hat tip: Gina Theou).

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.