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, March 25, 2015

Fountain of Youth 19: Professional Lifespans

Still from the film, Valhalla(2013), which explored the mountain culture of Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. Image Source: Sweetgrass Productions via under solen.

Your job can determine how long you live. It may even be the most important decision you ever make with respect to your mortality. Pacific Standard: "Burn brilliantly, or burn long: The choice is yours." In fact, it looks like you can do both, as long as you are willing to change career paths more than once in your life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Space Farming: Little Green Tendrils of Chaos

You can take it with you: Nigella damascena, a type of buttercup, germinated in a lab on the International Space Station. Image Source: Wiki.

When we depart for the Final Frontier, we will have to become very good at farming in zero gravity and on other worlds. Anyone who has tried the most basic seed planting and tried to coax a plant to maturity under ideal earthly conditions may start to appreciate what a daunting task that is. Even in today's era of Frankenfoods, plants don't care what humans think they should be or do. If you try to force plants or their environment to run counter to the laws they expect to follow, they simply die. If scientists are able to force plants in the short term via genetic modification to satisfy artificial human fads and demands, there will always be a correction in the environment, somewhere, that will decimate the plan. Period. For thousands of years, people have tried to play god with plants. Even when they achieve some success, that never become god. Biology will never be fully instrumentalized by humans, and it's a good thing too. It is that scary unknown factor in agriculture which brings a host of problems to space colonization.

On 12 March 2015, NASA confirmed via Hubble's observations that Jupiter's moon Ganymede has a huge water ocean under an ice crust, which could mean that it harbours life. Image Souce: Sci Tech Daily.

Experts claim that the only way for humanity to survive over the long term is that we clear that hurdle in the future. According to Stephen Hawking, whatever problems we may have down here on earth, a bigger one trumps them all. Our future lies in the stars, he argues, and humanity must eventually abandon this planet or face extinction. Does God play dice he asks, paraphrasing Einstein? Yes, He does, Hawking argues, asserting that there is an underlying range of chaotic variability, an unpredictability, to everything. Hawking contradicts Einstein's insistence that there had to be an underlying order in everything which we could not yet grasp. Despite Hawking's faith that the future cannot be predicted, he is certain humankind must go through a cataclysmic bottleneck, a test of survival, a possible extinction event. Over the next thousand years, space exploration must be our inevitable future. There is no wiggle room on this, he concludes, due to global warming, nuclear annihilation, or a genetically-engineered virus.

Cultural expectations of transcendent Singularity (which include a faith in space colonization) continue the very mechanistic mentality, a 19th century positivism, that quantum physicists criticize. Humans-as-machines is a very popular idea now, and culturally speaking, it is big, but not that deep. Humans are now addicted to, and obsessed by, their species' new computing power. Pause to observe the stunning fact that 40 per cent of the world's population got a new heroin habit over the past 20 years that was socially acceptable, economically profitable (if also economically tumultuous), politically unstable, and governmentally dubious. Then imagine that the most hard core tech addicts insist that we must lose ourselves in the addiction, becoming more and more like the technological objects of our adoration.

In fact, successful space exploration might be achieved only by an antithetical stance, a renewal of the organic, in a move that counters the seductive, semi-sexual love affair with computer gadgetry. In this post, I noted how popular ideas in the 1920s and 1930s shaped scientists' early conceptions of dark matter. In cultural terms, today's Singularity and quantum aficionados are 1920s' and 1930s' revivalists.

That is the kind of point that confirms that culture and science are not contending opposites; instead, they make an unexpected pair of yoked oxen. How scientists interpret and conceptualize their findings is heavily influenced by their cultural values, about which they are rarely objective or intensively schooled. This is why science fiction author Charlie Stross argued that space colonization is not a story about extending technology, despite all the technical trappings of the exercise. It is a story, as Frank Herbert knew well, about our relationship with the environment. And that relationship, given our psychology, almost always is expressed mystically and philosophically through the expansion and transformation of religion; Stross pondered some of this:
I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar; domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore. And I don't want to spend much time talking about the unspoken ideological underpinnings of the urge to space colonization, other than to point out that they're there, that the case for space colonization isn't usually presented as an economic enterprise so much as a quasi-religious one. "We can't afford to keep all our eggs in one basket" isn't so much a justification as an appeal to sentimentality.
A response to that post, quoted at the Daily Galaxy, dismissed these culturally-derived warnings because transhumanists believe we will meld with machines and morph into something non-human, or superhuman, or post-human:
[Stross doesn't take] into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system. "Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs.
That is such a 2000s' thing to say. Super-this, nano-that.  In 2005, Ray Kurzweil maintained in The Singularity is Near that we could interface with our technology, the way computers interface with each other, and in so doing we could transcend our biology. It was a fashionable, and now dated, thing to assume. The post-Singularity hypothesis tells you more about 2005 than it does about 2500.

Part of that hypothesis suggests that our addiction to computers is reaching blind adoration, and extends to the assumption that they are, or will be, smarter than we are. We love them so, such that we will either join with them (a typical, unreflective psycho-sexual assumption), and/or they will out-survive us. This is exactly the kind of thing an addict would say about his or her drug: it's stronger than I am; it's destroying me in the long term; but I love it anyway in the short term because it enhances my capabilities. The Daily Galaxy:
In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars. Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.
There is so much blind confidence in the secular window dressing around science and technology, that there is no warning that Millennial technological prophets employ the language of cult leaders. They speak the high-priestly language of a sacred mentality with religious fervour, and remain tone deaf about what they are doing, because they are scientists. They predict the future, while in the same breath admit that science tells them that the future cannot be predicted.

Eco horror from John Wyndham: alien trees might be triffid-like on planets in binary, two-sun systems. Image Source: Passenger Films.

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1.

Image Source.
Will the techno-rapture break down over space farming, when the plants remind them about our bottom line dependence on the environment? That is the final cultural pre-condition. We breathe air. We drink water. And despite our love affair with our shiny tools, we need the other earthly organisms which have evolved alongside us. What will the galaxy gurus do when the plants refuse to grow, or start to die, or grow tendrils 12 feet long so that they can snag and eat the colonists?

What if, in the wilds of space, space colonies and spaceships, plants can survive better than we can, arise to occupy a superior evolutionary niche to do so, and eventually overthrow and destroy us? They are only tamed here on earth because terran conditions allow us to be dominant. Space colony die-hards forget that humans evolved to a dominant position out of, and within, this earthly ecosystem, and no other. Once humankind leaves this planet with other terran species, to interact in long-haul spacecraft and space colony ecosystems, there are no guarantees that humans will dominate those systems. Even with humans supported by the technology they developed, plants may not remain their silent slaves. And this is before animal husbandry comes into the mix.

In a related vein, Mars One - the plan to send colonists on a one way trip to Mars by 2027, aka the final apex of reality television - came under harsh criticism this week. Their candidate selection practices and media entertainment fund-raising took a bashing. Critics dismiss Mars One as a pyramid scheme, even though that is only symptomatic of a more pressing problem. The reason private companies are taking over space exploration is because of politics. For years in the United States, a bizarre scenario has unfolded in which global warming has been pitted politically against space explorationObama's government slashed NASA's budget and money for other Big Science projects, which meant that other countries are now challenging or outcompeting America in these fields. Under these conditions, private companies will merge commercial capitalism with space aspirations and exploration technology. This week, Mars One's technological feasibility critics came through the loudest because a 2014 MIT study declared that Mars One's colonists' first wheat crop would blow their life support systems.

An independent MIT study from October 2014 concluded that the maturation of Mars One colonists' wheat crops would blow their life support systems by creating an overabundance of oxygen. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

Agriculture adds an element of the universe's chaos into any plan for survival in space and space colonies. This is the chaos whose metrics physicists like Hawking constantly seek and which elude them. This is the chaos that makes them admit that they cannot predict the future, right at the moment when technology dangles a future in front of them that they want to believe (rather than prove). This agricultural element of the unseen, of perceptual error, of the unknowable, confirms that space farming would constantly remind us of our essential humanity, right when space exploration threatened to dehumanize its technologists and engineers. It is organic chaos, culminating in our unpredictable relationship with the unwieldy environment and other organisms which may have the last laugh, that reminds us how fragile we are and that we must colonize the stars with humility. Luke, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, was raised as a farmer. It's no wonder why George Lucas did that. This is why, this week, the Mars One project came under fire around the question at the heart of all human civilizations: not media, not money, but agriculture.

An earlier post on HOTTC discussed the film, Silent Running (1972), in which the 1970s' back-to-the-land movement met the 1970s' space opera. You can hear Joan Baez's performance for the film's folksy soundtrack below the jump. Will the calls for space colonization overlap with the Millennial back-to-the land movement? So far, they haven't. Below the jump, see a selection of plants which have been planted on the International Space Station, and which plants are planned for future greenhouses on the moon and Mars. Several foods have been tested on the ISS, including the first bagels in space.

"Plant growth chambers, seeds and watering devices that made up part of an experiment flown to the space station during the STS-118 space shuttle mission [in 2007]. The seeds were later returned to Earth and grown within lunar growth chambers designed by students." Image Source: NASA via Phys.org.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Look Skyward: Auroras to Equinoxes

A severe solar storm sent out two coronal mass ejections from the sun on 11 March (an enormous X-class flare) and 15 March 2015. The CMEs do not seem to have disrupted electrical grids or computers, although there have been electrical problems in Ontario, Canada, which may or may not have been caused by the storm. Power in Ontario went down for short periods last week and again on Sunday the 15th and has been flickering for about a week. Ontario's electricity provider, Hydro One, denied that the geomagnetic storm left thousands in the dark across the province; rather it was all due to "a broken insulator" or a "broken line." Discovery reported that the 11 March flare created a radio blackout in large parts of the globe, and scrambled the ionosphere:
Shortly after the huge eruption, that measured X2 on the scale of flare energy, Spaceweather.com reports a radio blackout was detected over large swathes of the globe, including much of the Americas.

“The X-flare scrambled the ionosphere thoroughly so that no decametric radio signals were supported in my part of the world,” said amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft. “The ionosphere started to reform after about fifteen minutes when stations began to reappear. (The stuff visible during the blackout was my own observatory electricity. Nothing exterior.)”

Based in New Mexico, Ashcraft reports that the blackout was most obvious in the frequency range of 15 MHz to 26 MHz.
A more serious scenario is a favourite with apocalyptic Millennial soothsayers: an X-class CME could wipe out the grid and all our technology. In the summer 2014, NASA admitted that this almost happened on 23 July 2012. Discovery:
Wrapped in a powerful magnetic field, CMEs consist of huge bubbles of energized gas from the sun’s superheated corona (the solar atmosphere). The speed at which the CME travels into interplanetary space and the alighnment of its magnetic field can severely influence that CME’s impact on Earth’s magnetic field. ...

Our planet has a global magnetic field called the magnetosphere, so should a CME hit the magnetosphere at just the right alignment, the CME’s magnetic field can reconnect, causing intense magnetic disruption, injecting the magnetosphere with huge quantities of plasma from the sun. In this situation, the CME is said to be “geoeffective” and the resulting geomagnetic storm can be extreme. Today’s storm is so intense that it far overshadows anything that has come before it in our sun’s current solar cycle. ...

The storm is still ongoing and space weather experts will be closely watching developments. Storms such as these can have global impacts — from overloading powergrids and causing communication outages to satellite damage.

On the night of March 17-18, these unusually strong CMEs reached earth, and created a G4 geomagnetic storm (the second highest level) and auroras across the northern and far southern parts of the earth. I just looked outside my northern window and saw the whole sky on fire, alight with a ghostly, night-vision-green mist. For the duration of this evening, there is a live feed from Yellowknife, Canada, here.

Other observers claim that severe geomagnetic storms spark extreme earthquakes. Yet others speculate that mass die-offs of fish and other water-dwelling animals and birds presage earthquakes. This, too, was in the news today and over the past week or so, on the coast of California, where some 35,000 sea lions lie dead on the beaches (reports here, here and here).

If you believe in these omens, then you may also have noted that this entire week is full of intense astrological predictions. Monday 16 March 2015 marked the last of seven Pluto-Uranus squares (see my earlier posts on the 2012-2015 squares here and here) which have been shocking the world (astrologers claim) with radical changes and conflicts. This square is followed by a total solar eclipse in Pisces and a supermoon spring equinox in Aries, both on 20 March 2015. Eclipses and Supermoons are also associated with earthquakes, by folklore, if not by hard science. AstroShaman reads the signs and portents:
The final Uranus-Pluto square (15°18′ Aries-Capricorn) is here at last on 3/16, number seven out of seven. But don’t [lie] down in your comfy hammock and heave a sigh of relief just yet. This aspect will continue to radiate revolutionary transformation for the rest of the 2010s!

This series of Uranus-Pluto squares is the astrological headliner of the decade, and could be considered the primary catalyst for all the rapid, radical change we’re experiencing. ...

The solar eclipse on 3/20 at 5:36 AM EDT is remarkable for three reasons. It’s in the final degree of Pisces, and occurs about an hour before the Spring Equinox. And it only aspects feminine planets: Venus and the four asteroid goddesses!

But let’s start with the basics. Any solar eclipse is like a supercharged New Moon, and its effects can last many months. Any Pisces New Moon is great for new beginnings in the areas of divine union practices and expressing your inspired creativity.

But, since it lines up at 29°27′ Pisces, this solar eclipse is right on the border of Aries. So for the third month in a row, we need to blend adjacent signs into a lunation interpretation. But how can you coherently combine the radically different energies of Aries and Pisces, the alpha and omega of astrological signs?

For starters, we have a common theme: both Aries and New Moons are about fresh starts, or applying new energy to existing projects. So this adds even more juice to the idea of kickstarting or rekindling spirituality and creativity. ...

[T]his solar eclipse only aspects feminine planets. To be specific, it trines Juno, sextiles Ceres, squares Pallas Athena and semi-sextiles Vesta and Venus. In this context, the superabundance of femininity is more important than the meaning of the specific aspects. In my opinion, this is an amazing opportunity for the divine feminine, already on the rise, to root itself even more firmly into Gaia’s energetic matrix.

The soul-crushing millennia of imbalanced patriarchy – domineering “power over” that selfishly exploits for greed and control – is ending. In order to stave off a horrific environmental catastrophe and restore respect for all of the earth’s living beings, we must embrace our feminine sides. ...

The principle of morphic resonance, also called the “hundredth monkey effect,” radiates the energy of everything you do out to the collective. When you embody these feminine qualities in graceful harmony with the masculine, you make it easier for everyone else to do so as well.
One could argue that all this talk of auroras, earthquakes, dead animals, eclipses, equinoxes, New Moons and ancient gods embodied in squared planets together makes an example of the Hundredth Monkey Effect. Regardless, the auroras are beautiful, with or without the superstitions that surround them.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Channel 10 News in 1985

Video Source: Youtube.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même choseRetrontario, the Youtube channel that preserves clips from television in Ontario, Canada (and especially Toronto, see my earlier posts here and here) in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, just posted an old televised computerized ticker with news from Wednesday, 10 July 1985.

Aside from the still-familiar unrest in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the bulletin about the air crash refers to Air India Flight 182, in which 328 people died. Also on that day in 1985, the Greenpeace flagshipRainbow Warrior, was bombed in Auckland Harbour in a French secret service operation. Opération Satanique was carried out under orders from then President François Miterrand, because the ship led the protest against French nuclear tests in the Pacific. Initially, the government denied this, but later admitted that the Greenpeace vessel had been destroyed on official French orders in a flat admission: "The truth is cruel."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lost Cities: Islamic State's Idols of the Future

Detail of an Assyrian relief from Nimrud showing horses and horsemen of the royal chariot, 725 BCE. Image Source: Steven Vidler/Eurasia Press/Corbis via The Guardian.

Breadcrumbs in the forest: last fall, while looking for Indian silk fabric on eBay, I noticed Syrian daggers for sale, scattered creepily in between the silk listings. Were they antiquities? For some time, reports that the Islamic State have been selling and destroying the precious archaeological and historical cultural heritage of the Near East. On 26 February 2015, after pledging a year ago that they would not do so, they destroyed Mosul's antiquities museum and library, displayed in sickening videos (below). In early March 2015, after looting the ancient palace, they bulldozed the antique city of Nimrud. The Guardian:
"Nimrud, about 20 miles south of Mosul, was built around 1250 BC. Four centuries later it became the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire – at the time the most powerful state on Earth, extending to modern-day Egypt, Turkey and Iran."

Ruins of Hatra.
This is a radical Islamic "cultural cleansing" of ancient history. Islamic State militants are eradicating Iraq's and Syria's past, a cultural history shared with other ancient societies. It is that common heritage, as well as the anachronistic destruction of so-called idolatry, which these fighters are erasing. Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University in New York, commented:
"Hatra of course will be next," he added, referring to a 2,000-year-old UNESCO-listed site about 100 kilometres south of Mosul known for its beautifully preserved temples blending Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern influences."
And on 7 March 2015, BBC reported that Hatra had just been demolished by Islamic State. Shortly after, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS. Their "artifacts mafia" are making millions upon millions through the sale of antiquities: in Tel Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border; in Kilis, Turkey; in London, Munich and Brussels; and in other European capitals. With cold hard cash from antiquities sales, the Islamic State fighters are arming themselves to the teeth. They have scrounged weapons originating from China, Russia and the United States ("some were even made at a major U.S. munitions plant in Missouri"). They are buying weapons in black markets in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Eastern Europe and Iran. There is much stock-taking of their military equipment. Regular munitions and tanks: reports hereherehereherehere and here. Chemical weapons: here, here and here. Nuclear materials: here, here and here. And, with a twist on US weapons airdrops, here - is the real story this, or this?

The Telegraph suggested  on 6 March 2015 that the price of oil has been manipulated down to cut off Islamic State's oil refinery revenues, and in desperation IS are turning more and more to the plunder of antiquities to make money.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Before the Ides of March

Street art by PichiAvo in Almería, Spain. Image Source: Knihovna Chrášťany.

Do you remember the year you first connected to the Internet? I have friends who participated in primitive discussion forums in 1992. I got my first email address in early 1995. At the time, it felt as though I had held out as long as possible. Happy anniversary: I have been online for twenty years.

Street art by PichiAvo at Hip Hop Street in Vicar, Almeria, Spain. Image Source: Street Art Hub.

On 7 May 2014, the L. A. Times reported how many people in the world have Internet access and how many do not:
60% of world's population still won't have Internet by the end of 2014. A report this week by the United Nations says nearly 3 billion people around the world will have access to the Internet by the end of 2014. But 4.2 billion will remain unconnected. ...
A commenter responded that Internet access should not be held in balance against commodities of basic survival - but should it?
While 60% of the world doesn't have internet, 69% won't have clean water, full medical services, low risk of war, incomes above $6900 a year, or above average infant mortality rates. You think the 900 million Chinese who are picking rice or working in sweatshops care about internet...
This dichotomy between the developed, connected world and developing, unconnected worlds, between being globally plugged in and anchored in a local reality, repeats in personal microcosm. We have connected lives online and distinct lives in meatspace. Constantly shifting from one's sea legs to one's land legs is stressful. How essential - or detrimental - is online activity to our basic survival, development and growth as individuals in the real world?

Street art by PichiAvo from Mislatas representan 2014 in Valencia, Spain. Image Source: Art the System.

It feels as though virtual life is growing at the expense of real life. When Karl Marx wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses, he could not have imagined this most potent drug, which keeps over 3 billion people pacified (you can watch them joining the Internet, one by one, here). Forty per cent of the world's population is connected. The push to get the remaining 60 per cent connected made me think about enormous budding economies and nascent power groups. With all that potential, the Internet could be a seat of freedom or the foundation of tyranny. What it will become depends on how one manages time online and off.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Twin Peaks Déjà Vu and the World Economy

Image Source: Daily Mail.

In November 2014, Brooke Shields released a memoir, in which she reminisced about a few dates she shared with George Michael in the 1980s. The iconic photo of them brought back a decade, filled with glitz, glamour, and the high price of both. It is a world away from today's tricky global economies and crumbling infrastructure, where everything is deadly serious. Nevertheless, it feels like something of the 80s is returning and that time is coming full circle. Sadly, Whitney Houston's daughter has reminded me of the 1980s; so does Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, in her breakout role in cinemas in Fifty Shades of Grey. There were many more nuances to that time, more profound than the ones selected here below the jump. But what is shown here was a major American theme: high living with beautiful people and smooth operators in the sunshine.

Dakota Johnson. Image Source: The Wrap.

One of the videos below the jump is from 1982: Eminence Front from The Who's studio album It's Hard:
In the song, Townshend sings about the delusions and drug use of the wealthy and hedonistic. The lyrics describe a party in which people hide from their problems behind a facade. Townshend has introduced the song in live performances with: "This song is about what happens when you take too much white powder; it's called 'Eminence Front.'"
The 80s promised wealth and all its sins to the masses of the United States (and to her allies who were invited to the party). Today, wealth is exclusive again in America. Capital as Power speaks of the 2010s' New Gilded Age for the Plutonomy. The United States sports a handful of home-grown billionaires. But riches are no longer promised democratically and freely to the general population of the country. That is what the exuberance, styles and expectations of the 1980s were about. The door to a big, prosperous middle class was wide open. An entire nation would become wealthy. No child left behind. Everyone would be wealthy. In 2015, Americans know better; they are abandoning the glossy, marbled shopping malls, the proletarian palaces of 80s' spending. Conspicuous consumption and money's excesses have moved on: in the late 90s, they finally arrived in London; then they flew to Dubai; to Hong Kong and Singapore; then Mumbai; by 2012, they roared through SeoulGangnam Style, and now, money is flooding the Asia-Pacific region, in cities like Jakarta. Don't believe the beautiful illusions, people. The crash always follows.

Some don't learn. Some surf the wave, moving from place to place, following the money, and never learning the full lesson. If you want to do that, pack your bags for sub-Saharan Africa, and get there before the 2030s. Or you can follow where the Internet of Things will take you, although according to CompTIA tech analyst Seth Robinson, "There's no map" for that.

Image Source: Hypable.

Some do learn. Sobered Americans, like the JapaneseGreeks and other peoples who blew all their money, are ahead of the curve, not behind it. They rose to the height of prosperity based on industry and trade. They shared the unambiguous virtues of engineers and builders of society. It's like that line in Citizen Kane: "It's not hard to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money." The real psychological and moral challenges come from squandered riches. As money trickles back to America and other once-ultra-prosperous nations, the cautionary tales which explored those challenges in the 1980s and 1990s return. This is because the challenges posed by spent money are fully digested in culture, not in the economy, politics or society. That is why Twin Peaks, David Lynch's perilous 1990-1991 journey into the American soul, is set to return in 2016:
In May 2013, cast member Ray Wise stated what Lynch had said to him regarding a possible reboot: "Well, Ray, you know, the town is still there. And I suppose it's possible that we could revisit it. Of course, you're already dead ... but we could maybe work around that."
Image Source: Before the Bombs Fall.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Google's New HQ

YesterdayWired posted first glimpses of the new city-state that will be Google's future HQ:
In a new video released this morning, Google showed off an ambitious proposal for a future North Bayshore campus in Mountain View. The concept was produced by the firms of Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels, two of architecture’s fastest rising stars. Heatherwick Studio, based in the UK, was responsible for the torch at the London Olympics. The Bjarke Ingels Group, based in Denmark, is working on a trash-to-power plant in Copenhagen that will double as a ski slope.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Memespace Hyperventilation

Palaces in the sky: Dark Roasted Blend recently celebrated the incredible visions of French science fiction comics from the 1970s, which American and British directors mimicked in comics and cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. Image Source: Jean-Claude Mézières via Dark Roasted Blend (Hat tip: Me and You and a Blog Named Boo).

On 27 February 2015, Richard Branson encouraged entrepreneurs to come forward to share and expand new ideas. That's great, although some of the big biz riffing around the future celebrates the new idea of the new idea. One never actually gets to a new idea. The out-of-control lingo-about-lingo about the newness-of-newness reminds me of the explosion of Postmodern Expert Speak in the 1990s, which constructed new foundations of intellectual cultural authority.

The Valérian and Laureline "series focuses on the adventures of the dark-haired Valérian, a spatio-temporal agent, and his redheaded female companion, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time." Above, "Baroque spaceships (complete with ghost-ridden halls and gargoyles sticking out into the void of space)." Image Source: Dark Roasted Blend.

Mr. Branson quoted commenter Jason Silva, a photogenic Gen Y guru, who is a one-man meme generator and Singularity freestyle philosophical poet. He is compelling and makes good points, but there is something weird about the way he takes the Tech Revolution so literally and with such breathless utopian fervour. His clever rants reach height after height against IMAX effects. His videos are fantastic, if you like the Singularity Themepark Channel. His Youtube commentaries are part of the TestTube Network, which shares an unreflective undergraduate confidence that its contributors can fix the world, or at least understand it, if they edit it and add a soundtrack to it.

Silva's enthusiasm reminds me of the glassy-eyed idealism around the founding of America, or the Revolution in France. He joyously accepts the demolition of temporal boundaries and celebrates breaches of physical and cognitive limitations. He lacks a sense of Techno-Irony about the separate virtual lives enjoyed by his Online Language and Online Ego. To illustrate how Silva can be pithy yet simultaneously hollow, compare his Existential Bummer (the last video below) about death and a life beyond with another writer on similar topics. See Kate Sherrod's Story Sonnets: Infected (24 February 2015) and Who's the Real Crook Here? (23 February 2015).

Friday, February 27, 2015

Godspeed to the Stars, Mr. Nimoy

Image Source: Star Trek.

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015), who played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, has died, aged 83. He played a half-alien, always relying on cold logic, but saved by his capacity for human empathy and emotion. Nimoy's final tweet, telling his followers to 'Live Long and Prosper' (Hat tip: The Verge):

Clip from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). Video Source: Youtube.

Long Lovejoy and Little Dumbell. NASA's astronomy picture of the day, 27 February 2015. Image Source and © Rolando Ligustri (CARA Project, CAST) NASA APOD.

Caption for the above photograph: "Buffeted by the solar wind, Comet Lovejoy's crooked ion tail stretches over 3 degrees across this telescopic field of view, recorded on February 20. The starry background includes awesome bluish star Phi Persei below, and pretty planetary nebula M76 just above Lovejoy's long tail. Also known as the Little Dumbbell Nebula, after its brighter cousin M27 the Dumbbell Nebula, M76 is only a Full Moon's width away from the comet's greenish coma. Still shining in northern hemisphere skies, this Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is outbound from the inner solar system some 10 light-minutes or 190 million kilometers from Earth. But the Little Dumbbell actually lies over 3 thousand light-years away. Now sweeping steadily north toward the constellation Cassiopeia Comet Lovejoy is fading more slowly than predicted and is still a good target for small telescopes."

Return to the Tea House

Dolls for the Japanese Hinamatsuri festival at Minamoto Kitchoan in San Francisco, California (2015): The traditional imperial court doll festival and tea ceremony "arose in the Heian era when people used dolls to ward off evil spirits and ensure their daughters' health and happiness." As the Japanese cherry blossom festivals begin in March, tea parties mingle with spring rites on Hinamatsuri, or Girls' Day, celebrated on March 3 with saki and sweets; the day is followed by other celebrations. Image Source: C. Dorosz.

In the 1990s, coffeehouses became the stamping ground of professionals and hipsters. A great American adaptation from Central Europe and the Near East promised to invigorate North America beyond shopping malls and fast food chains. Within a decade, Starbucks became the kind of place where J. K. Rowling could write her first Harry Potter novel when she was broke.

At the global coffeehouse, the emphasis is no longer on cultural growth, despite what some undergraduates think. The coffeehouse sits on points on the grid along which the jolt-o-rama of Millennial life surges. We are always in an airport, always on the clock, always in a rush. You can travel around the world, and wherever you go, the same coffee haze and sticky chairs, misted with hazelnut syrup, will greet you. In the exhausting atmosphere of the coffee-information drip feed, it would be impossible even to digest your Grande, much less write a novel on your laptop while you're doing it. It is this fraught relationship with time, deadlines, with breathless seconds ticking by, which are driving people back to the tea house, where the rule of thumb is slowing down, not speeding up.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sheeple in the Year of the Sheep: Illusion and Illumination

Mainly in Asian countries and communities, 2015-2016 is the year of the Sheep, according to the Lunar calendar. Image Source: CNN.

How do we see Sheeple in the Year of the Sheep? Does the Lunar New Year's conciliatory message resolve the trend toward Millennial alienation, conflict and aggression? Can the values of Asia's Year of the Sheep or Goat, such as pacifism, collective action and creativity, ease the tensions caused by western gnosticism? In yesterday's post, I outlined how gnostic beliefs provide the background "social pathology of the political religions." Gnosticism built the central myth of our time: the four-fold Enlightenment illusion of rationalism, of higher knowledge through conflict, of control of the nature, and of human power over the earth. In today's post, I consider the Lunar New Year's symbols as a solution to this problematic myth, despite the fact that 'sheeple' are ridiculed by today's gnostically-minded.

Image Source: Pyramids and Sheeple.

Image Source: Seeking Alpha.

Image Source: Democratic Underground.

Image Source: Red Pill.

Image Source: XKCD.

"Making XKCD slightly worse." Image Source: Simon Software.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Lunar New Year's Conformity and Gnostic Alienation

Gnostic symbols. Image Source: MISTÉRIOS DE RENES-LE-CHÂTEAU.

How are the astrological symbols and messages of Asia's Lunar New Year relevant to Millennial life? The Year of the Goat or Sheep encourages conformity and pacifism, conciliation and acceptance of authority, but allows for creativity and a healing of past wrongs. These values oppose the confrontational and competitive alienation of the Millennial mind, which calls for leaders, not followers.

What is the origin of this confrontational alienation? This spring, Pacifica Graduate Institute in California is pondering the central myth of our time in a debate on Carl Jung's Red Book. I would argue that the Millennial myth derives from the Enlightenment era's hyper-rationalism, and an associated arrogance inflated by mechanistic advances in industry, science and technology.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy Lunar New Year! Welcome the Year of the Goat

Image Source © Barbara Giordano via Fine Art America.

Today marks the start of the Asian New Year. Some of us are eating some amazing food which symbolizes luck, long life, happiness and prosperity, like Jiaozi dumplings, made to resemble ancient Chinese coins, and incredible cookies, like Kuih Loyang cookies (honeycomb, beehive or rose cookies) and Kueh Bangkit, melt-in-your mouth tapioca coconut cookies (recipes here and here). Spring rolls are made look like gold bars. Octagonal trays of togetherness celebrate the lucky number 8. Whole fish make wishes for abundance. Fa gao cakes, or 'fortune' cakes, steam in different colours, ideally rising in their bamboo steam baskets into a big smile (recipes here and here). Sweets bring sweetness to life in the coming year: check out traditional Chinese candies at Aji Ichiban (here), one of Hong Kong's largest candy and snack stores and an international franchise. People exchange ornately designed red and gold envelopes (Ang Pow envelopes) full of money. Fortune asked Chinese astrologers what was in store for us in 2015; they said 2015 would be all about the economy. It is not a year for risks, but still a year when the arts, writing, publication and all forms of creativity are highly favoured. Avoid conflict. Make home and the best comforts of domesticity your priorities. And in the year of the Goat or Sheep, "master the soft sell," "be a shepherd."

Tea Eggs symbolize wealth (recipe). Image Source: Everyday Maven.

Sweets are popular at Asian New Year's celebrations. On the left, dragon cookies; top left Kuih Kapit, or love letter, cookies; top right, Kuih Rose cookies; bottom, pineapple tarts. Image Source: Illuminant Partners.

A selection of last year's New Year's delights in Singapore, from top: Nian Gao tarts at the Fullerton Hotel; Golden Piglet Shortcakes at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; Koi-shaped Nian Gao steamed cakes filled with durian or mango-citrus pulp at the Peony Jade restaurant; and Fortune of Gold apricot and passionfruit poundcake at the Goodwood Park Hotel. Image Source: The Dining Table.