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.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Nuclear Summits, Nuclear Security

Image Source: Business Insider.

Some headlines predict the future. On 31 March and 1 April 2016, the Nuclear Security Summit took place in Washington DC, attended by representatives of several countries and international organizations; the summit produced statements and fact sheets on nuclear terrorism (here). In March, the Harvard Kennedy School's Project on Managing the Atom produced a document on how to stop terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials or a nuclear weapon, Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline? Also in March, the Nuclear Threat Initiative published its Radiological Security Progress Report: Preventing Dirty Bombs - Fighting Weapons of Mass Disruption.

Belgium's Doel nuclear power station: "A security guard at the Doel nuclear plant in northern Belgium was murdered on Thursday 24 March [2016]." Some reports maintain that there was no connection between the crime and the guard's place of work. Image Source: IB Times.

This week, reports reconfirmed that those involved in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks planned to attack the Belgian nuclear research site at Mol, SCK-CEN, which is a back-end storehouse of radioactive wasteThe World Post:
"Belgium has suffered a number of suspicious and alarming activities at its nuclear sites and against some of its nuclear technicians. In Aug. 2014, for example, someone with inside access at the Doel-4 nuclear reactor drained the lubricant for the reactor turbine, causing it to overheat and resulting in an estimated $100-$200 million in damage. The perpetrator and the motive remain unknown.

In Nov. 2015, Belgian police discovered that the terror cell that carried out the Paris attacks used a secret video camera to monitor an official at nuclear research sites with a wide range of nuclear and radiological materials, including enough highly enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs."
Of even greater concern is the fact that, according to reports from 28 and 29 April 2016, the Belgian government just planned to issue iodine tablets to all of its citizens. According to the BBC, these would be handed out next year. It may be a precautionary measure, or perhaps something has escaped the authorities. Meanwhile in Germany, surgeons are reportedly taking classes on how to operate on massive traumatic injuries, such as those sustained from gunshot wounds and bomb explosions.

Doel-1 is currently down for repairs. ISIS had a follower working at one of the Doel plants. Image Source: DW.

The headlines:
  • Reuters: "UPDATE 2-Belgian Doel 4 nuclear reactor closed till year-end" (14 August 2014)
  • HLN: "Hoe kan zo iemand in Doel werken?" (21 October 2014)
  • Reuters: "Belgium find video of nuclear official in search for Paris attack clues" (17 February 2016)
  • IB Times: "Paris attacks: Jihadists secretly monitored Belgian nuclear scientist for potential Daesh dirty bomb" (18 February 2016)
  • The Center for Public Integrity: "A terrorist group’s plot to create a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’: ISIS was looking for nuclear materials, and Belgium was a smart place to hunt" (29 February 2016)
  • The Center for Public Integrity: "Belgium orders immediate security upgrade at its nuclear sites: After long relying on unarmed guards, Belgium decides to send soldiers with weapons to safeguard its reactors from a terrorist attack" (11 March 2016)
  • DH: "Exclusif: les frères El Bakraoui visaient nos centrales nucléaires!" (24 March 2016)
  • RT: "Brussels terrorists planned nuclear plants attack, changed target after accomplice’s arrest – report" (24 March 2016)
  • Time: "The Terrorist Threat From ISIS May Be About to Get Worse" (24 March 2016)
  • The Times: "Brussels cell ‘was plotting radioactive bomb attack’" (25 March 2016)
  • The Washington Post: "Brussels attacks stoke fears about security of Belgian nuclear facilities" (25 March 2016)
  • NYT: "Belgium Fears Nuclear Plants Are Vulnerable" (25 March 2016)
  • Time: "ISIS Attackers May Have Targeted Nuclear Power Station" (25 March 2016)
  • Politico: "Armed police on guard at Belgian nuclear facilities" (25 March 2016)
  • Reuters: "Belgian nuclear guard shot, prosecutor rules out militant link" (26 March 2016)
  • DH: "Un agent de sécurité dans le nucléaire tué à Charleroi: la piste terroriste démentie par le parquet de Charleroi" (26 March 2016)
  • Daily Mail: "Two Belgian nuclear power plant workers have joined ISIS leading to fears the jihadis have the intelligence to cause a meltdown disaster" (27 March 2016)
  • BGR: "Brussels attackers were looking to make radioactive ‘dirty bomb’" (28 March 2016)
  • The World Post: "Belgium Highlights the Nuclear Terrorism Threat and Security Measures to Stop it" (29 March 2016)
  • IB Times: "ISIS To Attack Germany? Islamic State Lists German Targets For Brussels-Style Terrorism" (31 March 2016)
  • Reuters: "Islamic State urges attacks on German chancellery, Bonn airport: SITE group" (31 March 2016)
  • CNN: "Nuclear terrorist threat bigger than you think" (1 April 2016)
  • Ecologist: "Dirty bomb' security risk at Belgian nuclear power plants" (4 April 2016)
  • IB Times: "ISIS Threat To Germany: Spy Chief Says Security Situation Is ‘Very Serious’ Amid Islamic State’s Attack Plans" (10 April 2016)
  • DW: "A nuclear terrorism threat made in Belgium?" (15 April 2016)
  • Die Welt: "Chirurgen sollen sich auf Anschläge vorbereiten" (27 April 2016)
  • Breitbart: "Surgeons Receiving Military Bomb Trauma Training For Future Terror Attacks" (28 April 2016)
  • IB Times: "Belgium Nuclear Radiation Threat? Iodine Pills Supplied To Belgian Citizens After Germany Expresses Concern" (28 April 2016)
  • The Telegraph: "All Belgian residents issued with iodine tablets to protect against radiation" (28 April 2016)
  • RT: "Iodine pills for all: Nuclear plant security worries prompt new Belgium health plan" (28 April 2016)
  • Daily Mail: "Belgium to provide its entire population with iodine pills in case of a nuclear accident at one of its ageing power plants" (28 April 2016)
  • DW: "Belgium says its nuclear plants are safe but here are some iodine pills - just in case: Belgium's health ministry has said it will provide iodine pills to its population in case of an accident at one of its atomic plants. Technical problems with its aging reactors have caused tension with neighbor Germany" (29 April 2016)
  • New Indian Express: "Belgium Issues Anti-radiation Tablets to Whole Country After Isil 'Dirty Bomb' Threat" (29 April 2016)
  • IB Times: "Belgium distributes anti-radiation iodine tablets to entire population following nuclear meltdown fears" (29 April 2016)

See all my posts on Nuclear topics.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nuclear Leaks 36: Chernobyl, the 30th Anniversary

Video Source: VICE via Youtube.

On 26 April 2016, VICE commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by sending reporter Simon Ostrovsky to visit the area outside the sarcophagus and nearby Pripyat. His report revealed how little his fellow tourists understand radiation. The video explains that those exposed to fallout changed at the genetic level, and those changes were passed on to their children. VICE deemed Chernobyl still to be the world's worst nuclear accident, although since Fukushima that is disputed. One thing in the report was clear, in advice from Dr. Larysa Yanovych at the National Research Center for Radiation Medicine in Kiev, Ukraine: Don't go off the path. For some current photos of Pripyat, go here, here and here.

"Amateur British photographer Michael Day, 29, an air traffic controller from London who works in Aberdeen, Scotland, visited the disaster scene with a Ukrainian government escort to photograph the ghost town." Images Source: Michael Day / Barcroft USA via Telegraph.

Image Source: NBC.

See all my posts related to Chernobyl.
See all my posts on Nuclear topics.
Click here for all my posts on Urban Exploration.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Algorithms of Power

Marilena Preda-Sânc, Globe (Glob, world globe, nails, 35 x 35 x 35 cm, 1999; via the Bucharest Biennale). Image Source: Pavilion.

The footage below of the ruined Syrian city of Homs below was circulated by RussiaWorks on Youtube on 2 February 2016. Business Insider cites the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, which states that 13,301 people have died in the city since 2011. Business Insider also reports critically on the Russian video source:
"The video has not been independently verified but is similar to previous RussiaWorks productions, such as a video from January shot in the Damascus suburb of Darayya.

Speaking to Business Insider in October [2015] Boris [Z]ilberman, a Russia expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said: 'RussiaWorks is part of a slick campaign by the Kremlin to sell the war at home and project Russia as a military power.'

'The videos are put together by a number of Russian war correspondents/production folks that are tied to the Kremlin and probably have a lot of time on their hands — and some good drones — to make highly edited videos.'"
The Russians, with Iranian-backed Shia troops, are supporting Syrian government forces against Syrian opposition fighters and ISIS. On 20 April 2016, American analysts discussed these military movements into Aleppo, with Sunni civilians fleeing Aleppo ahead of the Russian, Syrian government's and Shia troops' advance:
"Russian aircraft, helicopters and troops have also been moving toward Aleppo over the past several weeks, they say. At the same time, hundreds of Iranian-backed Shia militia fighters are converging on the area to bolster existing regime forces.

'The Syrian regime seems to be driving towards the eventual isolation of opposition forces in and around Aleppo,' a U.S. intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

The official said at least in the area north of Aleppo, Russian actions appeared to be in support of the Syrian regime, aimed at cutting off the supply lines for moderate opposition forces.

'We also see indications of fighting southwest of Aleppo between Syrian forces with Russian backing and opposition elements,' the official added.

Russian officials have long said their actions in Syria have been aimed at terror groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, and U.S. officials admit Russia has picked up the pace of airstrikes on terror targets.

But analysts caution the type of Russian equipment being sent to Aleppo suggests not just a different enemy in the short term but also a broader strategic endgame.

'Russia has begun to alter the shape of its own deployment,' Institute for the Study of War analyst Genevieve Casagrande said during a panel discussion Wednesday [20 April 2016]."

Video Source: RussiaWorks via Independent via Facebook. Also circulated on Youtube by RT.

Some argue that the Americans, particularly the CIA, the British, sometimes the French, and the Israelis are behind a masterful New World Order bid to turn the whole Middle East into a batch of western puppet states, with countries falling domino by domino, after a social-media-driven succession of Arab Springs gone wrong. That gives the Americans and supposed Illuminati too much credit. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is very much 'like father, like son'; the Syrian civil war resembles the 1982 Hama massacre, in which Hafez al-Assad crushed a Sunni uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood which had been brewing since 1976. The failed American bid to topple Assad by joining the Saudis to fund Syrian opposition forces - and some argue, ISIS, despite American battles with the group - has led to a disastrous foreign policy mess, which brings the drone-slinging Americans to what The Guardian called, "plan B."

Déjà vu: similarities between Shia-led crackdowns on majority Sunni uprisings in Syria. Image Source: Georgetown University via Ben Davies.

Plan B involves cooling the American alliance with Saudi Arabia and tentatively supporting Iran, leaving one to wonder where the Saudis will pivot, perhaps toward Russia. The picture: ISIS in Europe; Russia and Iran in Syria; the Saudis alienated by the Americans to temper Iran's nuclear ambitions. All eyes turn to Jordan, now sharing anti-ISIS intelligence with the Israelis and Egypt, terrified of a nuclear Iran. If Iran has nuclear weapons, some argue that other Middle Eastern countries should have them too, or none at all. Beyond the usual astronomical expenditure on weapons in the Middle East, what would a nuclear arms race there look like and where would it lead? There is already a conventional arms race. In 2015, USD $1.7 trillion was spent collectively by all powers on weapons of mass, medium and minor destruction; you can see a worldwide comparative chart here. Of that amount, Saudi Arabia spent USD $87.2 billion in 2015; in 2013, the country spent USD $67 billion, and USD $56 billion in 2012, which gives an idea of the kingdom's escalating anxieties.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rickrolling ISIS

Image Source: Academia Obscura.

In 2007, a bait-and-switch meme started on the Internet that tricked users into watching Rick Astley's 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You Up (hear it here). The meme is called 'Rickrolling' and while it has brought Astley back into the spotlight, by August 2015 he had earned only $12 from the prank because he has performer's rights to the song; profits from Rickrolling went to the very fortunate song-writing trio, Stock Aitken Waterman. Astley remains sanguine: "Listen, I just think it’s bizarre and funny. My main consideration is that my daughter doesn’t get embarrassed about it." Above, from Academia Obscura, a student's physics paper on Niels Bohr. Bohr, the 1922 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, modeled the atom in the 1920s, helped refugees flee the Nazis in the 1930s, worked at the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, and helped establish CERN in the 1950s.

Anonymous cyber-revenge campaign after the 13 November 2015 Paris attacks. Video Source: RT via Youtube.

The Young Turks opinion on Anonymous campaign against ISIS (16 November 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

The Rickrolling meme is resilient. A day after the Paris attacks on 14 November 2015, Anonymous began to spam and troll Twitter users with pro-ISIS terrorist hashtags by diverting their traffic to Rick Astley's video. This Rickrolling performs as a type of data-mining, in which Anonymous hackers keep track of those diverted to the video and mark them for cyber-attacks. The hackers use social media information to steal ISIS Bitcoin cryptocurrency holdings and they attack them on the Dark Net. They renewed this effort after the Brussels attacks on 22 March 2016. This is the hackers' reverse humour against ISIS operatives and sympathizers: never gonna give you up.

However, as I have commented before on this blog, it would be naïve to imagine Anonymous as purely heroic actors, after one has had a taste of their New World Order and World War III conspiracy theories, here, here, here and here. The campaigns against ISIS are related to Anonymous cyber-attacks on the Belgian government under hashtag #DownSecBelgium. On their announcement that they will rally at Place de la Concorde in Paris, France on 10 June 2016, one Youtuber was skeptical: "rien à voire avec Anonymous, c'est un fake."

Anonymous hacker campaign announced in French against ISIS one day after the Paris attacks (14 November 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Anonymous hacker campaign announced in French against ISIS on the same day as the Brussels attacks (22 March 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

Justin Bieber Meets the Renaissance

Images Source: Daily Mail.

A photo of Justin Bieber being choked by R&B artist Post Malone in a club last week has gone viral because the light of the photo and the composition, which follows the Golden Ratio, perfectly mimics the appearance of a Renaissance painting. Several people photoshopped the image to make it look like a Renaissance painting in a gallery. Post Malone, who first gained attention last year for his hit, White Iverson (hear it here), appeared at Coachella on 18 April 2016 covering Nirvana's Lithium (Hat tip: Hot New Hip Hop).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saudi Arabia in the Age of Open Information

Video Source: Youtube.

A new documentary, Saudi Arabia Uncovered (2016), shows footage secretly filmed inside the kingdom, and highlights the tension between state oppression and freedom of speech embodied in global technology. The film was broadcast in Britain on ITV on 22 March 2016. You can see reports on the film herehere and here. Circulation of the film online coincides this week with a US State Department Country Report (here) damning human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. On 12 April 2016, a jailed blogger profiled in the above film, Raif Badawi, was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, which recognizes courageous writers who defend freedom of speech. In 2013, Badawi was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for writing a liberal blog. He started a hunger strike from prison in December 2015; his sister was briefly imprisoned in January 2016. Badawi's family fled and took refuge in Canada.

"Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, will collect the freedom of speech award on his behalf." Image Source: Patrick Seeger/EPA via The Guardian.

The documentary is part of a flurry of negative American and UK media coverage of Saudi Arabia this spring. In March 2016, a University of Waterloo talk and a Washington DC Codepink conference revealed brewing western speculation that Saudi Arabia is not sustainable. In part, that is due to falling oil prices, and an unfolding "Shakespearean story ... over who will be the next king." There were negative reports on the kingdom in Foreign Affairs and The Atlantic in March and April 2016.

"In this lecture Bruce Riedel discusses Middle East policy with a focus on Saudi Arabia and its evolving role in the region. Riedel is director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. ... Riedel was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House." Centre for International Governance Innovation, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (31 March 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

At the centre that debate is Hillary Clinton and her American presidential bid, which should raise some red flags on the timing and tone of information releases. One Codepink conference participant reported in HuffPo last month that Clinton had overseen billions in arms deals to Saudi Arabia to enable attacks on Yemen (this was reported at The Intercept in February 2016). Saudi Arabia heavily funded Clinton's presidential campaign and Clinton Foundation donors concluded related weapons deals via the US State Department while Clinton was Secretary of State. This spring, journalists and blogs began reading Clinton's leaked, released and hacked emails. WikiLeaks released PDFs of secret Saudi diplomatic cables in November 2015 and Clinton's Secretary-of-State declassified emails on 29 February 2016. On 9 March 2016, Zero Hedge sifted through different releases of the Clinton emails and found that the 2012 Benghazi incident was funded by the Saudis:
"This means we have an e-mail from a trusted Clinton adviser that claims the Saudis funded the Benghazi attack, and not only was this not followed up on, but there is not any record of this e-mail ever existing except for the Russia Today leak."
Other conservative reports claim there is a phone conversation transcript, released 14 April 2016 (here), apparently confirming that Clinton knew that Benghazi was planned and not a spontaneous protest.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Canals of Earth

A great cover for Martian Comics #5 (2016) with art by David A. Frizell is a homage to the classic film, A Voyage to the Moon (1902). Image Source: Martian Lit.

See images today from a Kickstarter campaign for a comic book about Martians' view of Earth, The Canals of Earth!
"Humans have long looked to the sky and wondered about Mars. What if someone was looking back? The Canals of Earth is the story of how Mars sees Earth, running from Martian prehistory to its space age. We begin in Martian prehistory, when Martians looked to the skies and imagined Earth as a goddess. We see some of the Martian mythology about Earth, tied to the invention of writing. We then see Martian science-fiction, in which they imagined aliens in their own image."
This comic, fifth in the series Martian Comics (2014-present; details here) is written by Julian Darius, with art by Mansjur Daman and colours by Diego Rodriguez. Darius has a doctorate in English Literature and founded the Sequart Organization, which promotes sequential artwork in graphic novels and comic books as a legitimate art form. You can still support the Canals of Earth project here until 27 April 2016.

While the imagery of the comic's cover is taken from the turn-of-the-century French film, A Voyage to the Moon (see it below), the book's title is taken from late 19th century studies that there were canals on Mars, based on observations of the Red Planet by astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), Percival Lowell (1855-1916), and Charles E. Burton (1846-1882).

First page (click to enlarge). Image Source: Martian Lit.

Martian Comics #5. Image Source: Kickstarter.

Kickstarter promo video, Martian Comics #5, The Canals of Earth!

The iconic image of the Man in the Moon from Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902). Image Source: Wiki.

The Blurred Line and the Hard Line

Under conditions of anomie, a fictional social network diagram shows competitive offshoots or spin-off groups, who redefine old norms to create new societies. Image Source: Wiki.

Technology, combined with the Great Recession and globalization, transformed societies, economies and politics through the turn of the Millennium. The mask of the materialist capitalist dream slipped with revelations from the Panama Papers, while also showing how that dream is connected to non-capitalist societies. The latter do not have better systems or superior ideologies. Hierarchy, exploitation and inequality are universal human problems. This post is not about who is correct, but who is seeking to control the claim to be correct.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Image Source: pinterest.

"How does a man come to know the unknowable?" He can do it through pushing the boundaries, or through some philosophical bridge. Maybe he does it through a woman, or a leap of faith, or a contemplation of the order of the universe that he cannot see. In these respects, I want to thank Dia Sobin at Trans-D Digital blog for permitting me to quote her 20 March 2016 post, The Language of Birds & the Alchemy of Love: The Music Box. She wrote a beautiful passage about the way in which girls keep talismans from their pasts to preserve memories and conjure up love. Women,
"have a peculiar predilection for keeping memorable items in special boxes, especially as young girls. Our little magic boxes ... full of talismanic detritus we've collected over the years ... a coin, jewelry, a shred of hair, a crumbling flower head, a photo, a signature, stones, bones ... whatever. Generally the tokens are kept to remind us of lovers or loved ones ... small trophies for experiences that may eventually retreat into a mental shadowland in the same way the objects themselves have retreated into the shadowy recesses of the box. But, no matter. The box becomes a sort of artificial memory bank... a collection of three-dimensional objects representing transdimensional events in the same way a collection of symbols do. In the end, whether we're talking about musical codes, alchemical codes, or the enigmatic chemistry of love and attraction, some type of hidden language is involved ... as is some kind of communication that lies outside the bounds of what is consciously understood."
Studies confirm that women remember events, especially emotional ones, better than men. Not only is the part of the brain which deals with memory larger in women, but that brain difference prompts female behaviour dedicated to maintaining memory through the organization of material objects. This tendency to tuck away bits of sacred junk in drawers and boxes demonstrates women's semi-conscious need to connect the emotional world and past memories to the tangible world in the present and future in direct ways. Women habitually manipulate time to turn the unreal side of life into something real. With these little anchors, they navigate the course of their lives. If you remember who you were, you don't lose track of who you are, and of the person you will become.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Space Pod Home

Sustainable Tiny Homes Of The Future!
Posted by Seeker Network on Monday, February 22, 2016

This Slovakian-designed pod home, the 'Ecocapsule,' costs approximately USD $120,000 with the solar cells included. The video is from the Seeker Network on Facebook. (Thanks to -G.)

Image Source: Ecocapsule.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Awaken the Amnesiacs 6: Mona Lisa's Trump Card

The famous Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503-1506), 'lady of light' or 'light-heartedness'; Lisa sits between two columns, with only their bases barely visible. Image Source: Wiki.

In an earlier post, I argued that scientists and technologists ironically inspire the primal and anti-rational because they are transforming life, breaching boundaries, and not always weighing long term consequences of their innovations. To understand that process, one must analyze it with ideas from the arts and humanities. With regard to the impact of the Internet, part of the answer comes from visual artists, who are preoccupied with how we see the world and how the world sees us. In my previous post in this series, I discussed Gerhard Richter's mirror paintings and their resemblance to computers as mirrors.

Perhaps the most famous symbolic depiction of the mirror looking at us is Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503-1506). Mona Lisa is smiling so mysteriously because the painting may not be about its enigmatic subject, Lisa del Giocondo (née Gheradini), at all. The symbolism in the Mona Lisa indicates that the portrait represents an archetypal mirror, which is actively watching you. Understand the Mona Lisa, and one starts to understand our present circumstances on the Internet. The next few posts in this series describe how the symbolism of the Mona Lisa provides clues to our Millennial mentality. Given the uproar over Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, it is fitting that today's post also explains the meaning of the word 'trump' in Renaissance card games, and it discusses why the Mona Lisa depicts a trump card and concept.

For a taste of medieval walled town life from Leonardo da Vinci's time, this is Pérouges, France, built in the 14th and 15th centuries around wine and weaving industries in the Ain River Valley, near Geneva; it is a seven hour drive by car to Florence, Italy. Video Source: Youtube.

The medieval town of Gradara is known for a castle which was finished in the 15th century, and would have been new in Leonardo da Vinci's youth. The castle features in the fifth canto of Dante's Divine Comedy, at the climax of the adulterous love story between Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. Video Source: Youtube.

Florence in da Vinci's time, in a 1493 woodcut from Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle. Image Source: Wiki.

Interiors of Palazzo Davanzati, a restored medieval-Renaissance Florentine palace, built in the late 14th century. The palace reveals a claustrophobic, walls-within-walls mentality, with everything being enclosed: towns, compounds, houses, inner houses, locked rooms, hidden chambers, and secret passages. Inhabitants sought ever greater security from outside conflicts, which became more elaborate and complex. Images Source: Walks Inside Italy and Sailko/Wiki and Museums in Florence. 

Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa at the turn of the 15th-to-16th centuries during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The Mona Lisa contains triumphal allegorical symbolism which was very popular at the time. These allegories were everywhere. They were a cultural shorthand for a whole range of accepted ideas about the way the world worked. At this time, noble families and guilds presided over life inside walled towns. Constantly in conflict to amass power and consolidate control, they revived the old Roman tradition of triumphal processions to celebrate victories in battles. The Renaissance, according to Joseph Manca, was "the age of the trionfo." Parades took on symbolic qualities to enable noble families to assert their historical continuity with the greatness of imperial Rome.

Triumphal Victory Parades

Thus, 'triumphs' were parades, which became associated in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance with spiritual allegories. This transition from a real military victory march to a symbolic parade to celebrate certain social values is evident in Francesco Petrarch's poem, I Trionfi (1356-1374), written mainly at the Visconti Court in Milan. Petrarch's love poems describe his unrequited love for Laura de Noves (1310-1348). In I Trionfi, Petrarch (1304-1374) claims his love for Laura made him face ever more demanding physical, emotional, philosophical, and spiritual challenges. At each stage, a higher virtue or stronger allegorical figure triumphed and held a victory march. Peter Sadlon:
"In the first triumph, Love as Cupid conquers the gods and men (including Petrarch). In the second triumph, Chastity defeats Love, reflecting Laura's ladylike rejection of Petrarch's advances. In the third triumph, Death defeats Chastity (Laura was a victim of the Black Death). In the fourth, Fame defeats Death (her reputation lives after her). In the fifth triumph, Time defeats Fame, and finally (sixth), Eternity conquers Time (with the promise that Petrarch and the object of his love will be united at last in the afterlife)."
The poem, in Italian and English, is here. The victories of ever-higher allegorical figures are depicted in the illustrations below.

The triumph of Love.

The victory of Chastity.

The march of Death.

The parade of Fame.

The procession of Time.

The victory march of Eternity. Images Source: Peter Sadlon. ("The images shown here are from Bernard Quaritch's edition of Works of The Italian Engravers of the Fifteenth Century, with introduction by G. W. Reid. Reid denies the credit for the Petrarch prints to Nicoletto da Modena and supports the authorship of Fra Filippo Lippi.")

Tarot Card Trumps

Triumphant allegorical figures, or 'trumps,' were then included in the invention of the tarot deck, a kind of Game of Thrones card game for nobles. The earliest tarot cards look a lot like medieval illuminated manuscripts, but were adapted to woodblock printing, introduced in the 15th century. The Visconti di Modrone deck of tarot cards, which is officially dated around 1466, but may date from the 1440s, is one of the most prized possessions of Yale University's library.

The first established tarot card decks were created in the 1400s through the early 16th century. The Florentine Minchiate deck of 97 cards, developed in the early 1500s when Leonardo da Vinci lived in the city, was used to play a game with a catalogue of hermetic archetypes. 'Minchiate' means 'nonsense' or 'bullshit'; so this was a 'fool's game,' a bit like chess, and a bit like early poker, with some allegorical lessons, astronomical archetypes, and fabulistic morals thrown in for good measure. The World of Playing Cards:
"The game, like other Tarot games, is a trick taking game in which points are scored by capturing certain cards and sets of cards. However, the deck has also been popular with card readers who see it as a variant of the esoteric tarot because of the allegorical and symbolical content. The Cavaliers [knights or jacks] are man/beast creatures. The Valets (or Pages) are male for clubs and swords, and female for cups and coins. Further features include the replacement of the Papess, Empress and Pope by the Western Emperor, the Eastern Emperor and the addition of the Grand Duke. Some scholars believe that these cards may have served as teaching aids, because several trump allegories (Virtues, Elements, Zodiac signs) belong to categories upon which classical learning was based at that time."

Look at the shocking first trump card! That is the Minchiate deck's version of the Fool or Joker, shown as someone who has given in completely to his baser instincts. This is a 1995 Lo Scarabeo limited 'Etruria' edition reproduction of a 1725 version of the Florentine Minchiate tarot deck. There was also a 1996 mass-produced deck and a 2011 reprint. According to Tarot Heritage, the first mention of a 'tarot' deck, comes from a 1440 Florentine diary. Video Source: Youtube.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Time and Politics 18: Quid Pro Quo

Follow Your Dreams/Cancelled by Banksy (2010) on a wall in Boston's Chinatown. Image Source: Lifehack.

Do not ask if the middle class is dead and where the political blame lies. Ask how much time you have, now that they are dying or already dead. Ask what has happened in the past in other societies after a middle class has died. Most people in the middle classes are waiting for things to improve. If that does not happen, there are two modern roads out of extreme social inequality and economic disparity: revolution or a police state. This was the message, on 20 March 2016, when BBC World News broadcast a programme on the post-recession destruction of the middle classes, entitled The Super Rich and Us, hosted by Jacques Peretti.

For a time after the Second World War, the social contract became quid pro quo - meaning, 'this for that' or 'something for something.' In English-speaking countries, it is a contractual concept under the Common Law, "an item or service traded in return for something of value." The Latin expression is the source for the British slang 'quid' for the pound sterling. One would work for a certain amount of time and gain money and a livelihood in return. Now however, the social contract is increasingly just - quo.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Awaken the Amnesiacs 5: Reflection Reversal

One of Gerhard Richter's mirror paintings on display at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. Image Source: View on Canadian Art.

Imagine a mirror, presented to you as a piece of art. Hanging in a gallery, the art would superficially deliver a message about itself. But this art piece would not be about itself. The artist had devised this piece to turn its viewers into objects, while the artwork became the viewer, or subject. The painting-as-mirror would be actively, perhaps even aggressively, looking back at its viewer. In this case, the viewer should wonder not about the artwork, but upon what or whom is that artwork gazing? Everything in the reflection would direct attention and questions back upon the viewer. In the style of the 1970s' minimalist movement, this was the conceit of Gerhard Richter's mirror paintings (thanks to -C.). Richter's sheets of colour-coated glass reflect the viewer. Richter's paintings "have secrets."

Now consider that the mirror's nature as an inert object with innate power might only become apparent once it is covered, or the light on it changes or disappears. Without light, Richter's mirror paintings become matte, dull, flat surfaces. The mirror, when covered, betrays its dangerous nature because we are no longer mesmerized by what we see in it. When it loses its power to reflect back at the viewer, to transform the viewer into an object, the viewer is reminded, brought to conscious awareness, that he or she has been watched. Add light again and the mirror gains agency and becomes a subject gazing actively at the world, with the world looking back at it. But at that very moment, the viewer in the world gazing into the mirror is mesmerized, and forgets the true nature of his experience, mistakenly thinking that he is the agent of action.

This power play is true of all mirrors, which is why some cultures require mirrors, or even reflective television screens, to be covered during sleep or after someone in a family dies. When Richter made a mirror into a piece of art, he manipulated superstition and embedded that message into an art piece, an object with cultural value. By putting mirrors into art galleries, he made us start to understand how mirrors reverse perspective and power. We think we are looking at mirrors, that we are agents with power when we gaze into them. But they are the real agents of power, and they are looking at us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

No Relief from the Heavens

From Sichuan, China: Share the Night With You. Image Source (12 August 2015) © Xiaoshan Huang via TWAN. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use.

Bombings in Lahore, Pakistan and Brussels were intended to disrupt Easter. Terror cells responsible for the Belgian bombings planned to kill Easter worshippers in churches in the UK and across Europe. There is an unconfirmed rumour on the Internet that ISIS crucified a Catholic priest, Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, on Good Friday in Yemen. In response to news like this, I always used to take personal comfort in astronomy and beautiful photos like the ones from The World at Night at the top and bottom of this post, because astronomy gives the biggest, most objective perspective on these questions. Unfortunately, astronomy is a secular study of the universe which drags us back into religious map of the human mind.