TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

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.



Showing posts with label Orson Welles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orson Welles. Show all posts

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Google's Infogate


Google was initially listed on 4 September 1998, hosted by Stanford.edu, having been developed by a couple of Gen X PhD students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Image Source: Business Insider.

This post is the first of several on decentralized information dynamics and real-fake, mainstream-alt news. I will start with the beast behind it all. On 4 September 1998, the search engine Google first appeared online. It is hard to believe, because it feels like a short time ago, but it was a pivotal moment between the way the world was and what it is now.

It used to be that if you wanted to find information you had to amass a personal book collection, and visit libraries and archives. You built a professional or amateur reputation as researcher. You had to get to know people - contacts, translators - who knew things, and travel around the world to see sequestered books, diaries and sealed files. Everything had to be taken down in pen and paper notes.

Orson Welles's sarcastic scene from Citizen Kane (1941), in which a journalist is granted permission to read in a private library which holds the unpublished memoirs of a deceased banker. Video Source: Youtube.

Once photocopiers existed, if the archivist was inclined, you would be permitted to photocopy small amounts of material at exorbitant rates. An average person might find one or two books at the bookstore or library, or have saved newspaper or magazine articles in a personal, physical, metal filing cabinet. That was it.

Before the Internet, information was hard won, and knowledge, wisdom and judgement about information even more so. The latter required time, contemplation, and reflection in total silence. It also demanded discussions with others who had done the same. It was a fundamentally different way of thinking.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Triumphs and the Frauds


Orson Welles (1915-1985). Image Source: Indiewire.

Years ago, I concluded that changing one's name artificially is a hex sign. Someone has built a fake reality for themselves around a fake identity, an alter ego. Of course, that depends on the circumstances; and now, alter egos and icon names are everywhere on the Internet. The original question concerned what is fake and what is real when it comes to building reputation through a public persona. In those pre-Internet days, a fake name propelled a figure forward to become more real and credible than the original person, for all the wrong reasons.

In 1974, Orson Welles made a documentary - his last completed major work - about disinformation and the agency it gives to fake people. His film, F for Fake, concerns a notorious Hungarian art forger, Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976), who sold hundreds of fake copies of paintings by master artists, authenticated by art experts, to top galleries and museums. The film also focuses on the forger's biographer, Clifford Irving. Irving made his name by writing a fake biography of Howard Hughes, which was completely fabricated and for which Irving spent nearly two years in prison.

Peter Bogdanovich describes F for Fake. Video Source: Youtube.

Welles encountered these characters in Ibiza, Spain. As he tried to get to the bottom of this story, the director confirmed how impossible it was to unravel liars' lies. Over time, their fabrications gained credibility and authority, based on reputations, cultivated layer by layer, over decades in exclusive social settings. In another short from the same period, set inside a fake private gentlemen's club in London, he poked fun at class and wealth as sources of enduring historical and social authority. He thought it comical that those who acquire higher levels of class and wealth gain historical weight, no matter what their true value. And in F for Fake, he found that when liars move in these temporally-weighted circles, first to lie, then to 'come clean' and tell the 'truth' (even if they never really do), they gain even more false authenticity.

De Hory's art forgeries reflected that, because art masterpieces are part of wealthy settings. Great art is considered to be durable, a lasting testament; it has more temporal weight than wealth. Artworks are luxury items which allow collectors to augment their wealth and class status, to build identity through assertions of taste. With art ownership, collectors associate the constructed longevity of their identities with the longevity of the artwork. Today's art world has responded to this market by seeking new 'great master' prodigies, who must produce more 'great works' for a nouveau 'ageless canon.' New billionaires buy new 'masterwork' art pieces, and the billionaires and the art artificially inflate each other's perceived lasting value. In Welles's terms, they are all fakes. One painter in his film shrugged: "The fakes are as good as the real ones, and there is a market and there's a demand [for them]." Welles set out to resolve how money, fame, power and time were wrongly connected in people's minds.

F for Fake provoked introspection, since Welles was reminded of his own fake 1938 War of the Worlds radio drama performance about a Martian invasion, which people believed was real. F for Fake was further reminiscent of the film which made Welles's name at age 26, Citizen Kane, a fictional history of the character Charles Foster Kane, newspaper-magnate-turned-presidential-candidate. Kane was modeled on the real media tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. The last section of F for Fake includes some autobiographical asides, after which Welles deliberately transformed the documentary into a faux-documentary, starring his girlfriend at the time, Oja Kodar. He confessed in the last few minutes of the film that he had created a 'film forgery.' "Art," he said, "is a lie that makes us realize the truth." You can watch F for Fake here, while the link lasts.

To quote a reviewer: "So if you're keeping track, F for Fake is a fake documentary, about a fake artist, being described by a fake writer, and framed by a self-described fake super genius person." It is a difficult, scattered film, now dated, and was poorly received by critics. Others defend it, especially because the film hinged on a single scene of crystal clear truth. American media psychologist James Herndon deemed one clip (below) from F for Fake to be "the profoundest moment in all of cinema." In it, Welles suggested that every expression of genius, identity, or creativity is limited and fleeting. The director approached Chartres cathedral in France as the silent testimony of anonymous artists, whose greatness will transcend the mortal condition only for a few centuries or millennia. Any attempt at creativity, no matter how beautiful, masterful, or fraudulent, constitutes a futile effort to overcome death.


Top, from Citizen Kane, fictional Kane, running for president. The real man on whom Kane was based never ran for president, but was elected to the House of Representatives and made unsuccessful bids to become Mayor of New York City (1905 and 1909), Governor of New York (1906), and Lieutenant Governor of New York (1910). Hearst had to settle for manipulating politics through his newspapers. Images Source: Everything You Hate.

Welles as Kane in Xanadu, the fictional depiction of Hearst's San Simeon castle. Image Source: The Latest.

The real Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, USA, built 1919 to 1947, is a monument to a megalomaniac ego seeking permanence; it is stocked with exotic animals, priceless art objects, and imported historical buildings. It is a national and California historical landmark. Image Source: Wiki.

The Gothic study and library in Hearst Castle. Image Source: Inside Inside.

The outdoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle features an actual ancient Roman temple which Hearst bought in Europe and imported to California. Image Source: Wiki.

As a comment on the futile quest for immortality, F for Fake was anti-master, anti-author, anti-expert, anti-wealth, anti-fabrication, but pro-authenticity. This film, Welles's last, is filled with the wreckage of Citizen Kane, with Chartres standing in as the universal artist's palace, confronting the billionaire's estate Xanadu, based on the real Hearst estate San Simeon. This time, Welles played Charles Foster Kane again, only 'for real.' Now, Welles was the supposedly rich man, riding on his reputation, clinging to his baubles and pretty young girls, knowing it was all bullshit; he distrusted hangers-on and friends who had also arrived at the top by dubious means. In his heart, he was haunted by the possibility that not a single thing he had done was worth anything. He wondered if his own work, already a rip-off, would be ripped off; maybe people would only know and recognize derivative Wellesian products, made by other people. With nothing left but his battered art, Welles sought sanctuary in the palace of Chartres. Where Chartres was a house of triumph, San Simeon was a monument to fraud.

Chartres clip from F for Fake (1974). Video Source: Youtube.

Welles was sure of one thing. When it comes to lasting greatness, the ego must die and all its pathetic trappings must go. The ego, aware that it will die and that wealth, fame, and reasonable accomplishments are insufficient builders of immortality, makes one last ditch, explosive effort to leave its permanent mark. Welles wanted to find something irreducible and moral beneath that. Surrounded by frauds and liars, the only integrity he could imagine was a confessional, of stating the truth that he was a fraud too. But coming clean with the truth was also an act of trickery, and so Welles was left with another layer of subterfuge. He concluded that, of all the areas in life in which one built credibility and reputation, only a creative endeavour - no matter how embattled - might come close to liberating humans from this disastrous loop of projected myth, believable lies, and hierarchies of liars.

Although art immersed the artist in falsehoods with its fake depictions of reality, when artists produced something like Chartres cathedral, the result was a fleeting reflection of eternity. This became true only when the art object was stripped of any pretension toward ego, reputation, projected value, collectable wealth, authority, control, or greatness. And for those who tried to buy, or falsely create, fake ageless identities associated with that final truth, F for Fake asserted that no matter how wealthy you are, you cannot buy time, and you cannot buy your place in history.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: The Devil is in the Details


The British Guiana 1c Magenta (1856) has a sailing ship image and the colony’s Latin motto, "Damus Petimus Que Vicissim" or "We Give and Expect in Return." Image Source: stampboards.

The most rare and valuable stamp in the world is the British Guiana One Cent Magenta, which is worth almost USD $9.5 million, according to its last auction in June 2014. As far as we know, there is only one 1c Magenta. It is so rare and valuable that it is the only major stamp not in the private philatelic collection of Britain's royal family, who have been collecting stamps for as long as stamps have existed. The stamp was discovered in 1873 by a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy, Louis Vernon Vaughan, who found the stamp among his uncle's papers in Demerara. He saw that the stamp was not listed in his catalogue and sold it for six shillings to a local collector. According to online inflation and currency conversion calculators, six shillings in 1873 would be equivalent to approximately USD $259 in September 2015 values.

The stamp is so rare because it was produced in an emergency issue at the Georgetown newspaper, the Royal Gazette, when a British ship did not deliver enough stamps needed for the colony. Since its discovery, the stamp has had many adventures, exploded in value, and gained worldwide attention due to its uniqueness. In 1878, the greatest stamp collector in history, Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary added it to his collection. In 1922, the British royal family tried to buy it and failed. In 1970, a consortium of Pennsylvanian businessmen bought it. In 1980, the heir to the Du Pont fortune bought it; and the stamp spent the late 1990s up to 2010 in the owner's bank vault, while the owner spent time in prison for murdering an Olympic gold medal wrestler. The current owner has briefly lent the stamp to the Smithsonian. If you want to see it and you live anywhere near Washington DC, visit the Gross Stamp Gallery at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, where the 1c Magenta is on display between June 2015 and November 2017. The Museum warns: please call in advance to confirm the stamp's availability at +1 (202) 633-5555, since it will be periodically removed from display for preservation.

The story of this stamp is a lesson about paying attention to details and the origin of real value. It took the eyes and perspective of a twelve-year-old boy to see the value of the stamp, that is, a boy not yet brutally shaped by the world, whose imagination was still fully available to him and completely his own. Before the stamp's 2014 auction to current owner Stuart Weitzman, the Du Pont trust placed the stamp in the care of Sotheby's auction house. The Sotheby's agent who was temporarily entrusted with the stamp recognized that it takes that youthful perspective - to have one's eyes open to the wonders of the world - to recognize this stamp and things like it of immense value:
David Redden, director of special projects at Sotheby’s, said the “British Guiana” was a stamp of almost mythical repute among philatelists. He said: “For me, as a school stamp collector, it was a magical object, the very definition of rarity and value: unobtainable rarity and extraordinary value."
Imagine digging through an attic stuffed with old junk. You shuffle through a sheaf of dusty papers, and a tiny square of wine-coloured paper flutters onto the floor. You step on the scrap of paper, pull it off your shoe, toss it out, and throw away the second example in the world of the British Guiana 1c Magenta, which would have been your biggest lotto ticket ever, if you had only known, if you had only been paying attention to the details.

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.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Cultural Footprint of Jodorowsky's Dune


Image Source: Amazing Stories.

For every generation, there is a window of opportunity to create what Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky's son Brontis called, "a dreamed life." This is the Beautiful Alternative, the path not followed, the epitome of achievement not attained due to failure, impediments, lack of resources or similar circumstances. In cinema, Jodorowsky's 1970s' adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) is considered by director Richard Stanley as "the greatest movie never made." A 2013 documentary on the subject argues that, at a critical time in the 1970s, this film marked the dividing line between what really matters artistically and real world limitations. And the fact that this particular film was not made because of monetary problems, and the unwillingness of the studios to bring such a radical vision to popular audiences, changed Hollywood and the entertainment industry forever.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Illuminati Eyes


.Gif Source: Z. Scott / We Invent You.

The New World Order plot of the Illuminati is one of the most popular conspiracy theories on the Internet. Did gossip on the Web foster this myth, mixing it with Freemasonry, black magic and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? One can scoff at the paranoid pyramid seekers, but they have a point: popular culture, institutions, corporations and political groups have incorporated so-called Illuminati messages for decades, and even centuries. That said, anti-Illuminati conspiracy theorists are often anti-Semitic and counter-factual, suggesting the Illuminati story in fact conveys those attitudes.

After the First World War, occult divination through ouija boards gained popularity as the bereaved sought to talk to their lost loved ones. At the same time, magical secularism which had enjoyed a vogue before the war lingered and combined with Satanic and Wiccan ideas. The outcome in a place like Hollywood, which already had (and has) a loose grip on reality, was grim. Perhaps certain cults gained a fatal foothold there. Odd evidence occasionally broke through the tinsel: ghosts of the 1920s; surrealism of the 1920s through the 1940s; the 1947 Black Dahlia murder, which may have involved a sacrificial black magic ritual; and many unsolved deaths from the 1930s to the present. Orson Welles, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick are three of the most famous directors who explored this dark history.

Anne Hathaway flashed Mano Cornuto or El Diablo hand signs before she claimed her award at the 2013 Golden Globes for Les Misérables (2012). Image Source: AFP/Getty via Daily Mail.

These symbols have dominated entertainment, politics and advertising since the Second World War. Did politicians, business leaders, Hollywood and music industry moguls strike fateful bargains, applying occult practices and esoteric beliefs to the business of taming the newly-prosperous public? Did rising individuals, as director Roman Polanski may have suggested, join insider cults and labour under the illusion that their successes were and are due to arcane rituals, rather than their own talents and abilities?

Or perhaps occult and Masonic symbols offered an exciting visual lexicon for marketers in the post-World-War-II consumer culture. Just because a photographer, handler or stylist tells a celebrity to cover his or her eye, or make a cryptic hand gesture, it doesn't mean the individual is a cultist. This might simply be a marketing ploy, part of the art of public persona creation; the celebrity becomes a larger than life figure, the superficially-powerful pawn who sells entertainment media and consumer goods.

Image Source: Above Top Secret.

Are these Illuminati cults real or imagined? This blog is very skeptical of conspiracies, but this is the Hallowe'en countdown, so let us see. The Masonic all-seeing eye of God (or Lucifer?), also known as the Eye of Horus or the Eye of Providence, is a primary symbol purportedly associated with this world-dominating secret society. Below the jump, today's countdown to Hallowe'en presents a sobering overview of the prevalence of the Illuminati eye in the entertainment industry.

Chatter on the David Icke message board (for more on Icke's wild suspicions of world conspiracies, go here and here) debates the significance of a celebrity's illuminated left versus right eyes; the commenter additionally believes that there is a difference between those who encircle their eyes with their fingers or another gesture (the controllers) and those who cover their eyes (the controlled):
Handlers are those celebrities who willingly push the Agenda of the Illuminati. They can be identified by the "all-seeing eye" symbol. As handlers are often consistent with which eye they choose to "illuminate," I believe that a distinction can be made by observing which eye is favored. Though I have not been able to determine which is which, I believe that one eye indicates those who sympathize with the cause, and the other indicates those who agreed to push forth the agenda after being bribed (Please note that these individuals push the Agenda to reap its spoils, rather than doing so out of fear.) ... The Handled are those individuals who have been forced to push the Agenda. The individuals may have been opposed to the Illuminati from the start, or are former supporters who have finally had enough. Either way, these individuals are forced to cover one eye to represent that they are being oppressed; that they are the submissive. ... MK Ultra victims are viciously tortured, and when they attempt to escape within their minds, an alter-ego is put into place. Please note that many of those who have their right eye covered have referred to themselves as having alter-egos. ... Some photos may be written off as just someone winking or rubbing stuff out of their eye. However, it cannot be denied that the Illuminated eye symbol is everywhere in the celebrity community! Those who use these symbols are usually very consistent with which eye is covered, and which remains illuminated.
In addition, the left-right distinction may refer - so the conspiracy theorists say - to dominant character or talent through an indication of brain function.

Image Source: David Icke chatboard.

None of those speculations is confirmed here, but the Illuminati theory is clearly a mish-mash of pop psychology, anti-government sentiment, anti-Semitism, suspicion of the mass media, the spread of the occult and the impact of confirmed cults (you can see a daily rundown of real life cult headlines here). The theory of the Illuminati is more of a metanarrative which ensnares conspiracy theorists (online gnostic seekers constantly proclaim they have found the so-called 'real truth' above the evident truth) in their own fears of enslavement. Thus, conspiracy theorists ironically actually participate in, and constitute, the very community of believers that they project on public circles. Does that mean that public figures don't join higher cults? Not necessarily. More likely, the fears and symbols telescope the higher one goes in any area of endeavour: illumination is universally in Millennial fashion. It is a sign that the revived pre-Christian and Christian heresy of gnosticism is rampant today.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where Are We Going? No Really, Where Are We Going?

Google Glass: 2012 preview, for release to consumers in 2014. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

The first twenty years of the Internet involved playing mental catch-up as the industry excitedly released each new application, operating system, or gadget. Except for think pieces at Wired, which launched in 1993 as a glossy magazine, few tried to grasp the implications as the sites and services rolled out - AOL (1991); Amazon (1994); eBay (1995); Yahoo! (1995); Craigslist (1995); Netflix (1997); PayPal (1998); Google (1998); Wikipedia (2001); Second Life (2003); Blogger (2003); Linked In (2003); Skype (2003); Facebook (2004); Digg (2004); YouTube (2005); Reddit (2005); Twitter (2006); Tumblr (2007); Pixlr (2008); Kickstarter (2009); Pinterest (2010); Instagram (2010). These are just the giants, with no mention of the porn sites, which do join the giants in the top rankings for traffic. See the Alexa Top 500 Global Sites for hundreds more of the most world's most popular Web hubs. There are also thousands more Web apps and services which you will have never heard of, unless they meet your particular needs.

The book reader of the future, from Everyday Science and Mechanics magazine (April 1935). Image Source: Paleofuture.

As great as these sites, services and devices are, if you are lucky, you can remember what life was like before they came along. It was far from perfect. But all someone had to do to become inaccessible was not answer the telephone. Now it takes a lot of willpower, excuses and effort to disconnect.

Wireless Emergency Alert System: "'Many people do not realize that they carry a potentially life-saving tool with them in their pockets or purses every day,' said W. Craig Fugate, administrator of FEMA." Image Source: NYT.

On the night of 5-6 August, a friend who lives in California was wakened in the middle of the night by cell phones in the house ringing an alarm he had never heard before: this was the state amber alert for a child abduction:
California issued its first cellphone Amber Alert late Monday, as phones in Southern California received an alert of two missing children in San Diego.

The timing differed from phone to phone but sometime between late Monday and early Tuesday many mobile phones across Southern California received an alert regarding James Lee DiMaggio, suspected of killing Christina Anderson, 44, and kidnapping one or both of her children, Hannah, 16, and Ethan, 8, the Los Angeles Times reported. ...

Some cellphones received only a text message, others buzzed and beeped as part of the Wireless Emergency Alert program, a cellphone equivalent of the Emergency Alert System that creates a high-pitched test tone on television.
The amber alert frightened many people when their mobile phones began ringing strangely (listen here). The system also warns the public about any other kind of major threat:
When you get an Amber Alert on your phone, you will definitely know. The sound is somewhere between a squeal, a siren and a series of tones. Even if you have your phone on silent or vibrate, or have enabled a "Do Not Disturb" or "Sleep" setting, your device may make this sound. The alert will appear as a text message including all pertinent information. ...
At the end of 2012, CTIA-The Wireless Association announced the transition from a Wireless Amber Alert program to a Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program. ... Now, the WEA program sends messages to users within the area of the suspected abduction. For example, if a child in Orlando is abducted, all eligible devices within that area will broadcast the alert. A representative from the California Highway Patrol told HLN that Amber Alerts have previously been issued through wireless carriers regionally, but Monday's alert was the first to be broadcast statewide. It is of note that the WEA system also broadcasts other types of emergency alerts, such as severe weather warnings and imminent threat alerts.
To my friend, the alert brought home the point that mobile phones have erased privacy and are just "personal tracking devices that we also use as telephones." Smartphones are good for tracking criminals. They're also good for tracking everyone else.

A system like this can be a very powerful tool, as Orson Welles discovered in 1938. The Emergency Alert even entered the English language: This is only a test. - Or - This is not a test. In February 2013, hackers hacked a Montana TV station's Emergency Alert System and aired a fake zombie apocalypse warning to demonstrate the system's vulnerabilities. Ars Technica reported in June 2013 that the TV and radio Emergency Alert System is generally hackable. I could not find comment online about whether the Wireless Emergency Alerts program is also hackable, but presumably it is.

Some would argue that worrying about the future is pointless and unhealthy. In a July post, Maria Popova noted that anxiety is often associated with contemplation of the future; also, recent psychological research links the suicidal mind with an over-contemplation of the future:
In Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception ... BBC’s Claudia Hammond explores the psychology of mitigating our worries: Ad Kerkhof is a Dutch clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of suicide prevention for 30 years. He has observed that before attempting suicide people often experience a period of extreme rumination about the future. They sometimes reported that these obsessive thoughts had become so overwhelming that they felt death was the only way to escape. Kerkhof has developed techniques which help suicidal people to reduce this rumination and is now applying the same methods to people who worry on a more everyday basis. He has found that people worry about one topic more than any other — the future, often believing that the more hours they spend contemplating it, the more likely they are to find a solution to their problems. But this isn’t the case.
But what happens when the future becomes the present? As the technological future approached over the past 20 years, there seemed barely time to digest what was happening. It was enough to just keep up with the changes. There is a need to stand back, to see the big picture, to contemplate how we are changing as human beings, to understand what is happening to society, politics, the economy.

Devin Coldewey a Seattle-based writer and photographer, has a number of interesting articles for Tech Crunch (here) in which he tries to make sense of the impact of the Technological Revolution with reference to the past. In 2009, he compared Google and its many services to the construction of Roman roads (here). It was a metaphor-laden piece and pretty clumsy in its historical analogy. Nevertheless, Coldewey's comparison - between Google's messy-but-often-cool labs projects and the Roman road system - was intriguing. But Coldewey misunderstood the potential parallel in his historical comparison. The Roman road system was technologically revolutionary, but the purpose the roads served was not revolutionary at all. The Romans were building an empire. And so is Google.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Love in the New Millennium 7: Love on Your Own Terms

The Old Spice guy. Image Source: Geeksugar.

There is a great line in Citizen Kane: "A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody ever knows - his own." The movie was an early portrayal of malignant narcissism. Who could know that it would become the mantra of Internet dating in the new Millennium, 70 years later?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nosce Te Ipsum

James Rosenquist, Star Thief (1980). Image Source: Yale University Art Gallery/Yale Digital Commons.

Time is Space, Space is Time.  In this philosophical and cosmological equation, space may seem more tangible. Philosophically, space is changing.  And that change, a shift from real to virtual, initially seems comprehensible. Time's corresponding transformation, on the other hand, is obscure. So let us look at what is happening to space. I have posts here and here regarding the distinction between our lives in the real world and our lives in virtual reality. These posts confirm that it is becoming difficult to define reality solely in physical terms. As our understanding of that narrowing dichotomy weakens, what does it mean to exist in a different 'space'?  And once we are there, how much control do we have over the virtual version of ourselves?  Could the virtual Doppelgänger come back to haunt the real person?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Historical Events Change Language

A traumatic event can spawn a whole bunch of new words.  People on the other side of the event have a new vocabulary.

How do historical events - especially traumatic ones - change language?  One way is through the coining of neologisms. For example, while the 2008-2012? Great Recession persists, Time has done a little online piece about 'Post-Recession Lingo':
Adding to the list of post-recession terms such as "unbanked" (individuals without checking or savings accounts), "anti-dowry" (student loan debt holding you back from getting married or buying a house), and "Groupon remorse" (regret felt upon buying a daily deal you can't use or never really wanted), here's a roundup of zeitgeist-y phrases, including "squatter's rent," "light bulb anxiety," and "not retiring." 
"Financially Fragile"
If an emergency occurred and you needed to come up with $2,000 within 30 days, could you do it? (Legally, hopefully?) If not, then you'd be categorized as "financially fragile," and researchers say that nearly half of Americans fit the description. ...

"Light Bulb Anxiety"
This fear, based on oft-misunderstood legislation intended to phase out usage of traditional incandescent light bulbs, has caused business owners and everyday consumers to stock up the old-fashioned bulbs by the thousands, according to the NY Times. Why all the hoarding? Many people just prefer the light given off by incandescent bulbs over LED or compact fluorescent bulbs. Also, there are plenty of people who aren't sold on the idea that the new-fangled bulbs really save all that much money or energy: In one survey, one-third of homeowners who paid for energy-efficiency upgrades (including switching to CFL bulbs) hadn't seen the decrease in energy bills that they expected.

"Squatter's Rent"
Also referred to as "free rent," it's the money a homeowner—soon to be ex-homeowner, most likely—gets to keep each month when he stops paying the mortgage and has yet to be kicked out of the home. "Squatter's rent" around the nation is estimated to come to a total of $50 billion this year.
I have suffered from Light Bulb Anxiety, so I guess I'm glad there's a term for it.

New techniques in expression and new terms are needed to think about that which was previously unthinkable.  New words are signposts, showing us where the 'before' and 'after' of history are.  The removal of words indicates a break with the past.  But what happens to these linguistic reactions over the long term?  Do neologisms survive?  Do obliterated words, once forbidden by historical memories or historical shame, ever make a big return?  Sometimes, a population does away with their whole language altogether, and switches to another one, apparently better suited to the aftermath.  Finally, traumatic histories tend to produce new forms of language focussed on changing our understanding of time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Los Angeles Noir Revisited

Police pulp claiming to solve the Black Dahlia killing. Image Source: Heaven is HERE site © Larry Harnisch.

Today in North America (and later this week in Europe) Team Bondi and Rockstar Games are releasing a new video game called L.A. Noire.  Set in 1947, it portrays crime in Los Angeles during the height of the film noir era.  The game is done in noir style, and will be the first of its kind shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. Wiki summarizes the gameplay:
The game takes place in post-war 1940s Los Angeles, a city of glamour, fame and wealth, but also where crime, vice corruption is rife. The player assumes the role of Cole Phelps, an LAPD officer who rises through the ranks of the department. He has joined the police force to "right the wrongs" he committed during the Second World War. He starts off as a patrol-man, then a traffic detective, homicide, vice, and finally arson investigator. Each rank gives the player a partner who will help Phelps in his investigations, fights, and arrests. The game blends investigative elements such as mystery, and crime solving, with fast paced action sequences from chases on foot to car, as well as gun-play. As well as the storyline missions, the player can choose to work on optional side-investigations following a call from dispatch. The player can also travel on foot, as well as in different vehicles.
The game draws from real crimes from the period, including the notorious 1947 Black Dahlia murder, which was most recently dramatized in a 2006 Hollywood film directed by Brian De Palma.  Below the jump, the game trailer, the unsubstantiated but creepy theory that Orson Welles could have been a suspect in the Dahlia case, and some noir film clips from that era.  All of them show how post-World War II California percolated with violent memories brought home from the front.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Matter of Trust

V for Vendetta imagery persists around WikiLeaks-related stories. Image Source: Ars Technica.

Back in 1990, Hal Hartley directed a great little film called Trust, starring the late lamented Adrienne Shelley and Martin Donovan.  This dark comedy hinged on a critical moment where the heroine informs the hero that love depends above all on trust.  It's a social value that is also at the root of doing business.  Within the bounds of a contract, we expect that we can trust our partners.  But now, trust is changing. 

In a recent Piers Morgan CNN interview, this was the main point put forth by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss about their former partner Mark Zuckerberg regarding the disputed origins of Facebook.  They maintained that within the bounds of a business agreement, there is nothing irrational about trusting your partner, while Morgan argued that in high-stakes business, people get stabbed in the back all the time.  Morgan said: lack of trust is normal.  You should expect that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Only Beasts and Gods


The martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch on orders of Emperor Trajan.  Image Source: Mystagogy.

A recent letter (here) on the editorial page of Canada's National Post newspaper in favour of waterboarding was pretty medieval.  But the writer's reference to Aristotle caught my eye: "only beasts and gods live beyond a city’s walls." There is a discussion on that reference here:
"For Aristotle's zoon politikon there are no persons beyond the walls of the city; outside the city there exist only beasts or gods. To be a person means to be part of the corporate whole of the polis. The essence/end of the person does not inhere in the individual; it does not emerge in the development of the solitary self nor in the development of the self in family as child, brother or father. Neither, for Aristotle, does the person emerge in village, imperial or cosmopolitan life. Only in the polis can there be persons, for the nature of the person is political."
Going beyond the pale, moving beyond the bounds of what previously defined civilization, is now common.  It started with the Battle of the Somme, then the Holocaust. The technological and information revolutions have accelerated a process already taking place.  In the new Millennium, we are all beasts and gods.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hard Times


The last couple of years have not been easy for a lot of people.  Most are not out of the woods yet economically.  Even if you've been doing relatively all right, you will meet or know someone affected by the Great Recession of 2008 to 2012 (?).  Recessions and depressions strip away all illusions of security and replace them with hardship and the worry that our overall standard of living - indeed, an entire middling social class in the developed countries - is in decline.  People regroup with friends and families, reevaluate their priorities, question themselves, their worth, their attitudes, and the values of those who led us down this merry path.  With the gnawing worries over bills, debts and unemployment comes disillusionment.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anniversaries: Remembering H. G. Wells


H. G. Wells: War of the Worlds. Cover by Frank. R. Paul.

The blog Dark Dorset has an excellent retrospective (here) on H. G. Wells to commemorate the anniversary of his death on August 13, 1946. Known as the 'father of science fiction,' Wells's influence on authors like Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs is well known. Perhaps the best rendition of his famous 1897 story about a Martians invasion, War of the Worlds, is Orson Welles's 1938 Mercury Theatre On the Air radio production, which you can listen to here (part 1, further parts play automatically on youtube). You can read H. G. Wells's original story here and the Mercury broadcast script here. There is a resource site on the story and its adaptations here.

This production was so realistic that it caused mass panic in the United States. Many people fled their homes and police switchboards were swamped with inquiries. Wiki quotes Richard Hand: "some six million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were 'genuinely frightened.'" Wiki: "Many listeners were apparently confused. It must be noted that the confusion cannot be credited entirely to naïveté. Though many of the actors' voices should have been recognizable from other radio shows, nothing like The War of the Worlds broadcast had been attempted in the United States, so listeners were accustomed to accepting newsflashes as reliable. The problem is that the working script had only three statements concerning the fictional nature of the program: at the beginning, at 40 minutes, and at the end. In fact, the warning at the 40-minute mark is the only one after the actors start speaking in character, and before Welles breaks character at the end."

New York Times headline: "Radio Listeners in Panic." October 31, 1938.

Welles had to apologize. Of course the power of the production stemmed from H. G. Wells's powerful descriptions of growing disaster that were embedded in the radio script.

Orson Welles's apology, October 31, 1938.

I have not confirmed this, but I recall reading that legislation was subsequently passed so that dramatizations of fictional disasters always must have a repeated tagline indicating that they are fictional. The obligatory confirmation that a real-seeming drama is fictional was cleverly used in the opening of 1999's Blair Witch Project, which initially claimed to be a true story: "I'm just telling a scary story - but it's not true."  The character Heather replies: "It's not true."  The reverse psychology initially made the audience think that the story was true.  We can trace this 100-year history of the blurring between truth and fiction, starting with H. G. Wells.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July


Happy Independence Day!  A great country is one year older today.  May all your fireworks be bright, and your barbecues plentiful.  Happy Birthday America!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

DCU Continuity for Terra: The Rosebud of the Citizen Kane of Comic Books

Gar: "Of course.  But this is -- all wrong?" Blackest Night: Titans #1 (Oct. 2009)

Why write a continuity for such a hated character?  I wrote this continuity and analysis because I’ve always been deeply impressed by the Judas Contract as one of the greatest stories ever told in superhero comics. It is an undisputed classic, the height of what can be achieved in the medium. As a young fan in the 1980s, like many teenaged readers of the New Teen Titans at the time, I bought the issues at a newsstand, and yes, Marv Wolfman and George Perez ruined the summer of 1984 for me with the death of this charismatic and troubled character. Reading a story like that at such an impressionable age was like sitting in a master class on the tremendous power this genre of pulp fiction can have when it’s at its best. The serial format also meant that the full story – including the NTT Doom Patrol arcs – unfolded from about 1981 to 1984. There were no solicitations, no previews, no internet boards to give you a hint of what was coming. The aftermath stories are still unfolding today. It is impossible to convey to younger comics fans, or newer fans of the Cartoon Network version of Terra, what that long time delay did in terms of understanding this story and the character.