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 World War I. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World War I. Show all posts

Monday, November 12, 2018

Anniversaries: End of the Great War


"A soldier of Company K, 110th Regt. Infantry (formerly 3rd and 10th Inf., Pennsylvania National Guard), just wounded, receiving first-aid treatment from a comrade. Varennes-en-Argonne, France, on September 26, 1918. (U.S. Army/U.S. National Archives)" Image Source: The Atlantic.

The hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I just passed on 11 November 2018. Normally, I watch the coverage of remembrance ceremonies, but this year, I was working on a writing project at a microbrewery, where everyone observed a minute of silence to remember the fallen soldiers, while the town's church bell tolled outside.

As memory fades of the 20th century world wars, I appreciate more and more the need to remember these conflicts, in order to avoid another century of bloodshed and particularly a third world war. The two world wars were both terrible and unprecedented in their own ways. If the Great War brought about the death of innocence, World War II led to the death of humanity, the death of the modern conscience.

My 2014 post on the anniversary of the start of the Great War is here. All my related posts on World War I are here.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Time and Politics 20: Brexit


The statue of Winston Churchill at Westminster. Image Sources: The Atlantic and The Telegraph.

Although the blog is on a break, Brexit is a momentous historical event. It made me think of a quotation* from the Younger Pitt: "Depend on it, Mr. Burke ... we shall go on as we are to the Day of Judgement."

Perhaps. Although the UK will not leave the EU for two years, Irish and Scottish support for the European Union may lead to the reunification of Ireland, the separation of Scotland, and the break-up of the United Kingdom. Because the campaign became so dark, ugly and tragic, culminating with MP Jo Cox's murder, I will not comment at length on the arguments for one side or the other. I can see both points of view, because the Brexit debate confirms trends I have observed here while researching posts on the economy and the cultural impact of technological change.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Look Skyward: Total Solar Eclipse


The 2012 total solar eclipse as seen from Queensland, Australia. Image Source: EPA via Daily Mail.

On March 8 and 9 there is a total solar eclipse. It begins on 8 March 2016 at 11:19 p.m. UTC. It reaches its maximum point on 9 March at 1:59 a.m. UTC. The full eclipse will end in its range of visibility on 9 March at 3:38 a.m. UTC. The totality will be visible in Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and the partiality in locations across the Pacific.

Visible area of solar eclipse, 8-9 March 2016. Image Source: Time and Date.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Boomer Legacies: Mysteries of Things to Come


Jugend (1916) by Julius Diez (1870-1957). Reblogged from The Pictorial Arts (Hat tip: T. Buchanan).

In yesterday's post, I described the ideas behind Roberto Saviano's accounts of crime and the drug trade. According to Saviano in ZeroZeroZero, cocaine use has overrun western societies:
"The guy sitting next to you on the train uses cocaine, he took it to get himself going this morning; or the driver of the bus you’re taking home, he wants to put in some overtime without feeling the cramps in his neck. The people closest to you use coke. If it’s not your mother or father, if it’s not your brother, then it’s your son. And if your son doesn’t use it, your boss does. Or your boss’s secretary, but only on Saturdays, just for fun. And if your boss doesn’t, his wife does, to let herself go. And if not his wife, then his lover—he gives her cocaine instead of earrings, in place of diamonds. And if they don’t, the truck driver delivering tons of coffee to cafés around town does; he wouldn’t be able to hack those long hours on the road without it. And if he doesn’t, the nurse who’s changing your grandfather’s catheter does. Coke makes everything seem so much easier, even the night shift. And if she doesn’t, the painter redoing your girlfriend’s room does; he was just curious at first but wound up deep in debt. The people who use cocaine are right here, right next to you. The police officer who’s about to pull you over has been snorting for years, and everyone knows it, and they write anonymous letters to his chief hoping he’ll be suspended before he screws up big time. Or the surgeon who’s just waking up and will soon operate on your aunt. Cocaine helps him cut open six people a day. Or your divorce lawyer. Or the judge presiding over your lawsuit; he doesn’t consider it a vice, though, just a little boost, a way to get more out of life. The cashier who hands you the lottery ticket you hope is going to change your life. The carpenter who’s installing the cabinets that cost you a month’s salary. Or the workman who came to put together the IKEA closet you couldn’t figure out how to assemble on your own. If not him, then the manager of your condo building who is just about to buzz you. Or your electrician, the one who’s in your bedroom right now, moving the outlets. The singer you are listening to to unwind, the parish priest you’re going to talk to about finally getting confirmed because your grandson’s getting baptized, and he’s amazed you’ve put it off for so long. The waiters who will work the wedding you’re going to next Saturday; they wouldn’t be able to last on their feet all that time if they didn’t. If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones, and who gets his coke free in exchange for favors. The parking lot attendant who’s happy now only when he’s high. The architect who renovated your vacation home, the mailman who just delivered your new ATM card. If not them, then the woman at the call center who asks “How may I help you?” in that shrill, happy voice, the same for every caller, thanks to the white powder. If not her, your professor’s research assistant—coke makes him nervous. Or the physiotherapist who’s trying to get your knee working right. Coke makes him more sociable. The forward who just scored, spoiling the bet you were winning right up until the final minutes of the game. The prostitute you go to on your way home, when you just can’t take it anymore and need to vent. She does it so she won’t have to see whoever is on top or under or behind her anymore. The gigolo you treated yourself to for your fiftieth birthday. You did it together. Coke makes him feel really macho. The sparring partner you train with in the ring, to lose weight. And if he doesn’t, your daughter’s riding instructor does, and so does your wife’s psychologist. Your husband’s best friend uses it, the one who’s been hitting on you for years but whom you’ve never liked. And if he doesn’t, then your school principal does. Along with the janitor. And the real estate agent, who’s late, just when you finally managed to find time to see the apartment. The security guard uses it, the one who still combs his hair over his bald spot, even though guys all shave their heads these days. And if he doesn’t, the notary you hope you never have to go back to, he does it to avoid thinking about the alimony he has to pay his ex-wives. And if he doesn’t, the taxi driver does; he curses the traffic but then goes all happy again. If not him, the engineer you have to invite over for dinner because he might help you get a leg up in your career. The policeman who’s giving you a ticket, sweating profusely even though it’s winter. The squeegee man with hollow eyes, who borrows money to buy it, or that kid stuffing flyers under windshield wipers, five at a time. The politician who promised you a commercial license, the one you and your family voted into office, and who is always nervous. The professor who failed you on your exam. Or the oncologist you’re going to see; everybody says he’s the best, so you’re hoping he can save you. He feels omnipotent when he sniffs cocaine. Or the gynecologist who nearly forgets to throw away his cigarette before going in to examine your wife, who has just gone into labor. Your brother-in-law, who’s never in a good mood, or your daughter’s boyfriend, who always is. If not them, then the fishmonger, who proudly displays a swordfish, or the gas station attendant who spills gas on your car. He sniffs to feel young again but can’t even put the pump away correctly anymore. Or the family doctor you’ve known for years and who lets you cut the line because you always know just the right thing to give him at Christmas. The doorman of your building uses it, and if he doesn’t, then your kids’ tutor does, your nephew’s piano teacher, the costume designer for the play you’re going to see tonight, the vet who takes care of your cat. The mayor who invited you over for dinner recently. The contractor who built your house, the author whose book you’ve been reading before falling asleep, the anchorwoman on the evening news. But if, after you think about it, you’re still convinced none of these people could possibly snort cocaine, you’re either blind or you’re lying. Or the one who uses it is you."
Cocaine is a vice and vanity but it fills other gaps in western culture. Self-medication enables addicts to cope with deeper problems. Drugs are signposts pointing to the subliminal world. Cocaine is popular in western countries because it papers over the cracks for people driven to the breaking point. It enables people to force themselves forward in environments which are already locked in overdrive, no matter what the cost, no matter what their spiritual heartbreak or moral dislocation. Some parts of daily life are identical to what they were thirty years ago, but in the areas touched by connected technology, the cultural and social impact is almost unimaginable. As I suggested, there is a reason for this desperate need to keep up. If you do not change in a hyper-changing society, you die.

In this post, I commented that ever since the 1960s, death is not an option. The Baby Boomer revolutionary creed was anti-militaristic and pro-youth-forever. The Boomers adored eastern faiths, but a Buddhist might find they diverged from any eastern path. With their marketing, lifestyles and values, the Boomers taught us to abhor death, because death entails the destruction of the ego and the continued survival of the soul. This is unimaginable in a materialist society ruled by egotists. In their true hearts, the last thing the members of the Me Generation wanted was to preside over a mechanistic order of crushing egotism, but that is the outcome of their collective efforts.

One may ask why. Why did the Baby Boomers develop such a confused message of holistic social healing, in societies now dominated by hostile materialist egotism? Initially, the Boomers promoted youth, pacifism and liberalism. This is a mantra against death. Their avoidance of death ended up promoting the ego, thereby sponsoring the social ills and totalitarian self-promotion which plague western societies now in mass media, politics, entertainment, workplaces and the economy. Western cultures are on the run from death; which is why westerners (and many non-westerners) now worship fast-paced change. We must change more and more; we must go faster and faster; we must work ourselves to death, but we must not die. A rest or pause would entail contemplation of that which pursues us - and that is very difficult to do.

It is difficult because most people alive today arrived during or after the worst blood-letting of the 20th century occurred. Imagine the last century's hemoclysm as a grotesque journey into humanity's dark night of the soul, in which some 180 million people died in armed conflicts. Historian Eric Hobsbawm put the number at 187 million people who were "killed or allowed to die by human decision" in the "short century" between 1914 and 1991. And scholar Milton Leitenberg, citing Hobsbawm, places the number higher, at 231 million people who died in wars and conflicts in the entire century. That makes the 20th century the bloodiest in history. It would be accurate to see the ideological solutions of the Boomers and succeeding generations not as solutions, but as masks to hide the collective shock after the bloodbath, and a desperate, reflexive need to contain further bloodshed at all costs - even, ironically, through the propagation of small wars to let off steam, but not have the whole system blow. Liberal democracy hides the west's survivors' mentality. In that aftermath, add a layer of glittering technology to spread blind hope in peace and connectivity, and you have the current state of affairs.

Since the turn of the new Millennium, no shiny technology, and certainly no drug, can conceal or suppress the enduring darkness in the human soul. To shake off utopian denial and face death in western cultures squarely and honestly, as author Roberto Saviano struggles to do, takes courage and a different set of values than those promoted forty-five years ago. And contrary to what conservative pundits would say, we do not know what those new values are. For Saviano, it starts with the courage to recognize the ugliness in human nature, not with ideological formulas, but with honesty about 'real' reality.

It calls for a frank acknowledgement of the survivors' mentality, because we will exist between apocalypses, and not just after them, if we do not. In the movie, Silent Fall (1994), Liv Tyler's character remarks that in their grief, survivors no longer want to know or show themselves as they truly are. They inhabit a purgatorial state of quasi morto, or near death:
"I figured out something about death. It's contagious. I know that sounds crazy, but it's like when people you love die, you feel like you should have died too. And you don't want anybody to know that you survived. No one."
Survivors deny the reality of their own existences because they feel guilty that they are still alive, when others have died in their stead. To live on a mountain of skulls is to want to disappear. It is easier to dream of peace than it is to be fully conscious after one's whole civilization has undergone near-total obliteration. Virtual reality well suits the sleepwalker's state of denial and the authoritarian mechanisms do and will quietly follow. If we are all survivors who have denied our true natures, who are we really? As the old year dies, the question of how to find the time to become fully conscious of 'real' reality has never been more important.

The Sleepwalker (1907) by Julius Diez. Reblogged from The Pictorial Arts.

ADDENDUM (29 May 2016): On 28 May 2016, BBC interviewed author Roberto Saviano on his work which confirms that the City of London is a centre for money laundering of Mexican drug money and the Italian mafia. Thus, the wealth and lifestyles of the City rest on violence and crime discussed in the following posts:

BBC interview with Roberto Saviano (28 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Time and Politics 14: Who Now Remembers the Annihilation of the Armenians?


Image Source: BBC.

Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who now still speaks of the annhilation of the Armenians? These were Hitler's words to the German military forces on 22 August 1939. In this speech, he ordered them to invade Poland and exterminate the Polish people. He insisted that the Poles were expendable, not just at that moment in an act of war, but that they could be completely wiped from the pages of history. The monstrous idea behind Hitler's imperial vision - he who writes history controls politics, society and the future - applied deadly lessons from World War I; it was recognized by other world leaders and thinkers at the time. In one sentence, the German leader summarized his clear, conscious awareness that history could be altered, and it was on that basis that one could do anything to anyone to achieve near-infinite aims.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide. Source: imgkid.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Modernity, Myth and the Scapegoat: Martin Heidegger, J. R. R. Tolkien and ISIL


Heidegger, at the centre of the photo, in the era of Nazi academia. Image Source: Le phiblogZophe.

Two paths diverged in the wood. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. In 2014, the private notebooks of German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) - muse of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida and Hannah Arendt - saw print. The publication of the so-called Black Notebooks confirmed that Heidegger's philosophy grew out of support for the Nazis and an essential anti-Semitism. Oceans of ink have been spilt over what Heidegger meant by Dasein, or Being-in-the-World (his union of subjective, objective and conscious perspectives with the world at large), but this elaborate existential debate completely misses the historical context which informed Heidegger's thought. Heidegger associated his cherished idea of Authentic Existence with the values of agrarian Europe. For the German philosopher, rootless Jews were part of a new, supranational world of corporate industry, banking and trade. Jewish precursors of globalization contributed to an inauthenticity of being, a life whereby everyday people, distanced from the soil, became phantom slaves in a technology-driven world that destroyed traditional culture.

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (1854-1856). Image Source: Wiki.

It is too simplistic to dismiss Heidegger's thoughts on being and time as aspects of the Nazi narrative. But it is also wrong to say that his ideas can be read separately from their Nazi context. Heidegger was in the same ballpark, and that demands a serious reappraisal of his ideas.

In building their Aryan mythology against the Jews, the Nazis ironically appropriated the Hebraic concept of scapegoating. The scapegoat was originally an early Archaic, pre-Classical improvement (dating from around the seventh century BCE) on the sacrificial rites of other ancient societies. Scapegoating, a mental gambit which is alive and well today, occurs when one projects one's sins onto a goat and sends it off into the desert to die; this leaves one free from blame and responsibility, and able to get on with life without feeling guilty for one's wrongdoings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tomb of a Sleeping Queen?


Image Source: AP via National Geographic.

From Marie Antoinette, a modern Austrian princess, we go back through time to another queen, Olympias. We go back through Austria, or Österreich (the 'Eastern Reich,' the modern remnant of the Eastern Roman Empire), and before Rome, back to Greece. In Greece, archaeological circles are buzzing about a newly-discovered burial chamber from the time of Alexander the Great (Hat tip: Graham Hancock). It is 2,300 years old and is the largest ancient tomb in northern Greece.

The burial mound stands near ancient Amphipolis, 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Athens. The tomb inside the mound is massive, marble-walled and ornately decorated, and must house the body of a royal personage, perhaps Alexander's mother or wife.

It is unlikely to be the tomb of the famous king himself, whose grave is lost somewhere in Egypt - another mystery waiting to be solved. The site is dated after his death, in the latter quarter of the 4th century BC, approximately between 325 and 300 BCE. Alexander died in 323 BCE. A member of the Argead dynasty ('from Argos'), Wiki describes him simply: "The most notable ancient Greek King and one of the most celebrated strategists and rulers of all time. Alexander at the top of his reign was simultaneously King of Macedonia, Pharaoh of Egypt, King of Persia and King of Asia." Because of his blinding legacy, still evident today, Alexander's impact arguably surpasses that of any other leader of the ancient world, including the Persian kings, the Egyptian pharaohs, and successive Roman emperors. Unsurprisingly, that interpretation is disputed by modern Iranian scholars. Legacies aside, the tomb dates from ancient Greece's highest moment of glory and power before the flowering of a multicultural Hellenistic imperial culture, which eventually led to the emergence of the Roman Empire after the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day Irreducible


Portsmouth Naval War Memorial, Hampshire, UK. Image Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

A common inscription on 20th century war memorials is taken from Ecclesiasticus 44:7:
"All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times." 
The quotation, used in this context as opposed to its original biblical chapter, recalls that war is a bloody moment of transformation, which freezes in time because of the sacrifices of its participants. It suggests that war serves, in a terrible way, a social purpose which is poorly understood, and that social purpose, or change, comes at a cost. Rituals around Remembrance Day focus on values, veterans and memories. Behind that, there is the irreducible truth of episodic and savage convulsions in history, which force transformation.

Remembrance: First World War French Officer's Time Capsule


Hubert Rochereau’s room in a house in Bélâbre, France. Images Source: Bruno Mascle/Photoshot Images via the Guardian.

The Guardian recently reported on a time capsule which preserves a French soldier's room exactly as he left it before he left for the front during the First World War. It haunts the viewer and brings back to life a European domestic world that would be forever transformed by the war. The family stipulated that the room should not be changed for 500 years:
The name of dragoons officer Hubert Rochereau is commemorated on a war memorial in Bélâbre, his native village in central France, along with those of other young men who lost their lives in the first world war.

But Rochereau also has a much more poignant and exceptional memorial: his room in a large family house in the village has been preserved with his belongings for almost 100 years since his death in Belgium.

A lace bedspread is still on the bed, adorned with photographs and Rochereau’s feathered helmet. His moth-eaten military jacket hangs limply on a hanger. His chair, tucked under his desk, faces the window in the room where he was born on 10 October 1896.

He died in an English field ambulance on 26 April 1918, a day after being wounded during fighting for control of the village of Loker, in Belgium. The village was in allied hands for much of the war but changed hands several times between 25 and 30 April, and was finally recaptured by French forces four days after Rochereau’s death.

The parents of the young officer kept his room exactly as it was the day he left for the battlefront. When they decided to move in 1935, they stipulated in the sale that Rochereau’s room should not be changed for 500 years.

Image Source: HuffPo.



Photos from HuffPo include a photo portrait of the officer. Images Source: Matthieu Bock of Europe1 via HuffPo.

Image Source: news.com.au.

Image Source: tumblr. 

Image Source: tumblr. 

World War I, Day by Day


Monks watch the bombardment of Liège by a Zeppelin Airship. "Deutscher Luftflotten Verein" in the Battle of Liège (6 August 1914). Image Source: WWI Propaganda Cards.

To remember the centenary of the beginning of the First World War in 1914, the BBC has a general Website (here) and posted several podcast series (here; thanks to -C.). Among them, 1914: Day by Day (here) is narrated by historian Margaret MacMillan and gives a day-by-day account of the opening of the war in 1914, based on archival documents. By presenting this history in short recordings, one gains an understanding of how a great war could unfold on a daily basis and how contemporaries reacted. Imagine their shock and growing fear, their realization that this war was different from all the ones before it, when the Bank of England was forced to close on 31 July 1914, or when German Zeppelins bombed the Belgian city of Liège, the first air attack on a European city, on 6 August 1914.

Zeppelin attack on Liège 9 August 1914 (Albert Ebner Kunstanstalt München). Image Source: WWI Propaganda Cards.

The bombardment of Liège (Gustav Liersch Berlin Kr. 45 Art by: Hans Rud. Schulze). Image Source: WWI Propaganda Cards.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Time and Politics 12: College Days Before the War


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 4, 2014

World War I's Sunlit Picture of Hell


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

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

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

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

Memory

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

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

Anniversaries: Sarajevo


Image Source: Smithsonian.

One hundred years ago today (28 June 1914), Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1863-1914) and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (1868-1914) in Sarajevo, which marked the start of the First World War. It started as a bad day with poor security in a dangerous capital; Franz Ferdinand had already survived one assassination attempt earlier that day; and the car the heir to the throne and his wife were riding was reported to be cursed. Rumours and superstitions aside, the entire event was surrounded by weird, unfortunate and all-too-real coincidences. Smithsonian:
The appalling combination of implausible circumstance that resulted in assassination is one; Franz Ferdinand had survived an earlier attempt to kill him on the fateful day, emerging unscathed from the explosion of a bomb that bounced off the folded roof of his convertible and exploded under a car following behind him in his motorcade. That bomb injured several members of the imperial entourage, and those men were taken to the hospital. It was Franz Ferdinand’s impulsive decision, later in the day, to visit them there—a decision none of his assassins could have predicted—that took him directly past the spot where his assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was standing. It was chauffeur Leopold Lojka’s unfamiliarity with the new route that led him to take a wrong turn and, confused, pull to a halt just six feet from the gunman.
For the archduke to be presented, as a stationary target, to the one man in a crowd of thousands still determined to kill him was a remarkable stroke of bad luck, but even then, the odds still favored Franz Ferdinand’s survival. Princip was so hemmed in by the crowd that he was unable to pull out and prime the bomb he was carrying. Instead, he was forced to resort to his pistol, but failed to actually aim it. According to his own testimony, Princip confessed: “Where I aimed I do not know,” adding that he had raised his gun “against the automobile without aiming. I even turned my head as I shot.” Even allowing for the point-blank range, it is pretty striking, given these circumstances, that the killer fired just two bullets, and yet one struck Franz Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie—who was sitting alongside him—while the other hit the heir to the throne. It is astonishing that both rounds proved almost immediately fatal. Sophie was hit in the stomach, and her husband in the neck, the bullet severing his jugular vein. There was nothing any doctor could have done to save either of them.
Among all the stories and hoaxes that emerged around that day, including one rumour that the Archduke had killed a rare white stag in 1913 which brought death upon his head, the most eerie is the true detail that the car's licence plate contained the date of the end of the war:
[T]he Gräf & Stift’s license plate ... reads AIII 118. That number ... is capable of a quite astonishing interpretation. It can be taken to read A (for Armistice) 11-11-18— which means that the death car has always carried with it a prediction not of the dreadful day of Sarajevo that in a real sense marked the beginning of the First World War, but of November 11, 1918: Armistice Day, the day that the war ended.

This coincidence is so incredible that I initially suspected that it might be a hoax—that perhaps the Gräf & Stift had been fitted with the plate retrospectively. A couple of things suggest that this is not the case, however. First, the pregnant meaning of the intitial ‘A’ applies only in English—the German for ‘armistice’ is Waffenstillstand ... that literally translates as “arms standstill.” And Austria-Hungary did not surrender on the same day as its German allies—it had been knocked out of the war a week earlier, on November 4, 1918. So the number plate is a little bit less spooky in its native country. ...
More important, however, a contemporary photo of the fateful limousine, taken just as it turned into the road where Gavrilo Princip was waiting for it, some 30 seconds before Franz Ferdinand’s death, shows the car bearing what looks very much like the same number plate as it does today. You’re going to have to take my word for this—the plate is visible, just, in the best-quality copy of the image that I have access to, and I have been able to read it with a magnifying glass. But my attempts to scan this tiny detail in high definition have been unsuccessful. I’m satisfied, though, and while I don’t pretend that this is anything but a quite incredible coincidence, it certainly is incredible, one of the most jaw-dropping I’ve ever come across.
See my earlier post on the assassination, here and a related post, here.

The Archduke and his wife. Image Source: Funfront.

Princip's arrest. Image Source: HistoryLearningSite.

Image Source: Telegraph.

Monday, January 27, 2014

20th Century Camera Chronicles


Soldier (1940). Image Source: Art Agenda.

This past week, the BBC World News ran a series on the history of German art, including the photographer August Sander (1876-1964), who chronicled the state of his society before the First World War through the post World War II period.  At this time, the camera was cutting edge technology and Sander aimed to use it to capture his surroundings at that moment. His first collection from 1929 was entitled Face of Our Time. A later series, also from the Weimar period, was entitled People of the 20th Century. Through the thirty-year height of his career, roughly 1910 to 1940, his work shows a huge transformation of German society. By 1945, he had taken over 40,000 photographs of German people.

Sander is considered to be "the most important German portrait photographer of the early twentieth century." To honour his vision and accomplishments, there is a crater named after him on the planet Mercury.

Monday, November 11, 2013

War and Living Memory


"Remembrance Day at the John McCrae House (birthplace, museum, & memorial) in Guelph, Ontario Canada. A detail shot of the 'altar' of the memorial, with the complete poem 'In Flander's Fields' and the line 'LEST WE FORGET' inscribed on it. 2 Canadian remembrance day poppy pins and part of a wreath are visible." (11 November 2009). Image Source: Wiki.

Today is Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day, which observes the end of hostilities of World War I. It also commemorates the end of World War II and the fallen in other wars such as Korea and Vietnam and post-Cold War conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The two world wars are passing from living memory. Wiki has a list of the last surviving World War I veterans in the world. Almost all of them have died since 2000, save for three remaining veterans in Bulgaria, China and Greece. They include: Bright Williams of New Zealand, died 2003, aged 105 years; August Bischof of the former Austrian Empire, 2006, aged 105 years; Erich Kästner of the former German Empire, 2008, aged 107 years; Pierre Picault of France, 2008, aged 109 years; Delfino Borroni of Italy, 2008, aged 110; Yakup Satar of the former Ottoman Empire, 2008, aged 110 years; Mikhail Krichevsky of the former Russian Empire, 2008, aged 111 years; John Campbell Ross of Australia, 2009, aged 109 years; John Babcock in Canada, 2010, aged 109 years; Frank Buckles in the United States, 2011, aged 110 years; Florence Green in the UK, 2012, aged 110 years.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Michaelmas



Today is Michaelmas, the day devoted to the Archangel Michael, chief of the angels, who threw Satan out of heaven. St. Michael is also an eschatological figure, who is supposed to play a prominent role in the end times. See a great discussion of the significance and old customs of the day in Britain, at Dark Dorset, including cooking a goose at dinner. There's a touch of ancient sacrifice to this festival: "'September, when by custom (right divine) Geese are ordained to bleed at Michael's shrine.'"

Michaelmas also marks the last day of the year for eating blackberries (which explains why an Italian friend put a picture of Bavarese alle more up on Facebook yesterday). Satan, according to religious legend, landed in a blackberry bush when he fell to earth, and cursed the berries after September 29.

September 29 is supposed to be the last day of the year to eat blackberries: Macarons alle more. Image Source: Cucinare Dolce.

Thus, the British holiday overlaps in its practical purpose with harvest festivals at this time of year, such as the secularized Thanksgiving in North America. In 2012, the BBC reported on a revival of the observance of Michaelmas:
The traditional goose meal is seeing a revived interest in the UK, the industry says, with between 5-10% of British geese now being reared for the autumn instead of Christmas, which is the traditional seasonal focus. ... 
Michaelmas celebrates St Michael and all angels, which falls on 29 September for most of the UK. There are anomalies though: It's 4 October in Suffolk, and 11 October in Norfolk.
It falls near the autumn equinox and also marks a medieval festival when harvest was finished and farmers paid rent to the landowners, often offering geese as part of the exchange.
Goose fairs became popular across the country, with farmers driving their geese for miles to get to market.
The Michaelmas goose itself became associated with paying off debts, and according to folklore eating one on the day would bring financial luck for the coming year.
But over the last century "the seasons' festivals we used to have, fell out of fashion", says food writer Karen Burns-Booth, who specialises in food history and traditional recipes.
"We lost a lot of the agricultural emphasis particularly just after WWI… people became more industrialised, started to move to cities, therefore all those festivals sort of fell along the wayside." ...
Michaelmas geese tend to be leaner than their Christmas cousins, because they are slaughtered earlier and have been fed on "lovely lush spring grass", while Christmas geese fatten up during the winter, explains Mr Hegarty [chairman of the British Goose Producers].
A traditional Michaelmas goose can be roasted and served in the same way as a Christmas goose, but a number of recipes instead use seasonal ingredients such as apples and blackberries, or marrow and runner beans.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nazi Back Yard Legacy


Image Source: Der Spiegel via SOTT.

Recently, a friend was complaining about raccoons overturning trash cans in the back yard. I was surprised, because my friend is visiting family in Germany and raccoons are a North American species. Many outlets have reported that the raccoon presence in Germany is due to a little-known history of the Depression and the Second World War. The story goes that in 1934, leading Nazi Hermann Goering released a breeding pair outside Kassel, near Frankfurt:
Goering ordered the release of a breeding pair of raccoons when he was the Third Reich’s chief forester in 1934, to give hunters something to shoot. More got out in 1945 when an Allied bomb hit a farm where they were being reared for their pelts.
The Telegraph mentions further:
[A]t the request of the Reich Forestry Service, ... [Goering] authorised a pair to be released into the German countryside both to “enrich local fauna” and for sport. In the event, the hunted outlasted both the hunters and Hitler: with no natural predators, there are now 500,000 to a million raccoons in Germany, resulting in a decline in songbird numbers due to their fondness for eggs, and millions of pounds worth of damage to property. The animals have since spread to France, Eastern Europe and Russia.
The L A Times corrects this story, stating that the 1934 release is true, while the Goering connection is false; raccoons were actually introduced to Germany under controlled conditions in the 1920s for their pelts:
The Nazi reference springs in part from an account of the raccoon's origins in Germany that zoologists and wildlife biologists like Ehlert say is a myth.

The story has it that one of Hitler's closest advisors, military leader Hermann Goering, personally ordered the release of imported raccoons into Germany's forests, either to foster biodiversity — in utter contrast to the Nazis' evil ideology of human racial purity — or to increase the number of game animals for Germany's avid hunters.

Ehlert said a forestry official did release two pairs of raccoons from the United States into the wild in 1934 to promote diversity of fauna, though Goering had nothing to do with it. Then, during World War II, a bomb destroyed a farm near Berlin where raccoons were being raised for their pelts, allowing about 20 of the critters to escape.

These two dozen ancestors essentially gave rise to today's raccoon population in Germany, which is impossible to tally exactly but which Hohmann estimates is edging toward the 1 million mark.
The initial German releases were compounded when departing NATO soldiers turned loose their raccoon mascots in France in the 1960s. Like many stories in the media these days, the Goering connection is so compelling that it is reported even though it's not true. The false story becomes the generally-accepted truth. If anything, the real Nazi legacy here comes from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. And the spread of raccoons, like the spread of the cane toad in Australia, is an ongoing corner of ecological history, the environmental dimension of human affairs.

Hermann Goering (1893-1946), WWI flying ace, founder of the Gestapo, and WWII Nazi commander of Hitler's air force. He was the first Nazi authority at the scene when the Reichstag burnt down in 1933. But the raccoons in German back gardens are not part of his legacy. Image Source: Heinrich Hoffman via Life via dA.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cybermoney and the Age of Immaterialism


Image Source: Telegraph.

Last week, CNN and other media outlets ran a little story about a PayPal error, wherein a minor eBay seller found his PayPal account credited with USD $92 quadrillion:
When Chris Reynolds opened his June PayPal e-mail statement, something was off. The Pennsylvania PR executive's account balance had swelled to a whopping $92,233,720,368,547,800.
That's $92 QUADRILLION (and change).
Money that would make Reynolds -- who also sells auto parts on eBay in his spare time -- the richest man in the world by a long shot.
Rich, as in more than a million times richer than Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim. And he's worth $67 billion.
Oh, if only.
"It's a curious thing. I don't know, maybe someone was having fun," Reynolds said.
So he logged online, and reality bit back. His account balance read $0. The correct amount.
PayPal admitted the error and offered to donate an unspecified amount of money to a cause of Reynolds' choice.
"This is obviously an error and we appreciate that Mr. Reynolds understood this was the case," PayPal said in a statement.
Before this incident, the most Reynolds ever made on PayPal was "a little over $1,000" selling a set of vintage BMW tires on eBay.
So what would the would-be quadrillionaire have done with all that cash? "I probably would have paid down the national debt," he said.
Image Source: CNN.

In February of 2013, there was an equally curious article about PayPal at the neoconservative Website, World Net Daily (WND). The article was written by Jerome Corsi, a Boomer conspiracy theorist who has been accused of bending facts in his criticisms of the Democrats. The source is odd, and so is the report:
A former employee of one of the world’s largest international banks who has provided WND with more than 1,000 pages of evidence alleges the Internet giant PayPal and American Express are implicated in an international money-laundering scheme involving hundreds of billions of dollars. The whistleblower, John Cruz, was a relationship manager in the southern New York region for the London-based global bank HSBC.
“I found many accounts where PayPal and American Express were used as conduits through which hundreds of thousands of dollars were deposited or withdrawn from HSBC customer accounts in a pattern of suspicious transactions that should have been reported to legal authorities under various banking statutes, including the Patriot Act,” Cruz told WND. Neither PayPal nor American Express responded to WND email and telephone requests for comment.
Image Source: Socialist Unity.

A piece on HuffPo from May 2011 remarked that prepaid credit cards are commonly used to launder drug money and are reloaded with PayPal and similar services:
No one knows how big a role the cards play in moving the more than $20 billion in drug earnings that U.S. authorities estimate crosses from the U.S. to Mexico annually. Yet while anyone crossing that border with $10,000 or more in cash must declare it, prepaid cards are legally exempt.

Visually, the cards are barely distinguishable from credit or debit cards and the most versatile let users reload them remotely without having to reveal their identity, using cash, moneygrams, PayPal and other online payment services.
Some cards can process tens of thousands of dollars a month. Just load them up in Connecticut or Texas with, say, the proceeds of cocaine sales and collect the cash in local currency from an ATM in Medellin, Colombia or elsewhere in Latin America.
"I'm not so sure we have a sophisticated understanding of how to deal with this," said Richard Stana, who oversaw a report on prepaid access for the General Accounting Office, the U.S. Congress' research arm. "It's just a whole new way of doing business."
Then there was the PayPal goes to space idea, which I mentioned in a recent post:
“As we travel through space and explore new planets, we will still need to pay for life on Earth and out there…” There is no indication that he stopped ... to ask the obvious. Explore new planets? What new planets?
What new planets, indeed? Does it matter? The sooner we stop expecting to connect with reality as far as the economy is concerned, the clearer we will be about what is happening. It is not surprising that incidents like PayPal's clerical error occur behind the scenes in financial circles. Who can say what they really signify? What are three extra zeroes, or fifteen extra zeroes, on a computer ledger? None of it is real.

This is why the conspiracy theorists' ideas about the economy are wrong. For example, to believe a potential conspiracy theory about PayPal and $92 quadrillion, you would have to be very literal-minded and assume that there was something out there worth that amount of money that needed securing. To its credit, the Silicon Valley Mercury News actually realized this. What, out there, is worth $92 quadrillion? Perhaps the most sensible of its suggestions was that with $92 quadrillion, you could buy - or create - 1.37 million Bill Gateses.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Nuclear Leaks 25: Radioactive Digest

Fallout Brown © (2013) by Theamat. Reproduced with kind permission.

What's new in the nuclear industry? Here is a round up. Bear in mind that the reports mentioned below come from pro-environmental, anti-nuke critics who are generally dismissed as 'alarmist' by nuclear industry counter-critics and government monitors. In the latter's favour, some commenters on anti-nuke Web pages indulge in New World Order conspiracy theories. With that debate in mind, this is the latest on what the 'alarmists' are saying.

Among the alarmists is Professor Takeda Kunihiko of Chubu University, who declares (based on incredibly flimsy evidence) that Japan will be uninhabitable by March 2015. From Fukushima Diary: 
Prof. Takeda Kunihiko from Chubu university roughly estimated anyone can no longer live in Japan after 3/31/2015. According to his explanation, the yearly dose will reach 5mSv/y (External dose and the slight internal dose) in 3 years and 4 months from January of 2012.
Let us hope he is wrong. This catastrophe would be both unimaginably tragic and a source of local, possibly international, conflict. One of the commenters on a related ENE report wonders: "What's the clock set at for the North American west coast? How long will it take for their allowance of the 80% of the radioactive contamination to rain out or wash up on the coast? [R]adioactive releases are continuing and will not end soon with Tepco at the helm." Someone answers: "[T]he so-called "safe" limit was recently hiked way up by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. So we are not set for public warnings. The West Coast cannot possibly be safe ongoing, but it will probably take ongoing work to dig out the readings. Someone who does A LOT of that is Michael Collins on enviroreporter.com."

From a 29 May 2013 report, see below a picture of an inverted traffic cone and duct tape used to divert leaking materials at Fukushima Reactor 4. An ENE commented on the report: "I don't know how many times I have to tell TEPCO that foil tape is much better." Another commenter answered: "Foil tape is far too expensive. This is an economy operation."

Fukushima Reactor #4 patch job. Image Source: ENE Energy News.

Meanwhile, in California, they have been using masking tape, plastic bags and broomsticks to divert non-radioactive water leaks at Unit #3 of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The report below is from December of 2012. From an ABC report, picked up by ENE:
An inside source gave Team 10 a picture snapped inside the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) showing plastic bags, masking tape and broom sticks used to stem a massive leaky pipe. ... Records obtained by Team 10 show SONGS staff were concerned about “hundreds of corrosion notifications” and “degraded equipment” throughout the plant. Staff sent a letter to management saying SONGS “clearly has a serious corrosion problem” in pipes throughout the plant. Inside Sources [state:]
  • “If that’s nuclear technology at work and that’s how we’re going to control leaks I think the public should know”
  • Sources also pointed to what appears to be corrosion on the pipe as a sign of the power plant’s age
  • They claim rust is rampant throughout SONGS — including what sources call a fire suppression pipe, which protects both units
  • “We are dealing with unknown territory here which has never been explored before”
  • Two inside sources called restarting SONGS “risky”
  • “This is nuclear, this should be tip top”
  • “Everything in that plant should be tip top, not bottom of the barrel”
You can see a report about San Onofre's serious problems from the LA Times here.

San Onofre patch job and degraded equipment report: ABC Local News 10 via ENE Energy News.