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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fountain of Youth 11: Centenarian Youth

Zsa Zsa at the height of her career.

Age brings wisdom - sometimes - about aging.  Earlier this month, news broke that Zsa Zsa Gabor's 67-year-old husband planned to make her a mother again at the age of 94 through the wonders of modern science.  This started a row with her daughter:
Prince Frederic von Anhalt, the 94-year-old former star's ninth husband, said he went to a Beverly Hills clinic this week and gave sperm and blood samples.

Anhalt, who hopes a surrogate mother will give birth using a donated egg, said the couple had always wanted a baby and discussed the matter again when his Hungarian-born wife had her leg partially amputated in January.

"We talked about it, saying 'Remember, we always wanted a baby, and now it's too late.' And I said to her, 'Well maybe its not too late,'" he told AFP, adding that the whole whole process should cost about $100,000.

"Now my wife is in bad shape. I don't know how long she's going to be with me... I would like her to see the baby, I would like her to hear the baby screaming, to touch the baby's hair.

"If she dies before me, then I've nothing to live for," he added.

But Gabor's only child Francesca Hilton, the product of her second marriage to hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, issued a statement hours later via her publicist denouncing the baby plans as a publicity stunt.
Of course, it's a publicity stunt that appeals to our fascination with Millennial boundaries, in this case ageing and death, and bending or breaking the rules around them. On the same day, another news item reported that the world's oldest man, Walter Breuning, had died at the age of 114.  People are always curious to hear what centenarians have to say and what their secrets are for longevity.  These were Breuning's:
• Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. ("Every change is good.")

• Eat two meals a day ("That's all you need.")

• Work as long as you can ("That money's going to come in handy.")

• Help others ("The more you do for others, the better shape you're in.")

• Then there's the hardest part. It's a lesson Breuning said he learned from his grandfather: Accept death. "We're going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you're born to die," he said.
Ironic, isn't it, that the elixir of life is the acceptance of death?  Besse Cooper of Monroe, Georgia, USA is currently the world's oldest person, aged 114. (Thanks to J.)

See all my posts on the Fountain of Youth.

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Millennial Extremes 1: Mysteries of the Oort Cloud

Image Source: NASA/JPL via Wiki.

The Daily Mail recently carried a report on growing speculation that our solar system may have a new planet on the edge of our solar system, Tyche, which could be a gas giant four times the size of Jupiter.  Tyche, named for the petty deity that protected the fortunes and destinies of ancient Greek cities, is the pet project of astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  They believe that irregularities in comet paths could prove the existence of Tyche within two years: "[Whitmire] told the Independent: 'If it does, [... Matese] and I will be doing cartwheels. And that's not easy at our age.'"  They have been searching for Tyche since Matese proposed its existence in 1999.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Wedding List

The Uninvited Guest (1906) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.  Image Source: Goodart.org.

There's something Narnia-esque about William and Kate. Their wedding must be more understated than the incredible wedding of William's parents in 1981. After Charles's and Diana's wedding, we won't believe in living fairy tales again.  At the time, it looked like the dawning of a new age. In fact, it was the last gasp of the Victorian era. There's still something to Kate's and William's story about romantic fantasies coming true, but tempered by compromise and practicality.

Marriages of royals to commoners are the biggest indicators that an über-democratic approach to royal affairs has been established by the Windsors and other surviving royal houses in Europe.  It's a big trend (see here, here, here, here, here and here); it's also occurring in royal houses outside Europe and marks a huge shift in values. One of the oldest human institutions is radically changing. The lead-up to the royal wedding today weirdly involved royal snubs to assert the new order of things, making space for celebrities and  new favourites. Yet some of those decisions were - odd. The Obamas not invited? Oh, to be a fly on the wall to hear what they said in the White House.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Monuments to the Past for a Future that Never Arrived

The blog Crack Two recently posted images of public monuments that were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s in Tito's Yugoslavia.  In their heyday, these sculptures and buildings commemorated the World War II battles and concentration camps.  Now, they lie abandoned, with their historical context and significance no longer indicated.  From the Crack Two post:
These structures were commissioned by former Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito in the 1960s and 70s to commemorate sites where WWII battles took place (like Tjentište, Kozara and Kadinjača), or where concentration camps stood (like Jasenovac and Niš). They were designed by different sculptors (Dušan Džamonja, Vojin Bakić, Miodrag Živković, Jordan and Iskra Grabul ...) and architects (Bogdan Bogdanović, Gradimir Medaković...), conveying powerful visual impact to show the confidence and strength of the Socialist Republic. In the 1980s, these monuments attracted millions of visitors per year, especially young pioneers for their "patriotic education." After the Republic dissolved in early 1990s, they were completely abandoned, and their symbolic meanings were forever lost.

See all the images here.  (Hat tip: Carter Cleveland)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Expected Resurrection of Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba claimed to be the embodiment of Shiva and Shakti. Image Source: Sathya Sai Baba.

On Easter Sunday, the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba (1926-2011) died. For the last few days, his body has been lying in state and mourners from India and abroad have paid their respects. His funeral will be held today in Puttaparthi. He was ranked this year by Watkins Review as one of the most spiritually influential people in the world.  He established a global network of followers and schools.  Among tales of his ability to cure the sick and perform various miracles, he had a hybrid Eastern-Western appeal.

Sathya Sai Baba claimed that he was an avatar, a resurrected form of an earlier guru who was well known around 1910 until 1918, Sai Baba of Shirdi (c. 1835-1918); the latter was a yogi whom Hindus and Muslims alike regard as a saint and the Hindus see as an incarnaton of Lord Dattatreya.

For his part, Sathya Sai Baba is seen as a reincarnation of Shiva and Shakti - rendering him, in his followers' eyes, a living god. Just as Sai Baba Shirdi drew from Muslim and Hindu teachings, Sathya Sai Baba's teachings tell a hybrid story, mingling Hindu, Muslim and Christian theology. He called for a synthesis of these faiths along lines of non-violence, truth, love, peace and right conduct:
My objective is the establishment of sanathana dharma, which believes in one God as propitiated by the founders of all religions. So none has to give up his religion or deity ... I have come not to disturb or destroy any Faith, but to confirm each in his own Faith, so that the Christian becomes a better Christian, the Muslim a better Muslim and a Hindu a better Hindu." According to "Ocean of Love", a book published by the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, "there is no new path that He is preaching, no new order that He has created. There is no new religion that He has come to add or a particular philosophy that He recommends ... His mission is unique and simple. His mission is that of love and compassion."
His motto was: Love all, serve all; help ever, hurt never.  Many of Sathya Sai Baba's devotees have transferred the Christian religious story to him, and expect that his spirit has left his body and that he will be resurrected, according to a BBC International report, "in the next three or four days" after his death.  That would mean that he should rise from the dead - today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anniversaries: Lest We Forget Chernobyl

Chernobyl Liquidators (1986); location and original source of photograph unconfirmed. Image Source: Progetto Humus via Belarusguide.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in history. The meltdown and explosion at reactor #4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat, Ukrainian SSR in 1986 was worse than 100 times the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.  Aside from Fukushima, it is the only incident classified as level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.  Below is an overview of Chernobyl, from its construction, to the accident, to the wildlife that lives there now.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nuclear Leaks 8: Sellafield aka Windscale

The Sellafield facility on the Cumbrian coast, United Kingdom (May 2005). Image Source: Visit Cumbria via Wiki.

In 2005, Britain experienced a significant nuclear accident that was not widely reported in the UK.  The story was initially covered in the German press. Wiki: "At Sellafield, 20 metric tons of uranium and 160 kilograms of plutonium dissolved in 83,000 litres of nitric acid leaked over several months from a cracked pipe into a stainless steel sump chamber at the Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The partially processed spent fuel was drained into holding tanks outside the plant." BBC has further details:
A leak at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria was not spotted for three months, an investigation has revealed. More than 20 tonnes of uranium and 160kg of plutonium spewed onto a floor when a pipe fractured at the Thorp reprocessing complex in January. The British Nuclear Group, which carried out the inquiry, stressed that the material leaked into a sealed cell. The discovery was made after a camera inspection of the cell in April.

It was classified as a level 3 accident by the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) because of the acid released in the incident. INES measurements listed the 1986 Chernobyl disaster as a level 7 incident and Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979 as level 5.

The leak occurred when a pipe - just a few centimetres wide - fractured, sending nitric acid onto the floor of the concrete-lined cell. The cells, which are 60 metres long and 20 metres high, are not accessible to staff and no-one was exposed to radioactive material.  According to the British Nuclear Group's findings, the pipe failed because of metal fatigue, which may have started to occur as early as August 2004. The report recommended that improvements be made to the maintenance and testing procedures at Thorp, which remains closed since the leak.

Complacency addressed

Detailed reviews into engineering and operating practices throughout the plant should also be conducted, it concluded. Barry Snelson, Managing Director at Sellafield, said: "I will personally be ensuring that recommendations are implemented not just in Thorp, but across Sellafield. "I am disappointed that plant indicators were not acted upon as quickly as they should have been and I shall be taking action to ensure that any complacency with respect to acting upon plant information is addressed." Sellafield staff are confident that Thorp can be returned to service, he added.
Blind luck prevented this from becoming a more toxic event. Sellafield had already five more serious incidents between 1955 and 1979. Thorp started up again in 2008, the same year that the British government issued the whole Sellafield complex an unlimited indeminity against future accidents. An American, French and UK consortium was awarded a huge contract to decommission Thorp over five years, starting in 2010.

The 1957 Fire

Formerly known as Windscale, the facility had a frightening accident in 1957. That crisis ranked at level 5, a disaster on par with Three Mile Island, Chalk River, and the Goiânia accident in Brazil.

The Windscale fire was the worst nuclear disaster in British history. The facility was built to refine plutonium. In the intense international nuclear competition of the Cold War, the priority at Windscale was making atomic bombs; electricity was only a sideline, a sweetener for the public. This is a story of Britain struggling to keep up with America as she slipped from her preeminent international position after the Second World War. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan felt intense pressure to cultivate American friendship by demonstrating that British nuclear capabilities were on par with America's. As a result, plutonium and tritium production at Windscale was intensified past the plant's capabilities. Development of tritium, especially, pushed the original design of the plant beyond its limit, causing it to overheat. On 10 October, the core of the reactor caught fire. The terrifying fact slowly dawned upon personnel:
Tom Hughes, second in command to the Reactor Manager, suggested examining the reactor personally and so he and another operator went to the charge face of the reactor, clad in protective gear. A fuel channel inspection plug was taken out close to a thermocouple registering high temperatures and it was then that the operators saw that the fuel was red hot.

"An inspection plug was taken out," said Tom Hughes in a later interview, "and we saw, to our complete horror, four channels of fuel glowing bright cherry red."

There was no doubt that the reactor was now on fire, and had been for almost 48 hours. Reactor Manager Tom Tuohy donned full protective equipment and breathing apparatus and scaled the 80 feet to the top of the reactor building, where he stood atop the reactor lid to examine the rear of the reactor, the discharge face. Here he reported a dull red luminescence visible, lighting up the void between the back of the reactor and the rear containment. Red hot fuel cartridges were glowing in the fuel channels on the discharge face. He returned to the reactor upper containment several times throughout the incident, at the height of which a fierce conflagration was raging from the discharge face and playing on the back of the reinforced concrete containment—concrete whose specifications required that it be kept below a certain temperature to prevent its disintegration and collapse.
Windscale staff struggled to put out the fire. They tried carbon dioxide and water without success - and soon were facing 11 tonnes of blazing, white-hot molten uranium. Finally, the fire was extinguished by cutting the air supply, and the reactor sealed, leaving 15 tonnes of uranium inside. Fallout was released across the UK and Europe, including large quantities of Iodine-131, Caesium-137, and Xenon-133. In 1981, the facility was renamed Sellafield. According to Wiki, the "pile [from the 1957 accident] is not scheduled for final decommissioning until 2037." Some salvaging of nuclear fuel from the site is underway from 2008 to 2012.