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, November 19, 2011

New Hypersonic Weapon Can Reach Anywhere on Earth in One Hour

The AHW. Image Source: US Army via Wired.

Black Horizon is reporting that on Thursday, 17 November, the Pentagon tested a new, steerable, flying bomb (an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, or AHW) that travels faster than the speed of sound, allowing the US Military to reach any place on Earth within one hour. The Military isn't saying exactly how fast it is, but this test is one step within the one hour goal; some reports say it traveled at Mach 8 but is intended to go much faster. The top speed is rumoured to be Mach 20. It took the weapon took less than 30 minutes to travel 2,300 miles.

The AHW is part of the 'Prompt Global Strike' program. They're not being overwhelmingly secretive: the Department of Defense live Tweeted the last test they conducted, which didn't turn out as well. The AHW spokesperson is Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, who on November 16 also announced Boeing's delivery of a batch of 30,000 pound bunker-busting bombs to the Air Force, with the remark that the bombs were a "weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries' weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities."  There's even something for the critics in this story, who think the research may one day aid space exploration. For more reports, go here, here, here, here and here.

The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program

The Watchmen's blood-spattered smiley face symbolized the bone-cracking ironies of pacifist, free love America during the Vietnam War, exemplified by the character the Comedian, a cynical, ruthless battlefield government op who wears a smiley face button.

From the 2011 annals of Millennial Anxieties, I bring you this tidbit from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Ivory Tower's main paper in the United States. The Chronicle recently ran an interesting and chilling little piece on something called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It has all the weirdness of military psych projects that I've blogged about here and here. It is a completely real, $125 million attempt to use positive psychology techniques among military personnel, and it is being implemented as you read this without prior testing.

The aim of the program is to train soldiers to be psychologically healthy and resilient and prevent conditions like post traumatic stress disorder.  Of course that's a good thing.  And it's to be expected that the military would explore dimensions of psychological warfare, which include tactics to make soldiers cope with extreme conditions and chaos.  Yet the program has been developed by a researcher who induced a reaction called 'learned helplessness' by shocking canine research subjects for the CIA.  He's also written a book on how to be genuinely happy, which is described as a "user-friendly roadmap for human emotion." Uhm.  What?

Several prominent American psychologists have expressed concern about the program, but as one put it, "the train has already left the station." And just in case you think this has nothing to do with you, it looks like the idea is to use the military as a test case for broader application to the civilian population and make everyone happier. 

I've never been quite clear on why happiness is generally assumed to be the only mood possible to indicate mental health.  After all, depression is a mental reaction that occurs naturally and it serves certain functions.  Within limits, it protects the individual from further stresses while the psyche seeks to heal.  Since when was it 'healthy' to be 'happy' after being traumatized?  And while being psychologically stronger and happier is obviously ultimately desirable, why are we farming out control over enabling our happiness, and our capacity to be happy, to outside parties?

Regarding mass application of psych techniques among civilians: think of sites like Facebook that already monitor our personal data, friends, behaviour and values, and manipulate the data for marketing purposes.  Consider that mass psych techniques have been implemented in the creation of some dating services. In these systems, people willingly create intimate personal psych profiles of themselves and pay to hand that information over to private companies; is it not inconceivable that some dating services are in fact big psych tests - rat-in-the-maze scenarios - wherein a private company (aka dating service) monitors clients' behavioural reactions when presented with various choices?  Now, would you like some military psych test mass results with that? I ask you: Who Watches the Watchmen?  See the details of the report below the jump.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Search for Control in an Uncontrollable World

Time recently posted an article about popular coping mechanisms in the face of general stresses, such as terrorism, environmental scares, and economic problems, over the past ten years. The article doesn't mention the Tech Boom, but it is an additional stress to add to the pile. In studies done in the wake of 9/11 and through the first decade of the 2000s, psychologists found that people who feel threatened by chaos and disorder tend to seek, allow or permit external controls to give them a sense of order.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Look Skyward: The Leonids

The Leonids in 1833. Image Source: Wiki.

Tonight and tomorrow night mark the peak of the Leonids meteor shower (at 11 pm EST, but keep watching to the North-East after midnight and up to dawn), associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids are noted because they have occasionally presented the most incredible meteor storms in recorded history. In 1833, the shower produced between one hundred thousand and two hundred thousand meteors per hour and spanned all of North America. The meteor shower was so spectacular that it was considered by the Mormon leader, Joseph Smith, to be a sign of God's intention toward his movement.

In 1866, the Leonids rained a few thousand per hour in Europe.  The following two years were also amazing.  In 1966, when there was another great meteor shower.  Leonid storms in 2000, 2001 and 2002 produced up to 3,000 meteors per hour. The Leonids are also known for spectacular fireballs. I've seen one of these, and they are unforgettable. The one I saw looked like this. You can see a 2001 Leonid fireball, which was caught on camera in New Jersey; a 2008 Leonid fireball from Edmonton, Canada; and a 2009 Leonid fireball in South Africa, all below the jump.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Retro-Futurism 19: Last Master of a Martial Art Reborn

May the Force be with you: Nidar Singh of Wolverhampton. Image Source: Rajbir Hundal via BBC.

The BBC reports that the last remaining master of an ancient Sikh martial art is searching worldwide for an apprentice (Hat tip: Ben Hammersley):
"A former factory worker from the British Midlands may be the last living master of the centuries-old Sikh battlefield art of shastar vidya. The father of four is now engaged in a full-time search for a successor.

The basis of shastar vidya, the 'science of weapons' is a five-step movement: advance on the opponent, hit his flank, deflect incoming blows, take a commanding position and strike.

It was developed by Sikhs in the 17th Century as the young religion came under attack from hostile Muslim and Hindu neighbours, and has been known to a dwindling band since the British forced Sikhs to give up arms in the 19th Century.

Nidar Singh, a 44-year-old former food packer from Wolverhampton, is now thought to be the only remaining master. He has many students, but shastar vidya takes years to learn and a commitment in time and energy that doesn't suit modern lifestyles.

'I've travelled all over India and I have spoken to many elders, this is basically a last-ditch attempt to flush someone out because if I die with it, it is all gone.'"

Nidar Singh Nihang Mr Singh is searching for a young successor.

"He would be overjoyed to discover an existing master somewhere in India, or to find a talented young student determined to dedicate his life to the art.

Until he was 17 years old, he knew little of his Sikh heritage. His family were not religious - he wore his hair short and dressed like any British teenager. He was a keen wrestler, but knew nothing of martial arts.

He spent his childhood between Punjab and Wolverhampton and it was on one of these trips to see an aunt in India that he met Baba Mohinder Singh, the old man who was to become his master.

Already in his early 80s, Baba Mohinder Singh had abandoned life as a hermit in a final effort to find someone to pass on his knowledge to.

'When he saw my physique he looked at me, even though I was clean-shaven and he asked me: "Do you want to learn how to fight,"' recalls Nidar Singh. 'I couldn't say no.'"
A master warrior trained in these techniques could kill 250 men. In the Empire, the British were so alarmed by the deadly threat of shastar vidya that they banned its practice. The art is now, perhaps ironically, making a comeback in the UK. See a video news report on this story below the jump. The sudden renewed interest in shastar vidya is part of a global trend that is seeing a resurgence of training in ancient martial arts.  The trend is so noticable that boxing gyms in the United States are reporting the change (see reports here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here - there are many more).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Frozen Moments from Gabriel Barcia-Colombo

Here are some pieces by rising video artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, whose work revolves around Millennial time capsules, time crunches, time warps and generations, using the medium of projected video sculpture (Thanks to -B. All images and videos are © G. Barcia-Colombo from his Website); they are presented here solely for the purpose of discussion and review.
Gabriel Barcia-Colombo's work focuses on memorialization and, more specifically, the act of leaving one's imprint for the next generation. While formally implemented by natural history museums and collections (which find their roots in Renaissance era "cabinets of curiosity"), this process has grown more pointed and pervasive in the modern-day obsession with personal digital archiving and the corresponding growth of social media culture. His video sculptures play upon this exigency in our culture to chronicle, preserve and wax nostalgic, an idea which Barcia-Colombo renders visually by “collecting” human beings (alongside cultural archetypes) as scientific specimens.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Old New Limitless Power Source for the Future

Image by Chabacano (2008). Image Source: Wiki.

A scoop over at Ray Kurzweil's site indicates a 1960s' concept for cheap limitless power is coming back in fashion and may be technically feasible in 10 to 20 years. (Thanks to -S.) This is coming out today in a report from the International Academy of Astronautics. Amara D. Angelica reports on Space-based Solar Power, which involves placing solar collectors in Earth's orbit and then transmitting the energy wirelessly to Earth:
On Monday, the National Space Society (NSS) will present findings from an eye-opening new report by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). You’re hearing about this here first. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the NSS board of directors.) ...

In 2002, Dr. Martin Hoffert, Professor Emeritus of Physics, New York University, proposed a radical solution to what appears to be a serious coming energy shortfall (Science, 2002): space solar power (SSP) — collect energy from space and transmit it wirelessly anywhere in the world.

The basic concept, invented in the late 60s by Dr. Peter Glaser of Arthur D. Little: a large platform, positioned in space in a high Earth orbit continuously collects and converts solar energy into electricity. This power is then used to drive a wireless power transmission system that transmits the solar energy to receivers on Earth. Because of its immunity to nighttime, to weather or to the changing seasons, the SPS concept. has the potential to achieve much greater energy efficiency than ground based solar power systems.

There are significant advantages to SSP compared to ground solar power, according to an NSS statement: solar energy in space is seven times greater per unit area than on the ground, and the collection of solar space energy is not disrupted by nightfall and inclement weather, avoiding the need for expensive energy storage. And it’s especially valuable for isolated areas of the world (parts of Africa and India, for example.)

Curios: The Cheque that Bought Superman

Speak of the Devil. Just as the DCnU juggernaut continues on the back of the Superman copyright lawsuits, an online auction starts today that is auctioning off the cheque from DC Comics to Siegel and Shuster that bought the character Superman. For my earlier post on that story, go hereBleeding Cool (source of the image above) reports:
It has long been part of the record of comic book history that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold the rights for Superman to Detective Comics, Inc (the company which was to become DC Comics, of course) for $130.

Here is the March 1, 1938 check that DC Comics publisher and accountant Jack Liebowitz issued to Siegel and Shuster to complete that transaction:

Note the Superman line item next to the amount $130.

Also note the total $412, with other line items including “D.C”, ”Adv”, and “Fun”. This would probably correspond to payments for work in Detective Comics, New Adventure Comics, and More Fun Comics, where Siegel and Shuster had strips such as Doctor Occult, Federal Men, and Slam Bradley published just prior to the debut of Superman.

Adding to this already rather stellar bit of comic book history, the back includes not only the endorsements of both men (spelled both incorrectly and correctly to account for Liebowitz’s misspelling of both names on the front), but also an April 6, 1939 stamp for the U.S. District Court of New York, where it was presumably used to prove DC’s ownership of the character in Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc. ...

These items just surfaced with Comic Connect and Metropolis Collectibles founder Stephen Fishler, whose auction house has a number of items from Jerry Siegel’s personal archive in an auction running November 14-30.  
For some other weird memorabilia in that auction, go here. I occasionally talk about auctions as examples of opened time capsules, and opportunities to buy historical artifacts, for more of my auctions posts, see the link below the jump.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amazing Statues and Sculptures

Space Elephant by Salvador Dalí Image (15 April 2008) © picqero. Reproduced with kind permission.

Caption for the above photograph: The famous Space Elephant sculpture by Salvador Dalí, which stands on the River Thames embankment outside County Hall, London. The elephant is a distorted body in outer space, with its 20 foot spindly legs representing weightlessness with structure. On its back it carries a pyramid shaped obelisk, which symbolises power. This strange sculpture is actually based on an earlier painting, by Dali, called 'the Temptation of St. Anthony', in which various temptations are symbolised by animals.

For today's post, see statues which combine the old and the new. Salvador Dalí's London Space Elephant (above) is about the temptation of power. His 'celestial elephant' sketch for the piece is on sale here. You can read more about his sculptures here. Below, Lion 2 by Yong Ho Ji is probably my favourite.