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, February 4, 2012

Wasting Time in the Real Dreamscape

The very first reality TV show on American television was a series called An American Family, which aired on PBS in 1973.  The ground-breaking documentary revealed the inner life of a San Diego family with an anthropological analytical subtext, which was echoed in a 2011 film about the project, Cinema Verite.  There's been a lot of talk about the bastardization of the genre, and for that matter, reality itself, as Reality TV has given way to found footage films.  But the mother in the family, Pat Loud, raised an interesting question that spoke less to the confusion between reality and fiction - and more to the current confusion between dreams and fiction

Friday, February 3, 2012

Millennial Extremes 7: 24 Hours to See a World Hidden for Millions of Years

Image Source: BBC.

Antarctica is home to over 400 subglacial lakes that are sealed off time capsules, miles beneath the ice.  These bodies of water retain their liquidity due to heat from the Earth's core and have not seen the light of day from anywhere between 125,000 years and several million years.  Three teams of American, British and Russian scientists are racing to drill at different points on the Continent to see what life forms survive in these freshwater lakes.  The Americans are preparing to drill at Lake Whillans in Operation WISSARD,  a project running from 2009 to 2015.  The Russians have been drilling for a few years and are metres away from reaching Lake Vostok - a 15 million year old time capsule; for Russian photos of their operation - go here.  At Lake Vostok, summer temperatures average minus 30 degrees Celcius and winter temperatures are around minus 80 degrees Celcius.

Underneath this ice sheet, Lake Ellsworth is considered more accessible than most subglacial lakes.

BBC just reported about a British team that is getting closer to starting their operation at Lake Ellsworth. Drilling will begin in November of this year. The conditions are terrible: in high summer, it is minus 20 degrees Celcius with extremely fast winds (30 knots).  The probes have to be completely sterile so that these hidden environments are not contaminated. Once the hole is open, two miles through the ice, the team will only have 24 hours to conduct experiments before the hole freezes up again.  Sounds like practice for space exploration, and indeed, the "Europa Jupiter System Mission team will be watching closely. They plan to send a lander to drill into the moon Europa’s ice-enclosed oceans to look for life."

See all my posts related to Antarctica.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Halfway Point

Roman celebrations of Lupercalia involved whipping women in the streets to encourage fertility. Image Source: Res Obscura.

It is Candlemas - not the Swedish Doom Metal band - and Groundhog Day.  Both celebrations refer to the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox; this date has been celebrated under different guises since ancient times:
Candlemas primarily focuses on Jesus’ early life. Many Christians believe that Jesus’ mother Mary presented him to God at the Temple in Jerusalem after observing the traditional 40-day period of purification (of mothers) following his birth. According to a New Testament gospel, a Jewish man named Simeon held the baby in his arms and said that he would be a light for the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). It is for this reason that this event is called Candlemas.

Many people believe that some of Candlemas’ activities stem from pagan observances such as Imbolc [also known as St. Brigid's Day], a Gaelic festival, or the Roman feast of Lupercalia. However, others have argued that there is too little evidence to shed light on Candlemas’ substitution for these festivals. Either way, Candlemas occurs at a period between the December solstice and the March equinox, so many people traditionally marked that time of the year as winter’s “halfway point” while waiting for the spring.
Lupercalia was an ancient festival; its celebration continued after the founding of Rome in 753 BCE. It was: "one of the most ancient of the Roman holidays (one of the feriae listed on ancient calendars from even before the time Julius Caesar reformed the calendar)."  Lupercalia is also now associated with Valentine's Day; it referred to February as a period of spiritual cleansing.  It was a sort of early spring cleaning of the soul.  It demanded reexamination of one's actions and an expulsion of evil spirits.  The Romans fashioned the date as a wolf festival: Lupa was the wolf that suckled the infant twins Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome.  The details of the Lupercalia celebration - which you can read about here - were pretty weird.  They make our modern Candlemas rituals and Groundhog Day festivities look nice and tame.  Even so, the underlying message of all these holidays is identical.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Millennial Mysteries: The Answer to Arctic Owls Flying South and Other 2012 Arctic Bird Oddities?

Painting of Snowy Owl (1996) © Kim Hunter.

Never seen a magnificent Arctic Owl? Depending on where you live, now could be your chance. I recently mentioned strange Canada Goose migrations. Snowy Owls are currently migrating hundreds of miles far south from Arctic climes - in a way not seen in many decades, such that some observers are calling the phenomenon a 'wildlife event.'

A once-in-a-lifetime sight: "The Missouri Department of Conservation said no one has seen a snowy owl this far south since 1974." A Snowy Owl in northern Jasper County, Missouri, January 2012.  Image Source: Carthage Press.

The birds' winter range normally does not extend south of the Great Lakes in North America, or south of Russia in Central Asia. But they have been spotted quite far south all over the United States.  Unlike most owls, they are active during the day, making sightings more likely.  Unused to human environments beyond their Tundra habitat, they are stressed and confused and getting into trouble.  One owl showed up at the airport in Hawaii, and startled staff shot it.  One owl in Kansas City was killed when it flew into a train.  Another is being cared for at Washington State University in Seattle after it collided with a car; the owl is being kept on a tub filled with ice with a fan blowing on him, which you can see hereYahoo News reported on 28 January:
Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts.

A certain number of the iconic owls fly south from their Arctic breeding grounds each winter but rarely do so many venture so far away even amid large-scale, periodic southern migrations known as irruptions.

"What we're seeing now -- it's unbelievable," said Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute in Montana.

"This is the most significant wildlife event in decades," added Holt, who has studied snowy owls in their Arctic tundra ecosystem for two decades.

Holt and other owl experts say the phenomenon is likely linked to lemmings, a rodent that accounts for 90 percent of the diet of snowy owls during breeding months that stretch from May into September. The largely nocturnal birds also prey on a host of other animals, from voles to geese.

An especially plentiful supply of lemmings last season likely led to a population boom among owls that resulted in each breeding pair hatching as many as seven offspring. That compares to a typical clutch size of no more than two, Holt said.

Greater competition this year for food in the Far North by the booming bird population may have then driven mostly younger, male owls much farther south than normal.

Research on the animals is scarce because of the remoteness and extreme conditions of the terrain the owls occupy, including northern Russia and Scandinavia, he said.

The surge in snowy owl sightings has brought birders flocking from Texas, Arizona and Utah to the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, pouring tourist dollars into local economies and crowding parks and wildlife areas. The irruption has triggered widespread public fascination that appears to span ages and interests. ... This winter's snowy owl outbreak, with multiple sightings as far south as Oklahoma, remains largely a mystery of nature. "There's a lot of speculation. As far as hard evidence, we really don't know," Holt said.
For further reports on the Snowy Owls from MSM outlets and local bird-watching societies, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.  The Great Backyard Bird Count expects to record this irruption.  The Bird Count is an annual event in which people across North America submit reports on the numbers and types of birds they see in their backyards.  This information helps keep track of phenomena such as Arctic birds flying further south than usual. The Great Backyard Bird Count starts February 17 and runs until February 20 (to participate, go here).  Last year, 11.5 million birds were counted by amateur bird-watchers in the Bird Count, which also runs a photo contest and gallery.

Although this owl irruption is a really popular Internet story, no one has bothered to ask (at least, as far as I could see) whether other Arctic avian species which normally stay within a certain northern range are flying south as well. This is where this seemingly isolated event gets interesting.

A parliament of Arctic Owls in British Columbia's Boundary Bay (7 January 2012) © Sandy Milliken. Image Source: via The Spokesman-Review.