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 7, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 14: Unusual Mortality Events and Competing Cultures of Truth

In Alaska, large numbers of Polar bears, walruses and seals are suffering from a mysterious illness which may or may not be radiation poisoning; it involves bleeding sores on the face and neck, hair loss, death. Image Source: (21 March 2012) USGS via Alaska Public.

Easter. Passover. Sacrifice, resurrection and plagues are possibly more nuclear than religious this weekend. On Thursday 5 April, TEPCO acknowledged that 12 tonnes of water, highly contaminated with radioactive Strontium, had just leaked from a drainage pipe. It was absorbed into the soil and also spilled into the Pacific Ocean. A similar leaky pipe incident occurred at Fukushima on March 26.

Pacific Walrus at Point Lay, Alaska, USA (13 October 2011) with patchy hair loss and skin lesions. Image Source: USGS via Alaska Dispatch.

An Alaskan Ringed Seal exhibiting hair loss and bleeding lesions (December 2011). Seal deaths have been classed as an Unusual Mortality Event but the same label has not been applied yet to Polar bears. Image Source: NOAA via Environment News Service.

At the same time, alarming comments circulated about Reactor #4 at Fukushima.  The fears about Reactor #4's threat portray a textbook Domino Effect. First, another earthquake (like the 5.9 quake on 1 April 2012) could cause the collapse of the floor at already-structurally-damaged Reactor #4, where spent fuel pools hold the equivalent of 10 times Chernobyl's radioactive material and are open to the sky; if they melt down, they will emit radiation, unshielded, for at least 50 years. Second, the collapse of #4 would render Fukushima so radioactive as to make all work at the site impossible; other spent fuel pools there would melt down (whose total including Reactor #4, is equivalent to 85 Chernobyls). Third, on top of this, abandonment of the site would see China Syndromes unfold at Reactors #1, 2, 3, if they have not already or would not anyway. Fourth, Tokyo would have to be evacuated and closed, and possibly all of Japan would become uninhabitable. And fifth, if Japan were destroyed and evacuated, the region would economically and diplomatically destabilize, and potential conflicts would rapidly heighten, possibly into war.

Missile interceptors in Tokyo. North Korea plans a missile launch over Japan this week and is threatening any country that shoots its rockets down. Image Source: AP via Telegraph.

Remarks about this potential scenario arise from investigations initiated by former UN advisor and diplomat Akio Matsumura. Matsumura is pushing strongly for outside engineering help and independent international observation teams to come in, assess the situation at Fukushima, and repair the teetering structure of Reactor #4.  He hints that this is a delicate diplomatic task, since it is difficult for Japan's leaders to admit that they are overwhelmed and need help. Recent diplomatic meetings on nuclear issues have focused on nuclear weapons in Iran, rather than addressing problems in Japan. The scary rhetoric may reflect a diplomatic push to force swift movement on the dangerous issue of Fukushima's Reactor #4, or it may reflect pure fear:

(1) "The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements. If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident. ... Based on U.S. Energy Department data, assuming a total of 11,138 spent fuel assemblies are being stored at the Dai-Ichi site, nearly all, which is in pools. They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137 — roughly 85 times the amount of Cs-137 released at the Chernobyl accident as estimated by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP). [Overall, t]he total spent reactor fuel inventory at the Fukushima-Daichi site contains nearly half of the total amount of Cs-137 estimated by the NCRP to have been released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, Chernobyl, and world-wide reprocessing plants (~270 million curies or ~9.9 E+18 Becquerel). It is important for the public to understand that reactors that have been operating for decades, such as those at the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site have generated some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet." [Mr. Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Energy]

(2) "Many of our readers might find it difficult to appreciate the actual meaning of the figure, yet we can grasp what 85 times more Cesium-137 than the Chernobyl would mean. It would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival." [Response to comment (1) from Matsumura, on the potential compromise of all spent fuel at Fukushima]

(3) "[S]uch an accident would force the evacuation of the 35 million people in Tokyo, close half of Japan and compromise the nation’s sovereignty. Such a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe is unimaginable." [On the potential collapse of Reactor #4, which would confirm a comment from former Japanese PM Kan]

(4) "People said to me more than 50 years it might take to contain radiation. So during 50 years radiation [would] continue on [unshielded and unabated]." [Japanese former UN advisor Akio Matsumura on the potential collapse of Reactor #4]

(5) "It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on NO.4 reactor." [Former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal and Executive Director, Japan Society for Global System and Ethics Mitsuhei Murata to UN Secretary-General, Honorable Ban Ki-moon, 25 March 2012]

Yesterday, a friend, D., who is a journalist, was talking about some trouble he had last week, because he reported a local event from inside a foreign country, and the event officially had not happened yet. I mentioned some of the Fukushima headlines about Reactor #4, which Washington's Blog today called, "the top short-term threat to humanity." Yet the MSM, the diplomats and the public do not seem to be discussing it.

D. said: "I think we live in ... [an] age where the various cultures of truth are in conflict." He suggested that different cultures have different ways of acknowledging, or not acknowledging, reality. In Japan, he reflected, the response is to politely and stoically state that everything is under control, even if it is not. But as the radiation spreads globally, and radioactive wreckage washes up on North American beaches, the problem enters realms of different cultures of truth, where reality is described differently, handled differently, acknowledged differently. An example is the American treatment of Unusual Mortality Events of Arctic mammals in Alaska in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

See videos below the jump with commentary from Matsumura for an engineering solution on Reactor #4.

Geminoid F, New Model Fembot Android

Geminoid F. Image Source: Time.

Time magazine has a piece on the latest model of female robot, a Japanese model called Geminoid F, and she looks like she is on the verge of crossing the Uncanny Valley. The style chosen for her is staid, self-contained and traditional; that choice muffles aspects about her that might otherwise be jarring:
Imagine a world where robots conduct traffic, work in factories, make sushi and vacuum office floors. It may not be far away. In Japan, robots are already common fixtures, and the latest prototypes come ever closer to the line separating man from machine. This week, during her first visit to Hong Kong, female android Geminoid F chatted, sang and smiled while an awestruck crowd snapped photos. Her creator, Japanese robotics guru Hiroshi Ishiguro, programmed her built-in computer with 65 behaviors, making her one of the world’s most intelligent robots.

Ishiguro last made international headlines in 2006 when he made an android replica of himself, the Geminoid HI-1. For his pioneering work, CNN named him one of eight “geniuses who will change your life,” and the BBC chronicled his story in the 2008 documentary Man-Machine. Ishiguro says his new robot F, as he’s named her, is more elegant and approachable than his past creations.

The biggest difference between Ishiguro’s copy of himself and F are the number of actuators, or motor-like mechanisms, that control behaviors. Geminoid HI-1 boasts about 50, while F has only 12. This has dropped the cost from more than $1 million to $110,000, which Ishiguro hopes will help popularize the product. Scientists were able to simulate human-like behaviors using electronic signals in the robot’s built-in computer. The robotic twin can smile, frown and furrow her eyebrows, but most of the time the silicone-skinned clone just looks a little dazed.

... Will robots ultimately become our friends — or even intimate companions? Ishiguro is betting on it. He says that with the right technology, he can build androids that think, act and react like people. “What is a human?” he asks. “Please define, and we will make a copy.”
Geminoid F's poised feminine passivity sets off horror movie alarm bells. I expect her passive demeanour to explode suddently into violent, threatening action, like Pris or Zhora.

The android may be as step back for feminism, too, given that the reports about her immediately tagged her as a new sex toy. Below the jump, you can see the android singing quite convincingly and modeling clothing in a department store in Tokyo. She has also acted on stage with human actors; an American actress who worked with Geminoid F felt that the android lacked a "human presence" and made her "feel alone" on stage.
Geminoid F with the actress whom she was designed to resemble. Image Source: AFP via Daily Mail.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Facebook Future?

Image Source: I09.

Last month, i09 posted this faux Facebook ID card, conceived by artist Tobias Leingruber. Leingruber is confirming that the way in which Facebook marries commercial interests to private ones is erasing any chance of anonymity for the consumer:
Given how absurdly ubiquitous Facebook has become (and how they ultimately give fuck-all about your privacy in the grand scheme of things), the folks at FB Bureau have gone ahead and begun printing Facebook identification cards. Quick, jump on the bandwagon before the Like Police come a-knocking! Explains FB Bureau: "With more than 800 million users Facebook is the dominant identity system on the web. When signing-up for new services around the open web it's quite common to use Facebook Connect instead of creating a new user account. People stop ranting on blog comments because they only allow comments connected to your 'real name' aka 'Facebook Identity' (till the end of time). For the good or bad we are losing anonymity and Facebook Inc. is establishing order in this "world wild web" (for profit, not necessarily for the good of society). 
I hope Facebook dies before it gets this far. More reports on Leingruber's concept art are here, here and here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 13: Let Them Eat Yellowcake

Image Source: D. McCandless via Gawker Assets.

In Japan, cherry trees blossom in the spring only briefly - usually for about a week or two. The blooms (or Sakura (桜 or 櫻; さくら)) are so beautiful and ephemeral that the nation tracks the expected dates when the trees will flower - and stops in a ritual of flower-viewing called Hanami (花見) to appreciate them when they arrive. Depending on the area of Japan, Hanami takes place between January and May; it usually reaches Tokyo in early April (in 2012, the best viewing in Tokyo wil be April 6-15, for other cities, see here). Hanami parties vary in style: on April 7, Vloggers in Japan are organizing a Hanami online Youtube party (see the invitation: Hanami 2012 - It's on bitches and here).

In these spring days,
when tranquil light encompasses
the four directions,
why do the blossoms scatter
with such uneasy hearts?

Ki no Tomonori (c. 850 – c. 904)

Cherry blossoms in Fukushima (2009). Ironically, Fukushima's rural setting was idyllic before 2011 crises. Image Source: Wiki.

Hanami arrives in Tokyo just as nuclear news headlines are starting to get even more dire. The paradox of natural beauty and natural toxicity is ironic and tragic, a symbol of 20th century science gone wrong. Governments have been quietly increasing the official amounts of safe radiation exposure (see here, here, here, here). The graphic at the top of this post is a standard radiation dosage chart (click on the image to enlarge). The death toll from the disaster currently stands at around 20,000.

While there are a lot of little MSM reports circulating (see my list of hyperlinked headlines below) about what is happening with nuclear fallout, the press are not giving these stories the daily full-blown coverage which would bring them front and centre to public attention. It is almost as though the world is holding its breath.  If this crisis tips over into an undeniable, cataclysmic catastrophe then the press will return to big coverage. Otherwise, the Internet gives those still following this mess the drip-drip-drip trickle of little horrors. Considering that nuclear power and the means to control it intimately depend on water, it is ironic that in Asian tradition, this is the year of the Water Dragon (see also here).

The press - as with this example in New Zealand - are being encouraged to publish 'feel good' human interest stories about how people in Japan are getting along despite worries and hardship, that is, "to grasp the total picture of recovery." (Expect to see some feel good Hanami stories - maybe?)  But on 3 March 2012, German TV (ZDF) warned in a program entitled, "The Fukushima Lies," that if the spent fuel which is precariously cooled in rickety Reactor 4 were to melt down because of a building collapse, work on the other reactors would cease. Japan would be ruined and the world would change (via Conspiracy.co). Here is a translated excerpt:
Narrator: Yukitero Naka and his people know what is really happening in the nuclear ruins. [...] Even if they were able to create enough qualified engineers and staff for the next 40 years, one problem remains that could change Japan and the world.

Question: Is the nuclear power plant safe now?

Yukitero Naka, Nuclear Engineer: Well, that’s what TEPCO and the government says, but the people in there don’t believe it. There is still a great danger. My personal concern is the fourth reactor block. The building has been strongly damaged by the earthquake.

There are approximately 1300 spent fuel rods in the cooling pond on level four. In the level above newer rods are stored as well as a lot of heavy machinery. This is all very, very heavy. If another earthquake occurs then the building could collapse and another chain reaction could very likely occur.

Narrator: So, a meltdown under the free sky which would be the end of Japan as we know it today. The radiation would be direct deadly. The work on the ground would be totally impossible. The most likely consequence is that reactors 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 get out of control. Armageddon!

Morphology, Longevity, Incept Dates

Three Degrees of Certainty II (2012) © Maskull Lasserre. Image Source: Boing Boing.

So much of the buzz around technology today stresses novelty. But the speed of the Tech Boom constantly reminds us of death, as gadgets and machines become obsolete at an ever-increasing pace. Canadian artist Maskull Lasserre grasped tech's inherent contradiction, and carved a skull out of obsolete computer manuals. (Thanks to -J.). The piece is called Three Degrees of Certainty II (2012).

The dark undertow beneath the Shiny-New-New encourages magical thinking. The rationalist Enlightenment order defined by economists crumbles and gives way to a world determined by scientists, biologists, geneticists, nanotechnologists and computer designers. But because obsolescence is hard-wired into the new system, the Millennial world constantly whirls around its own demise; and the mentality turns not to cold logic but to mysteries, spiritualism and eschatological Millennarianism. In other words, we are hurtling toward a deadly marriage between science and religion.

This paradox creates an insatiable Millennial appetite for Gestalt thinking. Databanks of information suddenly available to the mass global population do not inspire source-checking and modest conclusions, but rather give birth to wild new mythologies. Conspiracy theories thrive. Bigfoot is in danger of being captured at any minute. Celebrities die out in the open. Satanism reaches prime time. Shadowy Illuminati escape arrest and exposure. The dead walk. Birds fall from the sky and fish wash up on beaches. UFOs swoop over sleeping suburbs and mountaintops. Noises deep underground rock small towns. And Apocalypses and Armageddon loom.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Quote of the Day

From Teju Cole: "Who we are: we are the vanished people people a hundred years from now will have a hard time imagining."

Social Pathologies of Contemporary Civilisation

Through the Looking Glass, Vogue (December 2003) © Annie Leibowitz. Image Source.

The University of Hull in the UK is holding a conference on 13-14 September 2012 entitled, Social Pathologies of Contemporary Civilisation. The researchers there are clearly still interested in a fad that has been popular in academic history in the 2000s, the so-called 'history of the body.' Beyond that, they evidently see global society as sick, in part because of its radical recent technological transformation and rapid explosion of communications; and they feel that these maladies are equally evident at microcosmic individual levels and on a macrocosmic social scale:
This conference focuses on the social pathologies of contemporary civilisation, i.e., on the ways in which contemporary malaises, diseases, illnesses, anxieties and psycho-somatic syndromes are related to cultural pathologies of the social body, how disorders of the collective esprit de corps of contemporary society manifest at the level of individual bodies, and how the social body and bodies politic are related to the hegemony of reductive biomedical and individual-psychological perspectives.

The central research hypothesis guiding the conference is that many contemporary problems of health and well-being are to be understood in the light of radical changes of social structures and institutions, extending to deep crises in our civilisation as a whole. A particular focus of the conference is the role of humanities and social sciences, particularly sociology, philosophy and anthropology, in helping to understand the connection between individual and collective experiences of social transformations and of health and well-being.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Time and Politics 7: How to Recognize Political Horror

Hallucination (December 2004). Image Source: Coloribus.

The blogger at Ghost Hunting Theories, Sharon Day, wanted a few bloggers to do horror-related posts today, in the name of what she calls April Ghoul's Day to publicize a book she has published, Zombie Housewives of the Apocalypse. Congratulations to Sharon and her co-author, Julie Ferguson! Please check the links at the bottom of this post to go to other blogs supporting Sharon's event.

On ghouls and zombies: most of my posts on an unsettled afterlife or immortality deal with ghosts, superstitions, the paranormal, and horror, not to mention M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and the Illuminati; and the image above answers Sharon's topic. It is an example of ambient marketing from Ogilvy Brasil agency in Brazil; it was posted in public washrooms in 2004-2005 to raise awareness about hallucinations experienced by sufferers of Schizophrenia.

But this ambient image actually made me think of horror in real life, especially the current hallucinatory state of politics. Political divisions are growing, not diminishing. It is difficult to separate fact from opinion. Political biases have seeped into every imaginable aspect of public and private life, enwrapping everything with illusions of 'right,' 'wrong,' and 'left.' Politicians, political gurus and those who generally engage in politicized debates are so sure of their views that they probably would not recognize tyranny if it arrived, full-blown, and squatted before them.

To understand illusion in politics, we have to go from our Great Recession back to the Great Depression (which, as our crisis deepens, we have been doing over the past few years: again, and again, and again), and look on the Dirty Thirties with new, and increasingly familiar, eyes.

 Luccock's statement on recognizing fascism. New York Times (12 September 1938). Image Source: Technoccult.

In the mid-2000s, right-wing commentators accused their critics of this blindness. They quoted Louisiana's 1928-1932 populist Democrat (ironically-anti-conservative) governor, Huey Long, whose term as a US Senator ended in assassination in 1935: "When Fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-Fascism." Variations of that quotation are attributed to Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." According to Wiki, there are two origins of this saying, now so popular, which are leveled equally by the right at the left, and the left at the right:
  • "Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin are the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any 'shirt' movement, nor with an 'insignia,' but it will probably be 'wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.' (The Christian Century, Volume 53, Feb 5, 1936, p 245)"
  • "Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled "made in Germany"; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, "Americanism."
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked about Lewis: 'Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can't Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling The Star Spangled Banner.'" (The Many Americas Shall Be One, Harrison Evans Salisbury. Published by W. W. Norton, 1971, p 29)
The seeds of doubt about clear political vision were sown at the very beginning of America's birth as a revolutionary, independent state. Some claim that James Madison (1751-1836), known as the 'Father of the American Constitution,' co-author of the Federalist Papers, stated: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." The origins of this citation are unclear.

In the democratic nations, there is a long-standing fear of that window of political blindness, where power could run amok until it might become uncontrolled political evil, as happened in Germany in the twentieth century. But while the statement which expresses this fear, particularly in America, is ubiquitous, its origins are ironically obscure. And the fear has become politicized, hence nearly guaranteeing that the fear will be realized.

It will be realized because the window of political certainty is the window of political blindness. There can be no refuge in monolithic political 'truths,' and their claims on social and economic virtues. If we think we know what 'political evil' is, we are probably completely wrong. Being politically certain puts one in great danger of not being able to recognize the actual political reality at all. Our problem, in the simplest possible terms, is that we don't know how to line up objective truth (let alone subjective truth) with reality, although we are certain we do.

How do we separate political reality from political illusion? In a mass-media-driven culture, where facts can be stretched, compounded and infinitely contextualized, how can we recognize the arrival and rise of tyranny? I recently re-read George Orwell's piece, "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1942). He gives a clear definition of how to recognize the arrival of tyranny. It is the point at which there is no objective truth left about events in the past or present. It is the point at which reality can be made and remade like so much clay, with the power to erase anything that contradicts the newly-made political simulacra.

In the late 20th century and up to the mid-2000s, this plastic definition of reality comes from post-WWII Postmodernism, which in turn grew out of Kierkegaard's example of 'subjective truth.' The Postmodern challenge to 'objective truths' ultimately questioned whether reality could objectively exist at all. A Post-Postmodernist counterpush now challenges Postmodernism; Post-Postmodernism acknowledges that complete objectivity is unattainable. But there is such a thing as social consensus about events. Most people can agree, for example, that World War I happened, even if we don't fully agree on how it happened.