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, September 15, 2012

Travelling Shadows

Dutch Anonymous?, after 1630. The Liberation of Saint Peter. Oil on Canvas - 145 x 119 cm. Photo : Cincinnati Art Museum. Image Source: The Art Tribune.

A beautiful exhibition of Caravaggio's paintings, along with contemporary paintings in related styles, and painters who imitated Caravaggio's dramatic late 16th and early 17th century chiaroscuro style, is traveling in France and the USA this autumn and through next year.

The exhibition is showing in France in Montpellier, Musée Fabre and Toulouse, Musée des Augustins, from 23 June to 14 October 2012. The exhibition will then travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 11 November 2012 to 10 February 2013 and to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut from 8 March to 16 June 2013.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assuming We Don't Die Tonight: The Virtual Reality of Real Conflicts

EVE Online screenshot. Image Source: Shack News. See EVE Inferno trailer (2012) here.

Thanks to Paul Laroquod who mentioned a report to me today at Wired, regarding another aspect of the news report today that the US Libyan ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other diplomatic officials were killed late on 11 September 2012 in Benghazi. The Wired piece reveals that one of the officials who was killed, 34-year-old Sean Smith, was a long-established figure in the online gaming community:
On Tuesday, Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Information Management Officer assigned to the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, typed a message to the director of his online gaming guild: ”Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” The consulate was under siege, and within hours, a mob would attack, killing Smith along with three others, including the U.S. ambassador.

In his professional and personal life, Smith was a husband and father of two, an Air Force veteran, and a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service who had served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague. But when gaming with EVE Online guild Goonswarm, he was a popular figure known as “Vile Rat,” and alternately as “Vilerat” while volunteering as a moderator at the internet community Something Awful. Smith’s death was confirmed on Wednesday morning by the State Department and reported widely in the news media. But the first people to report Smith’s death were his friends. Their reaction was shock and mourning.
Mr. Smith's death is mourned tonight by an online community whose members knew him well; he had in fact built up whole virtual realities, based on his real world diplomatic and IT skills.  He was talking to his online community just hours prior to his death, and his death was confirmed on online forums.

This dimension of the terrible 9/11 story in Benghazi may sound unearthly, inappropriate, dislocated from the religious strife and political manouvres that surround a violent, deadly, sad and disturbing incident. The real world priorities here demand attention to personal loss and grief; to strategic liabilities; to the causes and consequences; to the evolving context and perspectives in the Middle East.

Yet virtual realities are a very real dimension of that context. The game Smith played is an established  sci-fi space strategy MMORPG, EVE Online; it was first released in 2003 and now boasts over 400,000 players with over 7,500 interrelated virtual star systems. Smith's online gaming friend, who goes by the screen name Mittani, said farewell today by explaining how Smith transformed the online gaming suites and communities he worked with in Eve into sophisticated strategy simulators, using his diplomatic and computing knowledge:
Vile Rat, Sean Smith, my friend for over six years, both in real life and in internet spaceships, was the “State Department Official” killed in Benghazi by a mob of religious lunatics, who had been incited to violence on this September 11th by a movie that was apparently made sometime in July. Obviously, given the combined attacks in Egypt and in Libya, this was a coordinated act designed for maximum media exposure; rile up a mob, point them at an embassy or consulate on 9/11 in particular, aim for the press. Many were injured in these pointless, reprehensible acts, and one of my closest friends was killed as a result.

(12:54:09 PM) vile_rat: assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our 'police' that guard the compound taking pictures

We knew that Vile Rat was in Benghazi; he told us. He commented on how they use guns to celebrate weddings and how there was a constant susurrus of weaponry in the background. He was in situ to provide IT services for the consulate, which meant he was on the net all the time, hanging out with us on Jabber as usual and talking about internet spaceship games. ...

If you play this stupid game, you may not realize it, but you play in a galaxy created in large part by Vile Rat’s talent as a diplomat. No one focused as relentlessly on using diplomacy as a strategic tool as VR. Mercenary Coalition flipped sides in the Great War in large part because of Vile Rat’s influence, and if that hadn’t happened GSF probably would have never taken out BoB. Jabberlon5? VR made it. You may not even know what Jabberlon5 is, but it’s the smoke-filled jabber room where every nullsec personage of note hangs out and makes deals. Goonswarm has succeeded over the years in large part because of VR’s emphasis on diplomacy, to the point of creating an entire section with a staff of 10+ called Corps Diplomatique, something no other alliance has. He had the vision and the understanding to see three steps ahead of everyone else - in the game, on the CSM, and when giving real-world advice.
In such a context, the role virtual reality played in the life of one of America's diplomatic staff members must seem to the uninitiated to have been at best a foolish incongruity, at worst a security risk. What stands out to me is the wild overlap and deadly junction of two completely different worlds.

A Winter of Discontent and DNA Tests

"Archaeologists searching under the city centre car park for the lost grave of King Richard III have discovered human remains." Image Source: Telegraph.

The Telegraph and other news outlets are reporting that archaeologists may have discovered the body of King Richard III in Leicester. Already the find promises to rewrite history, and also diverging from Shakespeare's picture of the notorious monarch.

The Elephant in the Room

A random glance at the headlines of professional and trade papers, newsletters and online forums betrays the crushing weight of corporations and corporate interests on too many facets of daily life. Almost every week, I see articles from different sectors which describe some aspect of this overall trend.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yangtze River Turns Red

The Yangtze River has turned bright red, likely due to silt deposits from floods upstream or industrial pollution. Images Source: The Telegraph. Other reports: here, here and here.

Anniversaries: Ground Zero

Image Source: Doug Kanter/AFP via Boston.com
See my earlier posts on 9/11: here and as a general topic, here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Little Repetitions

Image Source: Edu Blogs.

I once found myself in library, working against the clock, with a body of archival material that had to be returned. The material was a set of microfilmed diaries. One man's whole life was on these films. He had been a compulsive diarist, and there were some 32 films in all. I had about forty-five minutes to find the core of his private writings. That is not an ideal archival research situation; but it sometimes happens.

Aside from what I read that was relevant to my research, I found that he had, from age five up to his death in his early eighties, repeated certain patterns in how he addressed himself. For instance, he made lists of people, events and possessions throughout his life. He also played tic-tac-toe, or noughts and crosses, in the margins of his diaries, apparently absent-mindedly when he was thinking, from about age eight onward. While I immediately recognized these patterns because I had a brief time to understand this person, it seemed clear that he had engaged in these habits unconsciously or semi-consciously.

This is a reverse phenomenon from déjà vu, the false sense that you have seen or done something before. (Incidentally, Czech scientists have recently found that déjà vu is caused by a malfunction in the cerebral cortex.) This is something that one actually does repeatedly throughout life, but one rarely recognizes it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prep School Time Warps

L. L. Bean's 100th anniversary Fall 2012 catalogue. The cover redoes their 1966 catalogue cover (below). Image Source: Boston Herald.

Old School has gone back to school. I noticed the Hudson's Bay Co. is selling Liberty blouses and L.L. Bean's latest catalogue reads like a homage to the preppy look in 1982. Truth to tell, these stores might never have left the early 1980s (or the early 1960s, or the late 1940s, or the mid-1920s), but the current fad extends beyond their niche markets. In fact, preppy looks made a resurgence around 2007, and have popped up sporadically since then, especially in 2010.

This is the collegiate side of Mad Men, or the part of that culture set in cottage country. But the lingering recession has cramped the style. Preppies hate recessions. Now, preppy fashion has gone mainstream, perhaps reflecting a yearning for a return to the 20th century prosperity associated with the trend. In 2010, the FT reported:
Such is the preppy buzz on the blogosphere that Take Ivy, the 1965 study of the look by Japanese photographer Teruyoshi Hayashida, is being re-issued by Power House books this month. The book is part-fashion guide, part-photo essay and features shots taken at America’s prestigious Ivy League universities, presenting an anatomy of preppy style.

Simon Doonan, creative director at Barneys, has his own take on preppy popularity: “It’s a nice antidote to the slutty porno-chic which is the dominant trend in our culture,” he says. “Maybe people are craving a bit of wholesome Americana to counteract the [MTV Reality show] Jersey Shore situation, and The Situation.”

“When you’re staring in to the economic abyss, you look for the familiar and traditional,” says Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook, the 1970s satiric bestseller that first defined the style, and the co-author of the upcoming True Prep, the official sequel, to be published by Knopf in October [2010], which includes updated guides to etiquette, fashion and preppy style. “It’s the equivalent of eating meatloaf,” she continues. “These clothes are ordinary, but they are signifiers of a lifestyle. They have a comforting old school clubby feel. They aren’t showy, but they say: I have an education, I’ve travelled a bit, I don’t waste my money on frivolous clothes.”
The redux has raised hackles, with some purists insisting on the difference between, "clownish Preppy and authentic Trad." And Gen Y has conflated a preppy tradition with hipsterism.
L.L. Bean catalogue, Spring 1966. Image Source: Boston Herald.

The Fall 2012 L.L. Bean catalogue reproduced its 1966 Spring catalogue cover. The 2012 catalogue also repeatedly refers the last time L.L. Bean was the height of fashion, when it was mentioned in The Official Preppy Handbook (1980). The latter was an American comedic manual of manners and fashion, shortly followed by Britain's Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (1982). You can see both deconstructed here.