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, March 7, 2015

Lost Cities: Islamic State's Idols of the Future

Detail of an Assyrian relief from Nimrud showing horses and horsemen of the royal chariot, 725 BCE. Image Source: Steven Vidler/Eurasia Press/Corbis via The Guardian.

Breadcrumbs in the forest: last fall, while looking for Indian silk fabric on eBay, I noticed Syrian daggers for sale, scattered creepily in between the silk listings. Were they antiquities? For some time, reports that the Islamic State have been selling and destroying the precious archaeological and historical cultural heritage of the Near East. On 26 February 2015, after pledging a year ago that they would not do so, they destroyed Mosul's antiquities museum and library, displayed in sickening videos (below). In early March 2015, after looting the ancient palace, they bulldozed the antique city of Nimrud. The Guardian:
"Nimrud, about 20 miles south of Mosul, was built around 1250 BC. Four centuries later it became the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire – at the time the most powerful state on Earth, extending to modern-day Egypt, Turkey and Iran."

Ruins of Hatra.
This is a radical Islamic "cultural cleansing" of ancient history. Islamic State militants are eradicating Iraq's and Syria's past, a cultural history shared with other ancient societies. It is that common heritage, as well as the anachronistic destruction of so-called idolatry, which these fighters are erasing. Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University in New York, commented:
"Hatra of course will be next," he added, referring to a 2,000-year-old UNESCO-listed site about 100 kilometres south of Mosul known for its beautifully preserved temples blending Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern influences."
And on 7 March 2015, BBC reported that Hatra had just been demolished by Islamic State. Shortly after, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS. Their "artifacts mafia" are making millions upon millions through the sale of antiquities: in Tel Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border; in Kilis, Turkey; in London, Munich and Brussels; and in other European capitals. With cold hard cash from antiquities sales, the Islamic State fighters are arming themselves to the teeth. They have scrounged weapons originating from China, Russia and the United States ("some were even made at a major U.S. munitions plant in Missouri"). They are buying weapons in black markets in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Eastern Europe and Iran. There is much stock-taking of their military equipment. Regular munitions and tanks: reports hereherehereherehere and here. Chemical weapons: here, here and here. Nuclear materials: here, here and here. And, with a twist on US weapons airdrops, here - is the real story this, or this?

The Telegraph suggested  on 6 March 2015 that the price of oil has been manipulated down to cut off Islamic State's oil refinery revenues, and in desperation IS are turning more and more to the plunder of antiquities to make money.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Before the Ides of March

Street art by PichiAvo in Almería, Spain. Image Source: Knihovna Chrášťany.

Do you remember the year you first connected to the Internet? I have friends who participated in primitive discussion forums in 1992. I got my first email address in early 1995. At the time, it felt as though I had held out as long as possible. Happy anniversary: I have been online for twenty years.

Street art by PichiAvo at Hip Hop Street in Vicar, Almeria, Spain. Image Source: Street Art Hub.

On 7 May 2014, the L. A. Times reported how many people in the world have Internet access and how many do not:
60% of world's population still won't have Internet by the end of 2014. A report this week by the United Nations says nearly 3 billion people around the world will have access to the Internet by the end of 2014. But 4.2 billion will remain unconnected. ...
A commenter responded that Internet access should not be held in balance against commodities of basic survival - but should it?
While 60% of the world doesn't have internet, 69% won't have clean water, full medical services, low risk of war, incomes above $6900 a year, or above average infant mortality rates. You think the 900 million Chinese who are picking rice or working in sweatshops care about internet...
This dichotomy between the developed, connected world and developing, unconnected worlds, between being globally plugged in and anchored in a local reality, repeats in personal microcosm. We have connected lives online and distinct lives in meatspace. Constantly shifting from one's sea legs to one's land legs is stressful. How essential - or detrimental - is online activity to our basic survival, development and growth as individuals in the real world?

Street art by PichiAvo from Mislatas representan 2014 in Valencia, Spain. Image Source: Art the System.

It feels as though virtual life is growing at the expense of real life. When Karl Marx wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses, he could not have imagined this most potent drug, which keeps over 3 billion people pacified (you can watch them joining the Internet, one by one, here). Forty per cent of the world's population is connected. The push to get the remaining 60 per cent connected made me think about enormous budding economies and nascent power groups. With all that potential, the Internet could be a seat of freedom or the foundation of tyranny. What it will become depends on how one manages time online and off.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Twin Peaks Déjà Vu and the World Economy

Image Source: Daily Mail.

In November 2014, Brooke Shields released a memoir, in which she reminisced about a few dates she shared with George Michael in the 1980s. The iconic photo of them brought back a decade, filled with glitz, glamour, and the high price of both. It is a world away from today's tricky global economies and crumbling infrastructure, where everything is deadly serious. Nevertheless, it feels like something of the 80s is returning and that time is coming full circle. Sadly, Whitney Houston's daughter has reminded me of the 1980s; so does Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, in her breakout role in cinemas in Fifty Shades of Grey. There were many more nuances to that time, more profound than the ones selected here below the jump. But what is shown here was a major American theme: high living with beautiful people and smooth operators in the sunshine.

Dakota Johnson. Image Source: The Wrap.

One of the videos below the jump is from 1982: Eminence Front from The Who's studio album It's Hard:
In the song, Townshend sings about the delusions and drug use of the wealthy and hedonistic. The lyrics describe a party in which people hide from their problems behind a facade. Townshend has introduced the song in live performances with: "This song is about what happens when you take too much white powder; it's called 'Eminence Front.'"
The 80s promised wealth and all its sins to the masses of the United States (and to her allies who were invited to the party). Today, wealth is exclusive again in America. Capital as Power speaks of the 2010s' New Gilded Age for the Plutonomy. The United States sports a handful of home-grown billionaires. But riches are no longer promised democratically and freely to the general population of the country. That is what the exuberance, styles and expectations of the 1980s were about. The door to a big, prosperous middle class was wide open. An entire nation would become wealthy. No child left behind. Everyone would be wealthy. In 2015, Americans know better; they are abandoning the glossy, marbled shopping malls, the proletarian palaces of 80s' spending. Conspicuous consumption and money's excesses have moved on: in the late 90s, they finally arrived in London; then they flew to Dubai; to Hong Kong and Singapore; then Mumbai; by 2012, they roared through SeoulGangnam Style, and now, money is flooding the Asia-Pacific region, in cities like Jakarta. Don't believe the beautiful illusions, people. The crash always follows.

Some don't learn. Some surf the wave, moving from place to place, following the money, and never learning the full lesson. If you want to do that, pack your bags for sub-Saharan Africa, and get there before the 2030s. Or you can follow where the Internet of Things will take you, although according to CompTIA tech analyst Seth Robinson, "There's no map" for that.

Image Source: Hypable.

Some do learn. Sobered Americans, like the JapaneseGreeks and other peoples who blew all their money, are ahead of the curve, not behind it. They rose to the height of prosperity based on industry and trade. They shared the unambiguous virtues of engineers and builders of society. It's like that line in Citizen Kane: "It's not hard to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money." The real psychological and moral challenges come from squandered riches. As money trickles back to America and other once-ultra-prosperous nations, the cautionary tales which explored those challenges in the 1980s and 1990s return. This is because the challenges posed by spent money are fully digested in culture, not in the economy, politics or society. That is why Twin Peaks, David Lynch's perilous 1990-1991 journey into the American soul, is set to return in 2016:
In May 2013, cast member Ray Wise stated what Lynch had said to him regarding a possible reboot: "Well, Ray, you know, the town is still there. And I suppose it's possible that we could revisit it. Of course, you're already dead ... but we could maybe work around that."
Image Source: Before the Bombs Fall.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Google's New HQ

YesterdayWired posted first glimpses of the new city-state that will be Google's future HQ:
In a new video released this morning, Google showed off an ambitious proposal for a future North Bayshore campus in Mountain View. The concept was produced by the firms of Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels, two of architecture’s fastest rising stars. Heatherwick Studio, based in the UK, was responsible for the torch at the London Olympics. The Bjarke Ingels Group, based in Denmark, is working on a trash-to-power plant in Copenhagen that will double as a ski slope.