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 8, 2012

Mutants, After the Apocalypse

Operation Plumbbob: Detonation Fizeau. Image Source: Nuclear Weapon Archive.

Following advances in nuclear science in the 20th century, mutants have become a popular way of understanding the impact of radioactivity. In 2004, an academic from the University of Chicago argued that that perception was changed to reconcile certain ironies about nuclear science. Those ironies concern the fact that both nuclear weapons and nuclear power were devised to protect advanced nations' security and energy interests. But the great powers' superpowers came at a price: nuclear weapons and power have grim cultural and environmental impacts.

Worse, those impacts have already been felt. The greatest irony arises when one considers that bomb detonations and radioactive fallout have already occurred. In North America, it happened during atomic testing that began in 1951. In other words, the apocalypse has already happened; it was self-inflicted. We have been living in the slow burn aftermath ever since.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Quote of the Day: When the Economy Will Improve

"The machinery of propaganda may pack their minds with falsehood and deny them truth for many generations of time. But the soul of man thus held in trance or frozen in a long night can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life." - Winston Churchill

This quotation is taken from a blog post at Are You There God, It's Me, Generation X on how apparent weaknesses can act as one's greatest strengths in the eleventh hour; it is a beautifully mediated post on personal faith.

Of course, the reverse maxim can also apply, and everything taken now to be a strength can prove in a later crisis to be a weakness. Churchill implied that whole orders of authority rest on defining what is a strength and what is a weakness; and when we subscribe to those attitudes, we enforce those authorities.

Area 51 - Watch this Space

The Area 51 pyramid? Image Source: Google Earth via Digital Globe via Pakalert Press.

Area 51 - the secure Nevada military base that is the darling of nuclear activists, conspiracy theorists and UFOlogists - has lately been the site of a big new construction project. 51-watchers are captivated by a pyramid evident in satellite shots of Area 51's nuclear testing grounds (see video here). Wild discussions about the pyramid suggest that the US military is employing ancient and alien technology. The military does little to dissuade them. Who could forget this curiosity from Missouri in December 2011?

The Lockheed SR-71 'Blackbird,' developed in the early 1960s, is the predecessor of the anticipated new spy plane. The original flight manual for the Blackbird was 1,052 pages long. Image Source: Industrial Equipment News.

Dubious stylistic choices for the architecture of public buildings aside (could it all be Photoshopped?), local station KLAS-TV of Las Vegas reported in February of 2012 that Area 51 has lately featured a huge new construction effort, possibly to build hangars for the latest type of fighter jet, the long-awaited ''Dark Bird' SR-72. Despite the fact that Lockheed engineers told their source that the SR-72 was canceled, KLAS-TV does not believe it and recent headlines confirm the Americans are developing new hypersonic airplanes:
Something big is in the works at Nevada's legendary Area 51 military base. A massive new building is under construction at the top secret location. Aviation experts say there's a good chance that a new, highly classified aircraft might soon be zipping around the Nevada skies.

What kind of aircraft? One possibility is a successor to the SR-71 spy plane, the SR-72.

The SR-71 Blackbird is widely regarded as the greatest airplane ever built. It sliced through the sky at Mach 3 and still reigns, officially anyway, as the fastest plane in history. Groom Lake, also known as Area 51, was home for the Blackbird during its early days. The question is -- will Area 51 also be the location of choice for the development of a successor, and maybe more than one?

A photo of a new building under construction at Area 51 has raised tantalizing possibilities for the civilian researchers who dabble in such topics. No one can say for certain what the building will be used for, but aviation historian Peter Merlin says the one thing we can say is that it's one big hangar.

"It probably measures 275 feet by 600 feet. It's no larger than hangars at other bases, but it certainly is the largest at Area 51," Peter Merlin said.

Satellite photos confirm Area 51 already has two dozen hangars, including some less than two years old. So what's going on out there? 

The hangar could be a central maintenance facility, machine shop and or simulator training center. But aviation writers are thinking more exotic thoughts. For months, there's been speculation in aviation circles about a successor to the SR-71, call it the SR-72. Model airplane companies already have their version of the so called "dark bird," which theoretically could fly twice as fast as the Blackbird. ... 
[Peter] Merlin thinks there are other possibilities also in the works at Groom Lake.
"There are at least seven and maybe as many as eleven manned classified air craft that have not yet been unveiled that have been flying since 1985 and countless unmanned programs as well. Most of these things have been tested there. I know some of the guys that have flown these airplanes," Merlin continued. 
Among the suspects is something called the Black Manta, a stealthy hypersonic craft that might explain the wispy images captured in a few photos around the world. Various black triangle-type craft have been spotted over American military bases and cities for years, some of them huge in size, big enough to require a big hangar.

Aviation journalist Bill Sweetman has long argued for the existence of the Aurora, another plane rumored to have been flown at Groom Lake. Sweetman says black budget figures hint at the existence of the plane, which some have dubbed the SR-75 penetrator. Whichever of these ambitious projects ends up in full development, it's abundantly clear that the testing location of choice for top secret planes is still Area 51. 
See my previous post on Area 51.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Elections Elections ...

Image: Brian Gable at the Globe and Mail (4 September 2012) via Excellent Future.

Everyone is focused on the run-up to the American presidential election. But we might want to cast our eyes northward to the Quebec provincial election in Canada tonight, where Parti Québécois separatists appear poised to form a government. If the PQ wins and calls a referendum to separate from Canada, and that poll is successful, the United States will have a new country to deal with, directly above New England.

The rest of Canada, America, France and the UK would be acutely affected by such an outcome, not to mention several other countries (Iceland, Greenland, the EU, other states in the Americas etc.). An independent Quebec would alter strategic interests in North America.

After the onset of the Quiet Revolution in 1960, this issue dominated Canadian politics from the near-declaration of martial law during the 1970 October Crisis to the second referendum in 1995. In the latter provincial poll, Canada remained united by a whisker (49.42% of Quebec voters voted to leave Canada, 50.58% voted to stay in the country). After this exercise, it seemed separatism - a 45-year-old-movement - was a thing of the past, a cause of Quebec's 60s' generation. It looks like Quebec's Gen Y has now taken up the banner, based partly on long-running student protests against tuition hikes, and bolstered by broader disenchantment with the province's federalist Liberal party - which intensified during the recession.

The Silent Generation's Separate Peace

Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol (1967). Image Source: Christie's.

From the 1960s onward, alternate histories became very popular with the Baby Boomer demographic. The genre has long precedents - but it has a special place in the last half of the 20th century.**

Most alternate histories imagined by Baby Boomers are dystopian, eerie, fascist and terrifying. These are explorations of 'what could have been' if World War II or another key moment in history had turned out differently, which would have meant that the Boomers themselves would not come along. These stories reassure against generational doubt, and implicitly insist on the rightness of 1968's path. Later books involve Boomer meditations on what-ifs around post WWII events: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassinations, 9/11.

Given this generational fascination with fictional historical alternatives, it may seem strange that a very real, living alternate history has been ignored or smoothered by the Boomer media. This is so much the case that among generational commentators, that alternative might as well not exist.

There is a real alternate history to the Baby Boomers' 1968 social revolution, and it is the legacy of the Silent generation, born roughly from 1925 to 1945. Silents were dubbed as silent when they were anything but. They created a reality that shared elements of Boomer ideals, but Boomers could not fully appropriate these elements for their radical and iconoclastic ends. If you want to see the Boomers' 'path not traveled,' you have to look at the work and perspectives of the Silent generation.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Seeking Solace in Grand Irrationalities

Image Source: Behance.

One theme on this blog is the ironic resurgence of religion, mysticism, fantasy and superstition in the face of ever-expanding science and technology. Science and technology are exponentially expanding our capacity to understand the world around us and are increasing our range of activity, in everything from medicine to mountain-climbing. That greater capacity for thought and action has eroded norms and values; it has overturned mythologies. Our minds are outpacing our hearts and souls. As a result, we are seeing all manner of scientific-mythical hybrids in online cultures; it is a fanstastical backlash.

Some nervous tensions seek solace in the mythic psychological realm of astrology, where astrologers are describing the changing times as a revisiting of conditions of the 1930s and a challenge to the circumstances of the 1960s. They describe this repeated aspect in terms of the relationship between Uranus (a symbol of electrifying change) and Pluto (the Underworld). You can see the seven-fold 2012-2015 Millennial confrontation between these forces described here and here. The result is what The Aquarius Papers calls a 'grand irrationality.' In this climate, the astrologer, Robert Wilkinson, lays claim to the voice of reason, and quotes Thomas Paine: "To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Intergenerational Inequities

Image Source: The Greater Fool.

Der Spiegel reports that Europe's financial crisis is sparking intergenerational tensions. Discrepancies in wealth between age groups are causing younger Europeans to move away from politicized debates which blame economic troubles on class divisions, banks versus the people, and regional differences:
[T]he euro crisis is also a conflict between generations -- the flush baby boomers in their fifties and sixties are today living prosperously at the expense of young people.

Intergenerational equity -- measured among other things by levels of direct and hidden debts and pension entitlements -- is particularly low in Southern Europe. In a 2011 study of intergenerational equity in 31 countries by the Bertelsmann Foundation, Greece came in last place. Italy, Portugal and Spain didn't do much better, landing in 28th, 24th and 22nd place respectively. Currently, the unequal distribution of income and opportunities is particularly distinct:

■The employment market collapse has hit young Europeans much harder than older generations. In Greece and Spain more than half of those under age 25 are unemployed -- twice the rate of older workers. Things are even worse in parts of southern Italy, where youth unemployment has risen above 50 percent.
One reason for this situation is unequal employment circumstances. Older Spaniards and Italians, for example, profit from worker protection laws preventing them from getting fired that are quite strong by international comparison. But almost half of young Italians and 60 percent of young Spaniards are on temporary employment contracts and can easily lose their jobs.
■The burdens and risks of the euro bailouts are also mainly borne by young people. Ultimately, growing national debts and bailout funds worth billions will be financed through bonds that won't be due for many years to come.

... Bankers and politicians aren't the only ones responsible for the crisis, either. Many from the older generations were accomplices in the faltering system. Almost every family in Greece had a member who profited from the bloated state apparatus as a civil servant. Baby boomers in Spain took on mortgages en masse, pushing their country into the debt crisis. And in Italy, politicians like Silvio Berlusconi were re-elected repeatedly because their tricks were apparently met with great sympathy -- pensioners have been among the former prime minister's most important constituencies.

So why aren't more young people getting outraged? There are signs that they may be starting to focus on the issue. In an article penned for the German daily Die Tageszeitung, Italian writer Leonardo Palmisano wrote that the debate over job protection in his home country was "less about class than about age." On the one side of the issue are the precariously employed young people, and on the other side the baby boomers with permanent contracts and secure pensions. The "C/S", or "Cinquanta/Sessantenni," people in their fifties and sixties, are the "protagonists of the Berlusconi regime," he writes, holding "an excess of power in their hands, without having the necessary skills to lead the country out of the crisis."

Of course, not all southern European seniors are little Berlusconis. Many older people are suffering under the impact of austerity measures too. Nevertheless, in order to get honest answers about the crisis, it is important to pose questions about the responsibility older generations bear for the downturn. ...

The unsolved generational conflict in the south provides a foretaste of what could await Germany in the future, too. It was only a few years ago that the then "grand coalition," a government comprised of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party, pushed through a "pension guarantee" that prevents cuts to benefits for the elderly even if wages sink for young workers. Behind this decision was the fear there would be a backlash among outraged pensioners in the next election, but the additional costs will total some €18 billion ($22 billion), according to a study conducted by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a prominent German think tank.

Meanwhile, income distribution between generations in Germany threatens to soon become a "new social issue," warns a recent analysis in a journal published by the Munich-based Ifo economic institute. The disparity between what young and old people earn must shrink, it says. "Otherwise the conflict potential will increase."

Widespread Wealth Disparity

This gap is growing outside the euro zone, too. In the United States, household assets for those over 65 have increased by some 42 percent since 1984, according to the Pew Research Center. But those younger than 35 own 68 percent less than their peers did during the mid-1980s.

In the United Kingdom -- where youth riots last year shocked the world -- conservative politician David Willets published a book called, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future -- And How They Can Give it Back in 2010. Willets writes that the next generation will have to work harder to pay off their debts, making future generations the real losers of the current financial crisis.

But just because someone writes about youth problems doesn't make him one of their allies. Willets named university tuition as one factor behind the disappearing wealth of young Brits. However, shortly after his book was published he became Minister of the State for Universities and Science in the Cameron administration and had no problem tripling university tuition. Willets, incidentally, is 56 years old.

Generation X: To Be or Not To Be

Hamlet Skull by Brain1 (26 December 2005); 52nd place entry in Skull. Image Source: Worth 1000.

Since the early 1990s, critics have claimed that GenXers are a spoiled generation, whose members complain and complain and complain (see: here (1993), here (1994), here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Here is an example of a Boomer perspective of Gen X's whining:
"They keep getting hired, these peculiar young folk, these grown men who warm up Lean Cuisines for lunches, these women who accessorize their workspaces with pillows and beads and inflatable orb-chairs. What’s more, they keep monkeying with office culture, making me change my habits; they want me to plot my vacations on CommonOffice, schedule meetings on an iCalendar, wrap up the workday in time for them to hit the gym. There’s a weird reversal of roles here; aren’t they supposed to learn from me?

Not likely. They’ve got nothing but contempt for my generation, for the big bubble of boomers they trailed into the world. We can’t figure out how to update our browsers. We eat corned beef specials. We still drive SUVs. In their eyes, I’m a dinosaur, bloated from squandering their birthright: cheap oil, open land, clean air and water, Social Security.

We’re not used to being resented, you know.

In fact, we’re used to being celebrated, our every milestone examined in painstaking detail by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek: our Dr. Spock childhoods, the rebellious teen years, our marriages (or non-marriages), the era when we were young parents, the dark days when our children left home, and the darker, recent days when recession sucker-punched us just as we should be joyously retiring. We’ve been the center of attention all our lives. Which is why it’s so strange, not just that we’re being supplanted, but that the generation coming up behind us despises us and can’t wait to shove us aside.

Every generational shift is seismic. And it only makes sense that a shifting of the biggest generation ever would be more seismic than most. Before we get out of Gen X’s way, though, I’d just like to point this out: We were right. We were pretty much right about it all.

We thought big. We believed in a new age, the Age of Aquarius. 'Imagine,' John Lennon exhorted us, and we did.

We were fighting more against than for, but as it turned out, Vietnam was bad; Nixon was a crook; how long our hair was didn’t matter. Numbers and righteousness were a dangerous combination, but we made it work for us. We were the Niagara Falls of generations, unstoppable, plunging ever onward, tumbling over ourselves in bubbling, churning enthusiasm. My younger coworkers would snigger at the idea of Harmonic Convergence, those three days in August 1987 when we hoped a new planetary alignment might change the Earth’s karma and, as Shirley MacLaine put it, open 'a window of light.' (Shirley MacLaine!) But we honestly believed we were part of something big, something important and good. ...

We’re sorry we didn’t leave our room as tidy as Gen Xers would like — that we didn’t bust the city unions, or 'fix' Social Security, or make the schools all shiny and new. Now that it’s their turn, the Xers will find out: Problems are hard! Life is confusing! Sometimes you have to compromise! But they’re like younger siblings, blaming us for having come before them, so sure that if we’d just go away to college, they’d have Mom and Dad all to themselves and things would be grand. Okay, then. You guys go ahead and take over. We’re tired, anyway — tired from having changed the world. ...

If you’ve ever had an honest conversation with your mom or dad, you have us to thank for it. If you get time off from work to take care of a new baby or a sick relative, you’re welcome for that. Getting a tax rebate for making your house more energy-efficient? Bike lanes, pocket parks, hate-crime laws, legalized pot, death-penalty moratoriums, organic food, space telescopes, genome-decoding — don’t you see what we were doing? We were taking the American dream to the max, pushing to its limits the pursuit of freaking happiness. ...

We don’t regret the way we lived our lives, other than the occasional bad LSD trip. We had our Camelot, our shining moment when peace and love seemed within our grasp, when holding hands and strumming a guitar could topple the mighty and bring the corrupt to their knees. Here, let me stick this daisy in the barrel of your gun.

Ah, but you’ll never get it; you can’t help it; you’ve always been afraid to dream, because what if your dreams don’t come true, the same way ours didn’t? You think the disappointment would crush you, just as you think it should — wish it would — crush us. Too bad. Suicide, if you think about it, is just an acknowledgement that you were better off once upon a time. You don’t even have that. All you have are your diminished expectations, your plodding nihilism, your laser-focus on being locavores, or triathletes, or microbrew mavens, or Gleeks, or Twitterers, or whatever new fad you’ve seized on to try to make you feel your lives are worthwhile and you’re going somewhere. Good luck with that.

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp. A generation’s, too."
Those criticisms find something wrong with Gen Xers' Möbius strip of complaints, that litany of self-justifications, that mountain of blame foisted on Boomers, the whining about Gen Y. And in this Boomer writer's final arch dismissal, there is the proclamation that Gen X has refused to engage, has refused to lay it all on the line and risk defeat in exchange for trying to solve the problems of the world.

Most Gen Xers would say they stopped whining long ago (or never whined at all) and just got on with things. The rest of them would likely argue that to complain is to describe a Boomer-led reality. But I don't believe that. And I would argue that the angry Boomer writer's final point has some truth: many Xers are holding a part of themselves in reserve. Time is running out. They only get one shot. Will they waste it?