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 1, 2014

Time and Politics 10: Police State Futures

"Monuments to Kiev's founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest in Kiev, Ukraine" on 18 February 2014. Image Source: PzFeed.

According to Plato, the régime that inevitably follows democracy is tyranny (the cycle is: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.). Wiki:
The Kyklos (Ancient Greek: κύκλος, IPA: [kýklos], "cycle") is a term used by some classical Greek authors to describe what they saw as the political cycle of governments in a society. It was roughly based on the history of Greek city-states in the same period. The concept of "The Kyklos" is first elaborated in Plato's Republic, chapters VIII and IX. Polybius calls it the anakyklosis or "anacyclosis". According to Polybius, who has the most fully developed version of the cycle, it rotates through the three basic forms of government, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy and the three degenerate forms of each of these governments ochlocracy, oligarchy, and tyranny.
Aristotle defined the cycle as: "the rule of One, the second as rule of the Few, the third as the rule of the Many. It keeps repeating."

Tyranny. It would be so nice if we could just skip that stage. I don't relish the notion of some future Gen Z technocrat perusing this post in 2033, deciding that it violates the latest advisories, and concluding that something needs to be done about future me at three in the morning because of my early 2010s' blog. And so, in light of a day I hope never arrives, today's post concerns how to avoid the establishment of 21st century police states.

Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: PzFeed.

A father and son confront a police officer. Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: Anonymous.

The explosion of the Internet in 2000s gave birth to two great, competing behemoths: statism and anti-statism. On the one hand, there is the potential rise of totalitarian super-states, which will mobilize data-gathering to control their citizens. This is the subject of today's post. On the other, the Internet has fueled a fascination with anarchy and giddy infatuation with libertarianism. Many users on the Web are mesmerized by the lure of stateless chaos and total, Net-driven freedoms; they rejoice in a complete sweeping away of the moribund establishment and the creation of unregulated interactions, whether in communications or trade. That will be the subject of an upcoming post.

You don't need to visit an oracle to understand that everything is in flux, and in this period speeding toward the 2020s, "it's all up for grabs, it really is."

Everything is up for grabs. It's like watching an animated chess board; all the pieces are moving and we don't know where they will land. Reactionary attempts to control, regulate, monitor, misinform, obfuscate around emerging trends are well under way. So are radical counter-efforts. It is impossible to gauge how things will appear when the movement stops. Borders will shift. Struggles erupt between those in power and those seeking power. Everywhere, there are protests and crackdowns. Expect resurgences of radical nationalism, irredentism in places like Crimea, Taiwan, bits of the Middle East  and Africa - and separatism in previously placid places, like Scotland and Quebec. Far-sighted agents rush to anticipate and seize the position of final control after this period of upheaval.

Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: HuffPo.

Photo of the Day: Newton in Space

Image Source: Koichi Wakata.

Today's photo was taken and posted on Twitter on 6 February 2014 by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. It is a spaceview from inside the International Space Station, looking at the rest of the station, the edge of earth in the background. The scene is sidelit by the sun; and there is an apple floating in zero gravity past the camera inside the spacecraft.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Counter Surveillance Society

Image Source: NSA Observer.

This past month saw a public push against the growing threat of a total Surveillance Society. On that issue, Xplode, makers of anti-adware, must be running across a lot of tracking junk files on people's computers. Xplode works under the French parent software team General Changelog, which appears to be supporting or developing a project called NSA Observer.

NSA Observer provides a summary of all public knowledge about the NSA online spying apparatus. The NSA Observer cites sources, including the Snowden leaks and public reports. Their site shows users the names of NSA-sourced spyware which may end up on private computers; it also shows the web of matrices by which these programs relate to one another. These programs have florid Millennial tech names, some of which hint at their functions, if you give them a little thought: Chewstick; Cineplex; CobaltFalcon; Ambulent; DogCollar; DistantFocus; MailOrder; MoonPenny; Ocelot; OrangeBlossom; RoyalConcierge (traces international diplomatic hotel and car reservations); OnionBreath (a GCHQ program); SurlySpawn; TalentKeyhole (a control system for space-based collection platforms); WealthyCluster; YachtShop; CottonMouth; EpicFail; EgotisticalGiraffe; FeedTrough; FlyingPig; GodSurge (provides software application persistence on Dell PowerEdge servers by exploiting the JTAG debugging interface of the server's processors); Hemlock; IrateMonk; PeddleCheap; OlympusFire; QuantumCookie; SlickerVicar; Trinity; Validator; WagonBed; WistfulToll; and ZestyLeak. If you read each entry carefully, you start to understand the nature and alarming extent of Internet monitoring. Take for example TreasureMap:
a near real-time, interactive map of the global Internet. It is a massive Internet mapping, analysis and exploration engine. It collects Wi-Fi network and geolocation data, and between 30 million and 50 million unique Internet provider addresses. The program can map “any device, anywhere, all the time.” Intelligence officials say "it only maps foreign and Defense Department networks".
The NSA Observer describes NSA programs as:
Programs are multimillion dollar projects that involve countries, companies, individuals and various technologies in the making of software, hardware and network manipulations used by NSA teams. Programs gather, handle and analyse data in order to determine how to collect more data. Most of the time, this data is gathered through invasive means. 
The site also lists NSA Attack Vectors:
Attack vectors are malicious tools executed on targeted individuals and/or organizations in order to gather more data on them. These attacks are most of the time directly aimed at individuals who have been identified as worthy targets.
And NSA Compartments:
Compartment is "jargon" that describes a team of persons, companies or countries. For higher security, the structure of intelligence agencies uses teams who are ignorant of the identity of the other teams. Should a compartment be compromised, other compartments should remain safe.
Fledgeling Metadata. Critics equate the NSA's collection of metadata with notorious secret police corps such as the East German Stasi: "Click here to explore a hand-drawn graphic, made by the East German secret police, that appears to show the social connections the Stasi gleaned about a poet they were spying on." Image Source: Stasi via ProPublica.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cryptocurrencies: Doge-ing the Economic Bullet

Image Source: Geek Culture / Joy of Tech (2013) via Syes Wide Shut.

In February 2014, the Financial Times argued that the older generation is monopolizing positions of power and authority while enjoying dwindling fruits of the economy to the detriment younger people. In the summer of last year, Pope Francis warned against the impact of unemployment and reduced opportunities on the younger generation. Other reports similarly state that during the Great Recession, generations X and Y felt betrayed by their Boomer elders.

Under these conditions, members of the younger generations are making a lateral move, building different areas of economic activity and new financial institutions which by-pass the established spheres of economic authority. Can they really dodge the economic bullet?

Among these shifts, none is moving more quickly or explosively than the advent of cryptocurrency (which started in 2008). But does the very youthfulness of cryptocurrency, both in terms of how new it is, and in terms of the geeky culture around it, prevent it from being used and taken seriously? Also, there is a question of criminality, hacking and total ineptitude in this nascent financial area. This is one of several upcoming posts on the meaning and long term viability of cryptocurrency.

In the wake of the Mt. Gox exchange collapse, this joke isn't so cute anymore. Image Source: Vice.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

1981's New Telepaper

1981. Start Me Up, Urgent, Endless Love, Rapture, The Winner Takes It All, Who Can It Be Now? and Queen of Hearts were on the radio. Dallas was the number one show on American television. The British family's royal wedding that year was the most popular global television broadcast, with an audience of 750 million people. In those days, the adoration of machines was limited to an innocent love of muscle cars and Atari video games.

Below the jump, see a news report from that year about an experiment with computers that allowed a newspaper - minus all the graphics - to be downloaded onto a computer remotely via a modem. Pre-Internet, the download over the telephone line took over 2 hours at a cost of USD $5 per hour, in 1981 dollar values. That would be almost USD $13 per hour today. Journalists tried to imagine what this new technology would mean for their profession.

The 1981 Atari video game catalogue. Image Source: Hughes Johnson.

On Youtube, where the 1981 news report was posted, commenters remarked:
  • "1:32 "Richard Halloran Owns Home Computer" LOL"
  • "We laugh about it now, but think about what this meant in 1981. The very thought of computers sharing information remotely was mind blowing at the time. I remember even being amazed in the early 90s that I could dial into a newspaper's server and read news stories. A far cry from now being able to just hop on at any time and check out any site I want without changing connections." 
  • "OMG. A classic AT&T telephone, using PULSE DIALING. With an ACOUSTIC MODEM. Wow... I remember those. Some youngster suggested that the dude was dialing in at 1200 baud, well, I can tell you that he certainly wasn't. Much more likely he was dialing in at 300 baud, maybe even just 110 baud, given the computer, time period, and time it took to download a digital edition. Remember paying *by the hour* to dial into a multi-user BBS system like CompuServe?!? Total flashback."
  • "It is an amazing thing to have witnessed the end and beginning of two different eras."
  • "I was born 10 years after this report aired haha."
  • "I wonder if in 2041 people will look at a video of how it was in 2013 and laugh at our primitive 'handheld' gadgets. I bet information will be streaming directly into the human brain and video as a concept itself will be obsolete."
  • "Someday there will be a report like this about glass."
  • "The internet is no more immortal than the telegraph or semaphore communication."
  • "In 20 years we will be watching today's videos about driverless cars and laughing."
  • "Very nostalgic! My first computer was a TRS-80 with a 300 baud telephone modem. Anyone remember war dialing? Oh well... good times. The touch-screen tablet and smartphone is part of my every day life now."
  • "Funny...the news report should have started with 'imagine, waking up with your morning coffee, and watching porn on your computer well were kinda far away from that, but we got news papers. That's a start.'"
A 1981 second generation Pontiac Firebird. Image Source: Prince.org.

A 1981 second generation Chevrolet Camaro. Image Source: Nasty Z28.

A 1981 BMW M1. Image Source: Wiki

A 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. Image Source: Sunset Classics.

The innovation in technology barely hinted at changes to come. Politically, an old exclusive world of wealth and privilege was still intact, balanced against a much bigger, rising mass popular culture and mass politics. While technological innovation appears today to have favoured the latter, the jury is still out on that one. Will the Technological Age become dominated by the Haves, or the Have Nots?

The 1981 inaugural family photo, with President Reagan and Nancy Reagan at centre. Image Source: Wiki.

Brixton riots, UK (1981). Image Source: Guardian.