This week’s recommended readings include: a mainstream news article about the distinct possibility of an Armageddon-like solar superstorm; a look at the origin, present situation, and apparently indefinite future of the “Great Recession” by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard; a consideration of the spiritual crisis of capitalism; reflections on the real relationship between writing and money; an autopsy on the American university, which has apparently expired at the hands of corporatization; a journalist’s firsthand and first-person account of investigating the global subculture devoted to ending the “scourge” of human death by extending life forever and/or using cryonics or other means to preserve people and then resurrect them; a report on current Disney-backed research into taking animatronics to real-life Blade Runner/Prometheus-type levels of realism by cloning human faces; an interview with a UFO researcher about UFOs, human consciousness, and government coverups; and a fascinating analysis of the cultural symbols and synchronicities surrounding the John Carter movie.
Solar superstorm could kill millions, cost trillions
Reuters, August 3, 2012
Weather has been lousy this year, with droughts, heat and killer storms. But a solar superstorm could be far worse. A monster blast of geomagnetic particles from the sun could destroy 300 or more of the 2,100 high-voltage transformers that are the backbone of the U.S. electric grid, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Even a few hundred destroyed transformers could disable the entire interconnected system. There is impetus for a group of federal agencies to look for ways to prepare for such a storm this year as the sun moves into an active period called solar maximum, expected to peak in 2013. U.S. experts estimate as much as a 7 percent chance of a superstorm in the next decade, which seems a slight risk, but the effects would be so wide-ranging – akin to a major meteorite strike – that it has drawn official concern. Power blackouts can cause chaos, as they did briefly in India when more than 600 million people lost electricity for hours on two consecutive days in July. However, the kind of long-duration outage that might happen in the case of a massive solar storm would have more profound and costly effects … Richard Andres, an energy and environmental security expert at the military’s National Defense University (NDU), is helping to coordinate an interagency group to deal with the problem. The failure of the national power grid could be disastrous, he said. In a worst-case scenario, commerce would almost instantly cease, he said, noting he was speaking for himself and not the U.S. government. Water and fuel, which depend on electric pumps, would stop flowing in most cities within hours, modern communications would end and mechanized transport would stall … It could be another 500 years before a solar storm as strong as the one that hit in 1859 heads for Earth, Murtagh said, but he added: “The more harsh reality is, it could happen next week. We just do not know.” The sun launched a significant storm last month, he said, but it was not aimed at Earth.
Five years on, the Great Recession is turning into a life sentence
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph, August 12, 2012
Teaser: Five years into the Long Slump it almost seems as if we are back to square one.
The original trigger for the Great Recession has since faded into insignificance. America’s house price bubble — modest by European or Chinese standards — has by now entirely deflated. Warren Buffett is betting on a rebound. Fannie and Freddie are making money again. Five years on it is clear that subprime was merely the first bubble to pop, a symptom not a cause … So this is where we are in the summer of 2012. The imbalances are slowly correcting. Wage inflation has eroded Asia’s competitiveness. China’s current account surplus has dropped from 10pc of GDP in 2007 to around 2.5pc this year. Yet Europe refused to adjust. Germany is still running a surplus of 5.2pc, down from 7.4pc in 2007. The North has refused to offset the demand squeeze in Club Med. Indeed, Germany legislated its own internal squeeze through a balanced budget law and imposed this curse on the rest of Euroland. The effect is to trap Euroland in chronic slump, at least until the victims rebel and take matters into their own hands. As for our debt mountain, we have barely begun the great purge. Michala Marcussen from Societe Generale says the healthy level is around 200pc of GDP for advanced economies. If so, we have 100 points to cut. This cannot be achieved by austerity alone because economic contraction would tip us all into a Grecian vortex. Such a cure is self-defeating. Much of the debt will have to be written off. Whether this done by inflation (1945-1952) or default (1930-1934) will be the great political battle of this decade. Pick your side. Pick your history.
The Spiritual Crisis of Capitalism
Stuart Smithers, AdBusters, June 29, 2012
[NOTE: The author of this piece is chair of the Religion Department at the University of Puget Sound, where he teaches Buddhism and cultural studies.]
Teaser: What would the Buddha do?
What do Marx and the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring and the indignados in Spain and the suffering surplus poor and the unemployed and the debt-ridden college graduates living at home and the consolidation of wealth and the destruction of middle class wealth and the subprime collapse and bail-out of banks “too big to fail” and the working conditions at the Foxconn Apple factory in China have to do with BUDDHISM? In my classes, at conferences, and in conversation with friends, we have tried to imagine a world without capitalism. We are all swimming in the world of capital. Capitalism is not just an economic system, it is the dominant world culture. Buddhism, then, lives in the culture of capital too … We are beginning to live between two worlds, in an intermediate cultural state. And the point should be made that we need to start imagining a new world, thinking of alternatives to this world, or we will very likely end up with something “very unpleasant”: An alliance of police, military and security interests with the 1% in possession of consolidated wealth … The Dalai Lama’s friends would prefer he didn’t, but year after year he reminds us of his Marxist leanings and his apprehensions about capitalism. Buddhists seem to have preferred not to hear him. Like the Dalai Lama, Occupy’s refusal represents the true spirit of Melville’s Wall Street scribe, Bartleby: Inexplicably, they refuse to do what they are told, they refuse to go away, but appear again and again to the frustration of Wall Street and the mayors and police who represent the non-rocking boat of the status quo … The movement of the real, the self-liberation of society towards a revealing ideal, presents one option for synthesizing Marxism and Buddhism to realize resistance. The movement of the real appears in the emerging sangha, a secret movement of eros and unification that can only appear in the action of the collective. The action of the collective is to be collected, to come together and deal with whatever arises from this being together.
Does Money Make Us Write Better?
Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books, July 20, 2012 (via The Millions)
Let’s talk about money. In his history of world art, E.H. Gombrich mentions a Renaissance artist whose uneven work was a puzzle, until art historians discovered some of his accounts and compared incomes with images: paid less he worked carelessly; well-remunerated he excelled. So, given the decreasing income of writers over recent years—one thinks of the sharp drop in payments for freelance journalism and again in advances for most novelists, partly to do with a stagnant market for books, partly to do with the liveliness and piracy of the Internet—are we to expect a corresponding falling off in the quality of what we read? Can the connection really be that simple? On the other hand, can any craft possibly be immune from a relationship with money?
How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps
The Homeless Adjunct, August 12, 2012
[NOTE: This is devastating. And fairly unanswerable.]
First, you defund public higher education … Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s) … Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university … Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money … Step Five: Destroy the students. While claiming to offer them hope of a better life, our corporatized universities are ruining the lives of our students. This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic: you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason … The Second Prong: You make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford to go to the school debt free … Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced. Now, low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy. The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty. But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.
I’m Dying to Meet You in the Next Life
David Rakoff, GQ, May 2003 (via Longform)
Teaser: Everybody’s doing it. Ted Williams, his kids, gay men, rich Westerners. They’re freezing their bodies for the future, when science (God help us) will laugh at death. David Rakoff explores the strange cult of wanting to live forever.
Death is the numinous presence that hovers over the fifth Extreme Life Extension Conference. The three-day meeting is sponsored by Alcor, the Arizona cryonics company that has put the body of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams in cryogenic suspension, in the hope he may one day rise again. Like worshipers at a weekend-long Easter Mass, about 150 scientists and acolytes have gathered to hear the Good News about the latest developments in securing their own resurrections and immortality. Here, death is viewed as little more than a nuisance, a persistent gnat to be batted away. Death is certainly not going to ruin anyone’s fun. As chairman Ralph Merkle, a nanotechnologist from Palo Alto, California, said when he kicked things off, “This conference is about, by and for people who think life is a pretty good thing and that more life is better … A rollback to the physiology of your late teens might be easier than your 10-year-old self,” he says, “and more fun. We could live about 900 years.” A terrifying prospect, since everyone else would also be 18 again, and that ruthless food chain of those miserable years would reign once more. Only this time, high school would be nine centuries long. That’s close to a millennium’s worth of blackheads. The grand fantasy of cheating death, the underlying myth at the heart of this conference, is as old as humanity itself. Most every culture has a cautionary tale about some soul who aspires to godlike immortality and is brought low as a result. Not surprisingly, the disastrous hubris of Icarus is not invoked here. What is brought up repeatedly as a worthy precedent is a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend in 1773: “I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira wine, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country!”
Disney Developing ‘Physical Face Cloning’
CBS Tampa, August 16, 2012 (via Signs of the Times)
Walt Disney Company have developed technology that allows them to replicate, with near perfect accuracy, the very versatile human face. Documents posted on the official Disney Research website details plans for what they refer to as physical face cloning. “We propose a complete process for designing, simulating and fabricating synthetic skin for an animatronics character that mimics the face of a given subject and its expressions,” the document states.Scientists and researchers based in a Zürich lab were motivated by the idea of translating the company’s ability to create realistic virtual worlds – seen, for example, in movies released by Disney-owned Pixar – into tangible actuality. “We are naturally intrigued by the prospect of creating virtual humans in the likeness of ourselves – and it is not far-fetched to say that this is also a driving force for computer graphics research,” the document noted in its introduction. “While the latter strives to photorealistically [sic] create human characters on a computer screen, animatronics aims at creating physical robot characters that move and look like real humans.”
Grant Cameron on UFO Sightings and Extended Human Consciousness
Skeptiko, episode 179, July 31, 2012
Teaser: Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with UFO researcher, and author, Grant Cameron. During the interview Cameron explains how his research led him to uncover the connection between ESP, telepathy and the UFO phenomena.
Alex Tsakiris: One of the things that we like to do on Skeptiko is to keep pulling on a string and follow it as far as we can. That’s led me to you, because when you look at human consciousness and you start looking for explanations for things like telepathy, precognition, out-of-body experiences, and other altered states of consciousness, it eventually leads to this UFO thing, and the numerous reports of mind control and telepathy associated with it. So when I heard you say government insiders who really know about the UFO have told you that you can’t really understand this UFO phenomena without having an expanded view of consciousness, I was intrigued. Tell me how you came to this conclusion.
Grant Cameron: … We tracked this guy down and he turns out to be Dr. Eric Walker, who was former President of Penn State University. For 15 years he was the Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Defense Analysis, which is the top military think tank for the United States military. He was the co-developer of the homing torpedo. He was friends with Vannevar Bush. He had this incredible, unbelievable background of military and connections with Presidents and stuff like this. So when we go to him, we’re interviewing him as UFO researchers. We’re not thinking about the mind and consciousness; we couldn’t care less about that, no connection whatsoever. We’re talking to him and we’re trying to find out about this supposed UFO group that runs the whole thing, the MJ-12. We’re asking him questions about MJ-12. “Did you have contact with the aliens? How did the thing operate? How did you cover-up the UFO thing?” And suddenly in the middle of one of these interviews in 1990 he suddenly cuts off the conversation talking about hardware, about bodies and all this, and he suddenly says, “How good is your sixth sense? How much do you know about ESP?” And Walker says, “Unless you know about it and how to use it, you will not be taken in.”
The Curious Case of John Carter: Secrets and Synchronicities
Christopher Knowles, The Secret Sun, August 10, 2012
[NOTE: You really have to read this to appreciate it. Knowles performs his signature deep symbolic analysis on John Carter — not just on the film’s content, but on its surrounding cultural matrix as well (involving, for instance, the bizarre preemptive media campaign to declare it a failure and torpedo it at the box office) — and draws resonant links between it and a veritable galaxy of deep esoteric trends involving Theosophy, hollow-earth theories, ancient aliens, and more. Fairly scintillating.]
The socioeconomic conditions I wrote about in Our Gods Wear Spandex have only worsened and the kind of escapism that was once the exclusive province of weirdos and outcasts like yours truly has gone mainstream. Jack Kirby has gone viral with The Avengers, Alan Moore with Anonymous and its use of the Guy Fawkes mask and Frank Miller has with his own projects as well as the Dark Knight films that ransack his Batman ouevre. Comic books matter because they are now writing our culture, often in terrible ways like we saw in Aurora. John Carter is a superhero film, make no mistake about it. But maybe Avatar stole its thunder, telling the same basic story with flashier bells and whistles. But for my money there’s a lot more to puzzle over in John Carter. The Therns/Archon link cannot be anything but highly intentional, and it feels to me like one more beat in the AAT revelation waltz. And the insane sync with the Baltic anomaly is the customary signal that more lies under the surface than meets the eye.
Images: “Train tunnel” and “Earth and Sun” from FreeDigitalPhotos.net, 14th Dalai Lama public domain via Wikimedia Commons