Why Wikipedia?

31 May 2012

Fact, opinion, vandalism.

As you have likely noticed, I often link to wikipedia articles. The wordpress post editor allows for quick linking as well, which is a lazier way of doing what I was already doing. Why wikipedia?

It’s certainly not the be-all nor the end-all. Neither is any online resource. However, wikipedia is a reasonable place to start, and there are suitable external links (for most articles), that lead readers and researchers on their merry way across the web’s fine strands. It is a resource to get the gist of a subject, or in some cases, typically penned by experts in the field, to get lost in it. Nevertheless, if you come across a term or a name with which you are unfamiliar, it’s a centralized place to get oriented.

Provided the articles are never taken at face value (that’s what all those talk pages are about). The more disputed an article, the more likely it is to have been hashed out to find a phrasing that suits the various, interested parties. This isn’t always the case, but for those working to make it as useful a resource as possible, it often turns out something remarkable (see, like I’m remarking on it now).

Although we often question the authority of many online articles (as we should, including this page), we didn’t do so nearly as much before the Internet. We took huge tomes written by experts in their fields as the final word on a subject. Why else would anyone invest so much time an energy in a subject?

Nevertheless, bias creeps into everything, whether inadvertently or deliberately. It pays to figure it out for oneself.

The most insidious aspect to online resources is their tendency to copy and paste from one another. Especially where facts are concerned. This can multiply voices repeating a false statistic until it has the veracity of the truth. But truth is relative, so there’s that. Facts are also relative.

Just ask Stephen Colbert, the media manipulator extraordinaire.

Enjoy it for what it is, use it safely, and don’t click on any link that makes promises.

204 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Challenging the Imagination

30 May 2012

Times I think I remember.

I recently read Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, an astounding and intense memoir – I recommended it, but be warned – it may not be an easy read, yet it holds marvels.

Lidia recalls having met Kathy Acker, an intense author in her own right, and the intersection of those two lives could hardly be more appropriate.

It reminded me that years ago, circa 1999, Kathy Acker was the muse who inspired me to write in the first place (although truth be told, I’ve never finished anything, and my writing is a far cry from Kathy’s).

I’ve only just re-read Great Expectations (Kathy’s, not Dickens. I loathe Dickens), and am reminded of her intensity, the jagged edge of her imagination, and the harsh emotional snapshots of which she was ever capable. There are moments in her work that I can’t be sure are fact or fiction, and the blurring of that line is where I find stories the most fascinating.

Grant Morrison explores that strange boundary in his analysis of superheroes, Supergods, where he defines the world of fiction as a world equal to our own. Superheroes do exist, they exist in comics. That is their world, and the comic book itself is the overlap between their world and ours. So is the imagination.

Since studying English Literature twenty years ago, I have always been drawn to challenging narratives – whether that means they challenged my understand of narrative (Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Beckett’s Trilogy as a few examples), or they were monstrous tomes (Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen), or they simply challenged conventions (Johnson’s AlbertAngelo, Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew). This fascination extends beyond the world of fiction to the media of theatre, comics, film and television.

I typically go through themes when I read: particular authors (recently David Mitchell), or Russian Classics, or Dystopian Literature, Native Literature, and so on.

As long as it provides new ideas, or forms, I am content. I’ll read just about anything. I was weaned on pulp horror, and the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, and Stephen King. Hardly literary fare, but certainly a sound foundation in the horrific, which would prove useful when making my way through Kathy Acker – horrors of a very different sort.

As a result of all this reading, reading, reading, my thoughts are a veritable bricolage of narrative. I don’t know if I could tell you what any given story is about without it suffering bleeding through from another story. It’s a real scrap-book inside my skull. And if nothing else, it has proven to be proof against propaganda. I don’t respond to apparent meaning on the surface, I swim under, looking for what’s going on in the murk, with schools of sole). Although I don’t often find the truth (how could I?), I resurface, confident in my doubts.

It’s one reason I will cling to my heavy, bulky, awkward books over e-readers. I don’t for one second believe that the manufacture of such devices, nor the vast infrastructure that makes them possible, can be “green” (other than in colour). Now if we could do away with pulp and start printing on hemp paper, we might have something to brag about.

205 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Dreaming

29 May 2012

If when you sleep, you dream you are a hummingbird, when you are awake, what is dreaming that it is you?

206 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Music Come Full Circle

28 May 2012

Musical traditions creep back into the electronic era

I was thinking about this the other day…

So, music, as a form of communication, has been around as long as sound. It likely began with us listening to the sounds of birds and beasts around us, the wind in the trees, the waves clacking pebbles and so on. We responded with our voices. We developed our sounds to a rich complexity of language and singing. Music was participatory, we sang with one another.

Moving ahead, we developed musical technology, starting with something simple, hollow logs, tense reeds, which eventually lead us to woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, pianofortes. Not only did we perform, we began our role as non-participatory audience.

Following this, recording media broadened the audience beyond live performances. We could capture the sounds of a single performance, then a blending of tracks. Radio and records lead to CDs and MP3s.

Then, depending on which version you believe, the good folks down in Jamaica created dub – remixing previously recorded tracks. DJs began playing record players as instruments. The exploration of electronic music has reached new sounds, textures and musical expression.

And then this happens:

Using his voice,  James Burchfield imitates the electronic.

Full circle.

207 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Measure 3 Year 12~XIV

27 May 2012


Communicating into the Distance

27 May 2012

Listening to the distant past as we whisper into the far future.

I recently read (well skimmed) Deep Time by Gregory Benford. I was hopeful for the subject, but alas, Benford’s focus was on space probes, and his experience with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The plant is a waste disposal for nuclear waste from energy, weapons, and medical sources. One of the challenges they face is determining a way of identifying the location for the next 10,000 years so that future generations would know to stay away. The solution would have to address erotion, changes in politics to the surrounding region, cultural shifts in language and symbology and so forth. He also discusses trying to communicate across space.

I think that this is an intriguing subject, and an important one, which hasn’t received much attention as our collective attention spans have diminished at an astounding rate. The Clock of the Long Now is a project which seeks to address this, by creating a means of timekeeping that reminds us of our cultural longevity. (book notes here: the Clock of the Long Now).

Rediscovering Our History

In the post, Wonder of World Wonders, I looked at the great circle of monuments, the focus of which is the pyramid complex at Giza. I often wonder if the Egyptians even built these great edifices, or whether, like us, they discovered them, and put them to use (or even took credit for them). It’s not outside the realm of possibility (the realm of the probable is another matter altogether).

The monuments, such as the constructions of ancient Egyptians, and the Inca, are of huge stone blocks that fit together in irregular patterns, fit together so precisely that a knife blade couldn’t slip between them. These blocks withstand earthquakes, and other cataclysms (although not vandalism, as the limestone cover was taken from the pyramids).

If these structures are the result of an ancient culture that predates the Sumerian, maybe even predates prehistory, then how have they chosen to communicate with us, given that they could not predict the Internet and English (I presume), short-term mindsets, and a mixed relationship with symbols?

The pyramid complex at Giza is a mathematical wonder, combining proportions of ∏ and Φ (pi and phi). Regardless of the numbers themselves, it is the ratios they represent which are important. Ratios can be determined by comparing any two dimentions (provided the measurer recognizes lengths, widths, heights, circumferences, and radii).

As was mentioned in the Lost Millennium, there are many ways to correlate past events, however, one of the most reliable is celestial mechanics. If a historical document refers to a solar eclipse at a particular location, it can be used to pinpoint the event in time. The pyramid complex at Giza may, in fact, be indicating a point in time relative to the stars. This depends on our inheriting the Zodiac system from the distant past, which lasts even to this day.

Our Inheritance from Babylon

the zodiac as we know it (Aries the ram, Taurus the bull, all the way to Pisces the Fish) has been around since the Babylonians, and very early on it made its way to the Indian sub-continent, throughout the middle east, north Africa and Europe, and now, the world. It has deep roots, and is at least passingly familiar to a great cross-section of the globe (even as the Chinese zodiac is becoming more and more familiar in the west).

The modern version fixes the signs to a particular part of the sky, such that the sun, moon and planets are said to be in a particular house, or sign. At the time of this writing the sun has just passed into Gemini. However, if you were able to look past the Sun to the starfield behind it, you would see the constellation of Taurus.

The real solar zodiac (i.e. the position of the sun and planets relative to the constellations in the night sky) is observable by any astronomer, and this is the system that we have inherited. The difficulty with it is that due to a wobble in the Earth’s axis, the position of the constellations change by about 1 day every 72 years or so. Thus, if the Sun passes into Taurus on May 14th this year, in 72 years, it will pass into it on May 13th. It will take just under 26,000 years for the Sun to pass into Taurus on May 14th again.

The sphinx combines features of the lion and man, which relates to the two constellations opposite each other – Leo and Aquarius.

theAbysmal

When I conceived of theAbysmal Calendar, I imagined these Babylonian astrologers creating a timepiece aligned with the stars, such that as the Constellations made their rounds of the sky over 26,000 years, we could keep track as they had. It surprised me that I had not read anything piecing together the constellations, the precession of the equinoxes and calendar systems. No doubt it was common knowledge in some circles, but it certainly wasn’t common knowledge among the broader population. Astrology gets panned an awful lot as being nonsense and meaningless, however, it depends what meaning you’re looking for in the stars.

They are the context in which we exist, although as they are increasingly hidden behind air and light pollution, they fall further and further out of our awareness, and this is truly a great loss. It is what connects us, more than any pyramid, to the people in the past, and those in the future. The Sun, Moon and Stars are the touchstone we all have in common, regardless of the environment or culture in which we live our day to day lives. Any process of long-term communication through deep time will necessarily have to use these touchstones. The language of symbol with which to communicate is a whole other problem.

208 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Deep Time

26 May 2012

Interesting Idea

Deep Time – How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia by Gregory Benford

p4 “A puzzle of far antiquity is why the ancients often built with great stones, moving burdens intimidating even to modern engineers. managing a hundred-ton rock is far more difficult than placing ten ten-ton stones. Yet scattered over the lands of ancient civilizations are countless large stoneworks.”

p5 “Some societies (China, Latin America) think in terms of family dynasties, making investments that bear fruit fifty or a hundred years downstream, and passing on homesteads. Ninety-year mortgages are not unknown.”

“in contrast, our modern attention span is usually quite short. Most industrial societies have an increasingly bottom-line attitude… In this century, many countries have failed to outlive their citizens.”

p6 quoting cultural critic Dean MacCannell

…the concern of moderns for ‘naturalness’, their nostalgia and their search for authenticity, are not merely casual and somewhat decadent, though harmeless, attachments to the souvenirs of destroyed cultures and dead epochs. they are also components of the conquering spirit of modernity – the grounds of its unifying consciouness.

“We moderns labor under a sense of linear time that emerged forcefully after Pope Gregory XIII imposed the Julian Calendar on the Catholic world in 1582.” [n.b. it was the Gregorian Calendar]

p7 “In a sense, all technologies are attempts to contest the ordinations of time. Agriculture tries to make crops grow to order, medicine delays the onslaughts of age and death, transportation moves us faster, communication media strive for speed and preservation of information.”

p9 “We are often unaware of how antiquity influences us, for as we shall see, some signals across the abyss of deep time we do not even recognize as artificial.”

p15 “The oldest reliably dated structure in North America is a 5,400-year-old earthen mound at Watson Brake, Louisiana, fully two thousand years older than the much better known, classic mound-builder sites of other river valleys.”

p16 “Deep time messages must speak to feelings of wonder that persist across both time and culture.”

p20 “Ancient cultures fell in line with nature, many of their most obvious markers – pyramids, astronomically aligned henges – comprising a vast, unvoiced aspiration to join in harmony with eleemental forces. their stones speak to us still.”

p26 “.the oak beams in College Hall of New College, Oxford, needed replacing in the nineteenth century, so the college cut down some oaks planted in 1386 for that express purpose.”

see also Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the Clock of the Long Now,

p110  365 = 28 + 26 + 25 + 23 + 22+ 20 = 101101101 in binary