Friday, October 14, 2011

New Light on the Dawn: a new perspective on the Neolithic Revolution - Rhind lectures 2009

New Light on the Dawn: a new perspective on the Neolithic Revolution

An excellent series of talks given by Trevor Watkins, speaking at the Rhind Lectures of 2009, in which he documents the extraordinary, yet still poorly understood cultural and symbolic changes in the Near East/Southwest Asia, that preceded agriculture and the associated domestication of cereals and selected fauna.

Not least of these changes in the way humans viewed and shaped the world around them was the invention of architecture, and the ways in which memory was both created and stored.

Not only were residential - and unfortified - villages constructed for the living, but special provision was made for the dead, whose remains were often incorporated into the very buildings inhabited by the living. This variously involved remains being put into the original foundations, stored beneath the floor, or deposited at the end of a building's life, whereupon the structure itself might on occasion be burnt or buried.

Additionally, great importance seems to have been attached to small public buildings, where communal activities of both practical and ritual types appear to have taken place - activities or modes of thought which may well have traced their roots much further back into prehistory, but were for the first time practiced in settlements that in some instances lasted hundreds of years.

For many decades of the 20th century, much thought and a great deal of writing was concerned with trying to work out why people discarded the hunter/gatherer or foraging lifestyle in favour of farming - but as archaeological research has progressed, the question has shifted to trying to fathom what set of factors caused humans living around 11,000-13,000 years ago to start living in permanent co-residence, whilst devoting no little effort to observing or acknowledging what they evidently percieved to be supernatural events and forces that had begun to pervade their consciousness - all the while continuing to rely on foraging as their primary method of food acquisition - cereals were to some extent exploited, but the road to domestication, whereby the seeds grew sufficiently large enough to make their harvesting practicable, was a process that took a good few hundred years.

It'll take a few hours to sit through the entire set of talks, but I can hardly imagine a better way of spending such time in pursuit of constructive viewing and listening - unless of course you happen to believe the world was magically created a few thousand years ago, in which case accounts of people living millennia beforehand will only make you feel slightly less good about things.

image: Jerf el -Ahmar

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Mexican Suitcase

The Mexican Suitcase/ La maleta mexicana


Rediscovered Spanish Civil War negatives - audio with transcript from PRI's
The World.

Flickr set

Image: by Robert Capa [Ernest Hemingway (third from the left), New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews (second from the left) and two Republican soldiers, Teruel, Spain], late December, 1937. Negative.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Essay of the Week - George Orwell: Politics and the English Language (1946)

Before and during the recent break in this blog's output, I had long been aware of at least one major set of flaws in my writing, namely too many repeated phrases, and rambling prose that promised little and delivered less.

Despite having written many thousands of words across hundreds of posts, reading them back often gave me a sense that there was far too much padding and not nearly enough fact - easy on the eye maybe, but lacking in substance, which all too often had been forced out by the metaphor.

I came across the linked essay, written by Orwell in 1946, while listening to an edition of the Stone Ape podcast, which I will discuss in more detail another time.

In it, Orwell rails against the use of florid, metaphorical language, and in particular the way in which he thought the English language had been twisted beyond recognition - or meaning - in the political realm by those wishing to hide their true intentions or opinions.

It's an instructive piece - witty, forthright, and strewn with examples of what the author tells us is writing of the worst kind. But as even he admits, a cursory glance through the essay reveals that Orwell succumbs to exactly the same faults as he is pointing out. Here's an example:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Note the way he uses the word 'barbarous' right at the very end - he might have used words like 'ghastly' or 'awful' as Anglo-Saxon/Middle English equivalents, rather than the more languid (and overtly Latin) 'barbarous' - he must have been aware of this anomaly, so I wonder what he meant by including it, or whether he was just poking fun at himself by signing off with a flourish of the type he so evidently dislikes.

A final thought - is there any such an thing as an Anglo-Saxon thesaurus, and more to the point, what would be the AS equivalent word for 'thesaurus'?

A pdf version of the essay can be found here, via Stanford University

A collection of Orwell essays, including that already mentioned can be found here, via Adelaide University, (originally via thebeliever07, from where I used the image at top)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shedding New Light on Saturn and Enceladus/Test post

Shedding New Light on Saturn (Dec. 27, 2009) - Planetary Radio | The Planetary Society

As The Crust Turns: Cassini Data Show Enceladus in Motion - NASA JPL

A recent podcast from the Planetary Society featured the Cassini mission at Saturn, home to shimmering rings and mysterious moons, where the spacecraft has been busily shuttling its way around the system capturing images and assorted data as tirelessly as it does efficiently, for over 5 years.

The glint on Titan comes in for special mention, being one of those long sought after images that was finally snapped by dint of luck rather than specific timing - a methane lake at the north pole was glimpsed as the light from the rising sun, giving the specular reflection.

Iapetus, tidally locked, has a leading side that is 10 times darker than the opposite, which when the 79 day rotation, sweeping up the dust from other moons, giving it a reddish appearance.

The hexagon at Saturn's north pole, the cause of whose shape has been a mystery since first spotted 30 years ago - wider than 2 Earths, jetstream 220 mph, active for an unknown period of time, longevity a mystery, when set against ephemeral hurricanes on Earth.

Wave features at the corners of the polygon, multi-walled structures go all the way to the top of Saturn's atmosphere.

Very dim and large new ring found.

Is Enceladus the only active body/moon in the Saturnian system?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Posthumous Dues - Mac Tonnies, Author and Blogger, Dead at 34

UFOMystic: Remembering Mac

It was something of a shock to hear the very sad news that author and blogger Mac Tonnies passed away in his sleep last week, aged only 34. We briefly corresponded several years ago, and he was about the first person in the public eye to say they liked what was then a nascent remote central - at the time I recall that being a huge filip, especially because I regarded him then, as I do now, as a potentially exceptional writer, and it is a matter of great regret that his true potential will not now be realised.

Mac Tonnies, who described himself thus...

Author, blogger, futurologist, skeptic, bibliophile, Fortean, weirdhunter, transhumanist, interplanetary man of mystery.

...was perhaps best known for his book, 'After the Martian Apocalypse', and for the past few years, his idiosyncratic blog, 'Posthuman Blues', regularly updated with all manner of Forteana, esoterica  and off-beat sci-fi reflections, often decorated with great pictures, all of which was put together no small amount of style by a thoughtful writer to whom a neat turn of phrase was no stranger. This was also apparent on his other site, 'The Cydonian Imperative', later to become part of, where there is an extended bio.

He had spent the past few years writing his second, unpublished book, 'Cryptoterrestrials: Indigenous Humanoids and the Aliens Among Us', apparently completed and ready to be shipped for publication, and it is to be hoped that his final opus will yet see the light of day over at Anomalist Books.

As far as I know, about his last radio interview was on Coast, September 26th, 2009, in which he gave his usual insightful thoughts into a range of topics centring around his various speculations that humans may be sharing the planet with a species of being that we are unable to perceive, know little or nothing about, frequently encountered in what are described as ufo incidents. There is also a brief video clip of him here at The Other Side of Truth.

Tonnies was never an idealistic, self-promoting media type, rather more a supremely articulate individual with an enquiring mind, who never claimed to know this or that answer, preferring instead to point us in directions that led to further enquiry, fuelled by his own speculations that ventured down some of the less trodden tracks of contemporary thought.

And although he devoted a prodigious amount of time to his own writing and research, it is clear from the numerous comments which appeared after what turned out to be his final post that he also found time and energy to converse with and lend assistance to any number of those with whom he was in contact via his online presence. It is also abundantly clear that he was very highly thought of by those with whom he worked in a professional capacity, as can be seen by their various testaments, here, here and here.

It only remains for this blogger to extend my sincere condolences to Mac's family and many friends, all of whom will hopefully derive some degree of comfort that such a person existed in the first place, even though that existence has now been cut cruelly short.

Binnall of America Audio Season 2: Mac Tonnies Interview, March 2007 - Part 1, Part 2

The Paracast: Mac Tonnies Interview, October 2008 

The Paracast: Mac Tonnies TributeWe remember the late Mac Tonnies, author, futurist and Fortean, with a special tribute episode featuring his close friends and colleagues, including Greg BishopPatrick HuyghePaul Kimball and Nicholas Redfern.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stimulus Respond - 'Icon' Edition - Call for Contributions

Following on from the previous 'Numbers' edition,

Stimulus Respond are now seeking content for the next issue, called 'Icon', as we see from this advisory:

We are currently soliciting contributions for the next edition of the next issue of Stimulus Respond, called Icon. Contributions might be literally or abstractly related to Icon, and we encourage, as always, creative and experimental approaches to the theme. In congruence with Stimulus Respond’s undisciplined approach, we welcome submissions from new and established contributors from within, between, and beyond such fields as cultural studies, anthropology, literary criticism, fashion, creative writing, politics, visual cultures, architecture, theatre, film and screen studies, sociology, media and communications and philosophy.

Fashion editorials and photography should be sent as low resolution jpegs including credits where necessary. The deadline for expressions of interest is 4 September, with the final deadline being 25 September. This issue we are working with guest editors Phil Sawdon and Marsha Meskimmon.

Potential contributors to the Literature section are to send an abstract of 200-300 words and an indication of the anticipated word length of the final article (within the parameters of 1000-4000 words) by 4 September.

Authors of successful abstract submissions will be required to submit the final piece by 18 September and to be available to make any minor corrections by Friday 25 September. The editorial contacts are:

Literature: Phil Sawdon
Fashion: Christos Kyriakides
Poetry: Ellen Sampson
For more information on Stimulus Respond and to download the current issue, Numbers, please visit

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jupiter Impact Points Us To Mars

ESA Science & Technology: Hubble views new dark spot on Jupiter

Over the past few days, spectacular images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope have shown the scene of a vast impact - roughly twice the length of Europe - which has scarred the surface of Jupiter, making this the second time in 15 years that such an event has taken place there. Spotted by Anthony Wesley, a '44-year-old computer programmer from a village north of Canberra', the impact of what is thought to have been a block of ice or small comet, left a 5,000 mile gash in the gaseous surface, described elsewhere as a massive black eye.

When Comet P Shoemaker-Levy 9 blasted its fragmentary self into the Jovian atmosphere between July 16th and 22nd, 1994, the world witnessed a shattering impact hundreds of millions of miles away that would surely have destroyed much of the biosphere including our civilisation had it occurred on here on Earth. Although such events were considered rare, the fact that almost 15 years to the day there has been a similar and completely unexpected impact, implies that not only that such occurrences are more frequent, but that we are vulnerable to even a small strike - the object that recently hit Jupiter is described as being 'twice the size of several football pitches', and the resulting explosion was thousands of times more powerful than the object that is thought to have exploded over Tunguska on June 30th, 1908.

Jupiter has in the past been described as acting as a cosmic shield for Earth, because its massive size and gravitational strength are thought to pull in large objects that might instead travel further into the solar system, where we currently reside. However, we cannot sit idly by and hope that Jupiter will catch everything hurtling through space on a trajectory with Earth, and there will certainly come a day when as in 1770, Jupiter actually diverts a comet in our direction, and quite possibly, directly at us.

By a fortuitous coincidence, this latest impact comes in the same month that Apollo astronauts have called for a manned mission to Mars, whilst President Obama has called for a rethink at NASA, and Tom Wolfe has commented on how the original plans to put humans on Mars have continually been put on hold over the past 40 years and Rand Simberg looks at the way in which NASA might change policy direction.

Apart from the fact that exploration of Mars by humans in the near future is not only technologically already possible (and would be of great interest to us all) it is becoming crystal clear that we need to have at least back-up system of human and other life somewhere away from this planet, and at the moment, by far the best candidate is Mars.

As far as we know, we are the only sentient beings alive in the Universe today - granted, many believe that the sheer scale and numbers of other galaxies makes it very likely that complex and intelligent life abounds across the Universe, but until we encounter it, we're on our own.

Elsewhere comes news of technologies which could be developed that would allow for a 39-day trip to Mars, significantly shorter than the marathon 6 months it would take using conventional hardware that's currently available.

It remains to be seen which space agency spearheads a manned mission to Mars, there is the distinct possibility that ESA and NASA will join forces and send a joint expedition - not only would such a venture help to share costs, but underline the importance of sending various nationalities into space, to at least give the impression that this is an effort on behalf of humantiy in general rather than one nation in particular.

image from Wired