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  • Crooked Timber responds to The Intercept's release of data regarding Russian interference with American elections.
  • Dangerous Minds reports on how Melanie Gaydos overcame a rare genetic disorder to become a model.

  • Dead Things seems unduly happy that it does see as if Tyrannosaurus rex had feathers. (I like the idea.)

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on our ability to detect the effects of a planet-shattering Nicoll-Dyson beam.

  • The Frailest Thing considers being a parent in the digital age.

  • Language Hat notes the African writing systems of nsibidi and bamum.

  • Marginal Revolution notes that Trump-supporting states are moving to green energy quite quickly.

  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russian guarantees of traditional rights to the peoples of the Russian North do not take their current identities into account.

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  • Anthropology.net reports on new evidence that Homo naledi may have used tools, buried their dead, and lived alongside Homo sapiens.
  • Centauri Dreams remembers an abortive solar sail mission to Halley's Comet.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of the "Apache" dancers of France.

  • Cody Delistraty writes about Swedish futurist Anders Sandberg and his efforts to plan for humanity's future.

  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen Sternheimer talks about her day as a sociologist.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the good news that normal young HIV patients can now expect near-normal life expectancies.

  • Language Hat looks at a recent surge of interest in Italian dialects.

  • Language Log looks at the phenomenon of East Asians taking English-language names.

  • The LRB Blog considers the dynamics of the United Kingdom's own UDI.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the existential issues of a growing Kinshasa still disconnected from the wider world.

  • Steve Munro notes that Metrolinx will now buy vehicles from France's Alstom.

  • The New APPS Blog uses Foucault to look at the "thanatopolitics" of the Republicans.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at Trump's constitutional crisis.

  • Out There considers the issues surrounding the detection of an alien civilization less advanced than ours.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the United States' planetary science exploration budget.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at Argentina's underrated reputation as a destination for foreign investment.

  • Progressive Download shares some thinking about sexual orientation in the context of evolution.

  • Peter Rukavina looks at the success of wind energy generation on the Island.

  • Understanding Society takes a look at the dynamics of Rome.

  • Window on Eurasia shares a lunatic Russian scheme for a partition of eastern Europe between Russia and Germany.

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Emma O'Brien's Bloomberg article notes that New Zealand has resumed its position as a place to hide from the world.

When Hong Kong-based financier Michael Nock wanted a place to escape in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, he looked beyond the traditional havens of the rich to a land at the edge of the world, where cows outnumber people two-to-one.

Nock, the founder of hedge fund firm Doric Capital Corp., bought a retreat 5,800 miles away in New Zealand’s picturesque Queenstown. In the seven years since, terror threats in Europe and political uncertainty from Britain to the U.S. have helped make the South Pacific nation -- a day by air away from New York or London -- a popular bolthole for the mega wealthy.

Isolation has long been considered New Zealand’s Achilles heel. That remoteness is turning into an advantage, however, with hedge-fund pioneer Julian Robertson to Russian steel titan Alexander Abramov and Hollywood director James Cameron establishing multi-million dollar hideaways in the New Zealand countryside.

“The thing that was always working against New Zealand -- the tyranny of distance -- is the very thing that becomes its strength as the world becomes more uncertain,” Nock, 60, said by phone from Los Angeles during a recent business trip.

Nock’s 2-hectare (5-acre) estate is named “Giverny” after artist Claude Monet’s iconic home and garden in northern France, and the “funny old farmhouse” is surrounded by ponds and mature plants, he said. Nock is converting a barn into an art studio on the property, which overlooks Queenstown’s Shotover River -- a fast-flowing, turquoise stretch of water that tourists speed down on jet boats and whitewater rafts.
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The National Post's Tristan Hopper describes how De Courcy Island, one of British Columbia's Gulf Islands, hosted an apocalyptic cult back in the 1920s.

The real estate ad cheerfully describes the De Courcy Island Farm as a virtual paradise of forest, beach, fertile soil and a “historic workshop and barn.”

“This is an exceedingly rare opportunity to acquire a property of this size and nature within the Gulf Islands,” reads a description for the $2.2 million parcel, which occupies a significant portion of De Courcy Island, a small Gulf Island exactly due west of Richmond, B.C.

Omitted, however, is that this charming 42 hectare property was once a heavily armed “Ark of Refuge” where the several dozen followers of a self-proclaimed prophet named Brother XII would survive the destruction of the world.

[. . .]

“California and B.C. are hotbeds of off-beat religions,” wrote the historian Pierre Berton in the late 1970s. “Of these, there are none so kooky, none so bizarre, none so preposterous — none so downright evil — as the Aquarian Foundation.”

Brother XII had brought his Aquarian Foundation to coastal B.C. in the mid-1920s to sow the seeds of what he dreamed would become a superior new race of humanity. Once civilization was in tatters, their commune would “serve as a training ground for those selected for work of ‘Restoration,’ that is, the coming New Age.”
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Thursday night showing's of Akira at the Revue Cinema in Roncesvalles happily did not disappoint. The showing itself could have been better: the start time was delayed, but more frustratingly the organizers kept having sound trouble, starting with the dubbed version and then trying to get the sound going on the subtitled one only to opt for the dubbed version on the fourth try. The film itself was superb, no disappointment to my old memories.

A quick Googling reveals that I encountered Akira for the first time a bit more than a decade ago, Sam showing me the movie in December of 2005 and then lending me the translated volumes of the original manga over the first part of the following year. It's been a decade since I last engaged with this in depth, and I was a bit worried. I had been afraid that my memories of Akira were wrong, but I had also been afraid that the appraisals I wrote at the time would be massively incorrect. Neither is the case: Akira still stands up as a powerful and artistically credible depiction of the human encounter with the post-human, and the movie in particular remains an effective distillation of the sprawling sagas of the manga.

I was off on one thing, though, or--at best--I was reflecting the perspectives of my time, back in the halcyon pre-crash days of 2005 and 2006. At the time, I wrote that Akira did not feel like our future, not with its post-apocalyptic urban civilization beset by mass protests and terrorism and the real dangerous conspiracies of the powerful and disenchanted. History has since returned, and watching some of the scenes featuring the revolutionaries and random protesters of Neo-Tokyo gave me chills. The imagining of the possibility of radical human transcendence embraced by so many of Akira's characters may be widely unrealistic, but what does it say about our civilization that the only thing left to us is chaos and despair?
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  • blogTO lets us know about planned subway closures and reports about Sam the Record Man's sign.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly talks bravely about her recent failures.

  • Centauri Dreams speculates about the future.

  • Crooked Timber examines the strength of the labor movement within the Democratic Party even if it wanes in the United States at large.

  • D-Brief notes a Chinese mechanical chameleon.

  • Language Hat shares Winnie the Pooh in multiple languages of the North Caucasus.

  • Steve Munro notes the collapse in Union-Pearson Express ridership.

  • The Planetary Society Blog updates us on Curiosity.

  • Progressive Download's John Farrell notes a simulation suggesting black holes could be gateways after all.

  • Torontoist uses a photo of mine to illustrate an article on the LCBO.

  • Towleroad recommends Key West.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes Amazon Web Services' support in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

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Will Partin's article in The Atlantic about how video game universes come to an end is an affecting look at a corner of pop culture rarely examined. What does happen when worlds come to an end?

In English, the word “apocalypse”—ety. Greek, n. apo (un-) + kaluptein (-veil)—has three non-exclusive meanings. The first and most common is simply the end of the world, whether by divine punishment or whatever transpires in movies directed by Roland Emmerich. The second is any form of calamity, representational or real, man-made or no, that resembles the end of the world, like the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Chernobyl, or the movies directed by Roland Emmerich themselves. The third is what the Greeks intended apocalypse to mean: the revelation of knowledge through profound disruption, which is why the final book of the New Testament is called “Revelations” (composed, it is thought, to reassure Christians during their widespread persecution by the Roman emperor, Domitian). In other words, the apocalypse either is the end, looks like the end, or helps us understand the end.

Like books, movies, and the visual arts, video games are well acquainted with the apocalypse. Scores of them have been set in the final days of mankind; countless more ask the player to prevent them. Yet, as mere setting, the apocalypse can never be true to its name—when Mass Effect 3 ends and the galaxy has been saved/altered/destroyed, you can always boot up the series’s first act and play it all again. The finale is not the end. In the curious lexicon of games criticism, we often speak of “world-building,” yet rarely do we stop to think about its opposite. Anything made can be destroyed, yet destruction in games is rarely the destruction of games. What masterpiece of eschatological design could possibly convey the all-encompassing, crushing finality of a true apocalypse?

Since the 1990s, when the rise of reliable home Internet access made persistent game worlds both commercially and technically viable, the game industry has developed over 300 massively multiplayer online games, some gargantuan (The Old Republic, etc.) and others slight, like the thoughtful browser-based government simulator NationStates. The majority of MMOs, of course, don’t experience the runaway success of World of Warcraft or EVE Online and eventually adopt a free-to-play model once it becomes clear that subscriptions alone can’t sustain ongoing costs. But a smaller number—44, if Wikipedia is to be believed—have shut down, and with their closure, their persistent worlds simply phase out of existence, beyond the reach of any archaeology.

Star Wars Galaxies launched in 2003 to critical and commercial acclaim. Though video games routinely spoil the player with fantasies of singular greatness (in Elder Scrolls Online, every player is, improbably, “the one”), Galaxies initially set its sights lower. Instead of saving the Star Wars universe for the umpteenth time, the player was asked merely to live in that universe, getting by doing anything from bounty hunting to stripping in dusty cantinas on the Outer Rim. That might seem hopelessly jejune in 2015, but Galaxies was a tremendous success for several years. Alas, in 2005, in response to a lack of new players, Sony Online Entertainment redesigned the game to emphasize combat, trading the game’s supreme sense of inhabitation and belonging for a sense of power (the lure of the dark side indeed!). Players revolted, and, by 2006 barely 10,000 people could be found in Galaxies on any given Friday. The death-knell came in 2011, when SOE announced, to no one’s surprise, that Galaxies would be shut down for good in December of that year (not coincidentally, the same month that BioWare launched its dreary Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic).

Call it pity, or perhaps apology, but SOE used the end of Galaxies to do something meaningful with its apocalypse: It declared a winner for each server based on the relative population of Rebels and Imperials. And in the galaxy’s final moments, before the servers took everything and everyone with them, the players who remained gathered in Mos Eisley and Corellia to wait for the end. Bittersweet celebration ruled the day: Veterans let neophytes try out their finest gear, the sky was filled with brilliant (if lag-producing) fireworks, and the spaceports clogged with groups of friends, some cultivated over thousands of hours, waiting to say goodbye. In the end, though, the final moment was a whimper.
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Bureau of Proto Society is amazing. I found it via io9 (http://io9.com/a-group-of-historians-debates-how-the-world-ended-but-1727359489):

The short anime comedy Bureau of Proto Society takes us to a post-apocalyptic bunker, when the last remnants of humanity live isolated from the world. The bunker’s historians gather each day to try to debate how the world ended—and once you see their historical sources, you’ll understand their confusion.

Sadly, this short, by writer/director Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Patema Inverted) isn’t embeddable, but you can watch it at the Japan Animator Expo website, where it will be available for the next few weeks. (Click the English flag in the upper right hand corner if you don’t speak Japanese and be aware that theres a minute-long opening before the actual short starts.) It’s a very funny film, packed with pop culture references, and snazzy ending.

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In Slate, Maddy Crowell travels to India to visit a famed utopian community that actually is no such thing.

We drove in silence for 20 minutes down East Coast Road, a highway jammed with motorbikes, passing brightly colored tea and samosa stalls. In a sharp, 90-degree turn, the taxi lurched off the highway onto an unmarked dirt road where a wall of leafy trees brought the chaos and the color to a jolting stop. And suddenly, we weren’t in India anymore.

Auroville was built by hand by the flower-power generation of the 1960s. It was a “psychological revolution,” as W.M. Sullivan noted in his book The Dawning of Auroville—a venture in which Marxist-flavored socialism met anarchy. There is no money, no government, no religion, no skyscrapers or expressways, no newspapers with headlines of war, poverty, and genocide. Built for 50,000 people, Auroville today has only about 2,500 permanent residents and roughly 5,000 visitors—self-selected exiles from more than 100 countries. Auroville wasn’t just some hippie haven; it was designed to be a poster child for India itself. According to a 1982 Indian Supreme Court ruling, Auroville is in “conformity with India’s highest ideals and aspirations.” The Indian government donates more than $200,000 to Auroville every year, and UNESCO has protected the township since its birth in 1968.

But for a professed utopia, Auroville has a laundry list of problems; high up on the list are robbery and sexual harassment cases in the non-gated community surrounded by local villages, but there have been more drastic cases of rape, suicide, and even murder.
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  • Bruce Sterling, at Beyond the Beyond, posts an interview with Eleanor Saitta, one of the backers of an Icelandic data haven.

  • James Bow interviews Liberal Party of Ontario leadership candidatye Sandra Pupatello.

  • Crooked Timber's Corey Robin notes a nihilistic, Rimbaudian strain in American conservatism.

  • Language Log's Mark Liberman takes issue with one translator's idea of American English.

  • At Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Dave Brockington argues that the much lower availability of guns explains why the United Kingdom, a country with higher rates of reported violent crime than the United States, has a much lower murder rate.

  • Diane Duane at Out of Ambit mourns the non-occurrence of the 2012 apocalypse.

  • Is Doctor Who an anthropologist? The case is made at Savage Minds.

  • The Signal explains why digital preservation matters.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the sloppy application of statistics on religious affiliation by the Russian Orthodox Church, common to other churches. (Are 81% of Russians Orthodox, or merely the 5% who regularly attend services?)

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The 2012 "Maya apocalypse" speculation that has been steadily growing for the past several decades reached enough for a climax for me to, yesterday, wish various people--friends, work colleagues, Facebook people--a happy 14th baktun.

My take on it is that, save for certain people who did believe that the 21st of December, 2012, would usher in some radical transformation, most people around the world took the 2012 meme as I did, as basically a big joke.

What's your take?
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  • At A (Budding) Sociologist's Commonplace Book, Dan Hirschman wonders why "traditional" religions--to use the nomenclature--aren't given respect. One answer might be related to the fact that practitioners of traditional religions are almost always minorities in their own countries.

  • blogTO lists 12 different Mayan-apocalypse themed bar events around Toronto.

  • Eastern Approaches notes the efforts of Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin's desires to improve the quality of life in the Russian capital.

  • Geocurrents observes the mining boom that is populating a desert stretch of Western Australia.

  • The Global Sociology Blog crunches the numbers and notes the many ways in which the United States stands out among countries for its gun violence, and factors leading to said.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper suggesting that, for relatively less developed countries, the investments of Communism in human capital and assorted subsidies did give many of these an advantage. (Turkmenistan, yes; Estonia, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, not so much.)

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer predicts rising gas prices and relatively low oil prices.

  • Window on Eurasia notes problems integrating Muslim conscripts in the Russian army.

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The Agence France-Presse article describing the sustained Mayan hostility to the myth of an impending apocalypse next month allegedly derived from their pre-Columbian calendar--incorrectly, it turns out--hits on a theme that I touched on back in April. Isn't there something terribly voyeuristic about exploiting the traditions of a historically persecuted population for your own fame of fortune, perhaps especially if the population in question doesn't benefit?

Guatemala’s Mayan people accused the government and tour groups on Wednesday of perpetuating the myth that their calendar foresees the imminent end of the world for monetary gain.

“We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” charged Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop.

Several films and documentaries have promoted the idea that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that doomsday is less than two months away, on December 21, 2012.

The Culture Ministry is hosting a massive event in Guatemala City — which as many as 90,000 people are expected to attend — just in case the world actually does end, while tour groups are promoting doomsday-themed getaways.

Maya leader Gomez urged the Tourism Institute to rethink the doomsday celebration, which he criticized as a “show” that was disrespectful to Mayan culture.

[. . .]

Gomez’s group issued a statement saying that the new Maya time cycle simply “means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature.”

Oxlajuj Ajpop is holding events it considers sacred in five cities to mark the event and Gomez said the Culture Ministry would be wise to throw its support behind their real celebrations.
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One thing--one of many things--that has bothered me about the whole "Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012" thing is the disrespectful appropriation of Mayan culture by outsiders who know little of it, deny the right of the actually living Mayans to correct outsiders their mistakes, and proceed to make capital of all kinds off it. Emilio Godoy's Inter Press Service article offers some hope that efforts, at least, are being made.

The indigenous people of southeast Mexico are demanding to be included in the official programmes planned for 2012 to take advantage of the world's interest in the "Mayan prophecy", while at the same time fearing a "doomsday tourism" that could damage and contaminate their sacred sites.

Indigenous organisations told IPS that they resented being excluded from the design process of the Maya World promotion plan launched by the government on Monday, Jan. 16 with the aim of luring domestic and foreign visitors to the indigenous regions of the five southeast states that hold the ruins of dozens of ancient Mayan cities.

"Our voices were not heard. Once again, the government has acted without consulting us. The only ones who will benefit are corporations," Artemio Kaamal, general coordinator of the non- governmental Permanent Forum on Indigenous Policy Kuxa'ano'on (Mayan for 'we live'), told IPS.

"The focus is purely commercial, with no consideration for our culture, our roots, or our traditions," he said.

[. . .]

The campaign devised by the conservative government of Felipe Calderón will be conducted both in the country and in the United States, Europe, and Asia, and it is aimed at promoting the Mesoamerican region (present-day southeast Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras), where Mayan civilisation flourished.

With an investment of some 49 million dollars, the Maya World programme is expected to bring in 52 million domestic and foreign tourists and around 14 billion dollars in tourism-related income, including from a series of gastronomic, archaeological, and astronomical special events planned.

The apocalyptic forecasts are based on the Mayan calendar, which marks Dec. 21 as the end of a grand cycle of thirteen 144,000-day "baktuns", lasting 5,126 years, coinciding with the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.

According to Mayan historians, the 13 Baktun began on Aug. 11, 3114 BC, and when it ends this December it will simply mean that another 144,000-day "long count" will start.

The programme and promotions planned by the government focus on the contributions of Maya culture, avoiding all reference to the apocalyptic interpretations of the meaning of the end of this calendar cycle, which indigenous leaders and historians dismiss as misguided or even intentionally distorted or triggered by hysteria.

"Our members from central and southern Mexico report that they know nothing of the official events planned for their regions. We don't want this to be treated like Hollywood entertainment or a local-colour attraction. It has to do with history and the passage of generations; it's part of our spiritual heritage," Cecilio Solís, president of the Mexican Indigenous Tourism Network (RITA), told IPS.
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The southern French village of Bugarach may be able to use the mass settlement of cultists and sectarians fearing 2012 to spark a real estate-driven boom, but I don't blame the locals for fearing what might come.

The tiny southern French hamlet of Bugarach has drawn scrutiny from a government sect watchdog over droves of visitors who believe it is the only place in the world that will survive a 2012 Apocalypse.

A report by the watchdog, Miviludes, published on Wednesday said the picturesque village near Carcassonne should be monitored in the run-up to December 21, 2012, when many believe the world will end according to an ancient Mayan prophecy.

Miviludes was set up in 2002 to track the activity of sects, after a law passed the previous year made it an offence to abuse vulnerable people using heavy pressure techniques, meaning sects can be outlawed if there is evidence of fraud or abuse.

Surrounded in legend for centuries, Bugarach and its rocky outcrop, the Pic de Bugarach, have attracted an influx of New Age visitors in recent months, pushing up property prices but also raising the threat of financial scams and psychological manipulation, Miviludes said in its report.

"I think we need to be careful. We shouldn't get paranoid, but when you see what happened at Waco in the United States, we know this kind of thinking can influence vulnerable people," Miviludes president Georges Fenech told Reuters.

[. . .]

Bugarach, with a population of just 200, has long been considered magical, partly due to what locals claim is an "upside-down mountain" where the top layers of rock are older than the lower ones.

The Internet is awash with myths about the place -- that the mountain is surrounded by a magnetic force, that it is the site of a concealed alien base, or even that it contains an underground access to another world.

And now many have seized on it as the ultimate refuge with Doomsday rapidly approaching.

Alerted to an influx of visitors by the mayor of Bugarach, Fenech said he recently visited the area, and found six settlements in the surrounding countryside set up by members of the American Ramtha School of Enlightenment.

Other "gurus" and messianic groups have been organising fee-paying conferences at local hotels, according to Fenech. "This is big business," he told Reuters.
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Newt Gingrich is no longer a libertarian, it seems.

Newt Gingrich stood before thousands of evangelical churchgoers Sunday night to deliver a dire warning that nation's Christian roots are under attack.

"I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

The former House Speaker held up his own faith (he converted to Catholicism two years ago) as proof of his undying patriotism. He lashed out at the college professors and mainstream media he says are seeking to wipe out the Founding Father's Christian values. And he targeted the judges who he charges are effectively re-writing the Constitution.

[. . .]

The evening worship was a boisterous celebration of American patriotism. A 100-person choir sang "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" between hymns. The church's orchestra struck up the anthem for each of the five military branches and a loud cheer went up for veterans and active duty members who stood up during their song.

Gingrich said he hadn't intended to fight another political battle, and was looking forward to relaxing in private life after leaving public office. But in 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance was unconstitutional (the ruling was later overturned).

Yes, the contradiction inherent in having a "secular atheist country" that could also be "one dominated by radical Islamists" is glaring, especially given the relative proportions of atheists and Muslims in the United States and the popularity of the latter and ... but, then Gingrich was speaking to a highly specific audience not inclined to question outlandishness overmuch.

Gingrich was addressing Cornerstone Church, a megachurch in San Antonio, Texas, led by the Rev. John Hagee, an influential leader among American evangelicals. Hagee's endorsement of then-presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 was plagued by controversy.

McCain ultimately rejected the endorsement over remarks Hagee had made about the Holocaust, in which he appeared to say that Adolf Hitler had been fulfilling God's will by hastening the desire of Jews to return to Israel, in accordance with biblical prophecy.

"God says in Jeremiah 16: 'Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. ... Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them.' That would be the Jews,” Hagee had said in an earlier sermon.

“Then God sent a hunter,” his sermon continued. “A hunter is someone who comes with a gun, and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter."

McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement of his campaign after learning about the comments in May 2008. "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them,” McCain said at the time.

I've tagged this post with--among other tags--"clash of ideologies" and "clash of civilizations". Clearly, it merits both.
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It's been a busy news week, news month, news season. Over at his blog The Long View, John Reilly took note of the ways in which the standard institutions and conventions of the world--the durability of the Catholic Church as a moral standard given the catastrophic ridiculosities relating to the clerical abuse scandals, the destabilization of the global financial system in 2008 and the dampening down of expectations, and the ongoing Fukushima reactor crisis--were breaking down. This, Reilly suggests, fits into a broader trend of general breakdown and fear of some impending radical transformation.

What is one to say about such a dismaying constellation of events? Well, one might ask what a substantial number of Wall Street Journal readers are asking, The Bible is Coming True. Anyone Notice?.

To that I would say no, it isn't, at least not in the sense that it would have been possible to use the Bible to forecast these meltdowns. On the other hand, for several decades now I have taken apocalyptic anxiety very seriously. It is an important historiographical marker. Whenever a society thinks the age is about to end, it is usually onto something, if not necessarily the something it supposes. Thus, one of the cultural indicators I follow most closely is The Rapture Index. I do not believe in the Pretribulation Rapture (as distinguished from the Rapture of the Parousia), but that is as good a numerical measure of societal disquiet as you are likely to find.

The commentary that appears on the website is an acquired taste. However, we may note the estimable webmaster Todd's remarks about recent changes to the traffic his site has been receiving. This was posted a week before the Japanese earthquake:

If you think we might be a seeing a sharp rise in end-time activity, you would be correct. I've never seen a time when so many headlines are being ripped right from Bible prophecy. Over the past two months, Rapture Ready has had a 40-percent rise in its traffic load. A large portion of the hits come from thousands of people looking to see what Bible prophecy has to say about ongoing current events. Many of the key search subjects are related to earthquakes, the weather, the Middle East, and the economy... There is something very interesting about what is happening with the index now versus how it behaved in the past. A decade ago, the increases occurred in spikes.

The index would rocket up and then quickly fall back. Prophetic events would occur, then a low would follow. What we are seeing now is a relentless period of continuous activity.

Such sentiments are not confined to Christian chiliasts, of course, as we see here:

In his fiery style, Ahmadinejad, showed his messianic beliefs Friday, saying the world was witnessing a revolution managed by Imam Mehdi, the 12 Shiite imam who disappeared as a five-year-old in the 10th century and who Shiites believe would return on the judgement day.

"The final move has begun. We are in the middle of a world revolution managed by this dear (12th Imam). A great awakening is unfolding. One can witness the hand of Imam in managing it," said Ahmadinejad, wearing his trademark jacket.

There might be parallels with these collapses in conventional thinking in our decade and the "apocalypse culture" of post-Tito Yugoslavia, when all the pieties and successes of the Socialist Federal Republic were gone and people were left to devise their own replacement ideologies and activities and beliefs: punk rock, European integration, ethnic purity. And as Reilly notes, "apocalypse culture" thinking isn't active only in Western democracies: "Iran is a lively supporter of the overthrow of Colonel Gaddhafi. This may put them on the side of the angels (which angels we need not pause to consider), but such a policy is a little suicidal. The government of Iran is one step away from being decapitated by a flashmob." China and Russia, too, he argues.

What say you? Is this just a busy period in the news? Or is something more radical afoot? Is something slouching to Jerusalem to be born?

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  • At 3 Quarks Daily, Jenny White makes the point that Turkey's military-guided pluralism under Ataturk (for want of a better term) is highly historically contingent on specific developments in early 20th century Turkey. It can't be copied over easily.

  • Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton, after admitting to voting for the Conservatives in 2006, wonders how different the minority government's passive-aggressive approach towards opponents is from what's going on in Wisconsin.

  • At A (Budding) Sociologist’s Commonplace Book, Dan Hirschman celebrates his blog's third anniversary with links to his favourite posts.

  • Bluejacket 1862 is not positive on the idea of Britain opening up its banks to foreign ownership.

  • At Border Thinking, Laura Agustin comments on a recent report examining international marriage brokering as trafficking.

  • Burgh Diaspora links to a map showing GDP change by county in the United States. Florida, the interior South, and the Midwest look terrible.

  • Centauri Dreams describes the construction of new Internet protocols suitable for the light-minutes necessarily inserted into space travel.

  • The Russian-language photo blog [livejournal.com profile] centralasian has a post showing paintings from an exhibition of Swiss landscape painting.

  • In a guest post at City of Brass, Dean Esmay makes the point that Western ill-founded belief in the imminent Caliphate is so foolish it's destructive.

  • Amitai Etzioni draws from his personal experience to make the point that Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique deserve to be celebrated.

  • At Geocurrent Events, Martin Lewis notes the salience of tribal identity in Libya, and wonders why tribal identity isn't taken more seriously.

  • The Global Sociology Blog notes how the attitudes behind the sociological functionalism of Talcott Parsons, holding that each person had a specific place, helped push his brilliant daughter into killing herself.

  • Marginal Revolution speculates as to the sorts of people who'll remain famous far into the future. {People who symbolizes areas of human thought and achievement, like Jesus and Einstein, rank highly.

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Greg Bear, Eon
Originally uploaded by randyfmcdonald
I suppose that Greg Bear's 1985 novel Eon is, like its contemporary Rocheworld one of those science fiction novels that's better with its science than with its writing. Alma Hromic's 2002 review isn't entirely off.

Even in 1985, when the Cold War was still very much within living memory and the way of life it had dictated something familiar to every thinking reader out there, this book must have had a terribly anachronistic feel to it. The technology is there, the potential is there, but none of the characters seem to have evolved past the primal Cold Warrior types. The Americans come across as paranoid and greedy to keep all the treasures for themselves ("The Libraries were a purely American preserve... by order of the President," as though the American president could have the power of actually enforcing such an edict short of threatening to blow up the libraries if an impure and non-American foot ever crossed their threshold...), the Russians seem to be straight out of the worst parodies of early James Bond, the Chinese are kind of tapping in place trying to figure out what their role in all this is, and the rest of the nationalities up there seem to have been tossed in to season the polyglot nationalist salad. Eon, twenty years after its initial publication, suffers from this hindsight, to the extent that it sometimes gets so annoying and in-the-way that it's hard to concentrate on the storyline.

Then again, Arthur C. Clarke wrote novels with the same clichéd geopolitics (2010, anyone?) and arguably similar problems with believable characters and no one finds that particular cause to trash his works, do they?

Eon's fundamentally a work concerned with opening and closing possibilities. The opening comes when a vehicle bearing a suspicious resemblance to the asteroid Juno emerges in a burst of gamma rays at the edge of the Solar System and decelerates into Earth orbit. The explorers (NATO, Soviet, Chinese) who arrive discover not only a generation starship but--quickly hushed up--evidence that it was not only populated by humans, but that its inhabitants disappeared down a mysterious space-time corridor extending beyond, somehow. On the Earth, possibilities are starting to close down thanks to an intensifying Cold War, one that already broke out into a minor nuclear war, is getting worse as the different parties fear that the advanced technology of the generation starship could change everything. And in the meantime, the generation starship's descendents, living down the Way in their artificial city, are starting to be distracted from their trade and their wars with other factions in other places of their bizarre universe by events at home.

Early Greg Bear may not have been a convincing writer, but he was certainly good at depicting vast impressive things. His generation starship impresses; his depiction of an Earth on the verge of catastrophe scares; his depiction of the Way and its cities and its connections awes. And, at the novel's end he provides readers with another way to check whether or not they're in an alternate history. I can't go into the details of the plot in much detail since Eon is rather spoiler-heavy, but I can say that the novel is ultimately concerned with the characters' efforts to find some sort of home, perhaps particularly brilliant Los Angeleno physicist Patricia Vasquez to find her home again.

So. Read Eon for Bear's grand scheme. Don't read Eon looking for especially convincing characters or moving writing (although there is that one passage--no, no spoilers).
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I first reading about the apocalypse predicted by the Mayans in 2012 sometime in early 1990 when I read, in the January issue that year of Omni magazine, about the phenomenon in a listing of possible apocalypses. What's 2012 about? Let me cut and paste from the relevant Wikipedia article.

The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012, which is said to be the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae related to this date have been proposed.

A New Age interpretation of this transition posits that during this time Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios posited for the end of the world include the Earth's collision with a passing planet (often referred to as "Nibiru") or black hole, or the arrival of the next solar maximum.

Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of catastrophe in 2012. Mainstream Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the existing classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. The modern Maya do not consider the date significant, and the classical sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean.

It's all pseudoscience, of course. This talk turns out to be quite possibly basically, factually wrong; according to a researcher, the Mayan calendar was translated to the Gregorian incorrectly.

A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook "Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World" (Oxbow Books, 2010), argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years. That would throw the supposed and overhyped 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast into doubt the dates of historical Mayan events. (The doomsday worries are based on the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, much as our year ends on Dec. 31.)

The Mayan calendar was converted to today's Gregorian calendar using a calculation called the GMT constant, named for the last initials of three early Mayanist researchers. Much of the work emphasized dates recovered from colonial documents that were written in the Mayan language in the Latin alphabet, according to the chapter's author, Gerardo Aldana, University of California, Santa Barbara professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Later, the GMT constant was bolstered by American linguist and anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury, who used data in the Dresden Codex Venus Table, a Mayan calendar and almanac that charts dates relative to the movements of Venus.

"He took the position that his work removed the last obstacle to fully accepting the GMT constant," Aldana said in a statement. "Others took his work even further, suggesting that he had proven the GMT constant to be correct."

But according to Aldana, Lounsbury's evidence is far from irrefutable.

"If the Venus Table cannot be used to prove the GMT as Lounsbury suggests, its acceptance depends on the reliability of the corroborating data," he said. That historical data, he said, is less reliable than the Table itself, causing the argument for the GMT constant to fall "like a stack of cards."

The term "cultural appropriation" is one I'm leery about using, but in this case, the appropriation of the traditional Mayan calendar by New Agers on the basis of sloppy "research" intent on dating their rapturous apocalypse, it's a term that's entirely correct. I detest it when indigenous peoples are used as sockpuppets for the latest cause of the month--indigenous peoples, and their individuals, deserve to be treated with the basic respect owing every other culture and everyone else.


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