It’s not just humans that still reel from the effects of a trauma many years later

It’s not just humans that still reel from the effects of a trauma many years later: ecosystems do too. Thousands of years after human hunters wiped out big land animals like giant ground sloths, the ecosystems they lived in are still experiencing the effects.

Michael Marshall, “Kill all the big beasts, impoverish an ecosystem”, New Scientist 17 August 2013, p. 13

‘in thrall to a sense of space and time that might not exist beyond ourselves’

“We think time and position and so on are important variables for describing the world because we evolved to perceive them. But whatever is going on down there doesn’t seem to worry about them at all.”

– Terence Rudolph, Professor of Quantum Physics, Imperial College London

“Rudolph doesn’t have an answer – no one does. But he reckons the problem is that we are still hopelessly anthropocentric. The growing disconnection between our experience of the world and the results of quantum experiments, he says, are simply a modern version of the ever-more-complex epicycles that Ptolomy and those who followed him used to explain the motions of the heavenly bodies. The problem back then was that we could only see the planets as revolving around Earth; it took Copernicus to turn things around, and suddenly all was plain and simple.”

All from Michael Brookes, “Reality Check”, New Scientist 3 August 2013, 33-36

Interesting use of “we”. Beyond anthropocentrics: Time and Me

“No single feature of our universe is more in need of explanation than the forward march of time,

yet physics and cosmology have so far failed to explain this basic fact of nature…”

Lee Smolin, “It’s time to rewrite time”, New Scientist, 20 April 2013, pp. 30-31

“…The only way we can explain the time asymmetry of our universe [that time only goes in one direction] is some mathematical trickery which involves choosing special solutions to time symmetric laws. Which is to say it is not explained at all.”

“Ever since Rene Descartes in the 17th century, time has been represented as if it were just a dimension of space. This culminated in the “block universe” conception of general relativity in which the present moment has no meaning – all that exists is the whole history of the universe at once, timelessly. When laws of physics are represented mathematically, causal processes which are the activity of time are represented by timeless logical implications….

“The idea that nature consists fundamentally of atoms with immutable properties moving through unchanging space, guided by timeless laws, underlies a metaphysical view in which time is absent or diminished. This view has been the basis for centuries of progress in science, but its usefulness for fundamental physics and cosmology has come to an end due to its inability to answer key questions…A new scientific world view is emerging based on the principles that time is real, laws evolve and irreversibility is fundamental…”






10 September 1956 pt 2

Stars and Stripes ( I think –  it may have been a different paper), put it this way:

sept10-1956-thumbUSAF Bomber Tracking Typhoon Emma Vanishes With 16 Aboard

From The News Services

TOKYO, Sept. 10 – A U.S. Air Force bomber, with 16 crewmen aboard, disappeared over the Sea of Japan today while tracking a typhoon that left a 1,0000-mile-long trail of death and devastation in its wake.

A huge air-sea search was set into motion after the big RB-50, carrying six officers and 10 enlisted airmen, failed to return to its Yokota base, near Tokyo, from a weather reconnaissance flight.

THE BOMBER was last heard from in a radio message reporting its position as 200 miles northwest of Niigata off the west coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island.

Far East Air Force Headquarters in Tokyo later announced that the plane was officially listed missing one hour after the time it’s [sic] fuel supply would have run out in flight.

At the time it vanished, the plane was collecting directional and wind velocity data on Typhoon Emma.

Typhoon Emma was blamed for 50 deaths and multimillion dollar property losses in Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines.

Winds in the center were down to 90 miles an hour when U.S. Air Force weather planes pinpointed it 200 miles northwest of southern Honshu, Japan. The winds had been 156 miles an hour over Okinawa Saturday and 115 miles an hour over Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost home island yesterday.

TWENTY-NINE persons were reported killed in Japan, one in South Korea and three on Okinawa. Okinawa fatalities included a military policeman and two Ryukyu Islanders. Six drowned in the Philippines in weekend floods on the typhoon’s edge.

Last Wednesday 11 U.S. Marines who had gone swimming off a north Okinawa beach were drowned in an undertow laid to the typhoon.

The U.S. Army said Emma was “the worst Typhoon disaster of the last decade” on Okinawa, site of numerous American bases, where it lasted 36 hours. Forty-three Okinawans and 15 Americans were injured, 9 of the Americans severely. Damage was estimated in the millions of dollars.

A preliminary report said 1,701 houses, 2,230 miscellaneous buildings, and 84 public buildings were destroyed and other buildings damaged.

 Personally, as a child, I was proud of a father who could fly into a typhoon. I did not apply my imagination to his experience, and resisted the imaginations of others. His mother, my grandmother, lay beside me on a bed in Prescott and in tears shared the hope that he had  crashed and was being held prisoner by the Chinese. I felt at the time that it was the wrong thing to be imposing on a child. My mother had no noticeable doubts, because he had kissed her during a service of prayer for the missing men; and even before the plane was declared missing had had a prescience while ironing and had found herself saying out loud “But what am I to do with the children?”

But the truth is important; and whatever the truth might be, the story which we were given and which I grew up with, which I shared in various classrooms as we moved around, which shaped who I am and formed a stable point in a changing world, was not true.

Why don’t we edit master recordings?

One of those truths we hold to be self-evident as archivists and oral historians is that we don’t mess with an original audio or video recording. If it is born digital, preferably in a non-lossy format, we create a clone; and if we feel it necessary to edit, we then edit the clone. If the recording is carried on older tape or film media we certainly don’t cut and splice. We leave the original, the master recording, alone.

Why? With physical media, cutting and splicing undermines the physical integrity of the medium. In materials which are sandwiched together only through the force of human ingenuity and the strength of molecular bonds, we break those bonds with a blade, force the stumps together, and overlay them with the assault of a kind of over-arching sticking plaster which doesn’t really want to be there, and which immediately begins laying chemical plans to come away, plans which are aided and abetted by the bump, grind and friction of the mechanical playback mechanism, and possibly by atmospheric dust and organisms which slipped in between stump edge and stump edge or got trapped in the glue of the splice during surgery. The digital equivalent I guess would be translating a non-lossy format file, like .wav, into a lossy format file, like .mp3, and throwing away the original: It’s not an exact equivalent, because in the latter case it is more like taking an algorithmic brillo pad to the entire recording, mathematically scrubbing out audio data that experience says the ear will not miss. But in both cases the fullness and integrity of the original is irreversibly destroyed; a part of the world that used to be is no more, and can not be restored.

But editing as such is more than an assault on the integrity of the original; it eliminates context, it eliminates accountability, and it undermines the evidential authority and authenticity of the interview. Editing the original/the master means that it is impossible to know what has been lost, and how and why the interview has been manipulated. The editor will have one set of reasons for eliminating material, which they may or may not be able to articulate; but there may (indeed, almost certainly will) be losses the editor is not aware of (the history of archaeology illustrates how this works); or bias, or unconscious processes at work which the editor can’t, won’t, and/or doesn’t put into the record. The edited recording becomes an account; it is no longer an authoritative document.

10 September 1956 pt 1

One of the key archival issues the “Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children” project set out to tackle was the problem of the Data Protection Act, both in its specific terms, and in the more general miasma it has created around personal files, amplifying a built in conservatism when it comes to sharing information with former children in care and other ‘vulnerable’ people, whose access to information in files about them threatens to destabilise institutional equilibrium.

We were aware, as archivists and oral historians,  of the enormous absence which lives inside persons who, as children, find themselves torn out of the ground of the everyday and grafted into a strange new life;  who may thrive there, or who may find themselves  pulled up again and re-grafted elsewhere, sometimes many times; but who find in documents, files, and the memories of people who once knew them a promise of Something which the rest of us take for granted; and which we therefore can’t imagine their need for: Until the power of it is encountered. The need is so powerful that it is never entirely rational; and it presents challenges which a traditionally imagined and structured archives service is not designed to meet, especially when encumbered by the involuted language of the Data Protection Act, and the threat everywhere of legal action if you get the interpretation of the Act and its various Guidances wrong.

The principle of giving access as freely as possible to those people for whom it means most; vs. the Dark Abyss of its consequences. The “Other People’s Children” project was designed to work this boundary: to find the real as opposed to the imagined legal and moral limits of the possible; to engage the subjects themselves in the process; and to test and establish protocols and procedures which could then be shared and used by other archive services, to reduce the risk and effort required by others to legally and safely open up as much material to its subjects as possible; and in that way to address, as far as humanly and institutionally possible, that great absence, which subtracts so much from the well-being and happiness of the world.

That project began in 2010. It was not, in its own terms, fully successful; something partly discussed in the Final Report of the “Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children” project. “Institutions” are people, expressed in particular ways; and former children, and archivists, and oral historians, and other people are all expressions of institutionalisations whose differences require more time, and more emotional and intellectual resources to bring into full communication, than we had, given all of the other work and issues being handled at the time. But what was personally significant for me was a phone call that a cousin I didn’t know I had, in America, received from someone purporting to be working on behalf of the United States  government, and seeking relatives of the late Capt. Rodger Alan Fees to take DNA samples by which his remains might be identified. As my brother and I are pretty well present on the Internet, and on the face of it are more closely related to our father than a distant until-then unknown cousin (who had just moved in to her new house in a new town, adding to the mystery), my initial reaction included “barge pole” and “don’t touch”. As it turned out, however, the query was legitimate. The American government has a program of finding and bringing home all of its lost servicemen and women, from whatever conflict or war (including the American Civil War); and they needed mitochondrial DNA, the kind most strongly passed down through the maternal side, to potentially identify him. So Paul and I and our sister were less useful than my cousin or, in the end, my Aunts, my father’s sisters.

But the inference I drew from this contact was that they had found remains, and they thought they might be my father’s. They hadn’t; it was part of a long-term project of building a database; establishing an archive for identification. But a hole, which covered a chasm, had been opened up; a charnel house of memories which coincided nicely with the issues, the anger, the uncertainties and unknowns, and the hopes, and joys and devastations we were exploring with archives and oral history in the “Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children” project.




Quote of the Week

Every day I wake up to the face of God, and forget to recognise it” . I’m not sure when I first came across this, or in what form – the ‘and’ can become a ‘but’, and so transform the inner narrative of the aphorism; ‘Every’ can become ‘Each’; ‘day’ can become ‘morning’; ‘face’ become ‘fear’, and so on, with each transformation changing its meaning. This is probably the gentlest version, with the substitution of ‘fear’ one of the more interesting and challenging.