Earth-like planet “already discovered” by Greek explorers

 

proximab

The discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting the solar system’s closest star, 4.22 light years away, has caused great excitement among the scientific community and excited the imagination of ordinary people across the globe. Proxima Centauri b, as it has been dubbed by scientists, has characteristics that suggest that it may offer suitable conditions for hosting life, and as such may, in time, offer an escape destination for humans once they have depleted the usable resources of their home planet and/or are driven to escape by intra-planetary strife.

Much of the initial reporting has focussed on the practicalities of establishing the physical characteristics of the newly discovered “exoplanet”, with the viability of human colonisation being seen as a very distant prospect by serious researchers. However, new evidence has emerged to suggest that even this seemingly distant haven has already been “discovered” by enterprising Greek explorers.

paralia

Images retrieved from the European Extremely Large Telescope and subjected to detailed analysis in the laboratory have revealed hut-like structures closely resembling the Aegean “Type 1” buildings of the Middle Anthropocene, including evidence of Greek script. Although scientists were initially excited by the prospect of discovering life on another planet, epigraphers were able to confirm that the etchings were in fact modern Greek writing. One translated as “Freddo €4.50”, apparently refers to a cold beverage popular in the early 21st century AD, whose distribution is confined to the southern tip of the Balkan penninsula. Archaeo-economists note that the price, quoted in the currency of the time, is vastly inflated compared to that prevailing in surviving records from the mother-planet.

Although scientists were initially hopeful that Proxima b offers a water-rich environment, finds in the area of the makeshift structure suggest that bottled water was imported to the site in small plastic bottles, labelled €1.50 each (approximately three times the regulated Earth price of the time).

Other features appear to confirm the Greek origins of the early colonists of Proxima b. There is a hastily constructed track on the approach to the structure that appears to have been cleared by a bulldozer under cover of darkness (incidentally confirming that the planet did indeed rotate about its axis, another condition for supporting life). Concrete bollards made from used 5-litre olive oil tins and rebar demarcated a flat area, clearly destined for “reserved” space vessel parking. The rusting remains of after-market modified beach buggy (circa 2003 AD), with decals advertising surfing gear and Camel cigarettes were also identified at the site.

Scientists are torn as to the significance of this latest find, and some clearly feel that they have been robbed of the joy of discovery: “Just when you think you’ve found a quiet unspoiled spot in a friendly galaxy where you can really get away from it all, you find some wide boy has got there first and ruined it,” said one bitter boffin, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardising his research grant for three months’s prime telescope time in Hawaii or Mallorca (“depending on the weather and the availability of female co-researchers, but definitely NOT the Atacama desert. No beaches, you see”).

IMAGES: Artist’s impression of the surface of Proxima Centauri b (ESO); artists’s impression of the hut-like structure on Proxima Centauri b (@atlantis_host).

 

Advertisements
Earth-like planet “already discovered” by Greek explorers

Vapour, smoke and mirrors

polakis1

It is now one year since Yiayia first voiced her concerns on the alarming dimensions of the tobacco epidemic in Greece, and the Sunday edition of Kathimerini thoughtfully reported on the latest figures on smoking and “vaping” (“άτμισμα”, “atmisma”, i.e., electronic smoking) in Greece. This report was also well-timed, because the present Minister of Health, Andreas Xanthou has recently announced the planned introduction of legislation to forbid the use of electronic cigarettes in public places. Meanwhile, his Deputy Minister, Pavlos Polakis, a surgeon by profession, openly flouts the smoking ban in work places by lighting up in the canteen in Parliament and at press conferences in the Ministry – part of a lovingly cultivated “Cretan mountain man” persona which also includes composing threatening verse in the traditional mantináda style directed at his adversaries, and Berlusconi-style rants alleging corruption in the judiciary.

The debate over electronic cigarettes continues, with evidence to show that their use as a source of nicotine helps smokers to quit, and other evidence to suggest that new users will get addicted to nicotine and then graduate to smoking “the real thing”. Nicotine itself is harmful to the blood vessels and other elastic tissues, so “vapes” themselves are not entirely harmless to the user. Regardless of the debate, “vaping” has caught on in Greece, and the sales of electronic cigarette products is one of the few domains that has flourished during the crisis, with 300 registered specialty stores and over 1,000 sales points now operating throughout Greece. Kathemerini quotes current estimates of 200,000 systematic “vapers” among the Greek population.

Yiayia, being suspicious of what she reads in the newspapers (ever since being misquoted by the local rag at the tender age of 10), resorted to the primary source, in this case the Hellenic Statistical Authority ELSTAT, which publishes information on all aspects of life and death in Greece (no wisecracks about “Greek statistics” please; no doubt there is the inevitable conspiracy angle here too if you go looking for it, but in my professional experience I always found them reliable, professional and cooperative where population and health data were concerned). Every 5 years a Health Interview Survey (HIS) is conducted, and the findings of the most recent survey in 2014 were published this year (in English). The report shows that the percentage of regular smokers in Greece has fallen from 32% in 2009 to 27.3% in 2014, continuing a welcome trend that we noted in an earlier post. Is it possible that the Ministry of Health warnings on cigarette packets, the health education activities, the anti-smoking campaigns and the restriction on smoking in public places are actually producing results? Perhaps it is also the decreased spending power of smokers in the crisis. Although these findings are encouraging, the idea that more than one quarter of the population are still putting themselves, and the rest of us, at risk, is still alarming and is rightfully described as one of the biggest public health problems facing Greece today.

The rationale for restricting vaping is not clear. Second hand vape may be annoying to those at the next table, in the way that taking selfies or dowsing oneself in Poison are, but at least it is not loaded with the carcinogens of exhaled cigarette smoke. And arguably the government’s efforts would be better directed at enforcing existing laws, starting in their own back yard, rather than issuing new edicts. Although the existing smoking ban is largely observed in public offices and banks, it is acknowledged that its enforcement in bars, coffee shops and eating places has met with spectacular failure. This failure is confirmed by the report cited above, whose figures show that of the people who chose to eat or drink out, nine in ten had recently experienced passive smoking in coffee shops/bars, and eight in ten in restaurants/tavernas. If these numbers are anything to go by, the “vapers” have no more to fear than the traditional Greek smokers from the introduction of legislation to restrict their habit…

Image via kathimerini.gr

Vapour, smoke and mirrors

“Comrade Tsipras, say something left-wing…”

CarracciHercules

What follows is a translation of an op-ed article published in Ephemerida ton Syntakton, a left-leaning independent newspaper, on the 21st August 2016. The author is Dr Stelios Stylianidis, Professor of Social Psychiatry at the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens. Stylianidis is a campaigner for mental health reform in Greece, and commented extensively in the media on the spike in suicide rates during the economic crisis, which became a rallying point of the anti-austerity movement that ultimately brought Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza to power (twice) in 2015*. The article presents a critical perspective on Greece from within Greece that is not often given an airing outside the country,  where much of the commentary, particularly from the left, falls back on the overly simplistic and ultimately unhelpful story of an unequal contest between externally-imposed austerity policies and internal suffering, resistance and capitulation. 

I only know the author from his published writings. I have taken the liberty of inserting clarifications [in square brackets] where I felt they were helpful, and adding hyperlinks to previous posts and external sources where they illustrate the arguments put forward. My interjections do not necessarily express the the views of the author, and vice versa.

“On the 29th June 2013, on a well-known political programme on Italian TV, the left-wing film director Nanni Moretti [of Caro Diario fame] addressed the then secretary of the Partito Democratico [the Italian centre-left party whose current incarnation is governing Italy under PM Matteo Renzi] with a phrase that became etched on the thwarted world of the Italian Left: “Comrade d’Alema, say something left-wing, or at least say something[in fact, the iconic outburst in which Moretti shouts at his TV screen where d’Alema is being steamrollered by a bloviating Silvio Berlusconi, first appeared in Moretti’s 1998 film Aprile, as recounted here].

After eighteen months of government by the “first time Left” [as Syriza refer to themselves, despite being preceded by several years of Socialist government under PASOK, and governing with the support of the right-wing nationalist party ANEL], and coming from the ranks of the Reformist Left, I would like to put forward three basic questions regarding this brief but historic experience for our country.

My questions do not claim to evaluate the totality of government, but set out in outline certain matters that are connected with historical culture of the Left.

1. Does the Left really have the moral advantage over its historical rivals?

A basic distinction between the anomie, corruption and clientelism of the old political system and the new one should be one of values, what [the influential Italian Communist Party secretary] Enrico Berlinguer termed in 1981 the “moral superiority of the Left”, with reference to the capture of the state.

I often hear friends and members of the governing Left put forward the fundamental argument that if we do not replace the old cadres and mechanisms that resist all progressive reform with our own people, then the imperative for change that the Left represents will remain unfulfilled.

However, to the extent that the age-old means of clientelism are being reproduced toward another end, that end itself is cancelled out. Some illustrative examples:

  • The “war on oligarchy” is being fought selectively and piecemeal, through a replacement of the old entangled establishment with a new generation of market players, who are not themselves distinguished for the transparency of their business dealings nor for their independence from government.
  • The replacement of many high-ranking civil servants of proven technocratic experience and a track record of effective delivery with officials whose CVs are limited to party titles is a strong indicator of a corruption of conscience through the voluntaristic capture of the state. The traditional cultural affinity of the Left with meritocracy and progress is replaced by a vulgar contest of party cliques.
  • The imperative of social justice, of redistribution of wealth and the protection of the impoverished victims of the neoliberal onslaught is not well served by the uncritical over-taxation of the middle class (the salaried and the pensioners, the self employed and the small businesses), which leaves intact the shadow economy, black marketeering and parasitic practices which are still entrenched in the state.

2. Why is the Left afraid of knowledge and innovation?

With the advent of the third Memorandum [the creditor agreement signed by the Syriza-ANEL government in July 2015], we see the continued absence of a national plan for the productive reorganisation of Greece, the encouragement of islands of innovation, the creation of a benign environment for new investments, the creation of research institutions connected to the development needs of the country.

What is it that prevents the Ministers responsible and their teams from creating a broader circle of collaboration and knowledge-sharing that would enable them to set targets and assessment mechanisms, and develop an alternative national development plan?

How can one explain the institutionalised distrust towards a multitude of innovative proposals that are being put forward (for example with regards to the use of EU structural funds) to every relevant government department, and which could transform the recessionary climate as well as our country’s credibility in the eyes of foreign partners? From what possible credible working hypothesis on the improvement of education can we draw the sly argument for the abolition of university entry standards that would boost acceptance rates into low-demand university departments?

Is it possible that the wariness towards any form of public-private partnership that might benefit state universities and support our collapsing educational infrastructure is based purely on an ideological dichotomy of public = good, private = bad?

Can tackling of the humanitarian crisis (a central campaign slogan of Syriza) possibly be limited to the support of food banks and social clinics in local authorities, without the existence of a national plan to improve healthcare, mental health policy and welfare?

The international knowledge-sharing on offer, and our own accumulated experience in higher education establishments from participating in international research networks, cannot possibly be leading us to reinvent the wheel in the year 2016.

Islands of innovation and good practice do exist in our own country, and are recognised by our international partners, but are obscured domestically by the guardians of party-political correctness.

3. Can left-wing populism truly offer a rational means of analysis of our reality and its pathologies?

The proclamations of a return to the pre-memorandum state of being, the excitation of collective sentiment, the rewarding of simplifying and primitive thinking, the manifold divisions, the shallow courting of the crowd by the leader, are these really left-wing imperatives?

By accepting that the international balance of power was weighted against the Left, trumping their original self-deception, they nevertheless let it be implied that the maturity and wisdom of the people will eventually triumph through some muscular guidance from the Left.

This narrative of the Left obscures the basic observation of many scholars that the country not only faces an enormous accumulation of problems, but is itself a begetter of its problems.

A devastated society, inundated in self-delusions, denials, ignorance, self-centredness, depression, despair and passivity must once again be educated through new types of populist delusions.

Is it really possible that we can continue to protect special interest groups, party politics, and clientelism, and promise growth without radical change, without deeper self-awareness of our collective failures, and without acknowledgment of individual responsibility?

I am deeply convinced that there can be an agenda of progressive, left-wing reforms, even in the midst of economic hardship, that would signify the new exemplar of government that this country so badly needs.

Sadly, Massimo d’Alema never did respond to Nanni Moretti’s entreaty.”


* More recent evidence thankfully shows the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among the Greek population to have retreated to pre-crisis levels as early 2013, however the broader crisis in mental health provision continues.

IMAGE: “The Choice of Hercules” by Annibale Caracci.

 

“Comrade Tsipras, say something left-wing…”

Monumental evidence of wealth-destroying “tournaments of value” in the Middle Anthropocene

Abstract

This paper puts forward a new interpretation for the monumental earthworks recorded across the continental masses of the planet Earth, dating to the Middle Anthropocene period. This study seeks to refute previous interpretations in favour of a new theory, namely that these monumental structures represent the material remains of symbolically charged ritual events which can be seen as an expression of societal stress in a period of rapid transitions and environmental decline.

canoekayak
A well-preserved earthwork of the early 3rd millennium AD, with elaborate ditch-and-bank features, usage unknown (Athens).

Introduction

Monumental constructions and earthworks have been documented on the outskirts of a number of large conurbations dating to the Middle Anthropocene period (late 2nd/early 3rd millennium AD) in widely separated parts of continental Earth. The mystery surrounding these structures has been enhanced by the paucity of the contemporary documentary record due to the Great Solar Storms of the mid-3rd millennium AD, which erased most of the predominantly digital records of the period, leaving only fragmentary texts from which to reconstruct the contemporary literary, political and economic milieu.

The monuments have in common a massive scale but show a variety of shapes and functional forms. Some are simply banks of spectator seating arranged amphitheatrically around flat areas and circuits of varying shapes and dimensions; others contain trenches and water-filled lustral basins of unknown purpose; the most puzzling ones include elaborate curvilinear ditch-and-bank earthworks, combined with mysterious mounds (see above). They were often located on the margins of existing habitations, after the land was extensively cleared, perhaps in a ritual purging, removing all traces of previous activity.

swimmingpool
Abandoned lustral basin, usage unknown. It is believed that the chair is a later intrusion. (Athens).

Stylistically, the structures are defined by a collection of common traits which has come to be known as the “International Startchitect Koiné”: exaggerated monumentality, the use of rare materials and elaborate construction techniques, the labour-intensity of the construction, the dominance of form over function are all features of this universal style, which becomes more elaborate as the period progresses. The structures could accommodate several thousand people and are believed to have taken years to construct using imported labour that may have been drawn from lower castes, forced or indentured, and there is some evidence to suggest that the grizzly custom of human foundation sacrifice was practiced to secure the buildings’ foundations. Mysteriously, most of the structures appear to have been put to very limited use, as attested by the unusually light wear patterns in their furnishings.

aquaticcentre
Artist’s impression of a ritual structure in the “International Starchitect Style”, housing several lustral basins of unknown usage (London).

The function of the monuments has puzzled archaeologists and the fascinated the general public for generations. Earlier scholars posited that such structures were the remnants of extra-terrestrial civilisations, so alien did they appear within the human landscape. However, through recently published cross-cultural studies with our extra-terrestrial colleagues we are now able to discount these rather fanciful theories. The argument that the monuments are “visible from outer space” is in our view an ex post fact rationalisation reflecting an Earth-centric bias in the scholarship of the time. Another interpretation suggested that they were defensive structures; however, evidence of damage by artillery fire and mass burials has been shown to post-date the initial phase of their use. We use the fragmentary documentary evidence in conjunction with the archaeological remains to propose a radically different interpretation that does not require the presence of alien visitors, but rather explains the extraordinary structures in the context of complex ideations and value systems of contemporary societies, as they sought to respond to increased global interaction, social pressures and rapid climatic change.

Towards an alternative interpretation

Previous scholarly attempts to explain the purpose of these structures have tended to focus on functionalist interpretations, for example that they were defensive in nature, or that they were initiated with the aim of mobilising labour for productive purposes, on the model of Amish barn-raisings. We have found very little evidence to support such theories. Instead, we would argue that the immense mobilisation of labour and resources for ephemeral or even single-use purposes have more in common with the types of practices that anthropologists refer to as “total prestations” or “tournaments of value”, systems of gift-giving with political, religious, kinship and economic implications. These are are marked by the competitive exchange of gifts, in which gift-givers seek to out-give their competitors so as to capture important political, kinship and religious roles. Examples of this include the “potlatches” of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada, during which chieftains competed to distribute gifts such as blankets, animal skins and ritual instruments, and enhanced their social standing by ritually destroying them in large bonfires. In contrast with western industrial economies, status in these societies was achieved in such events not by accumulating wealth, but by giving it away or destroying it in a conspicuous manner.

image
Artist’s impression of Middle Anthropocene ritual. The female priestess (?) is thought to be lighting a torch to be used for the conspicuous destruction of wealth through incineration (a ritual known as “The Burning of the the Money”).

It may be seen as a paradox that such “primitive” practices could be found in “advanced” human societies. It is useful to bring to bear here the documentary record, which, though fragmentary, offers glimpses into a sophisticated ideational construct surrounding these mysterious material remains. Studies have shown that the official religion of the Middle Anthropocene centred on the dogma of “economic rationality”, which at the height of the construction of these buildings had entered the phase known as “late capitalism”. Within this value system, the driving force was the individual’s (or group’s) maximisation of material wealth by the most efficient means. This appears to be borne out by meticulous administrative documentation relating to the preparation and building of the structures. In these documents, the priestly castes frequently invoke religious terms such as “cost/benefit” and “economic impact analysis” in order to present the projects in an “economically sound” light.

At the same time, a seemingly contradictory body of evidence associates the very same projects with metaphysical concepts such as “regeneration”, “sustainability” and “legacy” – a clear nod to the mystical Dionysiac concept of death and rebirth. It is clear from the literature that this belief system viewed the structures as part of a cosmogonic ritual aimed at summoning up “world peace”. An apocryphal text known as the “Olympic Spirit” exhorts participants “to build a peaceful and better world […] to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place”.

Despite being mutually contradictory and internally inconsistent, these belief systems seem to have coexisted in tandem for over a century, and were surprisingly resilient to critique. We have, for example, ample contemporary evidence of criticism that the structures and the rituals associated with them did not in fact deliver the promised economic salvation but instead guaranteed balance sheet damnation, while others pointed out that there was no correlation between the rituals and world peace, or that the events resulted in debt, displacement, and militarisation of public space” and some accused the elders entrusted with organising them of corruption. It is thought that such criticism was regarded as heretical and its exponents punished severely, but the fate of the critics is not recorded.

wenlockmandeville
Wenlock and Mandeville, the Cyclopean guardians of London.

 

Little is known about what actually took place within the monumental structures. From the associated waste dumps it is clear that ritual feasting played a great part in the activities. With time, the paraphernalia associated with consumption became increasingly formalised, and ritual vessels more often than not bear the mysterious “Golden Arches of Consecration”. It is also known that those attending the rituals partook of a beverage served in a distinctive steatopygous glass vessel, whose recipe was closely guarded in a temple vault – perhaps an aphrodisiac or a fertility elixir. Each ritual site seems to have been presided over by a distinct monstrous deity or anthropomorphic animal spirit (above), clearly intended to induce a holy terror in the participants. Some claim to have found evidence of athletic contests, however we believe that such evidence is too scant to merit consideration here.

A car driven by a student of a driving school slowly moves around the carpark in front of the deserted 2008 Beijing Olympics venue for the cycling competition in central Beijing
A “sacred ruin”, venerated by later generations; note the preservation of empty space around the monument (Beijing).

The resilience of the belief system that fuelled these “tournaments of value” is further evidenced by the respect with which the monuments were often treated after their initial construction. Although subsequent generations appear to have forgotten the original purpose of the structures, they often venerated them as sacred ruins by preserving them intact and allowing the land around them to lie fallow. It is likely that only the more prosperous hosts that were able to do this, while others were forced to adapt and reuse the structures as their circumstances dictated. Occasionally, the structures were put to temporary use, as is evidenced in Phase VIIb of the Hellenikon Rhomboid Structure which appears to have been repurposed as a temporary habitation site during the “great migration” of the early 21st century AD (below).

 

baseball
Artist’s rendering of Phase VIIb of the Hellenikon Rhomboid Structure, showing densely packed temporary habitation structures.

An ancient precedent?

Recently, scholars have suggested that the structures and and the rituals associated with them find a direct antecedent in religious festivals dating two and a half millennia earlier, and have adopted the term “Olympic” to describe them, alluding to the largest of these earlier festivals. However, despite sharing many features with these earlier practices, the long hiatus between the two sets of events leads us to posit that we are in fact dealing with a Hobsbawmian “invented tradition”: by adopting self-consciously archaising practices, emergent elites seek to legitimise their status by demonstrating their continuity with a quasi-mythical past.

It is suggested here that such practices arose as a way of bolstering a fragile global hierarchy and establishing social cohesion in an era when a rise in the overall living standards on the planet was accompanied by increased competition for resources and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. Testing this hypothesis, however, is beyond the scope of the current paper.

Further documentation of the mysterious structures and their history of re-use here, as artillery defences and as a prison.

Further reading on the future archaeology of the Middle Anthropocene: “Our Piece of Paradise: Patterns of Coastal Habitation…”


IMAGES: Athens 2004 canoe/kayak venue by Milos Bicanski; Athens 2004 training pool by Associated Press; London 2012 Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects; Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic Mascots via Rainbow Productions; Beijing 2008 velodrome by REUTERS/David Gray; Athens 2004 baseball stadium by Jai Mexis & Partners via This American Life.

Monumental evidence of wealth-destroying “tournaments of value” in the Middle Anthropocene