Friday, August 22, 2014

The Universe

“A little known secret concerning life in the jungles of time and space is that however far you reach, you will go farther. However great your dreams, they will be grander. And however much you love, you will be loved much more. We call it the Law of Increasing Returns. Reach, dream, love.”
“Love you much more,” 
    The Universe

“Thoughts become things... choose the good ones!”

Musical Interlude: Roger Waters, “The Tide Is Turning”

Roger Waters, “The Tide Is Turning”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“From an altitude of over 5,000 meters, the night sky view from Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes is breathtaking in more ways than one. The dark site's rarefied atmosphere, at about 50 percent sea level pressure, is also extremely dry. That makes it ideal for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) designed to explore the universe at wavelengths over 1,000 times longer than visible light. 
 Click image for larger size.
Near the center of the the panoramic scene, ALMA's 7 and 12 meter wide dish antennas are illuminated by a young Moon nestled in the arc of the Milky Way. ALMA's antenna configurations are intended to achieve a resolution comparable to space telescopes by operating as an interferometer. At left, a meteor's streak and the Milky Way's satellite galaxies, the Large (bottom) and Small Magellanic Clouds grace the night.”

Chet Raymo, “A Fishy Tale”

“A Fishy Tale”
by Chet Raymo

"As dumb as a goldfish. I mean, what could be dumber than swimming around in murky water all day - glassy eyed, slimy scaled, cold blooded - waiting for someone to sprinkle food flakes into the pond or tank. On a scale of smarts, goldfish would seem to fall somewhere between a limpet and a stone.

Conventional wisdom has it that fish have a memory span of about a second. But conventional wisdom, it turns out, is wrong. Goldfish are not the dummies they are made out to be. Scientists at Plymouth University in England have successfully trained goldfish to push a lever to get food, and - get this - to do it at the same hour every day. And the fish remember what they have been taught for months. Not exactly the science story of the year, but it does cause one to reflect on the nature of memory. What's going on in those tiny ichthyic brains that lets the goldfish remember when and where to go for dinner?

Scientists now overwhelming believe that memories are stored as webs of connections between spider-shaped brain cells called neurons. Each neuron is connected through electrochemical connections to thousands of others. According to the current view, experience fine-tunes the connections, strengthening some, weakening others, creating a different "trace" of interconnected cells for each memory. As the goldfish were trained by the British scientists, a cobwebby tangle of neurons was established in their brains: "Over here, push the lever. It's supper time."

If there is something in the human body that can fairly be called a soul, it is surely that ineffable electrochemical web of connections that was partly bequeathed to us by our genes and partly records a lifetime of experience - including, of course, the cultural preferences we absorbed from our parents and teachers. Some folks are put off by the idea of an electrochemical soul, and prefer the older notion of a self that is independent of our physical bodies. As for myself, I love the notion of that effervescent cobweb of neuronal connections contrived of the ineluctable stuff of creation by 4 billion years of evolution. And I love too the way the new idea of soul binds us in a seamless web to all other creatures, goldfish included, and to the fabric of the universe itself."

The Daily "Near You?"

Neptune, New Jersey, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"The Human Condition"

"The Human Condition"
by Meanings of Life

"Man remains largely unknown of himself. What are we, in our innermost recesses, behind our names and our conventional opinions? What are we behind the things we do in our lives, behind what we see in others and what others see in us, or even behind things science says we are? Is man the crazy being about whom Carl Gustav Jung spoke ironically, when he demanded a man to treat? Is man the Dr. Jerkyll that contains in himself a criminal Mister Hyde, and more than a personality, and contradictory feelings?

Are we the result of our dreams, as Prospero, in the Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” asked? Are we able to raise our nature and become the dignified beings evoked by Pico de la Mirandola (It’s the seeds a man cultivates that "will mature and bear fruit in him. If vegetative, he will become a plant; if sensual, he will become brutish; if rational, he will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God")?

Almost two centuries ago, Spencer characterized the contradictory features of natives from the African east coast: "He has at the same time good character and hard heart; he is a fighter, conscientious, good in a precise moment, and cruel, pitiless and violent in the other; superstitious and rudely irreligious; brave and pusillanimous, servile and dominator, stubborn and at the same time fickle, relied to honour views, but without signs of honesty, niggard and economical, but careless and improvident".

It’s probably a good definition of a certain primitive man, to whom we are undoubtedly connected. But we are also cultural and ethic beings. We are able to change our values and behaviours. As William James says, human beings can change their lives through their mental attitudes. We can grow ethically. We can dominate part of our own instincts. And that’s why we can be different from the indigenous African described by Spencer. More: our thought dignifies us ("All the dignity of man consists in thought", says Blaise Pascal). We are, in many senses, the conscience of the Universe, and its utmost elaborated product. As Edgar Morin says, "in the core of our singularity, we carry not only all the humanity, all the life, but also all the cosmos, including its mystery, present in the heart of our beings".

We are creators, creator beings, and, in a sense, we can create, or recreate ourselves. All goes through our mind. It is our mind that constructs our truths and errors, and also the most sublime things in the Universe. And yet evil and stupidity exist in us. Sometimes we fall, we are stroked, and life reveals its cruelty, and we may think as Mark Twain, and say that it was a pity that Noah had arrived late to the ark. In our innermost recesses, there is also the cruelty and the inhumanity of life. Charles Darwin showed that we are descendants of inferior life forms: we have been long ago a "bush and a bird, and a fish silently swimming in the waters", to use the poetic terms used by Empedocles in its "Purifications."

From a genetic and evolutionist point of view, we contain in us the survival reflexes and the aggressiveness of the life forms that preceded us: "All that threatened the cave man - dangers, darkness, famine, thirst, ghosts, demons – all has passed to the interior of our souls, all troubles us, grieves us, threatens us from inside." (Morin). Besides, we are also beings that can differ significantly from each other. We are equal, but also different. "The awake involve a common world, but dreams deviate each one to its own world," Heraclites rather enigmatically declares. He thought we can’t help sleeping and living in illusory worlds, even when awake.

For all these reasons, Blaise Pascal’s celebrated definition of the human being, despite the hard language, not exactly agreeable to our ears, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful that can be applied to the rather unknown being that we can’t help being to ourselves: "What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?"

"Sons Of The Cosmos..."

“We are sons of the cosmos, but our conscience, our soul, make us strangers in that same cosmos, from which we were produced, and which still remains secretly intimate to us. Earth life is unique, or at least particularly rare in the cosmos, and our conscience is perhaps solitary in the living world. Man is a marginal creation in the animal world, the development of which has increased his marginality. We are alone on the Earth, among the known living beings. Our thought, our conscience, gives us knowledge of the physical world, but simultaneously drives it away from us.”
- E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, “Method V”

The Poet: Mary Oliver, “The Leaf and the Cloud"

 “The Leaf and the Cloud"

"When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, 
consider the orderliness of the world. 
Notice something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or no.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
    like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling."

~ Mary Oliver,
 “The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem”


"I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires – and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself."
- Joseph Conrad, 
1857-1924, English writer, "Youth"

“How to Be Brave in 8 Steps”

“How to Be Brave in 8 Steps”
by Jamie Lauren Zimmerman, MD 

"Jack Canfield said: "Everything we want is on the other side of our fear." In my life thus far, I've been fortunate enough to live many of my dreams... and survive a few hair-raising experiences (a lion attack, robbery at gunpoint, and more). Many people ask how I've gotten the chance to travel the world, act on national television, make a documentary film in Congolese refugee camps, blog on HuffPost, etc.- and honestly, a lot of it comes down to constantly making the choice to feel my fears and take action in spite of them them. As Arianna Huffington observed: "Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It's the mastery of fear." Bravery- like anything else- is a muscle that we all have the capacity to develop. In this video, I share eight steps I use on a regular basis to face and overcome my fears to live with courage."
For more inspiration, free guided meditations and vlogs, 
and to keep in touch, please stop by

"How It Really Is"

"The Only Thing We Can Do..."

“There is no man, and no place, without a war. The only thing we can do is choose a side, and fight. That is the only choice we get - who we fight for, who we fight against. That is life.” 
- Gregory David Roberts, “Shantaram”

 "There's something going on in time and space, 
and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty."
-  Winston Churchill

The Economy: “This Is When the US Gov't Goes Broke”

“This Is When the US Gov't Goes Broke” 
by Bill Bonner

Kilkenny, Ireland - “First, we check in with the markets. What's new? Not much. The Dow crossed the 17,000 mark yesterday. Janet Yellen is supposed to address the world today from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is hard to imagine that she will say anything surprising... or even meaningful. Commentators all over the planet are waiting to analyze each word... hoping for a hint of what is coming. They want to know when we will be leaving this wacky world of price fixing by central banks. They want to know when we will get back to more normal interest rates and a more neutral monetary policy. 

We think we have the answer already: Only when we have no other choice. The world's largest economy, and its capital markets, depend on cheap credit. Take it away, and asset prices will collapse... and the economy will go into a recession/depression. Yellen can't allow that. It goes against all her training, her convictions, and her most treasured delusions. She will fight the inevitable downturn with more liquidity and more free credit... until the whole shebang blows up. Then, and only then, will things go back to normal... 

Going for Broke: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report last month. Hardly anyone even noticed it. But its news was shocking... Turns out, the US will go broke 20 years sooner than projected. Not in 2050 as previously forecast, but in 2030 – just 15 years from now. Fifteen years is a long time. Anything can happen. But our job is to look ahead. And when we take a peek at Social Security's finances, we're glad we're not counting on it to fund our old age. 

The CBO says Washington's deficit has increased 400% in the last six years. It is now $15 trillion short of the amount required to fulfill its commitments over the next 75 years. So, what does this mean? As it also turns out, we were sitting at our window at the Mount Juliet Hotel, in County Kilkenny, Ireland – looking down at the north-flowing river beside it when we were suddenly overcome with an insight so profound we had to grip the arm of our chair with one arm to steady ourselves... and reach for our glass of Jameson with the other. 

Government is widely seen as "a force for good." Republicans often think it is only a force for good overseas... particularly when it is invading another country. Democrats often think it is a force for good at home as well as abroad. At least Hillary Clinton thinks so. There is little doubt it has done her a lot of good. She's spent almost her entire life on the government payroll – never having to provide a marketable product or render a real service to anyone. 

Historically, as well as intrinsically, government has been a means for some people to control and exploit other people – as slaves, soldiers or taxpayers. But compared to historical standards, government now seems almost benign... as though it really is concerned with the welfare of the people it ruled. After all, isn't Social Security a good thing? Doesn't it prove that government is now civilized... and that we should all get behind Hillary and other well-intentioned politicians so they can do a better job of helping us? 

Civilization and Wealth: Stop! We're feeling a little sick. But not so sick as to forget the point: How come government seems more benign now than it did in the past? Has it finally abandoned the brute force of Genghis Khan's army or the naked aggression of the Third Crusade? 

Social Security appears to offer no particular advantage to the ruling elite (except helping them to remain the ruling elite by getting reelected). And aren't the governments of the richest, and most civilized societies, also the most civilized? 

Glad you asked those questions. Because we have a good answer: Civilization goes hand in hand with wealth; the more civilized a nation, the richer it is. Wealth goes hand in hand with power; the wealthier a society is the more lethal it is (because it can afford more firepower and more advanced weapons). In other words, it is not military success that breeds civilization; it is the other way around. What does this have to do with Social Security and the stock market? We'll try to remember... over the weekend... and have an answer for you on Monday."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Greg Hunter, “Weekly News Wrap-Up 8.22.14”

“Weekly News Wrap-Up 8.22.14”
By Greg Hunter’s

“This may sound strange to you, but the top story is still the Ukraine crisis because it is far from over. In my view, the West is still inching towards war with Russia. The building of a new natural gas pipeline through Bulgaria has been stopped for the second time this week. Nearly 200 troops and a dozen NATO F-15 fighter jets are also going to Bulgaria for more war games. Meanwhile, Germany’s Leader, Angela Merkel, is saying that NATO will defend the Baltic States, if needed. On top of that, the fighting in Eastern Ukraine is still going full force in several towns in Eastern Ukraine with dozens of deaths and wounded on both sides. I am sure there is going to be lots of talks to try to make nice between Russia and Europe, but I don’t see how this is going to be worked out without more violence. Russia does not want NATO in Ukraine, and NATO has to know this. It looks like war is intentional, or at the very least, inevitable. By the way, McDonald’s in Russia is being inspected for health violations in many locations around the country. This is just part of the ongoing financial war.

Well, it looks like ISIS (also known as ISIL) went from “JV” (as the President said earlier this year) to a full blown global terror problem in a short amount of time. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that ISIS poses an “imminent threat” to the world.  Hagel also said, “This is way beyond anything we have seen. We must prepare for everything. Get Ready!” I guess that means the U.S. is going to keep bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This statement comes out during a week when an American Journalist was beheaded on YouTube. I guess this really is a threat and one that was caused in part by the U.S. helping arm the so-called rebels in Syria. Texas Governor Rick Perry says because the border has been left open by a flood of illegals that ISIS may already be inside the U.S. Perry is also under indictment for abuse of power, but I think they are going to have a hard time making that stick.

The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is off, and this time, I predict it will stay off for a while. Hamas has been shooting more rockets into Israel, and Israel has been bombing targets in Gaza. The latest strikes killed the wife and child of the top Hamas military leader. Other Israeli strikes killed some top Hamas commanders. I see no end in sight for this bloody war.

It looks like the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, is winding down. The National Guard has been recalled, and a Grand Jury is deciding whether to charge the officer who shot an unarmed teen. At first, I thought this was an unjust shooting, but as more and more details and witnesses come forward, I am getting a different picture. The shooter had his eye socket crushed by the victim, and the autopsy appears to show the teen was not shot with his hands up. This could end up being a long drawn out case where we find out the officer was justified in shooting the victim. That’s not the real take away here.  It’s the militarization of the police. Multiply Ferguson by police departments across the nation.  The Federal Government is responsible for this militarization because they have supplied the military vehicles and arms. This is a dangerous mix when you decrease Constitutional rights and increase police power. The real question is why all the military firepower? What is the government getting ready for? I think the next financial collapse will be the big one, and most will wake up and realize they will never recover."

"Join Greg Hunter as he analyzes these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up.”

"Nothing In Any Life..."

“Nothing in any life, no matter how well or poorly lived, is wiser than failure or clearer than sorrow. And in the tiny precious wisdom they give to us, even those dreaded and hated enemies, suffering and failure, have their reason and their right to be.”

- Gregory David Roberts, “Shantaram”

Musical Interlude: Kevin Kern, “Another Realm”

Kevin Kern, “Another Realm” 

Musical Interlude: Don McLean, “Vincent”

Don McLean, “Vincent”  
Hat tip to Andy Alt for inspiring this selection.

"A Look to the Heavens"

“NGC 3314 is actually two large spiral galaxies which just happen to almost exactly line up. The foreground spiral is viewed nearly face-on, its pinwheel shape defined by young bright star clusters. But against the glow of the background galaxy, dark swirling lanes of interstellar dust appear to dominate the face-on spiral's structure. The dust lanes are surprisingly pervasive, and this remarkable pair of overlapping galaxies is one of a small number of systems in which absorption of light from beyond a galaxy's own stars can be used to directly explore its distribution of dust.
Click image for larger size.
NGC 3314 is about 140 million light-years (background galaxy) and 117 million light-years (foreground galaxy) away in the multi-headed constellation Hydra. The background galaxy would span nearly 70,000 light-years at its estimated distance. A synthetic third channel was created to construct this dramatic new composite of the overlapping galaxies from two color image data in the Hubble Legacy Archive.”

Kahlil Gibran, “The Farewell”

“The Farewell”

“Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more,
we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky.”

- Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”

The Poet: T.S. Eliot, "The Four Quartets"

"I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing."
~  T.S. Eliot, "The Four Quartets"

“The Valley of Despair: Seeds of Light”

“The Valley of Despair: Seeds of Light”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“Even in our darkest times, there are seeds of light within ourselves, we need only call them forward. Anyone who has walked through the valley of despair and come out the other side knows that even in that darkness, seeds of light can be found. Often their tendrils reach out of the gloom and into the daylight alongside the journeyer who emerges from that deep sorrow.  When we find ourselves in a place of despair, it can help us to know this, so that we don’t give up. We can stop, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that we will find ourselves on the other side of this troubled time, and that we may even emerge with something new to offer.

It seems that despair has been around for as long as humans have been able to express themselves, and many of the great artists, teachers, and visionaries have labored through times of depression and hopelessness. Their words, images, and lives can serve as beacons in the darkness, even if they can’t always immediately lead us out. In the end, we must find our own way, and this is why despair often overwhelms us when it comes; we doubt that we have the resources to contend with such a formidable presence all by ourselves. This is when we must come to our own aid and know in our hearts that we have what it takes to keep moving forward in the general direction of the light.

Even though we must ultimately rely on ourselves, this doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help. Our friends and families can help us, as can our inner guides and helping spirits. They can serve the purpose of a fire that burns throughout the night, keeping us warm, and providing a light by which we might see the changes we may need to make in order to move forward. In addition, there truly are seeds of light inside us, however small, waiting to unfurl their green shoots, if only we will give them the time.”

"For This Is What We Do..."

"For this is what we do. Put one foot forward and then the other. Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more. Think. Act. Feel. Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world. Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night. Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day. With love: the passionate search for a truth other than our own. With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved. For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on. God help us. God forgive us. We live on."
- Gregory David Roberts, “Shantaram”

Chet Raymo, “Games of Gore”

“Games of Gore”
by Chet Raymo

"Tow years ago the New York Times had a full two-page ad for "The Game of Thrones", an HBO television series now in its 5th season. The blurbs were fantastic. Sounded like the greatest thing since sliced bread. To tell the truth, I had barely heard of the series, which is based on a Tolkienesque series of fantasy-fiction books by George R. R. Martin. We only have television half of the year, and HBO not at all. But I noticed the college library has Season One on DVD and thought I would check it out. The first five minutes offered two decapitations and a spread of hacked up body parts. That was it for me. I have no stomach for violence.

Is it nature or nurture? Am I missing the slasher gene? Or was I brought up with a wussy aversion to gore? When I was writing "Valentine" I became deeply interested in how the so-called "civilized" Romans, masters of literature, law, architecture and engineering could rely for their public entertainment on the butcheries of the arena. I explored this topic in the novel, but found no satisfying resolution of the paradox. If Valentine were made into a movie, I wouldn't be able to watch it.

With the rise of Christianity, the gladiatorial gore declined, but not, apparently, our taste for butchery. Public executions of heretics and criminals continue in many parts of the world. Even in the enlightened democracies slasher movies and blood-splattered video games are hugely popular. Cable television seems intent on pushing the boundaries of violence at far as they can go. The Hollywood moguls seem to know that deep down in some reptilian part of our brain we love the spilling of blood and guts.

With computer-assisted graphics it is now possible to render violence as vividly on screen as in real life. When it's impossible to tell the difference between the real thing and the simulation, is there a moral equivalence in watching? Are we really more advanced than the Romans in our taste for entertainment? (I know my last two sentences are problematic, but I toss them out there to stir the pot.)”

The Daily "Near You?"

Eufaula, Oklahoma, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Health: “This Is What Happens In A Depressed Person's Brain”

“This Is What Happens In A Depressed Person's Brain”
By Cate Matthews

"Depression is not a bad mood. It is a biological reality and a medical condition, and when we talk about it as anything less than that, we belittle the people suffering from it.

In the video above, the folks behind the YouTube channel AsapSCIENCE dig into the science behind depression and its treatment, noting also that raising awareness about depression as a disease is key to combatting it and fundraising for its research. "It is important to remember that depression is a disease with a biological basis, along with psychological and social implications. It's not simply a weakness that somebody should get over, or even something we have a say in," the narrator says. If we're being totally honest, the people who fight depression and its symptoms sounds like the opposite of weak. That kind of fight takes major strength."
Watch 'Do Dogs Get Depressed?':
Get Your FREE Audiobook:
Depression Resources:

"The Duty..."

“The right to speak out is also the duty to speak out.”
- Vladimir Pozner

History: “The Real First World War”

“The Real First World War”
By Bhaskar Menon

“Europe’s “Great War” of 1914-1918 does not deserve to be called the “First World War.” That title should go to the first real global conflict, Europe’s genocidal invasion of other regions that began in the final decade of the 15th Century. European historians have sought to downplay the ferocity, extent and significance of that earlier conflict by treating it as a diffuse historical process, but if we who were victims accept that view it disables our understanding of everything that has happened since then.

As few people are likely to know much about what actually happened, let me recount some salient points.

A decade after Columbus landed on Hispaniola in 1492, its indigenous people were extinct. They had done nothing to deserve that fate; Columbus in a letter to his royal sponsors in Spain said they were “loving, uncovetous people,” with “good features and beautiful eyes,” who “neither carried weapons nor understood the use of such things.” Yet many were tortured to death in a vain attempt to get them to reveal non-existent hoards of gold and others worked to death or driven to suicide. Such gratuitous violence continued as Europeans extended their domains in the “New World.”

Many of the smaller tribes followed the Arawak of Hispaniola into extinction while the populations of larger groups fell by as much as 85 percent, victims not only of indiscriminate violence but of induced famines and new diseases to which they had no immunity. The spread of smallpox through blankets distributed free to Native Americans and the wanton slaughter of the great herds of bison on which the “Plains Indians” depended for food, clothing and shelter were the most outrageous cases of genocide. Estimates of the numbers killed range up to 100 million.

In South America, the Conquistadores engaged in a zestful mass murder that has no equivalent to this day. Bartolomeo de las Casas (1484-1566), a Spaniard who went to the New World for fortune but was driven by the atrocities he witnessed to enter the Church, left a vivid description in Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de la Indias (Short Report on the Destruction of the Indies): “One time the Indians came to meet us, and to receive us with victuals and delicate cheer, and with all entertainment, ten leagues from a great city, and being come at the place they presented us with a great quantity of fish and of bread, and other meat, together with all they could do for us to the uttermost.” The Conquistadores put them all to the sword “without any cause whatsoever,” more than “three thousand souls, which were set before us, men, women and children,” committing “great cruelties that never any man living either have or shall see the like.”

“The Christians, with their horses and swords and lances, began to slaughter and practice strange cruelty among them. They penetrated into the country and spared neither children nor the aged, nor pregnant women, nor those in child labor, all of whom they ran through the body and lacerated, as though they were assaulting so many lambs herded in their sheepfold. They made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow: or they opened up his bowels. They tore babes from their mothers’ breast by the feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. Others they seized by the shoulders and threw into the rivers, laughing and joking… They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords. They made a gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground, and by thirteens, in honor and reverence of our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles, they put wood underneath and burned the Indians alive. They wrapped the bodies of others entirely in dry straw, binding them in it and setting fire to it; and so they burned them. They cut off the hands of all they wished to take alive. They generally killed the lords and nobles in the following way. They made wooden gridirons of stakes, bound them upon them, and made a slow fire beneath: thus the victims gave up the spirit by degrees, emitting cries of despair in their torture.”

Casas, writing as the Bishop of Chiapas, estimated that just in the Caribbean his compatriots had killed some 15 million Indians, leaving “destroyed and depopulated” the large islands of Cuba, San Juan [Puerto Rico], and Jamaica, and some 30 smaller islands.

In Australia and New Zealand, the killing was less zestful but it was more comprehensive, and there was no Casas to call attention to what happened. The Anglican Church and British authorities looked the other way as settlers in Australia hunted the Aborigines like animals, poisoned their food and water, raped their women and savaged their children, all in a deliberate campaign to reduce the indigenous population. The Aborigine numbered about 750,000 at the end of the 18th Century and about 30,000 a century later; both figures are estimates for they were not included in Australian censuses until 1971.

Australian policies to “protect” and “assimilate” the Aborigines continued the oppression into the second half of the 20th Century. It inflicted prison terms on adults for “crimes” ranging from “cheeky behavior” to “not working” to “calling the Hygiene Officer a big-eyed bastard.” Government officials took infants from their parents and placed them in White families or orphanages. That “adoption” policy openly aimed at eliminating the Aborigines as a cultural group, the legal definition of genocide. In the face of mounting international criticism, the government discontinued the program grudgingly in 1970; it was not until 1997 that it noted the negative impact on the victims and their families.

In New Zealand, a country larger than Britain (103,738 sq mi to 94.526 sq miles), the first British settlers in the mid-1800s found a tribal population said to be around 100,000 – almost certainly an underestimate, for the newcomers were soon engaged in a series of “Maori wars” to expropriate tribal land. By 1896 the number of Maoris was down to 42,000.

In Africa and Asia the death tolls were far larger. The slave trade out of Africa began with the first Portuguese explorations down the African coast in the 14th century and continued into the 19th. By the time it ended, slavers had taken an estimated 25 to 35 million Africans across the Atlantic and killed an equal number during capture and conveyance.

Within Africa too, wherever Europeans settled, they displaced and often enslaved the local population. The “Orange Free State” established by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the Congo reduced the native population from an estimated 20 million to 8 million. Under the pretext of “civilizing the natives,” his regime established a reign of terror, mandating wild rubber collection quotas for each village and punishing unmet targets by lopping off the arms of workers. Supervisors were required to bring in baskets of limbs to show they were implementing policy rigorously.

In Namibia, the Germans massacred the Herero. In Kenya, the British ran the Kikuyu off the best agricultural land in the country, pushing over a million people into lasting poverty. A movement to reclaim the land in the 1950s resulted in a second displacement as the colonial regime hunted down, tortured and killed over 100,000 “Mau Mau terrorists.”

In South Africa, the British slaughtered the Zulu to get at the diamonds and gold in their land and the Boers (descendents of Dutch settlers) imposed racial segregation on the whole country in 1948, as India’s independence heralded the end of the era of European world domination. The system stayed in place until 1994.

Asia saw the highest death tolls of the colonial era, and as K.M. Panikkar noted in Asia and Western Dominance (1959), the violence began with Vasco da Gama. On his second voyage to India, he came upon an unarmed Arab vessel and, “after making the ship empty of goods” he “prohibited anyone from taking out of it any Moor” and then ordered it to be set afire.

A commentator in Portugal justified that as follows: “It is true that there does exist a common right to all to navigate the seas and in Europe we recognize the rights which others hold against us; but the right does not extend beyond Europe, and therefore the Portuguese, as Lords of the Sea, are justified in confiscating the goods of all those who navigate the seas without their permission.”

That “strange and comprehensive claim,” commented Panikkar, was “one which every European nation in its turn held firmly, almost to the end of Western supremacy in Asia. The principle that the doctrines of international law did not apply outside Europe, that what would be barbarism in London or Paris is civilized conduct in Peking, and that European nations had no moral obligations in dealing with Asian peoples, was part of the accepted creed of Europe’s relations with Asia.”

In India, the first of the “man-made famines” under British rule occurred in the decade after the 1757 fall of Nawab Siraj ud Dowlah in Bengal; it killed seven million people, a third of the population. The last famine the British created, also in Bengal, occurred in 1942-1943; it killed between 3 and 4 million. In all, the total of such deaths has been estimated at several hundred million; the Gandhian Dharampal calculated the total number of Indian deaths from all causes under British rule at 500 million.

China was never under colonial rule, but Britain fought two “Opium Wars” in the 19th century to force it to import the drug. By the first decade of the 20th Century a quarter of its population was estimated to be using the drug.

This litany of European depredations in the global South is not a mere scratching at old scars. It is, in fact, essential to understanding the “Great War” of 1914-1918. German disaffection at not having enough colonial “lebensraum” (elbow-room) was perhaps the most important factor that drove its competition with Britain that turned into war. In that sense, it was a direct karmic consequence of the Real First World War.”

This article suggested this song, so...
Procol Harum, “Conquistador”

"What Can We Know?"

"What can we know? What are we all?
Poor silly half-brained things peering out at the infinite,
with the aspirations of angels and the instincts of beasts."
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"How It Really Is"

"The Hottest Places In Hell..."

“The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who 
remain neutral in time of great moral crisis.” 
- Dante Alighieri, 
Italian poet (1265-1321), “The Divine Comedy”

“Marc J. Victor: ‘America Is A Police State’”

“Marc J. Victor: ‘America Is A Police State’”
by Olivier Garret, Casey Research

“Never in my life have I seen a round of applause like this one… and at an event normally composed of conservative, introspective investors to boot. But most surprising of all - and I must admit in my bias here  they were applauding a lawyer. A defense lawyer at that.

The usual fare at our conferences has much more to do with how to keep your money safe (and invest it to grow, of course). But we always prefer to mix in a few speakers to give us a real, on the ground reality check of what’s happening to our freedoms. Thus, when we invited constitutional law and criminal defense attorney Marc J. Victor to speak, we expected he'd share his insights into a slowly eroding respect for individual rights. He did not. Instead, he showed us just how bad things are getting and at a breakneck pace just beyond the public eye. His talk was downright chilling.”

The Economy: “Fear and Loathing in the Newsletter Business”

“Fear and Loathing in the Newsletter Business” 
by Bill Bonner

Kilkenny, Ireland- “We read through our mail this morning. As you can imagine, we get many letters from readers. We can't reply to them individually, but we read every one. Then we look for a rope and a stool... 

We'll come back to this topic in a minute. First, we set the scene. We are staying at the Mount Juliet Hotel in County Kilkenny, about 80 miles south of Dublin. Through our window we see a lowing herd "winding slowly o'er the lea." A swift running black-blue stream separates the hotel from the green field. It is cold and rainy. 

Inside: floral carpets... large, cushy chairs with embroidered pillows... bric-a-brac adorning large marble fireplaces with Greek-looking motifs. A typical Anglo-Irish Georgian manor home, in other words. Into the dining room come aged Americans. They're on a summer tour of Ireland. From the accents, we judge them to be from the Greater Boston area – most likely McCarthys, Murphys and O'Donnells with ancient family memories of Ireland as it never really was. 

And there, stage right, at a small table, with a white tablecloth, next to the window, a not-so-young grandson of Ireland sits staring out the window, pondering. That would be your editor. And what he is pondering is whether there is a German word to describe the moment you want to slit your wrists... when you realize how painful and desolate private life can be... and when you recognize that all that lies behind you are empty words and poured-out wine bottles... and all that lies ahead are old age and death... and you give up all hope. 

Surely, the Germans – who, after all, produced Nietzsche and Schopenhauer – have thought up a word for it. It must be something every thoughtful and sensitive person has experienced at one time or another. Which, of course, leaves out 99% of the sitting members of Congress... and probably most voters, too. 

But the financial world is our beat. So, let us return to it for just long enough to mention that nothing worth mentioning happened yesterday. The Dow rose again. And US bond yields are still so low you have to go all the way along the yield curve to five years out before you encounter a whole number. 

Now, back to our thoughts... 

Some Reader Feedback: Your editor is accustomed to gloomy days and gloomier thoughts. That is his job: to fear the worst and look ahead, to try to see it coming. But he was laid especially low by today's correspondence. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances. We have many new readers... following the recent launch of our new letter. They have paid good money for our thoughts and ideas. But many of them lack the context to fully appreciate them. They are coming into a conversation that began 15 years ago. Or longer... 

One letter begins: “I've known you since 1984. That was the year I subscribed to 'Strategic Investment' and, like my exposure to Harry Browne, proved to be one of my life's pivotal experiences.”

Naturally, some new readers are disoriented. And disappointed. And yes – we should have done a better job of explaining where we are coming from... 

Broadly, there are two categories of dear readers: There are those who are too smart. And those who are too dumb. The too smart ones catch all our mistakes. They notice our occasional lazy analysis and lack of rigorous thinking... and our errors in arithmetic, grammar and historical facts. We can't get away with anything. 

For example, one wrote to correct our math: “If the world's supply of food fell by 10%, 700 million would starve, not 70 million.” Another to correct our grasp of late 18th century Scots dialect: “... it's either Robert Burns or Robbie Burns, not Bobby. And the quote is "Gang aft agley."

The too dumb ones generally just miss the point. But here we take the high road – insincerely admitting that if readers don't understand we have done a bad job of explaining.

A Class of Their Own: Some super smart, some super dumb... and some in a class of their own: “I'm reading Hormegeddon, which I received after subscribing to your newsletter, and have found it interesting although occasionally off-base. However, I've just reached page 149 which has your graph of world energy consumption that shows Nuclear and Hydro-electric as the two top sources. REALLY!! You have just lost all credibility. I will not read another page, and will do my best to spread the word that you are completely full of [sh**]. If Bonner is as wealthy as you claim I can only assume that he made his money by ripping off unaware marks like me. Stansberry should be ashamed to associate with dirt bags like you.”

To many questions we answer "yes." Some remarks bring a "no." To others, we can only reply with a "huh?": “RE: This country is completely f**cked up 8/15. Do not appreciate the words used in your commentary. Even if somebody else said them. You do not have to repeat them. SHAME ON YOU.”

Oh, my. We look out the window and sigh. There go the Americans... the silly old duffers. They are loading them on the Tauck tour bus, the seventy-somethings creaking up the stairs. But they are so cheerful... so happy! Surely, they have lost their minds. More tomorrow...” 

"I've Learned..."

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

- Maya Angelou

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Musical Interlude: Tchaikovsky, “The 1812 Overture” (Full, Choral)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 
“The 1812 Overture”, (Full, Choral), Ashkenazy

"On Aug. 20, 1882, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky introduced his “1812 Overture,” which commemorated Russia’s defeat of Napoleon, at the 1882 Moscow Exhibition. Having conquered most of Europe, Napoleon led an army of 600,000 into Russia beginning in June 1812. It would be an ill-fated invasion that crippled Napoleon’s hold on Europe.

Tchaikovsky’s piece begins solemnly, with “divided cellos and strings intoning the quiet, even mournful hymn ‘God Preserve Thy People’” to represent the mood of the Russian people following Napoleon’s declaration of war, according to Sonia Knox of the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra. The next section includes a lively horn piece, with notes from “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, to symbolize the arrival of French troops. “This is followed by a Russian folk dance theme, which commemorates the national unity that developed in beating back Napoleon,” according to the University of Kansas’ William Comer.

The Russians chose not to engage Napoleon in direct battle; instead, they retreated to Moscow and employed a scorched earth policy. Suffering from exhaustion, starvation and sickness, Napoleon’s army lost an average of 5,000 people a day from death and desertion, according to PBS. The French losses, says Comer, are reflected in Tchaikovsky’s piece through “dizzying spirals of a diminuendo.”

On Sept. 7, the Russian Army finally met Napoleon head-on in the Battle of Borodino, about 60 miles outside Moscow. More than 100,000 people died in the battle, which was not a decisive victory for either side. At this point, the overture reaches “its explosive climax using the utmost power of brass and percussion, at which point the cannons add their voices to the score,” writes Knox. The Russian forces then retreated from Moscow after stripping it of food and supplies, and setting buildings on fire. In October, at the onset of the Russian winter, caught deep in the Russian interior with inadequate food and supplies, Napoleon decided to retreat from Russia. The overture ends with a church chant and “God Preserve The Czar,” the Russian national anthem, which commemorate the Russian victory."

Paulo Coelho, “The Mechanism of Terror”

“The Mechanism of Terror”
by Paulo Coelho

“An old legend tells of how a certain city in the Pyrenees mountains used to be a stronghold for drug-traffickers, smugglers and exiles. The worst of them all, called Ahab, was converted by a local monk, Savin, and decided that things could not continue like that. As he was feared by all, but did not want to use his fame as a thug to make his point, at no moment did he try to convince anyone. Knowing the nature of men as well as he did, they would only take honesty for weakness and soon his power would be put in doubt.

So what he did was call some carpenters from a neighboring town, hand them a drawing and tell them to build something on the spot where now stands the cross that dominates the town. Day and night for ten days, the inhabitants of the town heard the noise of hammers and watched men sawing bits of wood, making joints and hammering in nails. At the end of ten days the gigantic puzzle was erected in the middle of the square, covered with a cloth. Ahab called all the inhabitants together to attend the inauguration of the monument.

Solemnly, and without making any speech, he removed the cloth. It was a gallows. With a rope, trapdoor and all the rest. Brand-new, covered with bee’s wax to endure all sorts of weather for a long time.

Taking advantage of the multitude joined together in the square, Ahab read a series of laws to protect the farmers, stimulate cattle-raising and awarding whoever brought new business into the region, and added that from that day on they would have to find themselves an honest job or else move to another town. He never once mentioned the “monument” that he had just inaugurated; Ahab was a man who did not believe in threats.

At the end of the meeting, several groups formed, and most of them felt that Ahab had been deceived by the saint, since he lacked the courage he used to have. So he would have to be killed. For the next few days many plans were made to this end. But they were all forced to contemplate the gallows in the middle of the square, and wondered: What is that thing doing there? Was it built to kill those who did not accept the new laws? Who is on Ahab’s side, and who isn’t? Are there spies among us?

The gallows looked down on the men, and the men looked up at the gallows. Little by little the rebels’ initial courage was replaced by fear; they all knew Ahab’s reputation, they all knew he was implacable in his decisions. Some people abandoned the city, others decided to try the new jobs offered them, simply because they had nowhere to go or else because of the shadow of that instrument of death in the middle of the square. One year later the place was at peace, it had grown into a great business center on the frontier and began to export the best wool and produce top-quality wheat.

The gallows stayed there for ten years. The wood resisted well, but now and again the rope was changed for another. It was never put to use. Ahab never said a single word about it. Its image was enough to change courage to fear, trust to suspicion, stories of bravado to whispers of acceptance."
- Paulo Coelho, “The Devil and Miss Prym”

Musical Interlude: Kevin Kern, “Bittersweet”

Kevin Kern, “Bittersweet”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Beautiful emission nebula NGC 6164 was created by a rare, hot, luminous O-type star, some 40 times as massive as the Sun. Seen at the center of the cosmic cloud, the star is a mere 3 to 4 million years old. In another three to four million years the massive star will end its life in a supernova explosion. 
Click image for larger size.
Spanning around 4 light-years, the nebula itself has a bipolar symmetry. That makes it similar in appearance to more familiar planetary nebulae - the gaseous shrouds surrounding dying sun-like stars. Also like many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164 has been found to have an extensive, faint halo, revealed in this deep telescopic image of the region. Expanding into the surrounding interstellar medium, the material in the halo is likely from an earlier active phase of the O star. The gorgeous skyscape is a composite of narrow-band image data highlighting the glowing gas, and broad-band data of the surrounding starfield. NGC 6164 is 4,200 light-years away in the southern constellation of Norma.”

The Poet: Joy Harjo, "Eagle Poem"

"Eagle Poem"

"To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River.  Circles in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty."

~ Joy Harjo 

Chet Raymo, “Is Consciousness Incomprehensible?”

“Is Consciousness Incomprehensible?” 
by Chet Raymo

"There are reasonable arguments for the incomprehensibility of human consciousness, and some of them were given here the other day in Comments. Let me offer arguments for the contrary.

First, one very important feature of consciousness has already been comprehended. We can say with a high degree of confidence that there is no ghost in the machine, that consciousness is an emergent physio-chemical property of the material brain. Whether consciousness is deterministic or involves some measure of quantum uncertainty remains to be seen, but I find Roger Penrose's argument for quantum uncertainty unconvincing. For the moment, Ockham's Razor rules.

Second, we can study emergent consciousness by observing other organisms, from sea snails to chimpanzees. That is, in principle, we can build up an understanding of human consciousness incrementally. This assumes, of course, that human consciousness differs from that of other organisms only in complexity, not kind. Again, for the moment, the Razor rules.

Third, as I mentioned here once before, a project is underway to fully map the neuronal structure of the human brain, at which point it should be possible to construct an operational electronic analog of the brain. Will such machines be conscious? Google "artificial consciousness" and you'll find arguments for both sides. At the very least we will pare away some of the incomprehensibility.

Fourth, we may already have created a "conscious" machine: the internet, which approaches the human brain in its degree of interconnected complexity. It is continuously "aware," sensitive to millions of sensory inputs- touch, vision, hearing, smell, and for all I know even taste. I can ask a question in human language or tap an icon and instantly have a response from the internet's vast memory. The internet and its myriad of input/output devices mimic enough of the aspects of human consciousness for us to be increasingly confident that consciousness is not intrinsically beyond in principle understanding.

And isn't in principle understanding all we ask of science?"