Saturday, April 18, 2015

Musical Interlude: Afshin Toufighian & Ali Youssefi, "Rise"

Afshin Toufighian and Ali Youssefi, "Rise"
Lyrics from “The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh”

Musical Interlude: Afshin, "Prayer of Change"

Afshin, "Prayer of Change"

Free Download: Hermann Hesse, "Siddhartha"

by Hermann Hesse

"Siddhartha" is a novel by Hermann Hesse that deals with the spiritual journey of a boy known as Siddhartha from the Indian Subcontinent during the time of the Buddha. The book, Hesse's ninth novel, was written in German, in a simple yet powerful and lyrical style. It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s. Hesse dedicated "Siddhartha" to Romain Rolland, "my dear friend".

The word Siddhartha is made up of two words in the Sanskrit language, siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning or wealth). The two words together mean "he who has found meaning (of existence)" or "he who has attained his goals". The Buddha's name, before his renunciation, was Prince Siddhartha Gautama. In this book, the Buddha is referred to as "Gotama".

Plot summary: It starts as Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin, leaves his home to join the ascetics with his companion Govinda. The two set out in the search of enlightenment. Siddhartha goes from asceticism, to a very worldly life as a trader with a lover, and back to asceticism as he attempts to achieve this goal. The story takes place in ancient India around the time of Gautama Buddha (likely between the fourth and seventh centuries BC.

Experience is the aggregate of conscious events experienced by a human in life – it connotes participation, learning and knowledge. Understanding is comprehension and internalization. In Hesse’s novel "Siddhartha," experience is shown as the best way to approach understanding of reality and attain enlightenment – Hesse’s crafting of Siddhartha’s journey shows that understanding is attained not through scholastic, mind-dependent methods, nor through immersing oneself in the carnal pleasures of the world and the accompanying pain of samsara; however, it is the totality of these experiences that allow Siddhartha to attain understanding. Thus, the individual events are meaningless when considered by themselves—Siddhartha’s stay with the samanas and his immersion in the worlds of love and business do not lead to nirvana, yet they cannot be considered distractions, for every action and event that is undertaken and happens to Siddhartha helps him to achieve understanding. The sum of these events is thus experience.

For example, Siddhartha’s passionate and pained love for his son is an experience that teaches him empathy; he is able to understand childlike people after this experience. Previously, though he was immersed in samsara, he could not comprehend childlike people’s motivations and lives. And while samsara clung to him and made him ill and sick of it, he was unable to understand the nature of samsara. Experience of samsara at this point did not lead to understanding; perhaps it even hindered him. In contrast to this, Siddhartha’s experience with his son allows him to love, something he has not managed to do before; once again, the love itself does not lead to understanding.

The novel ends with Siddhartha being a ferryman, learning from a river, and at long last at peace and capturing the essence of his journey: "Slower, he walked along in his thoughts and asked himself: “But what is this, what you have sought to learn from teachings and from teachers, and what they, who have taught you much, were still unable to teach you?” And he found: “It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!”

FREE download, in PDF format, of "Siddhartha," by Hermann Hesse is here:

"A Look to the Heavens"

“It looks like a lunar landscape but this remarkable photograph actually shows our Milky Way and the planet Jupiter in all their glory - viewed from a cave in America's Utah desert. The spiral galaxy, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, was captured by photographer Wally Pacholka using a 35mm camera and 50mm lens on a tripod with a 30-second exposure - long enough to collect the light but not to see the stars moving.
Click image for larger size.
Pacholka, 59, an architect from Long Beach, California, relied on the light of a crescent moon to illuminate the subject and chose the area because of the near-absence of ambient light. He said: 'I had to drive 800 miles each way five times to get the shot right. And I had to hike two miles to the cave and back again at night, getting lost each time I came out.' His photo shows the Milky Way - estimated to be 100,000 light years in diameter and 1,000 light years deep - and Jupiter (to the top left), the biggest planet in the solar system with a diameter 11 times that of Earth's. After Venus, Jupiter is the second-brightest planet despite being about 390 million miles from Earth. The cave, which has been carved out of the desert's red sandstone rock, lies to the south-east of Salt Lake City and is estimated to be 300 million years old. The area is rich with Native American ruins.”

"Do You Remember?"

"Do you remember still the falling stars
that like swift horses through the heavens raced
and suddenly leaped across the hurdles
of our wishes- do you recall?
And we did make so many!
For there were countless numbers of stars:
each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,
knowing somehow we had survived their fall."
- Rainer Maria Rilke

“60 Quotes that Will Change the Way You Think”

 “60 Quotes that Will Change the Way You Think”
by Marc Chernoff

"In your quiet moments, what do you think about?  How far you’ve come, or how far you have to go?  Your strengths, or your weaknesses?  The best that might happen, or the worst that might come to be? In your quiet moments, pay attention to your thoughts. Because maybe, just maybe, the only thing that needs to shift in order for you to experience more happiness, more love, and more vitality, is your way of thinking. Here are 60 thought-provoking quotes gathered from our sister site, Everyday Life Lessons, and from ourblog archive that will help you adjust your way of thinking.

    1. You cannot change what you refuse to confront.
    2. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
    3. Don’t think of cost. Think of value.
    4. Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly.
    5. Too many people buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t know.  
    6. No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.
    7. If a person wants to be a part of your life, they will make an obvious effort to do so. Think twice before reserving a space in your heart for people who do not make an effort to stay.
    8. Making one person smile can change the world – maybe not the whole world, but their world.
    9. Saying someone is ugly doesn’t make you any prettier.
    10. The only normal people you know are the ones you don’t know very well.
    11. Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.
    12. The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.
    13. It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company.
    14. As we grow up, we realize it becomes less important to have more friends and more important to have real ones.
    15. Making a hundred friends is not a miracle. The miracle is to make a single friend who will stand by your side even when hundreds are against you.
    16. Giving up doesn’t always mean you’re weak, sometimes it means you are strong enough and smart enough to let go and move on.
    17. Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, etc…
    18. If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.
    19. Don’t choose the one who is beautiful to the world; choose the one who makes your world beautiful.
    20. Falling in love is not a choice. To stay in love is.
    21. True love isn’t about being inseparable; it’s about two people being true to each other even when they are separated.
    22. While you’re busy looking for the perfect person, you’ll probably miss the imperfect person who could make you perfectly happy.
    23. Never do something permanently foolish just because you are temporarily upset.
    24. You can learn great things from your mistakes when you aren’t busy denying them.  
    25. In life, if you don’t risk anything, you risk everything.
    26. When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.
    27. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.
    28. There isn’t anything noble about being superior to another person. True nobility is in being superior to the person you once were.
    29. Trying to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.
    30. You will never become who you want to be if you keep blaming everyone else for who you are now.
    31. People are more what they hide than what they show.
    32. Sometimes people don’t notice the things others do for them until they stop doing them.
    33. Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.
    34. Being alone does not mean you are lonely, and being lonely does not mean you are alone.
    35. Love is not about sex, going on fancy dates, or showing off.It’s about being with a person who makes you happy in a way nobody else can.
    36. Anyone can come into your life and say how much they love you. It takes someone really special to stay in your life and show how much they love you.
    37. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion; today is special.
    38. Love and appreciate your parents. We are often so busy growing up, we forget they are also growing old.
    39. When you have to start compromising yourself and your morals for the people around you, it’s probably time to change the people around you.
    40. Learn to love yourself first, instead of loving the idea of other people loving you.
    41. When someone tells you, “You’ve changed,” it might simply be because you’ve stopped living your life their way.
    42. Someone else doesn’t have to be wrong for you to be right.
    43. Be happy. Be yourself. If others don’t like it, then let them be. Happiness is a choice.  Life isn’t about pleasing everybody.
    44. When you’re up, your friends know who you are. When you’re down, you know who your friends are.
    45. Don’t look for someone who will solve all your problems; look for someone who will face them with you.
    46. If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him.
    47. No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life.  Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs.
    48. The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.
    49. Many people are so poor because the only thing they have is money.
    50. Learn to appreciate the things you have before time forces you appreciate the things you once had.
    51. When you choose to see the good in others, you end up finding the good in yourself.
    52. You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there.
    53. It’s better to know and be disappointed than to never know and always wonder.
    54. There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.
    55. Happiness is not determined by what’s happening around you, but rather what’s happening inside you. Most people depend on others to gain happiness, but the truth is, it always comes from within.
    56. If you tell the truth, it becomes a part of your past. If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.
    57. What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while. 
    58. You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.
    59. Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.
    60. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Thanks for stopping by.

"How To Respond To The Awful Truth"

"How To Respond To The Awful Truth"
by Zen Gardner

"It's a volatile, challenging time to be alive, no doubt. The world is a landscape thoroughly scattered with catastrophic nightmares like flaming lava pits on a giant festering orb. And this huge array of drastic, life-threatening problems we're facing that are burning in the world's collective subconscious are apparently careening towards some mad, apocalyptic finale. The big question we're all faced with is this. Once we're aware of what's going on, what do we do? And more importantly, for those not willing to face the truth, what will it take to wake them up? And third: does that predominant attitude make it inevitable for the rest of us to share their fate? What does one do as they observe the deliberately imploded economy, the corporate thuggery pillaging the world, a manipulated media bent on an ignorant, placated populace, the ramped up rape of the environment, the poisoning of our food, water and air supply, the drugging of our children, and wars without end appearing to be leading up to a horrific nuclear conflagration? What is our role in what we discover to be a literally predatory environment in a hijacked world?

Here's How:  Identify The Problems Are Real and Deliberate: The first issue is to clearly identify the problems and admit their gravity. Second, we need to understand the objective of these apparent trends, however horrific these motives may appear to be. But let me get one thing straight before we go on any further. In light of the vastness of these incontrovertible assaults on humanity and the obvious connections to corporate, banking and government insanity, whoever does NOT think that there's an underlying motive with definite objectives by those controlling these massive programs is a stark raving lunatic, voluntarily living in a straightjacket of self-preserving denial, staring in a zombified trance at the shadows on their cell walls. Secondly and similarly, if anyone thinks it's simply "greed gone wild" that's causing these problems and an unfortunate cyclical downturn of some sort, they need to get their minds blown. And I'm here to help.

Why Doesn't Money Satisfy The Controllers If It's Just Greed? Cuz It's Power and Control: Tell me something. If everything was done just for money, why don't they stop there? These elites know they couldn't spend what they have in a thousand lifetimes. So why do they keep pushing? Why do wealthy people run for office when their coffers are overflowing? Why do banksters keep loaning money they know they won't get it back to nation after nation as they slowly take over their economies and politics? The infamous Rothschilds are estimated to be worth over 500 trillion dollars yet keep pushing for more international "programs" and intervention. Why? Do you see the world improving because of their efforts? Do the mega-rich dynasties, industrialists, royal families, or the uber-wealthy Vatican chip in a non self-serving dime to help the world? Or has the plug been pulled deliberately and we're now in free-fall towards worldwide disaster? And could someone possibly be positioning themselves to pick up the pieces and take control of the filet that's left on the world's butcher block once the scraps have been extricated and thrown to the dogs of war? Is their plan actually written in stone? Look up "Georgia Guidestones" for a spine tingler.

Living A Conscious Life: The issue and point of this article isn't to run once again through the litany of wrongs being deliberately perpetrated on humanity and its home. If you're reading this, chances are you've caught on to some extent and hopefully are active in the awakening, or are on an accelerating path to the stage of awareness where you realize to not take action is impossible, if you have any semblance of awakened consciousness. That will come, believe me. To be conscious means to act according to consciousness, not just think or realize in some ashram. I'm sure those folks have their place, but if you're a somewhat normal operating human trying to exist in a world bent on abusing and even killing you off, there are some serious challenges involved as to what exactly to do.
This Is Where The Universe Comes In: You cannot... and there's no exception to this... you cannot operate solely in the mental and physical realm and expect to understand what's going on and where your place is in all this. You may be led there in spite of your blockage, but it's absolutely essential to have a spiritual awakening in your life. I'm in no way talking about religion. But I guarantee if you're pursuing truth like I think you are, the spiritual, metaphysical, esoteric, whatever you want to call it,  side of all this is becoming very, very apparent. And it's vastly empowering. Right?
Our Refuge and Armament: The most important tool in our arsenal is the ability to listen to and act according to our hearts, our source, our spirit, our connection to consciousness. Call it God, the Universe or the underlying powers inherent in Chi, Ki, Prana or whatever. Learning to listen to a deeper influence and act in responsible, loving conscious awareness is the answer. And we must grow in this area to meet the challenges of our time. Like the internet, our old modes of communication have been tampered with and will be used against us.

Spotting the Predators: Like the Hollywood ephemeral cloaked predator character, these mostly unseen forces we are up against can usually only be spotted by their effects, like leaves and branches moving in an organized pattern as the enemy approaches. Never mind the fact that the real government leaders and societal directors are not the ones we see in the news and that others are telling them what to do, the powers behind ALL of this we can safely assume are another level removed, and I would contend are ultimately spiritual, or other dimensional. At the very least, call it evil people and you'll be right. But the extent and source of this evil is quite revelatory when the next level of dots starts to connect for you. I don't claim to know everything that's going on, but the point is we're up against a vastly interconnected conspiracy that, like seeing the leaves rustle when the transparent predator approaches, you can only identify by their effects. And it's important that we're aware of this next level.
Any Way You Look At It It's Nasty...But Make Some Conclusions: The point is, we don't need to know every detail before drawing some very obvious conclusions.

1. A LOT of serious somethings are very wrong with the world.
2. World so-called "leadership" is out of touch, self serving and apparently working towards some other agenda.
3. This other agenda does not necessarily benefit you and me. They're elitists with their own plans.
4. People are dying, being poisoned, starved and outright killed at a horrific rate, while food is withheld and medical care has become restricted and basically wealth-producing pharmaceutical in nature.
5. The extremely wealthy Powers That Be refuse to give any form of aid except to their own institutions and cohorts.
6. You are sitting at home wondering what the hell is going on while reading this article.
7. What are you going to DO with your life now that you realize this?

I hope you'll follow your heart. That's my wish, prayer and affirmation. We need an energetic revolution, a call to real conscious action. That action is continuous open awareness and responding to the call of the Heart! Wanna demonstrate, and mix with others who feel the call in whatever form? Go for it! Where will that take you? I don't know! Wanna participate in blogs and internet forums about your search, 9/11 truth, outrage about the world's pollution, etc? Go for it!! Point is, if you feel the call, respond! Respond! RESPOND! And it will respond to you!

Happy trails, meet you in the awakening..."

"How to Gain Control of Your Negative Emotions"

"How to Gain Control of Your Negative Emotions"
by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

“Whether it's sadness, fear, shame, guilt or anger, sometimes when these are here, all we want to do is be somewhere else and it seems like it's going to last forever. Here's one practice to consider in regaining control of your mind during the difficult moments in life. Try this as an experiment: When an uncomfortable emotions arises, ask yourself the honest question, "How long is this going to last?" See it as a moment of investigation, a chance to really get to know how you operate. No longer are you caught in the stress cycle of thoughts, emotions and sensations compounding on one another creating a snowball reaction (that actually makes it all last that much longer), but instead you have stepped outside of it and become curious about it.

Your mind needs the understanding and experience of how emotions or moods operate in order to not get so stressed and afraid of them when they arise. You can't control the initial snap judgment that leads to that emotional reaction, but you can control how you're going to understand and relate to the feeling or mood once it's here. Is it going to be with the attitude of, "Oh I hate this, this is going to last forever," or "Let's see how long this lasts." One is a mindless approach; the other is a more mindful approach.

But without automatically judging the mindfulness approach as better, why not see for yourself and let your experience be your teacher? Try this out and let us know what you find. How long does it last? What shape does it take in your body and what happens to it over time? Does the sensation in the body change or stay the same? Does it move somewhere else? Does a color come to mind and does that shift or stay the same? Allow this to be an opportunity to, as Derek Walcott says in him poem "Love After Love," "reintroduce the stranger who was yourself."

Chet Raymo, "What Does It All Mean?"

"What Does It All Mean?"
by Chet Raymo
"A good friend tells me via e-mail that she is reading Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." I read the book for a second time two years ago, in the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It's one of those novels I had to read twice - once in middle age (I would not have had the patience in youth) and once in settled maturity. In middle age, it was all about Anna, and passion, and doubt. In old age - for me at least - it's about Levin, settled, happily married, enjoying as much intellectual peace as might be possible in this big, sprawling epic of a world.

The book ends with Levin on the terrace of his house under a starry sky. Away on the horizon a storm has gathered and lightning flashes. He meditates on his Christian faith and its ethical imperatives, and on the vast and seemingly indifferent universe of nebulas and distances spread out before his eyes. He thinks about how it is that the stars appear to move, when in fact it is the Earth that turns under the sky. And he thinks too about how a moral imperative is apparently part of the human condition, as much so for the Jew, the Muslim, the Confucian, the Buddhist - and, one must suppose, the secular agnostic - as for the Christian. The accident of Christian faith make as little difference to the moral trajectory of his life as does the question of whether it is the stars or the Earth that turns.

In the last words of the novel, Levin muses: "There will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand the mystery of existence, and I shall still go on attending to the mystery; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more intrinsically meaningful or meaningless than it was before, but it still has the positive meaning of goodness which I have the power to put into it."

"How It Really Is"

"The Center Of The Universe..."

“When science discovers the center of the universe,
 a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it.”
- Bernard Baily

The Poet: David Whyte, "In the Beginning"

"In the Beginning"
"Sometimes simplicity rises
like a blossom of fire
from the white silk of your own skin.
You were there in the beginning
you heard the story, you heard the merciless
and tender words telling you where you had to go.
Exile is never easy and the journey
itself leaves a bitter taste. But then,
when you heard that voice, you had to go.
You couldn't sit by the fire, you couldn't live
so close to the live flame of that compassion
you had to go out in the world and make it your own
so you could come back with
that flame in your voice, saying listen...
this warmth, this unbearable light, this fearful love...
It is all here, it is all here."

~ David Whyte

Paulo Coelho, “Dreams and Obsessions”

“Dreams and Obsessions”
by Paulo Coelho

“Your theory about every person could reach everything in life is really optimistic. But if the person tried once and was despaired and disappointed what is he going to do?” - Antoine Rigal, Lyon, France

“There is sometimes a bit of confusion in regards to a passage in my book "The Alchemist": “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Some people sometimes want things that in the end won’t truly help them. Life is strange: the happier people can be, the unhappier they are. I have some friends that think they exist because they have “problems” to solve. Without “problems” they are nobody. The Universe is merely an echo of our desires, regardless of whether they are constructive or destructive ones.

One has to also keep in mind the difference between a dream and an obsession. I mention personal legend in "The Alchemist", and I wrote a book about obsession, "The Zahir". When you follow your personal legend, you walk your path and learn from it. The objective doesn’t blind you to the road that takes you there. On the other hand obsession is what prevents you from admiring the teachings of life. It’s like trying to get to your objective without passing through the challenges.

I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings “there is no other virtue than being brave”. And one has to understand that being brave is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”

"You Have Enemies?"

"You have enemies? Good. 
That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." 
- Winston Churchill

Friday, April 17, 2015

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, "Awakening (Cosmic Sea)"

Liquid Mind, "Awakening (Cosmic Sea)"

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy's two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar give it a hook-shaped appearance. This deep color image also shows the arms' obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surrounding a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars.
But the star forming regions seem more concentrated along the drawn-out (right side) spiral arm. The distorted structure is likely the result of an ancient close encounter with the smaller galaxy seen near the top left of this field of view. The two interacting galaxies are separated by about 150,000 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442."

"Why Do We Look to the Stars?"

"The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

For as long as there has been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. This perspective is a courageous continuation of our penchant for constructing and testing mental models of the skies; the Sun as a red-hot stone, the stars as a celestial flame, the Galaxy as the backbone of night.
The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky. Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere."
- Carl Sagan

Chet Raymo, “Sanctus”

by Chet Raymo

“Early in Claire Messud's new novel, “The Woman Upstairs”, the narrator asks herself and others whether they would rather be able to fly or be invisible. I suspect most who visit this blog would prefer to fly. Me too. Until lately. More on that later. For now I want to ask a less frivolous question, one more likely to split down the middle: Do you prefer, as a matter of personal taste, Romanesque or Gothic?

Gothic aspires, Romanesque inspires. Gothic soars. Romanesque hunkers. Gothic seeks to let go of the earth. Romanesque grips like a barnacle. Gothic favors light over matter. Romanesque uses matter to contain light. Gothic flys, heavenward in spires and ribs and buttresses. Romanesque makes the world beyond the walls invisible.

I have visited the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, admired their beauty, and stood astonished at their engineering. But it is the Romanesque abbeys and monastic houses, such as the Cistercian Abbey of Le Thoronnet in Provence, that most deeply stir my soul. It is an architecture of inward turning, of silence, of rest. Of the subtle play of light on stone. Of firmness. Rootedness. An architecture of the circle, diurnal and annual, where every prayer is a whisper, and every whisper echoes infinitely along a corridor or vault.

There, I've had my say. Let the Gothicists among you have yours.

To fly or be invisible? My days of flying, or wanting to fly, are over. Now, at age 78, I would choose to be invisible. To watch unseen. To walk like a specter in a Romanesque cloister, listening to the wind and the voices of the monks leaking from the abbey choir. To feel the coolness of rough-hewn stone against my invisible palm, to trace shadows that I do not cast myself. To discard the cloak of my skin, to dissolve my bones in the moted air, to become as insubstantial and surrendering as a Te Deum chanted at Matins end.”

The Poet: Kuroda Saburo, "I Am Completely Different"

"I Am Completely Different"

"I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same tie as yesterday,
am as poor as yesterday,
as good for nothing as yesterday,
I am completely different.

Though I am wearing the same clothes,
am as drunk as yesterday,
living as clumsily as yesterday, nevertheless
 I am completely different.

I patiently close my eyes
on all the grins and smirks,
on all the twisted smiles and horse laughs-
and glimpse then, inside me
one beautiful white butterfly
fluttering towards tomorrow."

- Kuroda Saburo

“The Checker Shadow Illusion: Do We Perceive Reality?”

“The Checker Shadow Illusion: Do We Perceive Reality?”
by Jerry Coyne
“I recently finished Steve Pinker’s "The Blank Slate" (recommended!), and in one chapter was taken by his discussion about whether human senses perceive a real, external reality or whether that reality is somehow “constructed” socially or by our senses.  If you’ve read the book, you know that Pinker comes down on the “it’s real” side (this solution is obvious to all but a moron*)—but not always: what we perceive as “real” is sometimes distorted by our expectations.  That, of course, is the basis of optical illusions.
One of Pinker’s examples was the famous “checker shadow illusion,” which completely bamboozled me. In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll reproduce it here. Take a look at this checkerboard, and at squares A and B.  They’re different shades, right?

Nope—they are exactly the same color and shade! Don’t believe it? (I didn’t.) 

This famous illusion was produced by Edward Adelson, a professor of vision science at MIT.  (I’ve given references to two of his papers below, the second of which has some other cool video illusions.)  According to Pinker (and I buy his point), these illusions are hitchhiking on evolved adaptations of our visual system.
Here’s Adelson’s explanation for the checker shadow effect, which involves how our visual system distorts external reality as way to compensate for how things should look under situations of shadow and local contrast: "Why does the illusion work? The visual system needs to determine the color of objects in the world. In this case the problem is to determine the gray shade of the checks on the floor. Just measuring the light coming from a surface (the luminance) is not enough: a cast shadow will dim a surface, so that a white surface in shadow may be reflecting less light than a black surface in full light. The visual system uses several tricks to determine where the shadows are and how to compensate for them, in order to determine the shade of gray “paint” that belongs to the surface.
The first trick is based on local contrast. In shadow or not, a check that is lighter than its neighboring checks is probably lighter than average, and vice versa. In the figure, the light check in shadow is surrounded by darker checks. Thus, even though the check is physically dark, it is light when compared to its neighbors. The dark checks outside the shadow, conversely, are surrounded by lighter checks, so they look dark by comparison. A second trick is based on the fact that shadows often have soft edges, while paint boundaries (like the checks) often have sharp edges. The visual system tends to ignore gradual changes in light level, so that it can determine the color of the surfaces without being misled by shadows. In this figure, the shadow looks like a shadow, both because it is fuzzy and because the shadow casting object is visible.
The “paintness” of the checks is aided by the form of the “X-junctions” formed by 4 abutting checks. This type of junction is usually a signal that all the edges should be interpreted as changes in surface color rather than in terms of shadows or lighting. As with many so-called illusions, this effect really demonstrates the success rather than the failure of the visual system. The visual system is not very good at being a physical light meter, but that is not its purpose. The important task is to break the image information down into meaningful components, and thereby perceive the nature of the objects in view."

*As expressed in this limerick:
"A Christian Scientist from Theale
Said, “Though I know pain isn’t real,
When I sit on a pin
And it punctures my skin
I dislike what I fancy I feel.”
References: Adelson EH (1993) Perceptual organization and the judgment of brightness. "Science" 262:2042–2044
Adelson EH, (2000), "Lightness Perception and Lightness Illusions". "In The New Cognitive Neurosciences", 2nd ed., M. Gazzaniga, ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 339–351

The Daily "Near You?"

Shreveport, Louisiana, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"The Web Gallery of Art"

"The Web Gallery of Art"

"The Web Gallery of Art is a virtual museum and searchable database of European painting and sculpture of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism, Romanticism and Realism periods (1100-1850), currently containing over 22,600 reproductions. It was started in 1996 as a topical site of the Renaissance art, originated in the Italian city-states of the 14th century and spread to other countries in the 15th and 16th centuries. Intending to present Renaissance art as comprehensively as possible, the scope of the collection was later extended to show its Medieval roots as well as its evolution to Baroque and Rococo via Mannerism. More recently the periods of Neoclassicism and Romanticism were also included.
The collection has some of the characteristics of a virtual museum. The experience of the visitors is enhanced by guided tours helping to understand the artistic and historical relationship between different works and artists, by period music of choice in the background and a free postcard service. At the same time the collection serves the visitors' need for a site where various information on art, artists and history can be found together with corresponding pictorial illustrations. Although not a conventional one, the collection is a searchable database supplemented by a glossary containing articles on art terms, relevant historical events, personages, cities, museums and churches.

The Web Gallery of Art is intended to be a free resource of art history primarily for students and teachers. It is a private initiative not related to any museums or art institutions, and not supported financially by any state or corporate sponsors. However, we do our utmost, using authentic literature and advice from professionals, to ensure the quality and authenticity of the content.

We are convinced that such a collection of digital reproductions, containing a balanced mixture of interlinked visual and textual information, can serve multiple purposes. On one hand it can simply be a source of artistic enjoyment; a convenient alternative to visiting a distant museum, or an incentive to do just that. On the other hand, it can serve as a tool for public education both in schools and at home."

For those so inclined, this is a treasure trove of material. Enjoy!

"Choose Your Side..."

"We Americans have a saying: "It's more important what you stand for than who you stand with." I do not rely upon peer opinion to decide what is right and what is wrong. I make those decisions for myself, and even if I discover that every other human alive chose differently, that doesn't mean I was wrong.

There comes a time in every man's life when he has to choose sides. I have chosen my side. I am comfortable with my decision. I do not think everyone on my side is a saint, but I know that those on the other side are much, much worse.

Sometimes a man with too broad a perspective reveals himself as having no real perspective at all. A man who tries too hard to see every side may be a man who is trying to avoid choosing any side. A man who tries too hard to seek a deeper truth may be trying to hide from the truth he already knows. That is not a sign of intellectual sophistication and "great thinking". It is a demonstration of moral degeneracy and cowardice."
- Steven Den Beste

“Stumbling Toward the Ultimate Confrontation: US-NATO Antics in the Nuclear Playground”

“Stumbling Toward the Ultimate Confrontation:
 US-NATO Antics in the Nuclear Playground”
by Brian Cloughley

Voutenay sur Cure, France - “The commander of US-NATO forces, the vigorously vocal General Breedlove, stated on April 7 that the military alliance’s planners  “have been working tirelessly to enhance NATO’s Response Force and implement the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, and today our progress is manifested in the rapid deployments we see happening in locations across the Alliance.”

Breedlove is the man who declared on March 5 that Russia had sent combat troops and massive quantities of military equipment into Ukraine. He said that President Putin had “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine by deploying “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery.” His military opinion was that “What is clear is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

He spoke absolute drivel, because the ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and separatists in the east of the country was working, albeit shakily, and things were quietening down. The last thing that was needed was provocation. Silence and, or at the most, calm, reasoned comments were essential if both sides were to be encouraged to cool it. But this man, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the man who has the trust of the American president, the prime nuclear button-shover, told a deliberate lie intended to increase tension.

The manufactured tension built up and on April 7 Breedlove’s HQ announced that  the militaries of  “11 Allied nations, Germany, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Croatia, Portugal, and Slovenia tested their Headquarters’ response to alert procedures,”  while “in the afternoon of 7 April, the 11th Air Mobile Brigade in The Netherlands and the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade in the Czech Republic were given orders to rapidly prepare to deploy their troops and equipment” in a maneuver called “Noble Jump” which conjured up an image of a missile-wielding April bunny leaping into the fray against a coyly unnamed enemy who could be no other than Russia.  (Although perhaps Russia need not be too troubled about some of NATO’s war preparations. My sources told me that the practice mobilization of the Dutch brigade was a shambles.)

While the ground-based martial bunny-hops were going on there was an aerial provocation in progress,  this time involving  a US Combat Sent RC-135U spyplane which was on a mission against Russia and flew along its Baltic Sea coastline. To prevent identification its transponder had been switched off  — just like those of the aircraft in the 9/11 hijackings and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared mysteriously a year ago.

All aircraft have transponders which report their speed, height, heading and identification to air traffic controllers and other aircraft in order to avoid aerial confusion, so when Russian radar detected a large aircraft without such a signal but obviously using transmission devices to collect their radar and other electronic emissions, including civilian commercial communications, they sent up a fighter plane to have a look. Washington threw up its hands in mock horror and issued statements about how dangerous this was. Then the western media went into overdrive with a cavalier disregard for balanced reporting.

The Daily Mail of Britain is a garbage newspaper which maintains enormous readership because it specializes in glamorizing Britain’s sad, tacky and pathetic Celeb culture while concurrently condemning it, sometimes in the most portentous terms. The paper’s masses of online readers try to rationalize their attraction to vulgarity by glancing at items on international affairs and were told breathlessly that “In a maneuver with ominous echoes of the Cold War, a Russian fighter jet ‘aggressively’ intercepted an American plane over Poland, the Pentagon claims. Filing an official complaint to Russia, the State Department alleges a U.S. RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft was flying near the Baltic Sea in international airspace when a Russian SU-27 Flanker cut into its path.”

The average Daily Mail reader might not be able to question the absurdly conflicting phrases “near the Baltic Sea,” “over Poland,” and “in international airspace,” but that doesn’t matter. The message was being spread around by the US-NATO propaganda apparatus that the dreaded Russkies were menacing the Free World. The media lapped it up.

Little attention was paid in the West to the Russian announcement that “an Su-27 fighter on duty was scrambled, approached the unidentified aircraft, flew around it several times, identified it as an RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft belonging to the U.S. Air Force and read its side number, and reported it to the command. After having been intercepted by the Russian fighter, the U.S. Air Force aircraft changed its course and moved away from the Russian border.”

What the Russians didn’t say was that the aircraft’s “side number” was 4849 and that it had been photographed the previous day in Eastern England at the Royal Air Force base at Mildenhall which houses a USAF tanker squadron, about 200 US special forces soldiers with Osprey aircraft and operatives from such elements as 97 Intelligence Squadron.

No doubt the Russians know that last October it was noticed that US RC-135U spy plane number 4849 carries on its side some eye-catching decals. A photograph taken by Gary Chadwick at Mildenhall shows the “mission markings applied above the crew entry hatch, on the left hand side of the RC-135U Combat Sent 64-14849 ‘OF’ with the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron/55th Wing of the U.S. Air Force: five hammer and sickle symbols.” These symbols may be stickers or stencils, but whatever they are they cost money and take time and effort to apply on the side of an airplane to which they add neither beauty or distinction. So why are they placed there?

It might be thought strange that a US military aircraft in 2015 should have Soviet-era hammer and sickle decals on its side in order to publicly indicate a military exploit involving achievement of an objective of some sort. And it is interesting that one of the images has been added recently, because when a photograph of 4849 was taken last year there were only four such symbols. What enterprising and gallant mission merited the fifth hammer and sickle? Another addition was a fourth depiction of an aircraft carrier, signifying, no doubt, a successful electronic spying mission involving one of these ships that was not of the United States Navy.  What nationality could it have been?

The anti-Russian spy-antics of the US are fully in line with the war-talk of Breedlove and his NATO colleagues who are beavering away in their brand-new billion dollar combat palace in Brussels to justify existence and expansion of their war machine. Russia’s actions have been propagandized accordingly, and the US spy flights are intended to provoke Moscow into taking action which can be used to escalate tension yet further. It would all be childishly funny were it not for the fact that Breedlove and his people are playing with the future of Europe and indeed the world. They are leading us to the nuclear threshold, and must be reined in before they stumble into ultimate confrontation.”
“Soviet Mission Markings” On A U.S. RC-135U Spyplane Used To Monitor The Ukrainian Crisis"
Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.
Strangelove, Breedlove...
Scene from "Dr. Strangelove" where General Buck Turgidson wants to launch an all out offensive.

"How It Really Is"

"What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference.
 They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect."
- George Orwell, "1984"

"How to Not Pay Your Mortgage… and Get Away With It"

"How to Not Pay Your Mortgage… and Get Away With It"
by Bill Bonner

Gualfin (“End of the Road”), Argentina - "We were invited to lunch with our closest neighbors. We decided to go on horseback, training for a long ride coming up this weekend. It took five hours to reach next door. Then another five hours to get back. “Nothing was worse than the wine business in Argentina last year,” said Raul over lunch. Raul operates a vineyard in the neighboring valley. “We got paid about $2.50 a bottle and it cost about $3.50 to make a bottle." “Hey…” we replied. “We grow grapes. We sold our white grapes for 18 cents a kilogram. At that price, they are barely worth picking.” 

We’ll be out on the high plains Monday and Tuesday… A friend proposed a long horseback trip. We agreed on four days, 10 hours per day, out to the puna – where the air is thin… the temperatures drop to -4 °F… and the wind blows the spots off the cows. Today, Maria, Jorge’s wife, brought over some spare clothes… including long johns that she thought your editor might wear. “It gets colder than you can imagine,” she warned. Maria is our age. She’s coming too. We’ll let you know how it works out. 

Nothing Against the Old: We would also like to preface today’s Diary with a clarification: We don’t have anything against old people. We don’t have anything for high GDP growth rates either. But the two don’t go together. Some of this opinion comes from looking in the mirror: New products? New technology? New businesses? The older we get the less interest we have. When we learn a “new” song on the guitar, for example, it is likely to be one written half a century ago. When we sit down to watch a movie, we’re as likely to pick out something from Leslie Nielsen’s "Naked Gun" series as a new Hollywood release. 

There are different stages in life… with different interests. One dear reader explains it: "In India there is a concept of Vrana ashram. In it, a person’s life is divided in four parts. From birth until 25, it is Brahmacharya – a person should gain knowledge by reading scriptures. From 25 to 50, it is Grihastha ashram – to live married life. From 50 to 75, it Vanaprastha – away from society in the forest seeking god. From 75 to 100, it is Sannays – complete renouncing of the world."

We guess we are in the Vanaprastha stage. Maybe that’s what we’re really doing out on this remote ranch high in the Argentine Andes: seeking god.

Keeping the Money Spinning: Is there anything wrong with that? Not that we know of. But it is not the way to boost GDP. One reader pointed out that the problem is not too many old people. It’s too few young people. He has a point: More young people would be buying more new gadgets and gizmos… starting new businesses… buying houses and trading up… and generally helping to keep the money spinning. But why do we care if the money spins? Why can’t it stay still? Ah, there’s an even better question: Is a higher GDP better than a lower one? Not necessarily. We’d be just as happy to see things slow down a bit. But that’s geezer talk, isn’t it? So, let’s move on… 

Nothing much happened in the markets yesterday. Still, things got weirder and weirder. Things that should cost something are going for nothing. Things that are essentially worthless – such as shares of companies that make no money – are selling for fortunes. Why? Because, if you can borrow a billion dollars and the bank pays you to take it… how much is that money really worth?

Free Houses! Yesterday, we were flummoxed. Today, after fasting and prayer, we are as confused as ever. In Europe, mortgage rates are frequently floating… and frequently, the sea they float upon is one that goes up and down with short-term interest rates. Those rates are sinking so low that some homeowners are getting their houses for practically nothing. Let’s say you buy a house for $1 million. And let’s say you borrow for the purchase at an interest rate pegged to the European one-month interbank lending rate. Depending on the spread, you are likely paying mortgage interest of around $250 a month. So how much is that house really worth? Is it worth $250 a month – about the same as a room in a rundown slum house in Baltimore – or is it really worth a million bucks? 

The New York Times has a report about people who are getting their houses for free. What’s the angle? They just don’t pay for them. Here’s the NYT with the report: "There are tens of thousands of homeowners who have missed more than five years of mortgage payments, many of them clustered in states like Florida, New Jersey and New York, where lenders must get judges to sign off on foreclosures. However, in a growing number of foreclosure cases filed when home prices collapsed during the financial crisis, lenders may never be able to seize the homes because the state statutes of limitations have been exceeded, according to interviews with housing lawyers and a review of state and federal court decisions."

But getting a house for free is small potatoes. How about getting $2.5 trillion for free? That’s the amount of US Treasury debt the Fed has bought. (The rest of its QE loot went into government-backed mortgage bonds.) Okay, the banks owned it. Now the Fed owns it. Big deal? Yes, a big deal, because when the Fed owns these bonds, it pays the Department of the Treasury back the interest due on these bonds. In other words, the interest cost to the government is zero from the time the Fed hoovers up its bonds. And what about the principal? The Fed uses that to buy more government bonds to maintain the size of its balance sheet. Effectively, the principal the government owes on its bonds goes with the souls of the dead to a world we the living can never enter. 

The point is clear: The government got $2.5 trillion for nothing. But the meaning of it? Impenetrable.”