Saturday, January 31, 2015

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, “Liquid Mind X: Meditation”

Liquid Mind, “Liquid Mind X: Meditation” (Full Album)

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Moving left to right near the center of this beautifully detailed color composite, the thin, bright, braided filaments are actually long ripples in a sheet of glowing gas seen almost edge on. The interstellar shock wave plows through space at over 500,000 kilometers per hour. Cataloged as NGC 2736, its elongated appearance suggests its popular name, the Pencil Nebula.
Click image for larger size.
 The Pencil Nebula is about 5 light-years long and 800 light-years away, but represents only a small part of the Vela supernova remnant. The Vela remnant itself is around 100 light-years in diameter, the expanding debris cloud of a star that was seen to explode about 11,000 years ago. Initially, the shock wave was moving at millions of kilometers per hour but has slowed considerably, sweeping up surrounding interstellar material. In the narrowband, wide field image, red and blue-green colors track the characteristic glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms.”

"The Most Beautiful People..."

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The Poet: Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

“The Road Not Taken”
by Robert Frost

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” 

The Universe

“It's part of nature's built-in checks and balances, that while there may be times when you think you can't even help yourself, precisely in such moments there will always be someone else nearby... you can help, instead. Which, I think you know, is actually one of the fastest ways to help yourself. I sure feel better.”
“I hope that helps,”
    The Universe

"Thoughts become things... choose the good ones!" 

Chet Raymo, “When The Morning Stars Sing Together”

 
“When The Morning Stars Sing Together”
by Chet Raymo

"A Chinese proverb: 'A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.' Which might be an acceptable epigraph for this blog. I can't imagine anyone coming here looking for answers. Certainly, providing answers is the last thing on my mind. I would like to think you come for song.

We are, I think, by and large, a community who distrusts answers, at least answers that are vehemently held. We are made uncomfortable by stridency. By dogma. By the desire to proselytize. We wear our truths lightly, gaily, as a song bird wears its feathers. We are grateful to those who push back the clouds of ignorance and hold the reins of passion (click to enlarge). With Blake, we sing their praises, a song we have spent a lifetime learning. We sing to celebrate. We sing because we have a song.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Assen, Drenthe, Netherlands. Thanks for stopping by.

“How Your Brain Reacts To Watching TV”


“How Your Brain Reacts To Watching TV”
by Benjamin Plackett

“I’m showing you slices of the brain,” Joy Hirsch, the Director of fMRI Research at Columbia University Medical Center tells me. More specifically, she’s talking about some images of an fMRI brain scan she took while her subject was watching a video sequence. “Every possible visual area is just going nuts,” she adds. What does this mean?

It shows that the human brain is anything but inactive when it’s watching television. Instead, a multitude of different cortexes and lobes are lighting up and working with each other to enable us, the viewer, to relate to the images flickering before our eyes and keep up with the subtleties of the plotline – to say nothing of the complexities in the incessantly twisting storylines of the likes of "The Americans" or "Homeland".

Hirsch uses high tech fMRI machines, or Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, in her labs at Columbia and Yale to measure the brain’s activity in her participants when they’re watching video clips. The fMRIs work by tracking blood flow into and between the many different expanses of the brain. The more blood, the more activity, which suggests that particular area of the brain is responsible for whatever activity is happening at the time of the scan – or so goes the theory.

Her research indicates that following the storyline of an edited film clip that depicts a visual action requires a complex and coordinated effort across multiple brain areas. You might feel brain dead at the end of the workday when you plonk yourself in front of the TV and blissfully zone out with a beer and a favorite show, but Hirsch says that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In one of her studies, Hirsch suspects she might have pinned down the specific neural regions that are responsible for helping us to keep track of the storyline. She identified a “distributed cortical network” that’s only activated when the participant is shown a normal video sequence with a narrative flow – and crucially, not by random video shots or scrambled images. “There’s a whole network of activity that goes on to interpret these narratives. What we observed was this enormous activity in the right hemisphere, that’s the visual area,” says Hirsch. This system of collaborating cerebral constituencies consists of the "extrastriateinferotemporalparietalposterior cingulate, and frontal areas,” which again are all predominant in the right hemisphere. 

The right side of our noggin is also involved with producing an emotional response, says Hirsch, which might explain how we can become so emotionally invested in particular characters. In addition to these areas, Hirsch says that there’s also a substantive amount of blood flow to the “short term memory areas, where [the subject is] remembering what had just happened in the video sequence and is connecting what is currently happening. I like to think of it as the visual narrative.”

It’s worth noting that for this particular research, Hirsch was only using fairly simple video sequences with an absence of any sound to simplify matters, which she thinks–stressing that she has no evidence– that without sound the brain is more active because there’s more inferring needed to make sense of what’s happening. Interestingly, Hirsch says that “you don’t see a whole lot of variation,” between study participants. The same regions of the brain seem to be stimulated scan after scan, which grants a consistency to her results.

Research similar to that of Hirsch’s labs– looking into the brain’s engagement with video clips– has even piqued interest in the marketing and advertising worlds, where they could potentially use techniques to produce infomercials and commercials that mesh with the way our brains perceive, digest and understand moving images. Many have scrutinized the scientific vigor of fMRI brain scans with less than kind eyes, most notably for the controversial (and hyped) suggestion that the technology could be used as a lie detector, possibly even in a court of law one day.

Hirsch says it’s a fashionable trend for other scientists to bash her method, yet it remains true that for all the technique’s revolutionary applications, it’s also still a burgeoning and somewhat rudimentary science often dismissed as ‘best guess science’. “It’s offensive to people who do incredible brain imaging in a field in which people have done decades of research to get us where we are. It incites provocation. Yes, of course, people who have done traditional research are threatened by us,” retorts Hirsh, “but they needn’t be, fMRI doesn’t exclude other sciences.”

Returning to the first “brain slice” she mentioned, Hirsch says, “In this person, the posterior cingulate gyrus is active.” This particular subject was watching a simple video montage of some boys playing outdoors when a bee nest suddenly falls from the tree causing the kids to run away. “This person is relating to someone in the sequence,” she says, because the middle part of his brain is active – “the part of the brain used for self reference.” Hirsch speculates that maybe the participant had a similar experience when he was young and- whether consciously or subconsciously– his brain is recalling and relating what happened all those years ago."

"11 Life Goal Hacks: How to Achieve Anything"

"11 Life Goal Hacks: How to Achieve Anything"
by PsyBlog

“We're all familiar with the nuts and bolts of goal-setting. We should set specific, challenging goals, use rewards, record progress and make public commitments (if you're not familiar with these then check out this article on how to reach life goals). So how come we still fail? This psychological research suggests why and what mindsets should help us reach our goals:
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1. Stop fantasizing: The biggest enemy of any goal is excessive positive fantasizing. Research on fantasizing in goal-setting shows that positive fantasies are associated with failure to get a job, find a partner, pass an exam or get through surgery. Those whose fantasies were more negative did better. Don't experience the future positively before you achieve it.

2. Start committing: The reason we don't achieve our goals is lack of commitment. One powerful psychological technique to increase commitment is mental contrasting. This involves entertaining a positive fantasy but then pouring a bucket of cold reality over it (follow this link for the details). It's hard, but research shows people really respond to it.

3. Start starting: You can use the Zeigarnik effect to drag you on towards your goal. A Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, noticed that waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. When completed, the orders evaporated from their memory. What the Zeigarnik effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting somewhere... anywhere. Just taking that first step could be the difference between failure and success. Once you've started, the goal will get lodged in your mind.

4. Visualize process NOT outcome: We're all susceptible to the planning fallacy: that's thinking all will go smoothly when it won't (and hardly ever does). Visualizing the process of reaching your goal, helps focus attention on the steps you need to take. It also helps reduce anxiety.

5. Avoid the what-the-hell effect: When we miss our target, we can fall foul of the what-the-hell-effect. It's best known to dieters who go over their daily calorie limit. Reasoning the target is now gone, they think 'what-the-hell', and start eating too much of all the wrong food. Goals that are vulnerable to the what-the-hell-effect are generally short-term and inhibitional (when you're trying to stop doing something). The effect can be avoided by setting goals that are long-term and acquisitional. Find out more about the what-the-hell effect.

6. Sidestep procrastination: When goals are difficult and we wonder whether it's really worth it, procrastination can creep up on us. Under these circumstances the key is to forget about the goal and bury yourself in the details. Keep your head down and use self-imposed deadlines (read more on how to avoid procrastination).
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7. Shifting focus: You can't keep your head down all the way or you'll get lost. In the long-term, the key to reaching a goal is switching between a focus on the ultimate goal and the task you are currently completing. Research suggests, when evaluating progress, especially on difficult tasks, it's best to stay task-focused. But when tasks are easy or the end is in site, it's better to focus on the ultimate goal (read more on how to shift focus).

8. Reject robotic behavior: Often our behavior is robotic. We do things not because we've really thought about it, but because it's a habit or we're unconsciously copying other people (e.g. Bargh et al., 2001). This type of behavior can be an enemy of goal striving. Ask yourself whether what you are doing is really getting you closer to your goal.

9. Forget the goal, what's the aim? Goals should always be set in the service of our overall aims. But there's a dark side to goal setting. When goals are too specific, it's easy to get stuck; when they are too many goals, unimportant, easy ones get prioritized over vital, difficult ones; when they are too short-term, they encourage short-term thinking. Badly set goals reduce motivation and may increase unethical behavioor. Remember to keep in mind the whole point of the goal in the first place.
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10. Know when to stop: Sometimes the problem isn't getting started, it's knowing when to stop. Psychologists have found that sunk costs make us do weird things (Arkes & Blumer, 1985). 'Sunk costs' refer to the effort or money we've already expended in trying to reach our goal. So, even when our plan is failing, we keep pushing on. Research shows that the more people invest in a goal, the more they think it will succeed; irrespective of whether it actually will succeed. Know when to change tack or you'll end up flogging a dead horse.
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11. If-then plans: What all these studies show is the importance of self-regulation in achieving a goal. Unfortunately, as we all know to our cost, controlling the self can be very hard. One strategy with plenty of research to back it up is forming 'if-then' plans (Gollwitzer et al., 2006). You simply work out in advance what you're going to do in a particular situation. Although it sounds simple, we often prefer to wing it, rather than plan. With a little ingenuity, though, if-then plans can be used to surmount the obstacles described above.”

"How It Really Is"

"Carpe..."

“They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? “Carpe...”  Hear it? "Carpe, carpe diem," seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.” 
- Robin Williams as “John Keating”, “Dead Poets Society” 

Dmitry Orlov, "The 5 Stages of Economic Collapse"

"The 5 Stages of Economic Collapse"
by Dmitry Orlov

"Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of coming to terms with grief and tragedy as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and applied it quite successfully to various forms of catastrophic personal loss, such as death of a loved one, sudden end to one's career, and so forth. Several thinkers, notably James Howard Kunstler and, more recently John Michael Greer, have pointed out that the Kübler-Ross model is also quite terrifyingly accurate in reflecting the process by which society as a whole (or at least the informed and thinking parts of it) is reconciling itself to the inevitability of a discontinuous future, with our institutions and life support systems undermined by a combination of resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, and political impotence.

But so far, little has been said specifically about the finer structure of these discontinuities. Instead, there is to be found continuum of subjective judgments, ranging from "a severe and prolonged recession" (the prediction we most often read in the financial press), to Kunstler's evocative but unscientific-sounding "clusterf**k," to the ever-popular "Collapse of Western Civilization," painted with an ever-wider brush-stroke.

For those of us who have already gone through all of the emotional stages of reconciling ourselves to the prospect of social and economic upheaval, it might be helpful to have a more precise terminology that goes beyond such emotionally charged phrases. Defining a taxonomy of collapses might prove to be more than just an intellectual exercise: based on our abilities and circumstances, some of us may be able to specifically plan for a certain stage of collapse as a temporary, or even permanent, stopping point.

Even if society at the current stage of socioeconomic complexity will no longer be possible, and even if, as Tainter points in his "Collapse of Complex Societies," there are circumstances in which collapse happens to be the correct adaptive response, it need not automatically cause a population crash, with the survivors disbanding into solitary, feral humans dispersed in the wilderness and subsisting miserably. Collapse can be conceived of as an orderly, organized retreat rather than a rout.

For instance, the collapse of the Soviet Union - our most recent and my personal favorite example of an imperial collapse - did not reach the point of political disintegration of the republics that made it up, although some of them (Georgia, Moldova) did lose some territory to separatist movements. And although most of the economy shut down for a time, many institutions, including the military, public utilities, and public transportation, continued to function throughout. And although there was much social dislocation and suffering, society as a whole did not collapse, because most of the population did not lose access to food, housing, medicine, or any of the other survival necessities. The command-and-control structure of the Soviet economy largely decoupled the necessities of daily life from any element of market psychology, associating them instead with physical flows of energy and physical access to resources. Thus situation, as I argue in my forthcoming book, Reinventing Collapse, allowed the Soviet population to inadvertently achieve a greater level of collapse-preparedness than is currently possible in the United States.

Having given a lot of thought to both the differences and the similarities between the two superpowers - the one that has collapsed already, and the one that is collapsing as I write this - I feel ready to attempt a bold conjecture, and define five stages of collapse, to serve as mental milestones as we gauge our own collapse-preparedness and see what can be done to improve it.

Rather than tying each phase to a particular emotion, as in the Kübler-Ross model, the proposed taxonomy ties each of the five collapse stages to the breaching of a specific level of trust, or faith, in the status quo. Although each stage causes physical, observable changes in the environment, these can be gradual, while the mental flip is generally quite swift. It is something of a cultural universal that nobody (but a real fool) wants to be the last fool to believe in a lie.

The 5 Stages of Collapse:

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in "business as usual" is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that "the market shall provide" is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

Stage 3:  Political collapse. Faith that "the government will take care of you" is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that "your people will take care of you" is lost. As local social institutions, be they charities, community leaders, or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for "kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity" (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes "May you die today so that I die tomorrow" (Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago”).

Although many people imagine collapse to be a sort of elevator that goes to the sub-basement (our Stage 5) no matter which button you push, no such automatic mechanism can be discerned. Rather, driving us all to Stage 5 will require that a concerted effort be made at each of the intervening stages. That all the players seem poised to make just such an effort may give this collapse the form a classical tragedy - a conscious but inexorable march to perdition - rather than a farce ("Oops! Ah, here we are, Stage 5." - "So, whom do we eat first?" - "Me! I am delicious!") Let us sketch out this process.

Financial collapse, as we are are currently observing it, consists of two parts. One is that a part of the general population is forced to move, no longer able to afford the house they bought based on inflated assessments, forged income numbers, and foolish expectations of endless asset inflation. Since, technically, they should never have been allowed to buy these houses, and were only able to do so because of financial and political malfeasance, this is actually a healthy development. The second part consists of men in expensive suits tossing bundles of suddenly worthless paper up in the air, ripping out their remaining hair, and (some of us might uncharitably hope) setting themselves on fire on the steps of the Federal Reserve. They, to express it in their own vernacular, "f**ked up," and so this is also just as it should be.

The government response to this could be to offer some helpful homilies about "the wages of sin" and to open a few soup kitchens and flop houses in a variety of locations including Wall Street. The message would be: "You former debt addicts and gamblers, as you say, 'f**ked up,' and so this will really hurt for a long time. We will never let you anywhere near big money again. Get yourselves over to the soup kitchen, and bring your own bowl, because we don't do dishes." This would result in a stable Stage 1 collapse - the Second Great Depression.

However, this is unlikely, because in the US the government happens to be debt addict and gambler number one. As individuals, we may have been as virtuous as we wished, but the government will have still run up exorbitant debts on our behalf. Every level of government, from local municipalities and authorities, which need the financial markets to finance their public works and public services, to the federal government, which relies on foreign investment to finance its endless wars, is addicted to public debt. They know they cannot stop borrowing, and so they will do anything they can to keep the game going for as long as possible.

About the only thing the government currently seems it fit to do is extend further credit to those in trouble, by setting interest rates at far below inflation, by accepting worthless bits of paper as collateral and by pumping money into insolvent financial institutions. This has the effect of diluting the dollar, further undermining its value, and will, in due course, lead to hyperinflation, which is bad enough in any economy, but is especially serious for one dominated by imports. As imports dry up and the associated parts of the economy shut down, we pass Stage 2: Commercial Collapse.

As businesses shut down, storefronts are boarded up and the population is left largely penniless and dependent on FEMA and charity for survival, the government may consider what to do next. It could, for example, repatriate all foreign troops and set them to work on public works projects designed to directly help the population. It could promote local economic self-sufficiency, by establishing community-supported agriculture programs, erecting renewable energy systems, and organizing and training local self-defence forces to maintain law and order. The Army Corps of Engineers could be ordered to bulldoze buildings erected on former farmland around city centers, return the land to cultivation, and to construct high-density solar-heated housing in urban centers to resettle those who are displaced. In the interim, it could reduce homelessness by imposing a steep tax on vacant residential properties and funneling the proceeds into rent subsidies for the indigent. With plenty of luck, such measures may be able to reverse the trend, eventually providing for a restoration of pre-Stage 2 conditions.

This may or may not be a good plan, but in any case it is rather unrealistic, because the United States, being so deeply in debt, will be forced to accede to the wishes of its foreign creditors, who own a lot of national assets (land, buildings, and businesses) and who would rather see a dependent American population slaving away working off their debt than a self-sufficient one, conveniently forgetting that they have mortgaged their children's futures to pay for military fiascos, big houses, big cars, and flat-screen television sets. Thus, a much more likely scenario is that the federal government (knowing who butters their bread) will remain subservient to foreign financial interests. It will impose austerity conditions, maintain law and order through draconian means, and aid in the construction of foreign-owned factory towns and plantations. As people start to think that having a government may not be such a good idea, conditions become ripe for Stage 3.

If Stage 1 collapse can be observed by watching television, observing Stage 2 might require a hike or a bicycle ride to the nearest population center, while Stage 3 collapse is more than likely to be visible directly through one's own living-room window, which may or may not still have glass in it. After a significant amount of bloodletting, much of the country becomes a no-go zone for the remaining authorities. Foreign creditors decide that their debts might not be repaid after all, cut their losses and depart in haste. The rest of the world decides to act as if there is no such place as The United States - because "nobody goes there any more." So as not to lose out on the entertainment value, the foreign press still prints sporadic fables about Americans who eat their young, much as they did about Russia following the Soviet collapse. A few brave American expatriates who still come back to visit bring back amazing stories of a different kind, but everyone considers them eccentric and perhaps a little bit crazy.

Stage 3 collapse can sometimes be avoided by the timely introduction of international peacekeepers and through the efforts of international humanitarian NGOs. In the aftermath of a Stage 2 collapse, domestic authorities are highly unlikely to have either the resources or the legitimacy, or even the will, to arrest the collapse the dynamic and reconstitute themselves in a way that the population would accept.

As stage 3 collapse runs its course, the power vacuum left by the now defunct federal, state and local government is filled by a variety of new power structures. Remnants of former law enforcement and military, urban gangs, ethnic mafias, religious cults and wealthy property owners all attempt to build their little empires on the ruins of the big one, fighting each other over territory and access to resources. This is the age of Big Men: charismatic leaders, rabble-rousers, ruthless Macchiavelian princes and war lords. In the luckier places, they find it to their common advantage to pool their resources and amalgamate into some sort of legitimate local government, while in the rest their jostling for power leads to a spiral of conflict and open war.

Stage 4 collapse occurs when society becomes so disordered and impoverished that it can no longer support the Big Men, who become smaller and smaller, and eventually fade from view. Society fragments into extended families and small tribes of a dozen or so families, who find it advantageous to band together for mutual support and defense. This is the form of society that has existed over some 98.5% of humanity's existence as a biological species, and can be said to be the bedrock of human existence. Humans can exist at this level of organization for thousands, perhaps millions of years. Most mammalian species go extinct after just a few million years, but, for all we know, Homo Sapiens still have a million or two left.

If pre-collapse society is too atomized, alienated and individualistic to form cohesive extended families and tribes, or if its physical environment becomes so disordered and impoverished that hunger and starvation become widespread, then Stage 5 collapse becomes likely. At this stage, a simpler biological imperative takes over, to preserve the life of the breeding couples. Families disband, the old are abandoned to their own devices, and children are only cared for up to age 3. All social unity is destroyed, and even the couples may disband for a time, preferring to forage on their own and refusing to share food. This is the state of society described by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull in his book "The Mountain People." If society prior to Stage 5 collapse can be said to be the historical norm for humans, Stage 5 collapse brings humanity to the verge of physical extinction.

As we can easily imagine, the default is cascaded failure: each stage of collapse can easily lead to the next, perhaps even overlapping it. In Russia, the process was arrested just past Stage 3: there was considerable trouble with ethnic mafias and even some warlordism, but government authority won out in the end. In my other writings, I go into a lot of detail in describing the exact conditions that inadvertently made Russian society relatively collapse-proof. Here, I will simply say that these ingredients are not currently present in the United States.

While attempting to arrest collapse at Stage 1 and Stage 2 would probably be a dangerous waste of energy, it is probably worth everyone's while to dig in their heels at Stage 3, definitely at Stage 4, and it is quite simply a matter of physical survival to avoid Stage 5. In certain localities - those with high population densities, as well as those that contain dangerous nuclear and industrial installations - avoiding Stage 3 collapse is rather important, to the point of inviting foreign troops and governments in to maintain order and avoid disasters. Other localities may be able to prosper indefinitely at Stage 3, and even the most impoverished environments may be able to support a sparse population subsisting indefinitely at Stage 4.

Although it is possible to prepare directly for surviving Stage 5, this seems like an altogether demoralizing thing to attempt. Preparing to survive Stages 3 and 4 may seem somewhat more reasonable, while explicitly aiming for Stage 3 may be reasonable if you plan to become one of the Big Men. Be that as it may, I must leave such preparations as an exercise for the reader. My hope is that these definitions of specific stages of collapse will enable a more specific and fruitful discussion than the one currently dominated by such vague and ultimately nonsensical terms as "the collapse of Western civilization.”

“Trying To Stay Sane In An Insane World, Part 2”

“Trying To Stay Sane In An Insane World, Part 2”
by James Quinn

"When people pile up debts they will find difficult and perhaps even impossible to repay, they are saying several things at once. They are obviously saying that they want more than they can immediately afford. They are saying, less obviously, that their present wants are so important that, to satisfy them, it is worth some future difficulty. But in making that bargain they are implying that when the future difficulty arrives, they’ll figure it out. They don’t always do that.” 
– Michael Lewis, “Boomerang”

"The manner in which our leaders are governing the country and citizens are living their lives can only be considered normal in relation to residing in a profoundly abnormal society. The American Dream of having the opportunity for upward mobility through educating yourself, working hard, accumulating wealth methodically by spending less than you earn, and reaching your full potential as a caring loving human being has been replaced by a perverted nightmare where we run on a hamster wheel for our entire lives trying to achieve the new American dream of accumulating throw away material goods, working to make the payments for McMansions, SUVs, stainless steel appliances, and iGadgets you rent from bankers, while driving yourself into an early grave by consuming mass quantities of processed poison and the stress created by trying to achieve the lifestyle sold to us by Madison Ave. maggots, Wall Street shysters and the mainstream media propagandists. The corporate fascists tell you what to believe, which “enemy” to fear, how you should look, what to eat, what drug to take for the illnesses caused by the food they lured you to eat, the kind of house you need to impress your friends and family, and the car you need to drive to impress your neighbors. As George Carlin aptly pronounced: “It’s called the American Dream because you’d have to be asleep to believe it.”– either asleep or insane.

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for– in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”  – Ellen Goodman

Our profoundly abnormal society of materialistic zombies, who mindlessly obey the commands and marketing messages of the financial elite, has staked their futures and the future of the country on the wisdom and brilliance of an Ivy League academic who never worked a day in the real world, didn’t spot the largest fraudulent housing bubble in world history, and whose unlawful acts as Federal Reserve chairman have enriched the banking whores who destroyed the country and impoverished what remains of the dying middle class. It’s the height of insanity for the American people to trust these crooked high priests of finance to cure a disease they spread with their immoral, traitorous policies over the last century. The Federal Reserve and their lackeys, in a desperate last gasp gamble to prolong their fiat currency pillaging of the peasants, have rolled the dice with QE to infinity, accounting fraud, and further enrichment of their corporate masters.

“Viewed as a religious cult, modern finance revolves around the miracle of the spontaneous generation of money in a set of rituals performed by the high priests of central banking. People hang on the high priests’ every word, attempting to divine the secret meaning behind their cryptic utterances. Their interventions before the unknowable deity of global finance assure them of economic recovery and continued prosperity, just as a shaman’s rain dance guarantees rain or ritual sacrifice atop a Mayan pyramid once promised a bountiful harvest of maize.”
 – Dimitri Orlov, “The Five Stages of Collapse”
Full, and much longer, article is here:

“There Is No Reality Anymore…”

“There Is No Reality Anymore…”
by Thad Beversdorf

"I 'd love to change the world, but I don 't know what to do,
 so I'll leave it up to you..." *

"What a great lyric that is from the late 60's, early 70's English band "10 Years After." I believe this describes that uneasy feeling of discontent that sits deep in the stomach, beneath the day to day exteriors, of so many people today. The world is like a black hole in that it seems to be getting smaller and smaller as the years go by but also heavier and heavier with each passing day.

When I was a teenager and my friends and I were taking reality obscuring substances, one of my buddies (this means you Nichol) would stop us at certain points throughout the night for a reality check. This was just a few moments where we 'd all gather our senses to make sure the world was still right and then we'd venture back into obscurity. I feel that reality is an old world term. There is no reality anymore. With advances in technology came unending possibilities of if you can dream it they  can make it so. The ubiquitous flow of information ensures that the truth is always available but never known with certainty. It means there is no such thing as a reality check. It's like that dream inside a dream inside a dream. Which reality is real anymore? How deep does the rabbit hole go?

We are raised with pretty standard ideals of what the world is meant to be but these ideals seem to take place only in the movies. It must be incredibly difficult for our young people to reconcile the two worlds, I know it is for me. That which they learn as a child and that which they find has replaced it as a young adult. Our leaders are despicable, arrogant and egotistical fools who pretend we elect them because we don't see them for what they are. But we elect them because we feel we have no choice. We know what we want the world to be. We know what it should look and feel like. And we know it is not the world in which we live today. I know I'd love to change the world but I don't know how and so I'll leave it up to you. And so we continue to move forward down this path, each step uneasy as though something ungood is lurking just around the next corner.

We are able to put that feeling out of our minds for the most part but our subconscious is always aware that things are off. We have all kinds of self help books and new age theories that attempt to make sense of it all and explain why we just aren t happy the way we envision happy should be. Perhaps the only reality is the reality that the world isn't what we had hoped it would be and we don't know how to make that right. I'd love to say that if we just stand up and do the right thing, act from our hearts and have good intentions that it could change the world. But quite honestly there are ill-intentioned people that are constructing this new world in which we sub-exist. It is them and us, but they'd never say it that way. Certainly though their intention is not for us to co-exist along side them.

But so we carry on and we, move forward, to the best of our abilities. We accept the good with the bad and acknowledge that everything is a trade off. We believe that if we go to college we stand a better chance in life and so we borrow our first 10 years of post college wages to get an edge over the next guy who is doing the same. When we get out of school we know that it is time to buckle down and get serious. We put our lives on hold in order to focus on the future with the idea that one day we will be sitting on the porch with the person we love, the one we put on hold for all those years, and we will then enjoy our life's work then.

But then we get further in debt because we need a sleeker car and we need a bigger house but it's ok because we can just work a little more. And then the kids come and as far as we got to know them they are great, I think. But it's ok because they just finished college and now they've moved back in as the job market is tough out there and so we're paying off their student loans. Eventually they get away and begin their life's journey and they take their debt with them. And then we realize, god I'm almost 60. But it feels great because that means soon I'll be there on the porch getting to know the one I love again and life will be grand at that point.

But then we turn 65 and we realize all those policies that were implemented by all those well-intentioned decision makers have actually left us with very little. And we say it's ok because we'd be bored anyway just sitting on the porch. And so we take a job waving at people in Walmart but feel like OMG how did I get here. But the shift ends and we go home anxious to spend time with the one we love because, although it's a terrible thought, we are aware we're both getting long in the tooth. And so we arrive home only to realize the one we love is now sick and that it's too late for our days sitting on the porch getting to know each other again. We do everything we can but we cannot afford to help that person who stood quietly behind us all those years as healthcare costs are unrealistically out of touch with reality . And then it hits us that despite taking all the right steps to ensure we have a great life we failed to ever really be happy, to really love and to really accept love. And then it really hits us, this world provides but one shot.

Well, then that feeling of uneasy discontent that shadowed us when we were young is now an intense pain in our heart. And we look out at the world and we ask ourselves how could this have happened? I did everything they told me I was supposed to do, I did everything right! And it becomes clear that life was a chance to change the world, but we didn't know what to do, and so we left it up to..."
*Ten Years After, "I'd Love To Change The World"

Friday, January 30, 2015

Musical Interlude: Moody Blues, “Land of Make-Believe”

Moody Blues, “Land of Make-Believe”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“You may have heard of the Seven Sisters in the sky, but have you heard about the Seven Strong Men on the ground? Located just west of the Ural Mountains, the unusual Manpupuner rock formations are one of the Seven Wonders of Russia. How these ancient 40-meter high pillars formed is yet unknown. 
Click image for larger size.
The persistent photographer of this featured image battled rough terrain and uncooperative weather to capture these rugged stone towers in winter at night, being finally successful in February of last year. Utilizing the camera's time delay feature, the photographer holds a flashlight in the foreground near one of the snow-covered pillars. High above, millions of stars shine down, while the band of our Milky Way Galaxy crosses diagonally down from the upper left.”

"Sometimes..."

"Sometimes even to live is an act of courage."
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"Compassion and Enabling"

"Compassion and Enabling"
by admin

"Sometimes there is a very blurry line between feeling and expressing compassion, and enabling someone. Showing compassion is giving someone space and understanding so they can work through their predicament whilst remaining at a healthy emotional distance. This healthy emotional distance can be hard to judge in close knit relationships such as marriage and families. For should one fall over the edge of compassion and into the field of pity, neither party will benefit. Pity serves no one in relation to creating the desired changes within relationships of any kind.

Somewhere in between the blurry lines of compassion and pity lies the process labeled as enabling. Enabling is an overdose of compassion. When compassion distorts into pity, the individual is assisted in continuing with behavioral traits that clearly do not serve either party with regards to emotional, mental and psychical health.

People become enabled to continue their damaging behavioral traits via beloved others wearing the mask of compassion. The beloved other becomes drawn into the vacuum of the sufferer’s reality. Unknowingly, they begin to slip into pity, whilst believing that they are still expressing compassion. Once a person becomes drawn into the illusion of the other person’s reality they begin to make excuses for themselves as a means of justifying the abuse they are committing. They are enabling the sufferer, therefore abusing the sufferer, whilst they wear the mask of compassion. For anyone who is assisting the abuser, via allowing the abuser to continue on their discourse without obstruction, using (false) compassion (pity) as a reason, is ultimately abusing and damaging the abuser even more. And they are also damaging themselves.

Now this sounds all good and fine in theory from the clear perspective of the unattached observer, but what of the person in the eye of the tornado. What of the mother whose daughter is severely addicted to drugs? And what of the husband who must cope with the severe depression of his wife?

Compassion and pity become extremely difficult to distinguish in such circumstances. One’s own belief systems become strained and one starts to question the integrity of their own reality. Little by little people begin to compromise themselves in order to compensate for the others distorted behavioral traits. This is pity and pity is abuse. These self compromises come from one’s own false belief that they alone are responsible for ensuring that the abuser is healed. They take the false responsibility on board based on ethics and morals they have adopted from society or other people, meanwhile their intuition, (their inner truth) screams at them telling them that this does not feel right.

When one indulges another’s reality long enough via pity, one cannot help become exposed to deteriorating emotional and psychological states. This is the clearest sign that you have been enabling someone. If you are showing someone genuine compassion then your psychological and emotion health will not be affected.

When you find yourself constantly dwelling over another’s situation as well as altering your psychological and emotional states to compensate for another’s predicament, then you are enabling someone. This for most people is too harsh a reality to admit, especially when the person is very close to you. Usually one’s entire belief system is based on giving love and helping another, yet when love and compassion distort into pity and enabling, we are simply forgetting to love ourselves first, and in doing so, we hurt the other instead.

On the surface this may sound selfish, yet the underlying truth is that we cannot help another, unless we love ourselves correctly first. Another harsh reality is that you are responsible for no one but yourself. Compassion allows someone the opportunity to realize this even in the mist of immense suffering. Pity enables another to disperse responsibility away from themselves and onto another, which helps and heals no one.

There are no definitive guidelines to judge whether you are expressing compassion or enabling someone. But perhaps the question you could ask yourself is; if I continue to live with my present emotional and mental states, will this affect my overall health in the future? If you can honestly answer ‘no’, then you are expressing compassion. If you can’t honestly say ‘no’, then perhaps you need to step back a touch and love yourself more, and then you will have a clearer perspective in regards to the other, and what the other really requires."
"Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion... is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception."
- Sharon Salzberg

"Buying Time"

"Buying Time"
Author Unknown

"A man came home from work late again, tired and irritated, to find his 5-year-old son waiting for him at the door. “Daddy, may I ask you a question?” “Yeah, sure, what is it?” replied the man. “Daddy, how much money do you make an hour? “That’s none of your business! What makes you ask such a thing?” the man said angrily. “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?” pleaded the little boy. “If you must know, I make $20.00 an hour.” “Oh,” the little boy replied, head bowed. Looking up, he said, “Daddy, may I borrow $10.00 please?”

The father was furious. “If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is just so you can borrow some to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. I work long, hard hours everyday and don’t have time for such childish games.” The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door. The man sat down and started to get even madder about the little boy’s questioning. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?

After an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think he may have been a little hard on his son. Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $10.00, and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door. “Are you asleep son?” he asked. “No daddy, I’m awake,” replied the boy. “I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier,” said the man. “It’s been a long day and I took my aggravation out on you. Here’s that $10.00 you asked for.”

The little boy sat straight up, beaming. “Oh, thank you daddy!” he yelled. Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out some more crumpled up bills. The man, seeing that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, then looked up at the man. “Why did you want more money if you already had some?” the father grumbled. “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,” the little boy replied. “Daddy, I have $20.00 now. Can I buy an hour of your time?”

A Moment with Nature: "Love and Sorrow"

"Love and Sorrow"

"Here the swallow's mate is injured and the condition is fatal.
She was hit by a car as she swooped low across the road.
He brought her food and attended to her with love and compassion.
He brought her food again but was shocked to find her dead.
He tried to move her... a rarely-seen effort for swallows!
Aware that she is dead and will never be with him again,
sadness filled his eyes with sorrow.
He stood beside her as his heart weeps.
Finally aware that she would never return to him,
he stood beside her body with untold pain and despair."

Musical Interlude: Josh Groban, “Remember When It Rained”

Josh Groban, “Remember When It Rained”

"The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces..."

"The eternal silence of infinite spaces frightens me. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me? We travel in a vast sphere, always drifting in the uncertain, pulled from one side to another. Whenever we find a fixed point to attach and to fasten ourselves, it shifts and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desires to find solid ground and an ultimate and solid foundation for building a tower reaching to the Infinite. But always these bases crack, and the earth obstinately opens up into abysses. We are infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, since the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from us in an encapsulated secret; we are equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which we were made, and the Infinite in which we are swallowed up."
- Blaise Pascal

"Contradictions..."

"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction,
 check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."
- Ayn Rand

The Poet: Mary Oliver, "Song of the Builders"

"Song of the Builders"

"On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -
 a worthy pastime.

Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
 this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.

Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.”

~ Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early”

“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.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Porirua, Wellington, New Zealand. Thanks for stopping by.

"The Legend of the Starfish"

"The Legend of the Starfish"
Author Unknown

"A vacationing businessman was walking along a beach when he saw a young boy. Along the shore were many starfish that had been washed up by the tide and were sure to die before the tide returned. The boy was walking slowly along the shore and occasionally reached down and tossed the beached starfish back into the ocean.

The businessman, hoping to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, walked up to the boy and said, “I have been watching what you are doing, son. You have a good heart, and I know you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around here and how many starfish are dying on every beach every day. Surely such an industrious and kind hearted boy such as yourself could find something better to do with your time. Do you really think that what you are doing is going to make a difference?”

The boy looked up at the man, and then he looked down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the starfish, and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean, he said, “It makes a difference to that one.”