Even in absurdity, sacrament. Even in hardship, holiness. Even in doubt, faith. Even in chaos, realization. Even in paradox, blessedness
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"Life expands or shrinks in proportion to one's courage." ~Anain Nin
A grouping of granite blocks along a grassy Amazon hilltop may be the vestiges of a centuries-old astronomical observatory - a find archaeologists say indicates early rainforest inhabitants were more sophisticated than previously believed.
The 127 blocks, some as high as 9 feet tall, are spaced at regular intervals around the hill, like a crown 100 feet in diameter.
On the shortest day of the year - Dec. 21 - the shadow of one of the blocks disappears when the sun is directly above it.
"It is this block's alignment with the winter solstice that leads us to believe the site was once an astronomical observatory," said Mariana Petry Cabral, an archaeologist at the Amapa State Scientific and Technical Research Institute. "We may be also looking at the remnants of a sophisticated culture."
Anthropologists have long known that local indigenous populations were acute observers of the stars and sun. But the discovery of a physical structure that appears to incorporate this knowledge suggests pre-Columbian Indians in the Amazon rainforest may have been more sophisticated than previously suspected.
"Transforming this kind of knowledge into a monument; the transformation of something ephemeral into something concrete, could indicate the existence of a larger population and of a more complex social organization..."
North Carolina's mountaintop homes stir debate (as well they should)
"It's almost heaven," says Ms. Erickson, a retiree who spends half the year in these mountains, the other half in Naples, Fla. She has been drawn to the Smoky Mountains since she visited in her childhood.
The price range for these mountaintop homes? $225,000 to $1.5 million.
But these scenic views come with other costs: Ridge-top building may cause downstream water pollution and wreck trout streams by causing too much silt to pour off denuded slopes. Others worry that as rooftops, decks, and greens poke out from the ridges, this pursuit of the perfect view may ruin the view for others - and compromise the region's most precious asset: its beauty.
"These mountain communities face a dilemma where they've got an eroding economic system and the only choice is to take in things that are going to damage the environment and change the culture," says Charlie Derber, a sociologist at Boston College.
The western North Carolina mountains have attracted wealthy outsiders since the late 1800s. More recently, many of them have come from Florida, says history professor Chuck Watkins at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Today, the mountains are seeing a "perfect confluence" for mountaintop development, as hurricane insurance costs have tripled in Florida over the last year due to the hurricanes and Americans are looking for more security post-9/11, says James Chung of Reach Advisors, a consumer research firm in Boston.
As the overall real estate market slowly cools, high-end resort development is booming, experts say. For example, in 2000, just over 500,000 vacation homes were sold. That figure tipped 1 million homes for the first time last year, according to Reach Advisors.
The trend of mounting homes onto ridge tops also results from lax zoning laws, a culture that values property rights, and the skill of savvy resort developers who can easily influence local communities hungry for tax revenue and job opportunities, experts say.
THE FUTURE OF FUSION
It's hard to take fusion energy seriously when its proponents employ descriptors like "power of the Sun" and "energy from a star" to explain it. This kind of hyperbole—and the fact that scientists have never created a sustained fusion reaction capable of generating more electricity than it soaks up—make fusion sound like a fantastical scheme devised by Lex Luthor. But in the wake of the current energy crisis, new money and political support may finally channel enough resources into fusion to make the elusive process a reality.
On May 24, the US, EU, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and India signed on to help build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, in the south of France. ITER is the largest fusion research project to date and one of the biggest international scientific collaborations ever. Its budget is 10 billion euros over 20 years, more than three times that of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The reactor is scheduled to be functional by 2016.
"[ITER] is not only a scientific and technological experiment aimed at demonstrating the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy, but it is also an experiment in international relations," said Ned Sauthoff, the U.S. project manager for ITER. "Never before have the governments representing more than half the population of the world gotten together and tried to solve a global problem."
Theoretically, fusion is an ideal energy source. It releases no carbon into the atmosphere and is fueled by hydrogen atoms, which can easily be derived from water.
I love what you've done with the place: Womb environment 'makes men gay'
A man's sexual orientation may be determined by conditions in the womb, according to a study.
Previous research had revealed the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay, but the reason for this phenomenon was unknown.
But a Canadian study has shown that the effect is most likely due to biological rather than social factors.
The research is published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Professor Anthony Bogaert from Brock University in Ontario, Canada, studied 944 heterosexual and homosexual men with either "biological" brothers, in this case those who share the same mother, or "non-biological" brothers, that is, adopted, step or half siblings.
He found the link between the number of older brothers and homosexuality only existed when the siblings shared the same mother.
The amount of time the individual spent being raised with older brothers did not affect their sexual orientation.
On the trail of quantum pulp
We've all seen it: Humphrey Bogart in black and white, chasing crooks through shadows and down dreary alleys. The moody, hard-boiled noir that Bogie personified defined an age of wartime anomie in Europe and the US, and made for gritty, stimulating film and novels. Today, the chiaroscuro tone of pulp is not only found in repertory theaters and airport bookshops: Detective narratives are turning up in efforts to solve the deepest mysteries of quantum mechanics.
Creative fiction is a powerful device for elucidating complex quantum phenomena, both for informing the public and among physicists themselves. Whodunits are natural fits for the portrayal, for example, of the duplicity of light: In the infamous double-slit experiments, photons seemingly change properties to avoid detection of their true nature by playing both sides of the wave-particle duality.
Sexual Success And The Schizoid Factor
Ever wondered why uncouth, scruffy rock musicians are pursued by legions of doting, lovelorn female fans? Or why women threw themselves at Pablo Picasso? Well, a new study suggests that creativity may confer an evolutionary advantage in finding a mate; indicating that creative types have increased sexual appeal. But paradoxically, people who have certain traits predictive of schizophrenia - a condition not normally associated with evolutionary fitness - also have a higher propensity toward artistic ability. This creative ability, say some evolutionary experts, is far from being a disadvantage, as creativity is highly attractive when it comes to mate choice.
Like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Stephen Pinker, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller considers sexual selection to be right up there in importance with natural selection. Advocates of sexual selection argue that competition between members of the same sex drives the evolution of particular traits that mates of the opposite sex find attractive. Miller, author of The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, claims that traits like morality, art, language and creativity, influence the way in which the human mind evolves. It may sound like a stretch, but recent studies show that reliable predictions of mate choice can be made using these kinds of traits as a guide. Before looking more closely at these studies, however, it's worth first considering whether creativity is actually quantifiable.
Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran's musings on savants, who display exceptional skills in a very specific field, is illuminating in this respect, as he "unashamedly speculates" that a savant's talents may stem from an enlarged section of the brain called the angular gyrus. "You can imagine an explosion of talent resulting from this simple but 'anomalous' increase in brain volume," says Ramachandran, adding: "The same argument might hold for drawing, music, language, indeed any human trait." Ramachandran explains that this theory is at least in part testable, and points to examples where damage to the right parietal cortex "can profoundly disrupt artistic skills, just as damage to the left disrupts calculation." Ramachandran also considers possible the idea that these esoteric human traits can be attractive to mates in the way that a male peacock's plume is attractive, as exceptional ability in music, poetry or drawing may be an "externally visible signature of a giant brain." Citing Dawkins, Ramachandran argues "that this 'truth in advertising' may play an important role in mate selection."
Despite what seems to be logically valid reasoning, Ramachandran stresses that the talents and specializations associated with the savant are not enough. They will not become a Picasso or Einstein, because they are missing one vital, ineffable ingredient: creativity. "There are those who assert that creativity is simply the ability to randomly link seemingly unrelated ideas, but surely that is not enough," writes Ramachandran. We may have a fantastic grasp of language, and think that we can knock out a half decent metaphor on call, but it is actually harder than most people think. Yet when we come across something truly creative, it speaks volumes to us, "In fact," says Ramachandran, "it's crystal clear once it is explained and has that 'why didn't I think of that?' quality that characterizes the most beautiful and creative insights."
But if creative juices are responsible for an evolutionary advantage, there must surely be some aspect of this seemingly ineffable trait that can be identified as heritable.
MONKEYS MONITOR WEATHER, TOO
The Weather Channel reaches over more than 89 million households in the United States, but it might soon find its way to a whole new demographic: monkeys.
In an article published in the June 20th issue of Current Biology, a team of Scottish researchers reveal that monkeys may be able to remember past weather trends and act on this information when searching for food.
A team of researchers from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland monitored a group of gray-cheeked mangabeys (medium-sized monkeys that live in the rainforests of central Africa) over a period of 210 days, as the monkeys traveled from tree to tree in search of fruit.
A Mangabey's diet is high in figs, which ripen faster when the weather is warm. Since figs ripen intermittently, mangabeys will return to trees that previously held unripe fruit in order check on the fruit's progress.
"There is a lot of competition for fruit, so it would pay to be able to arrive first," said primate researcher Karline Janmaat, the study's lead author.
Janmaat and her fellow researchers discovered that after a period of warm and sunny days, monkeys were more likely to revisit trees where they'd previously found unripened fruit than after a stretch of cool and cloudy days. They also seemed to return sooner to the trees that had the most fruit if the weather since their last visit had been consistently warm.
The spiders of my apartment
Singing (ritualistically) in public, etc.
You may have noticed that on Sunday, I
Honestly, though, the most profound aspect of the experience was the wave of music that I bodysurfed on... hearing three hundred people singing back to me, doing the hand gestures, and transmitting a powerful signal of acceptance was overwhelming and intoxicating. I ceased being "me" for fifteen minutes and just focused on the moment exclusively. It was unlike any other organic, holistic, nondogmatic ministerial experience I've had thusfar. Word.
In other news, last night I skinnydipp'd with a slew of relative strangers after an incredible meal. The lightening bugs in the trees were downright selacious in their luminescent burlesque.
Meanwhile, the high energy drink I just drank (synonymous with a rufous masculine bovine) is not helping me to "fly" but seems to be fucking with my ability to stay awake. What the hell? Have I bottomed out on caffeine so completely that these single servings of motivation are not little more than placebos in a can? What's next? Resorting to hourly trips to the electric outlet with tongue outstretched? Smoking espresso beans in covert, jittery tokes behind art galleries? A trip to Gitmo for wakefulness training?
I have two cases of the shit and two hours to get some serious work done. I'm tempted to see if one more will do anything to keep me from yawning my way into another night of being highly unproductive.
Some (atomic) fundamentals may change as time goes by
"The fundamental things apply, as time goes by," sings Sam, the pianist in Casablanca. But maybe Sam didn't mean that to apply over 12 billion years.
A new study in the journal Physical Review Letters suggests that over the lifetime of the cosmos, some fundamental things may not be so fundamental.
The study, led by physicists Wim Ubachs and Elmar Reinhold of the Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, suggests that "mu," the mass ratio of two atomic particles — the proton and the electron — "could have decreased in the past 12 billion years."
At that's an interesting notion to physicists, who rely on this fundamental constant to understand the structure of the atoms inside stars, planets and people. In more technical terms, mu sets the scale of the "strong" nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces in the universe (gravity, electromagnetism and the weak force that governs radioactivity are the others.) The strong force binds the sub-atomic particles called quarks to one another inside protons. As fundamental stuff goes, that's pretty fundamental.
Measured today, the ratio indicates that a proton weighs (just roughly speaking here) 1836.15267261 times more than an electron.
The study team compared the value of mu measured today to the value measured in the light from a pair of quasars, thought to be super-massive black holes sucking in huge amounts of gas and star dust. The quasars' light was measured by study team members at a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile. Since the quasars are about 12 billion light years away, it has taken 12 billion years for their light to reach Earth, making them indicators of conditions when the universe was only about 1.7 billion years old.
By combining today's mu measurement with the mu measurement from the chemical spectrum of light from the quasars, the European team suggests that mu has dropped by 0.002% over the last 12 billion years.
Not much of a drop, but it may have big implications, says astrophysicist Michael Murphy of the United Kingdom's Cambridge University. "If we find that the fundamental constants are in fact changing, then they must not be numbers set into the fabric of fundamental physics — rather they are dynamical quantities which change according to some deeper laws of physics that we are yet to understand," he says. "Those deeper laws are likely more fundamental than our present ones and may even point the way to a Grand Unified Theory which brings together the four known forces of nature."
Four and a half billion years ago, the earth was formed, and it was utterly without life. And so it stayed for perhaps as long as a billion years. For another billion years, the planet's oceans teemed with life, but it was all blind and deaf. Simple cells multiplied, engulfing each other, exploiting each other in a thousand ways, but oblivious to the world beyond their membranes. Then much larger, more complex cells evolved--eukaryotes--still clueless and robotic, but with enough internal machinery to begin to specialize. So it continued for more than two billion more years, the time it took for the algorithms of evolution to hit upon good ways of banding these workers together into multi-cellular organisms composed of millions, billions and, (eventually) trillions of cells, each doing its particular mechanical routine, but now yoked into specialized service, as part of an eye or an ear or a lung or a kidney. These organisms (not the individual team members composing them) had become long-distance knowers, able to spy supper trying to appear inconspicuous in the middle distance, able to hear danger threatening from afar. But still, even these whole organisms knew not what they were. Their instincts guaranteed that they tried to mate with the right sorts, and flock with the right sorts, but just as those Brazilians didn't know they were Brazilians, no buffalo has ever known it's a buffalo.
In just one species, our species, a new trick evolved: language. It has provided us a broad highway of knowledge-sharing, on every topic. Conversation unites us, in spite of our different languages. We can all know quite a lot about what it is like to be a Vietnamese fisherman or a Bulgarian taxi driver, an eighty-year-old nun or a five-year-old boy blind from birth, a chess master or a prostitute. No matter how different from one another we people are, scattered around the globe, we can explore our differences and communicate about them. No matter how similar to one another buffalos are, standing shoulder to shoulder in a herd, they cannot know much of anything about their similarities, let alone their differences, because they can't compare notes. They can have similar experiences, side by side, but they really can't share experiences the way we do.
Even in our species, it has taken thousands of years of communication for us to begin to find the keys to our own identities. It has been only a few hundred years that we've known that we are mammals, and only a few decades that we've understood in considerable detail how we have evolved, along with all other living things, from those simple beginnings. We are outnumbered on this planet by our distant cousins, the ants, and outweighed by yet more distant relatives we share with the ants, the bacteria, but though we are in the minority, our capacity for long-distance knowledge gives us powers that dwarf the powers of all the rest of the life on the planet. Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future--a comet on a collision course, or global warming--and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.
We may not be up to the job. We may destroy the planet instead of saving it, largely because we are such free-thinking, creative, unruly explorers and adventurers, so unlike the trillions of slavish workers that compose us. Brains are for anticipating the future, so that timely steps can be taken in better directions, but even the smartest of beasts have very limited time horizons, and little if any ability to imagine alternative worlds. We human beings, in contrast, have discovered the mixed blessing of being able to think even about our own deaths and beyond, and a huge portion of our energy expenditure over the last ten thousand years or so has been devoted to assuaging the concerns provoked by this unsettling new vista. If you burn more calories than you take in, you soon die. If you find some tricks that provide you a surplus of calories, what might you spend them on? You might devote person-centuries of labor to building temples and tombs and sacrificial pyres on which you destroy some of your most precious possessions--and even some of your very own children. Why would you want to do that? These strange and awful expenditures give us clues about some of the hidden costs of our heightened powers of imagination. We did not come by our knowledge painlessly.
Addicted To Knowledge
Neuroscientists at the University of Southern California have proposed a simple explanation for the pleasure of grasping a new concept: The brain is getting its fix. According to researcher Irving Biederman, the "click" of comprehension triggers a biochemical cascade that rewards the brain with a shot of natural opium-like substances.
Writing in American Scientist, Biederman suggests that in seeking knowledge, scholars are almost like junkies. "While you're trying to understand a difficult theorem, it's not fun," said Biederman, a professor of neuroscience. "But once you get it, you just feel fabulous."
Interestingly, Biederman says the brain's craving for a fix motivates humans to maximize the rate at which they absorb knowledge. He hypothesized that knowledge addiction has strong evolutionary value because mate selection correlates closely with perceived intelligence. Only more pressing material needs, such as hunger, can suspend the quest for knowledge, he added. And apparently, the same mechanism may be involved in the aesthetic experience, providing a neurological explanation for the pleasure we derive from art.
Bring me a God helmet, and bring it now
One of the biggest disappointments of my so-called adult life is the sad realisation that I can neither fly nor move objects with the power of my mind. This sucks. But for all their broken promises, as the prison ships become more and more crowded, when I am prime minister of the One World Government, the psychics will be left well alone.
They're just too much fun. Up in Scotland, the Evening Mail has been teasing "Angela's Live Psychic Line": the adverts say their psychics are the "real thing" and "truly gifted" at only 75p a minute. Apparently Angela was recruiting, so one cheeky scamp at the Evening Mail thought she'd apply for a job: this is the great British sport of "moron baiting", and it's a game we can all play.
After a gruelling 10-minute phone interview the reporter had a new job. Psychic Angela asked her for a test reading; the reporter told her she was "at a crossroads but on the brink of success", and was hired immediately, despite being neither "truly gifted" nor, more importantly, "the real thing". "Her crystal ball must have been on the blink when she signed up our reporter to dupe gullible punters," said the Evening Mail.
But of course, there is a natural human drive to seek out the transcendent. A "neurotheology" researcher called Dr Michael Persinger has developed something called the "God Helmet" lined with magnets to help you in your quest: it sounds like typical bad science fodder, but it's much more interesting than that.
Persinger is a proper scientist. The temporal lobes have long been implicated in religious experiences: epileptic seizures in that part of the brain, for example, can produce mystical experiences and visions. Persinger's helmet stimulates these temporal lobes with weak electromagnetic fields through the skull, and in various published papers this stimulation has been shown to induce a "sensed presence", under blinded conditions.
There is controversy around these findings: some people have tried to replicate them, although not using exactly the same methods, and got different results. But however improbable or theologically offensive you might find his evidence, because it is published and written up in full, you can try to replicate it for yourself and find out whether it works. In fact, you really can try this at home: the kit needed to make a God Helmet is fabulously rudimentary.
Meditation: A journey home to the soul
Every morning before I make my tea, I brace myself as I turn on the radio to groggily hear what matters most at the top of the hour: “From Galactic Public Radio on Planet Earth, I’m a human being. In today’s news, a mockingbird sang late into the night in Asheville, while a cacophony of fireflies lit up a field with bioluminescent abandon. A waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest formed countless rainbows, through which children dove and butterflies flew. The sunset was reportedly a honker, while a weird little man watched in awe and realized that the soul is not some hackneyed daydream but a real manifestation of our quest to experience fullness of life. And politicians worldwide have determined that they are no longer relevant to an emerging paradigm of personal spiritual evolution, and the weather’s fine.”
If only, right? If only soul stirring moments were the headlines, and soul deadening institutions took a hint and folded. We can only dream, and in the dreaming, possibly catch a shimmering momentary glimpse of that elusive concept we call “soul.” Everyone struggles, at one time or another, to define the thing, which as an enterprise is as daunting as a cat finally catching its own tail. Yet we all in our own way seek out the soul within ourselves and each other in a mythical odyssey to at last Know Thyself. Breathe deeply.
The word ‘animal’ is derived from the Latin anima, which is defined as soul. Anima itself comes from the Latin root “ani,” which translates to ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ In my line of work, I must occasionally remind children that we are animals, and their reply is typically defensive. “Animals stink.” Actually, we all stink (some more than others) and anyone who denies it needs a nasal recalibration. “Animals can’t talk.” I truly believe otherwise when I hear a wren defend its perch or my cats chew me out for coming home too late, and who can forget Koko, the sign-language gorilla? “Animals can’t build spaceships.” True, but you, my young friend, can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd. But, as Roger Miller sang, “you can be happy if you put your mind to it.” At which point the kids look at me funny, walk away, and seek more validating conversation with toy robots.
Ancient wisdom tells us that the soul is the animating principle in all living things, while science tends to beg difference. Science has articulated a mechanical approach to understanding life, yet hasn’t devised a theorem to say why we exist at all in the first place. It is in that ‘why’ that I find sweet mystery, a refreshing lack of answers, and creative wiggle room. Perhaps diving head first into that ‘why’ one may catch a clue to that self-referential spectacle of purpose that confounds us when we attempt to define it.
In quantum physics, it’s been demonstrated that when a particle is under observation, its behavior changes. The soul seems to operate in a similar manner. Averse to being boxed in, the soul plays hide-and-seek when you have the dictionary and magnifying glass out, yet it makes itself known when you’re nowhere near the ‘record’ button. Right now at the very least, most of us are awake and conscious, or as much as we can be for a Sunday morning. Consciousness is for psychology what the soul has been for mysticism; consciousness forms the seat of awareness, while the soul connects our awareness to something vaster. Like the soul to the seeker, consciousness remains a mystery to researchers. Thousands of pages in scholarly journals are written about consciousness each year, just as thousands of napkins are scribbled on by yearning poets journeying to understand the breath within them. The readings today tell of feats of magic and faith which transform inert, dead matter into life sustaining flesh. How may these parables inspire consideration for our own bodies, awareness, and stories? What about them ignites an inmost tickling of our reckonings with the soul, body, and the subatomic entanglement of it all? Breathe deeply.
Being a bit of a self-proclaimed metaphysical wing-nut and card-carrying member of the Wacky Ideas Club, I have had my own theories about the soul. They began with a rather inventive cosmology as a young child, in which I believed every person had a little Casper the Friendly Ghost inside them who sent a daily celestial telegram of misdeeds to God, who weighed them against the amount of guilt you should feel for the rest your life. Fortunately, I was exposed to transcendentalism early on and we tweaked that just a tish.
I can’t recall the first time I truly sensed of the soul, but I’d like to think that it was a night that, as an nine year old rug rat, I stayed awake in my bunkbed all the way through to the purple light of morning, mentally overheating while attempting to grasp the idea of the infinite, and the sheer terrifying size of the Universe. While feeling so utterly small, I recalled feeling a ripple of interconnection, a weird sensation of safety and connectedness within it all, a nearness to the eternal.
I felt that sensation within the scrubby woods of youthful summers, touching leaves with hopeful fingers, rope-swinging over dark water and hidden bullfrogs, and in willful surrender to the drenching daring-do of passing thunderstorms. As a child yet unjaded by the minutiae of routine and responsibility, the freedom of forest and sand was exhilarating. By virtue of being alive, we are all entitled to experience a harboring within holy moments which illuminate a sacredness unique to us, within and throughout. Call it the soul, the mind, or the silent whirring of mitochondria, do you think these conscious experiences of closeness might just be one way the cat finally catches its own metaphorical tail? The words and music are by Dougie McLean…
CHORUS: I feel so near to the howling of the wind
And yet, as you can imagine, getting to know the absolute core and essence of the self is not entirely a joyful romp through huggy-kissy happy land. As beings whose range of experience is not bounded (!), we at times must endure great despair in order to comprehend the magnitude of our being here, the repercussions of consciousness. Indeed, as innocence passed beneath my little troll feet, the world of youthful awe became grittier, discovery and surprise became harder won. I forged my way through foggy and dead times, sloughing off wonder for the quick fix. I had never felt the soul as a vividly essential part of self as I did in the aftermath of my greatest failure, lying there one gray morning in pain, loneliness, in my own reckless crucifixion. It was that feeling, there, within and around the hardened earth of my own body, which forced me to sit up, forced me to breathe through the miseries of my own decisions, to come to life again and transform.
VERSE: So we build our tower constructions
CHORUS: I feel so near to the howling of the wind
Anima, spiritus… “Young man, I say unto thee, arise…” Anam Cara, soul friend… “…and the soul of the child came into him again.” We have the remarkable good fortune of being cosmically allowed to be shocked out of our stupors and into realization of our presence within the eternal. We rent a framework of muscle and bone that, as aspects of the Universe and ongoing expressions of the Big Bang, can arise, breathe, laugh heartily and love big for the blink of time we’ve won. It would seem that the gift of our being here is easily distracted by the mundane, yet why can’t it all be a vehicle for self-awareness? In “Wings of Desire,” a film by Wim Wenders, Peter Falk tells an angel considering giving up the business of merely observing the world beneath him that “on a cold day, you can rub your hands together, and you can drink coffee, and it’s good.” What he describes is a holy moment, a firing of the senses for the conjuring of spirit. In one of his last and certainly shortest sermons, the Buddha lifted a flower, laughed, and just walked away. Simplicity. Directness. Presence. The soul won’t be summoned by pedigree and pontification, but by doing something purposefully, by breathing with the wholeness of the body, and by savoring the unpredictability of each passing minute.
CHORUS: I feel so near to the howling of the wind
So these holy moments of realization can come cheap, if not free. For adults, it may take practice, but for children still living within a world as yet unfettered by deadlines, those wide eyes and intense curiosities are symptoms of the adventure of knowing thyself, of the journey home which decades later is still unraveling as a map marked by a miraculous topography. The journey to the soul, down sunset trails, passing through rivers of deepest magic, is our birthright, and quite possibly, our purpose.
CHORUS: I feel so near to the howling of the wind
[delivered today at the Jubilee Community, Asheville, NC]
Amazing Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street, circa '73 [via mefi]
A big tacky event
At present I'm chaperoning a 450-person event that is quite gaudy. Cute, but gaudy. This time tomorrow, I will hopefully be lying flat after
Gotta go, I think the burlesque performers are getting antsy.
Social Isolation Growing in U.S.
Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.
A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.
The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.
"That image of people on roofs after Katrina resonates with me, because those people did not know someone with a car," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study. "There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants."
New research is blurring the species boundary, forcing us to rethink what it is to be human.
We now understand that all vertebrates, and it is argued even some invertebrates, share many biological structures and processes that underlie attributes once considered uniquely human: empathy, personality, culture, emotion, language, intention, tool-use and violence. Furthermore, we are able to see beyond species differences in ways we have never been able to before. Neuroimaging advances such as PET and fMRI can help map more elusive subjective qualities—such as emotion, states of consciousness and sense of self—to specific regions of the brain. In conjunction with a rich legacy of observational data and theories on animal behavior and human psychology, neuroscience is bridging long-standing conceptual and perceptual gaps.
Whether or not this paradigm shift conforms precisely to science philosopher Thomas Kuhn's definition, its potential effects on science and society are revolutionary. The idea that humans share a psyche with other animals is enormously challenging. First, it alters the basic model around which biomedical and other disciplines have organized theory and terminology. Concepts like sense of self, empathy and intention have largely been considered exclusive to humans, and have therefore defined what animals are not. Such perceived dissimilarities have shaped theory, practice, law and custom for centuries. The human-animal gap influences how we live, how we formulate scientific questions, how we practice science and even what we eat. Today, in contrast, models of species' similarity are replacing models of difference, and the lines between species have become increasingly blurred—blurred to the extent that many insist on limits to stem cell-chimera research to avoid mixing the neuronal and psychological capacities of humans and other species.
'UFO Hacker' Tells What He Found
WN: Did you find anything in your search for evidence of UFOs?
McKinnon: Certainly did. There is The Disclosure Project. This is a book with 400 testimonials from everyone from air traffic controllers to those responsible for launching nuclear missiles. Very credible witnesses. They talk about reverse-(engineered) technology taken from captured or destroyed alien craft.
WN: Like the Roswell incident of 1947?
McKinnon: I assume that was the first and assume there have been others. These relied-upon people have given solid evidence.
WN: What sort of evidence?
McKinnon: A NASA photographic expert said that there was a Building 8 at Johnson Space Center where they regularly airbrushed out images of UFOs from the high-resolution satellite imaging. I logged on to NASA and was able to access this department. They had huge, high-resolution images stored in their picture files. They had filtered and unfiltered, or processed and unprocessed, files.
My dialup 56K connection was very slow trying to download one of these picture files. As this was happening, I had remote control of their desktop, and by adjusting it to 4-bit color and low screen resolution, I was able to briefly see one of these pictures. It was a silvery, cigar-shaped object with geodesic spheres on either side. There were no visible seams or riveting. There was no reference to the size of the object and the picture was taken presumably by a satellite looking down on it. The object didn't look manmade or anything like what we have created. Because I was using a Java application, I could only get a screenshot of the picture -- it did not go into my temporary internet files. At my crowning moment, someone at NASA discovered what I was doing and I was disconnected.
I also got access to Excel spreadsheets. One was titled "Non-Terrestrial Officers." It contained names and ranks of U.S. Air Force personnel who are not registered anywhere else. It also contained information about ship-to-ship transfers, but I've never seen the names of these ships noted anywhere else.
Curses, foiled again!
I've let time slip away from me like a cloud of starlings, and I don't really have the time to post right now. It might be like this for the next few days, so bear with...
♫Going back to Cali, Cali, Cali♫
Hovering over the "Purchase Tickets" button was agonizing. Do it?, not do it?, ad infinitum. It was in fact a muscle spasm in my left index finger that caused the rather spontaneous ticketing, and now I am two months away from accidentally gallivanting through San Fran, Big Sur, the Esalen Institute, with mi amigos Gustav and Casey. I'm actually flying on that recently minted "ominous" day, Sept. 11th, just because that's how things worked out. No doubt, it will be a safe day to fly.
Anyhoo, it's not only a day off, it's also the twentieth anniversary of my first official Day of Rebirth, June 21st. The story is long, and you can read it here. Today, I'm taking off for Max Patch for some soul stretchin' and revitalization at the top of the world. As always, the lessons of this day are unpredictable. We shall see...
Crime as Asceticism
This comes by way of an email from Joshua:
They steal from the rich and give to the poor. And just like Robin Hood and his men, a gang of Hamburg activists are proving difficult to catch despite the fact they dress as superheroes when they raid swanky stores. A bunch of egalitarian criminals who go by such names as "Spider Mum" and "Santa Guevara" are being referred to as modern-day Germany's version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And just like the Sheriff of Nottingham in the legend of Sherwood Forest's most famous outlaw, the Hamburg police are at a loss when it comes to stopping them.
Aloha, Shalom, Loveya.
A few days ago, it was time to say my 'goodbyes' to my soul friend Gustav, who was returning to Californa, from whence he came. I found the actual act of uttering that word difficult, so the best I could do was mutter 'aloha' into his shoulder. The word which comes far from my cultural sphere is defined as both hello and goodbye, love, peace, and all that jazz. Goodbye implies such a severing of continuation, a closing, rather than the open perpetuity to which I cast my love and friendship. 'Aloha' initially conjures up images of Hawaiian shirts, tiki torches and schmaltzy luaus with Don Ho crooning late into the night, spilling to VFW parking lots all across America. Hello, Hawaii. Yet on a whole other level, subbing 'so long, farewell,' with the Polynesian homage to 'shalom' blasts a tearful moment with a tish of blazing sun, open heartedness, and a bit of a mystical acknowledgement that it's all the same damn thing... the soul is somewhat learning disabled when it comes to the human, limited perception of time. The soul understands that time doesn't quite flow the way we think it does, and once two conscious beans meet and groove into a friendship beyond weather reports and water cooler dialectics, we click on a cosmic level and stay connected no matter what. Aloha is a little easier to prepare in the subconscious kitchen of language. My best friend Joshua beautifully takes things a step further and assures that even the most casual conversation ends, if it really ever does, in 'I Love You,' which is even more blunt than the pineapple-scented syllables from the Pacific.
Goodbye is for wimps. So long is for wussies. Aloha, and its subsequent transcendent spirit, forces us to open to all possibilities, and to worry not about the farewell, but to bask in the love and to glisten in the coconut oil of gleaming opportunity. So, to Gustav, here's to transformation, and a lifetime wave of friendship so large you could surf an elephant through it.
"Doomsday vault" on Arctic isle would protect world's seeds
The high-security vault, almost half the length of a football field, will be carved into a mountain on a remote island above the Arctic Circle. If the looming fences, motion detectors and steel airlock doors are not disincentive enough for anyone hoping to breach the facility's concrete interior, the polar bears roaming outside should help.
The more than 100 nations that have collectively endorsed the vault's construction say it will be the most secure facility of its kind in the world. Given the stakes, they agree, nothing less would do.
Its precious contents? Seeds — millions and millions of them — from virtually every variety of food on the planet.
Crop seeds are the source of human sustenance, the product of 10,000 years of selective breeding dating from the dawn of agriculture.
The "doomsday vault," as some have come to call it, is to be the ultimate backup in the event of a global catastrophe — the go-to place after an asteroid hit or nuclear or biowarfare holocaust so that, difficult as those times would be, humankind would not have to start again from scratch.
Food for thought: Crop diversity is dying
José Esquinas-Alcázar regards the corn laid out in rows with the love and admiration that sommeliers reserve for bottles in a fine wine cellar. To the untrained eye, it is a collection of misshapen ears: Long, short, blue, yellow, white, spotted, covered in dirt.
Bare Ass Nekkid
As a silly stunt after swimming the other day, I walked bare ass nekkid in front of my friends. Casey said "Yay, he's finally getting over it!" and the wonderful loon ran and hugged me in my state of still being quite bare ass nekkid. It was a sweet moment of celebrating being a fleshy animate aware and living organism. I've never seen a wiggle worm in a turtleneck, nor an otter in an evening gown, so it seems alright, if daring, if I am suddenly "as I am" among the wide eyes of compadres.
Perhaps it's just as silly as getting born into a world of clothing, anyway. Isn't everything around us covered in something else?
Crows Have Human-Like Intelligence
Crows make tools, play tricks on each other, and caw among kin in a dialect all their own.
These are just some of the signs presented in a recent book that point to an unexpected similarity between the wise birds and humans.
"It's the same kind of consonance we find between bats that can fly and birds that can fly and insects that can fly," said Candace Savage, a nature writer based in Saskatoon, Canada.
"Species don't have to be related for there to have been some purpose, some reason, some evolutionary advantage for acquiring shared characteristics," she added.
Savage's book, Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World (October 2005), explores the burgeoning field of crow research, which suggests that the birds share with humans several hallmarks of higher intelligence, including tool use and sophisticated social behavior.
The shared traits exist despite the fact that crows and humans sit on distinct branches of the genetic tree.
Humans are mammals. Crows are birds, which Savage calls feathered lizards, referring to the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
"I'm not positing there's anything mythological about this or imagining crows are in any way human," she said.
"But whatever it is that has encouraged humans to develop higher intelligence also seems to have been at work on crows."
Study finds attitudes about aging contradict reality
Back when he was 20 years old in 1965, rock star Pete Townshend wrote the line “I hope I die before I get old” into a song, “My Generation” that launched his band, the Who, onto the rock ‘n’ roll scene.
But a unique new study suggests that Townshend may have fallen victim to a common, and mistaken, belief: That the happiest days of people’s lives occur when they’re young.
In fact, the study finds, both young people and older people think that young people are happier than older people — when in fact research has shown the opposite. And while both older and younger adults tend to equate old age with unhappiness for other people, individuals tend to think they’ll be happier than most in their old age.
In other words, the young Pete Townshend may have thought others of his generation would be miserable in old age. And now that he’s 61, he might look back and think he himself was happier back then. But the opposite is likely to be true: Older people “mis-remember” how happy they were as youths, just as youths “mis-predict” how happy (or unhappy) they will be as they age.
The study, performed by VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and University of Michigan researchers, involved more than 540 adults who were either between the ages of 21 and 40, or over age 60. All were asked to rate or predict their own individual happiness at their current age, at age 30 and at age 70, and also to judge how happy most people are at those ages. The results are published in the June issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies, a major research journal in the field of positive psychology.
“Overall, people got it wrong, believing that most people become less happy as they age, when in fact this study and others have shown that people tend to become happier over time,” says lead author Heather Lacey, Ph.D., a VA postdoctoral fellow and member of the U-M Medical School’s Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine. “Not only do younger people believe that older people are less happy, but older people believe they and others must have been happier ‘back then’. Neither belief is accurate.”
The findings have implications for understanding young people’s decisions about habits — such as smoking or saving money — that might affect their health or finances later in life. They also may help explain the fear of aging that drives middle-aged people to “midlife crisis” behavior in a vain attempt to slow their own aging.
Of trees and otherwise...
There is a tree I've not yet identified near the house. I only know it's there, yet which one...? This tree gives off a certain odor, known to male humans who are unlikely to talk of the scent in polite conversation, perhaps even in intimate whispers after the romp of their choice. When I smell it, being a male of a certain sexual nature, I get a bit of a buzz, and that deep loin-y sensation that as an animal, mating, congress and passion are encoded and indwelling rules of life free of moralistic bombast. I find it interesting that here, in late spring, as the tree explodes in pollen, squirrels are chasing around it in the race to make squirrel-babies, and humans are getting mosy jiggy with it in dark clubs with pounding rhythms, the particular arboreal olofactory stimulus of my query is almost embarrassing in its likeness to a male sexual secretion. Yet there it is, hiding it not from breeze or passerby, blunt and blatent as a boner, the tree delightfully reeks of spooge, and it surely must relish itself for this ingenious trope.
The tree, whereever it is, stands tall (ahem) and guilt-free as it does just what it ought to be doing this time of year, while disembodied human heads wag their manifold chins across the airwaves in grave disobeyance of the natural order and seek to stuff this natural mechanism through the sulphurous gates of the netherworld, where all those who dabble in the nether-regions ought, they say, to be doing hard (ahem) time. I've never seen a flower de-flower itself (whoa) out of shame, running headless into a floral convent for a life of mercilous penitence. Though, if one paid heed to the bobbing heads, one would suspect that the extinguishing of the sexual impulse were as easy as that. Not so much. Without that impulse, the Earth would be as vacuous and barren as the plains of Pluto, or the frontal lobe of Ann Coulter. The Earth, as an organism, must keep the creative process going across the thin film of biomass which covers its thick mantle at all costs, and its inventiveness in doing so is lavish and sacredly audacious. Like a drag queen at a ball, no expense is spared, honey. The show must go on, and it will be fabulous.
I suppose a tree that wafts the essence of the male seed would cast a treehugger in a new light, and my arms are at present rather unapologetically outstretched. I laugh about it as much as it mesmerizes in one whiff and is downright vulgar in the next, and the connection between these two natural events must be purely coincidental. Accident or no, the tree stretches heavenward (oh my) as if to say... "get over your petite and petty qualms over sex already, it's going on all around you."
To which I reply by breathing even deeper.
"Aw Gee Shucks..."
The title of this post was the whole of my acceptance speech tonight for winning the highly prized and hotly contested award for "Most Inspiring Weblog" at the first annual BlogAsheville awards. I'm flattered and hope this next year will push the very envelope of inspiration, causing people to hit the Refresh button for the very next opiated morsel of happy-go-lucky inspirational bloggedy goodness, much like rats in a maze learn to tapdance like Gregory Hines for the mere whiff of satiating peanut butter.
I thank you all, and hope that this sudden and extreme case of writer's un-block will help to continue feelie-goodies into the next year. Perhaps the spider bite contained a certain toxin which causes the brain to racewith such fury that writing is the only release. Perhaps I'll text Peter Parker and find out what the story is...
PS: BirdOnTheMoon was actually nominated in three categories, and had a nice showing in "Best Design," and "Makes Me Feel Happiest," which makes me in fact feel happy.
Chicken Hill, 6am
I woke up this morning, say 6am, to the sound of something rather forcefully making its way through the scrub woods behind the apartment. I sleep with my face right up to the window, and Ursula was in the window for her early morining stalking. I darted awake, and followed the movement through the brush, the snapping of twigs and the bending of saplings caused both of us to double take, and for a moment, we were both completely and totally mammal, with no pretending otherwise. The thing eventually found its way out of the wood, and Ursula's thoughts seemingly returned to the food bowl, and mine to sleeping more. Yet, that minute of wide eyed tracking reminded me of the raw, corporeal essence of being alive in this way. Animus as we know is Latin for "soul," which is not far from animal... animate, enshrined with consciousness, aware and self-motivating. There is part of me, of us, beyond words and the vanities of being human, that remembers what incisors are for, that remembers how to stalk, and to hide. Even as we evolve, we will remember this, like it or no. Alan Watts says that "We didn't come from the world, we came through it." That lush green valley I overlook every morning is thus an aspect of our common birthing, and as alien as it might feel to some to be thigh deep in the bramble, it is home too. As animals track an unseen animal from the 6am window, assurance is given that the mutuality of our terrestrial existance can be found on many, many levels, through many, many obscuring thickets of shared nature.
Physicists create great balls of fire
Ball lightning – the mysterious slow-moving spheres of light occasionally seen during thunderstorms – has been created in the lab.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and the Humboldt University, both in Berlin, have used underwater electrical discharges to generate luminous plasma clouds resembling ball lightning that last for nearly half a second and are up to 20 centimetres across.
They hope that these artificial entities will help them understand the bizarre phenomenon and perhaps even provide insights into the hot plasmas needed for fusion power plants.
You can watch a super-slow-motion video of the ball lightning here (3.7MB AVI).
Ball lightning has puzzled scientists for centuries. Though little reliable data exist, there have been many anecdotal sightings, with people as diverse and famous as Charlemagne, Henry II and the physicist Niels Bohr all claiming to have seen it.
In 1753, Russian scientist Georg Richmann may even have been killed by it while trying to trap lightning, becoming the first recorded person to die while conducting electrical experiments.
Most accounts describe a hovering, glowing, ball-like object up to 40 centimetres across, ranging in colour from red to yellow to blue and lasting for several seconds or in rare cases even minutes. Many scientists believe ball lightning is a ball of plasma formed when lightning strikes the ground, but the exact mechanism is unclear despite the many theories proposed.
Satire: 6/10 Changed Everything
Run for your lives - America is under attack! Just days ago three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay committed suicide in a savage assault on America's freedom to not care about prisoner suicides! Oh sure, the "Blame Atrocities First" crowd will tell you these prisoners were "driven to despair," that they "had no rights," that they were "held and tortured without due process or judicial oversight in a nightmarish mockery of justice." But what they won't tell you is that they only committed suicide as part of a diabolical ruse to trick the world into thinking our secret torture camp is the kind of secret torture camp that drives its prisoners to commit suicide! This fiendish attempt to slander the great American institution of the gulag is nothing less than an act of asymmetrical warfare against the United States - a noose is just a suicide bomb with a very small blast radius, people! - and when faced with a terrorist attack, America must respond. Giblets demands immediate retaliatory airstrikes on depressed Muslim torture victims throughout the mideast!
"Oh but Giblets there are dozens of innocent prisoners in Guantanamo" you say because you are a namby-pamby appeasenik who suckles at the teat of terror. Well if these Guantanamo prisoners are so innocent then what are they doing in Guantanamo? Sneaking into our secret military prisons as part of an elaborate plot to make it look like we're holding them in our secret military prisons, that's what! And once they get there they can chain themselves to the floor, break their bones on helpless guards' fists, and waterboard themselves to their heart's content to further their sinister Salafi scheme to sully the reputation of secret American torture facilities everywhere!
The complex patterns of the natural world often turn out to be governed by relatively simple mathematical relationships. A seashell grows at a rate proportional to its size, resulting in a delicate spiral. The gossamer network of galaxies results from the simple interplay between cosmic expansion and the force of gravity over a wide range of scales. As our catalogue of natural phenomena has grown more complete, more and more scientists have begun to look for interesting patterns in human society.
While affected governments collect records of past attacks, the random nature of such wars means that these data are of limited use in predicting future attacks. When classified according to their frequency and intensity, however, the events of any insurgent war appear to follow a power law. It should come as no surprise that weaker attacks are more common than stronger attacks, but a power law distribution makes a much more specific prediction. It turns out that if individual conflicts (for example, a terrorist attack or a guerilla raid) are classified according to the resulting number of fatalities n, then the number of such conflicts occurring in any given year is proportional to n raised to a constant power.
Let’s look at a specific example. In the case of the Iraq war, we might ask how many conflicts causing ten casualties are expected to occur over a one-year period. According to the data, the answer is the average number of events per year times 10–2.3, or 0.005. If we instead ask how many events will cause twenty casualties, the answer is proportional to 20–2.3. Taking into account the entire history of any given war, one finds that the frequency of events on all scales can be predicted by exactly the same exponent.
Look at the silly monkey: DISTRACTION
Bush, in his remarks on both subjects, gay marriage and Zarqawi, struck a restrained, almost subdued tone. On Saturday he said, “As this debate goes forward, we must remember that every American deserves to be treated with tolerance, respect, and dignity. All of us have a duty to conduct this discussion with civility and decency toward one another.” On Monday he said, “America is a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. In this country, people are free to choose how they live their lives.” (Never mind that he was proposing to use the very taproot of American government, the Constitution, precisely to prevent people from choosing how to live their lives.)
Where have I been? What are mugwumps?
The answers to these dire questions are quite droll, mundane, and sundry. Nonetheless, I shall bullet the reasons for my silence as a breathless BBC newsreader breezes through my brain, detailing atrocities with such vocal vim that one just wants to whistle sunshine as the planet explodes.
But at least I'm laughing, and at least I'm savoring the sun. Posting resumes tomorrow.
Argh, these mugwumps stifle my bloggish expression again! Posting will resume once time, itself, has resumed.
Due to unforeseen mugwumps, no posting today. A little too busy this
Yesterday last year in Peru
Magical and fascinating Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca.
Gore: Bush is 'renegade rightwing extremist'
Who must I blow to make this man president?
In an interview with the Guardian today, the former vice-president calls himself a "recovering politician", but launches into the political fray more explicitly than he has previously done during his high-profile campaigning on the threat of global warming.
Denying that his politics have shifted to the left since he lost the court battle for the 2000 election, Mr Gore says: "If you have a renegade band of rightwing extremists who get hold of power, the whole thing goes to the right."
On Simple Human Decency
Here are those tropes: the president is ignorant; the president is cruel; the president is a zealot; the president is a tool of the corporations; the president hides his agenda from the people; the president's agenda endangers the people; the president is a thief; the president is a madman; the president is a fraternity boy; the president is a warlord; the president is a drunkard; the president is a criminal; the president is protected by his cronies; the president is a smug prevaricator; the president should be removed from office.
True, George W. Bush is an ignorant, cruel, closed-minded, avaricious, sneaky, irresponsible, thieving, brain-damaged frat boy with a drinking problem and a taste for bloodshed, whose numerous crimes have been abetted by the moral corruption of his party cohort and whose contempt for American military lives alone warrants his impeachment, but what has it ever won us to say so? How has it profited the people for their writers to argue that a wealthy, comfortable citizen deserves a wealthy, comfortable retirement when we all know full well that he has earned confinement and conviction and perhaps even a request for that barbaric death penalty he so loudly supports?
The War They Wanted, The Lies They Needed
For more than two years it has been widely reported that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of intelligence failures. But in fact it is far more likely that the Iraq war started because of an extraordinary intelligence success—specifically, an astoundingly effective campaign of disinformation, or black propaganda, which led the White House, the Pentagon, Britain's M.I.6 intelligence service, and thousands of outlets in the American media to promote the falsehood that Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program posed a grave risk to the United States.
The Bush administration made other false charges about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.)—that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges, that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda, that he had mobile weapons labs, and so forth. But the Niger claim, unlike other allegations, can't be dismissed as an innocent error or blamed on ambiguous data. "This wasn't an accident," says Milt Bearden, a 30-year C.I.A. veteran who was a station chief in Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and Germany, and the head of the Soviet–East European division. "This wasn't 15 monkeys in a room with typewriters."
In recent months, it has emerged that the forged Niger documents went through the hands of the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare), or operatives close to it, and that neoconservative policymakers helped bring them to the attention of the White House. Even after information in the Niger documents was repeatedly rejected by the C.I.A. and the State Department, hawkish neocons managed to circumvent seasoned intelligence analysts and insert the Niger claims into Bush's State of the Union address.
By the time the U.S. invaded Iraq, in March 2003, this apparent black-propaganda operation had helped convince more than 90 percent of the American people that a brutal dictator was developing W.M.D.—and had led us into war.
Never Sleep with NPR on
So I wake up this morning to hear all kinds of presidential adulation over the death of Zarqawi. Yay. Seriously, there is one less nasty human around today (if we are to believe every word of this, hook line and stinker). But what the media isn't getting is that al-Qaeda isn't an organization dependent on top-down leadership; it depends on rhetoric. As long as Uncle Sam via the grarly puppet hands of Dick and Donald swings its missile-tipped phallus around the middle east, there will be more rhetorical fuel for anti-Americanism. Some new figurehead will soon be removing others in grainy machete-macabre films, and believe me, I hate to be a pessimist. Yet Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan are powder kegs of our own failed policies, and the only thing that George is right about is that this will take a long time, and the rest of the world will be the ones cleaning up our collective mess.
Today Last Year in Peru
One of the most memorable meals ever. The Royal Inka, completely empty, complete with dancers rehearsing nonchalantly.
Hominids' cave rave-ups may link music and speech
It was a dark and stormy night, and in a cave in what is now southern France, Neanderthals were singing, dancing and tapping on stalagmites with their fingernails to pass the time.
Did this Ice-Age rave-up happen, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, on a cold night in the Pleistocene Epoch? Or is it purely a figment of the imagination of Steven Mithen, professor of early prehistory at the University of Reading in England?
Impossible to know, Mithen, 45, readily admits, but in his book, "The Singing Neanderthals," he has built a strong case that our hominid ancestors had a musical culture, and a rudimentary form of communication that went with it, that has left traces deeply embedded in modern mankind.
Why else, for example, would music have universal appeal and such a strong pull on the human psyche? Why, when we hear music, do we feel the need to tap our feet, or dance?
Why do we think some passages of music paint pictures, or instruments have "conversations" with each other? Why indeed.
In the book, published last year in Britain and this year in the United States, Mithen attempts to re-create -- against all odds -- a "soundscape" of pre-history and plug what he thinks is a huge gap in human knowledge -- the link between language and music.
Cave face 'the oldest portrait on record'
A drawing discovered by a potholer on the wall of a cave in the west of France appears to be the oldest known portrait of a human face.
The 27,000-year-old work was found by a local pensioner, Gérard Jourdy, in the Vilhonneur grotto near Angoulême.
Drawn with calcium carbonate, and using the bumps in the wall to give form to the face, it features two horizontal lines for the eyes, another for the mouth and a vertical line for the nose. “The portrait of this face is unique,” said Jean Airvaux, a researcher at the French Directorate of Cultural Affairs. “We have other drawings, but they are more recent. Here, it could be the oldest representation of a human face.”
Archaeologists are particularly interested in the Vilhonneur cave because there are several drawings, including one of a hand in cobalt blue, along with animal and human remains.
Stargazer may have recorded 1006 C.E. supernova
A star twinkles for eons, then suddenly shines brighter than any other heavenly object save the sun and moon.
Today last year in Peru
"When you see the Southern Cross for the first time,
Numbers: Infinite Wisdom
How many numbers are there? For children, the answer might be a million—that is, until they discover a billion, or a trillion, or a googol. Then, maybe they notice that a googol plus one is also a number, and they realize that although the names for numbers run out, the numbers themselves never do. Yet to mathematicians, the idea that there are infinitely many numbers is just the beginning of an answer. Counterintuitive as it seems, there are many infinities—infinitely many, in fact. And some are bigger than others.
In the late 19th century, mathematicians showed that most familiar infinite collections of numbers are the same size. This group includes the counting numbers (1, 2, 3, …), the even numbers, and the rational numbers (quotients of counting numbers, such as 3/4 and 101/763). However, in work that astonished the mathematicians of his day, the Russian-born Georg Cantor proved in 1873 that the real numbers (all the numbers that make up the number line) form a bigger infinity than the counting numbers do.
If that's the case, how much bigger is that infinity? This innocent-sounding question has stumped mathematicians from Cantor's time to the present. More than that, the question has exposed a gaping hole in the foundations of mathematics and has led mathematicians to reexamine the very nature of mathematical truth.
Now, Hugh Woodin, a mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley, may finally have found a way to resolve the issue, long considered one of the most fundamental in mathematics.
Brian Swimme: Comprehensive Compassion
You see, the cartoon version of our civilization is that we're all materialists, so we don't have a sense of a larger significance beyond us. In our materialistic Western culture, our fundamental concern is the individual. The individual, and accumulation—of whatever it might be. Is it fame? Is it money? We put that as the cornerstone of our civilization. That's how we've organized things. Now there are mitigating factors, but I'm giving a cartoon version. What's necessary is for us to understand that, really, at the root of things is community. At the deepest level, that's the center of things. We come out of community. So how then can we organize our economics so that it's based on community, not accumulation? And how can we organize our religion to teach us about community? And when I say "community," I mean the whole earth community. That's the ultimate sacred domain—the earth community.
These are the ways in which I think we will be moving. How do you organize your technology so that as you use the technology, the actual use of it enhances the community? That's a tough one. So long as we have this worldview in which the earth itself is just stuff, empty material, and the individual is most important, then we're set up to just use it in any way we like. So the idea is to move from thinking of the earth as a storehouse to seeing the earth as our matrix, our fundamental community. That's one of the great things about Darwin. Darwin shows us that everything is kin. Talk about spiritual insight! Everything is kin at the level of genetic relatedness. Another simple way of saying this is: Let's build a civilization that is based upon the reality of our relationships. If we think of the human as being the top of this huge pyramid, then everything beneath us is of no value, and we can use it however we want. In the past, it wasn't noticed so much because our influence was smaller. But now, we've become a planetary power. And suddenly the defects of that attitude are made present to us through the consequences of our actions.
It's amazing to realize that every species on the planet right now is going to be shaped primarily by its interaction with humans. It was never that way before. For three billion years, life evolved in a certain way; all of this evolution took place in the wilds. But now, it is the decisions of humans that are going to determine the way this planet functions and looks for hundreds of millions of years in the future. Look at an oak tree, look at a wasp, look at a rhinoceros. The beauty of those forms came out through this whole system of natural selection in the past. But the way they'll look in the future is going to be determined primarily by how they interact with us. Because we're everywhere. We've become powerful. We are the planetary dynamic at this large-scale level. So can we wake up to this fact and then reinvent ourselves at the level of knowledge and wisdom that's required? That's the nature of our moment. Our power has gotten ahead of us, has gotten ahead of our consciousness. This is a challenge we've never faced before: to relearn to be human in a way that is actually enhancing to these other creatures. If you want to be terrified, just think of being in charge of how giraffes will look a million years from now. Or the Asian elephant. Biologists are convinced the Asian elephant will no longer exist in the wild. Even right now, the cheetah can't exist in the wild. That means that the Asian elephants that will exist in the future will exist primarily in our zoos, likewise cheetahs. So the kinds of environments we make for them are going to shape their muscles and their skeletons and all the rest of it. I'm talking over millions of years. This is the challenge that is particular to this moment, because this is the moment the earth goes through this major phase change—the dynamics of the planet are beginning to unfurl through human consciousness.
Gurdjieff 's Ideas About Man and the Universe
Gurdjieff's vision of the cosmic scheme places man within the film of organic life covering the earth, which is a part of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe of stars and galaxies as it is known to science, and sets all of this within a framework of intelligence consisting of cosmoses one within another, from God down to the tiniest speck of matter. Within this scheme, there is a perpetual flow of energy up and down; each level is fed by something and feeds something else, and the whole system is planned to remain in harmony.
According to Gurdjieff, organic life on earth is not a mere chance arising with no significance beyond itself but has a definite function in transmitting influences up and down the great chain of worlds.
A man serves nature whether he knows it or not, voluntarily or involuntarily, contributing his small share of energy to cosmic purposes of which he has no conception.
Today last year in Peru
In Sillustani, outside of Puno. A magical place.
Today last year in Peru
Passing through Raqchi on our way to Puno.
Today last year in Peru
A festive meal in honor of Anyelito on the outskirts of town.
This day last year in Peru
En route to Cusipata, to raft the rapids of the Urabambo, mountain tributary of the Amazon.
Mysterious Arctic skull raises questions about what animals once roamed North
A mysterious skull discovered on the edge of the Arctic Circle has sparked interest in what creatures roamed Baffin Island in the distant past, and what life a warming climate may support in the future.
Andrew Dialla, a resident of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, says he found the skull protruding from the frozen tundra during a walk near the shore with his daughter about a month ago.
The horned skull is about the size of a man's fist. It resembles a baby caribou skull, except at that age, a caribou wouldn't have antlers, researchers and elders have pointed out.
Its discovery has caused a stir in Canada's Eastern Arctic. Pictures of the skull, sent over e-mail, have prompted residents to speculate whether the skull might belong to a long-extinct deer or sheep that inhabited the land millions of years ago when the climate was much warmer.
Follow up: Is it Raining Aliens?
As bizarre as it may seem, the sample jars brimming with cloudy, reddish rainwater in Godfrey Louis’s laboratory in southern India may hold, well, aliens. In April, Louis, a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science in which he hypothesizes that the samples—water taken from the mysterious blood-colored showers that fell sporadically across Louis’s home state of Kerala in the summer of 2001—contain microbes from outer space.
Specifically, Louis has isolated strange, thick-walled, red-tinted cell-like structures about 10 microns in size. Stranger still, dozens of his experiments suggest that the particles may lack DNA yet still reproduce plentifully, even in water superheated to nearly 600˚F. (The known upper limit for life in water is about 250˚F.) So how to explain them? Louis speculates that the particles could be extraterrestrial bacteria adapted to the harsh conditions of space and that the microbes hitched a ride on a comet or meteorite that later broke apart in the upper atmosphere and mixed with rain clouds above India. If his theory proves correct, the cells would be the first confirmed evidence of alien life and, as such, could yield tantalizing new clues to the origins of life on Earth.
Ancient Ecosystem Found in Israel
Israeli scientists said on Wednesday they had discovered a prehistoric ecosystem dating back millions of years.
The discovery was made in a cave near the central Israeli city of Ramle during rock drilling at a quarry. Scientists were called in and soon found eight previously unknown species of crustaceans and invertebrates similar to scorpions.
"Until now eight species of animals were found in the cave, all of them unknown to science," said Dr Hanan Dimantman, a biologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He said the cave's ecosystem probably dates back around five million years when the Mediterranean Sea covered parts of Israel.
The cave was completely sealed off from the world, including from water and nutrients seeping through rock crevices above. Scientists who discovered the cave believe it has been intact for millions of years.
This day last year
Pisaq, Urabambo, and Ollantaytambo Peru.
"Cheers to the self, that strange being with which we must grapple, world without end."
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are Copyright 2005 by theodore "jay" joslin and joyous jostling studios. Thank you, Wanderer, for All.
i am jay joslin: a spirit-fed mountain hopping lover of everything, an ordained lefty-veggie-homo, and bon-vivant go-go dancing with all the messenger mockingbirds of morning.
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Keep it even,
"Not all who wander
You contain everything
Everything contains you
If you desire the Infinite,
look no further than the window.
Ten Considerations for Being Well n this Goofy Universe
0. If you find yourself
wonderstruck, don’t forget to return the favor. 1. Always be of service to
the whole and the Holy. You’ll find that the Holy will reciprocate by being
of service to your becoming Whole. 2. You will be called upon
to use your mind and your vision in ways I cannot possibly glimpse. Never
turn down an offer to shine that light so uniquely yours to help others in
their darkness, and you’ll find that when it’s your turn to be in the night
that there’ll be someone along the way who happens to have a little glow to
share . 3. The rewards of being
true to yourself are infinite, even when outwardly your efforts are met
with nothing. 4. You’ll also see that
knowledge and wisdom will come from within yourself through your own
struggle and curiosity... your loved ones may guide you to insight, but
yours is the power to choose it. 5. You’ll find that some of
your choices could’ve been better, or at times were downright stupid. That’s
okay... I have a closet full of reckless decisions, but without making them
I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what a good one might feel like if I
tried it on. 6. Your growth will be a
mysterious, comic, ecstatic and sometimes scary ride, and I pray that you
strive to savor each minute of it, even the most difficult or embarrassing
minutes. Don’t count on second chances. 7. In those times when
everything collapses around you, and what’s left won’t go right, don’t
forget your chances of being alive in this solar system, in this galaxy, are
a little on the slim side. So slim in fact that it could be called a miracle
to breathe this air, drink this water, and have whet ever predicament you’re
having no matter how you shake, rattle and roll it. So go with the cosmic
flow and always choose something over nothing, while remembering that
there’s a little of each one hidden in both. 8. Respond as best as you
can with love to adversity rather than reacting with fear... Love, in any
situation and being the primordial source and essence of ALL THIS STUFF,
leaves / enters us with the most possible ways out / in. 9. Whatever you’re doing,
celebrate the process of doing as much, if not more, than what you’ve got
when you’re done. Magic lives in the action. 9 ½ . All matter is energy.
All energy is infinite. We are but raindrops falling to the ocean, a short
time in this shape until we’re reunited with the expanse from which we came.
Your delicate yet sturdy, resilient body is a temporary shelter of energy
that has swam the universe eternally and will continue eternally. You are a
sudden crystallization of the infinite. One must ask themself, therefore,
why be bored? 9 3/4 . Choosing to live in
the moment is courageous but becomes effortless once you begin...feeling
obligated to survive in the past or future is dangerous and is difficult to
continue. It’s one of the few risks I’d recommend not taking, right up there
with trusting icons and shrugging off coincidences. 10. The Universe itself it
not confusing, we humans just like it that way. Do frogs seem bewildered ,
butterflies befuddled and amoebas addled? Nope, just us, my child. So,
whenever things just don’t make sense, just take a deep breath and laugh as
best you can, because that’s what you get for choosing this goofy,
unpredictable place called Earth to embody yourself upon.
0. If you find yourself wonderstruck, don’t forget to return the favor.
1. Always be of service to the whole and the Holy. You’ll find that the Holy will reciprocate by being of service to your becoming Whole.
2. You will be called upon to use your mind and your vision in ways I cannot possibly glimpse. Never turn down an offer to shine that light so uniquely yours to help others in their darkness, and you’ll find that when it’s your turn to be in the night that there’ll be someone along the way who happens to have a little glow to share .
3. The rewards of being true to yourself are infinite, even when outwardly your efforts are met with nothing.
4. You’ll also see that knowledge and wisdom will come from within yourself through your own struggle and curiosity... your loved ones may guide you to insight, but yours is the power to choose it.
5. You’ll find that some of your choices could’ve been better, or at times were downright stupid. That’s okay... I have a closet full of reckless decisions, but without making them I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what a good one might feel like if I tried it on.
6. Your growth will be a mysterious, comic, ecstatic and sometimes scary ride, and I pray that you strive to savor each minute of it, even the most difficult or embarrassing minutes. Don’t count on second chances.
7. In those times when everything collapses around you, and what’s left won’t go right, don’t forget your chances of being alive in this solar system, in this galaxy, are a little on the slim side. So slim in fact that it could be called a miracle to breathe this air, drink this water, and have whet ever predicament you’re having no matter how you shake, rattle and roll it. So go with the cosmic flow and always choose something over nothing, while remembering that there’s a little of each one hidden in both.
8. Respond as best as you can with love to adversity rather than reacting with fear... Love, in any situation and being the primordial source and essence of ALL THIS STUFF, leaves / enters us with the most possible ways out / in.
9. Whatever you’re doing, celebrate the process of doing as much, if not more, than what you’ve got when you’re done. Magic lives in the action.
9 ½ . All matter is energy. All energy is infinite. We are but raindrops falling to the ocean, a short time in this shape until we’re reunited with the expanse from which we came. Your delicate yet sturdy, resilient body is a temporary shelter of energy that has swam the universe eternally and will continue eternally. You are a sudden crystallization of the infinite. One must ask themself, therefore, why be bored?
9 3/4 . Choosing to live in the moment is courageous but becomes effortless once you begin...feeling obligated to survive in the past or future is dangerous and is difficult to continue. It’s one of the few risks I’d recommend not taking, right up there with trusting icons and shrugging off coincidences.
10. The Universe itself it not confusing, we humans just like it that way. Do frogs seem bewildered , butterflies befuddled and amoebas addled? Nope, just us, my child. So, whenever things just don’t make sense, just take a deep breath and laugh as best you can, because that’s what you get for choosing this goofy, unpredictable place called Earth to embody yourself upon.