Go Hypatia!

New York, March 8 & 9, 2014.  Twas a treat to watch today a marathon showing on NatGeo of my favorite childhood TV series – PBS’ “Cosmos” with the timeless Carl Sagan. As well, beyond excited to see this series getting a 2014 reboot to be telecast tonight at 9:00 pm EST hosted by the great Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Episode 13 from the original series. Timeless words of wisdom indeed. Watch it to see the reference to Hypatia – a woman way ahead of her time. Truly inspiring and one of my personal heroines.

This final episode of the series is one of Sagan’s best – beautiful words on philosophy, life, love, evolution, our place in the Universe, the push for peace, the futility of war – and a special appearance 10 years since this was first broadcast. Please take the time to watch it if you haven’t – it is a gift your brain and heart will thank you for.

When we are kids growing up, we often have a favorite teacher – either a mentor, a speaker or a guru – a person we unabashedly look up to. I did adore a couple of my female teachers, in my all-girls strict French Catholic Convent school – but Sundays were the day I looked forward to the most. For that was the day my favorite teacher of all time, my self-appointed guru, the one whose words and wisdom captivated me from a young age, and who – in my opinion, was not just a great man, but a genuinely good man – would speak to me through the television screen – his soulful Ashkenazi eyes beseeching his viewers to think rationally, learn voraciously, and explore with uncompromising curiosity. If I can look back in time and say who the most influential self-chosen teacher had been for me – it was, and still is – this incredible, humble, extraordinarily intelligent astronomer and Cornell University professor – Dr. “Cosmos” Carl Sagan.

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Below, one of Carl’s last interviews before his death in 1996.

How true he was about the impending spread of pseudoscience….as near-extinct diseases  like measles, mumps, whooping cough have resurfaced in the first world in the past few years due to the mass-hysteria caused by attention-whore idiots like Jenny McCarthy (aided by “The Secret” and Tolle-worshiping pseudoscience queen Oprah) and the anti-vaccine brigade, the new stint of hordes of women who are quite lucky and wealthy to suddenly falsely demonize and leave great caring husbands in a quest to “eat, pray, love,” the rise of many more dangerous male writers who promote veiled and jargon-laden hogwash in the name of “intelligent design,” and many more stupid self-centered platitudes and strange movements that have sprouted up.  

As Harvard professor Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness  (who I’ve met a few times and he’s a genuinely good person) had once mentioned – the stance of  denial of both climate change and Evolution is to extreme-right wingers what anti-vaccine and anti-GMO and pro-pseudoscience has become to extreme-left wingers. In both cases, hysteria without evidence; paranoia without facts. This is the 2010s and it is easy to see that Sagan had (as always) been correct even back in the ’90s, and was way ahead of the curve in predicting how, despite scientific evidence and facts, both fundamentalist religiosity and pseudoscience would continue to spread in dangerous doses.

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Related Posts:

Billions of stars, billions of sports fans

Carl Sagan, always

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On Nietzsche’s 167th Birthday

Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900)

A documentary on Nietzsche : Human all too human and Beyond Good and Evil.

I was first exposed to the writings of  Friedrich Nietzsche during adoloscence due to several books of his that lay around the house since my mother had a doctorate in philosophy (And much to my embarrassment, my paternal great-grandfather, an archaeologist who adored his work used to copy his style of moustache.) I am enclosing a documentary about him.

For more on his philosophy here is a wiki article :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_Friedrich_Nietzsche although the best way is to read his books, of course. One of the best aspects of Nietzsche is  that unlike some other proponents of individualistic independent thinking, he never seeked any followers nor believed in cult-tactics (in fact he abhorred it) to impose his ideas upon others. He wrote for himself and for the personal joy of his ideas , reflections and observations. And no, he was NOT anti-Semitic, quite the reverse. The above mentioned moustachioed grandpa was Jewish so I do know what I’m talking of. Even the wiki article clearly states the facts. I do like the works of the mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell, but the introverted, introspective Nietzsche was definitely a man who was a true individualist of his time, for which he paid a lonely price. There are many insightful and powerful quotes of Nietzsche but one of my favourites both for its brevity and wisdom is :“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Today people/writers termed as rationalists and secular humanists and thinkers are far more visible in the media, but in many ways, in the school of philosophy and rational thinking, Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the pioneers of asking this line of  rhetoric,  as well as questioning widely -followed-irrational-mass-belief-systems.  And he knew quite well back then that he would be in a small minority.

This particular documentary shows more of Nietzsche’s human side and weaknesses, a ‘truth’ that I have often been in conflict with about many creative artists and writers and even leaders I have liked. I found (a truth my mother had told me long back but I would find too hard to digest) that often the creative/artistic output of a man/woman (painter, musician, writer etc. who is not engaging in any moral-code-preaching but purely creating works for his/her own indulgence) should not be judged by but rather be viewed independently of his/her human fallacies (i.e.’weaknesses’ that did not include any violent tendencies, of course, but rather the softer limitations and follies of human nature.)

It was one of the hardest truths I have had to accept over time and life; and in some ways to learn from my own fallacy of overt optimism in the logic or kindness of humanity or rather lack thereof; and perhaps the reason why in my own life I still adhere to following a measure of personalised integrity and ethics as honestly and as steadfastly as I can. As Nietzsche says : “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Now that’s an objective observation I can live with. 

And in today’s world, where the patterns of consumption, production and existence are too intricately tied and criss-crossed to be untangled, this thought of his, though impossible if one wishes to maintain both the practice of practicality and humility, still remains a liberating dream-reality: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” The first part of the statement is the observation. The second is the process or the price. And the third is the prize, if only for one’s own sense of self, but truly one of the best gifts  you can give yourself. Should you choose to, of course.

The original documentary:

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http://documentaryheaven.com

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Thanking the Will of Determination

THANKING   DETERMINATION

There are no two ways about it: Go watch Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours starring the versatile James Franco. I watched it on the weekend of its release in New York and was gripped by Boyle’s direction, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack and James Franco’s rivetting performance portraying over-confident climber Aaron Ralston. If I had to pick the two most fascinating films of 2010 so far (not counting a few indie flicks) it would have to be Christopher Nolan’s Inception (https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/inception-movie-dreamweavers/ ) and Boyle’s 127 Hours. (Toy Story 3 of course, despite being a sequel – is definitely a winner too.)

Many critics have focussed on the one nerve-wrenching gory scene of the movie where the protagonist takes the ultimate step to break free. I instead would like to focus on the strength and determination it took for Ralston to try everything for 127 hours before breaking free from the mess he admittedly had gotten himself into, but with logic, level-headedness and a cocky indomitable spirit.

It is also surprising to sometimes see some snide, bitter comments by certain readers under the movie synopsis in certain sites (including under a review in UK’s Guardian) that Aaron ‘capitalized’ on his accident or that he ‘deserved what he got’ for his climbing! Mindboggling – that people can envy a survivor because he refused to see himself as a victim and evoked inspiration rather than pity. Nothing can bring back a lost hand, and sometimes in sticky situations, it is better to lose a limb than lose a life. Perhaps the fact that Ralston went through his ordeal while on a self-chosen activity of sport, rather than for some ‘self-sacrificial’ act as a soldier in a war, is what irks those who cannot enjoy the spirit of endurance and determination it takes to be a true survivor who did not lose his chutzpah. Or who voluntarily enjoys rock and mountain climbing. As an avid mountaineer myself – I know that there are risks involved and that precautions must be taken, but you can’t stop a guy/gal out of fear and cowardice from climbing rocks and flying planes and diving deep! As Edmund Hillary had once said : “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” 

Stories like those portrayed in 127 Hours of everyday ordinary people showing extraordinary courage and survival-instincts under impossible situations ARE inspirational, because they echo our hidden inherent optimisim that at the end of all the unforseen tribulations of life, or even the risks we knowingly/unknowingly take, steely determination and clear rational thinking can truly create miracles – many more positive ‘miracles’ than wallowing in self-pity or blaming supernatural forces to ‘rescue’ or curse, instead of taking full responsiblity for your own life, your own actions, your own errors and taking steps to rectify, heal, survive and live instead of giving up. Or to put it bluntly : “Ok – I made a serious error in judgment and am in deep shit now. What do I do NOW to get out of this shit and avoid a similar mistake in the future?” This attitude works much more than ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ or ‘Woe is me’ or ‘damn ye heavenly Father!’

On that note, I am very happy to place at the end of this post a youtube copy of a unique film that I think every man and woman should see. I had written a post about it earlier in June : (https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/d-day-and-dieter-dengler/ )

This is one of those tales that changes forever the way you view life, your place in it, the stories behind seemingly ordinary folks you run into at the grocery store or walk by the street; the manner in which you perceive reality in this world, the relativity of pain and sorrow and most of all, to witness first hand the incredible human spirit of survival against all odds. Yes, against every possible odd, when death is possibly your only friend and yet you do not give up on life. The documentary is named ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.  Directed by the unique and amazingly accomplished and talented film maker Werner Herzog. I do not think words can do justice to the experience at a deep visceral and existential level that this film produces, so remarkably engrossing it is. Both visually and audibly in its unique artfulness. With just a real life character and a few hired locals from Laos who help re-enact Dieter’s journey as he narrates it, it is still the simplest yet most profound stories on film a man can experience.

The story of a man who grew up in great hardship and all he wanted was to learn how to fly, from the day  as a little boy he caught the eye of an Allied pilot who was shooting down his house. The grandson of the only man in his entire village who had not voted for Hitler and faced its consequences. The man who ended up as a pilot for the US Air Force and later a POW in Laos during the Vietnam War. And a man who for some reason just did not give up on life. I will not write the details of the harrowing tortures he went through in the hands of the Vietcong, or the details of the horrors he himself participated in due to his actions as a US army-man. Because this is a film to be seen, not written about, even though most of the experience of the viewer is simply from the narration of Dieter talking to the camera. What struck me most was quite simply the state of being of this man who was neither bitter, neither angry, neither judgmental nor traumatized but came across as just an objective, almost obsessive observer of life and the situations and realities that surrounded him. And saw both sides without any hatred, but only an obsession to fly. And in the harshest of circumstances since his childhood still somehow found inspiration.

In war both sides are victims in the power play of leaders who use their citizens and soldiers as pawns. There are no winners. One country’s hero is another country’s barbarian and vice versa. And the torture of a Caucasian is no greater nor lesser than the torture of the Asians killed by dropped bombs. (Although you do begin to understand why the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of wars were made, in 1929 and 1949, not that they are still followed everywhere.)  As Dieter says: “I don’t think of myself as a hero. No, only the dead people are heroes.”

I have amongst my friends a few who were former US marines, corporals, officers and pilots. And an older lady who had fled Vietnam during the war and is a well established painter in America now. The marines I knew had entered the force more out of financial necessity. The lady had fled on a boat from Vietnam and would end up as a prominent painter and anti-war activist in the U.S. They had stories that were remarkable  and poignant. They had told me tales of their experiences and their views on war. The ways in which they perceived the world after that. How sometimes simple joys such as even lying back on a mound of grass and watching the sunlight filter through the veins of a leaf was a profound source of pleasure. This film only reinforced the point even more.

This is a documentary that despite picking up several awards is not something that has been shown around with great fanfare or publicity. There are no glamorous posters, and the online videos are insufficient. And though it was remade as a full length feature film later in Hollywood, the latter did no justice to the real thing. Dieter Dengler in real life with his ordinary looks and captivating thickly accented monologues is ten times better than any Hollywood actor playing his part. But every person who has seen this documentary knows that it is one of those rare gems that changes  your life forever. That makes you view every moment of freedom, every meal, every drink, every warm bed as a gift. And makes you thank your lucky stars for the gift of life and comfort. That makes you question why people get into wars over ideologies and religion. And most of all, gives you the courage and determination to overcome every little hardship in life without complaining. A truly remarkable testament of the human will, of luck and of optimism.  As one reviewer wrote on the IMDB site – ‘Cancel your shrink and watch Little Dieter.’

Stories like those of Dieter Dengler and Aaron Ralston are fascinating because they stand as testimonials that if they could survive and not lose their determination and spirits despite impossible circumstances, what excuse do we have? (especially if we are healthy, with adequate financial acumen and mental stability, and are lucky to live in countries with far better infrastructures and freedom.) As the holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, I think we have much to be grateful for…..and on watching Dieter’s story, much to thank for – everytime we have a warm meal and a comfortable bed, besides the love of true friends and families. (If only one complaint, I wish for turkey-eaters, there was a more humane way in which these birds give up their lives for this ‘holiday’- or that all turkeys raised would be cage-free and free-running. Or the ‘tofurky’ would improve its texture and taste.)

Oh well! All wishes don’t always come true….and after seeing what Dieter Dengler went through, the scene of Herzog’s camera showing the close-up of a dining-table feast takes up a whole new meaning!

Here it is. I would prefer you rent the DVD, since the youtube version is low resolution. 

Little Dieter Needs to Fly


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Watch ‘Dieter Dengler Needs to Fly’ in better quality than youtube on Daily motion here:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3zw7g_little-dieter-1_news

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Sidetracked Alert: Some fun facts of the origin of the word ‘turkey’ – that denizen on your Thanksgiving dinner plate  (http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=117173) :

From the Ayto Dictionary of Word Origins: “The term turkey was originally applied to the “Guinea-fowl”, apparently because the bird was imported through Turkish territory. When the American bird we now know as the turkey was introduced to the British in the mid 16th century it reminded them of the “Guinea fowl” from Turkey and they called the bird a Turkey bird.”

In French, turkey is called “d’inde”, or “from India”, either because it looked similar to the guniea-fowl or female peacock – a bird found in East India, or perhaps because French explorers on finding this bird in North America thought that they had reached the east. In Hebrew, however, the turkey is called “hodu”, which is the Hebrew name for the country of India. Another coincidence: The word “hodu” (=Hebrew name of turkeys, country of India) is related to the word “hodaya” meaning “the giving of thanks” (the Hebrew name for the holiday of thanksgiving is “chag ha-hodaya”.) It seems that Columbus’s interpreter for the expedition in the new world Luis de Torres was a Jewish man baptized shortly before the fleet had set sail.

The word “turkey” is connected to India in the following languages:

Arabic (standard) – turkey is diiq hindi, or Indian rooster.
Azari – ‘hindishga’, that’s something related to ‘Hind'(India).
Basque – “indioilar” or “indioilo”
Catalan  – “dindi”.
Hebrew – “tarnegol hodu” or “Indian rooster”
Polish – indyk, or more specifically indor ‘male turkey’, indyczka ‘female turkey’ from the name ‘India’.
Russian – indjuk_(male), indjushka/indejka  (female).  As food, the turkey is referred to by the term indjushka. In sum, it’s the “bird of India,” as in French.
Turkish – ‘hindi’.
Yidish – “indik”.

In Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian, it is associated with a town from the Malabar coast in southern India.

TRUTH OR DARE?

TRUTH OR DARE?  .  .   AND UNMASKING FEAR


Chicago. July 30, 2010.  I’ve always wondered why governments (be they eastern or western) and even people are often times so afraid of facing the truth. I once met a former US marine who had fought in Operation Desert Storm and had spent 16 years in the Marines. He had joined it having been orphaned at an early age, and being very poor. The Marines was his way out. He had seen so much hypocrisy in the world that he confessed that now in his 40s he felt like a 100 year old man. How, as they were flying to Iraq back then, before even a single bullet was fired the marines were first told to surround the oil wells. How, as he tried to tell the truth about the real reasons for the war to news channels that later interviewed him, he found that truth had to be cloaked and even news channels he thought would like facts to be known did not wish blunt truth to be heard in case it enraged the ‘higher authorities.’  He’d described to me what shooting in a war truly felt like 20 years back – no Hollywood version – rather frightened 20-somethings blindly shooting in the enemy direction amidst low visibility caused by flying sand and gun fire smoke, knowing you can be killed any moment. Later he’d go on to become a private helicopter pilot. He and many of his former marine buddies still get together once a year and shed tears because the horrors of war and its hypocrisies had still not left them and they knew that their truths would never be heard in the world. 

Whistleblowing is not easy – although people who have worked in big organizations know what goes on behind closed doors: Employees in planning offices who know where tax dollars really go, or why forests are bulldozed to encourage cookie-cutter suburban settlements (often as simple as the fact that bad planners do not care to use GIS maps to see forest locations nor think outside the box to know that houses can be laid out to encompass the woods rather than clear cutting them and the fact that developers pay campaign money to the politicians who vote on the project); The huge amount of unfathomable money spent on marketing kitschy products for big corporations and the ruthlessness of many of those marketing managers, be they male or female – who care little for anything else except their own paychecks and possible promotions; The kickbacks and corruption occurring in even certain humanitarian or ‘international development’ agencies or their use of aid money which often doesn’t trickle down to the real victims; The hypocrisies of evangelist/catholic churches or even certain new-age schools (same bullshit, different building, bottom line chant/prayer: “Give ME your money, so I can tell you how to be happy without it! Reveal to me your ‘pain’ so I can feed off it and get paid while I’m at it!”);  The true stories of power-hunger and cruelty of bosses with narcissistic personality disorders, borderline personality disorders (both consist of Machiavellain personality types, and a milder form of psychopathy) in the offices of dazzling ‘leaders’, be they political, financial, religious or even artistic; the stories on how war is a business-move for many countries as it promotes sales of goods – and a chilling story I myself heard about a business owner who would sell army helmets for both warring factions and therefore heavily bribed instigators of skirmishes and gave them cuts to encourage riots and clashes……The list goes on.

Perhaps only children are truly innocent – away from the muddy twisted ways of the adult world and perhaps it’s looking at the faces of their own innocent children that make many potential or capable whistleblowers maintain their silence, lest telling the truth for what it is unleashes the bullets – not against the truly corrupt that hold power – but on the messenger himself. Those who do it idealistically thinking ‘people care’ often find that mostly, people don’t care. After the initial furore of the news they settle down, complacantly happy shopping at the big box store (that has razed the local forest), investing in the 401(k) which might contain shares of BP oil, dining in the restaurants that uses meat from some ruthless slaughterhouse, wearing clothes made by child sweatshop workers….and then watching some ‘reality’ or other tv show or computer game and forgetting about their woes and the world’s realities. This is just an observation, not a value-judgment. People have to exist, to live, to look after their children and with the intricate network of connvulated practices of various systems of production and consumption that exist in the world, what other way is there?  Either becoming an ascetic or a hermit or a self-sustaining hippie? In other words a pure escapist? Or at most, becoming aware of the many aspects of reality in the world and making conscious choices or asking questions on to what extent do we continue endorsing our ‘age of excess’?  We have all become part of the system no matter how much we rant about it. Perhaps that is why sometimes seeing the courage of those who do dare to reveal the true facts of the world bring that sparkle in our eyes – for they have dared, where many have chosen apathy. Like sports fans vicariously live through their favourite athletes, the average, relatively good-hearted person who desires justice and truth lives for a moment vicariously through the whistleblower wishing he/she had had the courage to do that and face the aftermath.


Earlier this year I’d seen a touching film on the whistleblower who changed the course of the Vietnam war – Daniel Ellsberg’s story (The most dangerous man in America – Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.) I saw this week the movie ‘The Yes Men Fix the World‘ which was released on bit-torrent last week, though the actual film is a year old.  It is a one-of-a-kind film, sort of a ‘comedic vigilante justice.’ Two real -life professors who literally masquarade as big company/political executives to impart hypothetical acts of justice and ethics. Or at most, draw attention to horrendous acts of gross injustice committed in the world, ranging from the Bhopal Gas tragedy to the sneaky ‘housing’ mismanagement post-Katrina in New Orleans to unethical practices committed by Exxon Mobil amidst others. And their hoaxes are not small – they are huge, at one instance, speaking out to 300 million viewers through the BBC, while pretending to be Dow executives apologetic about the Bhopal disaster and finally paying the compensation packages.

What is always interesting though, is that after every hoax is revealed, the media resorts once again in shooting the messengers, rather than acknowledging that – true, this is what Dow SHOULD be doing, or this is how things SHOULD be managed in New Orleans, if the interests of the people are truly taken into consideration. The actual sufferers be they in Bhopal or New Orleans were in fact rather pleased that the Yes Men’s spoof had highlighted at least a hypothetical act of justice. (The ‘strangling’ scene in the trailer is an act for the trailer – the women go on to speak how glad they were at the Yes Men’s spoof.) The film also interviews high level finance cads, revealing the immense greed and twisted extreme-money-driven business structures we do live in.

The final scene of the movie is like a practical application of John Lennon’s wistful song ‘Imagine.’ It is a hoax done on an exceptionally grand scale, fooling the residents of New York City, and yet for a short period of time, it is heartening to see the smiles on people’s faces to see a world filled with justice, peace and love – the way it would be in a Utopian dream. If nothing at all, the Yes Men were able to bring that smile on the faces of thousands of city folks who for once didn’t have to wake up to the usual turbulent news that persist in reality. Yes, perhaps they were being male ‘Amelies’ in some ways (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) on a much, much larger scale, but for brief moments they had shown a glimpse of dreams becoming ‘reality’.

A must-see film. It is available online .Although they have won numerous awards in film festivals, its makers do it for getting the truth out, not for the money, so they don’t care if its available free.

I have to confess objectively though that even though initially people might think that extreme socialism is good, in truth healthy, truly ethical capitalism mixed with social democracy (the key word being ‘healthy’ and ‘ethical’) is a better option as communist and other totalitarian regimes have revealed through history that once its leaders become power-hungry, the atrocities committed are far worse and horrific than those seen in any democratic, capitalist country. (Or the capitalist/socialist blends like Canada & Australia which work well.) Greed, power-plays occur in both arenas – be it extreme capitalism or communism. The truth is that without  financial transparency, personal freedom and a good balance of ethics, practicality and above all justice (whether it is being just to the inventors/ the intelligent or talented to be recognized for their skills or it is being just to all citizens equally to have their human rights, standard of living, freedom and so forth be maintained at a good healthy level ), governments based on false ideologies, lies and lusts for greed and power – are bound to be unhealthy. The truth is that sadly, the choices of governments we have in the world are quite simply between : the ‘lesser evil’ and the ‘greater evil.’ Or if you are wealthy enough and enjoy solitude – to buy your own little island or a vast wooded hillside and live off the grid. (Mmm. That’s a wistful dream for me…..except I don’t have that much wealth to buy. So – back to reality. sigh.)


So if we ask ourselves ‘Why?’ – why do we live in a world or in political, social, academic, business systems where truth is concealed, injustices prevail and truth seekers punished, or why those with an insatiable greed for power who do not seem to follow any rational ethics are often so invincible – the answers at the end boil down truly to the functioning of human minds and emotions. And at the end boils down to the Machiavellian people who are often found in positions of power in various political, financial, religious systems.

Two years back in late July I was attacked on the street by a stranger, an alcoholic serial disturbance-maker who it seems even at the time of the attack was violating his parole order, as I found out later from the police. He was trying to force his way into my apartment building on the pretext of his ‘lost’ cat in response to a series of ‘found cat’ flyers I had naively posted on my quiet Canadian residential street, completely ignorant just how stupid a move this can be to attract predators. Some day I will write a separate post about it to highlight what measures women should take on seemingly safe streets because predators can strike anytime, anywhere. I used to be so over-confident before this incident, it was a humbling though frightening experience on how women are still not safe and can any time become victims even in seemingly safe, quiet North American residential streets. Having traveled around certain far more dangerous countries of the world, I’d become complacent and over-confident of the safety in first world countries.

I was comparatively lucky as I escaped with only a crushing fist blow to my face while trying to defend myself – a hard one that made my lips and gums bleed and left my face swollen for a week, and thankfully since a witness rushed to my rescue on the street outside my apartment and dialed 911, the police came on the scene and the man was later convicted. It seems I had not been his first victim and he had sexually harassed and attacked other women too on the streets but had escaped each time, but I’d become the first who was able to provide sufficient proof by sketching his face and describing him in detail later to the police along with other factual details and gone through with the trial – something I dreaded but had to, since the Crown (state) was defending me. The detective on the case was also relentless and told me that if I was not strong enough to go through the trial, this predator would be left back on the streets to endanger other women in the future. The attacker it seemed had a violent side, enhanced more when he got drunk, as in the cover of daylight this middle-aged man held the guise of a ‘cultured artist’! He had been previously arrested for a drunken fight with a man but his violent attacks on women had hitherto avoided trial due to insufficient proof. Besides the witness had luckily seen the man from down the street hitting my face and had confronted him trying to hold him before he escaped, so his statement to the police helped. What was most disturbing to me however was that the man had used my own kindness against me and the fact that I was putting up posters for a cat I’d found had turned against my own safety as his ‘approach’ had been to claim it was his cat (which it wasn’t) to try and get access to whatever crime he intended. Which meant that even while drunk he knew how to be cunning! Thankfully I was so much luckier as so many far more horrible acts of violence are committed against women every day and many are not lucky to escape.

The incident was a turning point for me to finally read up on psychology and try to understand what the ‘psychopath’ mind was. I cannot speak for others but I’ve noticed that architects and engineers are often extremely reluctant to read about psychology as we find it rather boring. Until this incident, I certainly did find it boring and never really bothered ‘figuring out’ people – even though I had been attacked twice before but didn’t let the incidents affect me. This time, instead of getting afraid, I thought it’s better to educate oneself and not be so naive about those wearing masks of ‘normalcy’ – be they street attackers, or seemingly ‘nice, charming’ folks who hide sinister sides beneath. While male psychopathy is exhibited in openly criminal behaviours, female psychopathy can be in the form of women displaying NPD and BPD. The devastation and insidious damage they do in relations and even in work places is not much different from ‘soul-rape’. I sometimes think that male psychopaths ‘hone’ their skills by torturing animals in their younger days before moving on to human victims. And female psychopaths ‘hone’ their skills by being the ‘mean girls/bullies’ to the kinder girls in high school before going on to wreak havoc in the lives of their future boyfriends/husbands with chilling emotional and mental bullying that leave many a kind-hearted man excavated emotionally and financially. In either case the chilling lack of empathy is the common point in both. Case to point – when recent bullying victim Phoebe Prince killed herself after months of isolation and torture, one of the chief girl bullies chillingly placed the word ‘Accomplished’ on her facebook page. Lack of empathy? You betcha!

So after my attack I read up a few books to understand how the minds of sociopaths work, and for some reason, I like looking at concrete facts far more than psycho-analytical hypotheses. Academic books on mental health helped much more and also reading up on case studies. But the book I found most enlightening, that a neuroscientist gave me, was written by a woman medical engineer Dr. Barbara Oakley titledEvil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole my Mother’s Boyfriend. Although this is based on newer research, the book is an utterly fascinating read as it shows the brain scans of psychopathic minds along with many case studies of the ‘successfully sinister.’ It also combines research in the fields of psychology, anthropology, evolution, neuroscience and psychiatry that reveal how ‘double-faced’ minds work, but is written in an easy-to-read style, more like non-fiction rather than a scientific journal. Throughout evolutionary history, and especially during the time of empires and kingdoms, the more cruel/powerful men and the more manipulative women had better chances of producing a greater number of children. The tyrant warrior Genghis Khan for instance is known to have fathered the maximum number of children in the world. And if we view this simply from ‘humans as a species’ where the reproductive drive for progeny was evolutionarily ingrained in the majority, we can logically see how the assertive, the cruel, the more ruthless and the crafty were indeed able to reproduce far more throughout early history if even for sheer propagation of their ‘seed’ (whether they knew it for not) either by force or by instinct. Nature, nurture and numerous other factors certainly came into play. But the cruel/unempathetic/apathetic amongst us are in larger numbers than we might care to admit, though of course not all turn into killers or attackers – and these percentages are certainly low. The book covers not just the profiles of megalomaniac leaders and duplicitous financial organizations, it even covers the omnipresent ‘attention-seekers’ we see sometimes in showbiz, the power hungry narcissists we see even in academic and social-work settings and then gets closer to home when she analyses the minds of men and women like her own sister who showed an alarming lack of empathy and narcissism as seen in the condition called BPD. (It is important to note that not all BPD sufferers faced actual trauma in early life, though some certainly have. Many simply have a personality problem that makes them experts at manipulating, lying and wreaking havoc in the lives of their close ones – usually kind-hearted individuals who have a tendency to ‘rescue’ or ‘fix’ and fall for the ‘professional victim’ alternated with the bullying stance Machiavellians take. I am reticent to even mention the abbreviation, because sufferers of the disorder are often online and relentlessly blast and personally attack anyone who writes the truth of the condition. Even therapists and Oakley herself was not spared.)

On a personal level, my first boyfriend was a brilliant young university professor but clinically diagnosed with BPD on the NPD continuum. I had been ignorant and stupid enough to not have read up on this, having been merely told that he was ‘slightly bipolar.’ (‘Let me solve your problem’-quasi-Aspie-types like myself are incredibly susceptible to being extracted by borderlines – both male and female. You’ll be surprised how so many geeky engineers and kind, talented giving people attract Cluster Bs like honey due to their eager-to-help ‘fix-it’ tendencies, which in itself should be fixed to stop from falling as easy BP prey.) No matter how much kindness and understanding I tried to pour in, along with all-my-‘first love’-naivete, the lack of empathy he showed on many occasions and the constant changing of moods once he’d won me over, as well as the ‘mask-to-the-world’ vs. the ‘reality-in-private’ was very hard to figure out, until I read about the condition years later. It was as though light bulbs of comprehension lit up finally. I used to be very private, never talking of this neither to friends nor family – let alone online, mellowed as I was with an over-extreme ‘see-the-half-full-glass’ attitude and parents who taught me only to look at the brighter side of things without complaining, but now am comfortable stating the 360-degree version of truth for what it was without editing out its dark and painful sides, since reading online stories of other people who suffered relations with partners with BPD and NPD helped me too.

I think (and Dr. Tara Palmatier from Shrink for Men who has years of clinical experience and is a fresh breath of rationality has often reiterated) that unfortunately many therapists/books for the past several decades have resorted to asking sane or non-BPs (i.e. non-borderline persons) to be extremely kind and patient to their BPD partners thereby acting as servile ‘enablers’ to borderline/narcissistic/histrionic/sociopathic bad behaviours, rather than calling them out on their lack of empathy and remorse for what it is – incurable and chilling. And this ‘bad behaviour’ applies to both male and female partners – considering that plenty of women out there can be as abusive as men, except it’s ‘politically incorrect’ to speak up on this. In my case the BP was an emotionally unstable man, but most often BPs are women. This boyfriend came from a suicidal family, had a disturbed-though-highly-educated mother and exhibited a lot of the traits that come with this condition of BPD (i.e. rapid mood swings, quick idealisation-devaluation of their close ones, a fractured sense of self, extreme rage fits over inconsequential matters etc.) In men, this is often misdiagnosed as bipolar, but bipolar disorder can be checked by medication, ‘borderline’ is quite something else. He was not an extreme case though, certainly not criminal, rather quite talented and intelligent in his work and our good times were fun – like the highs of a roller coaster. He was able to overcome quite a few of his personality problems later in life through therapy. But the ‘gaslighting‘ and the chilling lack of empathy along with the roller-coaster mood swings remained, as one of our common friends, a doctor, ascertained years later; though it seems he had been able to control his destructive rages. It was an intense, turbulent 14 months for me – which I later found out was usually the ‘normal’ time for relations with BPD people as the non-BP partner takes upto 15 to 18 months (and in some cases, upto 8 to 13 years if one of their parents also had BPD) before they draw boundaries and defenses, and not allow further eroding by the BP. (My next relation thankfully was healthy, peaceful and sane, with a like-natured person as myself, and lasted for many years and we still remain friends with mutual respect and goodwill; and his mother still remains one of the most inspirational women I have met.) But it took me a while to logically understand the psychology of borderline/narcissistic people and that first boyfriend. Apparently throughout history many painters, writers and entertainers have also exhibited clinical borderline/narcissistic traits. The condition does not inhibit talent or intelligence but makes its sufferers extremely manipulative, attention-craving, unstable and have a black-white way of thinking.

Now, you can leave a relation with a man/woman you have known on a personal level displaying mentally unstable traits but not all-out ‘evil’, rather with mood-and-empathy-and-reality-regulation problems. You can be lucky to live in a country where a stranger psychopath displaying true sociopathic behaviour and attacking you on the street can be taken care of by the judicial and security system set up by the country and a good samaritan who you are incredibly lucky to have come up on the scene of the attack. But what do you do if you have to work for a mentally disturbed person wearing a mask of charm and sanity? Or be governed by one? Or are related to one? Or have to cope with in seemingly ‘normal’ bureaucratic/educational/social/religious systems? Or wonder how genocides in some African nations still continue, financial embezzlements have become the North American crime-du-jour, or in Iran clerics can actually endorse stoning a woman to death and crowds actually participate in this murder?! And in all cases, the perpetrators of crimes walk away with no accountability. That’s where Oakley’s book is very enlightening.

Barbara Oakley has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones — her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from private to regular army captain in the U.S. Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the world’s largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering. Oakley incorporates sociology, psychology, anthropology and biology in her analysis in her book ‘Evil Genes’

As a peer reviewer and author Cliff Pickover has written on Oakley’s book: “A magnificent tour through the sociology, psychology, and biology of evil. No one should pass up the experience of stepping through the portals of this fascinating book to answer Oakley’s crucial question: Why are there evil people, and why are they sometimes so successful?”

For a small dekko, I’ve decided to place here an excerpt from the last chapter of Evil Genes:

‘The Sun Also Shines on the Wicked’

Note: The term Machiavellian used here as per Oakley’s definition at the glossary of the book is as follows:

*Machiavellian = A person who is charming on the surface, a genius at sucking up to power, but capable of mind-boggling acts of deceit for control or personal gain. Ultimately a Machiavellian, as the term is used throughout in Evil Genes, is a person whose narcissism combines with subtle cognitive and emotional disturbances in such a fashion as to make him believe that achieving his own desires, and his alone, is a genuinely beneficial – even altruistic – activity. Since the Machiavellian gives more emotional weight to his own importance than to that of anyone or anything else, achieving the growth of his preeminence by any means possible is always justified in his own mind. The subtle cognitive and emotional disturbances of Machiavellians mean they can make judgments that dispassionate observers would regard as unfair or irrational. At the same time, however, the Machiavellian’s unusual ability to charm, manipulate, and threaten can coerce others into ignoring their conscience and treading a darker path. A synonym is successfully sinister.

“Who are the successfully sinister?

Before Hitler’s seizure of power, psychiatrist Ernst Kretscmer remarked: “In normal times we diagnose them; in disturbed times they govern us.”[i] In my reading, however, Krestschmer’s quip misses the mark in a number of crucially important ways.

Rather than being diagnosed “in normal times,” it appears that most people who interact with the successfully sinister, even trained psychologists and psychiatrists, have no idea with whom they’re dealing – not unless these analysts are given twenty-twenty hindsight clues such as a dead body or unexplained missing millions from a company’s accounts. A charming, highly successful lawyer for example, who beats and abuses his wife and children can almost literally get away with murder without being caught.[ii] A major company like Enron can run a flagrant Ponzi scheme where dozens of insiders are in a position to know something seriously strange is going on – and still no one says a word publicly.[iii] Pedophile priests in the Catholic Church can be responsible for the rape of tens of thousands of children, and the church hierarchy not only manages to keep the offenses hidden but knowingly moves the priest to new parishes, where fresh prey await.[iv] Key members of the United Nations can literally be in “Complicity with Evil” as described in Adam LeBor’s meticulously researched book of that name, in the commission of genocide after genocide. And yet those who allowed these disgracefully corrupt and malign episodes to proceed are granted a golden retirement with plaudits.[v] And individuals like Mao not only kill tens of millions but are worshiped in godlike fashion and touted as countercultural icons. Incidental death totals equivalent to a dozen or more Nazi Holocausts are minimized or tucked away from public discussion.

No, rather than being diagnosed, per Kretschmer’s quip, highly successful Machiavellians* appear to lurk in every human population. Whether their extraordinary ability to stack any deck in their favor, their relentless need for control, and their self-serving ruthlessness, those with at least a modicum of talent, looks, and assertiveness are more likely to be found in positions of power. This means the closer you climb toward the nexus of power in any given social structure, the more likely you’ll be able to find a person with Machiavellian tendencies. It really doesn’t matter what the underlying political system is – democratic, fascist, communist, or religious – or whether the social structure involves a company, university, schoolboard, religion, group, city council, state government, federal government or UN-style supragovernment; the larger the social structure and the bigger the payoff, the more Machiavellians eventually seem to find a way to creep to the top in numbers all out of proportion to their underlying percentage in society. Don’t forget the growing body of research literature that reveals how people selectively sort themselves into positions congenial to their personalities.[vi]

Machiavellians can have an incalculably restrictive, demoralizing, and corrupt effect on those in their sphere of influence. But what is worse is that Machiavellian behavior in a family, company, religious institution, school, union, or government unit – in fact, in virtually any social group – often seems to reach awe-inspiring proportions before anyone feels compelled to take solid action.[vii] Many people simply prefer to go about their everyday lives than take up a righteous cause; it is often much easier to simply ignore, evade, justify or silence the speech of anyone who does speak out than to constructively act against unsavory activities. Ordinary people’s emote control also means that sinister behavior can be seen as less important or – because of calcified beliefs about an ideology, institution, or person – even justifiable. Moreover the utter ruthlessness of some Machiavellians can mean that even the most sincere and altruistic keep quiet because of realistic concerns for themselves and their loved ones. Taking action against a Machiavellian is often a dangerous proposition, and no one takes on such a task lightly.[viii] (Friends in the know are often just being reasonable when they recommend cautious silence.) All of these factors serve to keep a stable sinister system intact, despite the fact that such a system is often less effective than other, more open systems. (Machiavellians in fact, often work behind the scenes to ensure their system is not put in a position of competing with other systems.)

Opaque organizations, systems, and ideologies that easily allow for underhanded interactions play to Machiavellians’ strong suit, allowing them to conceal their deceitful practices more easily. Idealistic systems such as communism and some religious or quasi-religious creeds are perfect for Machiavellians because they often lack checks and balances, or don’t use them.

When kindhearted people are unaware that a few leading individuals in “their group” are likely to be sinister, they are ripe for victimization. Their own kindness can be turned against them and others. Hitler’s greatest strength, for example, was his ability to appeal not only to the worst characteristic – hatred – but also to people’s best qualities – faith, hope, love and sacrifice. As with most Machiavellians, he was a master at turning people’s best traits against them. “He confided the secret of his approach to an intimate : ‘When I appeal……for sacrifice, the first spark is struck. The humbler the people are, the greater the craving to identify themselves with a cause bigger than themselves.’”[ix]

Such factors as political instability with no end in sight, worsening economic disaster, and rapid social changes have been pointed out as critical to the rise of the successfully sinister dictators such as Hitler. In reality, what these factors appear to do is merely allow the successfully sinister – always loitering near the top of every significant social structure – to not only gain ascendancy but also to rewrite the rules. As power is consolidated, the sycophantic cocoon that a leading Machiavellian is able to encase himself in can, it seems, reinforce his own narcissistic thought patterns. (as Ovid is said to have observed over two thousand years ago: “All things may corrupt when minds are prone to evil”)[x] In light of all this, it becomes clear that Kretschmer’s comment “in disturbed times they govern us” is true but misleading. Machiavellians are always present in every system that relates to power. It’s just that in times of troubles and in nontransparent systems, it’s easier for them to reach the pinnacle.

This is not to say that everyone at higher levels is Machiavellian. (One British study, for example, found that only one in six supervisors is thought by their subordinates to be a psychopath.)[xi] But certainly there appear to be high enough percentages of deeply Machiavellian individuals at powerful social levels to make for very different social interactions in that milieu. In such a high-powered setting, even if one is not deeply Machiavellian by nature, it is difficult to survive without using some Machiavellian strategies oneself.

The devious methods for success used by the sinister help explain why systems of ethics can at times be so surprisingly ineffectual and sometimes even counterproductive. Altruists who draw up rules and legislation to deter Machiavellian behavior are often surprised to find their policy turned on its head and used by Machiavellians for nefarious purposes…….”


[i] Redlich, Destrutive Prophet, p 334

[ii] Ann Rule, Dead by Sunset

[iii] Eichenwald, Conspiracy of Fools

[iv] David France, Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal, 2004

[v] Adam LeBor, Complicity with Evil, 2006

[vi] Carnahan and McFarland, Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment

[vii] Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, 1974

This behavior can’t help but evoke shades of psychologist Stanley Milgram’s work. In a classic set of experiments, Milgram revealed that many ordinary people will go to absurd lengths – even giving electric shocks to shocking screaming victims – in their blind tendency to obey authority. Perhaps this relates to Posner’s research involving people’s varying ability to resolve conflicting information and Wilson’s studies related to decision making and synchronized neural systems.

[viii] Myron Peretz Glazer and Penina Migdal Glazer, The Whistleblowers, 1989

[ix] Waite, Psychopathic God, p. 396

[x] Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations, 1906, p. 198

[xi] Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind, 1998, p. 93

__________________

The book is available on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Evil-Genes-Hitler-Mothers-Boyfriend/dp/159102580X.I for one wish I’d read this even earlier. It would have helped in understanding why evil exists and thrives so well in this world, and how too much trustful naivete, optimism in human sanity, and our own kindness can work against us.

And why even now, despite the truth often being exposed by whistleblowers like Ellsberg or Assange, many of the systems-of-power in the world prefer to shoot the messenger rather than acknowledge facts for what they are – cold hard truth. Perhaps those who are too cowardly to face the truth about their own dark selves but prefer wearing smiling masks before the world are afraid that the hard truth of their actions and their double standards will be exposed to the world?  And their masks of sanity and charm removed? And for these hypocrites it is easier to punish the truth-teller rather than face their own Mr. Hydes (or Cruella d’Evilles).

It is a duty of self preservation for the truly kind and honest to not be made into sacrificial lambs nor pay the price for seeking justice. How do we do this? By gaining knowledge and deciphering the vile code of the successfully sinister. That, I believe, is the very first step. Knowledge, facts, wisdom. The first ‘how’ to answer the screaming ‘whys’ that resonate over the injustices, the crimes and concealments of truth that occur in the world. To remove the blindfold of Themis’ statue. And look straight up at naked Truth objectively. And without fear.

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UNFETTERED

“I have confronted my mortality on many occasions. And If I die tomorrow, at least I could say I’ve LIVED.” –  Independent film maker, animal rights activist & adventurer Tim Gorski.

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Cambridge, MA. June 16, 2010. No enormously drawling lengthy post today or for the rest of the week. Swamped with work and other commitments. (Though I’m looking forward to meeting Christopher Hitchens this evening as he gives a talk at the Harvard Book Store.) Instead a video today of a friend who in my opinion is one of the bravest men I’ve come across in life and one with a remarkable level of integrity.  As I write  this,  images of the massive oil spill in the Florida Gulf and the innocent wildlife victims who paid the price flash through……I had canoed in those waters during my stay there and it is so incredibly sad what the incompetence and lack of accountability of BP has brought about. It was in the state of Florida some years ago that I first met the animal activist who would become my friend.

Through my work  over the years I’ve often come across many environmentalists, most of whom are genuine. But I’ve also sadly come across quite a few who do it more for the publicity or funds and to get their name in the papers; or conversely there are animal rights activists who get rabid about protecting crocodiles and pythons and other wild creatures while being  active consumers of the usual meat industry through the local supermarket. (I’ve always found the second kind rather interesting and hypocritical in the sense how can you tolerate the cruelty of the slaughterhouses that remove newborn calves from their mothers and a list of many other brutal ways in which many other animals are raised, handled and killed, yet take a moral stand with placards about the lives of crocodiles in the wetlands? At least the latter are having free lives in the wild!)

But Timothy Gorski is a film maker and animal activist who walks the walk and talks the talk. There is absolutely not one shred of hypocrisy about him, neither in the products he uses, the food he eats, the life he leads or the causes he defends. And this is very rare to find and see put into practice in the real world. Very rare indeed. His first film ‘Lolita – Slave to Entertainment’ which he had written, directed and produced went on to garner 11 awards and was his campaign to highlight the conditions of whales in captivity. He has also done innumerable works and projects to aid, rescue and heal domestic, wild, captive, stray and abused animals through the years and had made videos to highlight the killing of dolphins years before the documentary ‘The Cove’ was released last year. One of the most down-to-earth and humble people I have known, a couple of years back I’d attended the premier of the documentary ‘At the Edge of the World‘ with him at the Toronto International Film Festival for which he was the cinematographer and had spent several months in Antarctica on board a ship with the crew of Sea Shepherd and Captain Paul Watson. The documentary would go on to win eight awards in various festivals including  the Haskell Wexler best cinematography award for Tim. At the TIFF screening when his name was called out he literally sank into his chair and gave a tiny wave, because he didn’t want to attract the audience’s attention as the applause broke out. Tim’s reward has always been in the eyes of the animals he could help and in the doing, not the human awards, though he knows the reality of marketing in this world if you wish to get the facts across. The man is an utter realist.

Anyone who has watched a video on how whales are slaughtered – literally slashed a piece at a time  and  killed-while-alive – will know why this cruelty is quite senseless and preventable. Yet it is not; and just this year, the US lifted the ban on whale hunts for Japan and Norway, as the ‘exchange’ of Japan’s forgiving some financial debts the US owed it. I have traveled up a few times to the north of Canada in the protected waters of the Tadoussac region to watch the magnificent whales from a zodiac and I still cannot fathom why these mammals are deliberately put through this torture  in other parts of the world when so many other options of food are available to people. During those northern trips, while the larger whales kept to themselves as you watched their gigantic backs and dipping tails from a safe distance, the white beluga whales were so friendly and naive, they would swim alongside you when you kayaked on the waters.

But the tale in Antarctica and the illegal whaling operations that go on there are quite another story….. The reason Paul Watson takes preventive action and had broken out from Greenpeace which he had co-founded, is because he felt that  many organizations would collect millions by showing slaughter footage but nothing was being done to actually save their lives. Only by being in the arena and in the mouth of the lion could slaughter truly be prevented or lives be saved. Something like those working for Doctors without Borders who actually go and do instead of simply talk or ‘pose’ for publicity. Here’s an interview of Tim on board the Farley Mowat in 2006 as part of the Sea Shepherd crew. At its end there are questions that speak very deeply to anyone who listens. It certainly did to me.

What I like most about Tim Gorski is his humility in person and his steely determination and zest for life. He has real life stories of adventures that he may quietly reveal over a glass of beer ranging from days lost in the Amazon (where he had to eat a rat at one point to ward off hunger); spending New Year’s eve amongst the Shan State Burmese rebels who oppose the Burmese Military Government, after he and his crew got lost in the jungles  and caves between Thailand and Burma; when he rushed to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina but stories  there he doesn’t wish to talk about; getting swept away literally during the tsunami in Thailand and many more incidents. You know those explorers and film makers you see on some National Geographic show who are quite simply not afraid? And you wonder if they’re crazy to do the things they do or choose the places they go off to? And then when you meet them, you’re even more surprised for they seem to be the most humourous, humble and humane people you’ve come across? Well, Tim is one of them and I am proud to know him and those like him who are not afraid to defend rational ethics. There are many animals and birds big and small across the planet who I’m sure silently thank him. And I thank him personally for being who he is and as a living testament that men with unshakable and inspiring integrity still survive on this planet.

Here is a promo video of a documentary ‘How I became an Elephant’ currently in production and in search of financial help (since his company is a non-profit based on those who wish to help freely.) While horrendous facts of torture of Southeast Asia’s elephants are a reality, it is heartening to know that there is an elephant sanctuary in Thailand which tries to get the gentle mammals away from poachers and traffickers who put them through an unfathomable amount of torture to ‘break’ and capture them and either kill them for ivory or put them into hard relentless labour. Tim has been able to fund the rescuing of one of those elephants and help the sanctuary through one Hollywood donor, but much, much more work remains to be done, as acts of murder and brutality against these gentle giants still continue.  What is very grounded about Tim is that he understands the complex issues of poverty, trade and survival linked to animal exploitation and is not a clueless anarchist-type activist. But a look at the following video shows the risks he takes and the heart-wrenching torture the elephants are put through. When I watch this I truly wonder how some people can salivate over spending thousands on Blahniks and Fendis and Hummers and fur coats when there are so many more realities and ethics to be aware of. Or just simply know as facts that exist, if even out of a curiosity about the world and its many truths. And even more I wonder at grown-ups who fawn and squeal over fake soft toys on Valentine’s day and Easter and other occasions while real animals are tortured everyday both in the wild and in slaughterhouses. (Warning: contains disturbing footage although most has been edited out of this clip.)

Updated 2013, as the film has already been completed

A link to his company Rattle the Cage below. Feel free to pass this link, videos or this post on to those who genuinely care for the way animals are mistreated in this world and for those who would like to get involved in his film projects.

http://www.rattlethecage.org/

And here is a link to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the film that took him to Antarctica. (do check it out….absolutely worth it.)

http://www.attheedgeoftheworld.com/

Keep up the good work, my bro! You really are an inspiration of what it means to truly live in this world….

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919)

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At the edge of the world


D-Day anD Dieter Dengler

 

For  the  post  on  NASA’s  LANDSAT 7  &  TERRA  Satellite  images  go HERE

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D – DAY anD DIETER DENGLER

Today, 6th June (6-6), 2010 is the 66th anniversary of the Normandy landings by the Allied troops which changed the course of World War II and the start of the defeat of Hitler’s reign of evil. For more details on this, here is a wiki article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6the June – D-Day

But what I wish to write here mainly about is of one the most profound and unforgettable documentaries I have ever watched. In my entire life. My only regret is that I had not watched it sooner. It is one of those stories that changes forever the way you view life, your place in it, the stories behind seemingly ordinary folks you run into at the grocery store or walk by the street; the manner in which you perceive reality in this world, the relativity of pain and sorrow and most of all, to witness first hand the incredible human spirit of survival against all odds. Yes, against every possible odd, when death is possibly your only friend and yet you do not give up on life. The documentary is named ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.  Directed by the unique and amazingly accomplished and talented film maker Werner Herzog. I do not think words can do justice to the experience at a deep visceral and existential level that this film produces, so remarkably engrossing it is. Both visually and audibly in its unique artfulness. And with just a real life character and a few hired locals from Laos who help re-enact Dieter’s journey as he narrates it, it is still the simplest yet most profound stories on film a man can experience.

The story of a man who grew up in great hardship and all he wanted was to learn how to fly, from the day  as a little boy he caught the eye of an allied pilot who was shooting down his house. The grandson of the only man in his entire village who had not voted for Hitler and faced its consequences. The man who ended up as a pilot for the US Air Force and later a POW in Laos during the Vietnam War. And a man who for some reason just did not give up on life. I will not write the details of the harrowing tortures he went through in the hands of the Vietcong, or the details of the horrors he himself participated in due to his actions as an US army-man. Because this is a film to be seen, not written about, even though most of the experience of the viewer is simply from the narration of Dieter talking to the camera. What struck me most was quite simply the state of being of this man who was neither bitter, neither angry, neither judgmental nor traumatized but came across as just an objective, almost obsessive observer of life and the situations and realities that surrounded him. And saw both sides without any hatred, but only an obsession to fly. And in the harshest of circumstances since his childhood still somehow found inspiration. In war both sides are victims in the power play of leaders who use their citizens and soldiers as pawns. There are no winners. One country’s hero is another country’s barbarian and vice versa. And the torture of a Caucasian is no greater nor lesser than the torture of the Asians killed by dropped bombs. (Although you do begin to understand why the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of wars were made, in 1929 and 1949, not that they are still followed everywhere.)  As Dieter says: “I don’t think of myself as a hero. No, only the dead people are heroes.”

I have amongst my friends a few who were former US marines and pilots. And an older lady who had fled Vietnam during the war and is a well established painter in America now. The marines I knew had entered the force more out of financial necessity. The lady had fled on a boat from Vietnam and would end up as a prominent painter and anti-war activist in the U.S. They had stories that were remarkable  and poignant. They had told me tales of their experiences and their views on war. The ways in which they perceived the world after that. How sometimes simple joys such as even lying back on a mound of grass and watching the sunlight filter through the veins of a leaf was a profound source of pleasure. This film only reinforced the point even more.

This is a documentary that despite picking up several awards is not something that has been shown around with great fanfare or publicity. There are no glamorous posters, and the online videos are insufficient and misplaced and it is best not to see those. And though it was remade as a full length feature film later in Hollywood, the latter did no justice to the real thing. Dieter Dengler in real life with his ordinary looks and captivating thickly accented monologues is ten times better than any Hollywood actor playing his part. But every person who has seen this documentary knows that it is one of those rare gems that changes  your life forever. That makes you view every moment of freedom, every meal, every drink, every warm bed as a gift. And makes you thank your lucky stars for the gift of life and comfort. That makes you question why people get into wars over ideologies and religion. And most of all, gives you the courage and determination to overcome every little hardship in life without complaining. A truly remarkable testament of the human will, of luck and of optimism.  As one reviewer wrote on the IMDB site – ‘Cancel your shrink and watch Little Dieter.’  And as though the documentary isn’t enough to uncover the unbelievable truth of Dieter’s life, at the very end of the credits, as a postscript you see a last clip of a very solemn yet somewhat comical ritual (comical only because the steps of folding a flag seem  so far removed from the gritty reality of the unpresumptuous basics of life that the protagonist has lived through) and at the ceremony the face of a woman of a certain ethnicity which leaves you intrigued and wondering that there is a whole other story of his private life that we do not know of.

If there is one documentary on DVD (and darn – there are SO many good ones, how can one pick!) that will make you determined to be content with the life you have and count every gift as a blessing, and to come out against all odds, this is the film. Amazingly intriguing. Indescribably captivating. Gut-wrenchingly true. Unfathomably powerful  in both its minimalism and intensity. And only the mastery of Herzog behind the camera could have brought this to life.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) – a film by Werner Herzog.

I think I’m just going to go and watch it all over again.


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Sidetracked Alert: A Very Happy Birthday today to a very special friend – a former accidental US marine who was born more to be a marine biologist or an evolutionary scientist  (with his INTP disposition) but instead ended up as a computer whiz after a stint at the Marines (and thankfully did not kill anyone.) Avid canoe-er and fisher, dog-lover, wood worker,  and a man of many varied trades, talents and quirky interests. With an exceptionally good heart. And a very unusual and intriguing story of his own life and adventures that I hope he writes a book about someday. Happy Birthday! Hope you watch the documentary if you haven’t. I remembered you a little as I watched it because Dieter’s style of narrating reminded me of the detailed manner in which you talk (minus the accent.) And your general optimism against all the odds you yourself have faced.



Documentary Heaven

This is one of the coolest websites I have come across : Documentary Heaven

http://documentaryheaven.com

For those who are more inclined towards gaining information, insights, facts and the ‘film’ version of non-fiction books. It covers various diverse categories from Archaeology, Economics, Environment, Human Rights, Physics, Psychology,  Space Science,  Sport & Adventure and a whole lot more.

Talking of the last category a big congratulations to a friend of mine for  many years Nethra Raghuraman (pronounced Netra) who is hosting a new documentary series on adventure sports and aircraft for the National Geographic channel. Nethra is not only an adventure-sports participant herself, but is an Industrial Psychology magna-cum-laude graduate who on a lark had entered an international L’oreal modeling contest years back and not only became its winner but later she chose to leave the catwalks of Paris (based on her own observations of  the industry) and participated in art and independent films instead.

Nethra Raghuraman – psychologist, model, actress, animal rights activist

One of India’s topmost supermodels (where she feels you have more control over your appearances and choices than in agency-based modeling) and a regular on the runways both there and in New York and Paris, she chose to select film projects which had more independent directors instead of  the hackneyed Bollywood song-and-dance routines. This limited her choices, but she still chose her personal principles and ethics over giving in to more marketable strategies. Her most significant role was in the critically-acclaimed Bhopal Express (A David Lynch presentation which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival) which went on to snag 7 awards in the festival circuits including a best-actress award for her  and was based on the true story of one of the largest industrial catastrophes caused by human callousness of the Union Carbide plant resulting to a death toll of upto 15,000 people (both immediate and the aftermath of the  leaked poisonous gases.) When I went to watch the movie in a Montreal Art Film Festival in 2000, the line-up for the tickets was 6 blocks long (I’m not kidding.) And while I had known her even before her modeling days, it was wonderful to see that that young, shy, intelligent teenager I knew who was still coming to terms with her growing height at 5′-10″ and fluffy lips had years later transitioned into this elegant, sensitive artist. Unlike most other women in this field of work, she does not enter into self-promoting campaigns and does not even bother to maintain a home page. And even after featuring on the cover of Vogue Asia (she’s the one  kneeling on the left) still remains as  grounded as she has always been. I particularly liked an observation she once made : “I’d read somewhere that things are to be used, and people loved. But strangely and sadly you find in this world that so often things are loved and people used. What a reverse world we live in!” Congratulations, Nethra on hosting your new gig. And for waiting  and turning down other numerous offers till it was for a channel as informative as National Geographic. Thank you for being a woman of strength, beauty (in and out) and intellect (and I wish more interviewers would ask you about your education, insights and philosophical musings, rather than the usual cliched questions.)

Netra hosting the series for the National Geographic channel.

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A documentary on Nietzsche : Human all too human and Beyond Good and Evil.

And now, moving on to something else, particularly to one of my (and my mother’s) favourite philosophers – Friedrich Nietzsche. (And much to my embarrassment, my paternal great-grandfather, an archaeologist who adored his work used to copy his style of moustache.) While writing on Nietzsche would deserve a separate post altogether, since documentaries-are-the-topic-du-jour here, I am enclosing one taken from the link mentioned above. For more on his philosophy here is a wiki article : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_Friedrich_Nietzsche although the best way is to read his books, of course. One of the best aspects of Nietzsche is  that unlike some other proponents of individualistic independent thinking, he never seeked any followers nor believed in cult-tactics (in fact he abhorred it) to impose his ideas upon others. He wrote for himself and for the personal joy of his ideas , reflections and observations. And no, he was NOT anti-Semitic, quite the reverse. The above mentioned moustachioed grandpa was Jewish so I do know what I’m talking of. Even the wiki article clearly states the facts. I do like the works of the mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell, but the introverted, introspective Nietzsche was definitely a man who was a true individualist of his time, for which he paid a lonely price. There are many insightful and powerful quotes of Nietzsche but one of my favourites both for its brevity and wisdom is :“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

I will soon be starting a series about people termed as rationalists and secular humanists and thinkers (and the first post lined to be up soon is on Richard Dawkins) but in many ways, in the school of philosophy and rational thinking, Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the pioneers of asking this line of  rhetoric,  as well as questioning widely -followed-irrational-mass-belief-systems.  And he knew quite well back then that he would be in a minority.

This particular documentary shows more of Nietzsche’s human side and weaknesses, a ‘truth’ that I have often been in conflict with about many creative artists and writers and even leaders I have liked. I found (a truth my mother had told me long back but I would find too hard to digest) that often the creative/artistic output of a man/woman (painter, musician, writer etc. who is not engaging in any moral-code-preaching but purely creating works for his/her own indulgence) should not be judged by but rather be viewed independently of his/her human fallacies (i.e.’weaknesses’ that did not include any violent tendencies, of course, but rather the softer limitations and follies of human nature.) It was one of the hardest truths I have had to accept over time and life; and in some ways to learn from my own fallacy of overt optimism in  the logic or kindness of humanity or rather lack thereof; and perhaps the reason why in my own life I still adhere to following a measure of personalised integrity and ethics as honestly and as steadfastly as I can. As Nietzsche says : “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Now that’s an objective observation I can live with. And in today’s world, where the patterns of consumption, production and existence are too intricately tied and criss-crossed to be untangled, this thought of his, though impossible if one wishes to maintain both the practice of practicality and humility, still remains a liberating dream-reality: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.The first part of the statement is the observation. The second is the process or the price. And the third is the prize, if only for one’s own sense of self, but truly one of the best gifts  you can give yourself. Should you choose to, of course.

http://documentaryheaven.com/nietzsche-beyond-good-and-evil/

http://documentaryheaven.com

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