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.

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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 titled Evil 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.

*


*

* Billions of stars * Billions of sports fans

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” – Carl Sagan

* BILLIONS OF STARS * BILLIONS OF SPORTS FANS *

(or) What is it with men and balls-on-fire?

Spain wins the FIFA World Cup 2010 Final against the Netherlands, 1-0

Another FIFA World Cup ends. Fans and nations go wild. Spain emerges victorious. Advertising companies know that they’ll have to wait 4 years again before this showcase reaches billions across the planet at one go. The winning players will remember this match as the highlight of their careers. And somehow nothing seems to foster the patriotic pride of nations more intensely than international sporting events – be it the Olympics or this World Cup Soccer or even more slower tournaments like cricket. (Heck – in Spain at the moment even the separatist Basques and the autonomy-pushing Catalonians have suddenly all come together to celebrate a ‘united Spanish’ victory, forgetting their differences and debt problems. A soccer win has brought in an unprecedented unity not seen for centuries!)

 Why?

A very good reason for this. And a highly logical one too. (A reason – which perhaps if many women knew more, would stop nagging their husbands when they get engrossed in watching games on tv.) Shall we say that in some ways this ingrained sense of competition and ‘winning’ in men is what propagated the human species through centuries? I was always fascinated as a kid why my dad (an avid tennis and football player in his youth) would get so involved in sports-watching. Or why I myself had a competitive streak when it came to doing gymnastics and playing chess or later mountain climbing or got so intense while watching tennis matches and auto-racing. Or why many people in general went so crazy rooting for their teams, almost in some animalistic ecstasy? As though they were vicariously living through the victories of their sports stars? So I searched for answers and the best one I found was on reading a certain chapter in a certain book back in the ‘90s. So as the World Cup frenzy ends, I’ve decided to place here the entire chapter from that great book I’d read around a decade back by one of my favourite scientists – astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan.

(Note:For those wishing to directly read the chapter “Monday Night Hunters”, scroll down to the seconds half of the post.)

SAGAN’S SAGA

 I started reading the books of Carl Sagan when I first saw his Cosmos series. In many ways, Sagan was not only the astrophysicist who popularized astronomy for many, he was one of the most ahead-of-his-times rationalists whom even Richard Dawkins has thanked for the unapologetic outspokenness of his ideas. Since I’m going to restrict this post to a chapter from his last book – ‘Billions and Billions – Thoughts on life and death at the brink of the millennium’ – the one he wrote shortly before his death – here’s more on the brilliant Sagan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

And here is a collection of his top 10 quotes (as per my own choice):

  1. It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones. “The Burden of Skepticism” (1987)
  2. The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key. – Wonder and Skepticism”, Skeptical Enquirer Volume 19, Issue 1, (January-February 1995)
  3. I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. In the Valley of the Shadow” PARADE magazine (10 March 1996)
  4. Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved Interview with Charlie Rose, 1996
  5. A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. – Contact
  6. In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” (Pale Blue Dot, 1994)
  7. For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
  8.  I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. – Chapter 2, “Science and Hope” The Demon-Haunted World.
  9. Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.“Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1992) (co-written with Dr. Ann Druyan)
  10. Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

I particularly liked Billions & Billions because it covered a wide range of topics and was written with an incredible level of philosophical wisdom and deep understanding of the connections of different aspects and systems of the world we live in – touching topics from anthropology, medicine, physics, environmental ethics, evolution, space exploration, consumerism, war, government policies and politics, human fallacies and achievements and much more. It was the work of a brilliant mind expressing as much as he could before his hour drew close, which is why the book was marked with an optimistic poignancy due to the finality of his own life that the author was well aware of.

In Sagan’s work I have found ideas that have resonated well with the way I’d often wonder since childhood how the pieces “fit” in this world or the parts inter-connected in the whole. Personally, I think, or at least for me – those who seek truth based on evidence, rational thinking, and while developing their own empathy and kindness, question societal “givens” to seek answers analytically – are those who seem to often far better understand the value of, or search to find the balance between logic and love, prose and poetry, pragmatism and enchantment. We can then get lost in lands of unbridled imagination all we want when we have that grounding of objective reality already as a tether, a strong rock-solid foundation – because we know then that no matter how far we travel through metaphorical myths and journeys to find our own inner hero’s (and heroine’s) trials and tales – we know the way back, or better, come back “home” with a greater understanding of our inner worlds that have in the first place led us on a quest to solve the systems that govern our external world. And what’s more, we can use the tools of Reality to shape the dreams of our imagination without living in some shadowland of never-ending pessimism about reality or conversely only in some land of unfulfilled fleeting fantasy or magical, irrational thinking.

It is the pragmatists and inventors who are probably best equipped to luxuriate in optimism about their future because they know to build and operate the tools that can make their reveries real. Or at best be realistic of the problems they might face in the future and be prepared through contingency planning and make smoother tidings. Which is why I particularly liked this quote of Sagan and couldn’t agree more : “It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.”

I love that quote of Carl Sagan and would go even further wondering how the visual perception of colour itself is dependent on our retinas and how the same shades vary between species or even between colour blind people and that our very colour perception is based on the visual spectrum while infra-red and ultra-violet spectrums also exist. What can be more romantic than in-depth knowledge, both about scientific systems and about those whom you love? Doesn’t real unconditional love embrace and accept all the “spectrums” – both seen and unseen – about the person you love?

Among my friends, I have many who are musicians (mostly classical, jazz and indie rock) and I find it hilarious how composers/musicians can often be perceived as “very romantic” by an audience yet all the serious professional ones I know are utter pragmatists about the mechanics and acoustics and math and hard work that go into the making of good music and their poeticism of imagination is balanced by their pragmatism of the science needed to produce pleasurable tunes/songs. The true translation of deep emotion into music and the illusion of its ‘romantic’ effortlessness is rather a product of true technical mastery. When mastery becomes second nature, my musician friends say they can ride waves of indescribable emotion and a “one-ness” with their music with free abandon.

And I’ve noticed the same quality in good architects too – the seemingly “effortless” evoking of a transcendental experience through space and light in an edifice is a result of technical design mastery. The illusion is a result of intelligent design with an understanding of spatial psychology, knowledge of materials and structures; of imagination made real. Another example is when good gymnasts or ballet dancers or even sportsmen “float” and dance through the air when every act is in truth a manifestation of mastered controlled springing muscle. 

I think true “romanticism” that many rational/realistic people deeply, torridly experience is quite different and in many ways far richer and deeper than the cliched version of kitschy hyperventilating ‘romance’ or the ‘image of romance’ that marketing execs would like to impose to appeal to the masses. I love looking at the full moon – but I also know that the fact that many craters such as Albategnius and Copernicus exist on its surface (and that at 13, I’d memorized the maps of the moon’s topography and read voraciously about the moon’s origin and the Apollo missions and therefore know exactly what I’m staring at in the sky,) makes it all the more “romantic.” (I’ve learnt through the years though, by trial and error to not talk of the crater of Copernicus if I’m given a compliment on a moonlit night. I found that most people use the moon as a ‘romance prop’ and blink at me weirdly if I talk of its topography. Moonlit nights, I’ve been told, are supposed to launch loony female hormones, not lunar lessons. ‘Moon leadeth to moon’ it seems is what boys are taught from high school. Not very Copernicun….but now I understand why the boy who had a long but unrequited crush on me in my late teens, and was a bit different than most, had built a large telescope to impress me. Years later he’d tell me he was demonstrating his affection towards me by doing so. We both suffered from semi-aspie naivete and moonlit dates had been taken literally as moon-watching through a lens.)

When you look out for instance at the magnificent display of the northern lights, or the tail of a comet – how can one not wonder how that phenomenon occurs scientifically? And a craving to know the answers in no way removes its “magic”. Even magic tricks after all are based on sleights of hand and chemistry. Even the imagination of a painter’s mind can be translated into reality only through the oils and colours of chemicals and the woven cloth of a canvas. Truth IS reality – objective and undeniable. And Reality is always the canvas, the foundation on which our imagination can create wildly. In fact a lot of the mess in the world of humans has happened due to those who babble and fight irrationally to reverse this basic law of nature or try to base reality on wishy-washy “wishes”. (In that respect I often feel animals are far greater realists than humans.)

Back to Sagan. When you see people display emotions in victories or losses, or behave in unbridled ways in joys or sorrows, how can one not wonder what connections in the neurons of the brains, or the secretions of hormones, enzymes and release of serotonin, adrenalin, endorphins in their bodies cause the reactions that their faces and voices display? What great forces of muscle and passions for winning drive the athletes? This curiosity to solve puzzles is so important to me, I’m sure it is important to you….in fact I find it more puzzling why there are people who prefer to not know or worse, ignore the facts or truth and yet wish to use the products of those who think and invent, and then attribute those inventions to ‘miracles’ rather than acknowledge and thank those ingenious minds.

There is some unfathomable beauty in truth (or the quest for truth) that surpasses all the muddy rhetoric of those who choose confusion over clarity, delusion over depth, fallacies over facts. Knowledge releases shackles, truth frees and in no way does knowing how things work lessen their wonder; rather I think solving mysteries is what deepens our wonder of how intricately the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics and evolution and much, much more that go beyond labels have combined to create mind-blowing works of universal art be it up in heavenly displays of gas and fire, or in earthly passions that manifest in modes of the human emotion of winning- so joyous and heart-warming in its displays that a poetic phrase such as “celebrating the human spirit” was coined.

Or the reasons why the earthly species of men are so fascinated by those who kick, chase, aim and score with their balls: (ahem, i.e. the SPORTS ball.)

Germany beats Uruguay 3-2 for third place at the FIFA 2010, but in a far more exciting and objective match than the Dutch-Spanish final.

MONDAY-NIGHT HUNTERS

(Chapter 3 from Sagan’s book Billions & Billions)

“The hunting instinct has [a] … remote origin in the evolution of the race. The hunting and the fighting instinct combine in many manifestations. … It is just because human bloodthirstiness is such a primitive part of us that it is so hard to eradicate, especially where a fight or a hunt is promised as part of the fun. WILLIAM JAMES Psychology, XXIV (1890)

We can’t help ourselves. On Sunday afternoons and Monday nights in the fall of each year, we abandon everything to watch small moving images of 22 men—running into one another, falling down, picking themselves up, and kicking an elongated object made from the skin of an animal. Every now and then, both the players and the sedentary spectators are moved to rapture or despair by the progress of the play. All over America, people (almost exclusively men), transfixed before glass screens, cheer or mutter in unison. Put this way, it sounds stupid. But once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to resist, and I speak from experience.

Athletes run, jump, hit, slide, throw, kick, tackle—and there’s a thrill in seeing humans do it so well. They wrestle each other to the ground. They’re keen on grabbing or clubbing or kicking a fast-moving brown or white thing. In some games, they try to herd the thing toward what’s called a “goal”; in other games, the players run away and then return “home.” Teamwork is almost everything, and we admire how the parts fit together to make a jubilant whole.

But these are not the skills by which most of us earn our daily bread. Why should we feel compelled to watch people run or hit? Why is this need transcultural? (Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, and Aztecs also played ball. Polo is Tibetan.) There are sports stars who make 50 times the annual salary of the President; some who are themselves, after retirement, elected to high office. They are national heroes. Why, exactly? There is something here transcending the diversity of political, social, and economic systems. Something ancient is calling.

Most major sports are associated with a nation or a city, and they carry with them elements of patriotism and civic pride. Our team represents us—where we live, our people—against those other guys from some different place, populated by unfamiliar, maybe hostile people. (True, most of “our” players are not really from here. They’re mercenaries and with clear conscience regularly defect from opposing cities for suitable emolument: A Pittsburgh Pirate is reformed into a California Angel; a San Diego Padre is raised to a St. Louis Cardinal; a Golden State Warrior is crowned a Sacramento King. Occasionally, a whole team picks up and migrates to another city.)

Competitive sports are symbolic conflicts, thinly disguised. This is hardly a new insight. The Cherokees called their ancient form of lacrosse “the little brother of war.” Or here is Max Raf-ferty, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, who, after denouncing critics of college football as “kooks, crumbums, commies, hairy loudmouthed beatniKs,” goes on to state, “Football players . . . possess a clear, bright, fighting spirit which is America itself.” (That’s worth mulling over.) An often-quoted sentiment of the late professional football coach Vince Lombardi is that the only thing that counts is winning. Former Washington Redskins’ coach George Alien put it this way: “Losing is like death.”

Indeed, we talk of winning and losing a war as naturally as we do of winning and losing a game. In a televised U.S. Army recruitment ad, we see the aftermath of an armored warfare exercise in which one tank destroys another; in the tag line, the victorious tank commander says, “When we win, the whole team wins—not one person.” The connection between sports and combat is made quite clear. Sports fans (the word is short for “fanatics”) have been known to commit assault and battery, and sometimes murder, when taunted about a losing team; or when prevented from cheering on a winning team; or when they feel an injustice has been committed by the referees.

The British Prime Minister was obliged in 1985 to denounce the rowdy, drunken behavior of British soccer fans who attacked an Italian contingent for having the effrontery to root for their own team. Dozens were killed when the stands collapsed. In 1969, after three hard-fought soccer games, Salvadoran tanks crossed the Honduran border, and Salvadoran bombers attacked Honduran ports and military bases. In this “Soccer War,” the casualties numbered in the thousands. Afghan tribesmen played polo with the severed heads of former adversaries. And 600 years ago, in what is now Mexico City, there was a ball court where gorgeously attired nobles watched uniformed teams compete. The captain of the losing team was beheaded, and the skulls of earlier losing captains were displayed on racks—an inducement possibly even more compelling than winning one for the Gipper.

Suppose you’re idly flipping the dial on your television set, and you come upon some competition in which you have no particular emotional investment—say, off-season volleyball between Myanmar and Thailand. How do you decide which team to root for? But wait a minute: Why root for either? Why not just enjoy the game? Most of us have trouble with this detached posture. We want to take part in the contest, to feel ourselves a member of a team. The feeling simply sweeps us away, and there we are rooting, “Go, Myanmar!” Initially, our loyalties may oscillate, first urging on one team and then the other. Sometimes we root for the underdog. Other times, shamefully, we even switch our allegiance from loser to winner as the outcome becomes clear. (When there is a succession of losing seasons, fan loyalties tend to drift elsewhere,) What we are looking for is victory without effort. We want to be swept up into something like a small, safe, successful war.

In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a guard for the Denver Nuggets, was suspended by the National Basketball Association. Why? Because Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the compulsory playing of the National Anthem. The American flag represented to him a “symbol of oppression” offensive to his Muslim beliefs. Most other players, while not sharing Abdul-Rauf’s beliefs, supported his right to express them. Harvey Araton, a distinguished sports writer for the New York Times, was puzzled. Playing the anthem at a sporting event “is, let’s face it, a tradition that is absolutely idiotic in today’s world,” he explains, “as opposed to when it began, before baseball games during World War II. Nobody goes to a sporting event to make an expression of patriotism.” On the contrary, I would argue that a kind of patriotism and nationalism is very • much what sporting events are about.* (* The crisis was resolved when Mr. Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand during the anthem, but pray instead of sing)

The earliest known organized athletic events date back 3,500 years to preclassical Greece. During the original Olympic Games, an armistice put all wars among Greek city-states on hold. The games were more important than the wars. The men performed nude: No women spectators were allowed. By the eighth century B.C., the Olympic Games consisted of running (lots of running), jumping, throwing things (including javelins), and wrestling (sometimes to the death). While none of these events was a team sport, they are clearly central to modern team sports.

They were also central to low-technology hunting. Hunting is traditionally considered a sport, as long as you don’t eat what you catch—a proviso much easier for the rich to comply with than the poor. From the earliest pharaohs, hunting has been associated with military aristocracies. Oscar Wilde’s aphorism about English fox hunting, “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable,” makes a similar dual point. The forerunners of football, soccer, hockey, and kindred sports were disdainfully called “rabble games,” recognized as substitutes for hunting— because young men who worked for a living were barred from the hunt.

The weapons of the earliest wars must have been hunting implements. Team sports are not just stylized echoes of ancient wars. They also satisfy an almost-forgotten craving for the hunt.

Since our passions for sports run so deep and are so broadly distributed, they are likely to be hardwired into us—not in our brains but in our genes. The 10,000 years since the invention of agriculture is not nearly enough time for such predispositions to have evolved away and disappeared. If we want to understand them, we must go much further back.

 The human species is hundreds of thousands of years old (the human family several millions of years old). We have led a sedentary existence—based on farming and domestication of animals—for only the last 3 percent of that period, during which is all our recorded history. In the first 97 percent of our tenure on Earth, almost everything that is characteristically human came into being. So a little arithmetic about our history suggests we can learn something about those times from the few surviving hunter-gatherer communities uncorrupted by civilization.

We wander. With our little ones and all our belongings on our backs, we wander—following the game, seeking the water holes. We set up camp for a time, then move on. In providing food for the group, the men mainly hunt, the women mainly gather. Meat and potatoes. A typical itinerant band, mainly an extended family of relatives and in-laws, numbers a few dozen; although annually many hundreds of us, with the same language and culture, gather—for religious ceremonies, to trade, to arrange marriages, to tell stories. There are many stories about the hunt. I’m focusing here on the hunters, who are men. But the women have significant social, economic, and cultural power. They gather the essential staples—nuts, fruits, tubers, roots—as well as medicinal herbs, hunt small animals, and provide strategic intelligence on large animal movements. Men do some gathering as well, and considerable “housework” (even though there are no houses). But hunting—only for food, never for sport—is the lifelong occupation of every able-bodied male.

Preadolescent boys stalk birds and small mammals with bows and arrows. By adulthood they have become experts in weapons procurement; in stalking, killing, and butchering the prey; and in carrying the cuts of meat back to camp. The first successful kill of a large mammal marks a young man’s coming of age. In his initiation, ceremonial incisions are made on his chest or arms and an herb is rubbed into 1he cuts so that, when healed, a patterned tattoo results. It’s like campaign ribbons—one look at his chest, and you know something of his combat experience.

From a jumble of hoofprints, we can accurately tell how many animals passed; the species, sexes, and ages; whether any are lame; how long ago they passed; how far away they are. Some young animals can be caught by open-field tackles; others with slingshots or boomerangs, or just by throwing rocks accurately and hard. Animals that have not yet learned to fear men can be approached boldly and clubbed to death. At greater distances, for warier prey, we hurl spears or shoot poisoned arrows. Sometimes we’re lucky and, by a skillful rush, drive a herd of animals into an ambush or off a cliff.

Teamwork among the hunters is essential. If we are not to frighten the quarry, we must communicate by sign language. For the same reason, we need to have our emotions under control; both fear and exultation are dangerous. We are ambivalent about the prey. We respect the animals, recognize our kinship, identify with them. But if we reflect too closely on their intelligence or devotion to their young, if we feel pity for them, if we too deeply recognize them as relatives, our dedication to the hunt will slacken; we will bring home less food, and again our band may be endangered. We are obliged to put an emotional distance between us and them.

So contemplate this: For millions of years, our male ancestors are scampering about, throwing rocks at pigeons, running after baby antelopes and wrestling them to the ground, forming a single line of shouting, running hunters and trying to terrify a herd of startled warthogs upwind. Imagine that their lives depend on hunting skills and teamwork. Much of their culture is woven on the loom of the hunt. Good hunters are also good warriors. Then, after a long while—a few thousand centuries, say—a natural predisposition for both hunting and teamwork will inhabit many newborn boys. Why? Because incompetent or unenthusiastic hunters leave fewer offspring. I don’t think how to chip a spearpoint out of stone or how to feather an arrow is in our genes. That’s taught or figured out. But a zest for the chase—I bet that is hardwired. Natural selection helped mold our ancestors into superb hunters.

The clearest evidence of the success of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is the simple fact that it extended to six continents and lasted millions of years (to say nothing of the hunting proclivities of nonhuman primates). Those big numbers speak profoundly. After 10,000 generations in which the killing of animals was our hedge against starvation, those inclinations must still be in us. We hunger to put them to use, even vicariously. Team sports provide one way.

Some part of our beings longs to join a small band of brothers on a daring and intrepid quest. We can even see this in role-playing and computer games popular with prepubescent and adolescent boys. The traditional manly virtues—taciturnity, resourcefulness, modesty, accuracy, consistency, deep knowledge of animals, teamwork, love of the outdoors—were all adaptive behavior in hunter-gatherer times. We still admire these traits, although we’ve almost forgotten why.

Besides sports, there are few outlets available. In our adolescent males, we can still recognize the young hunter, the aspirant warrior—leaping across apartment rooftops; riding, helmetless, on a motorcycle; making trouble for the winning team at a postgame celebration. In the absence of a steadying hand, those old instincts may go a little askew (although our murder rate is about the same as among the surviving hunter-gatherers). We try to ensure that any residual zest for killing does not spill over onto humans. We don’t always succeed.

I think of how powerful those hunting instincts are, and I worry. I worry that Monday-night football is insufficient outlet for the modern hunter, decked out in his overalls or jeans or three-piece suit. I think of that ancient legacy about not expressing our feelings, about keeping an emotional distance from those we kill, and it takes some of the fun out of the game.

Hunter-gatherers generally posed no danger to themselves: because their economies tended to be healthy (many had more free time than we do); because, as nomads, they had few possessions, almost no theft, and little envy; because greed and arrogance were considered not only social evils but also pretty close to mental illnesses; because women had real political power and tended to be a stabilizing and mitigating influence before the boys started going for their poisoned arrows; and because, when serious crimes were committed—murder, say—the band collectively rendered judgment and punishment. Many hunter-gatherers organized egalitarian democracies. They had no chiefs. There was no political or corporate hierarchy to dream of climbing. There was no one to revolt against.

So, if we’re stranded a few hundred centuries from when we long to be—if (through no fault of our own) we find ourselves, in an age of environmental pollution, social hierarchy, economic inequality, nuclear weapons, and declining prospects, with Pleistocene emotions but without Pleistocene social safeguards—perhaps we can be excused for a little Monday-night football.

TEAMS AND TOTEMS

 Teams associated with cities have names: the Seibu Lions, the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago Bears. Lions and tigers and bears . . . eagles and seahawks. . . flames and suns. Allowing for the difference in environment and culture, hunter-gatherer groups worldwide have similar names— sometimes called totems.

A typical list of totems, mainly from the era before European contact, was recorded by the anthropologist Richard Lee in his many years among the IKung “Bushmen” of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana (see below at far right). The Short Feet, I think, are cousins to the Red Sox and White Sox, the Fighters to the Raiders, the Wildcats to the Bengals, the Cutters to the Clippers. Of course there are differences—due to technological differences and, perhaps, to varying endowments of candor, self-knowledge, and sense of humor. It’s hard to imagine an American sports team named the Diarrheas (“Gimme a ‘D’ . . .”). Or—my personal favorite, a group of men with no self-esteem problems—the Big Talkers. And one in which the players are called the Owners would probably cause some consternation in the front office.”

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Sports Beauties & Beasts. The chapter above does make sense, doesn’t it? 

A revisit to Jungle Queens & Tribal Warriors with clan cloths and war paints. Above: A FIFA German soccer fan, a Brazilian soccer fan, American football fans, South African FIFA fans, a SuperBowl Team Cardinal fan, a Canadian ice hockey fan. (click for enlarged view.)

Dunking dreams for teams and fans. Jordan’s superhuman jumps.

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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.



Empty Spaces

COMFORTABLY NUMB IN EMPTY SPACES: I have watched the movie ‘the Wall’ seven times in the past 12 years and it always remains haunting. Questioning. And always powerful. And while it outlined excerpts from the band members’ lives, parts of it are said to show Syd Barrett’s fall into schizophrenia. But this excerpt from the movie in the first video posted below is one of the most powerful animations I had seen on film when I’d first viewed it years back. And still remains to this day. (The flower is symbolic, as any man who has had his heart ripped would know.) As dark and symbolic as the whole movie is about a man’s existential crises,  as he isolates himself from the apathy and chaos of the ‘usual’ ways of thinking around him, at least by the end of the film it ends on an ambiguous but positive note when he finally breaks free from the wall that he had made around himself one brick at a time.

The metaphorical film released in 1982 is rich in graphic, often disturbing imagery, music and symbolism and punctuated by animated sequences by political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. It was directed by Alan Parker and the screenplay written by Pink Floyd vocalist and bassist Roger Waters. Waters in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine had discussed that the album as well as the film were both derived partially from Jean-Paul Sartre’s story by the same name, which according to Waters had deeply moved him and changed the way he viewed life.

Pink Floyd’s music was always reflective. Contemplative. Haunting. I had first heard its sounds when my mother had used parts of the soundtrack from the Dark Side of the Moon album for a play she was directing. I was too young to understand much of what their lyrics or music signified at that age but later in architecture school (where they were madly popular) I began a very serious appreciation of both the creativity and departure-from-norm that their work had encompassed, away from the ‘pretty’ and lovey-dovey boy-bands that had won more hearts in the 60s and 70s. Pink Floyd instead was cerebral, intellectual, questioning – it tackled pondering and pain, not fluffy teenage fluttering hearts. I was blown away by their depth and imagery and music. The band had formed in London’s architecture school and its initial goofy name was ‘The Architectural Abdabs.’
Today I am finishing a book I had received sometime back:
Pink Floyd & Philosophy: Careful with the Axiom, Eugene. Edited by George A. Reisch – professor of philosophy at the Northwestern University. An excerpt from the book’s back cover:

“What does the power of great art have to do with madness? Should psychedelic drugs make us doubt the evidence of our senses? How did power, sadism, and conformity turn education into mind control (not that we need either)? Can a rock band keep its identity as its members change? What can we learn from the synchronicities between The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz? Did Friedrich Nietzsche foreshadow Syd Barrett? When did you realize that you are the hole in reality? How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?

The existential, cinematic music of Pink Floyd made them one of the most influential and recognizable rock bands of all time. They didn’t do it by leaving their audiences comfortably numb, but by unsettling, disturbing, questioning, and criticizing.”

As I write this, it is one of those nights when from the sour warm depths of a spring evening, melancholy takes over; and after a while soaking in its darkness and stilling those questions, one begins to feel uncomfortably numb………

(Warning: Both videos have graphic content. And are very dark. Not for the faint-hearted. To be watched only during melancholic moods. And at night. Do not ruin your mornings by watching these….)

V

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For one of those nights when the shadows and voices of life and existence cannot remain still any longer – the movie The Wall is available here  (in parts) :

This Too Shall Pass….

Written in Woodstock, NY and Boston, MA. April 12, 2010. Abstract : The good thing about growing up and gaining experience through the years is that when either ecstasies or sorrows and pain get too overwhelming, we have the internal wisdom to know that ‘this too shall pass’ (or ‘gam zeh yaavor’ in the original hebrew)

FROM HIPSTERS TO HIPPIES: For the early part of last week, April 5th to be exact and two days before its record-breaking hottest day, I was in New York City but by mid-week left for a cabin in the Catskill Mountains near Woodstock to wind down. And pretty much lived off the grid till my return back to Boston. I will be writing a new post more on it some day. There are so many thoughts, so many reflections from what I saw in NYC. My hotel window 50 floors above at the Millennium Hilton directly looked over into the World Trade Centre construction site for the new Freedom Tower and adjoining buildings and it was an unbelievable sight – which evoked so many different emotions. The ‘whys’ that arise when you wonder how psychopaths can cause so much destruction knowingly in the name of fundamentalism.  The repercussions that followed with more deaths and more wars in the aftermath. And also, all the questionings that were evoked of injustice and the absence of ethics in certain other parts of the world too in some tribal communities near a bauxite mountain  when I recently heard an extremely heartfelt and tumultuous talk given by architect-turned-writer-turned-social-activist Arundhati Roy at Harvard for her book promotion.

I have seen both parts of those worlds, and many many other parts as well, in depth; in substance; in smells; in sweat; and in their sweetness and  their sadness. And the brutal truth is that in all the wars for religion, resources, ideologies, inequalities the ones who die are mostly the innocent….be it the children in a day-care in building 5 on the WTC site, or the everyday workers,  or the firemen on that fateful day. Or the soldiers and civilians who died during the war that followed. Or the journalists including the one who was beheaded. Or the people in certain unrelated tribal areas who are being killed and bulldozed off through twisted politics of industry and a greed for wealth for forcefully obtaining the raw resources the mountains in their rural land contain. It is always the innocents who suffer and die………

From here..

..and here…

To Here.

But I am here now, and a calm serenity has overcome every conflicted questioning of the early part of last week. I do not know if this is escapism, or treating yourself once in a while to utter, unadulterated calm and peace, but it certainly feels wonderful. And renewing.


lamb and daffodils

RANDOM THOUGHTS THAT PASS ON: The mountain air, far from the madding crowds, does something to clarify the signal to noise ratio in favour of the former. Perhaps somewhere, deep inside, rather than our analysing, questioning minds, our bodies ‘sense’ much better that the simple joys of life often arise from the simplest and most serene of little pleasures – a good cup of tea, a beautiful sunset, a little 400 square foot cabin, the warmth of a fireplace, the smells of the fresh earth of springtime, the chartreuse green of the new leaves, the skipping of a happy baby lamb full of joy to be born. (Just so you know I have never eaten lamb or veal or for that matter any baby animal in my life. There is something too unfair and macabre about that act. I also believe that any person who hugs a newborn lamb, or caresses the soft skin of a gentle calf or watches the toddling steps of a suckling pig will be unable to think of snuffing out its innocent life and letting that life end up as human poop.)

How much do we really need to be happy? How much is too much?  Where do we separate ‘need’ from ‘greed’? Where do you draw the line for personal ethics?

I do not want to end this on a sad note.  A man I had once met who had traveled around the world on returning back home to Canada had rightly observed : ‘We all have the right to feel sad at times, but we do not have the right to feel ungrateful.’ How true! I often wonder how some people squabble and fight over petty seemingly trite problems which seem so trivial in comparison to so many horrific problems and disasters that life could have thrown at us by accident, by luck or worse, through the intended malice of psychopaths – be they in the form of venomous and manipulative men and women, or larger organized death cults and clans. We have to learn to be careful – blindly forgiving psychopathic behaviour in some magical wistfulness of a misplaced naïveté of ‘eternal optimism’ is a sure way to self-immolation. But at the same time, we have to be objective about the degrees of ‘pain’ in the world and where our own ‘problems’ fit within it. Emotions are funny creatures. While poems are written about them, they after all are still a product of our thinking, of our hormones and enzymes and the neurotransmitters in our brains. But an act of consistent wisdom (as any person who laments how much better life can be viewed in 20/20 vision when you look back) would be to not let overwhelming emotions – especially if they are negative– dictate our actions. Actions that arise out of fear, anger, extreme sadness, wrath, malice, hatred, hurt are always counterproductive in the long run. We do not have to turn into consistently logical Mr. Spocks (nor his evil opposite which would be unfeeling empathy-devoid sociopaths) but knowing that overwhelming negative emotions can well become momentary time-bombs is an important step towards growth.

My mother had once written to me in a letter: “Constant pristine permanency is an impossible phenomenon. Happiness consists simply of a collection of sporadic beautiful tangible and intangible moments in life and in their experiences and memories. It is a state of mind and a choice dependent on our internal concept of our present being, not some external future elusive goal.” Or in other words, Happiness (at least if you are in a place or relation where you are not living under constant threats of being shot, killed, hacked or abused) is a state of mind dependent on our ways of perception and self-reflection as well as an acceptance of our present reality and not some ‘goal’ that can be obtained by chasing rainbows. The second method never works in the long term because when those who have that mindset once ‘reach’ something, they raise the bar and are on to chase the next elusive illusion that they think will ‘make’ them happy, and thus become eternal chasers, who miss the flowers to be smelled and noticed in daily life.

The ‘state of happiness’ in any case always evolves, always comes and goes and explodes or recedes through the day and years within a certain continuum or within a stable mid-point of equilibrium if one is mentally  healthy.

In the same token, all negative emotions also pass and it is even more important to remember that; and therefore not hurt others in that moment of wrath, weakness, sadness or anger. Justifying it later through rationalization and excuses does not work. Would the lasher do the same if the recipient of his wrath was standing before him holding a gun? I guess not. Except of course if the lives of his loved ones or children were at stake, he might have braved the gun. So I have observed in life that we (humans) victimize only those who we can. As horrific as it sounds it still is the truth in so many ways be it those civilians who were killed in war in far-off lands,  or the people who were murdered that day in September, abused lovers who receive rage-filled threats and rants in relations, or even those baby animals who are killed and cooked just when they have opened their eyes into life and do not know how cruel the world can be. It is always the innocent who are the real victims.

Like the change of seasons, a healthy mind knows the ephemeral nature of emotions. Some remain steady and stable and this requires practice – in fact it is worth stabilizing our feelings of love, compassion for the truly innocent, our integrity, courage and a quest for peace, truth and practicality without compromising objective ethics. For other feelings, especially the bad ones, it is important to remember that ‘they pass’ and to wait till the heat is over instead of burning those in its vicinity. There are no two ways about it. Like springtime renews the earth each year in northern climates, each season passes in the garden of our thoughts and either scorches or hardens or rather renews and rejuvenates. It is a way of life and the more we fight against the laws of nature, the more we stagnate, caught in the detritus of rotten leaves and cold snowstorms. There are those who cannot neurologically overcome sad and crazy thoughts and they are literally mentally ill, but for those who have the capacity to think, reflect and live in healthy ways, I honestly think it is ignorance, laziness, false pride, or a refusal to self-improve that holds them back from experiencing joy and love in the simplest things life has to offer. Or refuse to welcome ‘Springing’ back to life. And to love.

This is why I like that Hebrew saying : Gam Zeh Ya’avor or This Too Shall Pass. The phrase has featured in the fables of Krishna, of King Solomon and has been used by quite a few including Abraham Lincoln in an 1859 address:

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction! – A.L

Gam zeh yaavor. There is so much wisdom packaged in those three little words that even chunky books on psychotherapy and neuroscience aimed towards healing mechanisms in the brain would finally come to similar conclusions as the summary of their research, unless there is irreversible physiological damage. My great-grandfather had found that the Hebrew word for the ‘spring blossom of renewal’ was the same as the Pali (Buddhist) word for ‘the possessor of wise understanding.’ He always believed that it was no coincidence. That the one who has mastered the art of self-renewal and welcomes spring each year (or for that matter each day) of his life in fact understands and possesses true wisdom.

And as I recalled the gigantic construction site back in the crater that once held the twin towers and its surrounding buildings, and the thousands of workers who have found jobs in this economy as they rebuild once again the tall towers and its new gardens, I felt that in many ways that site represents renewal, regrowth and above all,  a most symbolic resilience  of the human spirit. (But then my neurotic mind wonders where the steel for the construction comes from? Could it be from the bauxite ore of a mountain far away – and a string of thoughts about another post germinates….)

So here’s something to celebrate Renewal and Passing. And just to see how great videos CAN still be made without CGI effects, here’s an absolutely brilliant, goofy and incredibly ingenious video made by the alternative rock group OK – go. In many ways, our lives are like dominoes too – one event leads to a chain of others and triggers many more within or without our control over them. We cannot undo the past. Or at times get out of a mess created through our own or someone else’s  accidental or deliberate mistakes. But what we can do is at least to have the wisdom to say ‘This Too Shall Pass.’

Is this a form of escapism? Could it be that confronted by the horrors of the world we fall into some self-preservation  mode and escape into music or ‘escape’ like the hippies in Woodstock or say ‘this too shall pass?’  Or one has to be always angry and angsty  like Arundhati Roy? Where is the middle ground? Where is it? I know where that point of balance and peace  is in my own mind- but I don’t see it out in the world……  And if this is a post on recovery from personal pain and not the pain-in- the-world, then for the former indeed ‘this too shall pass.’ For the  cycle of pain in the world – well, that’s another post. Another day….

Be sure to click on the ‘full screen’ button!

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