Thursday, September 21, 2017

"How It Really Is"

"The Truth Behind the Trump Board"

"The Truth Behind the Trump Board"
by Bill Bonner

"Today, we climb a hill and have a look around. Down below is a hidden cove on Île d’Yeu:
The hidden cove on the French island of Île d’Yeu

But let’s get serious…

$700 billion boondoggle: Out to our left, under dark clouds, is the political situation. For the first 16 years of our daily commentary, we hardly bothered to look. Through the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, nothing much changed. Then Donald J Trump brought fresh air…or an ill wind…depending on how you looked at it.

We guessed (but were unsure) that this new breeze would be little different from the prevailing winds of the previous 20 years. It took a few months to tell the tale, but now we know: We were right. Instead of draining the swamp, as promised, the Trump team adds more slimy liquidity.

For example, the junta generals - Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly - and their cronies got a big payday this week. Seven hundred billion dollars went into the swamp. Reports The New York Times: ‘The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping defense policy bill that would pump $700 billion into the military, putting the U.S. armed forces on track for a budget greater than at any time during the decade-plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 1,215-page measure defies a number of White House objections, but President Donald Trump hasn’t threatened to veto it. The bill helps him honor a pledge to rebuild an American military that he said had become depleted on former President Barack Obama’s watch.’ 

That’s right: 1,215 pages of boondoggles, designed and written by industry lobbyists. Secretary of Defense Mattis wanted to save a paltry $10 billion by closing unneeded bases. No way! Every puddle of the swamp will be treated like an endangered wildlife habitat - preserved, protected, and promoted.

Mythical aura: The genius of Mr Trump was to realize - perhaps instinctively - that political parties, ideologies, and practical policies don’t matter. He didn’t know the Donbass from the Hindu Kush, and neither do most voters. What matters is the Trump brand, and that he could use the same techniques in his run for the White House that he used to build his business empire.

A brand is different from a product, as leftist writer Naomi Klein, of No Logo fame, has described. Marlboro, for example, sold its cigarettes not by promising a better taste, but by peddling a myth - that the smoker of its cigarettes would become more like the Marlboro Man. And Chinese tourists do not line up in front of the Louis Vuitton store in Paris to pay $500 for a handbag because of the quality of the product. They buy because it makes them feel part of the ‘One Percent’.

Often, consumers buy the brand-name product simply because they’ve heard of it. But real branding goes further. It establishes a mythical aura that is largely independent of the product. The cowboy in the Marlboro ads, for example, had nothing to do with the cigarette. The product - often indistinguishable from its competitors - is almost irrelevant.

So it was that Mr Trump positioned himself as a brand, not as a bearer of policies or ideology. His brand was reliably crass. Dependably in your face. Inevitably mischievous. And a great number of voters, who were fed up with the more conventional humbugs, found him appealing. Since then, the president has demonstrated another phenomenon from modern marketing: brand loyalty. Recent polls show that his fans are sticking with him. They like the brand; the product - ideas and policies - scarcely matter. Mr Trump’s supporters even seem to invent reasons to approve of his recent move to make common cause with the Democrats. ‘It helps him get things done,’ they say.

Thunderheads gather: With this novel political situation on the horizon to our left, we turn to look at the money world on the right. There, too, dark thunderheads gather. As we saw yesterday, key indicators of US economic health are flat. Corporate sales and profits…along with wages - after accounting for inflation, they’ve barely budged over the last 17 years. The reason? We have only to turn our head back to the left - to politics - to see why: So many resources get sucked into the swamp.

Myth and marketing: A society only gets richer by saving money and investing it. If the investments are successful, output increases. This extra production is what makes us wealthier.

But it only works if: (a) the savings are real, in the sense that they represent real resources, not just phony-baloney pieces of paper or empty Fed credit, and (b) the investments are win-win. That is, they must be made by real investors with ‘skin in the game.’

When the feds say they are ‘investing’ in our future, or ‘investing’ in a fairer society, or ‘investing’ to stimulate the US economy - it is all claptrap. They have no skin in the game, no real money to invest, and no reason to care if the investments pay off or not. Often, as we explained yesterday, they prefer for them to fail, since that only encourages them to do more. In the end, what they are doing is shifting real resources out of the productive economy toward the win-lose parasitic economy, where wealth is consumed and wasted, not produced.

Mr Trump’s appeal, such as it was, was that he seemed ballsy enough to ‘Drain the Swamp’, letting resources go back to where they belong: the productive Main Street economy. His brand was to defy the Deep State, the insiders, Congress, the Establishment, and the powers that be. But it was all myth and marketing. Behind the brand advertising, Mr Trump is a self-promoter, not a revolutionary. He has instincts - some good, some bad - about how an economy works, but no coherent theory. And without a compass to guide him, he is like a cruise ship lost in a hurricane… pushed by the winds and waves… right into the swamp."

"Only Barbarians..."

“Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, 
how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, 
whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.”

- Isaiah Berlin

"Göbekli Tepe- History In the Remaking"

"Göbekli Tepe- History In the Remaking"
by Patrick Symmes

"They call it potbelly hill, after the soft, round contour of this final lookout in southeastern Turkey. To the north are forested mountains. East of the hill lies the biblical plain of Harran, and to the south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away, pointing toward the ancient lands of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, the region that gave rise to human civilization. And under our feet, according to archeologist Klaus Schmidt, are the stones that mark the spot - the exact spot - where humans began that ascent.

Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn't just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago - a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture - the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember - the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.

Göbekli Tepe - the name in Turkish for "potbelly hill" - lays art and religion squarely at the start of that journey. After a dozen years of patient work, Schmidt has uncovered what he thinks is definitive proof that a huge ceremonial site flourished here, a "Rome of the Ice Age," as he puts it, where hunter-gatherers met to build a complex religious community. Across the hill, he has found carved and polished circles of stone, with terrazzo flooring and double benches. All the circles feature massive T-shaped pillars that evoke the monoliths of Easter Island.

Though not as large as Stonehenge - the biggest circle is 30 yards across, the tallest pillars 17 feet high - the ruins are astonishing in number. Last year Schmidt found his third and fourth examples of the temples. Ground-penetrating radar indicates that another 15 to 20 such monumental ruins lie under the surface. Schmidt's German-Turkish team has also uncovered some 50 of the huge pillars, including two found in his most recent dig season that are not just the biggest yet, but, according to carbon dating, are the oldest monumental artworks in the world.

The new discoveries are finally beginning to reshape the slow-moving consensus of archeology. Göbekli Tepe is "unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date," according to Ian Hodder, director of Stanford's archeology program. Enthusing over the "huge great stones and fantastic, highly refined art" at Göbekli, Hodder - who has spent decades on rival Neolithic sites - says: "Many people think that it changes everything...It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong."

Schmidt's thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.

This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a "Neolithic revolution" 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and - somewhere on the way to the airplane - organized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the "high" religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.

Religion now appears so early in civilized life - earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct - that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance. The archeologist Jacques Cauvin once posited that "the beginning of the gods was the beginning of agriculture," and Göbekli may prove his case.

The builders of Göbekli Tepe could not write or leave other explanations of their work. Schmidt speculates that nomadic bands from hundreds of miles in every direction were already gathering here for rituals, feasting, and initiation rites before the first stones were cut. The religious purpose of the site is implicit in its size and location. "You don't move 10-ton stones for no reason," Schmidt observes. "Temples like to be on high sites," he adds, waving an arm over the stony, round hilltop. "Sanctuaries like to be away from the mundane world."

Unlike most discoveries from the ancient world, Göbekli Tepe was found intact, the stones upright, the order and artistry of the work plain even to the un-trained eye. Most startling is the elaborate carving found on about half of the 50 pillars Schmidt has unearthed. There are a few abstract symbols, but the site is almost covered in graceful, naturalistic sculptures and bas-reliefs of the animals that were central to the imagination of hunter-gatherers. Wild boar and cattle are depicted, along with totems of power and intelligence, like lions, foxes, and leopards. Many of the biggest pillars are carved with arms, including shoulders, elbows, and jointed fingers. The T shapes appear to be towering humanoids but have no faces, hinting at the worship of ancestors or humanlike deities. "In the Bible it talks about how God created man in his image," says Johns Hopkins archeologist Glenn Schwartz. Göbekli Tepe "is the first time you can see humans with that idea, that they resemble gods."

The temples thus offer unexpected proof that mankind emerged from the 140,000-year reign of hunter-gatherers with a ready vocabulary of spiritual imagery, and capable of huge logistical, economic, and political efforts. A Catholic born in Franconia, Germany, Schmidt wanders the site in a white turban, pointing out the evidence of that transition. "The people here invented agriculture. They were the inventors of cultivated plants, of domestic architecture," he says.

Göbekli sits at the Fertile Crescent's northernmost tip, a productive borderland on the shoulder of forests and within sight of plains. The hill was ideally situated for ancient hunters. Wild gazelles still migrate past twice a year as they did 11 millennia ago, and birds fly overhead in long skeins. Genetic mapping shows that the first domestication of wheat was in this immediate area - perhaps at a mountain visible in the distance - a few centuries after Göbekli's founding. Animal husbandry also began near here - the first domesticated pigs came from the surrounding area in about 8000 B.C., and cattle were domesticated in Turkey before 6500 B.C. Pottery followed. Those discoveries then flowed out to places like Çatalhöyük, the oldest-known Neolithic village, which is 300 miles to the west.

The artists of Göbekli Tepe depicted swarms of what Schmidt calls "scary, nasty" creatures: spiders, scorpions, snakes, triple-fanged monsters, and, most common of all, carrion birds. The single largest carving shows a vulture poised over a headless human. Schmidt theorizes that human corpses were ex-posed here on the hilltop for consumption by birds - what a Tibetan would call a sky burial. Sifting the tons of dirt removed from the site has produced very few human bones, however, perhaps because they were removed to distant homes for ancestor worship. Absence is the source of Schmidt's great theoretical claim. "There are no traces of daily life," he explains. "No fire pits. No trash heaps. There is no water here." Everything from food to flint had to be imported, so the site "was not a village," Schmidt says. Since the temples predate any known settlement anywhere, Schmidt concludes that man's first house was a house of worship: "First the temple, then the city," he insists.

Some archeologists, like Hodder, the Neolithic specialist, wonder if Schmidt has simply missed evidence of a village or if his dating of the site is too precise. But the real reason the ruins at Göbekli remain almost unknown, not yet incorporated in textbooks, is that the evidence is too strong, not too weak. "The problem with this discovery," as Schwartz of Johns Hopkins puts it, "is that it is unique." No other monumental sites from the era have been found. Before Göbekli, humans drew stick figures on cave walls, shaped clay into tiny dolls, and perhaps piled up small stones for shelter or worship. Even after Göbekli, there is little evidence of sophisticated building. Dating of ancient sites is highly contested, but Çatalhöyük is probably about 1,500 years younger than Göbekli, and features no carvings or grand constructions. The walls of Jericho, thought until now to be the oldest monumental construction by man, were probably started more than a thousand years after Göbekli. Huge temples did emerge again - but the next unambiguous example dates from 5,000 years later, in southern Iraq.

The site is such an outlier that an American archeologist who stumbled on it in the 1960s simply walked away, unable to interpret what he saw. On a hunch, Schmidt followed the American's notes to the hilltop 15 years ago, a day he still recalls with a huge grin. He saw carved flint everywhere, and recognized a Neolithic quarry on an adjacent hill, with unfinished slabs of limestone hinting at some monument buried nearby. "In one minute - in one second - it was clear," the bearded, sun-browned archeologist recalls. He too considered walking away, he says, knowing that if he stayed, he would have to spend the rest of his life digging on the hill.

Now 55 and a staff member at the German Archaeological Institute, Schmidt has joined a long line of his countrymen here, reaching back to Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy. He has settled in, marrying a Turkish woman and making a home in a modest "dig house" in the narrow streets of old Urfa. Decades of work lie ahead.

Disputes are normal at the site - the workers, Schmidt laments, are divided into three separate clans who feud constantly. ("Three groups," the archeologist says, exasperated. "Not two. Three!") So far Schmidt has uncovered less than 5 percent of the site, and he plans to leave some temples untouched so that future researchers can examine them with more sophisticated tools.

Whatever mysterious rituals were conducted in the temples, they ended abruptly before 8000 B.C., when the entire site was buried, deliberately and all at once, Schmidt believes. The temples had been in decline for a thousand years - later circles are less than half the size of the early ones, indicating a lack of resources or motivation among the worshipers. This "clear digression" followed by a sudden burial marks "the end of a very strange culture," Schmidt says. But it was also the birth of a new, settled civilization, humanity having now exchanged the hilltops of hunters for the valleys of farmers and shepherds. New ways of life demand new religious practices, Schmidt suggests, and "when you have new gods, you have to get rid of the old ones."

- http://www.sott.net/

“Tiahuanaco: Gateway to the Gods”

“Gateway to the Gods”
by Dan Eden

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"Ask most people who are the oldest civilization or where the oldest civilization lived and you'll hear answers like Mesopotamia (Iraq), Egypt or Iran. While these cultures can be traced back to 4000 B.C., the mysterious ruins of Tiahuanaco, in Bolivia, could be 14,000 years old! If you think the Great Pyramid in Egypt is a technological marvel, wait until you see what artists and engineers were doing in Tiahuanaco. This culture thrived at the breathless, oxygen deprived elevation of 13,000 feet. They managed to somehow move stones weighing up to 200 tons and invented modular building techniques that would even today, be cutting edge.
The most famous icon of the archaeological site at Tiahuanaco is the Sun Gate. This structure has been described as a "calendar" almost as long as the monolithic gateway has been known to exist; thus the Sun Gate has also been called 'the Calendar Gate'. This calendar sculpture, though it undoubtedly depicts a "solar year," cannot however be made to fit into the solar year as we divide it at present. The calendar has only 290 days, divided into 12 "twelfths" of 24 days each, plus 2 intercalary days.

Some researchers have attempted to explain this as being a ritualistic calendar while others have claimed that, 14,000 years ago, the length of a year was somehow different from today. Still others believe that it may represent a year on some another planet. Extraterrestrial connections were first suggested by Eric von Danken and have been perpetuated by discoveries of the apparent advanced knowledge that Tiahuanacan engineers seemed to possess - thousands of years ahead of other cultures.

Analysis of this culture has shown that ancient Tiahuanacan scientists knew that the earth was a globe which rotated on its axis and they calculated exactly the times of eclipses - even those not visible at Tiahuanaco but visible in the opposite hemisphere. Scientists have also ascertained that the Tiahuanacans divided the circle mathematically into 264 degrees (rather than 360 as was initiated by the Babylonians); they determined the correct ratio of pi (22/7), and they could calculate squares (and hence, square roots).

Carved stone block at Puma Punku. This precision-made 6 mm wide groove contains equidistant, drilled holes. It seems impossible that these highly precision cuts were made with use of stone or soft copper tools. The purpose of these alterations is not known, but it has been suggested that gold or bronze plates might have been affixed to the walls. Others suggest the giant stone blocks were locked together with metal.
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The modular technique allows the blocks to be mass produced on site and assembled in a variety of configurations. This technique appears at Tiahuanaco fully developed with no prior evidence of experimentation. Where did the engineers of this era get their ideas or experience? Why is this the only example of modular construction in the ancient world? These are but some of the many questions remaining to be answered at this remarkable site.

The fact that the culture of Tiahuanaco appeared fully developed in this high altitude, arid and inhospitable land is a real puzzle. Almost immediately they seem to have used advanced building techniques like modular construction. Huge blocks were carved from single stones and designed to fit together on the site with exact precision and artistic style. These techniques were only developed by modern builders in the last century. The massive blocks are extremely stable, resisting both time and earthquakes. But how were they made, transported and positioned, apparently by hand?
Tiahuanaco is located on the Southern shore of Lake Titicaca. Puma Punku [Above], Southwest of the temple structure, truly staggers the imagination. In the past, the lake was much higher and its shores lapped Tiahuanaco. Near the site, at a site called Puma Punku, there is a massive, four-part, now collapsed building. One of the construction blocks from the pier was fashioned from a stone block that weighs an estimated 440 tons (equal to nearly 200 full-size cars). Several other blocks are between 100 and 150 tons. The quarry for these giant blocks was on the western shore of Titicaca, some ten miles away. There is no known technology in all the ancient world that could have transported stones of such massive weight and size. The Andean people of 500 AD, with their simple reed boats, could certainly not have moved them. Even today, with all the modern advances in engineering and mathematics, we could not fashion such a structure.

The region was believed to have been populated by about 100,000 people at its peak. This estimate is based on the amount of pottery and other artifacts that remain and the total land area (more than 400 acres). Because this large population would require a significant food source, many scientists doubted that this was possible, especially at 13,000 feet. Thin air drops the ambient temperature to below freezing at night causing a frost that kills most plants. Recently, however, an aerial survey of the site revealed the solution. Multiple grid and maze like structures throughout Tiahuanaco, visible only because of the discoloration of the underlying soil, were discovered to be an ancient network of gardens and canals, capable of growing potatoes and other crops.

The plan was ingenious. Canals were placed in grids that surrounded the narrow gardens. The depth of these canals was kept to from 24 to 30 inches so that the strong daytime sunlight could easily warm the water. In the evening, when the frigid air caused frost, the canals vented their stored heat in the form of a fog. This kept the temperature around the plants elevated above freezing and also helped irrigate them. It is interesting to note that the canals were constructed in a well planned and artistic pattern. This further indicated the intellect and aesthetic appreciation of this culture.

How old is this site? The age of Tiahuanaco is difficult to assess and very controversial. Polish-born Bolivian archaeologist Arturo Posnansky has concluded that the Tiahuanaco culture began in the region at about 1600 B.C. and flourished until at least 1200 A.D. His disciple, Professor Hans Schindler-Bellamy, believed Tiahuanaco to have reached back 12,000 years before the present era, although a more conservative Peruvian archaeologist. More recently, other archaeologists have pushed back the date to an amazing 14,000 years ago.

The controversy arises because most of the datable artifacts are from the more recent past, while the stone megaliths and other structures do not lend themselves to dating techniques like Carbon 14. Many stone pieces have been uncovered from more than six feet of earth. The mountain ranges which surround the area are not high enough to permit sufficient runoff of water or wind erosion to have covered the ruins to such a depth. This suggests a very old date as the accumulation of sediment is slow in this arid land.

There is also evidence that architectural structures exist at the bottom of Lake Titicaca, suggesting that the civilization existed before the lake was formed. Many scientists believe that the lake formed during some great flood and find similar legends around the world of a flood dating back thousands of years. The local legend contains reference to this flood in their creation myth.

The religion of Tiahuanaco centered around the cult of a sky and thunder god Viracocha. The deity was generally depicted as having staves in both of his hands and an aureole around his head. The aureole suggests the qualities of a sun god, represented on the bas-relief in the upper part of the famous Sun Gate in Tiahuanaco. According to legend, the world was created by Viracocha near Lake Titicaca. After the great deluge or the receding of chaotic floodwaters Viracocha descended to earth and created plants, animals and men to the empty land; he built the city of Tiahuanaco and appointed 4 world rulers of whom Manco Capak became the superior of the Ursa Major world, i.e. the north horizon (Busto II 1981: 7).

The lake appears to lack a source, such as a river or stream, and there is proof that it is slowly evaporating and its shoreline receding with the passage of time. To date, there has been no satisfactory explanation of how the lake was formed in the first place. This is just one of many mysteries of the region and ranks Tiahuanaco as one of the top ten mysterious places on Earth."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

X22 Report, “The West Begins To Panic Over China's OBOR Trade System”

X22 Report, “The West Begins To Panic Over China's OBOR Trade System”
Related followup report:
X22 Report, “Is The US Getting Prepared To Leave Syria?”

Musical Interlude: 2002, “The Sea at Night”

2002, “The Sea at Night”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“When stars form, pandemonium reigns. A particularly colorful case is the star forming region Simeis 188 which houses an unusual and bright cloud arc cataloged as NGC 6559. Visible above are red glowing emission nebulas of hydrogen, blue reflection nebulas of dust, dark absorption nebulas of dust, and the stars that formed from them. 
Click image for larger size.
The first massive stars formed from the dense gas will emit energetic light and winds that erode, fragment, and sculpt their birthplace. And then they explode. The resulting morass can be as beautiful as it is complex. After tens of millions of years, the dust boils away, the gas gets swept away, and all that is left is a naked open cluster of stars. Simeis 188 is located about 4,000 light years away and can be found about one degree northeast of M8, the Lagoon Nebula.”

Chet Raymo, “The Journey”

“The Journey”
by Chet Raymo

Here's a deep-deep sky map of the universe from "Nature." The horizontal scale is a 360 view right around the sky; the vertical gaps at 6 hours and 24 hours are the parts of the universe that are blocked to our view by the disk of our own Milky Way Galaxy. The vertical scale - distance from Earth - is logarithmic (10, 100, 1000, etc.) measured in megaparsecs (a parsec equals 3.26 light-years). Across the top is the Big Bang, and the oldest and most distant thing we can see, the cosmic microwave background, the radiation of the Big Bang itself. A few relatively nearby galaxies are designated at the bottom. All that stuff in the middle that looks like smoke or dusty cobwebs are quasars and galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

A smoke of galaxies! A universe cobwebbed with Milky Ways! Each galaxy itself a smoke of stars, hundreds of billions of stars, many or all of them with planets. My book, "Walking Zero", is about the human journey from the omphalos of our birth into the world of the galaxies, a journey many of us are disinclined to make. Here is how the Prologue to the book begins:

"Each of us is born at the center of the world. For nine months our physical selves are assembled molecule by molecule, cell by cell, in the dark covert of our mother's womb. A single fertilized egg cell splits into two. Then four. Eight. Sixteen. Thirty-two. Ultimately, 50 trillion cells or so. At first, our future self is a mere blob of protoplasm. But slowly, ever so slowly, the blob begins to differentiate under the direction of genes. A symmetry axis develops. A head, a tail, a spine. At this point, the embryo might be that of a human, or a chicken, or a marmoset. Limbs form. Digits, with tiny translucent nails. Eyes, with papery lids. Ears pressed like flowers against the head. Clearly now a human. A nose, nostrils. Downy hair. Genitals.

As the physical self develops, so too a mental self takes shape, not yet conscious, not yet self-aware, knitted together as webs of neurons in the brain, encapsulating in some respects the evolutionary experience of our species. Instincts impressed by the genes. The instinct to suck, for example. Already, in the womb, the fetus presses its tiny fist against its mouth in anticipation of the moment when the mouth will be offered the mother's breast. The child will not have to be taught to suck. Other inborn behaviors will express themselves later. Laughing. Crying. Striking out in anger. Loving.

What, if anything, goes on in the mind of the developing fetus we may never know. But this much seems certain: To the extent that the emerging self has any awareness of its surroundings, its world is coterminous with itself. We are not born with knowledge of the antipodes, the plains of Mars, or the far-flung realm of the galaxies. We are not born with knowledge of Precambrian seas, the supercontinent of Pangea, or the Age of Dinosaurs. We are born into a world scarcely older than ourselves and scarcely larger than ourselves. And we are at its center.

A human life is a journey into the grandeur of a universe that may contain more galaxies than there are cells in the human body, a universe in which the whole of a human lifetime is but a single tick of the cosmic clock. The journey can be disorienting; our first instincts are towards coziness, comfort, our mother's enclosing arms, her breast. The journey, therefore, requires courage - for each individual, and for our species.

Uniquely of all animals, humans have the capacity to let our minds expand into the space and time of the galaxies. No other creatures can number the cells in their bodies, as we can, or count the stars. No other creatures can imagine the explosive birth of the observable universe 14 billion years ago from an infinitely hot, infinitely small seed of energy. That we choose to make this journey - from the all-sustaining womb into the vertiginous spaces and abyss of time - is the glory of our species, and perhaps our most frightening challenge."

The Poet: Linda Pastan, "What We Want"

"What We Want"
 

"What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names-
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun."

~ Linda Pastan, "Carnival Evening"

"Kurt Vonnegut: Quotes And Comments"

"Kurt Vonnegut: Quotes And Comments"
by  Josh Modell, Kyle Ryan, Noel Murray, Scott Gordon, And Tasha Robinson

"So it goes." Unlike many of these quotes, the repeated refrain from Vonnegut's classic 'Slaughterhouse-Five' isn't notable for its unique wording so much as for how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything. There's a reason this quote graced practically every elegy written for Vonnegut over the past two weeks (yes, including ours): It neatly encompasses a whole way of life. More crudely put: "Sh*t happens, and it's awful, but it's also okay. We deal with it because we have to."

"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand." Another koan of sorts from 'Cat's Cradle' and the Bokononist religion (which phrases many of its teachings as calypsos, as part of its absurdist bent), this piece of doggerel is simple and catchy, but it unpacks into a resonant, meaningful philosophy that reads as sympathetic to humanity, albeit from a removed, humoring, alien viewpoint. Man's just another animal, it implies, with his own peculiar instincts, and his own way of shutting them down. This is horrifically cynical when considered closely: If people deciding they understand the world is just another instinct, then enlightenment is little more than a pit-stop between insoluble questions, a necessary but ultimately meaningless way of taking a sanity break. At the same time, there's a kindness to Bokonon's belief that this is all inevitable and just part of being a person. Life is frustrating and full of pitfalls and dead ends, but everybody's gotta do it.

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." This line from 'God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater' comes as part of a baptismal speech the protagonist says he's planning for his neighbors' twins: "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." It's an odd speech to make over a couple of infants, but it's playful, sweet, yet keenly precise in its summation of everything a new addition to the planet should need to know. By narrowing down all his advice for the future down to a few simple words, Vonnegut emphasizes what's most important in life. At the same time, he lets his frustration with all the people who obviously don't get it leak through just a little.

"Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'" In this response to his own question—"Why bother?"—in 'Timequake', his last novel, Vonnegut doesn't give a tired response about the urge to create; instead, he offers a pointed answer about how writing (and reading) make a lonesome world a little less so. The idea of connectedness—familial and otherwise—ran through much of his work, and it's nice to see that toward the end of his career, he hadn't lost the feeling that words can have an intimate, powerful impact.

"There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too." Though this quote comes from the World War II-centered 'Mother Night' (published in 1961), its wisdom and ugly truth still ring. Vonnegut (who often said "The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected") was righteously skeptical about war, having famously survived the only one worth fighting in his lifetime. And it's never been more true: Left or right, Christian or Muslim, those convinced they're doing violence in service of a higher power and against an irretrievably inhuman enemy are the most dangerous creatures of all.

"That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes." The narrator delivering this line at the end of the first chapter of 'Deadeye Dick' is alluding both to his father's befriending of Hitler and his own accidental murder of his neighbor, but like so many of these quotes, it resonates well beyond its context. The underlying philosophy of Vonnegut's work was always that existence is capricious and senseless, a difficult sentiment that he captured time and again with a bemused shake of the head. Indeed, the idea that life is just a series of small decisions that culminate into some sort of "destiny" is maddening, because you could easily ruin it all simply by making the wrong one. Ordering the fish, stepping onto a balcony, booking the wrong flight, getting married—a single misstep, and you're done for. At least when you're dead, you don't have to make any more damn choices. Wherever Vonnegut is, he's no doubt grateful for that."
- http://www.avclub.com/

The Daily "Near You?"

Helsinki, Southern Finland, Finland. Thanks for stopping by!

"Choices..."

"The human life is made up of choices. Yes or no. In or out. Up or down. And then there are the choices that matter. Love or hate. To be a hero or to be a coward. To fight or to give in. To live. Or die. Live or die. That's the important choice. And it's not always in our hands."
- "Grey's Anatomy"

"Questioned By Life..."

"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual...

There is also purpose in life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man's attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden...

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment...

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

Freely download "Man's Search for Meaning", by Viktor E. Frankl, here:
https://s3.amazonaws.com/

"Charlie Dog, Golondrinas, and the Impossibility of Ants: A Deep Study"

"Charlie Dog, Golondrinas, and the Impossibility of Ants:
 A Deep Study"
By Fred Reed

"This morning when I emerged groggily into something resembling consciousness, I didn’t know that I was going to establish the impossibility of ants. Here was a deep philosophical matter, creeping up on me surreptitiously.

The dogs as usual came thundering in to see whether we still existed and, having ascertained that we did, offered to have their ears scratched. Such are dogs. Our felines, Cat and Other Cat, sleep on the bed with us—north of the border, there is probably a federal law against this—and also want our attention. Why? They get nothing by sleeping with us. We feed them anyway.

Dogs intrigue me by their distinctiveness of personality and range of emotions: Anger, affection, fear, curiosity, jealousy, concern, and guilt. Scientifically speaking, I am not sure whether this is proper. They were street dogs however, and perhaps not cognizant of the more advanced theories. They do understand guilt, whether they are supposed to or not. When we come home and Charlie has a hang-dog expression, and grovels in submission, and doesn’t run over to greet us, we know he has been digging in the garbage, which is forbidden. He knows it too.

Our dog Africa, who is very long and low and pretty and seems to be a cross between a Border Collie and a fire hose, is an hysteric. When I walk downstairs she barks joyously and rushes madly about, as though I were Zeus Descendant, even though she saw me go upstairs half an hour earlier and knows that I always come back down. You can’t be out of your mind unless you have one to be out of, is what I say.

Which brings us to golondrinas, swallows. (You may not see why it does. Well, it does.) We have a nest of them in a corner of the downstairs terraza. They produced five eggs this year, and sat on them as is right and fitting forgolondrinas. When the nestlings appeared, the parents tirelessly brought them, every few minutes, a portion of whatever swallows eat. When the little buggers reached the age at which flying began to seem a good idea, the parents began hovering inches from the nest, as if saying, “See? This is how you do it.” They had not done this before.

One of the new birdlets flew tolerably well for a beginner, but landed on the ground where there are cats. (Actually we had locked the cats inside for precisely this reason, but mother swallows don’t always know this.) The parents landed next to it and began pecking the little fellow unpleasantly, until it took off and went back to the nest. I have read that they do such things purely on instinct and do not know why they do them. How would one know this? Personally, I think they suspect cats.

I know that birds are biological automata running on chemically programmed code, and have no feelings or idea of what they are doing. I know this. I just do not believe it. Further, I do not understand the almost universal affection people feel for the very young. The very young of about everything: young puppies, kittens, burros, golondrinas. In terms of evolutionary biology, which we are told governs everything, affection for young swallows is hard to figure. They are fearfully ugly, being all mouth and no brain, which I concede suggests an evolutionary connection with network anchors. But we are quite fond of them. (Not the network anchors.)

Not much ant, huh?

I will now offer a formal proof of the nonexistence of ants. First, we will note the above ant on top of the eye of a needle. We will further note that there is almost no ant there. We will now ponder the size of its brain, to include distributed parts of it. If an ant is so small that it almost isn’t there, and most of an ant consists of legs, chitin, digestive things, and so on, then its brain, to include all of its nervous tissues, is greatly more isn’t-there.

We will now consider what an ant can do. First, it can walk. If you think this is no great shucks, talk to a robotics engineer with a cable-connected supercomputer. Ask him how easy it is to make six legs with multiple joints each work together while climbing over things. If you think about the amount of sensory feedback necessary to know where these legs are at a given moment, and what the pressures and angles are, you will get dizzy. The ant does it effortlessly, with about as many brain cells as a congressman has IQ points. This would suggest perhaps three brain cells.

There is worse, much worse. That same ant, with only three congressional brain cells, can interpret the data from both of its compound eyes and its ocelli—tiny non-compound eyes. Now, the guys who wrote PhotoShop could merge all those inputs from a jillion ommatidia and come up with something reasonable as an image, but doing it in real-time, in the equivalent of about six lines of code, with three brain cells for processing power—they would run screaming to the nearest bar and begin living under a park bench.

The same ant knows, somehow, to dig a nest properly, to run like hell when it is scared, and to care for the queen and the eggs and larvae. It manages its internal organs and antennae. It knows how to groom itself, putting it ahead of many teenagers, and how to find food, which requires operating the senses used to do this. I could go on. But since each of these things is impossible, so is the ant. Therefore, ants do not exist. QED. (I suspect that the impossibility of several things in one nonexistent ant is the product the individual impossibilities. I will leave this matter of multidimensional impossibilities to the reader as an exercise.)

If I may lapse momentarily into unwonted seriousness, I claim these picnic micromonstrosities pose a baffling question of cybernetics. They must be doing something far beyond the grasp of our tiny boiling imaginations. Replicating an ant in hardware of the same size is out of the question. Molecular computing? Well, the little beast does it some way. Humans with our quart-and-a-third of mushy brains can do much more than ants can, but not proportionately more. The nerve tissue of how many ants would be needed to fill on human cranium?

To which I usually get the witless response, “But Fred, ants have an entirely different kind of brain.” That’s not the answer. It’s the question.”

"How It Really Is"

“The US Economy Is Dead in the Water”

“The US Economy Is Dead in the Water”
by Bill Bonner

"We are spending a couple of days with friends out on a tiny and charming island in the Atlantic, Île d’Yeu. We took the ferry from the Fromentine harbor, near the city of Nantes, on Sunday. Since then, we’ve been enjoying the salt-soaked air.
The old castle on Île d’Yeu

The castle you see in the photo was built in the 14th century and attacked many times - by Spaniards, Arabs, and English pirates. But locals claim it was never taken by force. The engineers who built it were either geniuses, lucky, or both.

‘In World War II, it was used by the Germans,’ explained a friend. ‘The Nazis were convinced that the Allies would try to land near here on the mainland. So they put thousands of troops on the island with long-range artillery. It was probably the best assignment any German soldier ever had. It’s a tiny island. And nothing happened. There was no resistance here. There was nothing much to do. The D-Day landing happened in Normandy, hundreds of miles away. After spending the war here…fishing, drinking, taking in the sun on warm days…the German troops got on boats and went back to Germany. And the fortress kept its reputation as impregnable.’

Inherently unstable: Meanwhile, back in the US… Business revenues (sales) are becalmed, growing at less than 1% a year over the past 10 years. And that’s before you account for inflation! And business profits are going nowhere. They’re rising at a rate of about 2% a year, or roughly equal to the rate of inflation. Household incomes and hourly wages - though subject to a lot of fudging - are dead in the water, too. Officially, they are now back to where they were at the end of the last century.

But for some segments of the population - men with no college education - the situation is catastrophic; they’ve lost real income for the last 50 years. A dead man lies immobile for a long time. But a debt-fuelled economy cannot even sit down. It is inherently unstable. It must move forward, or collapse. Consumers spend money now they hope to earn later on. The feds, too, promise benefits they can afford only if the economy - and tax revenues with it - grows fast enough.

Over the next 10 years, the US government is on course to spend $10 trillion it doesn’t have. It has also committed to a further $80 trillion in entitlements for which it has no known source. Only growth can save it. But like a bicycle that has slipped its chain, you can pedal as hard as you like; you still won’t get anywhere. The only thing that may help the economy now is a major tax reform. But that is almost impossible…

Strutting and squawking: President Trump, elected by Republicans but now charting his own course, teams up with the Democrats on important issues. There is no way Democratic Deep State pols are going to vote to cut one of their major sources of funding.

‘What I admire about Mr Trump,’ we told our friends here on the island, ‘is that he understood - instinctively, perhaps - that he didn’t need to be tied to any party, policies, or programs. The details are too complex and unknowable. Are we fighting the Sunnis or the Shiites? Who can remember? And who knows what is on page 997 of the Obamacare act? And what difference does it make? The important decisions are made by the entrenched Deep State insiders. The president and the voters don’t have much effect on them.’

The military junta - Generals Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly - control foreign policy. And a sordid cabal of Democrats and Republicans, cronies and zombies, controls domestic spending. All squawk and strut shamelessly about monuments, transgender bathrooms, racism, immigration, and other symbolic issues. Fans in the cheap seats take sides. They are red. Or they are blue. They are for Trump. Or they are against him. It scarcely matters. The bicycle slows. Soon, it will fall over.”

"Freedom Is a Myth: We Are All Prisoners of the Police State’s Panopticon Village"

"Freedom Is a Myth: 
We Are All Prisoners of the Police State’s Panopticon Village"
by John W. Whitehead

"We're run by the Pentagon, we're run by Madison Avenue, we're run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don't revolt we'll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche. As long as we go out and buy stuff, we're at their mercy. We all live in a little Village. Your Village may be different from other people's Villages, but we are all prisoners.” - Patrick McGoohan

"First broadcast in Great Britain 50 years ago, "The Prisoner"- a dystopian television series described as “James Bond meets George Orwell filtered through Franz Kafka”- confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of humankind to meekly accept their lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of their own making.

Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, "The Prisoner" (17 episodes in all) centers around a British secret agent who abruptly resigns only to find himself imprisoned, monitored by militarized drones, and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly tranquil retirement community known only as the Village.

The Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers. The series’ protagonist, played by Patrick McGoohan, is Number Six. “I am not a number. I am a free man,” was the mantra chanted on each episode of "The Prisoner," which was largely written and directed by McGoohan.

In the opening episode (“The Arrival”), Number Six is told that he is in The Village because information stored “inside” his head has made him too valuable to be allowed to roam free “outside.” Throughout the series, Number Six is subjected to interrogation tactics, torture, hallucinogenic drugs, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination and physical coercion in order to “persuade” him to comply, give up, give in and subjugate himself to the will of the powers-that-be.

Number Six refuses to comply. In every episode, Number Six resists the Village’s indoctrination methods, struggles to maintain his own identity, and attempts to escape his captors. “I will not make any deals with you,” he pointedly remarks. “I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.” 
Yet no matter how far Number Six manages to get in his efforts to escape, it’s never far enough. Watched by surveillance cameras and other devices, Number Six’s getaways are continuously thwarted by ominous white balloon-like spheres known as “rovers.” Still, he refuses to give up. “Unlike me,” he says to his fellow prisoners, “many of you have accepted the situation of your imprisonment, and will die here like rotten cabbages.” Number Six’s escapes become a surreal exercise in futility, each episode an unfunny, unsettling Groundhog’s Day that builds to the same frustrating denouement: there is no escape.

The series is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison walls are disguised within the trappings of technological and scientific progress, national security and so-called democracy. As Thill noted when McGoohan died in 2009, “The Prisoner was an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.

The Prisoner’s Village is also an apt allegory for the American Police State: it gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable. The American Police State, much like The Prisoner’s Village, is a metaphorical panopticon, a circular prison in which the inmates are monitored by a single watchman situated in a central tower. Because the inmates cannot see the watchman, they are unable to tell whether or not they are being watched at any given time and must proceed under the assumption that they are always being watched.

Eighteenth century social theorist Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon has become a model for the modern surveillance state in which the populace is constantly being watched, controlled and managed by the powers-that-be and funding its existence. Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide: this is the new mantra of the architects of the police state and their corporate collaborators (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Instagram, etc.).

We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. Consider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

This is the electronic concentration camp- the panopticon prison- the Village- in which we are now caged. It is a prison from which there will be no escape if the government gets it way. Even now, the Trump Administration is working to make some of the National Security Agency’s vast spying powers permanent. In fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pushing for Congress to permanently renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows government snoops to warrantlessly comb through and harvest vast quantities of our communications. And just like that, we’re back in the Village, our escape plans foiled, our future bleak.

Except this is no surprise ending, as I make clear in my book "Battlefield America: The War on the American People": for those who haven’t been taking the escapist blue pill, who haven’t fallen for the Deep State’s phony rhetoric, who haven’t been lured in by the promise of a political savior, we never stopped being prisoners.

So how do we break out? For starters, wake up. Resist the urge to comply. Think for yourself. Be an individual. As McGoohan commented in 1968, “At this moment individuals are being drained of their personalities and being brainwashed into slaves. As long as people feel something, that's the great thing. It's when they are walking around not thinking and not feeling, that's tough. When you get a mob like that, you can turn them into the sort of gang that Hitler had.”

We have come full circle from Bentham’s Panopticon to McGoohan’s Village to Huxley’s Brave New World. You want to be free? Break out of the circle.”