Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The battle between groupthink and original thinking


"ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR... THE CLOCK IN THE KITCHEN STRUCK... twelve. How irrelevantly, seeing that time had ceased to exist! The absurd importunate bell had sounded at the heart of a timelessly present Event, of a Now that changed incessantly in a dimension, not of seconds and minutes, but of beauty, of significance, of intensity, of deepening mystery."
Aldous Huxley, from his book "Island"

   Through his painting “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” Salvador Dali conveys the message that time does not restrict us. We can travel imaginatively and we can travel in space.
  I'm entranced by the power of Dali's originality, and I wonder about the enigmatic forces that inspired him.
  Dali escaped from World War II.
  In school he was tormented by bullies for being an independent thinker. He had to flee from his father. He was expelled from art school for refusing to acquiesce to the narrow-minded approach of his teachers. When he thought that the Surrealists were judging him and curbing his creative aspirations he did not allow them to rescind his originality: he divorced the Surrealists when he considered himself a Surrealist.
 Salvador Dali pushed groupthink aside to focus on his creative energy. He let go of those who tried to restrain the power of his imagination. Had he stayed with them he would not have painted his original masterpieces. Those who did not understand his vision accused him of being arrogant and greedy.
   One day Dali had hundreds of leaflets dropped from an airplane over New York. He called this his “Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination”.
 According to American standards Dali was a successful artist. It occurs to me, however, that if Salvador Dali had been a woman artist somebody would have slut-shamed her and her works would have been considered irrelevant.
  Ken Robinson's book "The Element" explains how groupthink leads people to conformity and even to mean behaviors that they would not choose without the influence of groupthink.
 "Being in your Element may depend on stepping out of the circle." Ken Robinson.

 Reading about groupthink reminds me of the story "The Artist at Work" by Albert Camus. This story reveals the journey of Albert Jonas, a man who followed his star and remained loyal to his true self.

  I propose the term “group-non-think” as a synonym of “groupthink”. It is self-explanatory.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dolphins


  After reading Anthony Lawrence’s fascinating book on elephants I wanted to explore the enigmatic life of dolphins.
  In her book “Voices in the Ocean” Susan Casey puts together true stories and scientific information about their highly evolved brains and behaviors.
Human beings cannot fully comprehend the intelligence of dolphins. Lori Marino is a passionate scientist who works to understand these creatures that struggle to survive in the oceans.
 Susan Casey recounts many true stories of dolphins who rescued human beings in dangerous situations.
 Did you know, for example, that dolphins have a sense of humor?
 “Voices in the Ocean” also shares many biological facts about their brain. The Von Economo Neurons are brain cells that exist in both humans and dolphins. They are responsible for high-level functions like judgment, intuition and awareness. Only the creatures with the most elaborate brains such as whales, elephants and great apes are equipped with them.
 VENs are necessary to get along with one another, to empathize, to know if we’ve made a mistake. They play a role in the ability to trust, joke around and love one another.
 Dolphins and whales have three times more of these neurons than human beings. It may be for this reason that dolphins operate with a degree of interconnectedness far deeper than our own. There is a strong sense in them that if something happens to a group, it happens to you.
 Their awareness and survival instincts extend out into the world around them.
 Dolphins are also known to form long-term attachments with others, and they maintain them over time, even when they are separated for extended periods.

  Scientist Jason Bruck from the University of Chicago proved that dolphins recognize their friends’ signature whistles even after twenty years apart, and they react with excitement when they hear them. Their bonds are so strong that when dolphins are in jeopardy they will not leave one another, even if it costs them their lives. When they do lose a loved one, they behave in ways that suggest deep grief.

 Unfortunately, these empathetic creatures are the victims of abuse and torture in marine parks, so educate yourself to make sure you don’t support these unethical places. Susan Casey does not spare the details of this cruel business. 

  We also learn about the plight of dolphins in Japan and in other countries where dolphins are killed to be used as commodities. It is equally disturbing to learn that activists who spoke up to protect these creatures were murdered.

Even if dolphins manage to evade the web of fishing nets, they still contend with relentless pollution, pesticides, oil spills, food depletion and many other ecological disorders caused by human beings. This book is a reminder of how greed and corruption contribute to the destruction of these compassionate beings.

 The BP disaster had devastating effects on the dolphins, and the presence of oil in the sea continues to affect them.
 "Between May 2010 and May 2015, 1,199 dolphins have washed up dead. Those are the only ones that we've found. Given that most dead dolphins don't make it to the shore, their bodies sinking in the deep or being eaten by predators, scientists estimate that the real number of dolphin casualties could be five times higher. And the bodies keep coming."

   How can we not marvel at the memorable story of Pelorus Jack? Pelorus Jack was a dolphin who spent twenty-four years, from 1888 to 1912 , escorting ships through New Zealand’s Cook Strait. Amid rough waters, rocks and fierce winds Pelorus Jack guided boats to a safe crossing. Captains would often wait for him. His graceful movements and enthusiasm attracted many tourists.
 “He swam alongside in a kind of snuggling-up attitude,” one seaman recalled. Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling admired him.
 One day the passenger of a local ferry called “The Penguin” shot him with a rifle. For many weeks he was not seen. The New Zealand government passed a law to protect him. After a while Pelorus Jack recovered. This brave dolphin returned to his post and continued to help the ships. Yet he never guided “The Penguin” again.
Every time he saw this specific ferry he would vanish.
       

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging less frequently lately. I’ve been busy doing some research for a very complex story I’m working on. The act of learning stokes the fires of creativity, so if  I disappear for a few weeks you will know why: the creative fires are burning me.
Peace and joy to you all.
"The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."
W.B. Yeats


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Climate change


  "All truth passes through through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
 Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher(1788-1860)
Source of photo used in this post: http://time.com/4061371/south-carolina-flooding-climate-change/

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Silent Spring

In the year 1962 a woman stirred the waters of conformity and ignorance by writing and publishing a book. Her name was Rachel Carson. She wrote about the ecosystems and  about how the misuse of pesticides exacerbates the problems with insects and weeds instead of controlling them. She also delved into the effects of many of these chemicals on human health. Why is this important?   
Fifty three years later her book “Silent Spring” continues to have relevance: the food we eat and the water we drink contain pesticides. The case of Atrazine can be used as an example to illustrate how her words resonate today.
 Atrazine is a pesticide used to kill weeds. Research has shown that Atrazine can cause cancer in mammals and developmental problems in fish. It also changes male frogs into females. The European Union banned the use of Atrazine in 2004. The corporation that manufactures this chemical is in Switzerland (Syngenta). I surmise it has “power” over the decisions made by EPA because in the United States of America Atrazine continues to be used.  90% of the drinking water in the United States of America contains Atrazine.
 We signed a petition to encourage the authorities to ban the use of Atrazine, but so far nothing has changed. (Profits matter more than human health and the environment).

 Reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated me to learn more about pesticides and the current situation.

 The use of glyphosate
The most well-known glyphosate is “Roundup. It is manufactured by Monsanto.
 The use of glyphosate is associated with birth defects, cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths. In the year 2010 Professor Andres Carrasco of Buenos Aries Medical School in Argentina published his findings on the effect of glyphosate (Roundup) on chicken embryo. He decided to work on this kind of research after observing what happened to the people who live close to the farms. However, Monsanto still claimed that its Roundup product was safe.
 There were violent attempts to silence Carrasco and his group. Four representatives of Argentina’s crop protection trade group CASAFE tried to raid his laboratory. He was also the focus of an orchestrated attack in which three people were seriously injured when he was in an agricultural town in Argentina called La Leonesa, where he explained the findings of his research. Carrasco escaped injury by locking himself in a car.
  Glyphosates started to be used in La Leonesa in 2000. Birth defects increased fourfold in the region around the town between 2000 and 2009, and the rate of childhood cancers tripled over the same period.  Glyphosates are still used in Argentina. Again, profits matter more than human health.

 Despite the hazards associated with the use of these chemicals manufactured by Monsanto they are also used widely in the United States of America, not only to grow food but also to control weeds in parks and pavements. On the other hand, countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have either banned glyphosate or have restricted its use. 
 Roundup is spread on about 12 million acres of American farmland every year. Now the so-called "Superweeds", which are resistant to Roundup, are emerging. Rachel Carson discussed these patterns of resistance and an exacerbation of the original problems as a result of the abuse of pesticides.

 Rachel Carson also explained  that pesticides contained in runoff from farms and forests are being carried to the sea in the waters of many rivers. She pointed out that the funds to research the changes that these chemicals undergo during the transit period are small. She proposed that some of the money invested in the development of toxic sprays should be used on research to use less dangerous materials and keep poisons out of the waterways. Then she asked the following question: when will the public become sufficiently aware of the facts to demand such action? Her question is relevant today.
What can we do?
Educating ourselves and our communities is our duty. 
 Make wise choices. Reduce your chemical imprint.
Support organic farming practices.
Environmentalists are urging farmers to adopt the principles of integrated pest management (IPM), which encourages the use of less toxic products and the use of other methods. Ladybugs, for example, are the natural enemy of many insects.
 The EU encourages the reduced use of pesticides on farms and in homes. It has created a directive on the sustainable application of pesticides.

References:

https://www.rt.com/usa/314544-california-epa-glyphosate-carcinogenic/https://www.rt.com/usa/314544-california-epa-glyphosate-carcinogenic/


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Patch

 Patch Adams's father was a soldier. He fought in the Second World War and the Korean war; he died in Germany when Patch was only 16. Patch was raised by his mother.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Moral Disorder


  A few months ago I read “Moral Disorder” by Margaret Atwood. It is a collection of short stories that share the same characters at different stages of their lives.

 The first story starts with the scene of an eight-year -old girl knitting an outfit for her baby sister who is due to be born in a few months. Later in life, you will find this same character (Nell) knitting a quilt. The patches that make up the quilt have different colors and appear to represent the memories or phases of her existence. I believe Atwood uses the quilt as a metaphor, and the act of crafting it may have something to do with Nell's purpose in life, and it alludes to Penelope, the wife of Odysseus.

   By putting together so many stories and experiences Atwood explores a vast array of situations that make us laugh, cry and think.  She brings to light the bittersweet side of life; she sees through the drama and encourages us to ask questions, but in doing so, she takes us back to our own childhood and to examine our life. 

  I enjoyed the narrative of the young girl who is enthralled by her literature teacher. The teenager’s arguments and literary conversations with her boyfriend are hilarious.  I noticed that later in life this assertive teenager who becomes a woman undergoes a transformation. She dates a man who already has a wife and two kids, so her parents ostracize her and then she is not even taken seriously by her new family: she ends up under the control of the man she loves and of his ex-wife.

  I believe Nell is not the person that she was meant to be, but the person that society shaped and molded out of her. There are many situations to illustrate this but I will let the reader explore them. It took me a few months to come to this conclusion.

 One of the most touching scenes I remember from this book is that of this woman interacting with her aging parents. Atwood captures the sadness and the tenderness that mingle in their interactions. She unleashes the longings of those moments in which you feel lonely because you are convinced that nobody would understand what you are going through. She does what a brilliant writer is expected to do: she puts into words what you are unable to say yourself when you are overwhelmed by emotions.

 Another case that stayed with me is the one of Lizzie. Unlike her sister, Lizzie was a bit eccentric and did not acquiesce to the rules so well. She suffered from anxiety and when she sought medical help a physician misdiagnosed her with schizophrenia and put her on antipsychotics. Lizzie had all the side effects of it and could not even go to work. To make matters worse she was neglected by this same physician whose dehumanized approach to the art of medicine left me flabbergasted. Thankfully, things improve when when a second physician is consulted. This case reminds me of Janet Frame, a New Zealand writer who was also misdiagnosed with schizophrenia due to her personality. The doctors wanted to do a lobotomy on her. Janet Frame fled from the procedure and later succeeded in her literary career.

   Margaret Atwood will make you laugh, but she will also swim through the gloom of various life situations, navigating the alienation of the main characters with an economy of style that captivates the reader.  She punches your heart and leaves you pondering for months. 


I also recommend her poetry book (Margaret Atwood's selected poetry 1976-1986) because it complements some of the tales that appear in "Moral Disorder"; it will help you to comprehend them better and to broaden your perspective on them.


I will share some quotes from “Moral Disorder”. (As I mentioned on a previous post, Atwood plays with metaphors to describe perceptions and emotions).

“We can’t really travel to the past, no matter how we try. If we do it’s as tourists.”

“But my dreaming self refuses to be consoled. It continues to wander, aimless, homeless, alone. It cannot be convinced of its safety by any evidence drawn from my waking life. I know this because I continue to have the same dream over and over.”


“The best thing to do when running away is not to run. Just walk. Just stroll. A combination of ease and purposefulness is desirable. Then no one will notice you are running. In addition to which, don’t carry heavy suitcases or canvas bags full of money, or pack sacks with body parts in them. Leave everything behind you except what’s in your pockets. Light is best.”
  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Anne Frank

“We cannot change what happened anymore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it’s everyone's responsibility to fight prejudice.”~ Otto Frank, 1970

 Fighting all kinds of prejudice is and will always be one of the themes of “My Writing Life”. A few weeks ago I heard a statement from a political candidate who bashed the people of a certain nationality, and I wondered about this man’s education.
What did he learn in school?
 A prejudice is nothing but a lie. It is an unfair judgment. What did his supporters learn from the past? They do remind me of those who supported Adolf Hitler when he imposed a segregation system in the thirties and early forties.

 In the year 1942 Anne Frank and her family had to go into hiding. The diary that she’d received as a birthday present went with her. She named it Kitty.

 Why is her diary so important?  In addition to being a source of inspiration, comfort and strength to millions of people all over the world, it is a historical document. Anne cared to record details about the war and about their life in hiding: she mentions the atrocities and horrors to which human beings were subjected as a result of the cruelty of those who believed they were superior to others. She also poured out her heart on it by revealing her intimate thoughts and emotions.

   Anne did not feel understood, so it was only her diary she confided in. I admire Otto Frank for having the courage to publish it in the year 1947. Some parts had to be omitted. (For instance, passages about sexuality had to be left out because it was not customary to discuss sexuality openly in the forties).
  I recently finished reading the latest edition which includes all the parts that had been censored in previous versions. Anne exposes her vulnerabilities, sorrow, joy, dreams and conflicts with the people who lived in The Annexe.


  Of the group of eight people who lived in The Secret Annexe for two years, Otto Frank was the only survivor, and he committed the rest of his life to combating discrimination and prejudice. He died in 1980.
  
There are historical details  that you may not find in your conventional textbooks:
“Morale among the Dutch can’t be good. Everyone’s hungry; except for the ersatz coffee, a week’s food ration doesn’t last two days. “
“The Children are ill or undernourished, everyone’s wearing worn-out clothes and run-down shoes. A new sole costs 7.50 guilders on the black market. Besides, few shoemakers will do repairs, or if they do, you have to wait four months for your shoes, which might very well have disappeared in the meantime.”
 “People have to queue for vegetables and all kinds of goods; doctors can’t visit their patients, since their cars and bikes are stolen the moment they turn their backs; burglaries and thefts are so common that you ask yourself what’s suddenly got into the Dutch to make them so light-fingered. Little children, eight-and eleven-year-olds, smash the windows of people’s homes and steal whatever they can lay their hands on. People don’t dare leave the house for even five minutes, since they are liable to come back and find all their belongings gone.”
“The electric clocks on street corners are dismantled, public phones are stripped down to the last wire.”

   The veneration of wars and violence that we hear about on a regular basis reminds me of the mindless slogans that George Orwell describes so well in 1984 and Animal farm, so it is timely to cite Anne Frank’s insights. They still resonate today:
“What’s the point of the war? Why, oh, why can’t people live together peacefully? Why all this destruction?
“The question is understandable, but so far no one has come up with a satisfactory answer.”
“Why do people have to starve when mountains of food are rotting away in other parts of the world?”
“I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh, no, the common man is every bit as guilty; otherwise, people and nations would have rebelled long ago! There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!”

   Despite their confinement, Anne found moments of joy.  She read, wrote and studied. Her dream was to become a writer and a journalist. She had a special interest in art and history and crafted short stories Her diary is a lovely tribute to the helpers who risked their lives as they brought the much needed supplies to the two families hiding in The Secret Annexe.
  Anne's fortitude and the energy that kept her active against all odds are inspiring to me. She strove to find the rays of sunshine inside every dark spot while she longed to play outdoors.
 “Every day I feel myself maturing, I feel liberation drawing near, I feel the beauty of nature and the goodness of the people around me. Every day I think what a fascinating and amusing adventure this is. With all that, why should I despair?”

  She disagreed with her mother when she said that they had to feel thankful for not being in the concentration camps.
 “This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: ‘you’re not part of it’. My advice is ‘Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the beauty within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.
“I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you supposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune.”
 “A person who has courage and faith will never die in misery.” 

  As she writes about the suffering of others, she expresses her emotions of guilt, sadness and fear.

   Anne becomes infatuated with Peter, and the couple get together in the attic to whisper to each other and contemplate the sky. She reflects on love in her diary:
 “Love, what is love? I don’t think you can really put it into words. Love is understanding someone, caring for him, sharing his joys and sorrows.”

 Their relationship is stunted after her father’s advice:
“Well, you know I understand both of you. But you must be the one to show restraint; don’t go upstairs so often, don’t encourage him more than you can help. In matters like these, it’s always the man who takes the active role, and it’s up to the woman to set the limits. Outside, where you’re free, things are quite different. You see other boys and girls, you can go outdoors, take part in sports and all kinds of activities. But here, if you’re together too much and want to get away, you can’t.”

 Anne Frank’s introspective nature makes the reading compelling. Her honesty leads her to explore her identity:
“As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, a saucy joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me. Oh, I can be an amusing clown for an afternoon, but after that everyone’s had enough of me to last a month. Actually, I’m what a romantic film is to a profound thinker—a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten: not bad, but not particularly good either. I hate having to tell you this, but why shouldn’t I admit it when I know it’s true?”
 Anne explains that she conceals her deeper self because she fears that she will be ridiculed.

As the diary progresses the people in The Secret Annexe are challenged by starvation. Dangers abound.  Yet she continues writing until August 1 1945.
 After receiving an anonymous tip the German Security Service raids 263 Prinsengracht on August 4 1944. Having been betrayed, the eight people in hiding and two of their helpers are arrested.

 If you are planning to visit Anne Frank House in Amsterdam be prepared to stand in line for a while. Reading her diary, however, does not require a visit to Amsterdam and it is far more powerful.
 Anne Frank’s diary is not only the narration of somebody’s life journey. Her message is the voice of the victims of war anywhere today.



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bluebeard's Egg



If you need a good dose of laughter start by reading the first short story from this brilliant collection by Margaret Atwood: “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother”. Every single paragraph made me laugh. Atwood has an intelligent sense of humor. There are many funny situations that involve the narrator’s first boyfriend, Buddy, along with anecdotes about her family.
 “I kept my knees pressed together and my arms around his back. Sooner or later Buddy would attempt to move his hands around to the front, but I knew I was supposed to stop him, so I did. Judging from his reaction, which was resigned but good-natured, this was the correct thing to do, though he would always try again the next week.”

   The stories in this collection are all entertaining and thought-provoking. 
   Many of her characters are exotic and a few of them are somewhat conventional, but all of them manage to make the stories engaging and intriguing.
In “The Sunrise” we meet Yvonne, a bohemian eccentric. She is a professional artist who likes to follow men to request them to pose for her.
 “Once Yvonne gets the men into her studio she is very delicate with them, very tactful. With them in mind she has purchased a second-hand armchair with a footstool to match: solid, comforting, wine velvet, not her usual taste. She sits them in it beside the large window, and turns them so that the light catches on their bones. She brings them a cup of tea or coffee, to put them at ease, and tells them how much she appreciates what they are doing. Her gratitude is real: she’s about to eat their souls, not the whole soul of course, but even a small amount is not to be taken lightly.”

    Yvonne, however, eats nobody's soul, but she is so devoted to her art that men are puzzled and sometimes angry at her. Although her rich imagination gets her in trouble sometimes (due to the fact that she is a woman) she remains committed to her vision.

Warning: In “Uglypuss” there is a cruel act against a cat (Uglypuss). By the end of it, however, Atwood made me feel something that lies on the road between compassion and pity for the bully. I have to confess that I did not like the characters of this specific story, except for the cat (Uglypuss). 
 I think the originality of her writing stems from the complexity of her characters, the social commentary interwoven into them and the unexpected turns. Her writing flows like a breeze, but it is also loaded with wit and irony. It becomes addictive.
  I’ve also noticed that she incorporated metaphors and images into the plots and that she used them as the titles of some of the stories: “The Sunrise”; “The Salt Garden”; “Bluebeard’s Egg”; “The Sin Eater”; “Unearthing Suite”.
  She plays with images to express something meaningful about the characters, and I surmise this has something to do with the fact that she has a flair for painting and drawing.  You can check more of her artworks here.
    All in all, Margaret Atwood makes her interesting characters jump off the page and elicits empathy from the reader in most of these stories. I prefer Margaret Atwood's stories over Munro's ones for this reason.
     If I had to choose two words to describe her writing I would say it is fascinating and mesmerizing. It kindles my imagination and makes my mind soar. 



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Elephants


“When you are feeling down and out and defeated and ready to give up, read this inspiring book and share it widely with others.” Marc Bekoff

Elephants are intriguing creatures and after reading “The Elephant Whisperer” I fell in love with them. I was spellbound by the compassion, intuition and wisdom that elephants reveal through their actions.  If you have an interest in the emotional life of elephants “The Elephant Whisperer” will fascinate you, and even if you are indifferent to them you may find this book life transforming.
After saving the life of a herd of elephants from being shot to death, Lawrence Anthony developed a special bond with them over time. Building up trust led to a connection of love that surpassed the boundaries of their own lives. Lawrence Anthony transports us to the natural reserve of Thula Thula in South Africa.
 Nana, the matriarch of this enigmatic herd, saved Lawrence’s life when Thula Thula was on fire. She also rescued him on other occasions.
 If you think that these elephants only act out of self-interest you are wrong. Nana released a group of antelopes that had been caught to be transported to another natural reserve. 
 Lawrence also rescued a female teenage elephant (ET) whose herd had been shot by poachers. ET was adopted by Nana's herd. ET did not trust Lawrence at the beginning, and the interaction with her was dangerous. It became a complex process, but the final outcome was a positive one.
 “From ET I learned forgiveness. I had managed to reach out to her through her heartbreak and distrust, but only because she had let me. Somewhere along the way she had recovered her life and in the process taught me how to forgive, as she had forgiven humans for the horrors they had visited on her own family before she came to us. She had given birth while I was away and was standing close by looking at me, proudly showing off her baby.”

Good writing can make us laugh, cry and think. Lawrence Anthony can do this well. His deep understanding of the jungle and his communication with elephants left me in awe. He ignited my curiosity, and now I'd like to read his book about rhinos.
 "The Elephant Whisperer" also introduces us to the beliefs  and behaviors of the Zulu culture.
  
“Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”
  Through his interactions with this herd of elephants  we learn about their emotional lives and behaviors, but there is still a lot that we can't comprehend about these mysterious creatures.
 “During the twenty-year war between northern and southern Sudan elephants were being slaughtered both for ivory and meat and so large numbers migrated to Kenya for safety. Within days of the final ceasefire being signed, the elephants left their adopted residence en masse and trekked the hundreds of miles back home to Sudan. How they knew that their home range was now safe is just another indication of the incredible abilities of these amazing creatures.”

    The chemistry between this herd of elephants and Lawrence Anthony is a gift to the world, and Mr. Anthony’s legacy will live on in the actions of Earth Organization. When Lawrence died in 2012, the beloved herd walked to his home. They were mourning the loss of their friend. 


  
 Here's another website/organization where I learned a lot about elephants.

I received a few e-mails from readers of this blog asking about the lack of comments. To answer your question I will share Matt Gemmel's blog postHe gives you some ideas on what you can do if you come across a blog post that has disabled comments when you feel motivated to comment.
 All blogs are different. Some blogs have comments. Others don't. They all appeal to different audiences and contribute to our diversity.
  
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
 Albert Einstein

Till next time.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Woods Scientist


"We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us people. We are glad that they are still here and we hope it will always be so." ~ Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version
(I found the above quote  printed on my passport).

  "The Woods Scientist" is about reading forests. 
  How can we read forests?
 Sue Morse has had a fascination for forests all her life. She grew up in Pennsylvania to a family who did not watch much TV. Her parents filled their lives with a love of animals and the outdoors.

 Every day after school, Sue ran more than four and a half miles to reach the Wissahickon woods. Her passion to get to the woods turned her into a strong distance runner. In 1967, as a senior in high school, she became the first woman in the United States to run a twenty-six mile marathon.

 Sue also has a passion for books, and reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” when she was a teenager inspired her.
  I learned some interesting facts about wildlife from The Woods Scientist.

 Sue has a didactic way of explaining what biodiversity means. She does so creatively, by using the example of a puzzle. Biodiversity is like a puzzle in motion. This “puzzle” is made of trees, shrubs, insects, flowers, mushrooms, amphibians, birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals. This dynamic puzzle is made of thousands of species, and they all depend on each other.

  Now imagine removing a piece of that puzzle. What happens?

When species are killed off, the puzzle falls apart. Every living thing counts in this delicate puzzle of nature.
Harvard biologist E.O Wilson states that we are losing species at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Wilson estimates that this current rate of extinction is 10,000 times faster than what is “normal” or natural.
  Animals that are more vulnerable to habitat fragmentation are called “indicator species”. Grizzly bears, river otters, wolverines, Canada Lynxes and bobcats are a few examples.
 The decline or absence of such creatures serves as a warning.

  The Woods Scientist helped me to understand the importance of corridors. Even the biggest parks in the country such as two-million-acre Yellowstone National Park and Adirondack Park need to be connected to other big tracts of land to allow animals to move back and forth. They are necessary for them to survive. 

 Four-lane highways and other developments lead to the fragmentation of their habitats, which prevents them from finding food and cover. By keeping tracks of wild animals Sue intends to create alternatives that can help to protect the fragile wildlife.
 As human population grows more housing developments, highways, roads, and corporate offices threaten the existence of these complex ecosystems.
  Here in Wisconsin we deal with many challenges. The Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, changed regulations to allow the pollution of lakes, streams and wetlands.  This may have something to do with the false belief that protecting the environment is at odds with the economic progress of a region. How do we define progress? Perhaps we need to redefine it in order to understand that dollars cannot be drunk or eaten, and that human health is not dissociated from Nature, although some people seem to believe that dollars can be breathed in (excuse my sense of humor here.)
 To learn more about this situation you can read this article.

 Nature is not our enemy. Educating our communities and raising awareness are part of the solution, but changing regulations to pollute the environment is not a sign of intelligence.

   The more we discover and learn about Nature, the more we can understand how ignorant we are. Educating ourselves is the way to love Nature and to develop creative solutions to live in harmony with the environment. 
     We can also learn about the destruction around us through our senses... but would would Mother Nature say if she could speak?

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Poem by Loris Malaguzzi



The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
 a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Island







"In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities."~Aristotle
    I will be forever grateful to the person who recommended this book to me: Island by Aldous Huxley. It is one of the best books I've read. If I were deported to a distant island and asked to choose only one book to take with me out of all the ones I’ve read in my life I'd pick “Island”.
   "Island" is an antidote to Brave New World. It is about an ideal society that has flourished for 120 years in Pala, an imaginary island in the Pacific Ocean.
Aldous Huxley wrote “Island” in 1961, thirty years after “Brave New World”. It was the last story he wrote before his death in 1963.
      "Island" is not just a philosophical novel. It is possible that it will be rediscovered by the world for what it is: a fountain of original ideas and thoughts and a potential resource for scientists, educators, psychologists, priests, nuns, social workers and, hopefully, politicians with good intentions. I will not be able to transmit what this book encompasses. This post is only the tip of the iceberg.
      Many themes are interwoven into it to create a unique masterpiece.
      I will not focus on the predictions that became a reality nor shall I reveal the most original complex ideas here.
      This novel starts with the scene in which William Farnaby is shipwrecked on the island of Pala. William is grappling with emotional and ethical dilemmas. Landing on this island will become a blessing in disguise. It will be the beginning of an enlightening journey. During his stay in Pala William will have conversations with different people and he will learn how this ideal society has evolved.
     Pala is a federation of self-governing units where there is plenty of scope for small-scale initiative and democratic leaders, but dictators do not have a chance there because people are educated to think for themselves. Potential dictators and bullies are spotted early on and anger and frustration are channeled into healthy behaviors. Love and compassion are the driving forces of this society --not hate and revenge.
    In Brave NewWorld people are blissfully ignorant to respond to the demands of the system. They are conditioned to hate nature (check page 23 for details on this). In Pala, on the other hand, education makes children aware of their unity with nature and this is what the Principal of a school told William:
  “Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and the country around it.
   “And let me add that we always teach the science of relationship in conjunction with the ethics of relationship. Balance, give and take, no excesses—it’s the rule in nature and, translated out of fact into morality, it ought to be the rule among people.”
There are simple reminders that would make a difference in today’s societies. Bear in mind that he wrote this in 1961; yet these are timeless truths:

   “Treat Nature well and Nature will treat you well. Hurt or destroy Nature and Nature will soon destroy you.
   “Conservation morality gives nobody an excuse for feeling superior, or claiming special privileges. ‘Do as you would be done by’ applies to our dealings with all kinds of life in every part of the world. We shall be permitted to live on this planet only for as long as we treat all nature with compassion and intelligence.”

 There are many insightful ideas that could be considered by educators today. For example, the ones that he described as being part of   the Practical Elementary Psychology lessons. He also introduced the concept of creative body movements as a sort of dance that helps to deal with emotions.

  Pala is neither communist nor capitalist. There is a conspiracy to take over Pala because it attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world. Pala is unpopular because it is not compatible with the greed of other countries. Besides, Pala possesses oil, which increases the risk of being invaded. Yet they don’t succumb to a state of futile paranoia. They choose the path of wisdom:
“Pala unfortunately, is in nobody’s books. We don’t want the communists; but neither do we want the capitalists. Least of all do we want the wholesale industrialization that both parties are so anxious to impose on us—for different reasons, of course. The West wants it because our labor costs are low and investors’ dividends will be correspondingly high. And the East wants it because industrialization will create a proletariat, open fresh fields for Communist agitation and may lead in the long run to the setting up of yet another People’s Democracy. We say no to both of you, so we’re unpopular everywhere.”

  Pala is able to do what the rest of the world does not: it adapts their economy and technology to human beings—not their human beings to somebody else’s economy and technology. Their wish to be happy and their ambition to be fully human are the beacons and goals of their economy.

 It was hilarious to read what the Palanese thought about Western intellectuals.
 “Western intellectuals are all sitting-addicts. That’s why most of you are so repulsively unwholesome. In the past even a Duke had to do a lot of walking, even a moneylender. And when they weren’t using their legs, they were jogging about on horses.” In Pala even professors and government officials take to digging and delving, not as a form of therapy but to make therapy unnecessary. It is considered preventative.

  A group of American physicians traveled to Pala because they wanted to find out why they have such a low rate of neurosis and cardiovascular trouble. The Palanese have a more integrative approach to medicine and a completely different lifestyle altogether.
 Aldous Huxley also incorporates mindfulness into medicine and education. He was far ahead of his time if you consider that now psychologists and physicians in America are learning how mindfulness can improve relationships and mental health.

  A nurse in Pala mentioned that in America the concept of a normal human being is that of one who is adjusted to society. Then she ventured to ask these questions:
“What about the society you’re supposed to be adjusted to? Is it a mad society or a sane one? And even if it’s pretty sane, is it right that anybody should be completely adjusted to it?”

When William asked a person from Pala how they solved their economic problems successfully, this was the answer:
“To begin with we never allowed ourselves to produce more children than we could feed, clothe, house, and educate into something like full humanity. Not being overpopulated, we have plenty. But, although we have plenty, we’ve managed to resist the temptation that the West has now succumbed to—the temptation to overconsume. We don’t give ourselves coronaries by guzzling six times as much saturated fat as we need. We don’t hypnotize ourselves into believing that two television sets will make us twice as happy as one television set. And finally we don’t spend a quarter of the gross national product for World War III or even World War’s baby brother, Local War MMMCCCCXXXIII. Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste and moneylenders were abolished you’d collapse.”

   In addition to pondering over the innovative ideas and reflections on medicine, education and society that he presented, I celebrated the spiritual nature of this book.

 William Farnaby, the man who would not take yes for an answer, was transformed.
  This is a book that made me think, ask questions, dream and understand life from new perspectives. For example, we can ask: is human health dissociated from Nature? No, it is not. Only ignorance considers them as separate entities.

 I will share a few quotes but don’t take them seriously. Read this book yourself and make your own choices. The quotes I selected here are not even close to the succession of ecstatic experiences I had while reading “Island”.  I did not want to finish it; I longed to stay in Pala, a place where honesty, free love and peace prevail.

“Life flowing silently and irresistibly into ever fuller life, into a living peace all the more profound, all the richer and stronger and more complete because it knows all your pain and unhappiness, knows them and takes them into itself and makes them one with its own substance. And it’s into that peace that you’re floating now, floating on this smooth silent river that sleeps and is yet irresistible, and is irresistible precisely because it’s sleeping. And I’m floating with it, effortlessly floating. Not having to do anything at all. Just letting go, just allowing myself to be carried along, just asking this irresistible sleeping river of life to take me where it’s going—and knowing all the time that where it’s going is where I want to go: into more life, into more living peace, along the sleeping river, into the wholeness of reconciliation.”

“Landscapes are the most genuinely religious pictures because they lend reality. Distance reminds us that there is a lot more to the universe than just people. It reminds us that there are mental spaces inside our skulls as enormous as the spaces out there. The experience of distance, of inner distance and outer distance, of distance in time and distance in space—it’s the first and fundamental religious experience.”
“And yet in spite of the entirely justified refusal to take yes for an answer, the fact remained and would remain always, remain everywhere—the fact that there was this capacity even in a paranoiac for intelligence, even in a devil worshiper for love; the fact that the ground of all being could be totally manifest in a flowering shrub, a human face; the fact that there was a light and that this light was also compassion.”
“Karuna, attention…”




A note for the regular readers of this blog: I’m taking another blog break to complete other writing projects, spend time with my family, read and work on our garden.
I will be back in a few weeks with more blog posts on books, literature, art, writing and everything in-between.
Thank you for joining the literary blog ride.

Till next time.