The Embodied Soul

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On September 11, 2001, a group of Islamic extremists struck America’s major financial center in New York. Since then, we have embarked on a “War on Terror” that has morphed into an assault on all Muslims, except for allied Muslim nations. This past week, our endless war of terror has pivoted to Jerusalem, the holy city of three of the world’s major religions by number of followers (World Atlas) – Christianity (2.22 billion), Islam (1.6 billion), and Judaism (13.9 million).

Within this context, I share with you in the first of a three-part series my synopsis of Reza Aslan’s book, God: A Human History. Like the author, I have “no interest in trying to prove the existence or nonexistence of God for the simple reason that no proof exists either way.” Whether you believe in one God or many gods or no god at all, I would like you to consider Aslan’s bold assertion that “it is we who have fashioned God in our image, not the other way around.”

In “Part One: The Embodied Soul,” Aslan investigates the origin of our belief in a soul, a byword for “spiritual essence” or “mind.” It’s a journey back in time to the emergence of our primitive ancestors, Homo sapiens (the wise human) – the “historical” Adam and Eve. According to archaeological records, Homo sapiens first appeared during the Lower Paleolithic Period, between 2.5 million and 200,000 years ago. Remains unearthed in burial mounds indicate that they buried their dead together with artifacts that must have been precious to them. Continue reading

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“People Help the People” by Birdy

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Feeding the poor and homeless on Thanksgiving Day - Downtown Los Angeles - California - USA

In keeping with my end-of-year tradition, I feature a song on my Poetry Corner December 2017. I struggled for a week to find a suitable song for surviving the relentless Twitter storm and assault on our lives. My older son came to the rescue with the suggestion of the song, “People Help the People” by Birdy, a young British musician, singer, and songwriter.

Written by Simon Aldred – a guitarist and singer-songwriter who started the British folk-rock band Cherry Ghost in 2005 – the song was first released in their debut album in July 2007. It won Aldred the prestigious Ivor Novello Award in musical achievement for Best Contemporary Song.

Birdy’s rendition of the song, released as a single in October 2011, reached the top charts in the UK and across Europe. Though only fourteen years old at the time, Birdy brings a soulfulness to Aldred’s lyrics that touches the heart. Continue reading

The Writing Life: Giving Thanks

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Happy Thanksgiving 2017

At the end of May 2017, I received an unexpected request by e-mail from Vitor Rafael Siqueira de Araújo, a young poet, literature teacher, and freelance Portuguese/English translator in Roraima, North Brazil. His first poetry collection is due for publication in 2018.

With a bachelor’s degree in English and Portuguese literature from the University of Roraima, Vitor is currently enrolled in a postgraduate course in Translation Studies. Specializing in the translation of short stories, Vitor sought permission to translate one of my short stories.

I selected my most popular short story, The Ole Higue, published in July 2008 in the Guyana Journal (New York/USA). Considering that my short story contains dialog in Caribbean Creole English, Vitor’s project was very ambitious.

With its origins in West African mythology, the ole higue is an evil spirit that takes the form of an ugly, repulsive old woman that sucks the blood of her victims. She’s a witch and vampire wrapped in one package to scare disobedient kids like my seven-year-old character, Sammy. Some children have to feel before they listen.

For my Brazilian and other Portuguese language readers, Vitor’s translation, A Bruxa Velha is now available on his blog. Enjoy.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks to Vitor Rafael Siqueira de Araújo for this unexpected present.

A happy Thanksgiving Day to all my American readers!

Trump: China not to blame for US trade deficit

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US President Donald Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping - Beijing - China - 9 November 2017

While watching BBC World News America on Thursday, November 9, 2017, I was surprised to hear our president say that he doesn’t blame China for America’s trade deficit with that country. This change of tone occurred during his recent state visit to China.

With President Xi Jinping by his side, President Trump told business leaders inside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People: “I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the sake of its citizens?” [Read the complete news report at BBC Online News.]

While still describing the relationship as “very unfair” and “one-sided,” Trump blamed past US administrations for allowing our trade deficit with China to grow. As indicated in the chart below, showing US Trade in Goods with China 2004-2016, the trade deficit with China was US$266.3 billion (2008) at the end of the Bush administration. It ballooned by 30.3 percent to US$347 billion during the Obama administration (2009-2016).

US Trade in Goods with China 2004-2016
US Trade in Goods with China 2004-2016 prepared by Rosaliene Bacchus
Data Source: US Foreign Trade Statistics

 

On November 9, according to a press release from the US Department of Commerce, America’s trade delegation signed approximately a quarter trillion dollars (US$250 billion) in deals between private US businesses and Chinese entities. The deals signed included shale gas, liquefied natural gas, and aviation projects. Among American executives present at the signing ceremony were representatives from General Motors, GE, Boeing, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, and Goldman Sachs.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross expects these deals to bring thousands of new jobs to America. “American businesses are the most innovative in the world, and, when given access, can compete with anyone,” he said. “I believe these deals can provide a solid foundation for a stronger relationship that is more free, fair, and reciprocal between the U.S. and China.”

Descriptions of each deal can be viewed HERE (pdf file). Some of these deals are only memoranda of understanding, making them non-binding agreements that may end up being just Christmas tree decorations. Time will tell which deals bear real fruit. For jobless Americans who are hurting, the sooner the better.

CAPTIONED PHOTO
US President Donald Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping
Beijing, China – November 9, 2017
Source: ABC News (Associated Press)

“If I Had My Way” – Poem by Guyanese-Canadian Poet Yvonne Sam

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Think and Work Wisely - Painting by Guyanese Artist Philip Moore

 

My Poetry Corner November 2017 features the poem “If I Had My Way” from the poetry collection, Life’s Many Faces: Fun-on-the-Run (2013), by Yvonne Sam, a Guyanese-born poet, nurse, educator, and community volunteer. For the past forty years, she lives in Canada where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing, following a thirteen-year nursing career in England. To fill a need for teachers in her community in Montreal, she later obtained a Masters in Education and a Diploma in Adult Education.

While Yvonne Sam maintains a light tone throughout her collection, she does not shy away from injecting an irreverent tone or strong moral convictions when dealing with life’s controversial issues. As a black woman and teacher, she urges “Black Youth” to get an education, to stay in school. She propels them forward in her poem:

So move on black youth let not your mind tire
Education must serve as an unquenchable fire
With passage of time it will speak and attest
Of a proud black youth and one of the best Continue reading

Conflicts of Interest? NOAA’s Nominees AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers and Dr. Neil Jacobs of Panasonic

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NASA satellite image of California wildfires 10 October 2017

 

Imagine a future scenario in Houston, Texas.

Twelve-year-old Rick arrives home, breathless. “Mom, people are evacuating. The hurricane will be worse than Harvey.”

“You sure, Rick? Your father’s boss gets PanasonicWeather Channel. It’ll just be a tropical storm by the time it reaches us.”

“My friend says it’s all over the news on AccuWeather Channel.”

“Don!” Sarah calls out to her husband, tinkering in the garage. “We’ve gotta evacuate.”

Don emerges from the garage, wiping grease from his hands. “Where did you hear that?”

“I told you we should’ve signed up for AccuWeather.” Sarah glared at her husband. “Your stupid Sports Channel is all that matters.” She turned to Rick. “Get your sister. We’re going to your aunt in Austin.”

“You’re being paranoid,” Don told his wife.

 

Such a future becomes possible when Congress approves the latest nominations to the two top positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s office of the National Weather Service (NWS) provides us with weather, water, and climate data, forecasts, and warnings vital to the protection of our lives, property, and economy. Six NWS regional offices “manage all operational and scientific meteorological, hydrologic, and oceanographic programs of the region… They monitor these services and adjust resources to provide the most effective weather and warning services possible.”

The nominee for Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans & Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA is Barry Myers, the CEO of AccuWeather. Using NOAA’s weather data and products, Barry Myers runs a profitable business of delivering them in a proprietary format attractive to its customers. In 2005, with the assistance of their State Senator Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania), AccuWeather sought to pass legislation that would reduce NOAA’s ability to distribute its weather data directly to the public.

In a statement introducing the bill, Santorum said: “It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free.”

Map of Weather Alerts across the USA and Territories

More recently in May 2016, Senator Jim Bridenstine (Oklahoma) proposed legislation that would prohibit the National Weather Service from providing any new services that the private commercial weather sector already offers or can potentially offer. At that congressional hearing, AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers joined four other industry representatives to brief Congress on the state of forecasting and technology in the commercial weather sector.

Here enters Panasonic Weather Solutions. Dr. Neil Jacobs—nominee for the second top position as Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation & Prediction and Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellite & Information Services—is their Chief Atmospheric Scientist. Like Barry Myers, Jacobs wants a greater role for the private sector in weather forecasting. In November 2015, his company signed an agreement to supply its advanced global aircraft weather data to NOAA with the aim of improving forecasts from models run by the NWS.

Testifying before the House of Science Committee in July 2017, Dr. Jacobs asserted that “a private company like Panasonic can move more quickly than NOAA in improving its models and processes, because it does not have to go through the years of quality and reliability testing that NOAA requires when implementing major model upgrades.”

While we focus on our president’s outrageous tweets and the latest natural disaster or sex abuse scandal, our Negotiator-in-Chief and his corporate-backed team creep forward with their scheme to defund our government, deregulate private industries, and privatize services of our public agencies critical to our health and safety.

To learn more, read the October 12th article “Conflicts of Interest? NOAA’s Nominees AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers and Dr. Neil Jacobs of Panasonic” by Andrew Rosenberg, director of the UCS Center for Science and Democracy and former NOAA scientist and manager.

IMAGES:

NASA satellite image of multiple wildfires raging north of San Francisco, California, October 10, 2017
Source: NOAA Climate.gov

Map of Weather Alerts across the USA & Territories
Source: NOAA National Weather Service

“Let Me Try Again” – Poem by Immigrant Salvadoran Poet Javier Zamora

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Border Wall Nogales Mexico Arizona USA

U.S. Border Wall at Nogales, Mexico

My Poetry Corner October 2017 features the poem “Let Me Try Again” by Javier Zamora, an immigrant Salvadoran poet and educator who lives in Northern California. Born in 1990 in a small fishing town in El Salvador, he was a year old when his eighteen-year-old father fled the Civil War (1980-1992). Four years later, his mother joined his father, leaving him with his grandparents. At nine years old, unaccompanied by a family member and under the charge of other undocumented immigrants, ‘Javiercito’ made the treacherous journey to reunite with his parents in the United States.

In “The Shatter of Birds,” dedicated to Abuelita (granny), Zamora recalls her pain at losing him.

Javiercito, you’re leaving me tomorrow
when our tortilla-and-milk breaths will whisper
te amo. When I’ll pray the sun won’t devour
your northbound steps. I’m giving you this conch
swallowed with this delta’s waves
and the sound of sand absorbing.

[…]

There’s no autumn here. When you mist
into tomorrow’s dawns, at the shore
of somewhere, listen to this conch.
Don’t lose me. 

Zamora’s abuelos (grandparents) warn him not tell anyone of his departure. In “Kite Flying,” his elation overrides their fears.

I’m going to see my parents.
(I’m going to see my parents!)
On the last day of school, I’ll tell
only my closest friends I’m flying
to where people drink cold milk
and put strawberries in their cereal,
I’ll eat strawberries all the time
and get so tall I’ll start playing basketball. 

In addition to letters and phone calls, Zamoro and his parents kept in touch by exchanging cassette-tapes. Listening to their tapes brought heartbreak. His poem “Cassette-tape” recreates the disjointedness of time and his trauma in crossing into Mexico without them. For two months, he lost touch with them.

To cross México we’re packed in boats
20 aboard, 18 hours straight to Oaxaca.
Throw up and gasoline keep us up. At 5 a.m.
we get to shore, we run to the trucks, cops
rob us down the road—without handcuffs,
our guide gets in their Fords and we know
it’s all been planned. Not one peso left
so we get desperate—Diosito, forgive us
for hiding in trailers. We sleep in Nogales till
our third try when finally, I meet Papá Javi.

In the featured poem, “Let Me Try Again,” Zamora relives their first failed attempt to cross the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. By then, their numbers had dwindled. In the desert, even the animals struggle to survive.

I could bore you with the sunset, the way
water tasted after so many days without it,
the trees, the breed of dogs, but I can’t
say there were forty people when we found

the ranch with the thin white man, his dogs,
and his shotgun. Until this 5 a.m., I hadn’t
or couldn’t remember there were only five,
or seven, people—

not forty. We’d separated by the palo verdes.
We meaning: an eighteen-year-old ex-gangster,
a mom with her thirteen-year-old, and me.
Four people. Not forty. The rest . . . the rest,

I don’t know. They weren’t there when
the thin white man let us drink from a hose
while pointing his shotgun. In Spanish
he told us if run away, dogs trained attack
.

In high school, after a visiting poet introduced him to the work of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Zamora found release from his traumatic memories in poetry. By the age of twenty-one, he knew he wanted to be a poet. On completing his BA in history at the University of California, Berkeley, he pursued an MFA at the New York University. A Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University soon followed.

Zamora’s first poetry collection, Unaccompanied, was published this October amid uncertainty about his fate as an alien with Temporary Protected Status which comes up for renewal in 2018. Like the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) “Dreamers,” his future rests in the hands of President Trump.

His status makes it difficult to visit his native land. “It’s traumatic to talk to those left behind,” he confesses in an essay published in Granta Online Edition, December 2016.  “It’s a burden to communicate over the phone. To write. To text. To Facebook message.”

In his poem “El Salvador,” the young poet speaks of the violence that never ended and of his longing to see his grandmother again. 

but if I don’t brush Abuelita’s hair, wash her pots and pans,
I cry. Like tonight, when I wish you made it
easier to love you, Salvador. Make it easier
to never have to risk our lives.

To read the complete featured poem and learn more about Javier Zamora, his work, and honors, go to my Poetry Corner October 2017.

What is Truth? What is Real? — katharineotto

We live in challenging times, bombarded with information from all sides. Our reality can conflict with the “truth” disseminated by our leaders: government, scientific, business, religious, and familial. Fellow blogger Katharine Otto grapples with this dilemma, opening up pathways for our own meanderings in discerning the truth.

Information. Misinformation. Disinformation. News. Fake News. Opinion. Generalization. Prediction. Propaganda. Lies. Advertising. Gossip. Second guesses. Stereotypes. Assumptions. I feel overwhelmed by the glut of demands on attention and allegiance. What to believe? What not to believe? To believe everything and nothing at the same time? To trust my own judgment or to doubt? I long […]

via What is Truth? What is Real? — katharineotto

The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival with Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers

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Atomic bomb mushroom cloud over Nagasaki - Japan

Dotard & Rocket Man
play nuclear war games
while Frankenstorms rage.

 

Bill Moyers, managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, recently sat down with 91-year-old Robert Jay Lifton, a renowned American psychiatrist and historian. They talked about his just published book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections of Mind, Hope, and Survival. Lifton borrowed the term “swerve” from Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt who used the term to describe a major historical change in human consciousness. Lifton has turned his attention to climate change, which, he says, “presents us with what may be the most demanding and unique psychological task ever required of humankind.”

I share with you some excerpts from Lifton’s responses to Moyers during the interview. Continue reading