The black curtain

July 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Soon it comes to every person, see it happen in one black curtain – Paul Pissarro, 7

Death is ever-present and life is ever-shrinking. For some, death is an obsession, for others, barely an afterthought. To most who contemplate it, the concept of eternal non-existence, of life book-ended by oblivion, is unfathomable and horrifying. We are programmed to “rage against the dying of the light.”

Death is life’s greatest motivator, for good and evil, fueling our futile quest to ‘matter’ – futile, because the people we seek to matter to are themselves reaching out to us to give them meaning. Picture two jumpers hurtling to earth, each reaching for the other, but neither with a foothold and both doomed to the same end. Some try to matter by helping others, some by hurting others, all with the desire to be remembered, to bridge an unbridgeable gap, to leave some kind of a mark, to prove that they existed.

Humans are impossibly lonely creatures, staring forlornly into time and space, without an anchor or a reference point, probing the depths of physics, philosophy, psychology, poetry, but forever bumping up against the unknowable.

My father, who I lost over a decade ago, adored Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat — this quatrain in particular:

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help–for it
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

Searching for the light behind the black curtain, we turn to religion, to faith, to drugs, to music, to love. We get a glimmer of hope with near-death and other paranormal experiences. We meditate and pray. We look to nature and art and beauty. We dream.

And sometimes we do get glimpses of the light behind the curtain. In the twilight before sleep (hypnagogic states); in moments of transcendence when our thinking brain is suspended; in vague remembrances of a home, a place of origin whose location is timeless and dimensionless; in the sudden opening — and closing — of a portal during moments of intense fear and love and pain and pleasure; in the stillness of night and nature; in strange confluences and coincidences; in the inexplicable faith that somehow, somewhere, there is an answer.

It’s amusing that science, in its quest to deconstruct and debunk, has reaffirmed the ephemerality of the physical world, painting a wonderful and mysterious picture of a universe that is merely thought and potential. Just imagine that when you look out across the horizon, everything in your sight is energy, nothing solid, and that it’s all a thought in your mind. And that you are a thought in someone else’s mind.

We see the black curtain looming and it gives us pause, as it should. Still, we have reason to believe that behind the curtain is something even more real, more awe-inspiring, more beautiful than the world we know.

Tobacco Kills: Grim Stats on Smoking

May 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

 UPDATE: “Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming

“If current trends continue, tobacco will cause up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.” – CNN

Tobacco companies sell deadly, addictive poison to the public. Consider these grim stats:

Smoking remains America’s leading cause of disease and preventable death, resulting in more than 443,000 fatalities annually. More than 8 million Americans live with a smoking-related illness or conditions.

There is enough nicotine in four or five cigarettes to kill an average adult if ingested whole. Most smokers take in only one or two milligrams of nicotine per cigarette however, with the remainder being burned off.

The clay found in cat litter is used in cigarettes as filler. This allows tobacco companies to “weigh down” their cigarettes so that they will fall into the “large cigar” category-helping the companies avoid taxes.

Ambergris, otherwise known as whale vomit is one of the hundreds of possible additives used in manufactured cigarettes.

Benzene is a known cause of acute myeloid leukemia, and cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure. Among U.S. smokers, 90 percent of benzene exposures come from cigarettes.

Radioactive lead and polonium are both present in low levels in cigarette smoke.

Hydrogen cyanide, one of the toxic byproducts present in cigarette smoke, was used as a genocidal chemical agent during World War II.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemical compounds, 11 of which are known to be Group 1 carcinogens.

The smoke from a smoldering cigarette often contains higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke than exhaled smoke does.

It’s estimated that trillions of filters, filled with toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke, make their way into our environment as discarded waste yearly.

While they may look like white cotton, cigarette filters are made of very thin fibers of a plastic called cellulose acetate. A cigarette filter can take between 18 months and 10 years to decompose.

Worldwide, approximately 10 million cigarettes are purchased a minute, 15 billion are sold each day, and upwards of 5 trillion are produced and used on an annual basis.

Kids are still picking up smoking at the alarming rate of 3,000 a day in the U.S., and 80,000 to 100,000 a day worldwide.

Approximately one quarter of the youth alive in the Western Pacific Region (East Asia and the Pacific) today will die from tobacco use.

Half of all long-term smokers will die a tobacco-related death.

Every eight seconds, a human life is lost to tobacco use somewhere in the world.

Tobacco use is responsible for five million or 12% of all deaths of adults above the age of 30 each year.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

The Pervasive Oppression of Women and Girls

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The greatest travesty of human life:

  • One out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • Femicide is the leading cause of on-the-job death for women.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • In Asia and South Asia, in addition to sex-selective abortions, millions of girls and women are killed after birth through starvation and violence, forced abortions, ‘honor’ killings, dowry murders, and witch lynchings.

And the reward: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.

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The torture of disabled children in American schools

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If this isn’t torture, I’m not sure what is:

Rose had speech and language delays. At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.

Rose got dressed and we removed her from the school. We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”

We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.

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The top ten list you shouldn’t be reading

December 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A new year’s list of travesties:

  1. It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour of every day, 300 children die from malnutrition.
  2. One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  3. Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  4. 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the global video game market is nearly $50 billion. Read more

Climate change compendium: tracking our planetary calamity [UPDATED]

November 14, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

This post is a chronological compilation of news and opinion on our ever-worsening climate calamity.

To set the stage, watch this video: 131 years of global warming in 26 seconds

Then read this essential piece explaining why the climate story is beyond anything the media has ever reported.

Yahoo News (1/31/14)

Prince Charles has called people who deny human-made climate change a “headless chicken brigade” who are ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence.

NBC News (12/13/13)

By the time today’s preschoolers are babysitting their grandkids, global sea levels are likely to be pushing 2 feet higher than they are now and on the way to topping 8 feet above current levels by the year 2200, according to a new study.

USA Today (12/5/13)

Valley Fever is one of multiple diseases experts say are spreading in part because of climate change. They include a brain-eating amoeba showing up in northern lakes that were once too cold to harbor it and several illnesses carried by ticks whose range is increasing.

Guardian (11/20/13)

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

Think Progress (11/3/13)

NASA released global temperature data showing that this September tied with 2005 for the warmest September on record.

New York Times (11/1/13)

Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.

New York Times (10/9/13)

If greenhouse emissions continue their steady escalation, temperatures across most of the earth will rise to levels with no recorded precedent by the middle of this century.

CNN (9/27/13)

Climate scientists are 95% confident — that is to say, surer than ever — that humans are responsible for at least “half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s.” …weather events that have previously been classified as “storms of the century” could become the storm of “every 20 years or less.”

TCK (9/19/13)

Sea ice cover in the Arctic has shrunk to the sixth lowest extent on record, according to figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Think Progress (8/18/13)

Every climate scientist I’ve spoken to has said we will blow past 550 ppm [carbon dioxide concentrations] if we continue to put off action. Indeed, we’re on track for well past 800 ppm. Continued inaction on climate change risks the end of modern civilization as we know it.

TIME (8/15/13)

Northeast Asia is on fire. Yesterday temperatures in Shanghai hit an all-time high of 105.4ºF (40.8ºC), the hottest day in the coastal megacity since Chinese officials began keeping records some 140 years ago — during the Qing dynasty.

Read more

Climate change is here

July 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

If this clip depicting 131 years of global warming in 26 seconds doesn’t jolt the world to action, it’s hard to imagine what will:

The Global War on Women

February 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The pervasive oppression of women and girls is humanity’s greatest travesty.

Consider these facts:

  • One out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  • Homicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • Women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14, many on their way to or from school.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

And the reward: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.

Read more

Witnessing history

January 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Every age has its historic moments.

Ours:

The 9/11/01 attacks and brutal amputation of Manhattan’s skyline
One of the most destructive tsunamis ever recorded (Indian Ocean)
One of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded (Haiti)
One of the worst environmental disasters of all time (Gulf spill)
The virtual drowning of a major U.S. city (New Orleans/Katrina)
The near-drowning of a major U.S. city (New York/Sandy)
Japan’s monster earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster
The emergence – and denial – of the greatest man-made threat to human life (climate change)
The Middle East and North Africa uprisings

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Vindicated by new polls, progressive bloggers and activists will determine President Obama’s political fate

September 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The defining conflict of the Obama presidency is not between the White House and Republicans. It’s not between the White House and the Tea Party. It’s between President Obama and the left, specifically between Obama and progressive opinion-makers and online activists.

It’s no coincidence that the angriest barbs from this White House have been directed at the netroots. And it’s no surprise that the media and political establishment – along with a vitriolic cadre of Obama supporters – are mortified by the principled left, simultaneously dismissing them as bit players and accusing them of being ingrates who are damaging Obama’s reelection prospects (hint: you can’t be both).

I’ve repeated a version of this thesis for years: a handful of influential progressive opinion-makers are canaries in the coal mine, propounding and presaging views and arguments later adopted by rank and file Democrats.

It’s been that way since the dawn of the blogosphere and has only been magnified with Twitter and other online platforms. Just as the netroots laid the groundwork for the eventual downfall of the Bush presidency, the sharp, insistent, principled critiques of President Obama emanating from the left on civil liberties, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, the environment, secrecy, executive power, the economy, war, among other issues, have had a profoundly outsized effect on perceptions of this president.

Recent polls (including Gallup, which shows a double-digit decline among liberals) indicate significant erosion of support for Obama among groups who propelled him to victory in 2008, reinforcing the idea that reality is catching up with netroots criticism. This crumbling of support is typically attributed by pundits to the poor economy, but the problem is more complicated: it’s the poor economy coupled with the sense (fair or unfair) that Barack Obama has no convictions, no moral center, nothing for which he will take an unwavering stand.

That perception of a lack of  convictions can’t be attributed solely to attacks from the right, since they can be discounted as partisan. It’s when the left makes that argument that conventional wisdom congeals.

Read more

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