Friday, September 30, 2011

Facebook Makes It Easier than Ever to Eavesdrop

InfoWorld September 21, 2011

The new mini stream feature makes it simple to see what people are saying, even when they might not realize you're listening

By Ted Samson

Not content to let Google+ hog the spotlight the day of its grand opening, Facebook caught many users off-guard last night as it rolled out a host of changes without much in the way or warning or direction. What's evident is that Facebook and Google+ are pulling out all stops to win over social networkers of the world, though at least one of the changes to Facebook may have users scrambling to alter their privacy settings and friends lists.

The timing of Facebook's move was not necessarily too surprising: Zuckerberg and company correctly view Google+ as a threat to their platform's popularity, judging by the quantity and types of changes it has made since its rival's platform was born. What better way to retain attention on the day of Google+'s coming-of-age celebration than by setting off noisy fireworks outside?

What's concerning, though, is the nature of some of the changes that Facebook has made to counter Google+ in this matchup. At least one feature is almost certainly going to generate controversy: A new mini feed, combined with Facebook's new Subscription options, makes it disturbingly easy to effectively eavesdrop on fellow Facebook friends -- that is, to peer in on exchanges between your Facebook friends, both with mutual pals and people who are complete strangers to you. This should be of particular concern for all the Facebook users who use the site both to interact with real-life friends on a personal level, as well as family members, coworkers, and colleagues.

The new mini feed is, in and of itself, pretty cool and potentially useful. It appears in a small box to the right of your main stream and provides updates on actions your Facebook connections have taken that you might have missed. You can scroll through the mini feed and click on a notification, which gives you the ability to view the associated interaction more closely without having to abandon the page you're on.

This can be handy in that if can let you easily see what comments your connections have made about mutual friends' photos, links, and musings. You might also see that a mutual friend "likes" a band or celebrity you're into.

The troubling part is that with Facebook's new subscription features, you can subscribe to users' Likes and comments. By their nature, Likes and particularly comments can be fairly personal. They used to be relatively shrouded by tenuous privacy barriers, but now, they're extremely easy to follow.
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So who is on our side? Who wants to maintain privacy?

"From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990 - well before the Internet was on most people's radar - and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

HIV Vaccine Passes First Round of Tests

The first human trial has been completed in Spain of a new vaccine against HIV-B (the most common form of HIV in Europe). The vaccine has been successful in 90 percent of those volunteers, all of whom were free of HIV during Phase I testing.

The team leader is Dr. Mariano Esteban of the Spanish National Research Council’s Biotechnology National Center, who has been working on this approach since 1999. Dr. Esteban’s team inserted the HIV genes Gag, Pol Nef and Env in the genetic sequence of Modified Ankara Vaccinia. The resulting product was used o mice and monkey, where it was a complete success.

An attenuated virus, called the MVA-B, itself a version of the Modified Ankara Vaccinia, is used. This same virus was used before to eradicate smallpox and forms the basis of other vaccines. For the first human tests, 30 HIV-free volunteers were involved. Six were given a placebo and showed no effect. Ninety percent of those treated with the altered MVA-B showed a very strong immunological response to the HIV virus, and 85% kept that reaction for at least one year. There were no significant secondary effects in any of the patients.

Dr. Esteban notes that it is still too soon to know if the immune response to the vaccine would be strong enough to act against an actual HIV infection. The next test will involve those who are HIV-positive, to see if MVA-B is effective in practice. Much additional testing will be done before any vaccine is offered on a large scale.

Summarized from:

further details available with references at:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thousands of Surface to Air Missiles Missing in Libya

From ABC News:

The White House stated on September 27 that it is expanding a program to secure and destroy the large stockpile of surface-to-air (SAM) missiles in Libya. Currently there is a single State Department official on the ground in Libya working with five contractors devoted to "explosive ordinance disposal." All six of these persons are working with the Transitional National Council (Libya’s provisional government) to find the looted missiles, reporters were told by White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Carney noted that additional personnel were going to be deployed and that the State Department and UN would work with the TNC on the issue of these SAM weapons.

Unnamed American officials and security experts told ABC News that thousands of heat-seeking missiles could be gathered by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, creating a threat to commercial airliners. Senator Barbara Boxer of California called it "our worst nightmare."

It was estimated that Libya had about 20,000 portable SAM devices before the uprising in February. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro said there is no clear picture of how many missiles they are attempting to track down. "We’re making great progress…" he noted.

The SAM missiles are four to six feet long and made in Russia. Some weigh just 55 pounds with launcher. They function by locking on heat, such as that generated by the engines of aircraft, can be fired from a vehicle or from a human shoulder, and are accurate at a range of over two miles.

"Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch first warned about the problem after a trip to Libya six months ago," ABC reports. "He took pictures of pickup truckloads of the missiles being carted off during another trip just a few weeks ago."

Bouckaert continues, "I myself could have removed several hundred if I wanted to, and people can literally drive up with pickup trucks or even 18 wheelers and take away whatever they want. Every time I arrive at one of these weapons facilities, the first thing we notice going missing is the surface-to-air missiles."

Bouckaert is concerted that dangerous groups in the region could end up with these weapons. Al Qaeda is known to be active in Libya. Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism advisor who now is a consultant with ABC thinks the probability of al Qaeda smuggling stinger-like missiles out of Libya is "probably pretty high."

Tommy Victor, spokesman for the National Security Council, told ABC that the US has been involved, since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, in supporting the efforts of allies and partners to secure all conventional weapons stockpiles.

The State Department calculates that since the 1970s more than 40 civilian planes around the world have been hit by surface-to-air missiles. Military planes have some protection against such SAM devices, and Senator Boxer advocates ensuring "that wide-bodied planes all have this protection." Boxer first spoke to ABC News about the SAM threat back in 2006. The protective method Boxer endorses costs about $1 million per plane and directs a laser beam into the incoming missile. Boxer thinks this approach may "be more practical than trying to round up all the missing Libyan missiles."

ABC reports that when the Afghan mujahideen were fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, the CIA supplied 1,000 Stinger SAM devices, which were very effective against Soviet aircraft. But after the Soviets left, the CIA spent millions trying to buy back the remaining missiles. Bouckaert says the price offered was $100,000 for each Stinger. He said, "In Libya we’re talking about something on the order of 20,000 surface-to-air missiles. This is one of the greatest stockpiles of these weapons that has ever gone on the loose."

-- Summarized from an ABC News report available at:
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Footnote by the blog author:

Remember how we got into this?!

We decided we didn’t need a war powers resolution nor declaration of war.  NATO would handle it.  The American people didn’t want our troops and aviators under foreign control, so this operation was given over to a Canadian general.  It wasn’t a war, the White House told us, and it didn’t reach the level of "kinetic" activity that defines a war.

Even though we were heavily involved in the Libyan war effort, we weren’t in control, we didn’t put our troops around the stockpiles that were captured, and now millions of civilians who fly in the world are endangered for years because of these rogue devices.

The present administration in the White House is to blame for this manufactured crisis of rogue missiles.  In under-prosecuting a strategically unnecessary war, the USA has unleashed a demon upon uninvolved civilians.

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Follow-on news: for months Iran has been gathering these SAMs and transporting them to neighboring Sudan:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Major Technological Changes in the Near Future

The blog author agrees with the article below in its selectioin of important changes coming from the advance of technology in the next few decades:

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10 Profound Innovations Ahead

By Jeremy Hsu
TechNewsDaily 29 January 2010
Today's world looks increasingly like the future. Robots work factory assembly lines and fight alongside human warriors on the battlefield, while tiny computers assist in everything from driving cars to flying airplanes. Surgeons use the latest technological tools to accomplish incredible feats, and researchers push the frontiers of medicine with bioengineering. Science fiction stories about cloning and resurrecting extinct animals look increasingly like relevant cautionary tales.

But even the best of science and technology has yet to solve climate change and famine, or conquer disease. More and more people live on a planet with shrinking resources, which leads to political strife and conflict. Here, we examine some of the hottest areas where researchers hope to forge a better tomorrow.

10 Read My MindTrue mind-reading devices remain in the realm of science fiction, and lie detectors rely on indirect cues to catch fibbers. Still, brain scans have allowed neuroscientists to predict what people will do during specific task experiments, and even to observe when a person will make a mistake up to half a minute beforehand. Another technique has used near-infrared light to figure out simple preferences based on brain activity.
These feats rely on analyzing brain patterns that occur during specific actions, rather than truly cracking the brain's neural code, but they still have scientists and legal experts debating mind-privacy issues. Perhaps in the near future, they'll just use Twitter for a meeting of minds.

9 Around the World in 90 MinutesPhileas Fogg took 80 days to go around the world, but travelers may eventually hop halfway around the globe in less than an hour. The U.S. Air Force and Brazil are developing a Lightcraft concept that could someday ride laser-produced explosions into the sky, and deliver passengers or cargo around the world. Barring that wild ride, space planes that could take off and land like regular aircraft have begun undergoing serious development in the U.K. and United States, and some could fly within the next few years.

8 A Perfect Artificial LimbU.S. veterans and other prosthetic users may soon wield artificial hands, arms and legs as easily as they control their natural limbs. The most advanced prostheses tend to use "smart" microprocessors that act as tiny brains to anticipate how a user will walk or move an arm. But both monkeys and humans have already used brain signals alone to control robotic arms and digital applications, which paves the way for new brain interfaces with artificial limbs. Such technology could then retrofit the latest prostheses to give users ultimate control over that "Luke" Skywalker arm.

7 Know It AllPeople could eventually hold a hitchhiker's guide to everything that they see. Pick up a carton of OJ in the supermarket, and nutritional comparisons about that brand would appear. Flip through a new bestseller in the bookstore, and reader reviews might flash on the pages. MIT has already unveiled a prototype of such a technology in 2009, which combines a webcam, a projector and a smart phone to link the Internet's vast array of information with the real world. Such wearable devices would work together with embedded "smart" systems and tags to create an augmented reality, where staring at a street might bring up GPS coordinates and a local map. In the 21st century, information reigns supreme.

6 Regenerate the BodyNo one has regenerative powers just yet, but patients can expect a growing array of therapies to repair or entirely replace organs in the human body. A British team grew the world's first artificial liver from umbilical cord stem cells in 2006, and other researchers have since found that even the heart may harbor stem cells capable of regenerating the organ. Adult stem cells have also helped restore eyesight using a patient's own healthy eye stem cells in an Australian study, and Chinese scientists demonstrated the potential of adult stem cells by creating live mice from reprogrammed skin cells. The future of individually-tailored organs and therapies may soon arrive.

5 Feed the WorldSolving world hunger represents an incredibly difficult task, given that the political situations and economics of each region bring their own complications. Nonetheless, scientists have moved to protect the important crops that feed most of the world. Researchers continue to develop different varieties of wheat, corn and rice that have greater yields and are more resistant to temperature changes, drought conditions and even insects. New information technologies can keep farmers updated on the condition of their crops and agricultural practices which preserve nutrient-rich soil in the long run. Even lab grown meat could help satiate the growing worldwide demand, if people can get over the ick factor. And if all else fails, scientists have stored thousands of seeds in a doomsday vault to safeguard the future of food.

4 Eliminate WasteNew technologies look to turn all our trash into reusable materials. Chicken feathers and other agricultural castoffs could become the future of plastics. Biodegradable plastics that dissolve harmlessly in seawater might actually encourage people to throw their garbage into the ocean. Food scraps, sewage and other waste has already begun to fuel some power plants and generators for the U.S. Army and civilians alike. Achieving 100 percent sustainability may still sound daunting, but the efforts do add up. MIT researchers have even begun a Trash Track project to gauge the costs and patterns of waste disposal in New York, Seattle and London, in hopes of helping more people think green.

3 Global Climate ControlForget modest goals like trying to halt Mother Nature from raining on the Olympics. Geoengineering plans befitting Bond villains have become hot topics for the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and the White House science advisor. Ideas include lofting reflective particles up into the atmosphere to divert sunlight and cool the planet, or seeding the oceans with iron to encourage carbon-gobbling algae blooms. Even billionaire Bill Gates joined a patent filing on an idea to slow or stop hurricanes, by deploying a fleet of ships to churn the ocean and cool the warm surface water that fuels such storms. Climate control technologies have almost become reality, which raises the question of whether scientists and policymakers want to risk the side effects of such schemes.

2 Harness the Sun's Fiery Furnace
Nuclear fusion has kept the sun shining for billions of years. Now scientists want to recreate that power on Earth and finally tap into fusion's unbeatable energy efficiency. Giant lasers at the National Ignition Facility could help along that breakthrough by focusing their power on a tiny hydrogen fuel pellet, and ideally release more energy than what the lasers require. Still more alternatives involve the magnetic confinement of high-temperature plasma involved in fusion, or even a rebranded form of cold fusion. For now, LiveScience readers have already voted on their best bets for alternative energies.

1 Hack the BrainMuch of the human brain remains a mystery embedded in billions of neurons. Now researchers behind the Blue Brain Project have announced plans to create a functioning, artificial human brain within the next decade. They have already modeled part of an artificial rat brain using the IBM supercomputer Blue Gene, and said that the simulated brain cells have even begun self-organizing without human intervention. Success in reverse-engineering the brain could lead to a model for biomedical testing, as well as a better understanding of human consciousness. The researchers only caution that it's no artificial intelligence ... at least, not yet.

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Development: Much Faster 5G Wireless

5G Research Nears Breakthrough in Speed
By TechNewsDaily Staff
08 September 2011

A new technology that allows devices to send and receive data at the same time could debut in a few years as the foundation for future 5G networks, its developers say.

Currently in development at Houston's Rice University, the "full duplex" wireless technology would allow wireless devices such as cell phones and tablets to both "talk" and "listen" to wireless cell towers on the same frequency – something not possible with today's 3G and 4G technology.

"Our solution requires minimal new hardware, both for mobile devices and for networks, which is why we've attracted the attention of just about every wireless company in the world," said Ashutosh Sabharwal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice.

"I expect people may start seeing this when carriers upgrade to 4.5G or 5G networks in just a few years."
Sabharwal and his team have been developing full duplex transmission since 2010, and this summer the group set new performance records with a real-time demo of the technology that produced signal quality at least 10 times better than any past results.

Full duplex technology could easily be implemented into current devices by tweaking current hardware.
"Device makers love this because real estate inside mobile devices is at a premium," Sabharwal said.

Full duplex wireless was long thought impossible, Sabharwal said. To understand why, imagine two people standing far apart inside an otherwise empty arena. If both people shouted at the same time, neither would hear what the other was saying.

The easy solution is to have only one person speak at a time, and that's what happens on two-way radios. Cell phones achieve two-way communication by using two different frequencies to send and listen.

Rice's team overcame the full duplex hurdle by employing an extra antenna and some computing tricks. In the shouting analogy, the result is that the shouter cannot hear himself, and therefore hears only the other person.

"We send two signals such that they cancel each other at the receiving antenna -- the device ears," Sabharwal said. "The canceling effect is purely local, so the other node can still hear what we're sending."

Sabharwal says his team is already working on the next phase of the technology, called asynchronous full duplex – that is, one wireless node can start receiving a signal while it's transmitting.

Asynchronous transmission would be important for carriers wishing to maximize traffic on their networks.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2035 World Energy Use Projections

Steve Hargreaves of CNN/Money has reviewed the Energy Information Administration’s projects for energy use in 2035. Those projections show that at that time, the following fuels will be in use worldwide:

Nuclear 7%
Renewables 14%
Natural Gas 23%
Coal 27%
Oil 29%

Global energy use overall is expected to be 53% higher than it is today, particularly because of growth expected in China and India in energy consumption. This exceeds last year’s prediction of an increase of 49%. Developing nations currently use slightly more energy than the developed countries, according to the Energy Information Administration; in 2035, the energy use in the developing countries is expected to double. The report expects strong capital inflows and high commodity prices to fuel the rapid rise of energy consumption in the developing world.

The agency expects renewable sources to grow, with most of that growth coming from wind and hydropower. Another projection shows nuclear energy going from 5% to 7%, with nearly all that increase due to plants planned for China. The development of shale gas drilling techniques will increase the total amount used by natural gas in 2035.

Summarized from:

The full report from the Energy Information Administration [part of the US Department of Energy] is available at:
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Comments by the blog author on the full report

The full report shows some interesting trends. In absolute kilowatts, the biggest increase will be in the use of natural gas, although conventional gas extraction will decrease—fracking will more than make up the difference.

By a small margin, Europe will remain the biggest producer and user of energy in 2035, even with North and South American use projections combined to a single figure.

Coal will fare well in the years leading to 2035, secure in second place and moving closer to the leading source, liquid fuels.

Liquid fuel consumption includes the sectors of electrical power production, buildings, industrial use and transportation. Transportation will remain the dominant use of liquid fuels and become slightly stronger as a percentage of increased liquid fuel use in 2035.

There will be a phenomenal increase in the production of natural gas from unconventional sources within the United States in 2035. Unconventional production in Canada and China will also boom.

The use of coal in Asia outside developed OECD countries (such as Japan) will skyrocket, though coal use in the OECD and the rest of the world will remain flat compared to 2008.

Worldwide, coal will remain the biggest single energy source for electricity production. Natural gas will remain the second biggest fuel source for electricity.

Renewables will play a part of worldwide energy in 2035, but remain a small fraction of total energy production.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Facebook's Nightmarish New Service

Farhad Manjoo, the technology editor at Slate, has a spooky article about new Facebook technology. Apparently an application is coming through which, once you agree, you create a personal file that lists and shares every site you visit.

So people can come and get to know you better through what you’re surfing. This is the notion of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, which will make the Facebook of the future more all-encompassing in a manner that reveals more and more about its users.

It’s a terrible idea, and Manjoo is right to question it in his Slate article (link: )

Who needs to know every boring little link that you visit? Who cares? Who can peruse such a list and avoid making inferences? What if your surfing involves skippy, serendipitous changes and queries that do not follow an easily understood methodology?

The creative surfer is going to be labeled as "crazy" by some of his snoopier Facebook "Friends" for demonstrating a superficially senseless manner of surfing.

The only winners in this application are the gossips. This universal sharing is a terrible idea. Don’t select it once Facebook starts nagging you about it! It’s such a bad idea that I begin to pine for an alternative to Facebook itself.

Facebook is a cloud getting bigger and darker. I sense a weather change ahead.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good Science: Retesting for Faster Than Light Neutrinos

Yesterday's post dealt with neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light.   Today we have challenges to the experiment, particularly questions about the accuracy with which the speed of the neutrinos was measured.

This is good science.   I speak here of both the experiment at CERN and the questions about the accuracy of the measurement (below).

In contrast, I offer the blog reader BAD SCIENCE, exemplified by the slowly fading "global warming" fad.  I have listed three profound criticisms of global warming in the companion "Quiddity" blog post #104 "Liberals -- Faith in Global Warming" on Decemnber 15, 2010.  The bad science of  "global warming" should be compared to the good science of yesterday's and today's Quiddity postings.

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More details on the "faster than

the speed of light" neutrinos

By John Timmer, Ars Technica, September 23, 2011 

Last night, in response to a worldwide surge in interest, the OPERA experiment released a paper that describes the experiments that appear to show neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. And today, CERN broadcast a live seminar in which one of the work's authors described the content of the paper. Both of those emphasized the point of our initial coverage: figuring out whether anything is traveling beyond the speed of light requires incredibly accurate measurements of time and distance, and the OPERA team has made an extensive effort to make its work as accurate as possible.

As a spokesperson for the MINOS neutrino experiment told Ars yesterday, there are three potential sources of error in the timing measurements: distance errors, time-of-flight errors, and errors in the timing of neutrino production. The vast majority of both the paper and the lecture were dedicated to discussing how these errors were reduced (the actual detection of the neutrinos was only a small portion of the paper).

Neutrinos are produced using a proton beam from one of the accelerators that feeds them into the LHC. The protons hit a fixed target and produce unstable particles that decay, releasing a neutrino. The protons move close to, but not at the speed of light, as do the unstable pions; both of these effects were accounted for. The timing of the protons and structure of the two bunches of them used in these experiments is not even, either, so the researchers created a profile of the proton bunch. They also compensated for the timing of the kicker magnet that pushes the bunch out of the accelerator and added detectors that registered them passing through the hardware to get a clearer sense of their timing.

Similar work went into the detector side, where the time between an actual neutrino event and the signal propagating through the hardware and to a field programmable gate array (FPGA) where it was processed was estimated at about 50ns (the neutrinos only arrived 60ns early, so that 50ns is a substantial fraction of the total). But the error in their estimate was only ±2.3ns, as measured by shining a picosecond UV laser on the detector.

Distance travelled created its own problems. The positions of the hardware were measured via GPS, which normally doesn't provide the sort of precision needed for this work. But the labs did multiple samples of the GPS signals, threw out bad ones, compensated for the effect of the Earth's iononsphere, and more. Then, just to check their work, they had a commercial company come in and perform an independent analysis. The end result was a measurement sensitive enough to register both the steady change due to continental drift, as well as a 7cm jump triggered by an earthquake.

Then, the timing of all the events had to be synchronized. At each site, the group put a cesium-based atomic clock, and synchronized it with the GPS signal. Then, they sent a portable atomic clock between the facilities to check. They then ran photons through a fiber optic cable between them, just to make sure.

The end result is that the OPERA team doesn't see any obvious problems in its measurements. All of the errors, when added up, shouldn't be able to account for anything close to the 60ns gap between the neutrinos' arrival and the speed of light. The difference between their speed and that of light is very statistically significant, and the neutrino data itself looks excellent. The team has recorded over 16,000 events now, and the profile of events over time very closely matches the structure of the proton bunches that created them.

But that doesn't mean that this presentation is the last word on the topic. There are a lot of potential sources of error they know about—the paper's table lists a dozen of them. Small errors in each of these could add up to something more significant than their total error. Then there are the classic unknown unknowns. The authors have tried to think of everything, but it's not clear that they can.

The audience at the seminar was already thinking of other sources. For example, GPS signals don't actually penetrate down to the where any of the hardware is, meaning that this system has to track the hardware's motion a bit indirectly. This led one audience member to suggest "if this is a true measurement, drill a bloody hole." The speaker pointed out that commercial drilling equipment isn't accurate enough to go straight from the surface to the detectors, which are kept that deep to filter out most cosmic rays —in short, the solution would create another error.

The other reason that many are voicing skepticism are past measurements of neutrino speeds obtained from supernovae. Since these are so incredibly distant, the small signal seen here would be huge—the neutrinos should arrive roughly four years ahead of the photons. Other experiments on Earth also suggested insignificant differences. One possible explanation for this is the energy of the neutrinos, since OPERA uses much higher energy than the other sources. But the paper indicates that's not likely to be the case, since the authors saw the same signal with both 10 and 40GeV neutrinos.

In the meantime, the physics community will be looking through the paper, trying to spot unaccounted for sources of error. There are two other similar neutrino detectors in use—T2K and MINOS—and they'll undoubtedly be looking into working out the timing of their hardware with the same sort of thoroughness OPERA has.

The theorists, however, will undoubtedly be having a field day. It will be a while before
anyone has the chance to test these results independently, giving theorists a chance to try to reconcile fast neutrinos with the rest of physics until then.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Neutrinos Tracked Travelling Faster than Light

The speed of light is 186,262 miles per second. According to physics, nothing can travel faster, or, to accept some revisions to this statement, the speed of light is the absolute speed limit at which information can travel.

Modern Einsteinian physics states that it takes an infinite amount of energy to make any particle travel faster than 186,262 miles per second, the speed of light in a vacuum.

A problem has developed with this theory. Back in 2007, scientists at the Fermi laboratory in Chicago demonstrated particles that travel faster than light; however, the margin of error for the experiments and timing of the data were large enough to place doubts on those findings.

Now, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland have clocked the travel of neutrinos over a distance of 454 miles at a speed that is 60 nanoseconds faster than light. That’s not supposed to happen. The margin of error for the equipment is merely 10 nanoseconds.

There is a worldwide scramble of scientists attempting to duplicate these faster-than-light findings. The Fermi facility near Chicago and the T2K facility in Japan may be best equipped to duplicate the test conducted by CERN. Confirmation of this faster particle speed would shake the foundations of modern physics.

Much more is available at:;_ylc=X3oDMTNsZjNjNnFmBF9TAzEzNjk3MDUxBGFjdANtYWlsX2NiBGN0A2EEaW50bAN1cwRsYW5nA2VuLVVTBHBrZwMyYmVkZDAxZi00OTJlLTNlZjctOGEwNi04YTVhZmU2NzFiMDUEc2VjA21pdF9zaGFyZQRzbGsDbWFpbAR0ZXN0Aw--;_ylv=3

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Enzyme Structure Found Through Computer Game

Online Gamers Crack AIDS Enzyme Puzzle
September 18, 2011 -- AFP

Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.

The exploit is published on Sunday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, where -- exceptionally in scientific publishing -- both gamers and researchers are honoured as co-authors.
Their target was a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses, a family that includes HIV.

Figuring out the structure of proteins is vital for understanding the causes of many diseases and developing drugs to block them.

But a microscope gives only a flat image of what to the outsider looks like a plate of one-dimensional scrunched-up spaghetti. Pharmacologists, though, need a 3-D picture that "unfolds" the molecule and rotates it in order to reveal potential targets for drugs.

This is where Foldit comes in.

Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington, it is a fun-for-purpose video game in which gamers, divided into competing groups, compete to unfold chains of amino acids -- the building blocks of proteins -- using a set of online tools.

To the astonishment of the scientists, the gamers produced an accurate model of the enzyme in just three weeks.

Cracking the enzyme "provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs," says the study, referring to the lifeline medication against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

It is believed to be the first time that gamers have resolved a long-standing scientific problem.

"We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed," Firas Khatib of the university's biochemistry lab said in a press release.

"The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems."

One of Foldit's creators, Seth Cooper, explained why gamers had succeeded where computers had failed.
"People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," he said.

"Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week's paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Leaderless United States of America

"Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn't pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it. It is wrong that in the United States of America a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million."

-- Barack Obama, September 19, 2011

He also said, "Middle-class families shouldn't pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That's pretty straightforward. It's hard to argue against that."

So a new tax proposal has been made – eliminate the deficit over the next ten years by reducing expenses by $1.5 trillion and by raising taxes by $1.5 trillion. These tax increases are supposed to be entirely upon the wealthy, so that they pay their fair share. This requires overhauling the federal tax code.

USA Today ran an AP article on this posture today. It was written by Stephen Ohlemacher and is available online at

This article reveals that:
  • The 10% of households with highest incomes pay 50% of taxes and 70% of federal taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  • The IRS receives 237,000 returns with income above $1 million. In 2009, 1,470 of these millionaires’ returns showed no tax (less than one percent of the returns of the very wealthy).
  • Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank, estimates that those with income above $1 million per year pay an average of 29.1% of their income in taxes
  • Households with $50,000 to $75,000 pay an average of 15% of their income in taxes. Households with lower income pay a lower percentage of income tax.
  • The Tax Policy Center estimates that 46% of households pay no federal income tax at all, most of these being low-income and middle-income households. Such families are still paying social security and Medicare payroll taxes, though.

This news article was used on Fox television news this evening to explain that yes, the rich really do pay more taxes, and, yes they pay a higher percentage than do middle class Americans. Fox Business News anchor Stewart Verney noted that Buffett’s claim about paying less tax than his secretary is disingenuous. If tax rates are raised on the wealthy, Verney speculates, then more wealthy Americans will use insurance to transfer their wealth and avoid taxes; Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway controls a large insurance company that would profit from such changes to the tax law.

A progressive site on the internet also erupted with a series of complaints about the Associated Press article linked above, shouting that it was slanted and misinterpreted the proposal from the White House.

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The blog author is a retired certified public accountant and an expert on federal taxation. The only significant mistake in the AP article was oversimplification. But that itself was a major error.

What the White House is purporting to do is propose a method of ending the deficit while growing jobs and reducing unemployment. What the White House isn’t saying, what President Obama has never said, and what the press isn’t telling you is a simple, central fact:

The deficit has exploded to $1.4 trillion a year (or higher) mostly because, under a steady and nearly unchanging tax law, federal tax receipts have collapsed.
The problem isn’t that the rich are dancing away without paying taxes. The few (about 1,470) millionaires who paid no taxes were almost certainly taking advantage of rare tax code features associated with estate planning that can’t be used every year. Those 1,470 returns can’t be squeezed for another $1,500,000,000,000 between now and 2022.

The problem is that, nationwide, businesses, professions, investors and corporations are making a lot less money and paying a lot less in taxes.

The proof that I’m right is that, under such circumstances, they aren’t hiring anyone unless they absolutely have to, which is the heart of the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate. Long term unemployment is higher than any rate in the 60 years that this statistic has been calculated.

What Obama is purporting to do is to "catch a falling knife." The rich are making less money and paying less taxes, so let’s increase their tax rate! Further, let’s revise the tax code to soak them! I promise you that ain’t gonna work. No one reading this blog knows the federal tax code as well as I do. It stinks. It’s a mess. It is a swamp of special interest provisions. It hasn’t had major changes since 1993, when taxes were, for the most part, cut. To spike the maximum tax rate is to invite the rich to cheat on their taxes… which… is… exactly what happens in the countries where public debt (now $14.8 trillion in the USA) exceeds gross domestic product (now $14.6 trillion in the USA). By the way, this is why Standard and Poor’s downgraded US government debt.  That S&P downgrade occurred the very day federal debt exceeded the nation's gross domestic product.  So, S&P is now being investigated by the Justice Department for making a decision based on facts.

Part of our needlessly complicated tax code is an existing provision that soaks the upper middle class and the rich. It is called "alternative minimum tax." At a certain level of income – not a lot! – just a few hundred thousand, less than most medical specialist MDs make – the IRS 1040 gets thrown away, deductions get thrown away, and a separate form with separate instructions that disallow most deductions has to be filled out. There is a higher, essentially flat minimum tax associated with this form. We’re already soaking the rich and stripping them of loopholes.

"We are not accountants," Obama has haughtily stated. Indeed. And his tax plan is being proposed knowing that it won’t get passed. It’s a posture for running in 2012. It’s aimed at independent voters, who are unlikely to buy it, and at the "supercommittee" wrangling over the deficit in Congress, who will probably respond with separate partisan postures. So the huge problem of falling tax revenue continues to remain entirely unaddressed.

The present White House is fiscally incompetent. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Music and Criticism #3 Uneasy Listening

The post of two days ago, Music and Criticism #1 "Become a Music Snob in Five Easy Steps," may have been written by Ira Brooker in fun, but it outlines a serious approach to music – illogical but seriously so.

It is not enough to defend Phil Spector stoutly. It is not enough to point out that the methodology of the snob is wrong. It is almost enough to infer that to "Become a Music Snob in Five Easy Steps" is itself a joke, a parody of musical culture vultures.

Joke or not, there’s an entire solar system of cognitive bias involved. The companion blog ("Quiddity") discusses the errors in musical analysis and music business management (especially symphony orchestras) in Quiddity blog entries 5 through 17. Entries 14 and 15 relate specifically to the situation we are dealing with in the case of the apprentice music snob.

Furthermore, music snobs actually exist; in fact they are endemic to rock, punk, rap and "serious" music.

The American Symphony League insists that host personnel turn the Muzak off at every hotel where it holds its conventions. During the League’s Fiftieth annual get-together, at the Washington Hilton, one official petulantly explained to the St. Petersburg Times, "We want to be sensitized to music, not desensitized to music."
-- Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music, p. 5

This represents an heroic level of institutional snobbery. It should be pointed out, here, that Muzak has been around for over 70 years. The days of special Muzak-recorded versions of music without any bass or volume are long gone. Muzak as heard today represents actual recordings of actual artists, the sort of easy listening music that can be purchased by the consumer.

There is an entire music market out there that the American Symphony League doesn’t want to hear! The argument isn’t that it is a synthetic product of other genres, mixed together because it sells (a sound line of reasoning for opponents of, say, country music), but that that Muzak’s selection desensitize music professionals to music.

And this isn’t all of the hatred directed against elevator music:

Heavy metalist Ted Nugent hates Muzak so much that he once made a $10 million bid to buy the company – just for the pleasure of erasing the tapes. A man who has taken rock music to its most aggressive extremes, Nugent was savvy to reinforce his rowdy image by using Muzak as a scapegoat for all things uncool, unrebellious and (worst of all) unloud.
-- Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music, p. 203
This isn’t all. The easy listening symphonic group 101 Strings cobbled together a collection of songs they termed Backbeat Symphony. This was a lush, easy-listening rendition of 50s jazz and doo-wop, according to Lanza. "The entire Backbeat Symphony album is, in essence, a prototype of most subsequent easy-listening endeavors, which have fused elements of rock, pop, jazz and long-hair," Lanza writes.
Lanza notes that elevator music and rock "…were developing a backroom affinity. Elvis Presley eagerly mugged it up at a photo-op with Liberace. The "King" would eventually embrace some aspects of Mantovani’s "gush of lush," using a chorus and full-string orchestra for songs like "Suspicious Minds."

So we can easily and correctly imagine that there was a fight going on backstage in the music business when Phil Spector added strings and chorus to "The Long and Winding Road."

There is no end to this quarrel! A respectable and knowledgeable supporter of Mantovani wrote a scathing review of Elevator Music for because of inaccuracies about Mantovani – which is a little overblown, because the book isn’t about any one particular easy listening master.

Les Baxter, a giant of American easy listening music in the 1950s, was still alive when Elevator Music was published in 1994. His comment on the back cover: "Lanza’s book is the most informed and insightful of the writing on mood music I have read so far. A must!"

I agree. Lanza offers a compelling and fascinating history of what has come to be called elevator music. It’s the capitalistic answer to a long-asked poetic prayer of the west – a Greek chorus for everyone, Gregorian chant for modern life, a mood and a song all the time. It’s living real-time in the middle of your own soundtrack.

It’s a mistake to wall oneself off and pretend it isn’t there. For example, it may be a mistake to takes sides between the 1970 Let It Be album and 2003’s Let It Be – Naked.

My own view is that easy listening music is a peculiar and perhaps necessary blessing. It’s a monastery, walled off from the hideous academic music of chaos and discordance. It’s a citadel offering ritual prayer to melody and thus directly to the nine Muses. It’s also a sanctuary of talent. The index of Lanza’s Elevator Music is an honor roll of many of the musicians I personally have responded to – Nat "King" Cole, Carmen Cavallaro, Peter Nero, Angelo Badalamenti [Lanza’s summary of Badalamenti’s soundtracks for David Lynch is ingenious – a must-read], John Barry, Percy Faith, Morton Gould, Bobby Hackett, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Henry Mancini, Sergio Mendes, Jim Morrison, Simon and Garfunkel, Max Steiner, Teddy Wilson, Hugo Winterhalter, and Victor Young.

Personally, put on an easy listening station and I will only truly enjoy about one song in 15 and feel uplifted by about one song in 30. But, one time out of thirty, my heart is lifted. At that moment, as lyricist Johnny Mercer once wrote, "And the angels sing."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Phil Spector producing "Let It Be" #2

Yesterday’s blog featured a snarky reviewer who said this of the production of the Beatles’ "Let It Be" album:

"Except in extreme cases, like Phil Spector saccharine-coating The Beatles’ Let it Be, most music fans can’t tell one producer’s work from another’s"
-- Ira Brooker
There are several things wrong with this peevish, adolescent swipe at Phil Spector.

1. It was never in the cards for George Martin to do the production and studio work for this album by himself. McCartney was also interested in retaining Glyn Johns; this duplication of management was never settled in any sense. By the middle of 1969, a draft of this album was completed by Glyn Johns (entitled "Get Back"), but the Beatles disliked it. They came up with a better idea. Capture the spirit of creativity itself by doing all the album sessions over on a soundstage with everything in the sessions, everything, filmed. The group began rehearsals filmed (and taped in monophonic sound) at Twickenham Studios on January 2, 1969. Hundreds of songs were played at these recorded sessions, including oldies and works-in-progress which would ultimately appear in albums by individual band members.

2. Glyn Johns produced an acetate version of the suggested Get Back album in March of 1969. But the Beatles were no longer interested in the project. Lennon and McCartney called Johns back to produce another version, which was drafted in May of 1969. The album was scheduled for release in July of 1969, but this conflicted with the release of Abbey Road , so the release was forwarded to September to coincide with a television special and the release of a film about the making of the album. By December, the Get Back project was shelved, including more than a mile and a half of audio tape.

3. Although John Lennon and George Harrison had walked off the soundstage at Wickenham only to return, the Beatles were broken as a band – but that breakup was not released to the public as a fact – as 1970 began. The idea hit the Beatles to give the extensive audio tape to retired American master producer Phil Spector. Spector was exactly the right man to handle this, and with dubbing of orchestral instrumentation and chorus work, achieved the Let it Be album that was actually released on May 8, 1970. John Lennon himself had this to say about Spector ten years later in a famous interview with Playboy before he was murdered: "He was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it."

 4. Paul McCartney never liked the choral work and harp dubbing that was added to "The Long and Winding Road," but it survived his complaints. McCartney wanted a piano ballad as played by Billy Preston. And the song is a chilling, hypnotic ballad of sorrow when so performed, as was shown in the mid-90’s Beatles Anthology television special.

5. Rolling Stone gave the album a mixed review, specifically critical of Phil Spector as "the most notorious of all over-producers." But this is wrong. The album was engineered and mixed by Glyn Johns, produced by George Martin, Alan Parsons served as assistant engineer, and the product was re-produced by Phil Spector with final dubbing and final mixing.


The snotty remarks made in yesterday’s blog about Let It Be, though they are shared by a number of other 60’s rockers, are out of line. Spector saved the album. Lennon himself came to realize this. But there’s more. Much more. Astonishingly more.

Phil Spector was the bad boy of early 1960s rock and roll music production. He picked a lot of fights with a lot of music executives, and he won because his songs sold. Tom Wolfe even wrote a feature article about him. They were "little symphonies for the kiddies," as Spector said of his work. He was criticized, at the mixing board of the wall of sound, for his work on the Righteous Brothers’ version of "You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling." It was too slow. Too sad. It would never sell. "No!" snapped Spector. "This is a number one song."

Spector was right. Along with the Beatles and the Motown sound, he saved rock and roll, which was in a tailspin in 1963-4 because of beach music, early bubble gum, and dweeby, shallow romance music. What came out of this revolution was a sexier, gutsier and yet much more adult emphasis (example: hear also the Animals "House of the Rising Sun" in 1964). The newer, harder sound wasn’t just for ‘tweens and couples necking after the high school prom. It was also for young women afraid of pregnancy and young men about to be drafted (which was universal in those days).

All of this has everything to do with Let It Be. Spector was tired of fighting. He had the resources to retire at a stupifyingly early age. But he was lured back, and I’m going to dare to speculate why. Because the messy tapes of the never-finished Get Back album were almost what he wanted to say, close enough to be pushed through editing and redubbing into an astonishing message: We’re adults now, and we never get all that we want."Oh, incidentally: The Beatles won the Academy Award for the Best Original Song Score in 1970 for the songs in the film. The Long and Winding Road was the Beatles’ 21st, and last, number one U.S. hit.

So I suggest that Let it Be is a brilliant, perhaps even prophetic album. It tells us that there is something cool – and perhaps cold -- about growing up. It’s a message heard in Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel (released in January, 1970) and again in Hotel California by the Eagles.

Let It Be was the first adult rock and roll album.  It provided a sound and a message for those 21 through 35. It’s targeted toward 21-year-old women who haven’t found a man they can trust, and for young men who were college seniors facing a trip to Vietnam. It’s about the difficulties of young adulthood, as presented by an historically unmatchable band itself breaking up as the members got into their late 20s. It states that youth has an end and middle age may be the beginning of genuine life. "Here Comes the Sun." 

And it’s a hard message. The filmed arguments among the band members are painful to watch. The album tells us that many of us don’t make it "Across the Universe." Some of us die, perhaps even murdered as John Lennon was. Some of us never attain the love we try to produce and refine in dubbing a soundboard; we
may snap from such lovelessness (as Spector himself did; he’s serving time for murder). And it warns us that the inspiraton of the Muses is too powerful yet too fickle to be filmed – those Muses have the power to withdraw their gifts of inspiration, as they may have done at Twickenham.

Yes, there are sentimentalists who like Abbey Road as the best of the Beatles. The White Album and Revolver have fans, also. But Let It Be effortlessly jumps across the age barrier – it profoundly affected children aged 12 as well as adults in their mid-thirties – today it haunts many who weren't born yet at the time it was made.   Such multi-generational impact may make it the best rock album ever released.

-- by the blog author

-- significant supporting information availabe at:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Music and Criticism #1

[This is the first in a short series of blog entries dealing with the miserable state of modern musical criticism.  It is just about impossible to trust the judgment of any modern music critic.  This series will attempt to outline an explanation for that dearth of analytic talent.]
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Become a Music Snob in Five Easy Steps!

By ira_brooker in Made Loud on Jun 24, 2009

Do you devote yourself to memorizing your favorite albums’ production credits and liner notes?  Do you hold Jack Black's character in High Fidelity as one of your primary role models?

Do you believe that meticulous dissection of minutia is the true path to art appreciation? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are well on your way to becoming a full-fledged music snob. As with any worthwhile endeavor, though, professional-grade snobbery doesn’t come cheaply. Looking down one’s nose at others is easy enough, but true contempt for your musical inferiors takes some training. To that end, we’ve spotlighted five fields of knowledge that should be in any aspiring know-it-all’s repertoire.

Real Song Titles
You die a little inside every time someone refers to The Who’s "Teenage Wasteland," or worse yet, "the C.S.I. New York theme song." The name of the song is "Baba O’Riley," dammit, and there is no excuse for not referring to it as such. Sure, you could make the argument that if artists want people to get the title right, they should make it have something to do with the actual lyrics, but that would be far too easy on the fair-weather fans. The true snob should also be well acquainted with parenthetical titles and creative spellings. You get pretension points every time you remind someone that James Brown’s biggest hit was actually called "I Got You (I Feel Good)," and you score even higher by setting the record straight on Sly & The Family Stone’s "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)."

Sample phrase: "David Bowie was just starting to come into his own with ‘Space Oddity.’ (Pause for blank stare) Oh, that’s right – you probably know it as ‘Ground Control to Major Tom.’"

Side Projects and Solo Albums
Some artists just aren’t satisfied limiting themselves to one creative endeavor at a time, and neither should you be. You owe it to yourself to scarf up your heroes’ every solo album, side project and artistic indulgence. Sure, you probably won’t listen to that Jello Biafra spoken word album beginning to end more than once, but it gives you that much more ammunition against punk rock posers. Even the most sedentary Lou Reed fan needs to be up on the former Rock & Roll Animal’s album of instrumentals for tai chi exercises. And can you really call yourself a Guns N’ Roses devotee if you don’t own the entire catalogs of both Slash’s Snake Pit and Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds?

Sample phrase: "Seriously, I’d put Fred Schneider’s second solo album up against any late-period B-52s."

Alternate Takes and Deep Cuts
When you listen to a studio album, it’s a safe assumption that at least some of the creative forces involved felt that these were the best available recordings of the best available material. But you know better – the best songs shine brightest when filtered through the metallic hiss of a decades-old demo tape, and the depth of a band is best gauged by the strength of toss-off tunes buried on long-forgotten movie soundtrack albums. When your less adroit pals ask for your favorite Bowie song, hit ‘em with the alternate take of "Panic in Detroit" from the ‘92 Rykodisc reissue of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). When they ask about the crowning achievement of the Wu-Tang Clan, the correct answer is either "America is Dying Slowly" from the eponymous all-star benefit album or "Wu Wear: The Garment Revolution" from the High School High soundtrack.

Sample phrase: "Sure, I love Pavement’s studio recordings, but there’s just something so much more raw and immediate about the demo cut of "Best Friend’s Arm.’"

Personnel Changes
Rare is the long-lived band that doesn’t go through at least a few lineup changes. So long as the switch-ups don’t affect the group’s sound too radically (like the post-Morrison Doors, say, or the Shane MacGowan-less Pogues), most fans are happy to accept these unavoidable growing pains. You, on the other hand, know what you like and will accept no substitutes. There are two paths you can go by here. You can insist that a band never recovered from one member’s departure – refusing to buy any R.E.M. albums that don’t feature Bill Berry, for instance – or you can make the case that a later addition gave the group a new lease on life – say, claiming Built to Spill never really clicked for you until Jim Roth became a permanent guitarist. Really, either route provides optimum opportunity for condescending sighs.

Sample phrase: "I know the early Victor DeLorenzo stuff is more commercial, but for me the Violent Femmes really came into their own during the Guy Hoffman era."

When it comes to crafting a great album, the producer has probably the most vital job that 98% of listeners know and care nothing about. Except in extreme cases, like Phil Spector saccharine-coating The Beatles’ Let it Be, most music fans can’t tell one producer’s work from another’s (hip-hop albums are a notable exception). Start out simple by memorizing some key celebrity producer credits – Ray Manzarek on X’s Los Angeles, Manu Chao on Amadou & Mariam’s Diamanche a Bamako, Prince on half the albums that came out of Minneapolis in the 1980s – and move on to the more obscure. When you’re able to hold forth on the merits of Brian Beattie versus Ted Nicely as The Dead Milkmen’s greatest producer, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Sample phrase: "Don’t even talk to me about Fun House. Without John Cale at the controls, The Stooges were barely listenable."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dinosaur Feather Development

From BBC -- September 15, 2011

Dinosaur feather evolution

trapped in Canadian amber

Samples of amber in western Canada containing feathers from dinosaurs and birds have yielded the most complete story of feather evolution ever seen.

Eleven fragments show the progression from hair-like "filaments" to doubly-branched feathers of modern birds.

The analysis of the 80-million-year-old amber deposits is presented in Science.

The find, along with an accompanying article analysing feather pigment, adds to the idea that many dinosaurs sported feathers - some brightly coloured.

Recent years have seen a proliferation of reports about the beginnings of feathers as we know them now in birds.

So-called compression fossils found in China bear outlines of primitive "filament" feathers that are more akin to hair.

But modern feathers are highly branched and structured, and the full story of how those came to be had not yet been revealed by the fossil record.

Now, a study of amber found near Grassy Lake in Alberta - dating from what is known as the Late Cretaceous period - has unearthed a full range of feather structures that demonstrates the progression.

"We're finding two ends of the evolutionary development that had been proposed for feathers trapped in the same amber deposit," said Ryan McKellar of the University of Alberta, lead author of the report.

The team's find confirms that individual filaments progressed to tufts of filaments from a single origin, called barbs.

In later development, some of these barbs can coalesce into a central branch called a rachis. As the structure develops further, further branches of filments form from the rachis.

"We've got feathers that look to be little filamentous hair-like feathers, we've got the same filaments bound together in clumps, and then we've got a series that are for all intents and purposes identical to modern feathers," Mr McKellar told BBC News.

"We're catching some that look to be dinosaur feathers and another set that are pretty much dead ringers for modern birds."

Lucky find

By the Late Cretaceous, feathers had more or less reached the end of their evolution, and it is simply lucky that specimens bearing the full range of different feather types happened to be captured in the same amber

"We've known for quite a while that several of the non-bird dinosaurs actually had feathers, and many of them had feathers that are identical to the feathers you see on a pigeon in the park today," said Mark Norell, chairman of the palaeontology division at the American Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the research.

"What's interesting is the diversity of feathers that were present in [these] non-avian dinosaurs that existed pretty close to that time interval when those animals disappeared around 65 million years ago," he told the BBC.

The most developed of the feathers seem to resemble those of water-dwelling and diving birds - almost like down. However, Mr McKellar said that none of the feathers was adapted for flight, but rather for an ever-more complex ornamentation strategy.

A second paper in Science examines another aspect of the ornamentation: colour.

Feathers are given their colour by structures in their cells called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same chemical that produces our skin colour.

Study of remnants of these melanosomes has already yielded evidence, for example, that one of the first feathered dinosaurs ever discovered, the Sinosauropteryx, was a "redhead".

But usually, the melanosomes of feathers, or the melanin they leave behind, are destroyed with time, leaving few clues as to what colour a given dinosaur would have been.

Now Roy Wogelius of the University of Manchester in the UK has developed a method using high-energy rays of light from a synchrotron that can spot tiny amounts of metal atoms left behind by eumelanin, one of the types of melanin responsible for a range of black and brown colours.

"A perfect understanding of colour is unlikely except in perhaps exceptional cases," Dr Wogelius said in an online chat about the work in July.

"But with the technological advances, we are optimistic that we will be able to find chemical details beyond simply dark and light patterning."

In fact, a picture is emerging that suggests many dinosaurs were not the dull-coloured, reptilian-skinned creatures that they were once thought to be.

"If you were to transport yourself back 80 million years to western North America and walk around the forest... many of the animals would have been feathered," said Dr Norell.

"We're getting more and more evidence... that these animals were also brightly coloured, just like birds are today."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Positive Quiddity: Sri Aurobindo

India is home to over a billion people as well as being the center of the Hindu faith, one of the world’s greatest religions. It is difficult for some of us to accept the dominant pacifism in the Hindu faith. Especially, as westerners, it appears to be a relgion that minimizes the great challenge surmounted in the wholly necessary victory achieved in the Second World War. My generation includes, on top of this respect for such a necessary war, a certain suspicion of such a set of values as sometimes self-serving, disingenuous and obsequious to the point of being arrogant. Here I refer to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an absurd con artist who obviously swindled the Beatles in the mid-1960s and created a huge impression on then teenaged baby boomers.

But there is much more to India and its nationalism and its Hindu faith than Gandhi with his successor Nehru and some posturing religious teachers. This is true even for Americans, where the region is simplified to Gandhi versus the British Empire, itself a dangerous oversimplification of the drama.

There’s a man, suspiciously seldomly referenced in the West, of profounder wisdom from this time in India, a man who would have created a greater dominion with more lasting peace than Gandhi seems to have attained. Who was the under-acknowledged wise man? He was Sri Aurobindo, a prophet of twentieth century India. Below is an astonishing speech about this unique man.

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                        Sri Aurobindo and the Gita
Keynote address delivered by Michel Danino
at a seminar on ‘Relevance of Bhagavad Gita in the New Millennium’ on January 12, 2000, at Kottayam’s Mahatma Gandhi University. This seminar was part of Vivekananda Jayanthi and National Youth Day celebrations, as a valediction of the Vandematharam programme of the Department of Culture, Government of India, and was organized by the Mahatma Gandhi University unit of the Bharateeya Vichara Kendram.)
Of all Indian scriptures, the Bhagavat Gita has likely been the one most commented on. India’s sages, yogis, philosophers, thinkers have, as a rule, regarded it a sacred duty to add theirs to the long list of commentaries on these eighteen brief chapters from the Mahabharata—a mere 700 slokas which have left the deepest of imprints on the Indian psyche for so many centuries.

Sri Aurobindo was no exception to the rule. But before writing his famous Essays on the Gita in his monthly Arya between 1916 and 1920, he had had a long acquaintance with the Song of the Lord. That was no mere intellectual or philosophical inquiry, for, in the true tradition of yoga, Sri Aurobindo always was an experimenter before anything else—he even rejected the label of "philosopher" : "[Modern] philosophy," he said, "I consider only intellectual and therefore of secondary value. Experience and formulation of experience I consider as the true aim of philosophy."

From his return from England to India in 1893, at the age of twenty, and until 1905, Sri Aurobindo worked in the Baroda State Service. That left him enough leisure to immerse himself in Sanskrit scriptures, since, having had a completely Western education, he wanted to rediscover his roots. Among his favourites were the two Epics, the Upanishads, and Kalidas. He translated large portions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata into English, though only a few survived his later tribulations. Romesh Chandra Dutt, whose own adaptations of the Epics were popular in those days, asked to see Sri Aurobindo’s translations at Baroda, and remarked that had he seen them earlier, he would never have published his own…

In that very first study of the Gita before he was even thirty, the one thing that struck Sri Aurobindo was its bold "gospel of action". and its stress on the Kshatriya’s "duty to protect the world from the reign of injustice," a virile and distinctive Indian message as he immediately saw :

"The Christian and Buddhistic doctrine of turning the other cheek to the smiter," he scribbled in his notebooks, "is as dangerous as it is impracticable. [It is] a radically false moral distinction and the lip profession of an ideal which mankind has never been able or willing to carry into practice. The disinterested and desireless pursuit of duty is a gospel worthy of the strongest manhood ; that of the cheek turned to the smiter is a gospel for cowards and weaklings. Babes and sucklings may practise it, because they must, but with others it is a hypocrisy."
The Gita and the Nationalists

The Gita’s stress on true manhood and "desireless duty" or nishkama karma was to be Sri Aurobindo’s prime inspiration during his revolutionary days. It is little known that Sri Aurobindo was, in 1906, the first Indian to openly call for complete independence from the British Empire, at a time when the Congress Moderates were busy praising the "providential character" of British rule in India and swearing their "unswerving allegiance to the British crown." Through the pages of the English daily Bande Mataram and in his speeches, Sri Aurobindo exhorted his countrymen to find in themselves the strength to stand up to their colonial masters. He soon became the leader in Bengal of those whom the Moderates contemptuously called the "Extremists." In April 1908, a few days before his arrest in the Alipore Bomb Case, he wrote :

A certain class of minds shrink from aggressiveness as if it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand as something monstrous and sinful. "Heal hate by love, drive out injustice by justice, slay sin by righteousness" is their cry. Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love.... The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering of morality.

Clearly, Sri Aurobindo anticipated here the rise of non-violence as a creed ; but he took Sri Krishna’s admonition of Arjuna literally and, like Swami Vivekananda, put his faith in strength, not in ahimsa.  Shortly after his release from jail the following year, Sri Aurobindo developed this point in a speech on the Gita at Khulna :

The virtue of the Brahmin is a great virtue : You shall not kill. This is what Ahimsa means. [But] if the virtue of Ahimsa comes to the Kshatriya, if you say "I will not kill," there is no one to protect the country. The happiness of the people will be broken down. Injustice and lawlessness will reign. The virtue becomes a source of misery, and you become instrumental in bringing misery and conflict to the people. The teaching of the Gita, he said in his concluding words, "means perfection of action. It makes man great. It gives him the utter strength, the utter bliss which is the goal of life in the world."

Indeed, the revolutionaries in Bengal and Maharashtra drew such inspiration from the Gita that the colonial authorities came to regard it as a "gospel of terrorism," and it became one of the most sought-after pieces of evidence in police raids ; it is also one of the chief influences cited in the 1918 Rowlatt Sedition Committee Report, side by side with Swami Vivekananda’s works. Sri Aurobindo himself is said to have given initiation to several revolutionaries by making them swear on the Gita that they would do everything to liberate India from the foreign yoke… But in the columns of the Karmayogin, he took objection to this summary characterization of the Gita :
We strongly protest against the brand of suspicion that has been sought to be placed in many quarters on the teaching and possession of the Gita—our chief national heritage, our hope for the future, our great force for the purification of the moral weaknesses that stain and hamper our people…
The Yoga of the Gita

Though he drew strength from the Gita, Sri Aurobindo knew better than to see in it "a mere gospel of war and heroic action, a Nietzschean creed of power and high-browed strength, of Hebraic or old Teutonic hardness." During his year-long solitary imprisonment in the Alipore jail, he intensively practised the yoga spelt out by Sri Krishna. Soon after his unexpected acquittal in May 1909, in his famous speech at Uttarpara he recounted something of his experience :

He placed the Gita in my hands. His strength entered into me and I was able to do the Sadhana of the Gita. I was not only to understand intellectually but to realise what Sri Krishna demanded of Arjuna and what He demands of those who aspire to do his work…
To "realize," let us note again. And what he first realized was the divine Oneness described in the Gita : "The man whose self is in Yoga, sees the self in all beings and all beings in the self, he is equal-visioned everywhere. He who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, to him I do not get lost, nor does he get lost to Me." (VI.29, 30) In Sri Aurobindo’s words :
I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned ; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me his shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover.... I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies.
When the case opened ... I was followed by the same insight. He said to me, "When you were cast into jail, did not your heart fail and did you not cry out to me, where is Thy protection ? Look now at the Magistrate, look now at the Prosecuting Counsel." I looked and it was not the Magistrate whom I saw, it was Vasudeva, it was Narayana who was sitting there on the bench. I looked at the Prosecuting Counsel and it was not the Counsel for the prosecution that I saw ; it was Sri Krishna who sat there and smiled. "Now do you fear ?" He said, "I am in all men and I overrule their actions and their words."
Such was the supreme experience Sri Aurobindo received in jail, which never left him afterwards. And such is the supreme paradox of the Gita, that we must act and act boldly and sometimes fiercely, knowing and seeing all the while that all is He, that there is nothing in this entire universe that is not essentially the Divine. I stress the word "essentially," because there lies, according to Sri Aurobindo, the key to the apparent paradox : all is essentially divine, but until it is manifestly so, this creation will remain a Kurukshetra and it will be our duty to fight for the truth. For the Gita is not concerned with our shallow and too often hypocritical "human rights" ; it deals rather with our human duties : we are human beings only if we are prepared to fight for the truth, not otherwise.

In his Essays, Sri Aurobindo expounded at length, and never in a dry metaphysical manner, every aspect of the Gita, ethical and spiritual : its stress on action, its karma yoga based on true equality, non-attachment and renunciation of the ego, culminating in the abandonment of all dharmas, its broad synthesis of Vedanta, Sankhya, Jñana, Bhakti and even Tantra, its deep insights into the workings of Nature, into human nature with its divine as well as diabolical possibilities, its call to go beyond morality and the three gunas to the supreme truth.... I cannot even outline here these profound expositions which go to the roots of almost every problem of life and yoga which Indian thought and practice has faced. But, at the cost of incompleteness, there is one core teaching of the Gita we need to look into, one that Sri Aurobindo lays particular stress on, and the very one that had inspired him during his revolutionary days—that is, the problem of action
and the use of force to defend dharma.

The Gita, the Gospel of Strength, and Non-Violence

It is customary nowadays to hear that Hinduism is at bottom a "message of tolerance and non-violence"—that has become a kind of slogan which our politicians and media people alike are fond of mouthing without even stopping to think about it. Let us for now pass over the question of tolerance, except to recall these words of Sri Krishna : "Even those who sacrifice to other godheads with devotion and faith, they also sacrifice to Me.... I am equal in all existences, none is dear to Me, none hated" (9.23, 29)—this, along with the famous Vedic affirmation about the many names of the One Existent, contains much more than what is ordinarily meant by "tolerance," and it is an assurance we are not likely to encounter in any Scripture of the three Semitic religions.

But let us rather dwell on the point of non-violence. Our first observation is that, unlike Buddhism or Jainism, Hinduism never made a universal doctrine of ahimsa, which remained limited to the Brahmin’s dharma, even then with qualifications. True, we have in the Mahabharata the maxim ahimsa paramo dharmah, "ahimsa is the highest law," but that is never intended for the Kshatriya. There is even a very sensible observation made to the Brahmin Kausika : "When the earth is ploughed, numberless creatures lurking in the ground are destroyed.... Fish preys upon fish, various animals prey upon other species, and some species even prey upon themselves.... The earth and the air all swarm with living organisms which are unconsciously destroyed by men from mere ignorance.

Ahimsa was ordained of old by men who were ignorant of the true facts. There is not a man on the face of the earth who is free from the sin of doing injury to creatures." Then there is the humorous episode in the Devi Bhagavata (skanda 4), in which Brihaspati (in the guise of Sukracharya) preaches ahimsa paramo dharmah to the Asuras and enjoins them "not to injure even those who come to kill you"—but this he preaches to the Asuras so as to disarm them, not to the Devas ! Finally, let us note that even Jainism, which made the maxim one of its central teachings, allows monks to attain liberation by fasting to death—an undeniable act of himsa. There is clearly nothing absolute about the much-abused saying.
There is also nothing non-violent about the wars in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, about some of the Veda’s fierce gods, or Durga’s and Kali’s pitiless destruction of Asuras. Sanskrit texts, as also the Sangam literature and folk legends, resound with heroes and heroic deeds, and Sri Krishna echoes them when he declares : "I am the strength of the mighty" (10.36).

As was his wont, Sri Aurobindo faced this central problem squarely :

Unless we have the honesty and courage to look existence straight in the face, we shall never arrive at any effective solution of its discords and oppositions. We must see first what life and the world are.... Our very bodily life is a constant dying and being reborn, the body itself a beleaguered city attacked by assailing, protected by defending forces whose business is to devour each other....War and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral existence.... It is impossible, at least as men and things are, to advance, to grow, to fulfil and still to observe really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct
Significantly, this passage from his Essays was published in the December 1916 issue of the Arya, in the middle of the First World War, but also when Mahatma Gandhi had joined the national movement and started propagating his doctrine of ahimsa. Sri Aurobindo continues :
This world of our battle and labour is a fierce dangerous destructive devouring world in which life exists precariously and the soul and body of man move among enormous perils, a world in which by every step forward, whether we will it or no, something is crushed and broken, in which every breath of life is a breath too of death. To put away the responsibility for all that seems to us evil or terrible on the shoulders of a semi-omnipotent Devil, or to put it aside as part of Nature, making an unbridgeable opposition between world-nature and God-Nature, as if Nature were independent of God, or to throw the responsibility on man and his sins, as if he had a preponderant voice in the making of this world or could create anything against the will of God, are clumsily comfortable devices in which the religious thought of India has never taken refuge. We have to look courageously in the face of the reality and see that it is God and none else who has made this world in his being and that so he has made it. We have to see that Nature devouring her children, Time eating up the lives of creatures, Death universal and ineluctable and the violence of the Rudra forces in man and Nature are also the supreme Godhead in one of his cosmic figures.

In these days when, again, easy and noisy slogans have taken the place of thinking and discerning, and when we are constantly told that "All religions are the same and speak the same truth," mark how Sri Aurobindo never fails to point out the distinctive traits and contributions of the Indian genius :
It is only a few religions which have had the courage to say without any reserve, like the Indian, that this enigmatic World-Power is one Deity, one Trinity, to lift up the image of the Force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction and to say, "This too is the Mother ; this also know to be God ; this too, if thou hast the strength, adore." And it is significant that the religion which has had this unflinching honesty and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound and widespread spirituality such as no other can parallel. For truth is the foundation of real spirituality and courage is its soul.
Bracing words these, but lest one might imagine that Sri Aurobindo is advocating some blood-thirsty cult, let me add this conclusion of his :
A day may come, must surely come, we will say, when humanity will be ready spiritually, morally, socially for the reign of universal peace ; meanwhile the aspect of battle and the nature and function of man as a fighter have to be accepted and accounted for by any practical philosophy and religion.

Examples from India’s Recent History

Note the word "practical." It should now be clear that Sri Aurobindo radically differed from the Mahatma on the practice of non-violence, and as this difference is glossed over in conventional scholarship, I think we should examine it, since such differences, far from being awkward, are in fact fecund if faced honestly. It is true that in April 1907, Sri Aurobindo had exposed in a series of brilliant articles in the Bande Mataram his "Doctrine of Passive Resistance" intended to become a mass movement against British rule, and that the series, which was read throughout the country in those days, seems to have influenced Gandhi on his return from Africa. But Sri Aurobindo never made a cult of ideology either, and in those same articles he had also spelt out the limits of non-cooperation and passive resistance, which he saw as the only practicable policy of the day in the face of the rulers’ crushing military superiority and the Congress Moderates’ lack of support for the ideal of independence :

Every great yajña has its Rakshasas who strive to baffle the sacrifice.... Passive resistance is an attempt to meet such disturbers by peaceful and self-contained brahmatejas ; but even the greatest Rishis of old could not, when the Rakshasas were fierce and determined, keep up the sacrifice without calling in the bow of the Kshatriya. We should have the bow of the Kshatriya ready for use, though in the background. Politics is especially the business of the Kshatriya, and without Kshatriya strength at its back, all political struggle is unavailing.

Nevertheless, considerable similarities in the practical aspects of the two leaders’ policies prompted some scholars to paint them with the same brush. When, at the time of Independence, a biographer of his fell victim to such facile parallels, Sri Aurobindo protested in the following note (written in the third person) :
In some quarters there is the idea that Sri Aurobindo’s political standpoint was entirely pacifist, that he was opposed in principle and in practice to all violence and that he denounced terrorism, insurrection, etc., as entirely forbidden by the spirit and letter of the Hindu religion. It is even suggested that he was a forerunner of the gospel of Ahimsa. This is quite incorrect. Sri Aurobindo is neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist.

The rule of confining political action to passive resistance was adopted as the best policy for the National Movement at that stage and not as a part of a gospel of Non-violence or pacifist idealism. Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in its basis ; without a change in human nature it cannot come with any finality. If it is attempted on any other basis (moral principle or gospel of Ahimsa or any other), it will fail and even may leave things worse than before.... Sri Aurobindo’s position and practice in this matter was the same as Tilak’s and that of other Nationalist leaders who were by no means Pacifists or worshippers of Ahimsa.

It may appear hard to accept that the gospel of Ahimsa "may leave things worse than before." But can we for a moment picture what would have happened if, in the middle of the Second World War, with much of Europe including France under German occupation, Britain had given way to the Nazi wave ? And yet that is exactly what the Mahatma exhorted the British to do in his famous 1940 open letter "to every Briton," in which he called for the British to lay down their arms "because war is bad in essence," "to fight Nazism without arms or ... with non-violent arms," and to "invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take ... possession of your beautiful island." No doubt Hitler would have been delighted had Britain followed such advice, just as Duryodhana would have been highly pleased to see Arjuna lay down his bow. But in both cases, what would have been the result for mankind ?

By contrast, in September 1940, Sri Aurobindo sent the Governor of Madras a contribution and a message in support of the Allies during the War :

We feel that not only is this a battle waged in just self-defence and in defence of the nations threatened with the world-domination of Germany and the Nazi system of life, but that it is a defence of civilisation and its highest attained social, cultural and spiritual values and of the whole future of humanity. To this cause our support and sympathy will be unswerving whatever may happen...
Or let us consider the case of the 1942 Cripps mission. Harried by Germany, increasingly pressured by the U.S.A., a proud and reluctant Churchill, who had sworn ever to protect the Empire, was compelled to present to India on a gold platter an offer of dominion status, so as to secure her support during the war. (That was the third such offer since the start of the War, but in more explicit terms than ever.) In spite of messages from Sri Aurobindo to the Congress urging them to accept the proposal which amounted to virtual independence at the end of the War, and although others (including Nehru and Rajagopalachari) favoured it, Gandhi told Sri Aurobindo’s messenger he found it unacceptable, once again "because of his opposition to war." (Churchill also, I should add, forbade Sir Stafford Cripps to show the slightest flexibility.) The result of Gandhi’s dogmatic stand on the evil nature of war—a dogma Sri Krishna rebuffs in the Gita—was to be tragic for India. It not only meant an unnecessary postponement of Independence, but it made India’s bloody vivisection unavoidable, even as the Mahatma promised it would happen only "over his dead body" ; it also meant three wars with our neighbour and the continuing war of attrition and terrorism in Kashmir.  In his History of the Freedom Movement in India, the distinguished historian R. C. Majumdar was forced to reject "the generally accepted view which gave Mahatma Gandhi the ‘sole credit for the freedom of India’. He noted :
It has been my painful duty to show that ... the popular image of Gandhi cannot be reconciled with what he actually was.... It will also be seen that the current estimate of the degree or extent of his success bears no relation to actual facts.

Today we find that more and more scholars are rallying to those views and, while giving due respect to the Mahatma, are beginning to whisper that his rigid insistence on an impracticable non-violence may have cost the country dear. Such a reassessment can only be healthy, for there is nothing more debilitating than to draw a righteous veil over errors of the past.

Still, we should note that Gandhi did try to understand Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint ; in 1924, for instance, he sent his son Devadas to Pondicherry to sound him on non-violence. Sri Aurobindo simply replied, "Suppose there is an invasion of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with non-violence ?" We all know what happened when Kashmir was invaded immediately after Independence, or when Chinese troops poured into India in 1962, or even last year when Pakistani troops occupied peaks in Kargil. And I am afraid there are more Kargils to come. It is a moot point what the Mahatma’s advice would be in such cases : to lay down arms and meet the enemy with non-violence ?

The following words of Sri Aurobindo, written in December 1916 in his Essays on the Gita, appear prophetic in retrospect : 

We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence ? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence...
Non-Violence and Shakti

If, therefore, we mean the Gita’s teaching to be a practical one, which is what Sri Aurobindo did, we have to reject non-violence as a creed—it may remain an individual’s choice, for every individual is free to follow his preferred path, but anyone who has to wage a battle for dharma or for the truth—which comes to the same thing—will find a better ally in the use of shakti which the Gita advocates. Arjuna is of course something of all of us, the symbol of "the struggling human soul," in Sri Aurobindo’s words, and Kurukshetra is the "battle of life," even of our humdrum everyday life if we take the trouble of living for a purpose. Resist a corrupt official and a Kurukshetra opens in front of you ; let a women’s group take on liquor barons and you can hear the twang of the Gandiva ; if a few villagers or tribals oppose a timber mafia, you will see a hundred Kauravas rise ; or simply try to keep your street clean and learn what ghoram karma is all about !

Now, a frequent misconception is that if we reject non-violence, we must fall into violence—there is no alternative beyond those two opposite poles. That is a terrible and costly confusion, which the Gita goes to great pains to dispel : between blind, asuric violence and noble but impotent non-violence, there is conscious, detached shakti, which can remain powerfully still or also wage war, as circumstances demand. True, in the world’s history, most aggressive expansions, especially the Christian and Islamic, followed the asuric path and washed the earth with blood—there is at least one notable exception, though, and that is India, whose sole weapon of conquest was always her culture. Yet she was by no means non-violent. Alexander was confronted by Paurava’s armies ; the Pratihara empire, the last Hindu empire of Northwest India, checked the progress of Islam into India for three centuries ; we know well enough the great deeds of a Shivaji or a Lakshmibai and countless other heroes of this land, including those who fought and often died for India’s freedom. Sri Krishna’s injunctions as to the Kshatriya’s dharma were therefore no dead letter in India’s past.

As to the present, it is a frequently heard complaint that Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching of non-violence is no longer followed in India ; but it rather seems to me that it has penetrated the collective Indian consciousness deep enough to make it wince at the very thought of force and put a brake on its use even when and where it is patently needed. Certainly no other country would have tolerated with so little reaction the amount of aggression India has suffered since Independence, and at what terrible cost.

India’s one tragedy is that she has not had the courage to put to effective use the elements of strength in her heritage. The Gita provides a telling case in point. Here is a brief and accessible text, with nothing esoteric to it, which has evoked the admiration of countless thinkers outside India, from Emerson to Aldous Huxley and André Malraux, here is the best possible guide of ethics (though not merely that), which disentangles with miraculous ease some of the most knotty questions humanity has asked—and, except for a course or two of philosophy, our schools and colleges will not teach it to our children. And why not ? Because, so far as I have been able to make out, it is a "religious" text. A more thoughtless aberration would be hard to come by, and I wonder how those who drafted India’s education policy arrogated the right to deprive young Indians of their heritage. No, the Gita is not a "religious" or even a "Hindu" scripture, it belongs to all humanity and its very text repeatedly makes this universality plain :

"I am the path and goal," says Sri Krishna, "the upholder, the master, the witness, the house and country, the refuge, the benignant friend ; I the birth and status and destruction of apparent existence, I the imperishable seed of all and their eternal resting-place.... I am the silence of things secret and the knowledge of the knower.... Nothing moving or unmoving, animate or inanimate in the world can be without me." (9.18, 10.38, 10.39)
Is this a sectarian declaration ? Moreover, the Gita is about dharma and dharma is not religion, it is ethics in the deepest sense. If we decide that education is only intended to prepare children for getting jobs and has nothing to do with making better human beings out of them, then we admit that there is no more meaning to a man’s life than to an ant’s. The Gita’s message is a practical tool : it gives a purpose in life, and a purpose is something practical ; it gives strength, and strength is something practical ; it gives self-confidence, elevation in thought, a broader view of life, a deeper understanding of human nature, and those are all practical things. I believe India would be in a better shape today had the Gita not been kept out of sight and hearing of young Indians, except for some abstract study of the Sankhya philosophy or a few slokas for burials and other ceremonies. Was Sri Aurobindo’s depiction of the Gita as "our chief national heritage, our hope for the future" just so many empty words ?

Permit me to quote Swami Vivekananda too, in whose name we are gathered today. Speaking in Calcutta to a few young aspirants, he said :

In order to remove this delusion which had overtaken Arjuna, what did the Bhagavan say ? As I always preach that you should ... draw [a man’s] attention to the omnipotent power that is in him, in the same way does the Bhagavan speak to Arjuna : "Thou art that Atman imperishable, beyond all evil... Yield not to unmanliness." If you, my sons, can proclaim this message to the world, "Yield not to unmanliness," then all this disease, grief, sin and sorrow will vanish from the face of the earth in three days.... Proclaim to the whole world with trumpet voice, "There is no sin in thee, there is no misery in thee ; thou art the reservoir of omnipotent power. Arise, awake, and manifest the divinity within !"
Because they insisted on building a new, rejuvenated India on the great truths of her ancient heritage and not on the fleeting destructive values of the West, neither Sri Aurobindo nor Swami Vivekananda are in favour with current thinking, if it can be called that. In fact, today they would probably be labelled "revivalists" by our hypnotized intelligentsia, and they would certainly find themselves swimming against the cheerless tide, at loggerheads with almost every direction the country has taken since Independence, and with the educational system in particular. They would never have imagined that education in free India could have rejected anything having to do with Indian culture, preferring to go on with Macaulay’s denationalizing methods. Is Indian culture then something so shameful, so ignoble that it has to be concealed from our children, except in the privacy of the home ? Well, perhaps it is after all, but if it is, let us have the courage to declare so openly and have done with it rather than brandish it just to attract foreign tourists to a few temples and ruins.

I cannot resist the temptation of mentioning a case in point : it is significant that none of our successive education ministers thought it worthwhile to give Swami Vivekananda’s or Sri Aurobindo’s names to just one out of the 216 universities spread over the country ; Mahatma Gandhi has two universities in his name, one of which is of course this one here ; Dr. Ambedkar has six, Jawaharlal Nehru three, and a number of much lesser Indians have one. But no "Swami Vivekananda University," no "Sri Aurobindo University"—Swami Vivekananda who shook India awake, Sri Aurobindo who in 1906 became the first principal of the newly opened Bengal National College, Sri Aurobindo the Nationalist leader, the editor and chief writer of Bande Mataram and Karmayogin, Sri Aurobindo who laid the foundations for an original Indian perspective in so many fields of yoga, thought, action, and life.

This omission may be a small thing in itself, but it is revealing of the unease the establishment feels towards these awkward personalities. Which Indian student ever learns anything of substance about Swami Vivekananda or Sri Aurobindo ? Either we find them worthy of being taught to our children for their greater benefit as human beings, in which case we should roll up our sleeves and set to work, or there is no point in making them objects of hollow praise as is too often the case.

Sri Aurobindo had and still has a message for his country, and a practical one, for he was no effete dreamer. Whether calling for India’s independence, supporting the Allies, urging acceptance of Cripps’ proposal, he practised what he called "spiritual realism." It is India’s misfortune that he was not heard, and her continuing misfortune that he and Swami Vivekananda are shoved aside like museum pieces.

Of course, it would be a mistake to equate Sri Aurobindo’ entire teaching and yoga with the Gita. As he said,
I regard the spiritual history of mankind and especially of India as a constant development of a divine purpose, not a book that is closed and the lines of which have to be constantly repeated. Even the Upanishads and the Gita were not final though everything may be there in seed....
But in all his actions, Sri Aurobindo faithfully followed the spirit of the Gita. His life is, in my opinion, the best commentary on the great Scripture.

"If one is among the ... seekers of [the] Truth," he once wrote to a disciple, "one has to take sides for the Truth, to stand against the forces that attack it and seek to stifle it. Arjuna wanted not to stand for either side, to refuse any action of hostility even against assailants ; Sri Krishna, who insisted so much on samata, strongly rebuked his attitude and insisted equally on his fighting the adversary. ‘Have samata,’ he said, ‘and seeing clearly the Truth, fight.’ ... It is a spiritual battle inward and outward ; by neutrality and compromise or even passivity one may allow the enemy force to pass and crush down the Truth and its children."
N.B. : In references to Sri Aurobindo’s works (‘Centenary Edition,’ Pondicherry : Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1972), the first number refers to the volume, the second to the page number.
Sri Aurobindo’s India’s Rebirth (3rd ed., 2000; also in Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Oriya, Tamil and Gujarati translations) is co-published and distributed by:
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