Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Tao Lesson 65 & a gestalt change

Tao Te Ching 65

In ancient times,
Those who followed the Way
Didn’t offer people knowledge thereof,
But kindly kept them from enlightenment,
To keep them in a state of simplicity,
with the humility to realise how very little they actually know.
Why is it so hard to rule?
Because people are so clever.
When they know that they do not know,
people can find their own way.
The reason it is difficult for the people to leave in peace
Is because of too much knowledge.
Those who seek to rule a country by knowledge
Are the nation’s curse.
Not using cunning to rule a country
is good fortune for that country.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life.
To know these principles is to possess
A rule and a measure.
To keep the rule and the measure
Constantly in your mind is Mystical Virtue,
Deep and mysterious, it leads all things to return
Back to Great Harmony.

Should hallucinogens, meditation, Yogic and Tantric exercises, sensory deprivation, extended periods of limited language utilization with no verbal communication, or perhaps total immersion in completely different cultures or even other avenues be able to unlock and open up otherwise only poorly (at best) accessed areas of the brain (opening doors of perception of the many mansions in our father’s house), then what was shut off must have been so resultant of some cause (evolutionary or otherwise). Maybe that reason has to do with a modern human proclivity for assholery.
Suppose 10,000 years ago life on Earth for humans became dangerously unstable, due to climate change, magnetic polarity change, large predator migrations, disease, meteors, earth-crust volatility and instability. Then for some the typically greater strength of community cooperation might have become evolutionarily eclipsed by need for smaller, more flexible groupings, greater diversity, more experimentation as it were, more individualism, spontaneity and self-reliance. Exit goodness.
Ants, bees, termites, rats, lions and surely others (Synalpheus regalis snapping shrimp, and maybe dwarf mongooses - but the list is small) live in groups that have (usually if not always) one or more members that do nothing towards procuring food. I once found a huge Norwegian rat living under a pile of OSB and ply-board, in a small pit to the center of the bottom board, surrounded by presents brought by smaller rodents, perhaps of more than a single species. The big rat clearly couldn’t have left his haven under the boards. It ran up a small tree; I went for my pistol, inside my house. Got back and it was still there in the tree! I shot and killed it, far less concerned with its mystical position than with Hinta virus, Bubonic plague, and an instinctual feeling of how ugly it was (looked like a small possum). Clearly it held great sway over its littler helpers, which surely derived some benefit from the association.
Anyway, we know the Tao Te Jing to antedate 500 BCE, at least in parts. Suppose section 65 harks back to memories of a difficult time, about 10,000 years BCE, when rooms in at least some human brains had, for whatever reason, to be closed off. People with the closed sections became uncooperative, mean-spirited, back-stabbing assholes with certain evolutionary advantages. Maybe the studied ‘The Art of War’ more than the Tao.
I find it fascinating that there is just that small spectrum of species with guiding sage-Gods that don’t have to do the work that others must do. Also that what we used to call schizophrenic multiple personality disorder, one’s female (or male) side, the child inside, one’s gay side, the lizard brain (medulla amygdala) and also our capacity to develop false memories, demonstrate a segmented brain, with parts closed off. Sometimes bits leak through, as warnings, perhaps, or to facilitate acceptance among others not of the temperament of one’s usual associates, or clue one as to another’s motives...

Anyway, the sage adviser, let’s say Dennis Rodman or Kanye West, self-chosen and self-advanced, assists the leader – and here we can similarly posit Donald Trump – for the benefit of society, the nation, the populace, the general good. OK, so maybe we don’t have real sages or leaders, even rulers, anymore, or at least visible ones. And maybe, just maybe, society and the Tao isn’t as egalitarian as it should be. Are male lions and rats really the role models we are looking for? Well, in any case, who governs best governs least.

The advent of humanity can be seen to have occurred millions of years ago; for the most part a peaceable creature, no more a scourge than hawks or lions or squids, mere survival tended to be of paramount importance. For about 10,000 years mankind has been pretty much as until quite recently (for the last 105 years our insanity has quite exploded), but for many times that amount of time, while being biologically the same, everything else about humanity was quite different.
Homo sapiens have existed upward of 500,000 years, but the term Middle Paleolithic is intended to cover the time between the first emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens(roughly 250,000 years ago) and the emergence of full behavioral modernity (roughly 50,000 years ago). Close precursors existed almost through the full of the millions of years of the last full Ice Age. Homo sapiens appear in Southwest Asia around 100,000 years ago and elsewhere in the Old World by 60,000-40,000 years ago. By 115,000 years ago, early modern humans had expanded their range to South Africa and into Southwest Asia (Israel) shortly after 100,000 years ago. There is no reliable evidence of modern humans elsewhere in the Old World until 60,000-40,000 years ago, during a short temperate period in the midst of the last ice age.
Before the advent of agriculture and village life, humans lived in a profoundly different ways. Human life was sustained by hunting and gathering rather than by animal husbandry and agriculture; towns and kingdoms were undreamed of; no one made a living as a potter or a basket maker or a metalworker. Trade was informal and only occasional; commerce unimaginable as a means of livelihood. For a dozen times the time separating us from the making of the Sphinx or Hanging Gardens of Babylon, human brains were physically as now but used quite differently than are those operating in modern society.
There weren’t weapons of war, only ones for hunting. There weren’t specialized classes for whom the dangers and difficulties of hunting were limited, restricted, controlled for the convenience and safety of those who rarely participated… Leaders, healers, crazies or other abnormal folk there surely were, but all had to participate in all that they could. Survival depended on it, although survival was likely hardly as difficult as it is usually imagined to have been. Hunting was a challenge, of course, but success in the hunt brought time for rest and relaxation. Human hunters of the Stone Age may well have hunted the mammoth to extinction, but they didn’t do this with awareness of doing so, unlike the way farmers currently hunt coyotes and wolves, simply to get rid of them. Mesolithic hunters may well have hunted the giant elk to extinction, but they didn’t do it from callous indifference, the way ivory hunters slaughter elephants. They couldn’t possibly have guessed how many animals remained far, far from where they hunted. If ancient foragers hunted any species to extinction, it certainly wasn’t because they wanted to wipe out their own food supply!
About 13,000 years ago, more than three-fourths of the large Ice Age animals, including woolly mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, the dire wolf, giant bears and beaver, American camels, horses and lions, died out. Scientists have debated for years over the cause of the extinction, with both of the major hypotheses — human over-hunting and climate change — insufficient to account for the mega die-off. Recent research suggests that an extraterrestrial object, possibly a comet, about 3 miles wide, may have exploded over southern Canada, nearly wiping out an ancient Stone Age culture as well as mega-fauna like mastodons and mammoths.

For the 30,000+ years that biologically modern man occupied the Eurasian continent before agriculture, one finds no evidence of jobs or private wealth, little social diversity, little if any evidence of torture or other injustices. The spiritual was hardly walled off, as it has since become. Spirituality included everything, and the mind, the brain, may well have been open to much that we have mostly closed off (ability to perceive tensions and blockages, auras, magnetic currents or whatever guides birds and fish on migrations, better awareness of our lesser senses, pheromones and how best to deal with ‘psychic wounds’… perception of transcendent patterns, connectivity and influence, awareness of and improved over brain and heart interactivity, anticipation and foresight…)
Noticing patterns in animal behavior was essential, as was anticipating weather changes and when and where what would be available. Language may have been more lyrical, musical, and as beyond definition as the tones of laughter. We think we need civilization, but they did, and still do, successfully make and raise babies. They carried little as they traveled, trusting to their successful socialization to help them find and make what they needed. Bitter animosities can’t have been other than rare. Some joke that prostitution was the first profession, but it requires pay, which requires ‘surplus’ and that assumes storage, the advent of which occurred with agriculture. If farming wasn’t the first profession, then surely lying was, but lying is only operative in competitive societies, not ones that depend entirely on co-operation. Farming requires seed storage, which could also lead to temptation to theft, but surely the first sown fields were but a part-time occupation, one which soon led to interest in protecting fields, so you can see how quickly ‘civilization’ (settled, agriculturally-based communities, somewhat competitive) involved rather ugly activity: the root of social differentiation.
In the totalitarian agriculture that followed the arrival of warmer weather, though, it’s generally been policy to wipe out undesired species as much as possible.
The central idea of the Agricultural Revolution is that about 10,000 years ago, people began to abandon foraging for agriculture. This isn’t quite right: first, it implies that agriculture is basically just one thing (the way that foraging is basically just one thing), and second, it implies that this one thing was embraced by people everywhere at more or less the same time. Many different styles of agriculture were in use all over the world 10,000 years ago, when our current style of agriculture emerged in the Near East. This style, mono-culture or totalitarian agriculture, subordinates all life-forms to the relentless, single-minded production of human food. Fueled by enormous food surpluses generated, a rapid population growth occurred, followed by an equally rapid geographical expansion that obliterated other lifestyles (including those based on other styles of agriculture).
But totalitarian agriculture is the foundation for the most laborious lifestyle known. This comes as a shock to many, but truly, no one works harder to stay alive than modern people do.
The important point is that a cultural continuity exists among co-operative hunter-gatherer peoples that extends back to the beginning of our kind. Homo habilis was born satisfied to share with any with whom he had a comprehensible relationship. He followed customs similar to those followed today by the Yanamamo of Brazil and the Bushmen of the Kalahari – and hundreds of other aboriginal peoples in undeveloped areas all over the world. But agriculturally-based society has taken the rule of the world into its own hands.

About 10,000 BCE the end of the most recent glaciations occurred; sea levels rose abruptly, with massive inland flooding due to glacier melt. The most recent glaciation period, often known simply as the “Ice Age,” began about 110,000 years ago, reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago then gave way to our inter-glacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. Ice Age climate was much colder and drier than it is today; since most of the water on Earth’s surface was ice, there was little precipitation - rainfall was about half of what it is today. During peak periods with most of the water frozen, global average temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees C (9 to 18 degrees F) below today’s temperature norms.
By 9500 evidence shows harvesting, though not necessarily cultivation, of wild grasses in Asia Minor. In Europe there was permanent ecological change. The savanna-dwelling reindeer, bison, and Paleolithic hunters withdrew to the sub-Arctic, leaving the rest to forest animals like deer, aurochs, and Mesolithic foragers. The climate in many areas (Asia, Middle East and Americas) improved and humans began leaving their nomadic life to settle down. They started domesticating animals and cultivating pulses and cereals, beginning to produce food in a systematic way rather than to find all their food in the wild. Having fire, spears, bow and arrows, flint knives, a few stone tools, but no wheel or metal work, they made primitive rope out of animal sinew, skins, hair, and vines, lived in small communities with populations of no more than a few dozen, and built shelters out of animal hide, sod, grass, and stone. Fireplaces were open pits. Much of their time would have been spent either searching for food or preparing it, but there was free time too.
The coming of agrarian societies was almost certainly connected to the waning of the Pleistocene, or Ice Age, the period beginning at about 15,000 years ago when glaciers shrank and both sea levels and global temperatures rose. In several parts of the Northern Hemisphere rainfall increased significantly. This period lasted 5,000 to 7,000 years. Rising seas drowned low-lying coastal areas (like the Sunda Shelf) and land bridges that had previously connected regions separated by water today. Land bridges now under water included spans between Siberia and Alaska, Australia and Papua New Guinea, and Britain and continental Europe.
One consequence of this ‘great thaw’ was the dividing of the world into three distinct zones, whose human populations, as well as other land-bound animals and plants, had very limited contact with one another. These zones were 1) Africa, Asia, and Europe combined; 2) the Americas; and 3) Australia.
A second consequence of the great thaw was that across much of the Northern Hemisphere, warmer, rainier, ice-free conditions permitted forests, meadow-lands, and small animal populations to flourish. With natural bounty so great, some folk began to settling, staying in one place all or part of the year. They became sedentary, rather than moving from camp to camp. For example, in the relatively well-watered part of Southwest Asia we call the Fertile Crescent, groups began sometime between 8,000 and 113,000 BCE to found tiny settlements from which they collected from the then plentiful wild grain and other edible plants and animals. They eventually began protecting wild grain from weeds, birds and even drought, then started broadcasting edible plant seeds onto new ground to increase yields. They began selecting and planting seed from individual plants that seemed more desirable due to size and taste, more and more learning more and more about how to control and manipulate the reproduction of plants, and about how better to harvest, store, and cook than they had with wild foods. Systematic domestication was under way, and the idea of control gained important favor!
Eventually, plant-growing and animal-raising communities became ‘co-dependent’ with their domesticates - humans came to rely on these genetically altered species to survive. In turn, domesticated plants and animals were so changed that they would thrive only if humans took care of them. For example, the maize, or corn, that we see in fields today can no longer reproduce without human help. And as humans controlled their domesticates, a small number of people began to control domesticated humans. The great advantage of co-dependency was that a community could rely fairly predictably on a given area of land to produce sufficient yields of hardy, tasty food, and even surplus. Populations of both humans and their domesticates grew accordingly. But co-dependency was a kind of trap: a farming community, which had to huddle together in a crowded village and labor long hours in the fields, couldn’t return to a foraging way of life - even when faced with calamity. And calamities did occur, from storms, flooding , new diseases from living in denser communities with buildup of waste and rubbish.
Also, there was no longer the wide variety of food that hunter-gatherers had enjoyed. Grain is notoriously bad for your teeth and deficient in some essential nutrients. Children were weaned early and fed on grain instead of mother’s milk, enabling mothers to have children once every 1.5 years. Child mortality soared but agrarian society still grew.
Underwater erosion from turbidity currents, earthquakes, mountain landslides, floods, eruptions and severe weather certainly continued to challenge communities, but perhaps not as much as threats from other human communities, especially after domestication of the horse, about 4000 BCE, in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea from Ukraine to Kazakhstan. Greed became ascendant, and doors to awareness closed.
When people became no longer happy to share, free to roam, confident in nature’s bounty and robust in and of health and confidence, some forms of mental activity closed off in compensation for the new forms of patience, concentration, discipline and toleration required, forms quite different from those of the hunt. Social differentiation, guarding of storage, and anxiety over pestilence and weather led to self-doubts, social tensions and conflicts, to focus anathema to full open-mindedness, and the petty emotions that dominate out political and economic reality even now.
Maybe should our differences become more valued than resented, our minds can begin to open again.

It may possibly have been with the changes from ancient to modern ways that the germs and viruses that killed so many Caribbean Islanders just after Spaniards first arrived there began to inhabit humans, but maybe that’s just my imagination. Could not closing down mental activity out of self-protective fear, to focus on roots of self-interested fears, have also opened the way to microbiotic parasitic infections?
Humans were, of course, well adapted to our previous mode of existence. But the inherent injustices of ‘civilization’ we remain poorly adapted to (as perhaps it should be.
Settled, village folk have longer memories about petty feelings than do ancient-style ones with their ‘wow be here now’ gestalt of immediacy and laissez-faire. For the former, saving face is very important; for the latter, you’re pretty much as good as your last haul. We think of hillbillies holding grudges, but it’s really more of a small-town thing that extends to communities within sprawling metropolises. For the nomad, old grudges tend to be counter-productive, counter-intuitive and just plain cumbersome. Remember, they can carry but little baggage. Until recently, for the more modern, stuff had a tendency to accumulate. Suddenly, for the last couple of decades, we find we can’t afford even the space for a bunch of junk, and now even worthless intellectual baggage is beginning to get discarded. I hope we’ll begin to notice, again, important things we’ve forgotten about, and no longer look for beauty and wonder only in museums. Or internet presentations!

The Tao Te Jing, composed while Europeans were still barbarians, has long been of great interest to me, and I've much appreciated wisdom I've found there. But with its anti-egalitarian bias, Tao Te Ching 65 seems to me a bit off - maybe a late addition lacking in some of the spiritual awareness of earlier lessons in the book.

These I admire:

Tao Te Ching - 76
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

And 81
Sincere words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not sincere.
Good men are not argumentative, the argumentative are not good.
One who knows is not erudite; the erudite one does not know.
The sage does not take to hoarding.
The more he lives for others, the fuller is his life.
The more he gives, the more he abounds.
The Way of Heaven benefits and does not harm.
The Way of the sage works and does not compete with anyone.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Hoarding Compulsion: misery may love company, but misers don’t.

Compulsive or extreme hoarding was once classified as a symptom or sub-type of obsessive-compulsive disorder - not, contrary to what you might expect, of the anal-retentive one. Those categorizations have fallen into disrepute, with little residual professional usage anymore, but they still find utility in popular parlance. A mental illness entirely separate from other disorders, compulsive hoarding occurs in a variety of forms. Some pile up old newspapers, food cartons, cans, clothes, mail, notes or lists, garbage and other debris; some, collect knick-knacks, books, food or animals. Those with the condition may feel either or both sentimental attachments or desire to avoid wastefulness.
Although not officially recognized as a distinct psychological disorder, compulsive hoarding disorder is believed by many to be related to or interconnected with other disorders, including bipolar disorder, social anxiety, and depression. Some patients who have anorexia nervosa, dementia, or schizophrenia (another discredited term) may engage in some compulsive hoarding. Compulsive hoarding disorder is often seen to come in conjunction with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and, to a smaller extent, with attention-deficit-disorder (ADD). Compulsive hoarding disorder may run in families, have epigenetic roots, or be a response to trauma. Compulsive hoarders often lack the ability to socialize, or have difficulty with socializing, and may be embarrassed by the stigma of their disorder, and refuse to allow others to view their accumulated clutter. Or bank statements.
Compulsive hoarding, unlike OCD and ADD, responds but little to treatment with antidepressant drugs. Unlike OCD sufferers, hoarders actually enjoy being surrounded by all their stuff. Hoarding is more like compulsive gambling or compulsive shopping , in being pleasurable to the person.
The compulsion, scientists have theorized, is a natural adaptive instinct gone amok. Some animals hoard due to evolutionary advantages. One, the Arctic gray jay, caches some 100,000 mouthfuls of berries, insects, and spiders over a wide area, to ensure that it has enough for the long, dark winter. Hoarding may also function as a mating strategy: male black wheatears, which live in dry and rocky regions of Eurasia and Africa, spend considerable time and energy piling up heavy stones before mating season. Those with the largest piles are more likely to mate, having demonstrated exceptional fitness.
One hoarder may keep things that he believes he might need later on, while another may fear losing information she’ll want later on, in books, magazines, or even junk mail. For those with hoarding disorder, possessions remind them of the past or foreshadow a more secure future. They can remember wearing that outfit or playing with that toy when a child, and are certain that jug will be useful some day, despite having many other jugs they’ve never used. They’re extremely attached to their possessions – to the point of loving them more than they do people, any people at all.
I knew a guy who covered ten acres with junk that he expected might come in useful after the collapse of society. Bar-bell weights, ancient trucks, broken filing cabinets, bags of old shoes, ruined fire hoses, discarded beds… should he ever need a flux capacitor, surely the parts to put one together would be there, somewhere. Maybe the condition should be called compulsively accumulative and retentive weirdness! Many of its adherents are poor, perhaps due to the condition, but our richest seem to suffer from it also. I blame insufficient socialization, bonding and trust.
A need to explore and influence one’s environment, further realize self-identity and have a place within the milieu one finds oneself uncomfortable within may have parallels with emotional attachment to possessions exhibited by individuals with hoarding disorder. Many people hoarders experience other mental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder plus alcohol and/or drug abuse. Hoarding differs from collecting in that collectors look for specific items like cars or coins, then organize and protect them. People with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly, thinking they may need them in the future, or fantasizing valuable sentimental value. Many feel safer surrounded by things they’ve saved. Hoarding behavior causes significant anxiety and distress in the hoarder that impairs functioning in daily life. It often begins slowly, building up over time. As the hoard increases, making passage through hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms, garages and other living areas more treacherous, the disorder progresses to a point of nearly no return. As Wikipedia points out, ‘A miser is a person who is reluctant to spend, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts and some necessities, in order to hoard money or other possessions.’
Food hoarding occurs after experience of painful hunger or starvation, at least among folk who’s society involves little or no expectation of periods of deprivation. As far as I know, among peoples where periods of great hunger are a norm, hoarding does not occur – perhaps because food scarcity doesn’t allow that? Or because the difficulties didn’t involve shock, or resultant change in world-view? Surely when spoiled rich kids discover they have no real friends and cannot make any, there is sense of shock, and deprivation, for which compensation will be demanded. This, in my opinion, goes far towards explaining the mean, vengeful behavior of Donald Trump and others of his ilk. The pains of loneliness and alienation are for lesser mortals, and the lack of fairness in finding oneself demeaned and tainted by somehow contacting it demands retribution on those from whom the cooties surely came! Far as I can figure anyway, and without meaning to in any way look to some kind of diminishment of the trauma of concentration camp internees or that of other victims of vicious cruelty or circumstance.
Hoarding – compulsive accumulation – is a sickness affecting perhaps over 6% of humanity (mostly, I suspect, among its more ‘Westernized’ and affluent – during my well over 25 years in Asia I haven’t encountered it). One or another variant of it affects up to 2 million people in the USA.
Hoarders excessively save things others see as worthless, things they’ll never use (like a 52nd billion $). Their persistent difficulty parting with possessions makes for disruptive clutter limiting living and work space, global economic advancement and social harmony. Hobby collectors and people who simply don't keep a neat living or work-space don’t necessarily fit diagnostic criteria for hoarding disorder, but there may be a psychological connection. Many have collections of favorite items and memorabilia; most folk collect at least some clutter. The healthy have little problem sorting through and discarding their clutter when time and situation allows, and often find other things to do than make or hoard money. In the mind of the compulsive hoarder, though, every single collected item has value, and every additional dollar further enriches life. Just the thought of discarding an item results in the kind of severe anxiety Scrooge McDuck or Silas Mariner might encounter in a candy or clothing store. You don’t part with something to get something else, just keep whatever you can.
Reports suggest anxiety disorder can trigger the need to hoard. One study found that those who hoard have difficulty coping with negative emotions like anxiety, which can operate in two ways when you hoard. The feeling of anxiety is sometimes eased by finding an item desirable to keep, but faced with need to discard items, the hoarder becomes extremely anxious and uncomfortable. Hoarders cannot, and will not, freely give up their possessions, however inconsequential they are, or how unsafe and unsanitary their environment has become. Without professional help, even if a cleanup crew comes in and removes the debris, clutter and detritus, the hoarder will just start to accumulate again until the problem reaches the same level of impending disaster. Children regularly use objects for comfort, especially during times of need, so shouldn’t everyone have at least a bit of a residual hoarding problem? Maybe the more alienated among us do, but some psychologists say maybe not, as only some people are excessively prone to anthropomorphism - perceiving objects and/or animals to have human-like qualities.
Individuals who hoard tend to experience interpersonal difficulties, feel insecure in relationships, and believe themselves to be a burden to others. Humans need to be connected physically, socially, and psychologically to other humans. This need is just as important as the need for air, water, food, and shelter. Loneliness negatively affects our health and is a risk factor for early death. Understandably, when we feel devalued or unloved, we seek out closeness. When our need isn’t met by humans, objects may serve as a substitute. To compensate for unmet social needs, objects and animals become personalized, given human characteristics and made to replace humans, in order for the hoarder to feel connected. But as anthropomorphism doesn’t fully meet anyone’s needs, they acquire more and more. Stronger anthropomorphic tendencies are associated with more compulsive buying and greater acquisition of free stuff. Individuals with hoarding disorder exhibit hyper-sentimentality, in which possessions are seen as part of the self. Ownership becomes seen as validization of the self, proof of position, importance, of being deserving of respect, love and attention.
So what we have is the needy having, because they need to have. They cannot count on their skills, their likability, their community, their resourcefulness. They fear that without that which they hoard, they would be nothing. And in many cases that is almost true. Usually though, total alienation is but a nightmare from which one can waken to a much more reassuring vision of reality. There are real rewards to generosity, whether material or just in friendliness.
Part of the problem is response to deprivation, usually irrational: when needs, physical or emotional, aren’t met, various forms of subsequent overcompensation result – the fear of recurrent deprivation is physical, not simply psychological, and it doesn’t dissipate with presentation of new fact, like ownership of a full pantry (which in any case could be lost to theft, fire, flood or many another possible event). Hoarders have difficulty discarding items because of strong perceived need to save items and/or distress associated with discarding, and this can lead to family conflicts, isolation, loneliness, unwillingness to have anyone else enter the home and an inability to perform daily tasks such as cooking and bathing in the home. Some individuals with hoarding disorder may recognize and acknowledge that they have a problem with accumulating possessions; others may not see a problem.

Hoarding disorder occurs in at least 2% of the population, but that figure fails to recognize more acceptable forms like hiding away money, art, clothing or jewelry. It's more common in males than females, and also more common among older adults - The consequences of hoarding escalate as people get older. Three times as many adults 55 to 94 years are affected by hoarding disorder compared to adults 34 to 44 years old. It leads to substantial distress and problems functioning, can cause problems in relationships, social and work activities and even create health issues. Consequences include fire hazards, health code infractions, loss of value in what actually had it, and decision-making impairment (things that need to be done may well be neglected due to fear of losing cherished junk or even unhealthy animals). As they age and their memories fade, they may no longer even remember what they’ve been hoarding.
In addition to difficulty discarding, excessive saving and clutter, many people with hoarding disorder have associated problems such as indecisiveness, perfectionism, procrastination, disorganization and distractibility. These associated features can contribute greatly to their problems functioning and overall severity. If you entered a hoarder's home, you would likely notice an overwhelming smell. The smell could come from mildew, rotten food, or even dead animals lurking behind and under the stacks of stuff that no one could reach to clean out. Hoarders who rent their homes risk eviction because of the mess and unsafe conditions. The filthy environment can lead to frequent or chronic illness. Certainly, social interactions and family relationships would become difficult for a hoarder. Even keeping a job can prove challenging because of frequent sickness and lack of hygiene. Early anxious attachments can lead to the avoidance of human interaction and the replacement of human relationships with objects. Individuals with hoarding disorder often have excessive emotional reactivity, and negative emotions can be slow to decline in response to interpersonal stressful events. This brings to the forefront a lack of emotional regulation skills and the need to manage these emotions by acquiring more objects. As the number of traumatic or stressful events increases, so does the severity of hoarding.
As children, we use possessions to comfort ourselves when our parents are unavailable. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have abandoned security blankets and teddy bears. We might occasionally buy something unnecessary or hang on to a few items we no longer need. In most cases, these few extra possessions don’t pose a problem. We store them in a closet or display them proudly on a shelf. We have a few treasured objects, but we don’t rely on them to make us feel good – at least not on a regular basis, and not in the manner of someone who ‘collects’ art to store in a huge safe.

Animal hoarding involves an individual acquiring large numbers (dozens or even hundreds) of animals. The animals may be kept in an inappropriate space, potentially creating unhealthy, unsafe conditions for the animals. Animal hoarders are more likely than other hoarders to have had traumatic life experiences, like deaths of loved ones, disrupted family relationships, divorce, being placed in a foster home and sexual assault. A hoarder might collect and house dozens to hundreds of animals. Often they are actually, ironically, gifted with animals, and the animals love them, but equally often the ‘pets’ aren’t properly fed or kept healthy, due to lack of funds.
People who hoard animals may collect dozens or even hundreds of pets. Animals may be confined inside or outside. Because of the large numbers, these animals often aren't cared for properly. The health and safety of the person and the animals are at risk because of unsanitary conditions.

Most hoarders feel no need to seek treatment; treatment ambivalence is the norm, despite that about 85% of individuals with hoarding difficulties acknowledge a need for treatment. Nearly half of individuals with hoarding disorder refuse treatment from the outset, drop out of treatment once it is initiated, or have difficulty fully complying with treatment. A deeper understanding of the psychology behind hoarding is needed if treatment ambivalence and non-adherence are to be overcome.
Current treatment approaches include teaching individuals how to challenge their beliefs about possessions, how to resist acquiring urges and how to sort, organize, and discard things. This approach helps about a quarter of people who receive it. Psychological ownership theory highlights the extreme ownership experience of a person who hoards, both in terms of the intensity of their feelings and the quantity of items they acquire. Individuals with hoarding disorder also tend to take extreme responsibility for the object — as a part of ownership — and often make statements that express their concern for the well-being of the object. This is a sign of adult anthropomorphism, which research has shown to be a good predictor of hoarding behavior.

Stockpiled possessions addressed various psychological needs; they’re not seen as useless items, but rather as a bulwark to build safety in the face of an uncertain, dangerous future. Hoarders are often proud to value items others don’t appreciate, and sometimes refer to themselves as only “temporary custodians” of the items.

Part of the dragon myth involves their massive hoards of treasure. If the dragon steals all of the treasure, the economic consequences of money disappearing from circulation lead to negative supply shock, as the quantity of money available decreases. This leads to an increase in the 'price' of money, effectively causing deflation and reducing the purchasing power in the area where that wealth held currency. of the nation as a whole, which will be a major problem if the nation is largely an import economy. When treasure remains in the hands of the wealthy, this leads to increased economic disparity and a reduction in the buying power of the lower class. If the treasure is not in circulation, perhaps being stored in a bank to back a paper currency, the same thing happens. Money supply can be increased, but then foreign markets become less willing to accept that currency, and welcome opportunity to trade for a currency with more stable value.

Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a 16 January 2017 report published by Oxfam. By 2 January 2018, Oxfam claimed that had changed: the gulf between the world's richest and poorest people is widening, it said in a report showing that 42 people hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. Elsewhere Oxfam says 85, 62 and 67... Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett combined own a US$248.5 billion fortune – as much as the bottom half of the US population, or 160 million people. The wealthiest 400 combined have more than the bottom 64% of the US population, an estimated 80 million households or 204 million people - more than the population of Canada and Mexico combined. A ‘Common Dreams’ analysis from 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth, while as of 06/08/17, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people.

Adapted from an article by Joe Brewer:
At least 24 trillion dollars is squirreled away in tax havens around the world, hidden in a clandestine network of shell companies, computer accounting systems, law firms, and legal structures that comprise a global architecture for wealth hoarding. It is systemic corruption that was put in place on purpose.
When famine and starvation hit a community, the richest close off their food stores to keep as much as a ten year supply for themselves - so they can retain their lives and power until well after the famine comes to an end. Today’s wealthiest 0.1% behave like spoiled children —  grabbing more and more while billions of other people are malnourished and starving.
Imagine if we took the global crisis seriously and recognized those financial parasites for what they are. The wealth hoarders are symptomatic of an economic paradigm that behaves like cancer, spreading and growing exponentially because that is what its core logic dictates it to do. We must replace the logic of extraction with principles that are compatible with life. It will not be possible to make our cities sustainable (or even affordable to live in) if our economic paradigm fails to take into account the logic of homeostasis and its support capacities based in the patterns of emergence.
Our bodies, like all living things, are able to regulate themselves as nested systems of emergent order. They do this in a combination of centralized and distributed systems of control that function in parallel at multiple levels. Our bodies survive courtesy of a vast web of interconnected systems,  for circulation of nutrients, digestion, feeling pain, monitoring changes, and so forth. These keep it in a “safe zone” for several key biological parameters. Too hot? Open up skin follicles and start sweating. Too acidic? Release hormones for appetite to seek food that will restore balance. Too much pressure on the brain? Feel the discomfort and alter your behavior accordingly — maybe by sitting down and taking a few breaths.
Forget the mythical battle between large centralized economies and “free” markets. Real economic systems work through multi-tiered feedbacks in government and management across households, municipalities, professional associations, regional and national agencies, trade consortiums, and more.
No single level dominates, yet all work in harmony through the coordination of multi-level patterns for selecting desired outcomes. The field of evolutionary studies explains how all of this works. Biologist David Sloan Wilson describes it bluntly when he says the economy is an organism.
My reason for pointing this out is that our financial system has “gone rogue” and made the central goal for civilization to maximize profits for the few at the expense of the many. This is what cancer does and its end state is well known. We will not have a living civilization much longer if this pattern of growth without constraint continues.
Let’s seek instead to behave like the living systems that we actually are, in our communities and nations. In order to do this, we need to release financial nutrients that have been squirreled away. Currently, with wealth hoarding the way it is, the economy is functioning like your body would if half of your blood supply got siphoned off to the big toe on your left foot, or a particularly male organ.
This is the antithesis of sustainability, but it’s the direction we’re heading now — and we’ll only change course by updating the rules-of-play for our global economy. Praising wealth hoarders is what we’ve done for decades; instead we must end wealth hoarding and invest in the future of our species. Do this and we have a chance at making the transition to sustainability. Fail to do this, and we over-exploit the natural foundations of our livelihoods and go into rapid decline. Then our civilization collapses.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Bangladesh Rising, also sinking – mirror to the world

Tea-balls, mirro-finance and ocean-front property

To witness development of commercial tastes among folk who’ve never before had expendable cash with which to make decisions can be interesting. Self-sustenance can fly out the window from the influence of advertising, as things never before even thought about become needs. General parlance calls this progress. Once plastic bags were collected in Thailand to sell in Myanmar; now they’re so ubiquitous governments have initiated propaganda campaigns to limit use.
Have you ever thought how much tea-bags hamper the culinary experience that made tea the world’s most popular beverage? The rectangular tea bag wasn’t invented until 1944, and not only do paper tea bags often contain Epichlorohydrin, a pesticide which becomes active when in hot water, and can cause infertility and harm your immune system, but artificial ingredients are usually used to flavor bagged tea. Plastic tea bags in hot enough water begin to break down, releasing toxins into the tea, and paper ones have usually been chlorine-bleached. Tea companies use pesticides: a 2015 Greenpeace report shows 34 pesticides in Indian tea. As the teas weren’t washed, the pesticides end up in your drink. Also, for best taste, tea must be able to release its flavors properly. When tea brews, the leaves expand, but tea bags offer little room for them to unfurl and swell, limiting real tea flavor. As tea bags often contain only fannings, dust and leftovers after larger leaf pieces are gathered for sale as loose tea, they give a rather astringent, bitter taste, usually overcome through added artificial flavorants and perfumes. This is particularly true of tea blends with fruit or flower aromas.

It’s estimated that by 2025, Bangladesh will have 63 cities with middle class populations of at least 100,000 (compared with 36 now), but this thriving middle class with its yen for convenience has brought about absurd contradictions, as with interest in Tetley and Lipton teas, likely far more traveled than their Bangladeshi consumers!
The tea market of Bangladesh is growing rapidly; sales have increased recently with a rising number of tea stalls offering sit down services. Most Bangladeshis see tea as affordable and refreshing. The top five brands are Ispahani Mirzapur, Lipton Taaza, Tetley, Finlay and HRC. Most started as foreign brands, but now are produced and marketed locally. They aren’t expensive by international standards, but global standards for middle class income are much higher, and the unnecessary packaging and advertising costs are hardly convenient relative to the value of money and the costs of obtaining it. Tea, after all, still grows wild in northern Bangladesh! Not many, though, still drink that.

Bangladesh tea pickers live in isolated villages without electricity or running water, in harsh conditions. Some don’t speak Bengali, particularly marginalized inhabitants of the mountain regions on the border with Myanmar and those living in Sylhet, the land of tea plantations in the northeast. They use Garo, Urwan, or Tripura among themselves, and barely basic Bengali with employers. Their salary is low - 48 to 55 US cents per day. A couple of tin pots, an oil lamp, and a few blankets are all many have. Duncan Brothers, a leading tea company in Bangladesh, which produces 30 million kilos of tea per year, the equivalent of a third of Bangladesh’s total crop, has increased tea pickers’ daily salary and provides huts for workers to live in, plus three kilos of rice per week. In exchange, during the harvest season, between March and December, workers must pick 20 pounds of young leaves per day. Still, as people prefer commercial, packaged teas, there’s more profit to share with workers than there would be otherwise, and conditions are improving – slightly. Workers, though, not infrequently use additional income for coffee and energy drinks.
When Tai (Dai, Zhouang, Yua) from Yunnan entered the area now Shan State, in the 12th century, concerned, perhaps, about Mongol encroachments, some went on across Nagaland to Assam India (1228), just north of Bangladesh, and became Tai Aiton. They surely carried domesticated tea with them. Europeans, of course, had to make it their own. Robert Bruce introduced the Assam tea bush to Europe after encountering it in 1823. He found the plant growing ‘wild’ near Rangpur in Assam while trading in the region, and noticed Singhpo tribesmen brewing tea from it. A Singpho chief, Bessa Gam, showed Bruce how the tea was brewed and consumed, and provided him with samples of the leaves and seeds, which he planned to have scientifically examined. Robert Bruce died shortly thereafter, without having seen the plant properly classified. It was not until the early 1830s that Robert’s brother, Charles, arranged for a few leaves from the Assam tea bush to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for examination. Then the colonizing British East India Company formed a body of ‘experts’ (the Tea Committee, 1834), to assess the scientific nature and commercial potential of Assam tea. The adherence of its members to the Chinese ideal (in terms of the plant and the method of manufacture) led to the importation of Chinese tea makers and Chinese tea seeds to displace the ‘wild’ plant and traditional methods in Assam. After a while, a hybridized version of the Chinese and Assam teas proved successful in the Assam climate and terrain, and it became called ‘Camellia sinensis var. assamica’ (distinct from the Chinese version (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which has smaller leaves).
Connoisseurs and affectionados often use Pyrex glass or small red-clay tea-pots. My mother used a large porcelain one into which she would put an aluminum tea-ball with the tea inside, but preparing hot consumables with aluminum isn’t a huge improvement over ancient Roman lead water-pipes. She also had a small stainless steel teapot, not much bigger than a bracelet charm, for single cups of tea - but the leaves had to be really packed inside, leaving no room to expand.
Real epicurean tea ceremony devotees have much more to say about proper preparation, but I’m not one, and won’t go into tea types here. They are as myriad as coffees, tobaccos, beers or ‘milks’ and milk products, but as cannabis varies extremely, I guess tea can too, somewhat justifying the incredible range in prices! I grow my own, with no fertilizer or pesticide, and after my tea-picking wife soaks, squeezes and dries them, just boil the leaves in a regular steel cooking pot, like for chai tea - but often with astragalus, fresh green herbs, dried mushrooms, licorice root or other dried material of purported health benefits. I then pour it through a strainer into a tea mug. Throwing out the first ‘rinse’ doesn’t make much sense to me as my tea and herbs are from my yard! Often I will boil it a 2nd time, sometimes even almost 24 hours later.

Like most branded teas, Lipton teas, the world’s most popular and restaurant standard, are a blend, selected from different plantations around the world, in Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, and China. Lipton Yellow Label is blended from as many as 20 different teas.
The Tetley Group was bought by India’s Tata Group in February 2000 - Tata Global Beverages markets tea under the major brands Tata Tea, Tetley, Good Earth Teas and JEMČA. Tata Tea is the biggest-selling tea brand in India; Tetley is the biggest-selling tea brand in Canada and the second-biggest-selling in the US and UK. Established in 1837, Tetley was the first to introduce the tea bag to the UK, in 1953. It introduced the round tea bag in 1989 and the ‘no drip, no mess’ drawstring bag in 1997.
The international trade union IUF criticized Tetley in 2009 for not allowing statutory maternity leave to pregnant tea pluckers, and for locking out 1,000 workers on the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal for so long that local government distributed food coupons for emergency rations to workers and their families. In May 2010, a crop sprayer died of poisoning on a Tata estate in Assam, leading to protests at which two other workers were shot dead by riot police. On 30 January 2012, Tata Global Beverages and Starbucks announced the creation of a 50-50 joint venture called Tata Starbucks Limited, which owns and operates Starbucks Coffee ‘A Tata Alliance’ in India. The company has 51 tea estates in India and Sri Lanka, especially in Assam, West Bengal in eastern India and Kerala in the south. It’s the largest manufacturer of Assam and Darjeeling tea and the second-largest manufacturer of Ceylon tea. Tetley Kenyan Gold is made in the UK from tea leaves grown at high elevations in Kenya.
Tata Group claims belief in “creation of sustainable value” - meaning giving back to society what came from society. It’s been a pioneer in employee welfare, the eight-hour working day, provident funds and maternity leave, instituting them before they became law. In recent years, Tata companies have started using their core competencies to help in sustainable development of communities around the world. But in January 2014, Tata Global Beverages and International Finance Corporation (part of World Bank) were criticized for poor working conditions, low wages, and gross human rights violations in a report released by Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. The report alleges Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited , which is partly owned by Tata Tea, was in violation of many of provisions of Indian Plantation Labor Act on its tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal. In March 2014 a documentary on The Guardian news website claimed that Tata Global Beverages was underpaying the minimum Indian wage at an Assam tea plantation which Tata co-owns.
In October 2015, a movement of 6,000 female laborers calling themselves ‘Pempilai Orumai’ ( women’s unity) laid siege to the Munnar tea estates, one of Kerala’s most popular tourist destinations and a subsidiary of Tata Tea’s plantation in Kerala. Trade and tourism were brought to a near standstill. After nine days of protest and marathon negotiations, Tata/Tetley gave in. It was a stunning victory: a group of semi-literate women had taken on the most powerful interests in the state and won. The spark that ignited the protest was a decision to cut the 20% bonus paid to tea pickers, but there was also anger at their one-bed huts without toilets or other basic amenities. While they earn significantly more than tea workers in Assam, they say the 230 rupees (£2.30; $3.50) they are paid for a day's work is just half what a wage laborer in Kerala would get.

To most, Bangladesh, the 8th most populous country, is synonymous with poverty, rivaling Haiti and Congo, but it’s actually not in the bottom 20% of countries (the poorest are in Africa; North Korea, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, Nepal and Tajikistan are others, but reports vary). Population estimates vary; a 2011 census claimed 142.3 million, but 2016 UN data suggests 163 million, and that doesn’t include 688,000 Rohingyas, and another 200,000 others from Myanmar, in refugee camps. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world; it’s capital, Dhaka, (pop. 15 million) is the most densely populated of all cities in the world. But century old paddle steam boats navigate its beautiful rivers, and old trains occasionally excite ‘train-spotters’. The country faces challenges education, healthcare and corruption, but is one of the largest textile exporters in the world, with major trading partners the EU, US, China, India, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2008, Bangladeshi female workforce participation stood at 26%, with women dominating blue collar jobs in the garment industry. Agriculture, social services, healthcare and education are major occupations for Bangladeshi women, while their employment in white collar positions is steadily increasing. Handlooms operated by women supply at least 60% of the country’s clothing.
Bangladesh is predominantly rich fertile flat land, but is also riverine, and prone to floods. 79% is delta plains. Most parts are less than 12 meters (40 ft) above sea level. It’s estimated that about 10% of its land would be flooded if the sea level were to rise a meter. Many of the rural poor population live in areas that are prone to extreme annual flooding causing huge damage to their crops, homes and livelihoods. To rebuild their homes, they often have to resort to moneylenders, and that causes them to fall deeper into poverty. In September 1998, Bangladesh saw the most severe flooding in modern world history. As the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and Meghna spilt over and swallowed 300,000 houses, 9,700 km (6,000 mi) of road and 2,700 km (1,700 mi) of embankment, 1,000 people were killed and 30 million more were made homeless; 135,000 cattle were killed; 50 km2 (19 sq mi) of land was destroyed; and 11,000 km (6,800 mi) of roads were badly damaged. Effectively, two-thirds of the country was underwater. The severity of the flooding was attributed to unusually high monsoon rains with unusually large amounts of melt water from the Himalayas, exasperated by widespread cutting down of trees that would have intercepted rain water, for firewood or animal husbandry.
Although more than half of GDP is generated through the services sector, agriculture is considered the largest sector of the economy, making up 18.6% of Bangladesh’s GDP in November 2010 and employing at least 45% of the workforce. More Bangladeshis earn their living from agriculture than from any other sector. The country is among the top producers of rice (4th - it's Bangladesh’s most important product), potatoes (7th), tropical fruits (6th), jute (2nd), and farmed fish (5th). Its per-capita income was US$1,754 in 2018. Bangladesh has one of the world’s oldest tea industries, and is a major exporter of fish and seafood. Bangladesh’s textile and ready-made garment industries are the country’s largest manufacturing sector, with 2014 exports of $25 billion. Leather-goods manufacturing, particularly footwear, is the second-largest export sector. The pharmaceutical industry meets 97% of domestic demand, and exports to many countries. Garment exports, the backbone of Bangladesh’s industrial sector, accounted for more than 80% of total exports and were on track to again surpass $25 billion in 2017. The sector continues to grow, despite the need for improvements in factory working conditions to avert further high-profile accidents that have killed more than 1,000 workers in recent years. Steady export growth in the garment sector combined with remittances from overseas Bangladeshis - which totaled about $13 billion and 6% of GDP in 2016 - are key contributors to Bangladesh’s sustained economic growth and rising foreign exchange reserves. The recent influx of hundreds of millions of additional refugees from Burma will place pressure on the Bangladeshi government’s budget and the country’s rice supplies, which declined in 2017 in part because of adverse weather. Bangladesh is the world’s third largest Muslim majority country, with Muslims making up more than 80%. Hindus are 10%, Buddhists and Christians 1% and surely there are still some tribal animists. Maybe the rest are agnostic? The urban population is 35.8% of the total; 73% are literate. Youth unemployment is high, ages 15-24 9.4% unemployed.
The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies has found one-fifth of the middle class does business for income. A person with $US 3 per day is included in the middle class. The 'upper middle class' is people with a daily income of $US 4, which rose to 20% of the population in 2010. Many live on 1.25US$-2US$ per day and so are poor by World Bank standards - 26% of Bangladesh's population gets under $2US per day. 48% of children in Bangladesh are malnourished, and many work more than 45 hours a week, often in rag trade sweatshops. This is an indirect and unintended result of the actions of soulless multinationals and rapacious local entrepreneurs, whose only concern is to take advantage of the profit opportunities offered by cheap labor.
The adult population grew past 100 million in 2015, and had a combined wealth of $US237 billion at that time. Per capita income in Bangldesh is about $14000, ahead of at least 35, maybe 38, other countries. Credit Suisse has identified 1.2 million Bangladeshis as members of the global middle class, with wealth amounting to almost $18,000 each. This burgeoning middle class of business and government workers values foreign brands and has jumped onto the digital IT bandwagon by millions.
Regardless of what one calls middle class, sales in consumer products ranging from foreign cosmetics, air-coolers, refrigerators to passenger vehicles, are at record levels. As tens of millions of “middle and affluent consumers” see their incomes increase, economic growth has been 6%. Bangladeshi consumers differ from most Asian counterparts in having an aversion to accumulating debt - this helps deliver stability, which the country otherwise lacks. The country’s population, young, vibrant and growing, helps propel growth and rising consumerism. It’s estimated that the 84 million really poor, by 2025 will be just 44 million. Purchasing power won’t be limited to major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong, but should extend to Khulna, Gazipur and other cities.

Bangladesh has an impoverished banking system, particularly in terms of services and customer care at government run banks. Private banks try to imitate the banking structure of more developed countries, but are often foiled by inexpert or politically motivated government policies executed by the central bank of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Bank. The outcome is a banking system fostering corruption and illegal monetary activities/laundering etc. by the politically powerful and criminals, making services or the performance of international transactions difficult for general customers of the ordinary citizenry, students studying abroad or through distance learning, foreigners and people entering the middle class but not yet familiar with banking.
Micro-finance, originally to foster tiny owner/operator businesses like roving snack selling, shoe or clothing repair, maybe knife and scissor sharpening (does anybody do that anymore?) or perhaps purchase of a gas-powered steed-blade weed-wacker, worked well for a while as an NGO thing, then went into decline.
Micro-finance as it originated at Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank involves tiny loans to women with fixed terms and amounts, group liability, weekly meetings, forced payments into a group savings account, and a set of 16 social pledges chanted each week while standing at attention. They use groups to facilitate interactions with clients, and may offer various incentives for peer support. The Grameen model spawned imitators around the world, involving a large share of micro-finance clients in India, the Philippines and East Africa. However, formal guarantees and even, in some cases, weekly group meetings have disappeared. Micro-finance grew to enormous scale in Bangladesh, with about 23 million borrowers, the highest population saturation of micro-finance in any country.
Grameen Bank, begun as a government project in 1976 and established in 1983 as an independent bank, provides financial resources to the poor on reasonable terms, to generate productive self-employment without external assistance. Its customers are landless folk who want small loans for all types of economic activities, including housing, with about 70% of them women. Collective rural enterprises also could borrow from for investments in tube wells, rice and oil mills, power looms and for leasing land for joint cultivation. The average loan by the Grameen Bank in the mid-1980s was around Tk2,000 (US$65), and the maximum was just Tk18,000 (for construction of a tin-roof house). Repayment terms were 4% for rural housing and 8.5% for normal lending operations. Grameen Bank extended collateral-free loans to 200,000 landless people in its first 10 years. Amidst a prevailing pattern of bad debts throughout the Bangladeshi banking system, only 4% of Grameen Bank loans went overdue.
Islamic banks can’t pay interest or charge any return on loans, but some Muslims dispute whether interest is equivalent to riba (usury). Lawyers and scholars will argue their way around anything, but, to be consistent with Islamic law, banking and finance can’t invest in business involving alcohol, pork, gambling, pornography or gossip columns, demand late payment charges, or, (Heaven forfend!) engage in the buying or selling of derivatives, options and futures. All transactions must be ‘directly linked to a real underlying economic transaction’, which excludes ‘options and most other derivatives’. In Islamic finance, one must work for profits, and simply lending money to someone who needs it doesn’t count as work. Money must not be allowed to create more money. Instead, a bank must provide some service to “earn” its profits. Still, Islamic banking is seeing impressive growth in Bangladesh, as has also international banking (EXIM, Citibank, HSBC, State bank of India), likely to the detriment of ‘micro-finance’.
Analysts have suggested that micro-credit can bring communities into debt from which they can’t escape; researchers note instances when microloans from the Grameen Bank were connected to exploitation and pressures on poor families to sell their belongings, leading in extreme cases to humiliation, further borrowing, child exploitation, despair and even suicide. Also, micro-credit banks depend on subsidies, thus acting as another example of welfare. In some cases, poor rural families have suffered debt spirals, harassment by micro-finance debt collectors, and the kind of despair their religion was meant to forefend.
By early 2000s micro-finance was clearly ‘all talk, no walk’ – with poverty not actually reduced anywhere. Most local markets in poor countries were already saturated with the simple products and services produced in micro-enterprises. Most micro-financed enterprises eventually fail, sending borrowers deeper into poverty. Interest rates didn’t stay low: in Mexico going up to 80%, in Bangladesh and Bolivia 30-40%... almost no real businesses can service such rates. Dichter’s Micro-credit paradox has it that ‘the poorest people can do little productive with credit, and the ones who can do the most with it are those who don’t really need micro-credit, but need larger amounts and longer credit terms.’ It was just a pretense, much like the pretense that religion trumps money.

More than 100 million people currently live within a meter of the high tide level, and are expected by scientists expert in the subject, to be flooded out by 2040, or at least 2100 (by which time a 3 meter rise appears likely). Maybe the rise will be only half a meter by 2040, but storms will still substantially limit safety. It’s likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95% of seaboard areas. Some ‘experts’ claim they expect a rise of only half a meter by 2100, but more reassuring projections have often turned out to not only be false, but intentional deceptions paid for by vested interests (read: petrochemical concerns and extraordinarily wealthy right wingers). Very conservatively, sea level is expected to rise by 0.8 feet by 2050 and between 3.3 and 4.9 feet by 2100; but increased heavy storm activity means even that will be costly. Global warming is increasing certain types of extreme weather events, including heat waves, coastal flooding, extreme precipitation events, and more severe droughts. Global warming also creates conditions that can lead to more powerful hurricanes - climate change will create refugees by increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, and cyclones.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says oceans will rise between 11 and 38 inches (28 to 98 centimeters) by 2100, enough to swamp many cities along the US East Coast. More dire estimates, including a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, place sea level rise to 23 feet (7 meters), enough to submerge London.
Average global sea level increased eight inches since 1880, but now is rising much faster, particularly on the US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The average elevation in Florida is just 6 feet; many places are as little as 3 feet above sea level. Sea level will rise as Arctic ice melts, many islands in the Pacific will disappear, and many millions will be displaced.
Research published early in 2016 in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that as many as 13 million people live in vulnerable regions along the US coasts, which will be lost to them by 2100 if sea levels rise by 5.9 feet (1.8 m). Sea level rise will affect millions in New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Most vulnerable is Southern Florida. Researcher shows that nearly two million people in Miami-Dade County alone face displacement due to rising sea levels.
In Bangladesh a sea level rise of one meter would submerge a fifth of the country and turn 15 to 30 million people into climate migrants; by 2050 about 25 million people will be affected by the rising sea levels. Khulna, Bangladesh is especially endangered.
Similarly, in the Nile area, if sea levels rise half a meter, 8 million people will be displaced from Alexandria and the Nile Delta, unless they get better flood protection. Without adaptation, 40% of Bangkok will be flooded under just a 0.15 meter sea level rise, which is likely by the 2030’s. 70% of Bangkok would be flooded under an 0.88 meter sea-level rise. New Orleans, Houston, NYC, Algiers, HoChiMinh City (Saigon), Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia, in China, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, plus Kolkata and Mumbai in India, also Guayaquil in Ecuador, and many more, will be severely affected by even a relatively mild sea-level rise (8 inches by mid-century), even with steady investment in flood-control technology.
Jakarta’s been made even worse by direct human action - as less than half of the city’s 10 million have access to piped water, illegal well digging is rife. This drains underground aquifers, deflating them, and despite heavy rains they aren’t being replenished - as the prevalence of concrete and asphalt limits absorption of rainfall. As a result, about 40% of Jakarta now lies below sea level.
In the Chesapeake Bay area - a flat region that’s been sinking at a rate of 1.1 to 4.8 millimeters per year since the 1940s – many people have boats. They’ve begun preparing for sea rise with a pilot project, based in Norfolk, Virginia. Groups of climate scientists, government people and private citizens are developing recommendations for zoning and construction projects to protect against sea-level rise and storm surge. Their models could be replicated elsewhere, but depend on local funding and organizing, and so are challenging for most communities to develop.
Global warming is likely to create 200 million climate refugees by 2050, but climate refugees currently have no legal rights and are unlikely to gain them in the near future.

There is hope, sort of: in southeastern Bangladesh, experiments have been done since the 1960s to ‘build with nature’. Construction of cross dams has induced a natural accretion of silt, creating new land. With Dutch funding, the Bangladeshi government began promoting the development of this new land in the late 1970s. The effort has become a multi-agency endeavor, building roads, culverts, embankments, cyclone shelters, toilets and ponds, as well as distributing land to settlers. It was expected that by fall 2010, the program would have allotted some 27,000 acres (10,927 ha) to 21,000 families.
Bangladesh has 6 or more billionaires (At $10,000 per HOUR, working 50 hours a week and 50 weeks a year, with no tax or overhead, it takes 40 years to hit a billion. No-one could POSSIBLY be worth that wage!); one who sells tanks and fighter jets had $7 billion frozen by a Swiss bank. Several of Bangladesh’s richest are closely related to top government officials, and several have been charged by The Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh. Leading Bangladeshi businessmen say that military-owned businesses are virtually indistinguishable from other commercial enterprises in the way they operate. Politically, since most Bangladeshis live in fear (for valid reasons), they support and vote for people or a party that they see as a protector. Money being a symbol of power, this translates to them voting for the corrupt. This can be said about politics in general, all inclusively. One of the richest, Ragib Ali, heads Sylhet Tea Company, owns tea estates in Chittagong and Sylhet, and has founded numerous educational institutions. His net worth is $US 250 million.
Meanwhile, there are at least 20 legal brothel villages, including Kandipara and Daulatdia, home to 1,500 prostitutes, some as young as 10 years old, who work in tiny cubicles amidst a maze of dirty alleyways.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Some semi-academic fun from being misled by sci-fi (The importance of yeast in prehistoric human development)

Sometimes when reading for pleasure I get an enjoyably exciting sense of learning something. Like many things, it’s often just illusion, but if illusion sparks imagination, that’s hardly all bad. Neal Stgephenson’s 1992 ‘Snow Crash’ is a case to point. The world’s best swordsman and hacker par excellance finds trouble working pizza delivery, crashing a Mafia-owned car but meeting a 15-year-old avatar of the goddess of the world’s first recorded religion (and root of Easter, sort of). OK, but at about page 200 it became thought-provoking for me, the subject becoming ‘speech with magical force.’
I quite like mythology, of which there seems to be much more than I can absorb. The multitude of Hindu deities alone would demand more than a lifetime to much absorb, and for all I know, Vodun (Vodou) may be about as rich. With somewhat herd-like instinct, I follow along too much with absurd Eurocentric ‘Greco-Roman’ narrative, despite having spent almost half my life in Asia. I know the plays attributed to Shakespeare weren’t composed by the son of an illiterate small-town glover, and that English is no magical formula, and I even think sometimes in Thai, but training and habit are harsh masters. ‘Snow Crash’ mentions ‘a self-fulfilling fiction’ while giving a, to me, new slant n the Tower of Babel legend. This led me to collect some data, which I present here. I do not pretend it to lead to understandings, although I had hoped.

Viruses have been suspected of influencing human thought processes, and we know some fungi most certainly can, but what about yeast?
Yeasts, an early domesticated organism (man’s oldest industrial microorganism), were used before the development of a written language. Hieroglyphics show that ancient Egyptians used yeast - the process of fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages and to leaven bread dates back past 3000 BCE. Early fermentation was possible due to natural microbial flora: wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria often found with cultivated grains and fruits. Leaven, a soft dough-like medium, is used to start new batches of bread dough. Over the course of time, the use of starter cultures helped to select for improved yeasts, through saving of “good” batches (of wine, beer or dough) to use for the next batch. Cheeses were also made through action by bacteria and molds. In East Asia fermented foods including yogurt and other fermented milk products, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar (soured wine), butter, and a host of traditional alcoholic beverages became popular.
Archaeologists have found early grinding stones and baking chambers for yeast-raised bread, and 4,000-year-old drawings of Egyptian bakeries and breweries. It’s likely the first fermentation was accidental, occurring when salt with harmless microorganisms was incorporated into food, and it fermented the food making it more delicious and nutritious.
This was taken a step further, perhaps 1000 years later, by Chinese who inoculated basic foods with molds, which created enzymes, in salt-fermented soy-foods like miso, soy sauce, soy nuggets, and fermented tofu; these aided salt-tolerant yeasts and bacteria. These have important distinguishing characteristics: the most important use mold; dairy products and other animal proteins (excepting fish) aren’t widely used, as they are in the West. Mold has mainly been used to make koji (mold-fermented grains and/or soybeans), which serves as a source of more than 50 enzymes in much the same way that, in the West, the enzymes of malt (steeped and sprouted barley or other cereal grains) are used to make alcoholic beverages, just as Japanese make saki and shochu (spirits), and also rice vinegar (yonezu).
The nature of koji is embodied in the characters with which the word is written. In the more traditional form - used with most miso koji and especially with barley koji - the ideographs for ‘barley’ and ‘chrysanthemum’ are placed side by side. In the more recent form - used especially with ready-made rice koji- the ideographs for ‘rice’ and ‘flower’ are conjoined. The first form is said to have originated in China, the latter in Japan about 1,000 years ago. In both, the notion of grain covered with a bloom of mold is vividly expressed. The only traditional East Asian fermented soy-food not prepared with molds is Japan's natto, and its relatives thua-nao in Thailand and kinema in Nepal; these are bacterial fermentations. Some have suggested that molds are widely used since they grow well in areas having a humid climate and long rainy season during the warm months.
Modern fermentation processes and technology are based largely on traditional processes.
In the West mold-fermented foods are limited primarily to cheeses with strong flavors and aromas: Camembert, Blue, Brie, and related others. Because of the widespread use of mold-fermented foods in East Asia, ‘mold’ there has had a rather positive connotation, something like ‘yeast’ in the West. Most Westerners still have a deep-seated prejudice against moldy products, and they generally associate the word ‘mold’ with food spoilage. This may help explain why so little has been published in English about the history of fermentation and knowledge of the fermentation process in East Asia.
The earliest records of the koji-making process can be traced back to at least 300 BCE in China and to the 3rd century CE in Japan. Molds differ in one important respect from yeasts and bacteria in that they can be easily observed with the naked eye. In East Asia it was probably understood that fermentation was a life process long before it was in the West. By the 6th century CE, as recorded in the Ch'i-min yao-shu (the earliest encyclopedia of agriculture), the Chinese had distinct names for two types of molds used in fermented soyfoods; what we now call Aspergillus was then called ‘yellow robe’ and Rhizopus was called ‘white robe.’ These cultures were carefully distinguished and propagated from year to year. By the 10th century a koji starter or inoculum was deliberately being used in the preparation of koji for fermented foods.
These nutritional additions might well have had incredible importance due to the change from hunting and gathering from the wild to sustained agriculture limiting the nutrients obtained. The B-vitamins in yeast were likely of great help for dealing with the stresses of civilization!

Possibly related?

The Mesopotamian pantheon’s most important Gods were a trio: the sky god An (or Anu); Enlil god of storm and the earth; and the water god, Ea (or Enki). Next was another triad: the moon god Nanna (or Sin); the sun god, Utu (or Shamash); and the goddess of fertility and war, Inanna (aka Ishtar). In the later stages of Mesopotamian civilization, a local god, Marduk, became head of the pantheon.
Mesopotamia had a much different climate when it was first settled about 8 to 10,000 years ago; then it was a grassland and marshes. Humans began intensive farming in the area as early as 3,000 BCE, utilizing irrigation, bringing water to fields through man-made ditches or canals. Most anthropologists believe that local tribes came together to dig the canals. The semi-nomadic (wandering) way of life from before was altered; they settled in large communities near the canals. Eventually these became city-states like Ur and Lagash - powerful forces in the region by about the middle of the 4th millennium BCE.
The earliest written records of the first Sumerian societies date from about 4,000 BCE. These records, written on tablets of clay from the river beds, were about the operation of temples. By the time of the first towns and cities in human history, Mesopotamian religion was well organized. Various clay tablets found detail the religion, as well as sacred vessels and architectural remains of temples.
The first written language of Mesopotamia was Sumerian, an ‘isolate’ of no known language family. Along with Sumerian, Semitic languages were spoken in early Mesopotamia. Then Akkadian became the dominant language, with the rise of the Akkadian Empire (founded by Sargon c. 2360 BCE), and also during the Assyrian empires, but Sumerian was retained for administrative, religious, literary and scientific purposes. Different varieties of Akkadian were used until the end of the Neo-Babylonian period (7th to 6th c. BCE). Old Aramaic became common, then was made the administrative language of first the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and next of the Achaemenid Empire. Akkadian fell into disuse, but both it and Sumerian retained use in temples - the last Akkadian texts date from the late 1st century CE.
Early in Mesopotamian history (about mid-4th millennium BCE) cuneiform was invented for Sumerian language; cuneiform literally means ‘wedge-shaped’, from triangular stylus tips used to impress signs on wet clay. The standardized form of each cuneiform sign seems to have developed from pictographs.
Mesopotamian gods were worshiped in temple complexes forming the center of every city. Made of mud bricks, these tall, conical structures were stepped, or built in receding tiers, on platforms of different shapes, and crowned at the top by a shrine or temple. The whole, called a ziggurat, averaged about 150 feet (45.7 meters) tall. Ziggurats formed a bridge between Earth and heaven, like sacred mountains. Each Mesopotamian city had at least one temple complex, and each was dedicated to the worship of a single deity. The temple complex in Ur, for instance, honored the moon god Sin (also called Nanna by Sumerians). The city of Uruk had both a temple to Inana and a ziggurat dedicated to Anu. The complexes were managed by specialist priests, the only people allowed to worship the deities.

Gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon:
Anu: The sky god, King of the Gods. At the beginning of time, Earth was separated from heaven. Heaven became Anu’s home but sometimes he must go on missions to Earth to avenge other gods.
Enlil: The god of air, wind, and storms. Enlil guards the Tablets of Destiny, on which the fate of everything on Earth is written.
Ea/Enki: Lord of the Earth; fun-loving god of fresh waters, wisdom, and magic. Anu’s eldest and wisest son by a concubine, and protector of humanity. In a myth similar to the story of Noah’s Ark, Ea reveals to Utnapishtim that Enlil intends to destroy mankind in a flood. ‘He Who Fashions Things’ was wise and skillful at all crafts, a brilliant scientist, geneticist and engineer.
Ishtar/Inanna: Queen of Heaven and goddess of love and war. Ishtar journeyed to the Underworld to retrieve her love, Tammuz (the Hebrew name for the Mesopotamian god Dumuzi). She’s described as violent and depicted holding several weapons, standing on a lion.
Sin, or Nanna: The moon god, Anu’s grandson via Enlil, was lord of the calendar and oversaw the seasons. Sin wore a beard of the blue stone lapis lazuli and rode a winged bull.
Utu, or Shamash: the sun god, god of divine justice, son of Nanna and Ningal; Inanna’s twin.
Marduk: The god of Babylon who later came to be the supreme god. Marduk fought an army of demons led by the goddess Tiamat. The New Year's festival celebrates the king's fitness to rule through a ceremony in which he bows to a statue of Marduk.

Tammuz was an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with shepherds, and also the primary consort of goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar). His sister was Geshtinanna, the goddess of vegetation. In the Sumerian King List, Dumuzid is listed as an antediluvian king of the city of Bad-tibira and also an early king of the city of Uruk. He competed against the farmer Enkimdu for Inanna’s hand in marriage, but Inanna preferred the farmer. Utu (aka Shamash, god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth, and twin brother of the goddess Inanna) and Dumuzid gradually persuade her that Dumuzid is the better choice for a husband, arguing that, for every gift the farmer can give to her, the shepherd can give her something even better. In the end, Inanna marries Dumuzid. The shepherd and the farmer reconcile their differences, offering each other gifts. In Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld, Dumuzid fails to mourn Inanna’s death and, when she returns from the Underworld, she allows the galla demons to drag him down to the Underworld as her replacement. Inanna later regrets this decision and decrees that Dumuzid will spend half the year in the Underworld, but the other half of the year with her, while his sister Geshtinanna stays in the Underworld in his place - resulting in the cycle of seasons.

Of course there were 12 in the main pantheon, to go with the 12 lunar months. Anu’s half-sister and wife Antu, their son Enlil’s wife Ninlil (or Sud), their son Ninurta, Enki’s spouse Ninki (Damkina), Nanna/Sin’s wife Ningal, and Anu’s grandson via Enlil, Adad/Iskur and well, to keep things complicated, Ninhursag/Ninmah/Ninti, Anu’s eldest and wisest daughter by concubine Nammu. Oh, and Ereshkigal, Queen of the dead. And a plethora of others… Not that there are exactly 12 lunar months, and addition of olive oil to a yeast-enriched diet may not have changed as much for ‘Ancient Greeks’ as Eurocentric believers in Greco-Roman roots to Enlightenment might have us believe… we still have many fascinating mysteries to linguistic development, much as we do with evolution in general.

The god Ea (whose Sumerian equivalent was Enki), with Anu and Enlil one of the three most powerful Mesopotamian gods, was god of wisdom, fresh water, intelligence, trickery and mischief, crafts, magic, exorcism, healing, creation, virility, fertility, and art. Iconography depicts him as a bearded man wearing a horned cap and long robes as he ascends the Mountain of the Sunrise; flowing streams of water run from his shoulders, emphasizing his association with life-giving water, while trees representing the male and female principle stand in the background. He resides in the ocean called the abzu (Akkadian apsû, an important place in Mesopotamian cosmic geography), far underneath the earth. Sumerian texts about Enki include overtly sexual portrayals of his virile masculinity. In particular, there’s a metaphorical link between the life-giving properties of the god’s semen and the animating nature of fresh water from the abzu. Ea represents wisdom, magic and incantations. He’s the ultimate source of all ritual knowledge used by exorcists to avert and expel evil. Ea was patron of the arts and crafts, and all other achievements of civilization; his connection with water meant he was also patron deity of cleaners.

Inanna was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, sensuality, fertility, procreation, and also of war. She became identified by the Akkadians and Assyrians as the goddess Ishtar, then with the Hittite Sauska, Phoenician Astarte and Greek Aphrodite (among others). Her’s was the bright star of the morning and evening, Venus. Inanna is cited as the subject of the Burney Relief (better known as The Queen of the Night), a terracotta panel dating from the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BCE) – but it’s her sister Ereshkigal more likely depicted.
In some myths she’s the daughter of Enki, god of wisdom, fresh water, magic and a number of other things; in others she’s the daughter of Nanna, god of the moon and wisdom, and twin sister of the sun god Utu/Shamash. Her power of provocation is almost always a defining characteristic in any of the tales told of her.
Inana/Ištar, by far the most complex of Mesopotamian deities, displays contradictory traits. In Sumerian poetry, she’s sometimes a coy young girl under patriarchal authority, while at others she’s an ambitious goddess seeking to expand her influence - e.g., in the myth Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld, her marriage to Dumuzi is arranged without her knowledge, either by her parents or by her brother Utu. Even when given independent agency, she’s mindful of boundaries: rather than lying to her mother and sleeping with Dumuzi, she convinces him to propose to her in the proper fashion. These actions are in stark contrast with her portrayal in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where she’s a femme fatale. Taken by the handsome Gilgameš, Inanna invites him to be her lover. Her advances are rejected - the hero accusingly recounts a string of past lovers she has cast aside and destroyed. There is, arguably, a persistent commonality between these two natures of Inana/Ishtar: her sexuality. The young Inanna of Sumerian poetry, who says ‘Plough my vulva, man of my heart’ is no less desirous than the Inanna/Ištar portrayed in Gilgamesh: ‘Let us enjoy your strength, so put your hand and touch our vulva!’. Accordingly, she was the recipient of prayers regarding (im)potency or unrequited love. Also the patron goddess of prostitutes, she was equally fond of making war and of making love: ‘Battle is a feast to her’. Her warlike aspect tends to be expressed in politically charged contexts in which she’s praised in connection with royal power and military might. This is already visible in the Old Akkadian period, when Naram-Sin frequently invokes the ‘warlike Ištar’ (aštar annunītum) in his inscriptions and becomes more prominent in the Neo-Assyrian veneration of Inana/Ištar, whose two most important aspects in this period, namely, Ištar of Nineveh and Ištar of Arbela, were intimately linked to the person of the king. The warrior aspect of Inana/Ištar, which does not appear before the Old Akkadian period, emphasizes her masculine characteristics, whereas her sexuality is feminine.
The role of the goddess in legitimizing political power was not, however, restricted to her masculine aspect as the warlike Ištar but is attested also for the sexual Inanna in her female aspect. Many third-millennium rulers described themselves as her spouse, due to Inana's significant agency in wielding political power.
Some mythological narratives dwell on the astral aspect of Inana/Ištar, albeit indirectly. In the myth Inana and Šu-kale-tuda, the clumsy gardener boy Šu-kale-tuda has intercourse with the goddess while she is asleep under a tree. Enraged at this, Inana/Ištar goes in search for the hiding boy. The course she takes in searching her violator has been suggested to mimic that of the astral course of the Venus star. Likewise, her movements in the myth of Inana and Enki, in which the goddess travels first to Enki’s city Eridu from Uruk and travels back again, recalls the cycle of Venus. Presumably the same journey was carried out terrestrially in festivals.

A liminal, that is, in-between, role may also be ascribed to Inana/Ištar by virtue of having travelled to and back from the underworld. In her mythological descent to the netherworld, she sits on her sister Ereškigal’s throne, rouses the anger of the Anunnaki and is turned to a corpse. Only through the agency of her minister Ninšubur, who secures the help of Enki/Ea, was she able to come alive again and return to the world above. In one myth, she takes from Enki/Ea are those associated with ‘going down into the netherworld’ and ‘coming up from the netherworld’. It’s been argued that Mesopotamian grave goods reflect the iconography of Inana/Ištar more than that of any other deity because of this inherent association with transition between the world of the living and that of the dead.

The Exaltation of Inana:
Lady of all the divine powers, resplendent [dazzling] light, righteous woman clothed in radiance, beloved of An and Urac! Mistress of heaven, with the great pectoral jewels, who loves the good headdress befitting the office of en priestess, who has seized all seven of its divine powers! My lady, you are the guardian of the great divine powers! Like a dragon you have deposited venom on the foreign lands. When like Ickur [god of storms] you roar at the earth, no vegetation can stand up to you. As a flood descending upon those foreign lands, powerful one of heaven and earth, you are their Inana.
Raining blazing fire down upon the Land, endowed with divine powers by An, lady who rides upon a beast, whose words are spoken at the holy command of An! The great rites are yours: who can fathom them? Destroyer of foreign lands, you confer strength on the storm. Beloved of Enlil, you have made awesome terror weight upon the Land. You stand at the service of An's commands….

And a somewhat fragmentary hymn to Utu:
Emerging …… below and gazing upwards, Utu (Shamash), great physician, father of the black-headed,
Utu, great hero, focus of the assembly, king, bison running over the mountains!
Utu, bison running over the mountains!
A young wild cow ……, a young gazelle (?) caught in a trap, Utu, the son born (on Earth) with the city
to Ningal (Nannar / Sin‘s spouse) in the E-nun-ana, a bull,
a cedar fed with water thriving among cypresses, holy (?),
patient-hearted, playful, radiating light, he is iridescent radiance!
Then, as my king comes forth, the heavens tremble before him and the earth shakes before him.
After he has left the palace he …….
The heavens …….
May the bolt of heaven …….
The stars …… are awe-struck.
His mother …… in the streets.
She spreads her protection towards Utu.
He has raised his head over the mountains; he is indeed their king!
Utu who decrees judgments for all countries,
the lord, the son of Ningal, who renders decisions for all countries, the lord who is highly skilled at verdicts, the son (grandson) of Enlil,
highly knowledgeable and majestic Utu, the son of ……(Nannar / Sin)–
Utu has placed the …… on his head.
The lord, the son of Ningal, holds the 50 …… in his hand
and thunders over the mountains like a storm.
He has lifted his head over the Land.
My king Utu (Sun God), you cross all the shining mountains like an eagle!
He has lifted his gaze over the mountains.

Sumerian language is an isolate - unrelated to any other known language, dead or alive. It’s been theorized that a virus changed human mental workings and language utilization, but might it have been instead a simpler nutritional thing, namely yeast? Sumerian became an esoteric language of religion, Sumerian deities transformed into other deities, society transformed as diet transformed, and what was once one thing became another, sort of. What goes on in the gut heavily affects what goes on in the brain.

There are about 100 known language isolates (between 75 and 129). The only large ones are Korean with 42 million and Basque with over 580,000 speakers. Only a few others are widely familiar (Ainu (Japan), Waorani (Ecuador), Cayuse and Zuni (USA), plus some Australian and Papuan Aborigine languages). There are ~350 independent language families (including isolates); families for which a genetic relationship with any other language family can’t be shown.
Some language isolates may have had relatives which disappeared, as with Ket of Siberia, the only surviving language of the Yeniseian family. It’s possible that Basque once had relatives; Basque scholars accept that Basque descended from Aquitanian, but maybe they were two members of a language family, rather than Aquitanian being a direct ancestor of Basque. Maybe Aquitanian had a sister language, diversified from an earlier common ancestor, and that Basque descends from that.
Many evolutionary linguists believe that all human languages descended from a single, primitive language, which itself evolved from the grunts and noises of the lower animals. MIT linguist Noam Chomsky argued that the innate ability of children to acquire the grammar necessary for a language can be explained only if one assumes that all grammars are variations of a single, generic ‘universal grammar’, and that all human brains come ‘with a built-in language organ that contains this language blueprint’. But explaining this ‘innate ability’, a ‘universal grammar’, and the ‘built-in language organ’ of humans seems impossible. He also questioned whether AIDS came from a virus (of course he did this with excellent linguistic utilization, never out-and-out saying very much). Steven Pinker, an MIT psychologist wrote: ‘best minds have flung themselves at the puzzles for millennia but have made no progress in solving them.’ ‘Problems such as how a child learns language or how a fertilized egg becomes an organism are horrendous in practice and may never be solved completely.’ However, the existing state of human language suggests that our variety of dialects and sub-languages developed from a relatively few (perhaps less than 20) languages. These original ‘proto-languages’ were distinct within themselves, with no previous ancestral language. How 20 proto-languages metamorphed into a hundred language isolates I can’t imagine. Research has shown young children to use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all. They classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and develop understandings the relations among things, according to experience. I note my four-year-old losing a less biased approach to emotional and pragmatic matters with language development (i.e. socialization). Beginnings and early development remain mysterious. Junkie William Burroughs claimed language to be infectious, exerting limitations and controls over people’s minds by its very existence and utility, and that the ability to think and create was limited by the conventions of grammar and usage. While I seem to remember enjoying reading his ‘Book of Breeething’ (sic) (aka ‘Book of Breathing’) while standing at a podium in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress in DC, sometime in the early 70s, that ‘language is a virus from outer space’ seems to me a dictum of no utility. Somehow the ‘methods of mind control being used by The Nova Mob, a gang of intergalactic criminals intent on destroying Earth’ don’t worry me much. This was a guy who fantasized 1000 boys jacking off into a stream (or river, I forget) simultaneously… but with the advent of AIDS and computer viruses in the 80s, related speculations became rampant.
Some sources use the term ‘language isolate’ to indicate a branch of a larger family with only one surviving daughter. For instance, Albanian, Armenian and Greek are commonly called Indo-European isolates. While part of the Indo-European family, they do not belong to any established branch (such as the Romance, Celtic or Slavic and Germanic branches), but instead form independent branches. Despite their great age, Sumerian and Elamite can be safely classified as isolates. Elamite, an extinct language used in present-day southwestern Iran from 2800 to 550 BCE. The last written records in Elamite appear around the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great. Elamite is thought to have no demonstrable relatives and is usually considered a language isolate.
Etruscan is sometimes claimed to be Indo-European. Although most historical linguists believe this is unlikely, it’s not yet possible to resolve the issue. Ancient Mesopotamian languages Hattic, Gutian, Hurrian, Mannean and Kassite are also believed to be isolates, but this status is disputed by a minority of linguists. Similar situations pertain to extinct isolates of the Americas like Beothuk and Cayuse. A language thought to be an isolate may turn out to be relatable to other languages once enough material is recovered, but with unwritten languages, that’s unlikely.
Reduced access to plant foods may have led to more meat-eating and, as a result, a bigger brain. The enlarged brain led to premature births, and in consequence a protracted childhood, during which mothers cooed and crooned to their offspring. An upright stance altered the shape of the mouth and vocal tract, allowing a range of coherent sounds to be uttered. However enough food to feed their rather oversized brains was found, man’s ancestors happened on the trick of language, and a whole new mental landscape opened up. Man became more self-aware and perhaps self-possessed.
For all I know, the invention of stable, easily storable dry noodles was as important in human development as yeast, garlic, olive oil or advanced meat or fish storage methods. And if nutrition, or a virus, did awake something in the human brain, there’s an action-reaction situation to be dealt with vis-à-vis the question of how the brain had the capacity to be opened up in the first place!

The Whole Worm Hole

Thousands of million years ago
There was little life and all of it small.
Every cell, then as now, was the first cell.

Before there was either before or after
All was full.
Somehow bubbles of emptiness dropped in
Plop plop, start stop, drip drip
Emit or express, rest
Emit or express, rest
Expanding vacuity until its nothing
Attained virtual ubiquity
With little of matter scattered about
And some, somehow, without oxygen,
Exploding into flame.

All residue, perhaps remains
Of a vast myopic multi-dimensional
Dragon-worm that bit its own hind-end
When the Great Collector of Intellectual Property
Too long forgot to feed that guard worm.
Pain caused scales to fall from its eyes.
It died of fright, then resurrected
As us.
To know
Is to replace those dragon scales
On your own eyes.

Does not the past change
More than the Future?

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