Sunday, November 23, 2008

Russell Means: Twelfth day of snow emergency

Many hundreds of American Indians still snowbound and without electrical
power or water on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Sofia Romero, age 98, snowed in, no power, no water, food situation unknown.
Emme Zimiga, age 96, snowed in, no power, no water, food situation unknown.
Amanda Milk, age 80ʼs, no legs, dialysis patient, snowed in, presumed dead.
Hisle SD - 38 households (average of 17 persons per household on Reservation)
still snowed in with out power or water.
Lost Dog Community - 5 families snowed in, no power, no water, food situation
unknown.
Lacreek Electric Association reports that over 1,000 power distribution poles
broken by the storm have been replaced, but dozens more are still down, while
repair efforts have been diverted to the some of the main distribution lines still
partially inoperative.
Red Cross Effort Vehemently Incompetent, the American Red Cross sent a contingency of one volunteer, Monica Turkleson who departed the Reservation prematurely on Saturday, November 15th. Ms. Turklesonʼs "aide" consisted of nothing and her behavior was reported as impatient, rude and racist. Russell Means suggests that this organization change its name to the "White Cross."
 
 

Fate of Lakotahs highlights America's failed Native American policies

On November 6, South Dakota's governor Michael Rounds declared a state of emergency as heavy snow blanketed the state and threatened all parts of it - including Native American reservations.

They, however, were excluded from his declaration. They'll get no badly needed help, and it's an all too familiar story for our nation's original inhabitants. They've been abused and slaughtered for over 500 years. At Mabila, Acoma Mesa, Conestoga, the Trail of Tears, Pamunkey, Mystic River, Yellow Creek, Sand Creek, Gnadenhutten, and Wooded Knee. At far too many other places as well at a cost of many millions of lives, now forgotten and erased from memory.

Worst still, our Native people continue to be systematically repressed and mistreated. They live in poverty and despair. They're mocked and demonized in films and society as drunks, beasts, primitives, savages, and people to be Americanized or warehoused on reservations and forgotten.

Their cultures are willfully denegrated. Their legacy is one of millions slaughtered, betrayal, treaties made and broken, stolen lands, rights denied, and welfare criminally ignored to this day.

The Lakotahs are one of many examples, and the Republic of Lakotah web site highlights their plight. It welcomes "all self-sufficient People who come with an open Heart, a Passion for Freedom and a Love for Grand Mother Earth."

In a commentary titled "Broken Promises & Laws," it describes a Broken People whose lands were stolen, buffalo massacred, people slaughtered, and who were herded onto reservations in violation of Treaties successive US governments signed and then abrogated.

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Obama and the Anti-Christ

Jeanne Dixon, the legendary, on again, off again psychic who called up the White
House in November 1963 and told the staff that President Kennedy must not go to
Dallas, or he would be assassinated by a man by the name of Oswald, had a
powerful vision of the Antichrist in 1962. As I said, Dixon was on again and
off again with her predictions, so we can take her predictions with a grain of
salt. Nonetheless, she was uncannily accurate at times.

In this vision in 1962, Dixon was shown that a Middle East figure was born that
year to a powerful Middle East family, who would groom this individual over many
decades for political prominence later in his career. Dixon was shown that
this child was born under the protective spirit of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh
Akhenaton, and his queen, Nefertiti.

What is important here is that Akhenaton and Nefertiti led a religious
revolution in 14th century B.C.E. Egypt, and Akhenaton is considered the
founding grandmaster in the Rosicrucian tradition, which is descended from the
mystery schools of Ancient Egypt.

Nowadays in the Middle East, there are millions of disaffected youth who are
alienated from the Muslim fundamentalist traditions of their society, and are
looking for something fresh and new. They are ripe for a religious revolution
in the Middle East - - something that will sweep away the old dogmas, and all
the old religious animosities.

The mystery school tradition of the Middle East, which is still in existence
although very much guarded and underground, has similar views about the need to
overturn the ignorance and obscurantism. The Sufi orders are one of the
primary vehicles for the transmission of these traditions. And there are the
religious groups that have links to it like the Druze of Lebanon, and the Donmeh
of Turkey.

Paralleling Dixon's vision is the prophecy regarding the rise of Antichrist
shared by Dannion Brinkley in the New York Times bestseller "Saved by the Light"
(1994). Brinkley was shown that a Middle Eastern biological engineer would
develop a new revolutionary DNA based technology, which would be developed fully
by the Asian Tiger countries (South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China).

This new technology would become the basis of the next global economic boom, and
would draw the world economic system out of an extended downturn. But with
this revolutionary technology, this biological engineer would become the world's
most powerful man. Because he and his team would control the software at the
center of the new tech revolution. (This technology will be linked to a new
generation of DNA based chips, according to the Brinkley vision. The chips
will have medical applications and will be implanted in millions.)

Barack was partly put in power by a whole generation of youth, especially ethnic
youth, that yearn for "change" and a "new paradigm." Unwittingly, Barack
might have unleashed new forces around the globe that will help bring the
Antichrist to power. The old entrenched elites are more likely to be suspect
about such sweeping changes and new ways. Not so the youth.

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'Marvin the Martian wouldn't have a chance in Saudi Arabia'

If a Martian had attended last week's UN conference on religious tolerance hosted by Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most oppressive states, he would have been a very puzzled alien.
On the one hand, he would have seen Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah promoting tolerance. On the other, if our visiting Martian had taken the time to land his space ship in Saudi Arabia, he would have experienced something quite different.
Let's say that after settling into his hotel in Riyadh, Marvin went to the nearest public park wearing his best religious regalia, set up his portable shrine, prayed and thanked the Martian gods for his safe arrival on Earth.
In the blink of an alien's inscrutable eye, poor Marvin would have found out that -- extraterrestrial or not -- he's still an infidel.
 
Editorial: Religious freedom and human dignity
16 Nov, 2008
It was rather rich to see Saudi Arabia sponsoring a United Nations conference last week on religious tolerance. This from an Islamic nation that maintains a national police force to enforce strict Wahhabi orthodoxy. As one dissident Saudi Shiite Muslim put it, that's like having a U.N. conference on racial harmony put on by apartheid-era South Africa.

Saudi Arabia is not the only Islamic nation with problems tolerating other religions. Bahais are persecuted by Iran. Religious intolerance abounds in Iraq. Egypt is grappling with similar issues. Even the Palestinian territories, previously known for strong Christian-Muslim relations, are experiencing a rise in tension.
Religious intolerance is not just a Muslim thing. Last week, authorities in India arrested nine alleged members of a radical Hindu terror cell in connection with a bombing that killed six Muslims. And Hindu extremists also have been intensifying their deadly attacks on India's tiny Christian minority. The persecution has gotten so bad that a coalition of U.S. Christian leaders petitioned President George Bush last week to intervene with the Indian government.

As it happened, Mr. Bush spoke at the U.N. summit, where he called on nations "to understand that religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society." True, that.

However imperfect, America is a prime example of a modern nation of religious vitality in a broad culture of religious tolerance. It's difficult for Americans to appreciate how unusual this is.

Religions make truth claims about reality. They may all be wrong – an atheist would certainly affirm that – but they cannot all be right. For the truly devout, religious orthodoxy is the most important thing imaginable, because it involves ultimate truth.

When competing religious truth claims clash in America, we typically agree to disagree. But throughout human history, and in much of the world today, religious conflict often turns violent. Religious tolerance cannot exist if one believes that to tolerate another's faith is to diminish one's own by accepting an untruth.
Is there a way out? In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church, which had long denied religious freedom to non-Catholics with the teaching that "error has no rights," reconciled religious orthodoxy with modern pluralism. The Second Vatican Council declared that indeed error has no rights, but humans do. In other words, people have a God-given right to be wrong about God.

In that simple but revolutionary formulation – based on the groundbreaking work of the American Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray – the Catholic Church opened the door to genuine respect and tolerance for non-Catholics, while preserving its own truth claims.

In that new understanding, to deny religious freedom is to affront the dignity of humans created in the image of God, and in turn, to offend God. It may not be as easy for theologians in other faiths to find grounds within their particular traditions to justify religious tolerance, but God knows they should try.
 

'Joyce he said, 'James Joyce'

Joyce was an author committed to busting literary taboos, in particular taboos about human sexuality. His determination to explore sexuality in life and in print gave an added twist to his anti-clericalism, which, in turn, was born out of his background in Irish nationalism. His family were bourgeois, followers of the Home Rule party, led by Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell's political downfall in 1891 at the hands of respectable Irish society (he was caught having an affair with a married woman) coincided with the Joyce family's tumble into poverty. Joyce's father spent the rest of his life in semi-employment, grubbing amongst the members of the rabblement. His mother, Mary, died in 1903 from cancer of the liver, weakened by years of poverty and fifteen pregnancies. Joyce was barely 21 at the time. He described the scene in a letter to his future common-law wife:

When I looked on her face as she lay in her coffin – a face grey and wasted with cancer – I understood I was looking on the face of a victim and I cursed the system which had made her a victim.
In his works he took a long hard look at that system: a system that not only exhausted his mother but his mother country, Ireland. Joyce was an implacable opponent of British imperialism, in life and works, from start to end, from the imperialist allegory of After The Race to the shooting of the Russian general in Finnegans Wake.
 
[ ... ]
 
After about a page one of the sisters stops 'as if she were communing with the past'. The conversation takes a turn. She too noticed 'something queer' about the priest. He was 'too scrupulous'. Priesthood 'was too much for him'. He was 'a disappointed man'.

It turns out, during a ceremony, the priest broke a chalice, the cup Catholics believe to carry the blood of Christ. For a priest this would be a serious thing. The sky didn't open up. The ground didn't swallow him whole. Nothing happened.

There we have it, a simple tale undermining the institutions ceremonies of the church: clear enough even to the casual reader. The eagle-eyed reader, however, will go back over the pages. Why is the story called The Sisters when they play such a peripheral role? What's with these heavily emphasised words 'paralysis', 'gnomon' and 'simony'?

A 'gnomon' is a piece of a parallelogram (we spend much of the story making sense of half finished sentences and suggestive phrases). 'Simony', in the Catholic Church, is the act of buying spiritual favours or powers. Think again about the sisters, two unmarried, elderly women of independent means. What was their means? Their brother, of course.

In an impoverished Catholic country like Ireland, sons and daughters were often sent off to join the church as a good source of income for the family. Joyce leaves a few hints in the story as to the class background of the sisters, not least the description of 'them new fangled carriages that makes no noise… them with the rheumatic wheels'.

The church is a good career move? This was political dynamite! Joyce followed this up with two more stories, one featuring references to mental illness and sexual perversion, the other drinking and gambling. They were turned down by the Homestead. There was further infamy when it was realised the 'paralysis' Joyce hinted at in The Sisters could've been the 'general paralysis of the insane', the latter stages of syphilitic infection.

Already we have teased out a number of themes that run through Dubliners (and on, through the rest of his work). Paralysis: in the form of the old priest's illness or Mr Duffy's hermit like life. Paralysis: like Eveline stuck on the wharf, or the canvassers huddling in the committee room because it's raining. Moments of deception and betrayal are cast through the book. Mrs Mooney's tender trap in The Boarding House; Corley swindling rich women; the nationalists' betrayal of the principles of Parnell.
 
 

The Indian Wars have never ended - Killing Leroy Jackson

Jackson's friends claimed that the investigation into his death was cursory at best and pointed to irregularities and possible cover-ups. For example, the police refused to look into several credible reports that Jackson's van had not been parked at the Brazos overlook during the preceding week. The police also failed to photograph the crime scene or dust the van for fingerprints. For nearly a week, police left the van outside in a Chama parking lot before towing it to the crime lab in Santa Fe.

Although the New Mexico state police told Jackson's wife, Adella Begay, that only a small amount of blood was found on a pillow near Jackson's body, a source who was at the scene shortly after the van was discovered said the interior "looked staged. His body was posed and there was blood on the carpets and the seats."

Responding to a request from Jackson's friends, Bill Richardson, then the congressman representing northern New Mexico, sent a letter to the director of the FBI asking the agency to investigate the circumstances surrounding Jackson's death. In his letter, Richardson noted the recent threats Jackson had received for his environmental activism and suggested that, "a major crime may have been committed." Ultimately, the FBI declined to launch an inquiry, citing that the state police had concluded that Jackson had overdosed on methadone.

At Jackson's burial, his friends vowed to continue the search for his killer and to intensify the fight to protect the old forests on the Navajo reservation. "Those who killed Leroy thought they could silence him," said Earl Tulley, a traditionalist Navajo who co-founded Dine CARE with Jackson. "But they only made his cause stronger than when he was alive."

I met Leroy Jackson three times and talked to him often on the phone. We were friends. Kindred spirits. His voice radiated a rare combination of power, eloquence, and humility.

Leroy Jackson cared about his culture and the Navajo people as much as those forests on the slopes of the Chuskas. Indeed, for Jackson, the future of the Navajo forests was inseparably tied to the future of the Navajo people and their religion. That's what motivated his struggle.

The last time I spoke to Jackson was about two months before his death. He described in sharp detail plans by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Navajo Forest Products Industries to clearcut much of the last remaining old-growth ponderosa pine forest on the Big Reservation.

Jackson was angry, but not discouraged. He explained that his new alliance of traditionalist Navajo leaders and energetic young activists was growing in strength and power on the reservation. He believed that Dine CARE was on the verge of dramatically reshaping logging practices on Navajo lands.

"They are going after the heart of the old forest in the sacred mountains," Jackson told me. "But they will not get it. There is a new respect for the old ways."

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The power elite's use of wars and crises

When Congressional Reece Committee research director Norman Dodd's legal assistant Kathryn Casey looked at the planning documents for the founding of the Carnegie Endowment, she found something quite revealing. She found that they determined war would be helpful in furthering their objectives. Relevant to this, Rene Wormser in FOUNDATIONS: THEIR POWER AND INFLUENCE (1958) wrote that the head of the endowment, Nicholas Murray Butler, used the endowment's funds to get the U.S. into World War I.

The year after the endowment was founded in 1910, Robert Minor's cartoon in the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH in 1911 depicted members of the power elite (John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P Morgan, etc.) welcoming Karl Marx and his "socialism" to Wall Street. The next year Woodrow Wilson ran for president, and his "handler" for the power elite, Colonel Edward M. House, assured his bosses that Wilson would support the Federal Reserve's establishment in 1913.

The year after that (1914), the power elite arranged the first World War long before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28 by members of the Narodna Odbrana (Black Hand) secret society. On May 29, Colonel House in Berlin wrote to President Wilson: "Whenever England consents, France and Russia will close in on Germany and Austria." The trick would be to make Germany think England would not enter the war. This was done by British Secretary of State Sir Edward Grey misleading German Ambassador to England Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky. Grey was close to the (Lord Alfred) Milner Group which was executing power elite member Cecil Rhodes' plan for world government.

Milner was the power behind the scenes in British government. He, not Prime Minister David Lloyd George, actually ran British foreign affairs. Milner was favorably disposed to Marxian socialism, and pro-Bolshevist Sir Basil Zaharoff (an armaments dealer who had sold arms to both sides in several wars) was consulted by President Wilson and Prime Minister George before any major military operation. This is according to author Donald McCormick, who said Zaharoff sought to divert munitions away from anti-Bolshevists.

When World War I began, Helmuth Johannes Ludwig von Moltke was head of the German General Staff. Interestingly, he was married to Dorothy Rose-Innes, the daughter of Sir James Rose-Innes, a member of Rhodes' Association of Helpers, as was their son Helmuth James von Moltke.

It was important for the power elite to drag the U.S. into the War, and so Lord Esher (executive committee member of Rhodes' secret Society of the Elect) wrote in his diary on August 3, 1917: "Can there be any doubt that the war has made for progress?" He followed this on August 11 with "Mr. Henry Morgenthau asked me to call on him.... He was one of the principal supporters of President Wilson.... They are ready to sacrifice the lives of American citizens.... Mr. Morgenthau realizes the importance... (of) shedding American blood at the earliest possible moment." Morgenthau would be a founding member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which was largely funded and staffed by J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller interests.

One of the key connections to these interests was William Boyce Thompson, who in 1914 became the first full-term director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And the WASHINGTON POST (February 2, 1918) reported: "William B. Thompson, who was in Petrograd from July until November 1917, has made a personal contribution of $1,000,000 to the Bolsheviki for the purpose of spreading their doctrine in Germany and Austria."

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George Carlin's last interview

So after that transformation, to what extent is the persona that you have on stage—to what extent is it your real personality? I know you're making jokes and some of that involves exaggeration, but do you feel that you're acting angrier, more bitter, more caustic on stage? Or are you just being yourself as accurately as possible?

I've addressed this before when the question is asked more bluntly: Are you an angry man? What are you angry about; what are you so angry about? I don't live an angry life, not an angry person. I rarely lose my temper, can't remember the last time, never had a physical fight in my life, don't carry grudges, don't carry resentment either. Very very lucky in those respects. But I feel a very strong alienation and dissatisfaction from my groups.

Abraham Maslow said the fully realized man does not identify with the local group. When I saw that, it rang another bell. I thought: bingo! I do not identify with the local group, I do not feel a part of it. I really have never felt like a participant, I've always felt like an observer. Always. I only identified this in retrospect, way after the fact, that I have been on the outside, and I don't like being on the inside. I don't like being in their world. I've never felt comfortable there; I don't belong to that. So, when he says the "local group," I take that as meaning a lot of things: the local social clubs or fraternal orders, or lodges or associations or clubs of any kind, things where you sacrifice your individual identity for the sake of a group, for the sake of the group mind. I've always felt different and outside. Now, I also extended that, once again in retrospect, as I examined my feelings.

I don't really identify with America, I don't really feel like an American or part of the American experience, and I don't really feel like a member of the human race, to tell you the truth. I know I am, but I really don't. All the definitions are there, but I don't really feel a part of it. I think I have found a detached point of view, an ideal emotional detachment from the American experience and culture and the human experience and culture and human choices.

But even if I am a cynic, they say if you scratch a cynic, you find a disappointed idealist—that's what's underneath. That's the little flicker of flame, has a little life in it, the idealist: I would love to be able to entertain that side of me, but it doesn't work like that. I don't see what's in it yet, I mean I just like it out here.

I'm not an angry person, just very disappointed and contemptuous of my fellow humans' choices—and on stage those feelings sometimes are exaggerated for a theatric stage—you're on a stage you have an audience of 2500 or 3000 people: you need to project the feelings, the emotions it's heightened, and people mistake it for a personal anger but it's more dissatisfaction, disappointment and contempt for these things we've settled for.

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US power 'to decline by 2025'

US economic and political power is set to decline over the next two decades and the world will grow more dangerous as the battle for scarce resources intensifies, a report by US intelligence agencies has predicted.

The current global financial crisis is the beginning of a weakening of the US dollar to the point where it becomes "first among equals", said the National Intelligence Council's (NIC) Global Trends 2025 report published on Thursday.

One of the main conclusions of the report is that "the unipolar world is over, [or] certainly will be by 2025", said Thomas Fingar, the NIC's deputy director, at a press conference in Washington DC.

China and India were likely to join the US at the top of a multipolar world and compete for influence, the report added.

Russia's future was less certain, but Iran, Turkey and Indonesia were also seen by the report as gaining power.

"The world of the near future will be subject to an increased likelihood of conflict over scarce resources, including food and water, and will be haunted by the persistence of rogue states and terrorist groups with greater access to nuclear weapons," said the report.

"Widening gaps in birth rates and wealth-to-poverty ratios, and the uneven impact of climate change, could further exacerbate tensions."

Nuclear risk

The reports are produced every five years and based on a global survey of experts by US intelligence analysts.

This year's was more pessimistic about US status than on previous occasions.

It also highlighted the risk of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East where a number of countries have considered developing or acquiring technologies that would be useful to make nuclear weapons.

"Over the next 15-20 years, reactions to the decisions Iran makes about its nuclear programme could cause a number of regional states to intensify these efforts and consider actively pursuing nuclear weapons," the report said.

It also said some African and South Asian states could wither away altogether and that criminal gangs could take over at least one state in central Europe.

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(via Information Clearing House)

Dershowitz: I helped keep Carter silent

Why didn't Jimmy Carter speak from the podium at the Democratic National Convention? Alan Dershowitz said he had something to do with it.

In an interview with Shalom TV, the Harvard Law School professor says he "pushed" Barack Obama "very hard to make that decision," Dershowitz said in an interview with Shalom TV. "Barack Obama had to make a choice between his Jewish supporters and his anti-Israel supporters like Jimmy Carter, and he did not choose Jimmy Carter. And that was an embarrassment for Jimmy Carter and a show of disrespect."

"It was a good decision, a wise decision, a moral decision," Dershowitz added.

Carter did appear in the convention hall after a video of the former prersident helping with Katrina relief was shown at the Denver gathering. But he did not make any remarks from the podium.

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The most dangerous drug in the world?

You decide.

From 'The Most Dangerous Drug in the World
'

Scopolamine is a colorless, tasteless, odorless drug. It is also known as hyoscine and is classified as a tropane alkaloid. The drug can be obtained from plants in the Solanacea (nightshade) family. Most scopolamine comes from jimsome weed, or as in Columbia, borrachero trees. The plants it can be derived from are many, and abundantly available. This makes its use widespread, and exceedingly dangerous. It is, surprisingly, one of the most feared substances in what is arguably the drug capital of the world, Columbia. In Columbia alone, there are over 50,000 reported cases of Scopolamine drugging, although rarely does this receive media attention, in Columbia or elsewhere. The drug is used almost primarily by criminals as a way of making victims so docile that they have been known to help thieves rob their own homes and empty their own bank accounts. Additionally, women have been drugged repeatedly and held as sex slaves, or have been convinced to willingly give up their own children. The most horrifying side effect of the drug is not is ability to make zombies of its victims, but the complete amnesia it causes.

“BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - The last thing Andrea Fernandez recalls before being drugged is holding her newborn baby on a Bogota city bus. Police found her three days later, muttering to herself and wandering topless along the median strip of a busy highway. Her face was badly beaten and her son was gone. In the case of Fernandez, the mother of three was rendered submissive enough to surrender her youngest child.”

Scopolamine can be administered easily into a victim’s drink, or food. It’s powdered form can also simply be blown in a victims general direction. The result of this type of drugging is typically either immediate death from overdose, or severe intoxication. There have been reported cases of women putting scopolamine on their breasts, and then enticing their male victims into licking their breasts, thereby drugging them. The following is a short documentary about the drug Scopolamine as produced for VBS.tv. It takes a look at the drug, its prevalence in Columbia, its uses and its dangers.


From 'Kill your television'

"Do you know we are ruled by TV?"
-- from the poem An American Prayer by Jim Morrison

"They put an off button on the TV for a reason. Turn it off . . . I really don't watch much TV."
-- President George W. Bush, C-SPAN interview, January 2005

"American children and adolescents spend 22 to 28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7 to 10 years of their lives watching TV."
-- The Kaiser Family Foundation

"You watch television to turn your brain off and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on."
-- Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer and Pixar, in Macworld Magazine, February 2004

"Everybody’s got values . . . The thing that frightens me is the way that an eroding public school system . . . and television on all over the place is leading to a steady dumbing down of the American public and a corrosion of basic critical thinking in the population."
-- Jamie Raskin, American University law professor, November 2004 on the Democracy Now! radio program

"Protestant clergy named divorce, negative influences from the media, and materialism as the three greatest threats to families in their communities."
-- from an Ellison Research study of 695 Protestant church ministers nationwide, October 2004

"The media can wreak great harm on the family when it offers an inadequate or even distorted vision of life, of the family itself and of religion and morality."
-- Pope John Paul II, May 2004

Average daily allotments of household and individual television viewing increased from the previous year to reach all-time highs during the 2005-06 season.
"These results demonstrate that television still holds its position as the most popular entertainment platform," said Patricia McDonough of Nielsen Media Research. "At this point, consumption of emerging forms of entertainment, including Internet television and video on personal devices, seems not to be making an impact on traditional television viewing."
The total average time per household in 2005-06 was eight hours and 14 minutes per day.
-- Reuters (September 22, 2006)

The power of speech

Everett's discovery of the elegant linguistic theories of Chomsky was his second conversion experience. At the time, Chomsky was not merely known for his trenchant, left-leaning political activism but was revered as the father of modern linguistics for his theory of "universal grammar". Following Chomsky's idea that humans are innately programmed to produce language according to a fixed and finite set of rules, Everett studied for a doctorate in the 80s and took advice from Chomsky. Gradually, however, as he spent more time with the Pirahã, he came to doubt Chomsky's claims of universality.

These doubts exploded three years ago, like "a bomb thrown into the party" in the words of psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, who initially welcomed Everett's findings against Chomsky before becoming more critical. In 2005, Everett published a paper about the Pirahã that rocked the foundations of universal grammar. Chomsky had recently refined his theory to argue that recursion - the linguistic practice of inserting phrases inside others - was the cornerstone of all languages. (An example of recursion is extending the sentence "Daniel Everett talked about the story of his life" to read, "Daniel Everett flew to London and talked about the story of his life".) Everett argued that he could find no evidence of recursion in Pirahã. This was deeply troubling for Chomsky's theory. If the Pirahã didn't use recursion, then how could it be a fundamental part of a universal grammar embedded in our genes? And if the Pirahã didn't use recursion, then is their language - and, by implication, other languages - determined not by biology but by culture?

Thirty years of living with the Pirahã has taught Everett that they exist almost completely in the present. Absorbed by the daily struggle to survive, they do not plan ahead, store food, build houses or canoes to last, maintain tools or talk of things beyond those that they, or people they know, have experienced. They are the "ultimate empiricists", he argues, and this culture of living in the present has shaped their language.

Everett's claims created a furore. Chomskyites rushed to defend universal grammar and academics cast doubt on Everett's view of the Pirahã. Nineteenth-century anthropologists had judged exotic peoples similarly, saying they had no creation myths and apparently crude languages that could not count or convey abstract thought, before it was proved it was our erroneous understanding of these "primitive" societies that was primitive. "By framing his observations as an anti-Chomsky discovery rather than as un-PC Eurocentric condescension, Everett was able to get away with claims that would have aroused the fury of anthropologists in any other context," wrote the increasingly sceptical Pinker, who argued that even if there was "a grain of truth" in the Pirahã's preoccupation with the here-and-now, it was by no means unique to their society. In other words, Everett was an almost racist throwback to the days of, well, missionaries.

Yet Everett's life with the Pirahã didn't just cause a gradual disenchantment with the Chomskyan intellectual framework he had once cherished: it also triggered another, even more dramatic, de-conversion.

Soon after he first arrived in the Amazon, Everett was nearly killed when the Pirahã discovered he was ordering passing river traders not to give them whisky. The Pirahã were rarely violent, but intensely rejected any kind of coercion. Crucially, Everett came to see his religion as fundamentally coercive. His academic studies were ultimately designed to help him translate the Bible into Pirahã. When they heard the word of God, his evangelic mission believed, they would be converted. Everett translated the Book of Luke, read it to the Pirahã and they were utterly unmoved. By 1985, he had privately lost his faith.

"It's wrong to try and convert tribal societies," he says. "What should the empirical evidence for religion be? It should produce peaceful, strong, secure people who are right with God and right with the world. I don't see that evidence very often. So then I find myself with the Pirahã. They have all these qualities that I am trying to tell them they could have. They are the ones who are living life the way I'm saying it ought to be lived, they just don't fear heaven and hell."

~ more... ~

 

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