Sunday, January 20, 2008

Highway Courtesans

" ... What happens when an independent-minded young girl is born into a centuries-old tradition of prostitution?

Highway Courtesans chronicles the story of young women living in the Bachara community in rural India - the last hold-out of a custom that started with ancient palace courtesans and survives today with the sanctioned prostitution of every Bachara family’s oldest daughter. Guddi, Shana and their neighbor Sungita serve a daily stream of roadside truckers to support their families. Their work as prostitutes forms the core of the local economy, but their contemporary ideas about freedom of choice, gender and self-determination slowly intrude on the Bachara way of life.

Beautifully filmed and remarkably candid, this provocative coming-of-age film follows Guddi Chauhan from age 16 to 23 as she struggles to realize her dreams in a community caught between traditional and contemporary values. ... "


Visit the film's website, Highway Courtesans.

Agenda Magazine on sexual rights in India.

'We' - Arundhati Roy

occultist and rocketeer

" ... John Whiteside Parsons, born Marvel, known as Jack, writer, visionary, dedicated occultist, and chemist of genius, was born in 1914 and died in 1952 in a mysterious explosion whose cause has never been fully explained. He was a tall handsome Californian, whose early work on highly volatile rocket-motor fuels was regarded highly enough for French scientists of a later generation to name a crater on the moon after him. Parsons introduced into early American rocketry a range of exotic solid and liquid fuels whose later forms were eventually to help drive Apollo 11 to the Moon. He helped create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, now a major industrial complex. In early colour footage from JPL archives, he looks like a better-fed James Dean in some 1950s road movie. In the manner of many mid-century heroes such as Dean, his life was more a script than a life. Today, over fifty years later, we can run Parsons in our heads, in torn jeans and greasy shirt as he off-loads equipment from a hired pick-up truck in the baking dust of some remote desert arroyo, and gets ready for one of his many pre-war rocket experiments.

By August 1941, these tests had produced rockets stable enough to use as bolt-on jet-assisted-take-off (JATO) [1] units for military aircraft. Daring experiments, probably the first of their kind in the world, were also made with no less than 12 of these 28lb/12-second thrust units fitted to an Ercoupe light aircraft. With its propeller removed, the hobby-plane soared and landed. Thus a mail-order aircraft became the first rocket aircraft of America, and therefore the direct primitive ancestor of the air-launched Bell X1 which Chuck Yeager took through the sound barrier in 1947.

Post-war, these JATO "bottles" grew into the liquid-fuel Corporal rocket, and the solid-fuelled Sergeant. The much-vaunted Germans were surprisingly way behind in solid-fuel technology, which Parsons' pioneered. From his work there arose a whole range of first-generation American missiles, including the solid-fuelled submarine-launched Polaris.

Parsons was certainly ahead of his time in things other than rocketry. Before each test launch, he was in the habit of invoking Aleister Crowley's Hymn to Pan, the wild horned god of fertility. Parsons was an active member of the California Agape Lodge of the sex magickal group Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), and in letters addressed The Great Beast as "Most Beloved Father". Out of the inspirations of fire, dust, and grease came a visionary mystical writing formed out of conflicts with what he saw as an increasingly oppressive society. There are passages in his book, Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword [2] very similar to Timothy Leary's much later seminal book, The Politics of Ecstasy[3]. His style also predates the 'beat' poetry of Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the New Age views of Wilhem Reich. Parsons had the kind of hallucinatory head-visions about spirit, magic, and human freedom which were to rocket Californian culture headlong into the 1960s, causing a world-revolution in thinking which, alas, Parsons was never to see. ... "
Further reading:
'Sex and Rockets'

Creation and the Origin of Corn

" ... Marvelous both of good and evil were the works of the ancients. Alas! there came forth with others, those impregnated with the seed of sorcery. Their evil works caused discord among men, and, through fear and anger, men were divided from one another. Born before our ancients, had been other men, and these our fathers sometimes overtook and looked not peacefully upon them, but challenged them--though were they not their older brothers? It thus happened when our ancients came to their fourth resting place on their eastward journey, that which they named Shi-po-lo-lon-K?ai-a, or "The Place of Misty Waters," there already dwelt a clan of people called the A'-ta-a, or Seed People, and the seed clan of our ancients challenged them to know by what right they assumed the name and attributes of their own clan. "Behold," said these stranger-beings, "we have power with the gods above yours, yet can we not exert it without your aid. Try, therefore, your own power first, then we will show you ours." At last, after much wrangling, the Seed clan agreed to this, and set apart eight days for prayer and sacred labors. First they worked together cutting sticks, to which they bound the plumes of summer birds which fly in the clouds or sail over the waters. "Therefore," thought our fathers, "why should not their plumes waft our beseechings to the waters and clouds?" These plumes, with prayers and offerings, they planted in the valleys, and there, also, they placed their Tchu'-e-ton-ne. Lo! for eight days and nights it rained and there were thick mists; and the waters from the mountains poured down bringing new soil and spreading it over the valleys where the plumed sticks had been planted. "See! " said the fathers of the seed clan, "water and new earth bring we by our supplications."

"It is well," replied the strangers, "yet life ye did not bring. Behold!" and they too set apart eight days, during which they danced and sang a beautiful dance and prayer song, and at the end of that time they took the people of the seed clan to the valleys. Behold, indeed! Mere the plumes had been planted and the tchu'-e-ton placed grew seven corn-plants, their tassels waving in the wind, their stalks laden with ripened grain. ... "


Seeing Things

" ... Since we fail to see what’s going on, it’s no surprise we often fail to hear what’s going on as well. On his speaking tours, the late American philosopher Robert Anton Wilson occasionally had his audiences engage in a Sufi listening exercise. After giving out pens and notepads, he asked the people in the auditorium to sit in silence and listen intently, while writing down all the sounds they could hear: distant traffic outside the auditorium, creaking chairs, fabric rustling as people shifted in their seats, etc. When he asked for a show of hands, Wilson found the most sounds heard by any one person came to almost two dozen. He then asked the audience if anyone had heard anything this fellow had not. The author added these sounds to the list, for a total of over forty. Wilson had led this exercise plenty of times before in other talks and this was a consistent score. This proved, he said, that even the most observant person in the room was aware of only half of what was going on.

“Personally, I see two or three UFOs every week,” Wilson noted on his website. “This does not astonish me or convince me of the spaceship theory because I also see about two or three UNFOs every week – Unidentified Non-Flying Objects. These remain unidentified (by me) because they go by too fast or look so weird that I never know whether to classify them as hedgehogs, hobgoblins or helicopters, or as stars or satellites or spaceships, or as pizza-trucks or probability waves.”
But the world mostly contains mundane things that Wilson could “… identify fully and dogmatically with any norm or generalization.” After all this intellectual leg-pulling, the self-described “stand-up philosopher” got to his epistemological punchline: “I live in a spectrum of probabilities, uncertainties and wonderments.” Wilson refused to settle on one model for reality. He believed the universe continually presents us with quantum “maybes,” which our acts of observation collapse into definitive values.
That sounds more appealing to me than the hard-edged certainties offered by religious or materialist dogmatists. Wilson’s attitude toward the big questions is one of humility, awe and humour. And given the truly weird picture of reality drawn by contemporary science, that seems like the right attitude to take.
[ ... ]
If science has taught us anything, the essential nature of the universe is magical – lawful, but magical nonetheless. And although we humans are conscious creatures haunted by our imperfection and mortality, our very existence is drawn from this same ground of being. We’re the universe embodied as intention, exploring a boundless capacity to create and confound. And Hamlet’s words to Horatio still apply. No matter how much knowledge we accumulate, there will always be more things in the heavens and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

In Myth and Meaning, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote of his initial shock when he discovered that “a particular tribe” of Indians could see the planet Venus in full daylight with the naked eye. He describes it as “… something that to me would be utterly impossible and incredible.” But when he learned from astronomers it was feasible, he concluded, “Today we use less and we use more of our mental capacity than we did in the past.”
Most academics would have simply said the Indian tribesmen were “seeing things.” In his book Breaking Open the Head, Daniel Pinchbeck commented on Levi-Strauss’ discovery. “We have sacrificed perceptual capabilities for other mental abilities to concentrate on a computer screen while sitting in a cubicle for many hours at a stretch – something those Indians would find ‘utterly impossible and incredible’ – or to shut off multiple layers of awareness as we drive a car in heavy traffic. In other words, we are brought up within a system that teaches us to postpone, defer and eliminate most incoming sense data in favour of a future reward. We live in a feedback loop of perpetual postponement. For the most part, we are not even aware of what we have lost.” ... "

'Bush should be brought to justice'

Iran's prosecutor general calls for trial of Bush and his allies for their threats and psychological warfare against other countries.
Qorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi said that the United States and Bush's psychological warfare against Iran is not a serious matter as threats and projections have always been Washington's strategies.

He added that the US president intended to bring Iran under question in his Abu Dhabi address in a bid to give the green light to the Zionists to launch incursions into Gaza.

Bush has been callous to Iran under the name of democracy and offers negative propaganda and opposition to Iran instead of minding the problems of his own country, Dorri-Najafabadi said.

Bush should bear in mind that the Muslim states of the region have lived next to each other peacefully for hundreds of years. The security of the region can only be provided by the people of region, he added.

The Iranian prosecutor general underlined that the Muslims will not be deceived by professional criminals. The White House officials must know that they cannot proceed with their conspiracies.

'part of the blame rests with Britain and its imperial legacy'

" ... As tens of thousands of Kenyans flee their homes and hundreds lie dead, part of the blame rests with Britain and its imperial legacy.

[ ... ]

Britain, Kenya's former colonial ruler, which now prides itself on being a purveyor of global democracy. Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, issued a joint statement calling for compromise. Prime Minister Gordon Brown rushed to the phone lines, offering Kibaki and Odinga a quick lesson in democratic principles. In a Kiplingesque touch redolent of the colonial "white man's burden," Brown reportedly told both men, "What I want to see is . . . ." Miliband directed the Kenyan leaders to "behave responsibly."

I doubt that the irony of Brown and Miliband's message was lost on Kibaki or Odinga. Today's Britain, between its botched war on terror and lack of checks on executive power (to name but a few flaws), falls far short of the democratic ideals so paternalistically espoused by Brown and other British leaders. Still, the prime minister's jaw-dropping chutzpah -- on display not only in Kenya but also in former imperial possessions such as Pakistan and Iraq -- is rooted less in Brown's own tin ear than in the nature and structures of yesteryear's British colonial rule. So are today's crises in the former empire. If you're looking for the origins of Kenya's ethnic tensions, look to its colonial past.

Far from leaving behind democratic institutions and cultures, Britain bequeathed to its former colonies corrupted and corruptible governments. Colonial officials hand-picked political successors as they left in the wake of World War II, lavishing political and economic favors on their proteges. This process created elites whose power extended into the post-colonial era.

Added to this was a distinctly colonial view of the rule of law, which saw the British leave behind legal systems that facilitated tyranny, oppression and poverty rather than open, accountable government. And compounding these legacies was Britain's famous imperial policy of "divide and rule," playing one side off another, which often turned fluid groups of individuals into immutable ethnic units, much like Kenya's Luo and Kikuyu today. In many former colonies, the British picked favorites from among these newly solidified ethnic groups and left others out in the cold. We are often told that age-old tribal hatreds drive today's conflicts in Africa. In fact, both ethnic conflict and its attendant grievances are colonial phenomena.

It's no wonder that newly independent countries such as Kenya maintained and even deepened the old imperial heritage of authoritarianism and ethnic division. The British had spent decades trying to keep the Luo and Kikuyu divided, quite rightly fearing that if the two groups ever united, their combined power could bring down the colonial order. Indeed, a short-lived Luo-Kikuyu alliance in the late 1950s hastened Britain's retreat from Kenya and forced the release of Jomo Kenyatta, the nation's first president, from a colonial detention camp. But before their departure, the British schooled the future Kenyans on the lessons of a very British model of democratic elections. Britain was determined to protect its economic and geopolitical interests during the decolonization process, and it did most everything short of stuffing ballot boxes to do so. That set dangerous precedents. Among other maneuvers, the British drew electoral boundaries to cut the representation of groups they thought might cause trouble and empowered the provincial administration to manipulate supposedly democratic outcomes.  ... "

From: What's Tearing Kenya Apart? History, for one thing

Electromagnetic 'Killing Fields'

" ... You will hear statements by supposed experts - always the same few, in the pay of the telecommunications industry - to the effect that cell phones/cell towers/microwave radiation have been proven safe in countless studies. It is an easy lie, one that the news media have been eager to propagate. Such studies don't exist. Quite the contrary: it has been shown that, just as for X-rays, there is no safe level of exposure to microwave radiation, and it is so easy to demonstrate harmful effects that it takes some skill to design experiments that don't show them. It is harder to show effects today than 10 years ago because now the entire planet is exposed, making it impossible to do experiments with 'unexposed' controls. But most experiments still show effects anyway – effects on heart rhythms, on brain waves, on the blood-brain barrier, on sleep, on the eyes, on the gonads, on the skin, on hearing, on calcium, on melatonin, on glucose, on metabolism, on human well-being. If you look, you will find. Zorach Glaser reviewed over 5,000 such studies for the United States Navy during the 1970s alone. After 1982, the United States ceased funding Glaser's cataloguing work. But the flood of alarming research occurring all over the world continued.
[ ... ]
Leif Salford's recent work on the blood-brain barrier has verified the earlier work of Allan Frey and others, but with additional, ominous findings. First, sometimes, decreasing the amount of radiation 1,000 times increased the damage to the brain (demonstrating the 'window' effect). Second, animals exposed to a cell phone once for two hours were found to have areas of brain cell death two months later. Salford has called cell phones 'the world's largest biological experiment ever'. His work provides solid support for those who warn that every cell phone call damages brain cells, and that cell phones, like cigarettes, harm both users and nearby non-users. His findings are particularly alarming in light of surveys – by Santini in France, and by Sandström and Mild in Sweden – which include: headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue, agitation, sleep disorders, tinnitus, nervous and connective tissue pains of unexplained origin, and susceptibility to infection. The appeal calls for a massive reduction in exposure limits; no further expansion of cell phone technology; cell phone-and antenna-free zones; a ban on cell phone use by children; and a ban on cell phones and digital cordless phones in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, public buildings and public transportation.

The California Department of Health Services has concluded that, on the basis of a telephone survey, 120,000 Californians - and by implication one million Americans - have left their jobs because of electromagnetic pollution in the workplace. The people who have left their homes for such a reason are not being counted by anyone. ... "

ARTHUR FIRSTENBERG / The Ecologist v.34, n.5, 1jun04



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