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In the News 05.14.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 05.14.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@tinahu
In the News 05.14.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@madufault
In the News 05.14.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@tinahu

Chasing The Pearl Of Lao Tzu

Legend says the diver drowned retrieving the pearl. Trapped in a giant Tridacna clam, his body was brought to the surface by his fellow tribesmen in Palawan, a province of the Philippines, in May 1934. When the clam was pried open, and the meat scraped out, the local chief beheld something marvelous: a massive pearl, its sheen like satin. In its surface, the chief discerned the face of the Prophet Muhammad. He named it the Pearl of Allah. At 14 pounds, one ounce, it was the largest pearl ever discovered.

A Filipino American, Wilburn Dowell Cobb, was visiting the island at the time and offered to buy the jewel. In a 1939 article that appeared in Natural History magazine, he recounted the chief’s refusal to sell: “A pearl with the image of Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, is earned by devotion, by sacrifice, not bought with money.” But when the chief’s son fell ill with malaria, Cobb used atabrine, a modern medicine, to heal him. “You have earned your reward,” the chief proclaimed. “Here, my friend, claim this, your pearl.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

Explaining The Unexplainable

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During the Enlightenment, the French philosopher Voltaire called superstition a “mad daughter” and likened it to astrology. The leading thinkers of the time espoused reason and sought to explain the world through the scientific method.

Today, we take a certain pride in approaching the world analytically. When faced with a confusing event, we search for its cause and effect. If we can determine why one action follows another, we can explain why it happened and when it might recur in the future. This makes the outcome reliable.

The fact is that any of us can become superstitious given the right circumstances. You included.

Take batters in baseball. Many sports fans believe that batting in professional baseball is the most difficult task in sports. Even the best batters only manage to get a hit about a third of the time. Fans of baseball will know that many batters have good luck rituals. Before they step up to the plate, spectators might see players touching their hat, making the sign of the cross, or tapping their foot on home plate.

As cultural anthropologist George Gmelch describes in a baseball review magazine, players’ rituals extend to actions before and after the game. For reasons that remain unknown, tuna sandwiches are the preferred “last supper” before one player’s game, while another wears special underwear. After a successful game, one player has been known to put pennies in his jock strap. By the end of a good season, he jingles as he runs.

Read the rest of this article at: Nautilus

Tuscany Tote in Midnight

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A Notorious Mansion. An Alleged Assault By A Hollywood Producer. A Suicide. What Happened To Brian Claflin?

In the early afternoon of June 5, 2014, a man appeared on the subway tracks between stations in Berlin. He stood alone a few hundred yards into a tunnel, and train conductors said they couldn’t brake in time to avoid hitting him.

The fatal accident received no media attention, except for a local brief that noted the early rush-hour train delays. The identity of the deceased — Brian Claflin, a 33-year-old American — was not reported, nor was his connection to powerful men in Hollywood who were accused of sexual abuse. German authorities declared the death to be “presumed suicide.”

Four years later, Claflin’s parents are still trying to understand what happened to their son. Claflin’s father received via email a statement his son sent to a law firm just before his death, alleging that filmmaker Gary Goddard had drugged and sexually assaulted him at age 18 in Los Angeles. It was an allegation Claflin had made repeatedly in the preceding decade. The Times spoke to three people — two close friends and his sister, Molly Jones — who said Claflin told them about the alleged assault, and he accused Goddard directly in an email exchange in 2006.

Read the rest of this article at: Los Angeles Times

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What Is Nirvana?

The concept of nirvana occupies a unique place in Buddhist thought – not just because it represents the culmination of the Buddhist path, and not just because it represents the nicest imaginable place to be, but also because of the way it straddles the two sides of Buddhism.

There is, on the one hand, the naturalistic side of Buddhism, featuring ideas that would fit easily into a college psychology or philosophy course: ideas about the nature of the mind, about the causes of human suffering, and about how we should live our lives in light of these realities. These are the ideas that form the core of the ‘secular Buddhism’ that is practised by many in the West. Indeed, so naturalistic, so ‘secular’, is this set of ideas that some people see Buddhist meditation as more of a therapeutic than a spiritual undertaking, as basically palliative and not too profound. That’s a particularly common view of the kind of Buddhist meditation known as mindfulness meditation – which is sometimes packaged in the frankly therapeutic form of ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction’.

And then there is the more exotic side of Buddhism, which features supernatural, or at least mindbendingly metaphysical, ideas. These ideas include various cosmic realms and deities, but the most famous such idea is reincarnation – or, as Buddhists more commonly call it, rebirth.

Nirvana certainly has its exotic aspects. Attaining it, according to traditional Buddhist belief, means being liberated from an otherwise endless cycle of rebirth. But this story about nirvana – the story about how exactly you find the escape hatch from recurring life cycles – leads seamlessly to a more naturalistic story about nirvana, a claim about the mechanics of suffering and of contentment. And in the process of following one story to the other, you can see mindfulness meditation in a new light, a light that emphasises how much more than casually therapeutic it can be; a light that shows it to be one of the most radical undertakings imaginable, a rebellion against the very laws that govern human existence.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

Trump vs. the “Deep State”

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Two months after Donald Trump’s Inauguration, the White House took a sudden interest in a civil servant named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh. At thirty-four, she was largely unknown outside a small community of national-security specialists. Nowrouzzadeh, born in Trumbull, Connecticut, grew up with no connection to Washington. Her parents had emigrated from Iran, so that her father could finish his training in obstetrics, and they hoped that she would become a doctor or, failing that, an engineer or a lawyer. But on September 11, 2001, Nowrouzzadeh was a freshman at George Washington University, which is close enough to the Pentagon that students could see plumes of smoke climb into the sky. She became interested in global affairs and did internships at the State Department and the National Iranian American Council, a Washington nonprofit. George W. Bush’s Administration appealed for help from Americans familiar with the culture of the Middle East, and, after graduation, Nowrouzzadeh became an analyst in the Department of Defense, using her command of Arabic, Persian, and Dari. (Her brother, a Navy doctor, served in Iraq.) For nearly a decade, Nowrouzzadeh worked mostly on secret programs, winning awards from the Departments of Defense and State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the F.B.I.

In 2014, she was detailed to the National Security Council, as an Iran specialist, and helped to broker the nuclear deal. One of the most intensely debated questions among American negotiators was how far they could push Iran for concessions, and Nowrouzzadeh proved unusually able to identify, and exploit, subtle divides in Tehran. “She was aggressive,” Norman Roule, the C.I.A.’s highest-ranking Iran specialist at the time, told me. “She worked very hard to follow policymakers’ goals. She could speak Persian. She could understand culture. She is one of the most patriotic people I know.” In 2016, Nowrouzzadeh joined the policy-planning staff of the State Department, a team of experts who advised Secretary of State John Kerry. At times, she advocated a harsher approach to Iran than Kerry was pursuing, but he cherished Nowrouzzadeh’s “unvarnished judgment,” he told me. “I liked someone who relied on facts and could tell me when she disagreed with my interpretation. Give me that any day over a bunch of yes-men.”

On March 14, 2017, Conservative Review, a Web site that opposed the Iran deal, published an article portraying Nowrouzzadeh as a traitorous stooge. The story, titled “Iran Deal Architect Is Running Tehran Policy at the State Dept.,” derided her as a “trusted Obama aide,” whose work “resulted in an agreement that has done enormous damage to the security interests of the United States.” David Wurmser, who had been an adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, e-mailed the article to Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. “I think a cleaning is in order here,” Wurmser wrote. Gingrich forwarded the message to an aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with the subject line “i thought you should be aware of this.”

As the article circulated inside the Administration, Sean Doocey, a White House aide overseeing personnel, e-mailed colleagues to ask for details of Nowrouzzadeh’s “appointment authority”—the rules by which a federal worker can be hired, moved, or fired. He received a reply from Julia Haller, a former Trump campaign worker, newly appointed to the State Department. Haller wrote that it would be “easy” to remove Nowrouzzadeh from the policy-planning staff. She had “worked on the Iran Deal,” Haller noted, “was born in Iran, and upon my understanding cried when the President won.” Nowrouzzadeh was unaware of these discussions. All she knew was that her experience at work started to change.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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