Michel Bauwens: Beyond Jeremy Rifkin: How Will The Phase Transition To A Commo

Michel Bauwens: Beyond Jeremy Rifkin: How Will The Phase Transition To A Commons Economy Actually Occur? 2014-04-23

In his new book, Jeremy Rifkin focuses on the value crisis of contemporary capitalism based on the revolution in marginal costs which destroys the profit rate. He concludes that this will mean that the economy and society will re-orient itself around collaborative commons, with a more peripheric role for the market dynamics. In this, Jeremy Rifkin joins the founding charter of the P2P Foundation, which was precisely created in 2005 to observe, study and promote this transition.

Past historical phase transitions, say the transition from the Roman Empire slave-based system to feudal serfdom, or the transition of feudalism to capitalism, where not exactly smooth affairs, so it may be un-realistic to expect a smooth and unproblematic phase transition towards a post-capitalist social order.

To get a better understanding of how this transition could occur, we can do two things. First, we can look at past transitions, such as transition to feudalism, and ask ourselves what this means for the current one; second, we can look at the micro-economy of the already existing commons economy, and perhaps deduce from this the future outlines of the social order to come. Follow me in these two explorations.

2014-03-31-FinalZMCSCoverArt.jpg 1. What we can learn from Rome

Most historical empires followed the process outlined by the 14th century Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun: at a certain stage of development, the benefits of the expansion are no longer sufficient to outpace the rise of the costs of managing complexity, the empire starts to decline and is taken over by neighboring 'barbaric' tribes ... But Roman transition did much more than that: it created an entirely new economic and social system. Faced with the crisis of Roman globalization, i.e. a dearth of slaves and gold, Roman emperors and the more intelligent parts of the elite, switched to the emerging coloni system, i.e. a system of land-bound agrarian serfs.

The transition dynamic can be summarized as:

1) a crisis occurs in the dominant system; 2) an exodus occurs at the bottom of society in the producing class (from slaves to serfs, from serfs to labor, from labor to peer producer); 3) a section of the managerial class orients itself to the new mode of value creation and distribution.

Hence the paradox that it is actually a section of the former ruling class that funds and creates the new modalities. Reality check today: the economic meltdown is causing an exodus of labor to freelance status, unemployment and peer production; a section of capital, netarchical capital, invests in the commons and sharing-based social media. Think IBM, which has morphed to a certain degree into a Linux-based consulting company; think Facebook, paradoxically enabling and empowering self-organization and p2p social logics on a global scale.

A second factor, based on the resource crisis of the Roman Empire, is a transition from economies of scale, to economies of scope, i.e. 'doing more with the same thing.' Hence, the feudal system relocalized production in local domains, the Catholic Church and its monasteries created a global open design community at the scale of Europe, and the monks mutualized the physical infrastructures of production and became the engineers of the first medieval industrial revolution (Gimpel, Jean. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages). Note that this was NOT a smooth transition, and took almost five centuries of instability before its consolidation after the first European Revolution of 975 (the Peace of God movement led by the monks which created the new feudal social order that would blossom in the 10th to 13th centuries).

Reality check today: the free software, free culture, open design and hardware movements are mutualizing knowledge, while the sharing economy and the hackerspace/makerspace/fablab/coworking movements are mutualizing physical infrastructures. Just as after the 5th century, the transition towards economies of scope has started.

The third lesson is crucial: political and social revolution is preceded by the emergence, within the old system, of the new productive system and its value logic. Not the other way around, as the socialist and marxist tradition has claimed. Today, in the very womb of capitalism, the new mode of production, the new way of value creation and distribution, is already emerging and growing, but under the domination of the old system still, but, as its logic is fundamentally different of the logic of capital, it cannot possibly be subsumed forever, and prepares the ground for a structural transformation. This structural transformation, or 'phase transition', will make the emergent subsystem into the new dominant logic. Today, the economy based on common knowledge pools is already estimated at 1/6th of GDP in the US (17 million workers). Netarchical capitalism, the forces of capital that are funding and enabling the transition towards the collaborative commons, though under their own conditions, are a increasingly strong sector of the economy, but their very parasital mode of operation (i.e. expropriation of nearly 100% of the value created by human cooperation), makes it impossible for them to be the next ruling class. A capitalism that doesn't pay its value creators simply cannot exist in the long term as a stable system. This is why Jeremy Rifkin is entirely correct in his prediction for the future.

2. Looking at the already existing collaborative commons economy.

So what is the existing commons economy? It's the economy of commons-oriented peer production, first described by Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks. It consists of productive communities of contributors, paid or unpaid, who are contributing, not to privatized knowledge, but to common pools of knowledge, code and design, which fuels a new commons-oriented economy. It's the economy of open knowledge, free software, open design and open hardware, more and more connected to practices of open and distributed manufacturing. It's the economy fueled by the exodus from waged labor, into a freelance economy of young urban knowledge workers, who live from the market economy, but produce more and more for open knowledge pools.

It has a fairly clear institutional structure that prefigures the commons society to come.

Unlike proprietary capitalism, the value is deposited by a community of contributors in a common pool ; this is the core of the new value creation; this is the sphere of abundant knowledge that can be shared and reproduced at marginal cost; the infrastructure of cooperation is empowered and enabled by a new type of for-benefit associations, which do not command and control the production, but make it possible. They are most often foundations, like the Apache Foundation or the Gnome Foundation; around this is constituted a entrepreneurial coalition of enterprises, which provides employment to an increasing number of peer producers: 75% of linux contributors are paid by enterprises who operate on the market , and create market value on top of the commons. Other forms of peer-driven economies are constituted around distributed labor (crowdsourcing), social media (Facebook, Twitter). This new form of netarchical capital (the hierarchy of the network, hence 'net'-'archical') that at the same time enables and empowers social cooperation and collective value creation through sharing and the commons, also captures the value.

In this transitional model, still capital-based but already working around a commons that has an entirely different logic, that is already no longer a commodity, that is already no longer based on a command hierarchy, that is based on the self-allocation of effort through a distribution of tasks instead of a division of labor. In the more extreme variants of this model, we see 100% of the value creation carried out through free human cooperation, but also 100% of the value capture done by the proprietary platform owners. This 'value crisis', where no value flows back to the value creators, clearly show that it is a transitional model, not bound to last. How could a capitalism function, where none of the created value returns to the value creators. Who will buy the products ?

Hence the increasing contradiction in a system where the ability to directly create use value in the commons rises exponentially, but the capacity to monetize these efforts only grows linearly, and is captured without return in terms of livelihood.

Thus the need to harmonize the value distribution mode, in an increasingly dysfunctional capitalism, with the value creation mode. Bottom-up, the new type of enterpreneurs are experimenting with new types of open business models, which recognize the characteristics of the commons. But this will not be enough, restoring the value loop between value creation and value realization will be the key challenge of the phase transition.

3. Facilitating the transitions

The most interesting experiment is happening in Ecuador, where the author of this article has been asked to be the research director of a research project to plan a national transition towards a social knowledge economy. It is the first time that a nation-state recognizes the necessity of such a transition.

They have asked a team of research to create a framework and ten policy papers, that create both the material and immaterial conditions to re-orient the economy, and hence the social and economic system, around open knowledge commons in every field of social, economic and political activity. Following Rifkin's lead, the internet of knowledge creation, driven by common-based pools; could be matched with an internet of energy and manufacturing. Imagine that the neo-colonial economy of Ecuador, which still experts raw material like oil and bananas with low added value, and has to import consumption and production goods with high added value, would develop its own domestic industries, by combining cooperation with global open design communities, and local communities of practice (say in the field of open agricultural machine design and production), and would actually produce these tools and machines locally, close to the place of need. Today, in the neoliberal globalized economy, the cost of transportation is three times the cost of production, and IP-based profits trump the profits in material production. This is why open hardware can be produced consistently at about one eight of the cost of production of proprietary hardware. Imagine that a country like Ecuador, would systematically follow the advice of Joshua Pearce in his book, Open Source Lab (Pearce, Joshua M. Open-Source Lab. Elsevier, 2013), which shows how scientific labs can be built at about 10% of the cost, by systematically opting for open scientific instruments ? It is to early to tell to which degree Ecaudor will indeed follow the recommendations, but that it is contemplating such a transition, shows that the maturity of the emerging mode of production, is much more advanced than most analysts believe. This national effort is already matched by remarkable experiences at the local (city) and regional level in different parts of the world.

4. In conclusion: some recommendations

Our own recommendation is the following (in detail here): open design communities should move to the use of reciprocity-based commons licenses, which unlike the General Public License, allows for the creation of cooperative and reciprocity-based forms of material production, i.e. 'ethical', 'not-for-profit' enterpreneurial coalitions, formed by the commoners themselves. Once constituted, the members of such coalitions, operating in solidarity around the same commons, could move forward to new practices such as open book accounting and open supply chains. If this were done, peer production would become capable of insuring its self-reproduction outside of the sphere of the accumulation of capital.

Through mutual coordination, the already existing, stigmergy-based mutual coordination of 'immaterial' production, would become applicable to material production. In other words, the system of allocation of resources through market price signals, as well as the internal planning that takes place in large enterprises, would be matched by an emerging sphere that would allocate resources through mutual coordination. If the micro-economic model that we discussed in section 2 would grow to become a societal model, we would see that the core of society would have become a productive civil society, organized around contributory commons; we would see that the state would have been transformed into a Partner-State, which like the micro-economic for-benefit associations, would enable and empower autonomous social production on a societal scale; finally, a post-capitalist market economy would have been constituted by ethical enterpreneurial coalitions, who would use their surplus and profit to realize their social goals.

Panache Desai: 3 Secrets To Loving Your Every Emotion

Panache Desai: 3 Secrets To Loving Your Every Emotion 2014-04-23

Your spouse is growing distant. You're terrified of losing your job. Your teenager is driving you insane.

On the inside, you're falling apart. But from the outside, no one would ever know.

You may think by hiding your sorrow, denying your fear, or stifling your anger you've crafted a mighty shield between you and your pain. But what happens when you don't shed the tears, face the fear, or express the rage? Unexpressed emotions erode your authenticity from the inside out and make it more difficult to embody your soul signature.

If you're experiencing challenges in your life, it's due to one thing and one thing alone--your unwillingness or inability to feel your emotions. Emotions are actually energy in motion, and in their optimal state, they are designed to flow. When we don't experience our feelings, they create a heaviness inside us that narrows our field of energy, blocks the flow, and keeps us from accessing our greater potential.

If the weight of your emotions has you at a standstill, these energy-shifting secrets will help you drop your armor, love your every emotion, and get your life flowing again.

"Bucking Up" Stops Here

At the end of a difficult week, rife with conflict, you decide to surprise your spouse with a lovely homemade dinner to make amends. He walks through the door seemingly disconnected and unmoved by the gesture. You immediately blame yourself, feel unappreciated, and hold your tongue to avoid yet another war of words.

Sadness and rejection are often emotions we don't want to own for fear of appearing weak, pathetic, or overly sensitive. We think we should just "buck up" and be strong. However, shrouding your sorrow and denying its existence does not take the pain away. If anything, it grows stronger. Removing judgment from your emotions makes you available to experience them honestly. Let them wash over you and propel you forward with greater awareness and understanding. Feeling your sadness does not make you a pitiful coward. Those are your judgments around the emotion of sadness. There is no need to "buck up." Sadness simply means you're sad.

Embrace Your Fear

Numerous budget meetings are underway at work, and the rumor is layoffs are eminent. You've heard talk that whole departments may be cut, yours included. Cubicles are abuzz and you're freaking out -- on the inside. The unemployment monster is out there, circling like a buzzard on the horizon.

When fear is upon us, we often respond in one of two ways--silence or rage. We may lash out: "This is insane!" "It's Bob's fault we're in this mess!" "I hate this job anyway." Or we may simply shut down. We choose these expressions because we're resisting what we're truly feeling-: fear.

By distancing ourselves from the emotion of fear by disguising or ignoring it, we think we're protecting that which we're terrified of losing. In truth, we're creating more stress, insecurity, and mental havoc around the situation. Instead of being swept up in a firestorm, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and accept your fear. Say to yourself, "I am currently experiencing my fear." It won't be comfortable, but stay with it and breathe. You may feel afraid and vulnerable, but embracing the beast that haunts you is the most powerful thing you can do. Articulating your unconscious conversations actually frees you of the emotional heaviness that fuels them.

Anger and Love Can Coexist

It's not uncommon for teenagers to believe that the world revolves around them, nor is it uncommon for this behavior to drive adults to the brink. When your sixteen-year-old comes home ranting that the expensive cell phone you bought him is "so last year," you want to explode.

Anger is often our defense against a perceived enemy -- a coworker, a spouse, strangers, or even our kids -- but anger is not the issue. The anger is born of fear. Maybe your teen's attitude made you fear that he has no respect for authority or that he'll carry these feelings of entitlement into adulthood.

No one wants to get angry with a child, but repelling your feelings of resentment and fury will only make you detonate like a powder keg later on. You worry that if you give into your anger, you'll escalate the situation. Your teenager will throw a tantrum or feel dismissed or unloved. So as you've done many times before, you put your feelings aside and soldier on, but to fully embody your authenticity you need to accept your irritation, experience it internally, and then move on. Expressing anger doesn't mean you're a bad parent. Your child, no matter their age, will benefit most when you're in alignment with who you really are.

Stuffing your rage, fear, or sorrow stops you from being your brilliant, authentic self and living your true soul signature. It's the acceptance of every single emotion you have that opens the floodgate of energy and keeps you anchored in the present. Your emotions arise to show you your greatness and deliver you to your best life.

It's safe to know yourself beyond your personality, your perceived shortcomings, or your story.

It's safe to be exactly who you are as you are.

And it's safe to be your sad, scared, irate, magnificent self.

_______________

Contemporary thought leader and spiritual teacher Panache Desai shares a message of love and self-acceptance inspiring people all over the world to relieve themselves of pain, suffering, sadness, and self-limiting beliefs. He has collaborated with internationally respected figures, including Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, Elizabeth Lesser, Brian Weiss, MD, Ram Dass, Alan Cohen, James Redfield, and Neale Donald Walsch, and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Network's Emmy Award-winning show, Super Soul Sunday. Panache invites us to harness the power of our authentic selves through our unique soul signature--our spiritual DNA--and be guided by our true purpose. His first book, DISCOVERING YOUR SOUL SIGNATURE: A 33-Day Path to Purpose, Passion, & Joy, goes on sale on April 29 (Random House/Spiegel & Grau). To learn more, visit PanacheDesai.com

Josh Horwitz: Is Cliven Bundy The New Nra Poster Child?

Josh Horwitz: Is Cliven Bundy The New Nra Poster Child? 2014-04-23

With Bunkerville crisis, NRA reaping what it has sowed through decades of insurrectionist propaganda

"There never was a government without force. What is the meaning of government? An institution to make people do their duty. A government leaving it to a man to do his duty, or not, as he pleases, would be a new species of government, or rather no government at all." - Second Amendment author James Madison, during the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention

A potentially bloody tragedy was averted on April 11th when federal agents withdrew from the Bunkerville, Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy following a tense-standoff in a dispute over grazing rights. Despite having a court order that allowed them to impound cattle of Bundy's that were trespassing on federal land, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials were forced to retreat and return his livestock after a "1,000-strong coalition of armed men" gathered at the ranch and made it clear they were ready for a shooting war. A BLM statement said the retreat was required because of "serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public."

2014-04-23-BundyMilitia.jpgThe armed gathering of pro-gun activists, anti-government groups and right-wing-politicians at Bundy's ranch did not happen in a political vacuum. It was the result of decades of propaganda from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun lobby groups; propaganda that (perversely) informs Americans that they have an individual right under the Second Amendment to shoot elected officials, law enforcement officers, and military service members if they sense our government has become "tyrannical."

There is certainly nothing "tyrannical" in the behavior of the Bureau of Land Management. The agency was founded in 1946 and administers 245 million acres of public land in 12 Western states. They have shown remarkable patience and restraint in their dealings with Bundy, which date back two decades. In 1993, Bundy stopped paying federal grazing fees. Since that time, he has expanded the range of federal land on which he is trespassing. As BLM noted, "This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public lands ranchers do every year. After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million."

In short, Bundy is putting his own interests first while denying the right of other Americans to democratically decide how best to use public lands.

It's clear that Bundy is not serious about redressing his grievances through the democratic process. He has previously declared, "I don't recognize [the] United States government as even existing." Bundy fancies himself a Sovereign Citizen, and embraces radical Posse Comitatus theories regarding the supremacy of the county sheriff as legal authority. It was therefore baffling to see U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) describe Bundy and his armed followers as "patriots." If a "patriot" is someone who doesn't recognize the government established by the U.S. Constitution, and who violently confronts it, then what exactly is a "traitor," Senator Heller?

Republican Nevada assemblywoman Michele Fiore also praised Bundy and boasted, "This is the first time we went arm to arm with the federal government."

Actually, no it's not. Long before there was Cliven Bundy there was Daniel Shays, the Massachusetts farmer who led an armed uprising in 1786-1787 against what many viewed as oppressive debt collection and tax policies. His rebels forcefully shut down local courts, but were eventually routed by state militia forces and disbanded. Shays' Rebellion so alarmed our Founders that it became a major impetus to scrap the Articles of Confederation and establish a new form of government with a more energetic, capable federal sector. When Federalist James Madison drafted our Constitution, he made it clear that the role of the Militia was to "suppress Insurrections," not to foment them. And the crime of Treason was defined in the Constitution as an act of "levying war against [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

Our Founders continued to use the Militia to put down insurrections after the Constitution was ratified, including during the 1791-1794 Whiskey Rebellion, which was initiated in response to a federal excise tax. It was then that President George Washington rode out at the head of a militia force of 13,000 men to confront and disband the rebels, whom he deemed "insurgents." The bottom line is that our Founders did not hesitate to deal harshly with extremists who believed they could engage in violent resistance to the rule of law. [The comparison of Bundy to Washington by some right-wing commentators is literally laughable.]

The NRA, on the other hand, promotes a very different message, which emboldens pro-gun activists to turn their weapons on those enforcing the rule of law. Who can forget NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre's famous declaration that "the guys with the guns make the rules" at 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference? Or how about when Glenn Beck proclaimed that "universal access to firearms is indistinguishable from Emancipation" during his keynote speech at the 2013 NRA Convention? "A lot of times people couldn't do anything about [oppression] because they didn't have a gun, because their right had been taken away by the government," Beck told the audience. "Racists like James Earl Ray killed one. Disturbed killers like Adam Lanza killed 26. But history shows government kills millions." [Actually, the history of democracies shows exactly the opposite.]

It was another NRA luminary who suggested putting women in the frontline at Bunkerville. "We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front," said Richard Mack, the head of the radical Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and the NRA's Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 1994 while serving as a plaintiff in their litigation to overturn the Brady Law. "If [federal agents are] going to start killing people, I'm sorry, but to show the world how ruthless these people are, women needed to be the first ones shot ... I would have put my own wife or daughters there, and I would have been screaming bloody murder to watch them die."

Thankfully, disciplined federal agents never gave Mack a chance to implement his macabre plan. In truth, the actions of the BLM at Bunkerville--which have consistently emphasized diplomacy and the safety of the public over the use of force--belie all hyperbolic claims of "tyranny."

Our Founders feared anarchy as much as tyranny, of course, and unfortunately anarchy is the direction the pro-gun movement is moving our country in. As Steve Benen of MSNBC noted, the Bundy camp sends the dangerous message that "you, too, can ignore the law and disregard court rulings you don't like, just so long as you have well-armed friends pointing guns at Americans." U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was even more direct, stating, "These people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They're nothing more than domestic terrorists ... We can't have an American people that violate the law and just walk away from it." George Washington certainly would have agreed.

With the next NRA convention just around the corner this weekend in Indianapolis, it will be interesting to see what their leaders have to say about the recent crisis in Bunkerville. Will Wayne LaPierre, Ted Nugent and the rest reap what they have sowed and embrace Cliven Bundy as a poster child for "Second Amendment freedoms"? Or will they back pedal, sensing that the next Cliven Bundy could look a lot more like cult leader/child rapist David Koresh or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh?

If the NRA continues to stoke the fire with anti-government sentiment and insurrectionist ideology, and pro-gun activists soon get that shooting war that so many of them are itching for, you can be certain that all eyes will turn to that tall, blue-glass building in Fairfax County, Virginia. Talk about "civil war" and violence in the pursuit of "freedom" might sound glamorous in the abstract, but if Americans were to see images of bloody battles, body bags and mourning relatives on their televisions, they would quickly see insurrectionism for what it is: absolute poison to our democratic, virtuous way of life.

Kevin Lankes: Godzilla's Secret History

Kevin Lankes: Godzilla's Secret History 2014-04-22

Godzilla is a multicultural icon. If there was a Coca-Cola commercial featuring monsters that sung the national anthem, he'd be singing his part in a mixture of English and Japanese. He's been terrorizing Tokyo for longer than Disneyland has been around. Over the span of 60 years, he's battled Earthlings, space monsters and robots, spawned offspring and chased Matthew Broderick, all while belting out the most iconic roar in film history. He's appeared in 28 Japanese films, a 1998 American film and an upcoming 2014 reboot, countless comic books, novels, video games and TV. That's an astounding feat of sustainability. The daikaiju has nestled in our hearts (and nightmares) carving out a permanent place in the annals of entertainment lore. But even more astounding is Godzilla's secret past. Where did Godzilla come from, and why? In anticipation of Godzilla 2014 hitting theaters May 16 (directed by Gareth Edwards, and starring Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe), here's a brief guide to the monster's origin story. The truth may actually blow your mind.

Godzilla is the original radioactive superhero -- or antihero, in this case. The reptilian giant was born out of a genre of Japanese film called Hibakusha Cinema, developed in the unique cultural climate of post-war Japan. At the time, there were several prominent factors at the forefront of popular thought, a brief examination of which makes it easy to see what exactly led to the monster's development. The first, and most influential, was the fear of radiation and the potential long-term effects of the atomic bombings. Godzilla first appeared in the 1954 film, Gojira, directed by Honda Ishiro. Charlotte Eubanks, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Japanese at The Pennsylvania State University, elaborated on the widespread cultural anxiety at the time of the film's release:

During the U.S.-led occupation, which lasted until 1952, there was a moratorium on any press coverage dealing with the atomic aftermath in any in-depth way. The thinking was that too much attention to the atomic bombings would derail democratization efforts and would undermine U.S. authority, particularly since the U.S. had already begun using Japanese territory as a base from which to launch bombing raids on Vietnam. With the end of the occupation, some activists and journalists started to deal directly with the atomic bombings, but they were not getting much traction. People were more interested in trying to rebuild. But then there was a real game-changer. The U.S. conducted a nuclear test over the Bikini atoll and a Japanese fishing ship, the Lucky Dragon, its crew, and all their fish were exposed to the fallout radiation. When this hit the newspapers, it ignited an enormous scare, as people throughout the country feared that they had been exposed to nuclear radiation through consuming tainted fish. That was in March 1954, shortly before the release of Gojira, the opening scene of which features a fishing crew exposed to an unexplained, destructive flash of light. So, when that hit the big screens, it touched a real nerve with the Japanese public.

The short-term effects of radiation were already clearly visible in the individuals who had survived the blasts but had not been spared from the effects of radiation poisoning. This unfortunate group would become known as Hibakusha, which translates colloquially to "bomb-affected person." Hibakusha expressed a range of symptoms relative to their exposure. Some of them died shortly after the bombings from severe radiation sickness. Others of them developed radiation burn scars, along with a host of other symptoms that went undiagnosed and unexplored due to social prejudices. They would live ostracised lives, shunned by mainstream society. Even now, Hibakusha remain a taboo, and avoidance is the unofficial national policy. The fact that Godzilla is a giant Hibakusha should not go unnoticed. He's a reminder of the destructive power of radiation, and the transformative properties of the atomic bomb's devastation.

Stephen D. Sullivan, author of Daikaiju Attack (a giant monster novel) and numerous other books and comics, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has this to say about the creature's origin:

Godzilla, both the character and the film, are a reflection on the Japanese experience at the end of World War II: destruction beyond imagining, and a lurking sense that "We brought this on ourselves" somehow, even without meaning to. In the film we see both the guilt, the feeling that the punishment perhaps outweighs the sin, and the striving for redemption, all of which are typical for such stories. In some ways, there's a similar arc in the origin of Spider-Man: radioactive accidental origin, great power used without regard for consequence (personal profit for Spidey), punishment out of proportion (the death of Uncle Ben), and eventual redemption as a hero.

Humanity has long had a twisted fascination spawning from deep-seated fears of a destructive monster, one so great as to annihilate whole societies indiscriminately. The Hindu religion expressed this idea in the form of the god Shiva, who is the destroyer of the self, of negative aspects of an individual, and ultimately of the Universe. In popular literature, the concept is commonly associated with the fiction of Lovecraft and his Cthulu mythos. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, famously recited a line from the Bhagavad Gita uttered by Krishna, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu (himself a creator and destroyer). Upon witnessing the destructive power of the bomb, Oppenheimer paraphrased the deity: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." The religious climate of Japan owes a great deal to its forerunners in Buddhism -- India and China -- who, in turn, owe a great deal to Hindu teachings. In some cases, Hindu pantheons have been completely adopted by Buddhist sects, ensuring the propagation of certain concepts into future generations of practitioners. Godzilla could very well represent one such concept, in the form of a destructive and indiscriminate deity born of Hindu philosophy and adopted into Buddhist thought.

The final piece of the creature's origin story is an all-too familiar tale in the modern age. It's the story of human progress. Nature vs. Technology. What happens when man, through its incessant meddling, makes that long-awaited mistake that ultimately brings the Earth to its knees? Bringing our own species to the brink of extinction has long been a favorite subject of science fiction stories, and Godzilla is a prime example. Technology either awoke the monster from its slumbers deep beneath the ocean or outright created it. We know that, at the very least, Godzilla's exposure to radiation increased his destructive power; the blue flame he spews is known as his "atomic blast." And the creature rejuvenates his powers by sopping up the electromagnetic fields harnessed by crashing through electrical lines and power stations.

Says Eubanks:

The basic premise of Gojira, the original 1954 version, is that nuclear testing in the Pacific has awakened a terrible dinosaur which, in its wrath, is bent on destroying Tokyo. But, as Barak Kushner and others have noted, the film isn't so much about destruction as it is about fear. Look at any screen shot of the movie, and pretty much every single person wears an expression of utter terror. This is true whether you're talking about the scene where the radio reporter is declaiming into his microphone right up to the moment when the monster crushes him, or you're talking about quieter scenes with the scientist in his lab.

Godzilla is many things, a product of the environment that created him. In our haste to make action-adventure blockbusters, we shouldn't forget the tangible sorrow that follows in the creature's wake. He is a symbol of destruction, prejudice and arrogance. In post-war Japan, Godzilla was a symbol of the side-effects of international conflict. A punishment brought on by the senseless brutality demonstrated through an abuse of technological progress. In the decades since his creature, Godzilla has become invariably changed.

Says Sullivan:

It almost seems inevitable, though, that bad guys we love become good guys. I think that maybe, as fans, we tire of rooting for 'bad,' and, sensing that, the storytellers tend to drift toward making their creations more likable. So, eventually, Godzilla no longer stomps cities (except when under control by evil aliens), and, instead, fights the enemies of mankind in wide open spaces in the mountains of Japan, or even on another planet. I guess turning from anti-hero to hero is the price of popularity. And don't we all love a good redemption story?

Godzilla 2014 releases May 16. It isn't entirely clear how the upcoming movie will portray the scaly lizard, but from the marketing materials, it looks like they're gunning for a return to Godzilla's atomic origins. I only hope that the movie also showcases the gritty and unavoidable truths that led to the real-life formation of the monster.

Kerry Kennedy: Faith In Action: Spending Holy Week At Zamni Beni Haitian Child

Kerry Kennedy: Faith In Action: Spending Holy Week At Zamni Beni Haitian Children's Home 2014-04-22

2014-04-22-2014041616.15.53.jpg

Dear Cara and Mariah,

Happy Easter!!

It's been pretty hectic the last few weeks, and I'm very happy that Easter is here, with daffodils and forsythia in bloom, lilacs on the way, and chocolate finally allowed after 40 days of abstinence (though I had enough truffles this morning to make up for all of Lent).

Along with your cousin Kyra, and RFK Center Leadership Council members, staff, and friends, Michaela and I were supposed to build a school in Mexico, but with all the violence there it seemed imprudent, so we headed instead to Haiti (the Mexican school is being built by more experienced hands and will be completed in a few weeks.) As it turned out, I can't think of a more appropriate place to spend Holy Week, as the resurrection was on display everywhere we went.

I first went to Haiti in 1979. I've gone back every few years since. My most recent visit was three and a half years ago, on the six-month anniversary of the earthquake. Port au Prince was a sea of tents, rubble and frenzied activity. I remember thinking that none of these people have jobs, yet everywhere I went people were shoveling, building, hauling, selling, or walking somewhere with determination. When I asked Nancy Dornsinville how people who had lost everyone they loved and everything they had did not give in to despair, she said there was so much death and destruction, those who were spared believed God must have had a special purpose for their survival.

Port au Prince is the physical manifestation of that divine purpose. The city is bustling. The haunting remains of the Presidential Palace have given way to open green space, the rubble that engulfed the city is gone from the major byways, and though a housing shortage persists and too many remain in tents four years later, the capital appears to be lively, amazingly green, full of commotion, in short, a rebirth.

We went to Haiti to work at Zamni Beni, a home for children in need run by RFK Human Rights Award Laureate Loune Viaud as part of Partners in Health. Some people think ZB is an orphanage, because the parents of the 64 kids there will never be coming to fetch them. But the kids are not up for adoption. This is actually their home, they introduce themselves with the last name Beni (Bonjour, je m'apelle Peterson Beni, je m'apelle Samuel Beni, je m'apelle Marcus Beni, etc.) They care for, and fight with and for one another; when they come home after school, and eventually after college or for Christmas or weddings, this is where they will come.

I asked Loune how it started. On January 12, 2010, Loune attended a meeting of people involved in Haiti's public health system, to devise a five-year plan to help her country recover from four hurricanes -- Fay, Gustav, Hannah, and Ike -- that had wiped away much of the infrastructure upon which the country depended. The impact of the storms on the countryside was overwhelming. Ninety-eight percent of Haiti's tree cover had been deforested, setting the stage for widespread floods that displaced 8 percent of its population and leveled 70 percent of its crops. At the time, it was the costliest natural disaster in Haiti's history, a crushing financial blow for the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Seated at the head of the conference table, the prime minister addressed the group when, without warning, the earth cracked open and swallowed whole the entire wall behind him. When the rumbling stopped, Loune and her best friend, Nancy Dorsinville, crawled out from beneath the conference table and ran into the street to confront the Armageddon around them. Six months earlier, President Clinton had been named U. N. special envoy to Haiti. He, in turn, hired Nancy, a native of Haiti who graduated from Barnard College and held an MA from Harvard School of Public Health, a world renowned leader in women's health who teaches at Harvard, to run the U.N. program. As co-leader of Partners in Health, the group Paul Farmer created which helps the government of Haiti runs its national health system, Loune's first instinct was to head to the General Hospital, the largest hospital in all of Haiti.

When Loune and Nancy arrived, the hospital grounds were littered with bodies, many dead, others writhing in agony. Amid the chaos they found 38 kids, newborns to teenagers, abandoned at the Central Hospital upon birth or when resources disintegrated, all physically and mentally challenged, emaciated, and near death, mostly four to a crib.

"The hospital's director asked me to take the children and I said 'Yes.'" Loune didn't ask how she could do it or where they would live or who would pay for it all. When I asked her how she thought she could do it, she just looked to Heaven and said, "I thought 'He will find a way.'"

That is faith in action.

Since then, Loune has added 26 more to her brood. The latest is Micah, dropped at the Hospital on Easter Sunday a few years ago, blind, starved, and on death's door. Today she is thriving -- impish, fun, and lively, Micah recites the entirety of the 23rd psalm at daily chapel -- a gift of resurrection.

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Loune's is an active household, on a small farm on the outskirts of Port au Prince. We ate breakfast with the kids each morning at 5 a.m. (sometimes I admit to being late), then read books, did calisthenics, went to the prayer service at the chapel, played wheelchair keep-away, danced, solved puzzles, ate lunch, played soccer, watched a Bible film, drew pictures, jumped in the blow-up pools, took a walk past the income-generating tilapia farm, hen house, and restaurant, ate dinner, played Uno or checkers with the teenagers, and finally collapsed into bed.

One day Matt Linder came to show Loune our Health eVillages app, which brings up to date medical information to clinicians in developing countries. Actress, comedienne, and RFK Leadership Council member Diane Neal used the app to remove stitches from my hand, declaring on camera, "If I can do it, a nurse can do it." I may be scarred for life...

Our days were pretty hectic. But the kids were delightful, funny, and a total inspiration. Every member of TiJoe's family perished in the rubble of his home during the earthquake. He spent four days beneath the wreckage, crying for help. When he arrived at Loune's door, he didn't speak. Then, for days, he only repeated "I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead." Today, TiJoe is 11. He loves soccer and is a fierce competitor. Michaela spent hours showing him games on her laptop and practicing English with him -- his third language after Creole and French.

When the Bureau of Social Services discovered that a contingent of U.N. soldiers, deployed to Haiti to keep the peace, had kidnapped Roudy and were raping him nightly as a sex slave, they brought the boy to Loune. At 15, Roudy's shaved head makes his egg-shaped skull distinct atop his fireplug build. He is always at the side of sweet and pretty Nephtalie, whose wheelchair he glides across the stone yard and up and down the steps. He has an easy smile and is quietly helpful, distributing books when it's time to read and sitting with Patrick, deaf and mute, at every meal.

At eight years old, Wendy, olive skinned with piercing green eyes, watched his father take a stick and beat his mother to death. A few years later, his best friend died of gunshot wounds. Orphaned, despondent, homeless, lost, and defiant, he came to Loune's door. Wendy Beni is now 18, in 9th grade, goes to school every day, helps his brothers and sisters eat meals and play sports, and is determined to finish high school and become a master carpenter.

Carl is four. With two club feet, he cannot walk, but that does not slow him down. While other kids saunter, he glides across the ground on his hands, dragging his legs. With massive upper body strength he climbs onto the benches, and nothing makes him happier than twirling around on one of several tire swings. He will not be denied on the soccer field, and whacks the ball with his entire lower body, sending the orb spinning towards the goal. Next month, he will travel to Toronto, where volunteer doctors will perform a series of operations they believe will allow him to walk for the first time.

Every day at Zamni Beni we went to the chapel. The kids sang and I prayed beneath the images of the Haitian Jesus and the Haitian Mary, no blond hair and blue eyes here, but reflections instead of the saintly people around me. Children, women and a scattering of men, who have endured unspeakable violence and anguish, loss and horror, agony -- biblical in force and nature -- and have responded with unbounded love.

Redemption. Resurrection. Faith.

I leave Haiti with these gifts in abundance.

All holy days, no matter the religion with which they are associated, contain lessons for all humanity. Easter is rebirth. Haiti, and specifically Zamni Beni, is the embodiment of that. The lessons of resurrection transcend chocolate bunnies or labels of denomination.

When asked how she endured so much loss, Great Grandma Rose used to say, "After the storm, the birds sing. Why shouldn't we?"

The birds are singing in Zamni Beni.

With Easter love, Momma

Wendy Abrams, Jayni Chase, Gail Evertz, Annabel Lee Hogg, Dick Iannuzzi, Matt Linder, and Diane Neal joined Kyra Kennedy, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, and me on the delegation.

Soraya Chemaly: Why Female Nudity Isn't Obscene, But Is Threatening To A Sexis

Soraya Chemaly: Why Female Nudity Isn't Obscene, But Is Threatening To A Sexist Status Quo 2014-04-22

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The newest issue of HipMama magazine features a photograph of artist Ana Alvarez-Errecald standing, topless, holding her baby. He's wearing a Spiderman costume and she is wearing the mask. The child is breastfeeding at one of her breasts and holding his hand over the other. After distributors expressed concern about having the magazine on US newsstands, HipMama was forced to publish not one, but two, covers: a "family-friendly" one that ensured it would be sold on newsstands and in supermarkets in which her bared breast is hidden by a large red dot and another, mailed to subscribers, in which her child's hand on her breast will be apparent. Alvarez-Errecald's most prominent earlier work, a diptych titled "The Birth of My Daughter," is also being published in the magazine. Trust me, that piece will not be appearing on magazine covers anytime soon.

The cover image has been removed on Facebook as obscene and the artists' Facebook page was, erroneously or not, unpublished.  It cataloged her work, which included other images of bare breasts and had more than 2,000 followers, now lost to her.

In the wake of last year's #FBrape campaign, I have been in regular touch with Facebook on the topic of "the nipple problem."  People often contact me to ask for help when Facebook moderators, sometimes misinterpreting their own guidelines, remove content in which nipples aren't even apparent, but where content related to reproductive health, pregnancy, labor, childbirth or, as in this case, breastfeeding are removed. In each instance, Facebook, which is grappling with these issues every day, has sought to rectify the problem as quickly as possible. Nipples, however, remain taboo with ass-backwards, sexist results like this: Nude and Naked Desi Girls, which has no breasts-not-in-the-service-of-the-male-gaze scary nipples, makes the obscenity cut.

While a lot of attention is paid to Facebook's oddly puerile, fundamentalist belt approach, I know from working with them that they are putting a lot of time and effort into understanding these ideas and addressing content removal biases. However, the company, a virtual country of 1 billion people, really just reflects mainstream US values the way that the Motion Picture Association of America, the Parents Television Council and the Federal Communications Commission do. For example, the PTC loudly criticized Miley Cyrus' "lewd" MTV Awards performance for its sexual explicitness, but didn't have a word regarding the rape apology of her co-performer's "Blurred Lines" song or either of their appropriations of African American music and culture. Their norms incorporate discriminatory standards every day. They are not interested in women's autonomy or freedom of speech.

These agencies, and social media company policies, like many city statutes and public ordinances, privilege male-dominant heterosexuality, conflate women's bodies with indecency and sex (a bad thing compared, for example, to allowable rampant violence), and insist that those bodies (and sex) be held in reserve, distributed and consumed according to patriarchal rules.  These rules, and the obsessions that drive them, promote billion-dollar "good girls gone wild" industries and an Internet fueled by gonzo porn, which have little to do with women's autonomy.

Many people, seem confounded by expressions of female nudity that are not sexual -- because, of course, isn't male titillation the whole point of women's nakedness?

Why is exposing the world to non-sexualized female nudity important? The real question about female nudity isn't why anyone would want to show or see women's breasts if they're not titillating.  The real question is about who has the right to say what they're for, where and when they can be seen and by whom. That's about power.

1.  Women too often are used to embody and reflect male power, honor and shame.  It's not good for us.  Our bodies, and the bodies of people who are gender fluid and non-binary conforming, are sites of moral judgment in ways most men's are not, especially in public and in protest. Some of us experience our bodies, in particular our nudity, as objects of repression, oppression and powerlessness. Representing them as no one's but our own, counter to prevailing representations, is important.

2. Female public nudity is usually treated as a moral offense, a cause for concern and discussion, but it's rarely allowed to be a source of non-sexual female power.  Male nudity is an entirely different thing.  When your average (straight) man is seen nude or semi-nude, it's often considered humorous, as in frat boys streaking.  Or it's a sign of virility and athleticism.  When it's not, for example, the jarring images of the torture of Iraqi men in Abu Ghraib, men -- vulnerable, humiliated and in pain -- are feminized by their nakedness.

3. Female nudity is not just about sexualization, it's about maintaining social hierarchies, like those of race and class.  Non-idealized female bodies used autonomously undermine a continuous narrative about body-based sex and race differences. When our cultural production is singularly focused on hyper-gendered, racialized and sexualized representations of nudity, it is easier to maintain racist and sexist ideas -- and nude female bodies outside socially approved, sexualized contexts challenge those.

The cultural regulation of female nudity and portrayals of sexuality is also a powerful way in which women's bodies are used to pit us against one another and to reinforce hierarchies among men. Dark bodies, especially women's, have always been available for public consumption: sale, rape, breeding, medical experimentation and more and the staying power of racist and sexist mythologies about white women and black men, rape and sex, are evident every day.  When women take ownership of the circumstances of their own nudity, they can defy others' attempts to place them within these hierarchies.

4. Female public nakedness as protest or social commentary is not new and is critical, expressive and censored speech.  Lady Godiva is far from the only woman to use her nudity to achieve political ends. Barbara Sutton's excellent recounting of her experiences with naked protests in Brazil is chock-full of historical and analytical insights.  Women have regularly used their nakedness to protest corruption and exploitation that go along with colonialism.  It's among the most important reasons why Femen's (topless) neocolonial narrative is offensive.  Prior to Tunisia's Amina Sboui's topless protest (after which she was arrested, subjected to a virginity test and fled), Egyptian activist Aalia Magda (also in exile) posted pictures of herself naked to protest Shariah law and censorship. Last January, hundreds of women in the Niger Delta marched half-naked in protests against Shell Oil Company practices in their community.  This was a repeat of earlier and similar protests.  These were peaceful, unlike last month's in Argentina when an estimated 7,000 women stormed a cathedral defended by 1,500 rosary-bearing Catholic men. They fought, spat, yelled, spray-painted people and were accused, without a shred of irony, of gender-based violence against Catholic men. Many of these women were topless.

Nudity is also an enduring and essential part of the social critique of women artists.  Most recently Young Jean Lee's widely acclaimed experimental screenplay, UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW, featured six nude women performers. The works of Lorna Simpson, Judy Chicago, Ana Medieta, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Marina Abramovic, Hanna Wilke and so many others speak to identity, race, sex and class, using women's naked bodies to do it.  For years Alvarez Errecald's work has incorporated her naked body in order to demystify birth and motherhood and wrest its imagery from religious institutions that infuse ideas about women's bodies with shame and evil.  While graphic images of birth are not everyone's cup of tea, they are important and meaningful in a world where pregnancy and childbirth remain cloaked in dangerous silence and where legislation of female reproduction remains firmly in the thrall of religious men secure in their detached from reality.  When newspapers, movie theaters, cable and TV news, online media and social media refuse to show female nudity as part of female-directed political protest or artistic statement they deny them equal freedom of expression. When they do this while proliferating grossly objectifying alternatives, they silence them doubly.

5.  It's not just that women have the right not to be sex objects, but also that we have the right to dismantle a discriminatory canon. In her 1977 essay "What's Wrong With Images of Women?" art historian Griselda Pollock described a global, commercial, patriarchal visual culture that uses women's bodies symbolically and makes it impossible for us to use our own bodies effectively in challenging that culture.  It's a symptom of women's position in the world that the efficacy of using our nudity to protest is tenuous.  Again, take Femen.  Set aside their execution and bizarre provenance and focus on two things: a) their use of naked female bodies to express aggression and rage, and b) the fact that they appear to meet the requirements of Western, increasingly global, ideals of beauty. They are thin, young, tall, topless and almost all white. In Louise Pennington's words, they pass the patriarchal fuckability test.   And so media eat them up. The same media that every day make choices about what not to show: models protesting racism in their industry; angry, anti-Catholic feminist crowds;  peaceful, determined, old Nigerian women.   That's not Femen's fault.  They certainly aren't the ones making media decisions about what makes the news. Did they use this bias? Should women?  Femen is exactly why many feminists doubt that female nudity can ever be an effective tool of activism.   However, each controversy that erupts allows us to think about how our own bodies and their "place" are used to undermine our intent and desires.

6. Self-defined public female nudity is a challenge to capitalism and its uses of women as products, props, assets and distributable resources. Nothing on Earth is used to drive sales and profits and display male wealth and status like women's, often naked and semi-naked, bodies.  If you are thinking women make choices and are complicit, show contempt for other women because they are women -- well, of course some of them do. That is a defining feature of misogyny. Until we have equal access to resources, and are not subject to constant predation, this is a no-brainer. In the meantime, when women refuse to sexualize themselves and use their bodies to challenge powerful interests that profit from that sexualization, the words we should use aren't  "lewd" and "obscene"; they're "threatening" and "destabilizing."

I was alerted to Alvarez Errecald by Laura Dodsworth, a photographer and founder of an art and social project called bare reality. Like the documentary Free the Nipple and other movements addressing control of women's bodies and expression, this project is dedicated to positively altering the relationship between how women experience life and media depictions of the same. It's easy to trivialize their efforts, but that would be a serious mistake.

We all know that the prohibitions on women's nipples have nothing to do with women's nipples, but everything to do with control. Women who use public nudity for social commentary, art and protest are myth-busting along many dimensions: active, not passive; strong not vulnerable; together, not isolated; public, not private; and, usually, angry, not alluring. The threat that female toplessness and self-articulated nudity poses is culturally defined and can be culturally redefined so that people recognize that the offense to morality is misogyny, not nudity.

Portions of this article first appeared in Salon.com. An online version remains in the Salon archives. Reprinted with permission.

Mike Hanski: Want To Be A Better Writer? Read More.

Mike Hanski: Want To Be A Better Writer? Read More. 2014-04-22

"It usually helps me write by reading -- somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear." -Steven Wright

Reading is fashionable. Again. It's cool. We bet you all can find many statements about how good and useful reading is, how much it can influence a person and his way of thinking, and how awesome it is to sit on your cozy sofa, reading your favorite book and diving (not literally of course) into this imaginary and so wonderful world...

And all such statements are true, actually. Many famous writers, singers, politicians, and even movie characters prove the fact of reading's great influence on people's mind: if you take a look at their bookshelves, you'll definitely be surprised. (Check out the infographic at the end of this post.)

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." -Stephen King

These words of the "Great Master" and famous American essayist can hardly be objected, taking into account his writing skills and his books' importance for several generations of readers from different countries. Does it mean you should read a lot if you want to write like a professional? The answer to this question is quite predictable: yes, you should.

No good writing is possible without reading. Any proof needed? No problem.

How Reading Influences Your Writing

Being a writer, you'll probably agree with the fact that the art of writing is nearly impossible to teach. It is impossible to finish some courses on creative writing or graduate from some university with a diploma of "a professional writer." Do you consider it possible? We have bad news for you then.

Writing is a skill. But this skill is very complicated, because it can't be got by simple learning of grammar rules, punctuation marks, and different writing techniques. Certainly, you should know how to write correctly, but only reading can help you achieve greatness. How?

It helps you find inspiration It lets you gain new knowledge It helps you learn your genre better It provides you with wider vocabulary for your own works It makes you understand the language better It helps you learn from real gurus of writing It helps you reveal the secrets of this job in practice

Can you imagine a musician who does not listen to music himself? The same question can be asked about writing. Every author writes for readers; no grammar rules and writing techniques will help you understand your reader if you do not read yourself.

Enjoy what you read. It is difficult and mostly impossible to write something really good if you did not experience anything good that had been written already. Being a writer yourself, you have an ace in your sleeve: you can read a book with an eye for writing, though you do not even realize it.

Everything you learn as a reader, you can use as a writer afterward. But even if becoming the second Ray Bradbury is not your plan, it is not a reason to forget about reading and consider it useless at once.

How reading influences your study

Want it or not, but you have to read much during your study at school or university. Have you ever considered reading War and Peace the worst curse and nightmare of your student life? You do not even imagine how wrong you were.

Numerous scientific research studies prove the positive impact of reading on pupils and students' minds: the more you read at school, the better your vocabulary and cognitive skills become; reading helps kids define who they are, as it connects them to the rest of the whole world; moreover, books can infinitely expand your general view of this world...

Any more reasons for reading in school and college needed?

Reading widens a vocabulary, broadens a kid's mind, helps him understand the world better Kids who read at home become more prepared for school Reading allows students to use new text models for their successful academic writing It deepens their knowledge of a subject itself It helps students remember grammar rules even without learning them

Poor reading skills can lead to a person's social exclusion. According to the Basic Skills Agency's study, pupils who are functionally illiterate at 16 (the age they usually leave school) consider school a simple waste of time and become most likely unemployed by the age of 30, as they do not believe anything they do can have a real effect on their lives.

But it would be a big mistake to consider reading only a tool for gaining literacy because it influences our physical and psychological condition as well. Do you want to know how? Keep reading!

How reading influences you in general

Science confirms that reading has a positive influence on your brain: blood flows to it, improving brain's functioning and connectivity; moreover, it has been proved that this functioning improves for days! So, read books -- and you will help your brain function better.

Other positive impacts of reading include:

overcoming stress keeping brain in shape while you are getting old decreasing chances to have Alzheimer's disease increase in empathy cultivating a so-called theory of mind, when you "read" thoughts and feelings of people broadening of imagination finding a source of inspiration

Do not ignore reading because it really makes our lives easier. It helps us understand all feelings and events, it makes us better, it teaches us to respect people, it broadens our minds, and it opens our hearts to everything new.

Read everything you like, everything that's relevant to your feelings now, everything you believe in. Let a book open your mind and help you feel love toward the world around you. As Ernest Hemingway said, "There is no friend as loyal as a book." So, maybe it's high time to find your best friend among a fabulous kaleidoscope of writing masterpieces?

You are what you read -- bookshelves of famous people

Mike Hanski is a content strategist for businesses in various industries and an occasional musician. Check out his blog where he writes about college life and feel free to contact him on Google+.

Bill Moyers: Government = Protection Racket For The 1 Percent

Bill Moyers: Government = Protection Racket For The 1 Percent 2014-04-22

The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting. According to "Working for the Few," a recent briefing paper from Oxfam, "In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer."

2014-04-22-econInequality_wealth.pngOur now infamous one percent own more than 35 percent of the nation's wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of the country is in debt. Just this past Tuesday, the 15th of April -- Tax Day -- the AFL-CIO reported that last year the chief executive officers of 350 top American corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average US worker. Those executives made an average of $11.7 million dollars compared to the average worker who earned $35,239 dollars.

As that analysis circulated on Tax Day, the economic analyst Robert Reich reminded us that in addition to getting the largest percent of total national income in nearly a century, many in the one percent are paying a lower federal tax rate than a lot of people in the middle class. You may remember that an obliging Congress, of both parties, allows high rollers of finance the privilege of "carried interest," a tax rate below that of their secretaries and clerks.

And at state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest one percent of the country pay -- are you ready for this? -- half that rate. Now, neither Nature nor Nature's God drew up our tax codes; that's the work of legislators -- politicians -- and it's one way they have, as Chief Justice John Roberts might put it, of expressing gratitude to their donors: "Oh, Mr. Adelson, we so appreciate your generosity that we cut your estate taxes so you can give $8 billion as a tax-free payment to your heirs, even though down the road the public will have to put up $2.8 billion to compensate for the loss in tax revenue."

All of which makes truly repugnant the argument, heard so often from courtiers of the rich, that inequality doesn't matter. Of course it matters. Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: Tax breaks. Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone). Loopholes. Favors like carried interest. And so on. As Paul Krugman writes in his New York Review of Books essay on Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, "We now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action."

Recently, researchers at Connecticut's Trinity College ploughed through the data and concluded that the US Senate is responsive to the policy preferences of the rich, ignoring the poor. And now there's that big study coming out in the fall from scholars at Princeton and Northwestern universities, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. Their conclusion: "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened... The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." Instead, policy tends "to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations."

Last month, Matea Gold of The Washington Post reported on a pair of political science graduate students who released a study confirming that money does equal access in Washington. Joshua Kalla and David Broockman drafted two form letters asking 191 members of Congress for a meeting to discuss a certain piece of legislation. One email said "active political donors" would be present; the second email said only that a group of "local constituents" would be at the meeting.

One guess as to which emails got the most response. Yes, more than five times as many legislators or their chiefs of staff offered to set up meetings with active donors than with local constituents. Why is it not corruption when the selling of access to our public officials upends the very core of representative government? When money talks and you have none, how can you believe in democracy?

Sad, that it's come to this. The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Piketty describes in his formidable new book on capital has become a mad dash. It will overrun us, unless we stop it.

Jochen Zeitz: Earth Day 2015 Should Focus On Tomorrow's Bottom Line

Jochen Zeitz: Earth Day 2015 Should Focus On Tomorrow's Bottom Line 2014-04-22

Happy 44th birthday, Earth Day. This year’s theme, championed by as many as a billion people worldwide, is ‘Green Cities.’ That is timely at a moment when we are becoming an urban species. But underlying the Earth Day agenda is a growing sense that tomorrow’s economies -- and tomorrow’s capitalism -- must be very different. So how about focusing Earth Day 2015 on tomorrow’s bottom line?

Anyone who was there knows that the world was a very different place when the first Earth Day launched on April 22, 1970. Business people were more likely to be the target of public outrage than engaged in the task of working out how our cities and economies could shift onto more sustainable trajectories. The chemical industry was under siege for its role in the production of weapons like napalm and Agent Orange.

Still, despite the ongoing horrors in Vietnam, hope was abroad. When we talked to the first Earth Day’s organizer, Denis Hayes, he recalled being much more optimistic in 1970 about the potential for radical change then than he is today. “In the United States,” he told us, “an aroused citizenry had recently scored huge victories over entrenched interests in civil rights and turned a President out of office over an unwise, unjust war. I thought the various battles facing environmentalism -- over pesticides, monocultures, air and water pollution, endangered species, freeways slashing through inner-city neighborhoods, and so on -- would be fairly easily won.”

But paradigms take a couple of generations to shift, partly because those infected by the old paradigm need to retire or die, as do many of those they taught or influenced. Over 50 years into a paradigm shift whose dawn was heralded by people like Rachel Carson, the fact that business CEOs and other leaders are now coming together to create new change platforms like The B Team signals that, at last, we may be breaking through into a new era.

Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, is among leaders who understand that we’re no longer simply talking about citizenship, responsibility and accountability. Business now must address the increasingly urgent need for system change. “It’s a big job and it will take time,” he told us. “But it’s the inevitable way. Either we throw away capitalism and start again, or we transform capitalism.”

Such people are well placed to see how everything in today’s world is now connected -- and connecting in new ways -- with profound implications for all of us, but particularly those locked into the status quo. Now, in a trend heralded by the natural capitalism movement, the spotlight is beginning to shift from scientists, activists and CEOs to accountants.

The world’s bean counters are not natural revolutionaries, but corporate accounting and reporting are evolving toward new ways of calculating the true costs of corporate operations -- and the true value corporations create. The focus is expanding from traditional physical and financial forms of capital, to new forms, among them the intellectual, institutional, human, social, cultural and natural varieties.

Coincidentally, 2014 also marks the twentieth birthday of the triple bottom line, which helped launch a wave of other accounting concepts, including the double bottom line, blended value and shared value. As we converge these different strands of accounting and valuation, tomorrow’s bottom line will evolve from a monocular perspective on value to something more complex, able to detect, value and track multi-dimensional forms of wealth creation.

Natural capital will be at the epicentre of this revolution -- as underscored by the pioneering work of former DeutscheBank managing director Pavan Sukhdev in his UN-backed inquiry into The Economics of Economics and Biodiversity (TEEB). For those wanting to know more, we also highly recommend the Natural Capital Hub. And take a look at the Glasa Awards this week, celebrating natural capital accounting.

When PUMA and its parent company Kering, working with PwC and Trucost, developed and published the first ever Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L) account in 2011, PUMA reported that the environmental cost of its operations throughout its supply chain was €145 million for 2010. The E P&L has since been refined and improved by Kering to implement E P&L analysis’ across its Luxury and Sport & Lifestyle brands, to publish a Group E P&L in 2016.

Inevitably, pricing nature will uncover costs that companies would prefer to keep hidden. As nature’s needs become visible, businesses will be landed with stranded assets. On the other side of the coin, some argue that it is unethical to place monetary valuations on nature, which should be considered priceless. But in market economies, priceless doesn’t figure. So The B Team is committed to exploring how all of this will shape the future of the bottom line. Keep track of -- and contribute to -- our work here.

Jochen Zeitz is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of The B Team, Director of Kering and former Chairman and CEO of PUMA, where he conceived and pioneered Environmental Profit & Loss accounting. His new book, "The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits With Tomorrow’s Bottom Line," co-written with Volans Executive Chairman John Elkington, will be published by Jossey-Bass in September.

Malcolm Boyd: How Can We Adjust To New Hard Times?

Malcolm Boyd: How Can We Adjust To New Hard Times? 2014-04-22

The surge in middle-aged people moving in with their parents reflects the grim reality that has taken hold in the aftermath of the Great Recession, according to an April 21 report in the Los Angeles Times. The survey underscores that older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts. So let's face it: life for average people isn't getting easier. As a matter of fact, it's enormously complicated. Aging itself requires far more skill than it did. It's not an easy process at all. Aging, of course, includes dying. Some people fear death to a staggering degree. Others are angered by it. (What's it all about? Why must we bother with it?) Still others make peace with it. My mother Beatrice was one of the latter. After she contracted pneumonia in the convalescent hospital where she stayed, I was told that the end was near. I observed the acceptance, serenity and inner peace that she developed before my eyes. Beatrice's behavior in the dying process reminded me of words written by the existential psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom: "The last gift a parent can give to children is to teach them, through example, how to face death with equanimity." Mother did that, gracefully and simply, and I shall always be grateful. She died just ten days before her 99th birthday. My mother was born in 1898 and her life came close to spanning the 20th century. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, she nursed Navajo Indian children who were ill, then dug graves and buried the dead in the parched earth under a desert sun. Hers was a long life of service. At age 70, she began volunteer teaching at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. One young patient asked her, "You're old, aren't you?" "Yes, I am," she replied. "That's good," he said. "Then I can talk to you." When death came, my mother opened her arms to it. Grateful for life, she accepted death as an act of faith. I remember my first experience with death. I was a young boy. Grandpa lay at home in a big mahogany bed, surrounded by the members of his immediate family. Everyone knew he was dying. Grandma sat next to him, crying softly and holding his hand. I was thinking that Grandpa wouldn't be able to take me for walks in the woods any more or hold me on his knee. We were pals and I'd miss him terribly. Then I heard his heavy breathing stop. Suddenly I realized he had lost the gigantic spark of life that had always animated him in such a special way. I invite you to share with me the ways death has touched your own life. When? How? Did death occur violently in an accident? Quietly at home in bed -- or in a hospital? Alone or with friends? Was it expected or a surprise? How did you respond to it? I welcome your real-life stories, with your reactions of fear or hope, anxiety or peace. Following death, life goes on. Our task is to move forward with life, summoning all our courage and energy. Yet a reader writes to me: "Death took away 29 years of my happiness. I've got to keep on living, but I don't know how. Death scares me because it's such a terrible closure. Please tell me what to do. I need help in living." The worst way to live is to fear living. The worst way to die is to fear dying. Let joy come into your life. Stay open to others. Confront fears. Opt for service instead of selfishness. Learn to forgive. Relinquish hatred. Practice loving. Let the new day come as a carrier of hope.

Jack Healey: Twisting Honor, Twisting Human Rights: America And Torture

Jack Healey: Twisting Honor, Twisting Human Rights: America And Torture 2014-04-22

There was a time when the American public demanded something like consequences for leadership failures that transgressed ethical and moral lines. The Watergate scandal brought down the Nixon presidency, but the sense in the country was that it was an indictment of failed policies ranging from Kissinger's brutal wars in Southeast Asia to the roughshod trampling of public opinion that was really what brought him down. In the Reagan era, there was a massive loss of confidence in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra Scandal and there were extensive and publicly televised hearings on this issue. Now? Now the Bush presidency involved running riot over international agreements and the very foundations of the United States and virtually nothing happened. Could things be worse? Yes. The Obama presidency has seen these policies continued or extended with both implicit and explicit statements that there would not be any pursuit of justice against those who offended it so deeply.

It is not enough to note that the Obama administration has continued many policies that were initiated under his predecessor, George W. Bush. It is not enough to note with horror the response given by then Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as he tartly dismisses a reporter's concerns of the extrajudicial and extraterritorial murder of an American citizen and a minor (though given Gibbs' rather crass post-White House business acumen, maybe he'll re-spin this too in the future). Let us not get caught up in the problems of indefinite detentions without charge in Guantanamo. Let us not worry ourselves overly much with the problems of drone attacks and the ethics of videogame pilots in air-conditioned trailers outside of Las Vegas unleashing the full might of the American military against wedding parties on the other side of the globe. Let us rather focus on what may be the most shameful problem of all: torture.

The word torture comes from the Latin torquere, meaning "to twist." It is a word that is shorthand for acts and behaviors beyond the moral limits of acceptability. It has been treated as such since the founding of the United States with the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, itself derived from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The history of agreeing that certain punishments and treatments were such an affront to humankind that they should not be permitted ever has been one of not only declaiming treatments and punishments carried out by other state or nonstate actors, but of restricting and monitoring the powers and behaviors of our very own country. Currently, the Congress and presidency have decided to just stop caring about being monitored or restricted.

When Senator Dianne Feinstein broke from the ranks and decried the use of torture by the United States, the reaction against her was fast, furious, and, with sad predictability, featured gendered ad hominem attacks. The CIA will not go gently into greater oversight and accountability within the government, as no secret agency ever has. But Senator Feinstein's statement was harrowing, brave, clear, and essential. The revelations of the partial release of the Senate report on torture are harrowing, but a full release of the information and subsequent accountability are absolutely essential. Stand against torture. Stand with Feinstein. There are many in the Senate and outside who already support the need to make the report public, but your voice is needed to stand with them to make it happen.

As we watch Easter, a holiday celebrating redemption, and Passover, a holiday celebrating liberation, recede into the past of 2014, let us recall that redemption and liberation are hard to come by if you're held in indefinite detention in Guantanamo or, perhaps worse, a black site, and subjected to various forms of either explicitly sanctioned torture or those which are explicitly prohibited and thus carried out by other jurisdictions/nations with (barely) plausible deniability. What of their redemption? What of their liberation? And what of ours? If we as a nation, if we as human beings, are prepared to continue to ignore the full weight of accountability then we are accepting a blot on our history with full self-aware agreement, a stain that will never be removed. The most widely publicized "newly approved" torture technique was waterboarding, a practice so heinous that even the late hawk Christopher Hitchens found it impossible to permit. But it is hardly the only one, and the use of torture has corrupted outwards, with deceptions and denials permeating the CIA and many of its implicit channels of power.

There was a time when this was a blot created and blamed on the Bush administration. That history was amply and explicitly called out in a recent piece by Steve Coll, which ended with a call: "Can the American people at last have the facts about the Bush administration's embrace of torture as national policy, carried out in their name?" The Obama administration has become actively complicit in sheltering the torturers and so has almost the entirety of both House and Senate. The question of whether or not to allow torture should be answered with a resounding no. The idea of having zero accountability for the architects and implementers of torture is equally unacceptable. Make no mistake. This is not a sideshow issue. This is one of the central human rights issues in the United States. We urge you to contact your elected officials in House and Senate (see www.contactingthecongress.org on how to do this or www.whitehouse.gov/contact for how to do this) and tell them not to stand for it. We urge you to refrain from giving donations to ANY candidate for any political office who will not take an unequivocal stand against torture and for the full release of information and for immediate hearings to be held. This is about the core of human rights and it can not wait. Call Senator Feinstein's office and thank her for her work and her stand and announce that you stand with her. Never give a pass to torture. Never forget the victims of torture. Never again is an ideal that needs to be remembered again and again.

Sarah Thomas: An Open Letter Regarding The Open Letter

Sarah Thomas: An Open Letter Regarding The Open Letter 2014-04-22

I hope that you are reading, furious writers of the open letter, because I want to thank you.

In today's crass, tweet-fueled world, there is something exquisite about this throwback to communication of yesteryear. The letter is a literary form that has been nearly extinct in favor of dashing off a quick email or a transient text. You, epistolary artisans, are resurrecting a high art.

Who is your inspiration? Is it Georgia O'Keefe, whose impassioned addresses to Alfred Steiglitz made your peony blush? Is it the young Ernest Hemingway, who inspires the bloodthirsty misogynist in you? Or F. Scott Fitzgerald (do you also write blind drunk)?

None of you named a writer of the modern "open letter," did you? You know, the author of one published in the annals of the New York Post online or even the Hollywood Reporter? Of course you didn't. "Open letters," in their current incarnation, barely resemble letters written from one human being to another, conveying something with discretion and cleverness. Not all open letters are made equal, of course (this is the part where I address my naysayers, to silence any one who might topple my soapbox), and there are brilliant historical precedents like Emile Zola's "J'accuse." Unfortunately, these exceptions are largely in the rear view mirror.

You see, this is actually a critique of the trend of the open letter, in all of its asinine inescapability. #Sorrynotsorry, dear reader -- it's the nature of the open letter to trick you into reading it.

If you feel like your attention is being abused, relax, this is a convention of the open letter. Remember Dylan Farrow implicating her readers by asking us what our favorite Woody Allen movie was before revealing a truly harrowing story of child abuse at the director's hands? Or Mackenzie Dawson's 'A Working Mother's Open Letter to Gwyneth Paltrow,' which began by sardonically telling the titular actress "I really enjoyed your recent comments to E! about how easy an office job is for parents, compared to the grueling circumstances of being on a movie set." Spoiler alert: the rest of the letter was markedly less fawning.

"Hey," you may say (but of course, I can't hear you, because an open letter isn't really "open" to your input, reader), "how dare you attack writers with concerns as serious as abuse or child rearing in a pithy format such as this?" And I say: "Precisely." It is an entirely inappropriate forum for issues of such gravity, which would be much better addressed in an op-ed, a blog, the front page of the Times (aim high), or even a letter to Dear Prudence, genuinely seeking counsel. It isn't that these open letter writers should be ashamed of their plights, but they have chosen an inherently disingenuous form that jeopardizes the content.

Is the announced object of the open letter ever the true intended audience? You see, the open letter is a slippery vehicle -- it's rarely what it seems. They may appear to be direct addresses, but they are often vehicles for "regular" citizens -- such as myself -- to access (or accuse) people of some celebrity.

Christina McDowell addresses her "Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself," detailing an excruciating family ordeal at the hands of her corrupt banker father, to the "Kings of Hollywood." I applaud McDowell's content if not her form. Dawson's letter, however, a narrative of relentless commutes and unaffordable child care, is all too familiar to many women, but her frustrations play second fiddle to her purported goal: vilifying Paltrow.

Perhaps the lowest form of the open letter is that typified by a lover of Dwayne Wade's addressing Gabrielle Union, his then fiancé, detailing their sex life and featuring especially repugnant gems like "he makes me feel so comfortable on your side of the bed." Ouch. Double-ouch that it was probably read by Union's grandmother, co-workers, and dry cleaners.

The pain of these letter writers is real, and it is sloppily spilled over the Internet for all of our gawking pleasure.

Now that I've got your attention: I'd like to thank Daniel Jones for all of my painstakingly crafted "Modern Love" submissions that have gone unpublished; I'd like to give a shout out to Kendrick Lamar for writing my ex's favorite soundtrack by which to bang other women; I'd like to advise Beyonce to get fat or old already, because for God's sake, you have been fueling my physical insecurities for at least ten years. Cormac McCarthy: stop making me a terrible writer by proxy! Kanye and Kim: stop making my checking account ever-inadequate! And finally, to my late grandpa: resurrect yourself and acknowledge that I have exceeded your expectations and become a functional adult.

See, dear reader? Wasn't that pleasant? What are very real, legitimate, human problems worth exploring become at best passive aggressive salves for our own pain and at worst hysterical caricatures contributing to the internet epidemic of "dumbing down" complex social problems. Open letters offer the false promise of a dialogue that could better be had in a town hall meeting or even a Reddit open source. But responses are usually from anonymous commenters that have great potential to further the writer's injury. And responses from the "intended," like Woody Allen's comeback to his estranged daughter, create a conversation with all of the grace and privacy of Jerry Springer's stage (with a tasteful jazz soundtrack).

Open letters should be short, so I will close. But there must be a plea, a boycott, a call to arms for the invisible audience that I assume is left asking: "What now, Sarah?" If you must rectify a wrong, I ask you to do something revolutionary, and write the intended reader an actual, physical letter. Put your words -- which deserve a far better home -- on the page, and mail it to the intended. If your grievances demand a larger audience, then elect not to hide behind this popular form that whiffs of self-aggrandization. Instead, I propose a new form, the Angry Yawp, ideally available in audio form, in the grand tradition of the town crier: "Hear Ye, Hear Ye, this is important, and every single last one of you better listen."

As my grandpa used to say, "Just don't piss on me and tell me it's raining."

Respectfully yours,

Sarah

Wray Herbert: Not Enough Basketballs? The Too-much-talent Effect

Wray Herbert: Not Enough Basketballs? The Too-much-talent Effect 2014-04-22

The NBA playoffs are underway, and the Miami Heat are the odds-on favorite to "three-peat." If they do -- or if they don't, for that matter -- the outcome will fuel an enduring debate about how best to build a sports franchise. Back in 2010, the Heat opted to wager hundreds of millions of dollars on the Big 3 -- signing superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh on top of pricey local favorite Dwayne Wade. James boastfully predicted a Heat dynasty, while cynics chanted a more skeptical mantra: "Not enough basketballs" for those super egos.

Is there such a thing as having too much talent? This is the perennial question facing the owners of big-time sports franchises -- not to mention the managers and coaches and players and fans. Does adding more and more talent add up to ever better team performance?

Surprisingly, this question has never been studied in a rigorous, scientific way -- until now. A team of psychological scientists -- headed up by Adam Galinsky of Columbia University and Roderick Swaab of INSEAD -- decided to explore the possibility of a too-much-talent effect--the notion that at some point adding one more superstar actually becomes detrimental to the team. They reasoned that internal jostling for team dominance would eventually undermine the coordination needed for team performance. They ran a series of experiments to test this idea, including one that focused on the NBA.

Galinsky and Swaab looked at the regular season play of all NBA teams over a decade, from 2002 to 2012. They computed individual talent, and team talent, by using the so-called Estimated Wins Added, or EWA, formula, which estimates the victories that any given player adds over and above what a replacement player would contribute. They had access to comprehensive play-by-play data from all the games, which they examined to tally team coordination -- an amalgam of total assists, field goal percentage, and defensive rebounds. Team performance was simply winning percentage at the end of each season.

Then they crunched all the data together, with interesting results. Increasing talent was linked to better team performance -- but only to a point. After that critical point, the benefit of more talent decreased and eventually turned negative. What's more, it was clearly the diminished team coordination that hurt performance. That is, too much star talent undermined the selflessness that leads to team excellence. Or as sports analysts say, not enough basketballs.

But what about soccer balls? Perhaps there is something unique about American hoops that lends itself to the too-much-talent effect. To rule this out, the scientists ran a similar study of international soccer, using data from FIFA. They assessed talent in a somewhat different way, but basically it was the same study concept. And they came up with the same result: Simply stacking a team with the best talent in the game -- this strategy only gets a team so far. Then it turns sour.

Okay, but here's the really interesting part. Recall the scientists' prediction that the too-much-talent effect would only emerge when individual jockeying harmed team coordination. But what if interdependence were not so critical to a team's success--in baseball, for example? Obviously baseball players have to coordinate a lot on the field, but game outcomes have much more to do with individual performances than they do in basketball and soccer. That's why it has been called "an individual sport masquerading as a team sport." So Galinsky and Swaab ran yet another analysis, this one of talent and team performance using MLB data. And as expected, they got a different result: Accumulating talent did not hurt team performance at the ballpark. There is no too-much-talent effect at work in America's national pastime.

So all this data, reported in detail in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, document the predicted effect and explain why it occurs. But despite this, as the scientists show in a final study, people believe the opposite. They intuitively believe that their favorite team will get better by piling on more and more top talent.

Just ask Miami Heat fans. Even a lackluster regular season has not diminished their hope and faith in a dynasty yet to come. And who knows -- maybe they will win another. But contract options are looming, and it's the owners who soon will have to decide if it's worth that big price tag to keep the Big 3 intact for years to come.

Ravé Mehta: Stem Contest Inspires Kids To Invent Our Future

Ravé Mehta: Stem Contest Inspires Kids To Invent Our Future 2014-04-22

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"The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs." -- Nikola Tesla, Inventor

The act of creating something is one of the most empowering states a human can experience. Unfortunately, our education system doesn't promote this simple notion and instead focuses on testing our kids on their ability to memorize information and facts, a significant amount of which is rendered inaccurate, obsolete or irrelevant by the time they leave school and enter the workforce. Aside from the basic skills kids learn in school such as reading, writing, and math, the important life skills, such as learning how to conceive and create something of value, is completely overlooked.

However, there is hope!

I recently had the honor of speaking at NASA's Johnson Space Center and what I saw was incredible!

A space pump inspired by parasites that minimizes the need for electro-mechanical parts so we can send a man to Mars. A new compound that can absorb oil at over 200 times its own weight to help clean up oceanic oil spills significantly faster and cheaper than current methods. A bionic hand that allows amputees to reclaim normal hand and finger functionality. A device for water collection that condenses clean water directly out of the atmosphere to be used for farming, drinking and cooling.

However, none of these inventions are from NASA. These products are conceived and developed by high school kids from around the world who compete in the Conrad Foundation's annual Spirit of Innovation Challenge (SOIC).

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Every year, over 1,000 high school kids from 72 countries and all 50 states submit to the Conrad Foundation their ideas, inventions and solutions to real-world problems in one of four categories - aviation and aerospace, cyber-technology and security, energy and environment, and health and nutrition. The SOIC committee narrows the submissions from over 500 teams down to 20 teams who will compete in a Shark Tank style STEM competition for kids. These final 20 teams come to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to do their venture pitch to a panel of highly credentialed judges ranging from NASA scientists and engineers to successful businessmen and entrepreneurs. This year the winning teams (one for each category) walked away with $47,500 in awards along with access to mentors, potential clients, and other resources to help them commercialize their product or idea, including access to a portion of NASA's patent portfolio.

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What happens when kids are inspired and encouraged to exercise their ideas and creativity to solve real world problems?

Innovation from teams like PuzzleBot who created an online security program that replaces CAPTCHAs with picture puzzles that are faster to validate and web bot hack resistant. Team XC Walking Watts, developed a shoe that can store the piezo-electric energy derived from walking so you can charge your phone or other device while on the go. The Green Barriers team created the HydroBucket that allows trees to grow in harsh vegetation-deprived areas to help fight off the effects of global warming and desertification in regions like Africa.

However, these teams didn't stop just with their product idea or prototype. I was one of the judges for the energy and environment category, and these kids came in with a full market analysis, go-to market strategy and in some cases a source and use of funds comparable to any proper venture pitch. We asked one team, who were all high school juniors, what they would do if their final prototype was successful. They responded they would take a gap year after high school to focus on taking their idea to market. Now that's passion!

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The Conrad Foundation was founded in 2008 by Nancy Conrad in honor of her late husband Charles "Pete" Conrad, commander for the Apollo 12 mission and the third man to walk on the moon. The STEM entrepreneurship contest was inspired by Pete's personal story who failed out of 11th grade due to dyslexia, which was not recognized or understood at the time. However, Pete's mother did not give up on him and found a school headmaster that would take him on and teach him through a systems learning approach. Pete did so well that he graduated from high school, and was admitted to Princeton University with a full Navy ROTC scholarship. After graduating from Princeton with his B.S. in aeronautical engineering, Pete was immediately commissioned to the Navy where he later became a naval aviator and fighter pilot, and ultimately a NASA astronaut. After many years of risky space exploration, Pete turned his talents and experience towards entrepreneurship and founded four companies devoted to the commercialization of space travel.

Pete's ideals to inspire and empower kids to invent and innovate still lives on today through the foundation. Previous winners have garnered significant support and recognition such as Daniel and Issac who obtained two patents for their invention and were recognized by the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Another team duo, Mikayla and Shannon, created a nutritional bar for astronauts which flew on the Space Shuttle STS-134 flight and was profiled by Fox News, CNN, and MTV Geek. They were later commissioned as student spokeswomen for Texas Instrument. Another team developed the ULTRApod Water Filter and began manufacturing their prototype after attending the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival as guests of Lockheed Martin.

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Conrad Foundation is one of several high-profile STEM competitions focused on encouraging high school kids to think differently. A couple years ago, I met Jack Andraka who was a 15 year old high school sophomore when he won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for developing a new diagnostic test for early detection of pancreatic cancer, the very disease Steve Jobs passed away from. Jack's testing approach is 90 percent accurate and also 168 times faster, 400 times more sensitive, and 27,000 times cheaper (3 cents per dipstick) than previous testing methods.

However, even the most revolutionary ideas are not enough on their own. There are big leaps that must take place to take these ideas and inventions to market and gain market acceptance and ultimately become financially solvent. As Nikola Tesla discovered in his epic journey to bring electricity to the world, the technical problems were relatively easy to resolve. The bigger hurdles were timing, competition, politics, finance, customer acquisition, team chemistry, relationships, greed, ego, fear, envy, public perception, expectations and all things human. Yet as every successful entrepreneur learns, we never get it completely right on the first try. Entrepreneurship is an on-going iterative learning process and the sooner one starts, the more they learn and the better their chances to create viable solutions that can gain wide-spread market adoption. The kids in these high school STEM contests are between the ages of 13 and 18 years, so they're off to a really good start.

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How can we apply this approach to our education system and engage millions of kids to think differently and truly foster a culture of inventors and innovators?

To start, we must restructure our current high school educational approach to reflect how the real-world operates. Instead of vertical subjects, the curriculum should be reorganized into civilization based themes such as Energy, Environment, Food, Water, Health, Communication, Education, Transportation, Finance, Government, Infrastructure and other important societal systems. Each theme could be developed into a nine-week quarter with a set of over-arching humanity serving goals and limitations the sector is facing. During this time the students would form teams and learn about the subjects relevant to the theme such as its history, science, technology, law, governmental policies, finance, politics, international relations, economics, and more. In this process, each team can divide the workload to do a deeper dive into the subjects so they can teach each other faster than a single subject teacher could teach a class. Then the teams would identify problems for which they would develop innovative solutions. These solutions would then be presented in class initially and the best ideas and presentations would be presented to the entire school, so other students can learn from their approach thus setting a higher bar. This could also be expanded to the region, state and nation through some sort of competitive evaluation process with real financial awards, incentives and scholarships.

There are significant benefits to this theme-centric approach. First, our kids would transform their learned information into actual knowledge by applying it towards tangible goals, instead of turning themselves into a human database of useless facts with no practical application. By practicing how to think through and create solutions to real-world issues, the kids would learn how to be resourceful and feel more empowered to make a difference in the world. This would result in higher student engagement and our kids would gain a much deeper understanding of what they enjoy and want to focus on after school. Most importantly, our kids would have an immediate value contribution to society with real-world economic impact thus generating a significantly better return on our educational tax dollars.

As our governments, banking systems and industrial complexes continue to confound our future by exploiting our energy, environment, health, food supply, water, education, finance, transportation and other societal systems, our only hope to save and evolve humanity is for our future generations to clean up our backwash. If we can develop a better system to engage, empower and enable our children to innovate faster than our world systems decay, then our kids could not only save our world, they could reinvent our future!

Jamie Lee Curtis: Happy Mother Earth Day?

Jamie Lee Curtis: Happy Mother Earth Day? 2014-04-22

Would you do this to your own mother?

Would you starve her, ravage her, drill her, strip her, pollute her, poison her, frack her, crowd her, pave her, drain her, extract her, constrain her, imprison her?

We call her our Mother earth for a reason.

She is the source. The only source; and once we deplete the source we can never get her back.

Read a little. Watch and listen.

In our house we are watching Cosmos as well as The Dust Bowl, Ken Burn's and Dayton Duncan's brilliant three-part series on the greatest ecological disaster in this country that I, naively, thought was a dusty drought.

It was man-made, because of our attention to profits over planning.

It was somewhat reclaimed, thanks to FDR, and yet it is prophesied that the seeming stability the center of our great land now feels is borrowed time, draining the aquifers and slowly sipping and siphoning away the water we will need to sustain it and us.

Water. Ahhhh water. Read Cadillac Desert. Read Dirt. Watch the documentary Dirt.

We are deluded with our dumb phones. We are so falsely dependent on technology that we are blunted into a false spring.

Wake up!

Snap to.

They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.

Make Earth Day like your Birthday.

Same attention, different presents. These don't come wrapped. These come from the ground up and they will sustain you and me way beyond our little life spans.

Rip out your lawns, put in solar, grey water system your home, teach your children that every drop we drink and use is borrowed and bought and our credit is running out.

Treat your mother with kindness today and make some choice to help her. Something. Turn off the tap as you brush your teeth. Something.

Something.

Something.