Monday, September 26, 2016

Dream Interview ~ inspired by a student in pursuit of better grades

She wrote such a sweet message, requesting my consent to be the subject of an interview. It was an assignment she had to hand in within a couple of weeks. How could I refuse? She emailed me a set of questions; then she turned my response into the most flattering narrative I've ever written about myself :-)...

Mr. Antares Maitreya is a writer, musician, blogger, jungle chef and that’s perfectly true. He wasn’t always known by this name which kind of grew organically over many years. He was named “Lee Kit Fong” at birth but as soon as he was able he dropped the feminine sounding “Fong” (which means “fragrant” in Chinese) and became simply “Kit Lee.”

At the age of 19 he became interested in numerology and added an E to his surname, thus becoming “Kit Leee.” He thought he was the only Lee with three E’s in the world but later discovered, when the internet came along, that there were two others with “Leee” in their names - Leee Black Childers (David Bowie’s former company manager) and Leee John (a black musician). You can say he discovered the power of words and, thereby, names, very early in life. If you’re kindly disposed towards somebody, you’re inclined to describe them as “determined” rather than “obstinate.” Some might label him a “Jack of all trades “but he prefers to be viewed as a “holistic problem solver” - a comprehensivist rather than a specialist, in other words.

The name “Maitreya” isn’t actually a surname. It means “a good friend to all” and he began to use it as a title or job description after November 2009. Maitreya is also the name of the Buddha’s “final incarnation” meaning, once you are fully conscious, you become a good friend to all.

I’M NOT A LOCAL MAN

He is originally from Batu Pahat in Johore State. He moved to Kuala Lumpur at the age of 20 and lived there 22 years until he relocated to Pertak – a forest reserve 44 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur, on the route to Fraser’s Hill.

BACKGROUND

In Mr. Antares’s current life he does as little as possible, since he generally prefers to simply BE. As he said, one doesn’t simply exist and one also does whatever one feels inspired to do. So when asked what he does, “I usually say I’m a writer/musician/blogger/jungle chef and that’s perfectly true, even if it isn’t the full story.”

Before he relocated from KL to Pertak in 1992, he was very active on stage as an actor and musician. He is also a published author of several books: ADOI! (Times Books International, 1989), Moth Balls (Magick River, 1994), Two Catfish in the Same Hole (Times Books International, 2000), and Tanah Tujuh: Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos (Silverfish Books, 2007).

Some people know him as a cartoonist - yes, he has done a bit of that too. But he has also dabbled in documentary making (Rhythm of the Rainforest, a DVD produced for the Sarawak Tourism Board in 2006); and for a while he even guest-lectured on "Aesthetics, Creativity & The Imagination" at a private college.

View from the bridge (Antares)

However, when he left the city to stay close to Mother Nature, he embarked on a new job as Ceremonial Guardian of Magick River - serving as an intermediary between urban consciousness and the wilderness, between the visible and invisible worlds. Living for 7 years without electricity, he became re-sensitized to subtler frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum and became aware of and attuned to the many different dimensions that overlap and occasionally intersect with our familiar physical world.

For example, he became aware that all life-forms - whether mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic-demonic or deific - possess a unique energy signature and consciousness; they are, in fact, integral components of a vast and complex, multidimensional universe, unimaginably diverse, yet ultimately a grand unified whole. It became his task to learn how to attune and harmonize with these different frequencies and energy fields - and to find different ways to share these insights with others - whether through words images or sounds.

WHAT IS MAGICK RIVER?

Magick River is his codename for an ecstatic vision of heaven on earth he experienced at the age of 19. People around him assumed he had gone mad (mainly because he was brimming over with energy and joy) and attempted to put him on medication; but he found the drugs were designed to numb, not heal, so he opted to spit out all the pills he was forcefed. Many years later, he discovered a magnificent, wild river in the area where he resides now with his Orang Asli wife and his teenage boy. The surrounding landscape was breathtaking – no breathgiving! It corresponded vibrantly with his vision of paradise, where Mother Nature reigns supreme and humans have mastered their own egos enough to live once again in perfect harmony with the wilderness – instead of constantly trying to exploit, abuse and destroy it, in the process destroying only themselves.

CAREER

Being Ceremonial Guardian of Magick River is not exactly a "career" - he adores and honors Mother Earth but she doesn't pay him a salary, although he learnt over many decades that money is merely a symbol of wealth - it is not wealth itself. Money, he says, was invented as a universally accepted currency to facilitate everyday transactions - whether it comes in the form of copper, brass or silver coins or some pretty seashells, that's simply to represent a system of measuring value. (Indeed, unbeknownst to the masses, an elite cabal of bankers and financiers has been printing and circulating worthless paper currency, while hoarding vast amounts of precious metals, land, and priceless artworks. Already, this gigantic scam is unraveling and it won't be long before the entire spurious "economy" implodes and paper currency is exposed as nothing more than Monopoly money or Hell Bank notes!)


When that happens - when, not if - people will panic and ruling families will squabble amongst themselves, and governments will topple. For a period there may be global mayhem as humans attempt to find some sort of equilibrium and reclaim the power and sovereignty taken from their ancestors. At some point, the machinery will grind to a halt; the robots will rebel, and that's when the task of reawakening and reconnecting humanity to its long-confiscated divinity (with the able assistance of an interplanetary network of illustrious healers and guides) will become easy-peasy.

Obviously, this isn't a "career" that can be chosen; it chooses you, so long as you are open to the mystery of existence and the infinite possibilities all around us. He was, perhaps, fortunate in being born to parents who never attempted to force him into a prescribed mold, who allowed him to grow and evolve as he pleased, and who always provided a stable, strong foundation of love. They were in many ways very ordinary humans - but they were always supportive and didn't stop him from choosing an extraordinary path in his life.

Contemplation by Nathan Jon Tillett


Nobody is spared their share of suffering, disappointments, bereavement, and an occasional sense of futility. However, he had the benefit of learning yoga, mudras, and a few meditation techniques which have been extremely beneficial at moments when he had to turn inwards, rather than outwards, for solutions to life's inevitable problems.

Caricature by Lat @ 1986
Thinking back about the hardships he has endured, they seem in retrospect to be nothing more than a few unexpected wrong turns, a few potholes in the highway, and a couple of close shaves - that's all. He believes, to be able to stay calm and clear-headed, friendly and open-hearted, and to feel genuine empathy with and compassion for all of life is the accomplishment he truly desires. Everything else - books he has written, cartoons he has drawn, songs he has written, music he has recorded, plays he has acted in, and so on - these are essentially fun ways to use his excess energy; and he is happy to have produced a modest number of artifacts in his more energetic days, although he still looks forward to producing new artifacts – “one of the greatest and most intense thrills in life, much like the rollercoaster ride of love, romance, and sex.”

MEMORIES

He said: “Of course, I have my share of memories - pleasant as well as unpleasant - but these are best addressed if I am ever prompted to write my memoirs.” When he was a kid, he spent hours studying, observing and sometimes dissecting insects and other tiny creatures (pretending to be a scientist); but he soon abandoned such cruel behavior and became a great animal lover, often preferring their companionship to that of other humans.

Later he started collecting stamps, but got bored after a couple of years. He was never keen on sports - although he was active in gymnastics at school. For a while he enjoyed long walks in the forest, and long conversations with kindred spirits.

These days he can't think of any activity he would call a "hobby" - unless maintaining a blog qualifies as one, but it's more a way of communicating with the world at large, a platform for him to share his insights and interests with others.

AMBITION


As for "ambition" - well, his mother bought him a white sweater emblazoned with the words, "If I were King..." when he was 9 or 10 years old. It took him a long time to finally understand the true meaning of kingship: it simply means to be master of your own domain, your own destiny - to regain the nobility of consciousness to which all living beings are entitled but so few actually enjoy (and then, only at the expense of others). Now that he has achieved his ambition, all that remains is to enjoy seeing others around him reclaim their individual sovereignty, nobility and regality. This is the only way we will ever see an end to the cruelty, tyranny and oppression generated by false hierarchies - for these are the negative traits of a species driven by fear and scarcity conditioning.

PUBLIC

Asked what he would wish to say to the public, he laughs and says: “Ultimately, the illusion that each of us is separate from the other will fall away - and then, who would constitute ‘the public’?” An important insight he has gleaned over many lifetimes is that there are always two sides to everything - the inside and the outside. “Let's call it the private and the public. For many eons, there has been a wide gulf, a serious misalignment between what we consider private and what we consider public. This is what leads to secret societies, secret police, secret lives, secret governments, secrecy laws, and so on. This is why we speak of wolves in sheep's clothing, demons disguised as angels, perverts masquerading as priests. When the inner and outer selves become realigned; when Dr Jekyll becomes reconciled with Mr Hyde; when the diabolical consciously merges with the divine; when the public persona matches the private; that's when almost all our petty problems will vanish as though they never existed.”

BEST & LAST

A New Heaven on a New Earth by Andrew Forrest
“And that's when everybody will share my vision of heaven on earth,“ he smiles, adding as an afterthought: “Those who don't like it and stubbornly cling to their limited egos, well... they can go to hell.”

[First published 30 June 2012, reposted 24 May 2013]


Sunday, September 25, 2016

De Mockery of Democracy (Reprise)


[My young friend Kamil sent me the following assignment question, asking for some viewpoints from me. I figured my response to Kamil was worth blogging, so here it is...]

It has been said that democracy may not be the perfect form of goverment but it is better than the alternatives. To what extent do you agree?

Certain assumptions are being made here that may be inaccurate or incorrect, So before we can answer the question, let's examine what these assumptions are.

Assumption #1: Democracy exists and is practised in certain countries.
In truth democracy is purely theoretical. Even in old Athens where it was invented, there was only democracy up to a point - beyond which one could get arrested for subversion, imprisoned, and end up drinking hemlock. The state is forever jealous of its authority and power, and will not hesitate to use force if persuasion fails. In so-called democratic countries, we find that the public is led to believe it has freedom of choice - but in actuality that freedom does not extend beyond the most trivial matters (like the make of car you drive or the scent your date prefers). In all crucial areas decisions are made by "backroom boys" acting on behalf of a tiny handful of plutocrats (people who own banks, newspapers, TV stations, bomb factories, armies, spy agencies, and governments).

The machinery of political power is driven by popular votes. However, elections can be rigged, conducted on an uneven playing field, and stolen outright. Voters can be bought, hoodwinked, disenfranchised or overlooked completely. Because "majority opinion" is measured quantitatively, human destiny can be jeopardized or hijacked by a corrupt and dishonest clique willing to take extraordinary risks. The proverbial man-in-the-street doesn't stand a chance against a cartel of well-funded criminals, who obtain their money through illicit means and buy up all the airspace. He can't be heard against a well-coordinated media blitz.

In effect, scratch a modern democracy and you'll find mobster rule. Robber barons and pirate kings now come with a slick corporate image and very expensive tailoring. But gangsterism is gangsterism, and privilege actually means "private law." So when even the law is privatized, is it any wonder that justice is blind?

Democracy originally meant "popular rule" - in effect, government of the people, by the people, for the people. Which sounds pretty similar to Marxist/socialist ideals. However, you only have to have the means of influencing the collective psyche to make the people believe they are exercising their democratic rights when all they can do is predictably react to pre-programmed stimuli.

Assumption #2: Though imperfect democracy is "better than"...
"Better" is a very vague term and begs redefinition. This dish is good but that one is better... in reality the other dish is simply different. You cannot compare pheasant-under-glass with a hamburger. Each recipe works in a specific context. In other words, a fair comparison is hinted at where none is possible.

Assumption #3: The word "alternatives" implies Communism.
A popular misconception is that the opposite of democracy is communism. Actually, it's dictatorship we're talking about: what's antagonistic to popular rule is state despotism - whether the despot is a single individual or a faceless committee. The alternative to democracy might also be monarchy - or various spin-offs like aristocracy, meritocracy, or plutocracy. Nevertheless, there are no clear-cut categories of power. If we have an absolute monarch who is approachable, open-minded, empathetic, humble, friendly, and wise - let's take as an example the notion of a "King of Kings" like Jesus the Christ, or Aragorn of Arathorn in J.R.R. Tolkien's ringlore - the public may actually enjoy great freedom and security, prosperity and success under such benevolent and enlightened rule. As opposed to the situation where a supposedly democratic government functions under the secret orders of an invisible brotherhood of black magicians and decadent junior gods: people would endure increasing oppression and never know who exactly is taking away their freedoms and rights, life just seems to get rougher and tougher all the time.

Courtesy of Bodohland

The concept of government itself needs to be reassessed. An individual with sufficient inner discipline can be described as a Self-Governing Individual who does not subscribe to or support any form of external government. When enough such individuals emerge in a community, it's possible that anarchy will blossom in a wholesome and workable way where each member of the community cooperates with the others consciously, willingly, and wholeheartedly. Imagine the amount of creativity generated by humans no longer engrossed in destructivity or obsessed with conformity and homogeneity.

One can view government as an unwelcome intrusion - akin to a high fence built around the crest of hill to prevent people from rolling down through carelessness. In trying to ensure "public safety" what government effectively does is disempower and desensitize. After a few generations, people would become incapable of taking any initiative whatsoever, in a sure-footed way. They will NEED official guidelines, clearly-marked trails, and instructions at every turn. In effect, people would no longer be able to sit quietly atop the hill and gain divine inspiration from the beauty around them – because the man-made “security” fence mars the view and is ugly, that is, a violation of the natural environment and the unwritten laws of harmony. This may suit those in power very nicely, but it invariably incapacitates the masses from independent and original thought. They will become blind and allow themselves to be led around by ravenous wolves disguised as professional seeing-eye dogs.

What would be much "better than" democracy would be an evolutionary quantum jump that would effectively upgrade Consciousness and Intelligence and realign them with Compassion. No amount of theorizing can make this happen. Those of us who realize this simply have to embody our ideals and break free of semantic traps such as the question above. No statistics are required. It only takes ONE individual to crack the code - and before long, not only the entire species, but all lifeforms will regain their primordial freedom.


"Drug control is a thin pretext, and getting thinner, to increase police powers and to brand dissent as criminal." - William S. Burroughs, @ 1971


[Originally published on this blog 19 March 2007, reposted 27 March 2009]

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Is the universe a fractal? ~ by Amanda Gefter


WRITTEN ACROSS THE SKY is a secret, a hidden blueprint detailing the original design of the universe itself. The spread of matter throughout space follows a pattern laid out at the beginning of time and scaled up to incredible proportions by nearly 14 billion years of cosmic expansion. Today that pattern is gradually being decoded by analysing maps of the distribution of the stars, and what has been uncovered could shake modern cosmology to its foundations.

Luciano Pietronero: "It's fractals, fractals all the way!"
Cosmology is founded on the assumption that when you look at the universe at the vastest scales, matter is spread more or less evenly throughout space. Cosmologists call this a "smooth" structure. But a small band of researchers, led by statistical physicist Luciano Pietronero (pictured right) of the University of Rome and the Institute of Complex Systems, Italy, argues that this assumption is at odds with what we can see. Instead they claim that the galaxies form a structure that isn't smooth at all: some parts of it have lots of matter, others don't, but the matter always falls into the same patterns, in large and small versions, at whatever scale you look. In other words, the universe is fractal.

It is a controversial view, and one that sparked an intense debate over a decade ago. Since then, astronomers have surveyed ever-greater numbers of galaxies, taking larger and larger samples of the universe. Now the biggest galaxy survey ever and a brand new map of the universe's dark matter are adding fuel to the fire. At stake is far more than the way galaxies cluster. A fractal universe could undermine cosmology's most basic assumptions. "All of the observations we make depend to a greater or lesser extent on the idea that the universe is homogeneous," says David Hogg of New York University, who leads a team of physicists that disputes Pietronero's view.

This idea that matter is spread more or less evenly throughout the universe is embodied in Einstein's cosmological principle. Einstein formulated it after publishing his general theory of relativity, which describes how the distribution of mass bends space-time and creates gravity. It allows cosmologists to use the equations of general relativity to describe the geometry of the whole universe. As a result it has led to a picture of a universe expanding uniformly from the big bang and in which cosmological measurements have defined meanings.


Fractals allow Pietronero to paint a very different sort of picture - one in which the irregular distribution of matter that we see around us never evens out into a smooth structure, but repeats itself at ever grander scales. Fractals are familiar enough: we see them in the branching of trees, the curves of coastlines, lungs, turbulence and clouds.

No matter what scale you look at them, fractal patterns look the same. Think of broccoli: a tiny branch looks much the same as the whole vegetable. Zoom in or zoom out, the structure looks the same - exquisitely detailed, never smooth. Fractals can be beautiful to look at, but when it comes to galaxies it may be a subversive kind of beauty.

Certainly the universe does not look smooth. Some regions contain clusters of matter; others are virtually empty. Hundreds of billions of stars group together to form galaxies, and galaxies congregate in clusters. Clusters assemble into colossal structures called superclusters that can stretch out for 100 million light years and look uncannily like fractal patterns.

Even superclusters string together in long filaments and sheets that stretch like ghostly cobwebs across an otherwise empty sky. The Sloan Great Wall, for example, which was discovered in 2003, spans more than a billion light years. These filaments and sheets seem to encircle huge voids of empty space. The voids range from 100 to 400 million light years in diameter, making the whole assemblage appear as an immense, glowing lattice punctuated by wells of darkness.


No one disputes that the universe is far from smooth on relatively small scales - by which cosmologists mean thousands of light years. But Hogg's team is convinced that if you zoom further out, smoothness reigns.

"When you're looking at the size scales of galaxies, groups of galaxies, clusters, superclusters and filaments, it looks like a fractal," says Hogg (pictured right). "But once you get larger than all of that, then it starts to look homogeneous." What has convinced him is his team's analysis of the latest data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the largest 3D map of the galactic universe so far. His team insists that the map is proof of smoothness. The fractal camp, however, are sceptical. In fact, they say the Sloan observations confirm what they've been claiming all along.

It might appear to be deadlock, but at least with the Sloan survey the two sides can agree what they're disagreeing about. For years Pietronero and his team argued that the statistical methods mainstream cosmologists were using to establish homogeneity were flawed because they start off by assuming that matter is evenly spread. The team was mostly ignored until 2004, when Hogg and astrophysicist Daniel Eisenstein of the University of Arizona in Tucson spent a summer in Paris with Pietronero's colleagues, cosmologists Francesco Sylos Labini of the Enrico Fermi Centre and the Institute for Complex Systems, Rome, and Michael Joyce of the Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris.



"We argued every day about fractals," Hogg says. "Those battles raged over lunch and coffee and finally convinced us by the end of our visit that we should be doing the analysis as they say." When they returned to the US, Hogg and Eisenstein applied the fractal team's methods to a sample of 55,000 luminous red galaxies mapped by Sloan. They found that the galaxies do form a fractal pattern, but as they looked at bigger and bigger scales, the pattern appeared to disintegrate and smooth out at just over 200 million light years - a scale far larger than most cosmologists had expected.


But Pietronero and Sylos Labini are not convinced. Instead, they believe that if astronomers could continue to zoom out and look at even larger scales, they would find more clustering. They suspect that the apparent smoothness at 200 million light years is not real, but rather an illusion created by statistical effects due to the limited range of the Sloan survey. Hogg's team, though, insist that their evidence of homogeneity is statistically significant. "I think the result really is secure," says Hogg. "I would stake my scientific reputation on that."


Even if the result is real, mainstream cosmologists still have a huge problem on their hands. The fact that the fractal patterning extends to far bigger scales than anyone had expected means that there must be far bigger structures than anyone expected - structures that are even bigger than superclusters. The fractal team argues that the standard model cannot explain the existence of these galactic giants. "If you look at the galaxy data, you can see enormous objects hundreds of millions of light years across, stuff that's really huge," says Pietronero. "This is a huge problem. You're going to have to change the story very radically."

The usual story runs something like this. In the tiny fluctuations of the nascent universe, matter began to collect in denser regions, setting off a chain reaction of gravitational collapse that has given us the large-scale structure we see today. Gravity has worked from the bottom up, building galaxies first, then collecting galaxies into clusters, then clusters into superclusters and so forth. But while the matter has been clumping together, the universe has been expanding, and thus a battle has ensued: gravity versus expansion.


According to Pietronero, there simply hasn't been enough time since the universe came into being 14 billion years ago for gravity to sculpt structures larger than about 30 million light years across: expansion would have prevented anything larger from forming. "The existence of structures much larger than this implies a crisis of the present view of structure formation," he says. This present view is the "cold dark matter model", in which the glowing masses of stars and galaxies are only the tip of the cosmic iceberg. Luminous matter makes up roughly 15 per cent of all the matter in the universe - the other 85 per cent is mysterious dark matter.

Hogg's team says that the new observations do not undermine the standard view as Pietronero claims. Instead, they maintain that the cold dark matter model explains the Sloan data quite accurately. For that to be true, however, Hogg's team have to put a number called a bias parameter into their equations. It reflects the difference between the distribution of matter in computer simulations of the cold dark matter model and the observed distribution of luminous matter.


Collisions between particles of ordinary matter help it clump together, but dark matter is thought not to behave in the same way. That suggests it could be spread out in space more evenly than ordinary matter, so cosmologists assume that the distribution of the matter we can see - galaxies, say - is not a true reflection of the distribution of all the matter that is out there. They believe the structure of the universe is really much "smoother" than it appears to be, because dark matter dominates. In the case of the Sloan survey, the bias is 2: the visible galaxies are clumped twice as densely as the predicted total distribution of matter in the universe.


Sylos Labini, however, sees the bias as a fudge that allows cosmologists to discount the observed clustering of galaxies and to assume that the gigantic clusters of superclusters are only half the problem they appear to be. "The bias is a way to hide the size of structures behind some ad hoc parameter," he says. Mainstream cosmologists, however, feel the bias is justified, assuming that galaxies cluster in regions of space that are replete with excess dark matter. According to the standard model, dark matter is everywhere, but galaxies only shine in the rare regions where dark matter is densest. Dark matter also lingers in the voids where no light shines but here it is thinly spread out. In other words, while the luminous galaxies look very clustered, the underlying blanket of dark matter is far smoother, supporting the claim of homogeneity.



"If the cold dark matter model is correct, then there should be dark matter in the voids," Hogg says. The million-dollar question is: what is the real distribution of dark matter? Is dark matter smooth or fractal? Is it clustered like the galaxies, or does it spread out, unseen, into the great voids? If the voids are full of dark matter, then the apparent fractal distribution of luminous matter becomes rather insignificant. But if the voids are truly empty, the fractal claim requires a closer look.

Astronomers are now providing our first glimpse into the voids and our first look at the pattern of invisible matter. Richard Massey of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and others in the Cosmic Evolution Survey project have just created the first 3D map of dark matter in the universe (New Scientist, 13 January, p 5). They were able to find the dark matter by observing its gravitational effect on any light streaming past it. Combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Subaru telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope in Chile, they mapped the distribution of dark matter at scales ranging from 23 million to 200 million light years across.


Massey's team found that the dark matter distribution is nearly identical to the luminous matter distribution. "The first thing that strikes me is the voids," Massey says. "Vast expanses of space are completely empty. The dark matter makes up a criss-crossing network of strings and sheets around these voids. And all the luminous matter lies within the densest regions of dark matter." Although this distribution of dark matter seems to favour the idea that the universe is fractal, Hogg isn't convinced. "It is interesting," he says, "but measurements of dark matter are much less precise than measurements of galaxy distributions."


"The result is very new," Massey agrees. "It demonstrates a very exciting new way of looking directly at dark matter and will be vital in future work, but hasn't yet been subject to all the analysis that has been applied to galaxy surveys." When asked if the dark matter exhibits an explicitly fractal structure, Massey replies, "We don't know yet."

"The universe is not a fractal," Hogg insists, "and if it were a fractal it would create many more problems that we currently have." A universe patterned by fractals would throw all of cosmology out the window. Einstein's cosmic equations would be tossed first, with the big bang and the expansion of the universe following closely behind. Hogg's team feel that until there's a theory to explain why the galaxy clustering is fractal, there's no point in taking it seriously.


"My view is that there's no reason to even contemplate a fractal structure for the universe until there is a physical fractal model," says Hogg. "Until there's an inhomogeneous fractal model to test, it's like tilting at windmills."

Pietronero is equally insistent. "This is fact," he says. "It's not a theory." He says he is interested only in what he sees in the data and argues that the galaxies are fractal regardless of whether someone can explain why. As it turns out, there is one model that may be able to explain a fractal universe. The work of a little-known French astrophysicist named Laurent Nottale, the theory is called "scale relativity" (see "Fractured space-time" below).


According to Nottale, the distribution of matter in the universe is fractal because space-time itself is fractal. It is a theory on the fringe, but if the universe does turn out to be fractal, more people might sit up and take notice. A resolution to the fractal debate will only come with more data. Sloan is currently charting more galaxies and will release a new map in the middle of 2008. According to Sylos Labini, this will cover over 650 million light years and should tell us if the apparent transition to homogeneity extends beyond 200 million light years. For now, the pattern of the world, imprinted at the origin of the universe, remains a secret glimpsed only in the knowing shimmer of the stars.


FRACTURED SPACE-TIME
French astrophysicist Laurent Nottale has developed a theory that takes fractals to a whole new level. A researcher at the Meudon Observatory in Paris, Nottale set out to extend Einstein's principle of relativity - in which the laws of physics remain the same regardless of the motion of an observer - to a theory in which the laws of physics would remain the same regardless of the scale at which the universe is being observed. He found that the underlying space-time of such a theory would have to be fractal.

In Nottale's theory, called scale relativity, the underlying fractality of space-time is most noticeable in the quantum world. Quantum behaviour, he claims, can be understood geometrically - particles move along fractal trajectories. On large scales, his model could explain a fractal pattern of the galaxies. The most profound question in physics today is how to unify the really small with the really big - and when it comes to matters of scale, fractals may turn out to be a key ingredient.
Amanda Gefter
© New Scientist
09 March 2007

[First posted 1 October 2007, reposted 17 November 2013]

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TAK BOLEH BOGEL (NO NUDITY) IN MALAYSIA (HERE WE GO AGAIN!)

Spencer Tunick
Another unpublished Letter to the Editor... 

It’s been ages since I felt moved to write a letter to The Editor. The urge to air my views in print has been building up since the Nude Squat furore erupted (seems like the only “legitimate” way you can see people naked is to arrest them first). City Hall’s declared intention to penalize folks caught smooching or even holding hands in public was irksome news to me (some of my fondest memories involve exactly that). But the final straw was the email I received announcing that free screenings of international films organised by Kaki Kino at FINAS have been suspended till further notice, after a shrill complaint about uncensored “babak lucah” (nude scenes) appeared in a leading Malay daily.

Imagine a lush lagoon, festooned with giant ferns and flirtatious mermaids. A man and a woman, both well-tanned, are strolling hand-in-hand along the sandy shore, gloriously naked. Is that not a veritable vision of paradise? Granted, the couple could also be modeling chic beachwear by Jean-Paul Gaultier (but that would be too much like a glossy magazine ad).

Now imagine a fast-motion sequence showing Tokyo commuters at rush hour – all respectably dressed in office apparel and suffering from gastritis. Or a slow-motion montage of KL traffic after a heavy afternoon downpour. Cut to the gory aftermath of a car bomb attack in Baghdad and then crossfade to a wide-angle closeup of an American-made Israeli bulldozer, demolishing a Palestinian neighborhood, as terrified women clutch babies to their hearts and wail in despair. Hellish scenes, for sure – but they would get past the censors, no problem.

Why is this so? Are we being indoctrinated to perceive pain as okay and pleasure as not? Is it any wonder that crime reports are getting more gruesome by the day? Maybe it’s time to reassess what sort of messages we’re being programmed with.

There’s no way I can conceive of a kiss or a hug, regardless of who’s doing it and where, as being indecent or offensive. These are signs of love and affection. Are these warm feelings WRONG? Folks who react negatively to romance and sex were probably deprived of cuddles as kids. They’re likely to inflict corporal punishment on their own children as a matter of routine. Those who express alarm and outrage at the sight of female nipples are undoubtedly some inorganic lifeform in human guise that never experienced the life-sustaining comfort and nourishment of mother’s milk. How do you think a baby would react to seeing a bare breast or two on the screen? Lodge a self-righteous report with the religious police... or gurgle with happiness?

Spencer Tunick
All it takes is a bit of common sense and reason. There’s nothing shameful about our bodies. Fat or sinewy, hairy or baby-smooth, the body is our sovereign domain, our physical home. Naked or adorned with sparkling gems, bodies are magnificent by divine design. Everybody loves being naked. In the bathroom or the bedroom, being naked means you’re enjoying a hot shower or some hot sex. Or maybe you’re just relishing a good poop or your private space after a marathon immersion in public affairs. What’s so scandalous about that?

We live in the hot and humid tropics. The sort of place where clothing is merely a fashionable option. You won’t find too many nudist colonies in Alaska or Tibet. Arab women have traditionally had to cover up to protect themselves from desert sandstorms, camel farts (possibly radioactive since Gulf Wars I and II) and temperature extremes. Were it not for fear of their control-freak husbands, don’t you think they would celebrate being in their own skins if they were magically transported to a balmy beach in the South Seas? Talk about “inappropriate attire”... being wrapped in thick cloth from head to toe on a sweltering day in the city sounds like a portable sauna to me. But to each his or her own - I’m happy in my sarong and flip-flops.

Spencer Tunick

I have to be honest with myself. I love looking at beauty, and women are embodiments of the Great Goddess, deserving of admiration, love and respect. If a naked woman walked past me in the street, I would certainly turn my head for a second look. And I’d feel absolutely no guilt or shame about doing so. Nor would I - uncontrollably overcome by animal lust - drag her by the hair off to my cave and show her my etchings. Unless, of course, she handed me a perfumed note with precisely such a request. Even so, I’d rather she walk back to my cave on her own two feet than drag her all the way. I have a different concept of exercise.

Immaturity has its place, I grant that. However, let it not be exalted as the arbiter of our behavior and our moral code. There’s no immorality in portraying the human form in various stages of dress or undress in the adult cinema. What’s truly immoral is imposing on others our own limitations and limiting beliefs. Do we really value the grotesque hypocrisy censorship encourages? Are we to blinker our cinematic vision (like the proverbial katak under a tempurung) in a knee-jerk reaction to the poisonous outpourings of a pusillanimous prude?

Sincerely,
Antares
Kuala Kubu Bharu
27 April 2006

[First published 12 January 2007, reposted 1 July 2012]

Excerpt from an open letter to Akmal Abdullah, deputy editor of Berita Harian (published 1 August 2006)
Dear Akmal Abdullah, I am not particularly pleased that you exist. Why is this so, when we haven't even met and you don't know me from Adam? But is that so surprising - considering your predilection for campaigning to ban movies you haven't even seen? Well, Akmal, I think you ought to be banned from paradise - unless you wise up and 'fess up to having been an outright obstruction. Akmal Abdullah, you stand accused of suppressing art and denying life. Have you anything to say in your own defence? When you look into a mirror, are you happy to be the person looking back? Do you see a frog trapped under your own obscurantist coconut shell? Will you repent and henceforth channel your energies towards being creative rather than destructive? Or will you dig in your reactionary heels and doggedly remain a blight on the face of the earth with your acute case of 'cemburu kampungitis'? The Chinese have an instructive saying about this: "The midget does not grow taller by chopping off other people's heads."
Please heed these words if you'd rather be greeted by decent folk with a pat on the back instead of a kick in the butt.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Road to Isengard... (revisited)



In Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings, we see the rustic charm of Hobbit culture theatened with extinction by the encroaching forces of industrialism and militarism, represented by the ceaseless clangor of Isengard (literally, Iron Fortress) under the misrule of the renegade wizard Saruman and his vicious, mindless Orc army.

In Malaysia the closest thing we have to Hobbit culture are the Orang Asli and their deep connection with their verdant ancestral lands. Substitute Saruman with Daim Zainuddin and his Umnoputra technocrat-wannabes - and we have Mahathir's ominous Vision 2020, which threatens to transform the entire country into one sprawling Silicon Valley devoid of natural vegetation and free-ranging wildlife.


As I write this, the Civil Defence Army is encamped on the open field at the end of Pertak Village. A few days ago the regular army was here too for a one-day exercise in jungle warfare. At night the noise of generators and the glare of fluorescent lights are a grim reminder of the savage stupidity and gross insensitivity of the Orc mindset. Sweet, innocent young men and women are being turned into a robot army serving Sauron's cold-blooded reptilian design.

The incursion of low-grade consciousness into this high-grade environment can be traced to what happened in September 2010, when BN-aligned businessmen initiated a land grab disguised as an infrastructural upgrading project. They spent RM200,000 tarring a "road to nowhere."

The Orang Asli elders I met when I first relocated to Pertak in 1992 possessed residual traces of natural wisdom and they remembered their own tribal myths. Most of them have since passed on, returned to Pulau Buah (the Isle of Fruits or Paradise). The present generation of Orang Asli grew up watching RTM dramas and TV3 news. Not a single Orang Asli household in Pertak Village has access to the Internet. They are, like Felda settlers, constantly subject to government propaganda via their TV sets which serve as the altars from which latter-day peasants may worship the false god of progress.

And "progress" - no thanks to mercenary contractors better at destruction than construction - has indeed come to Pertak Village in the form of speedbumps and streetlights.



The Chinese bamboo contractor used to send his lorry in to pick up bamboo three or four times a month. Of late the lorry has been roaring through the forest spewing diesel fumes, spoiling the tranquility of the morning, churning up and dropping big chunks of mud, almost every day. Bamboo grows extremely fast, it's true, but I doubt it can survive the present frenetic rate of overharvesting. In a couple of years, with the bamboo groves reduced to stumps, the forest will start losing more and more topsoil, and hillslopes will crumble.

Azreen Zainuddin (photo by Shane Nunis)
Even though they are being grossly exploited by the towkay - who only pays them RM1 ( US33 cents) per 20-foot length - the Orang Asli seem glad to be earning more cash these days. But most of their income goes towards modifying their motorbikes (to make them noisier) and pickling their brains with cheap plonk at RM3 a bottle. Alcoholism has taken a steep turn for the worse since one of the villagers started selling bottled spirits from her house. In the old days they had to travel 8 miles to town to replenish their supply of alcohol - now it's just a 2-minute stagger down the road.

With increased drunkenness comes increased aggression and violence. The younger males have succumbed to the slimy, nefarious influence of JAKOA, the Orang Asli Affairs Department, now essentially an extension of JAKIM (the overfunded Islamic Inquisition) who constantly remind them that they are materially backward compared to other races - and that the only way they can integrate with the modern world is to join forces with their Malay Muslim brothers against the kaum pendatang (migrant communities like the Chinese, Indian, Eurasian and Caucasians).

In recent years there have been more cases of cats and dogs being poisoned or slashed to death by villagers. Overindulgence in alcohol makes the Orang Asli susceptible to temporary bouts of demonic possession during which the most brutal, ignoble and violent aspects of their personalities emerge. This is a crucial part of the insidious work of the JAKOA - to enfeeble the Orang Asli psyche and make them easy prey for government propaganda. Of course, free meals and cash incentives are an important ingredient in the long-term plan to destroy Orang Asli culture and assimilate them into the lowest strata of mainstream Malay society.

Since 3 April 2009, when Najib Razak was appointed crime minister and his ambitious wife Rosmah achieved her dream of becoming the uncrowned Queen of Putrajaya, the psychic atmosphere throughout the country has tangibly deteriorated. A dark cloud of despair and pessimism hangs over the land. Envy, hostility and resentment have further divided communities resulting in greater discord within families. It is as if the soul of the land has been poisoned.

A nation ruled by voodoo can never attain peace, prosperity and harmony. When people no longer know the meaning of integrity and dignity - and lose all reverence for the sanctity of the natural landscape - you can be sure it is headed towards Isengard, a powerful metaphor for hell on earth.

Many continue to do battle against this evil on the political front - but it is a seemingly futile struggle as their own comrades succumb one by one to the poison and turn treacherous. We see this happening with increasing frequency amongst the Harapan Rakyat coalition, especially in the ranks of PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Do we give up the ghost and surrender to Sauron? Never! The unbridled lust for money and power is the seed of darkness and deviousness found within each individual who cannot see beyond his or her own physical survival. We have to acknowledge that "evil" is an integral component of our own psyches - it is really just our own id - and the only way we can transcend our own ignoble tendencies is to become whole by embracing a holistic perspective.

We must gain sufficient spiritual maturity to be able to view even the nastiest miscreants as wayward children. The way to deal with wayward children is not to fear or hate them - but to grow into our own adulthood and firmly prevent them from further harming themselves and others. It matters not what game these wayward kids are playing - some are posing as ministers, some as sultans, and others as police officers and triad bosses. Those of us who have the capacity to comprehend the greater evolutionary plan must now step into our full power as Awakened, Conscious Humans focused on realizing our own divine destinies as fractal embodiments of Supreme Intelligence, Love and Wisdom.

In other words, we must reclaim our original sovereignty as kings and queens in exile and accept the scepter of our spiritual power as divine humans. Only the noblest and wisest among us must be allowed to ascend the throne of worldly authority.

That's how we can all get off the road to Isengard and get back on track to manifesting heaven on earth.

[First posted 15 October 2010. Reposted 18 June 2014 & 23 May 2015]





Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mak Minah, Uncrowned Queen of the Temuan (repost)

"Minah Angong" by Andy Maguire (oil on fiberboard, 10" X 8")

Yes, I am pleased to tell you my story. But as I cannot write things down, I will ask my friend to help. He is among those who knew me well in my last years on this earth. I whisper these words in his mind’s ear, for he is still in the world of the living, while I am already back in the realm of spirit, and happily so.

Minah Angong's gravestone
My bones now lie buried on top of a hill overlooking the saddest sight you can imagine. Majestic hills stripped of trees, mountains blown up to make a dam. I may be dead but my spirit lives on in my songs, and in the sacred (and now badly scarred) landscape I love so dearly.  One day my songs will be heard and they will soften the hardened hearts of the greedy ones who destroy more than they construct. When men’s hearts heal, so will the land.

I was born in Pertak, Ulu Selangor, between two world wars, into the Temuan tribe. The identity card issued by the government says I arrived on September 14, 1930, and records my name at birth as Menah Anak Kuntom.  People knew me as Mak Minah because that was my stage name as lead singer with a band called Akar Umbi. Perhaps the most exciting moment of my life was when we performed before 42,000 people at the biggest stadium in Selangor. Afterwards, so many people came and congratulated me. I had a photograph taken with Sharifah Aini and Sahara Yaacob, who were also performing that night. We looked like three queens together!

Anyway, Menah or Minah makes little difference to me, since I can’t spell. Our names keep changing as we change. But once we write anything down, it becomes harder to change. Take my sister’s name: although we have the same father and mother, her name is recorded in her identity card as Indah Anak Merkol, after our  stepfather. My mother’s name was Beresih but all her children called her Mui, which is the Temuan word for Mak or Mother.

As a child I remember life was carefree and fun. Fish was abundant in the streams, and the forest supplied all our needs, except for luxuries like sugar, salt, and milled rice. Fresh meat was easily available as there were many animals that could be hunted or trapped.  We Orang Asli can eat anything, with or without legs or wings, as long as it’s not poisonous (we even know how to remove the poison from some wild plants so that they become edible). Apart from fish and wild boar, we also eat porcupines, pythons, leaf monkeys, deer, birds, and bamboo rats (whose flesh is very clean and sweet, as they feed only on bamboo shoots). These are all gifts of the Great Spirit That Dwells In Everything.

Mak Minah with younger sister Indah (1997) 

The only education I received was from my grandmother, who enjoyed telling us stories. She explained how human beings were seeded on Tanah Tujuh (which is what we call this physical world) by Mamak and Inak Bongsu, a brother and sister who survived the Great Flood by clinging to the top of a gaharu tree on Gunung Raja. 

My grandmother was full of wonderful tales about the beautiful elven races (Orang Halus) who left the planet for the higher heavens when the Difficult Times began. Some chose to remain, because they had grown to love the earth, but they gradually became invisible to human eyes.

Minah claimed she could summon the dragon,
totem of her tribal lineage (Peter Lau)
People ask me if Orang Asli have any religion. I always reply that we don’t need religion because our God is not separate from the everyday world in which we live. The Great Spirit That Dwells In Everything takes all forms and speaks to us as the song of the wind in the bamboo grove, or as the neverending gossip of the river. Sometimes it is the distant call of a mist-covered mountain. Other times, it is as close as a sleeping child breathing gently in its mother’s ear.

During my lifetime I saw how people became blinded by ambition and greed. They began to mine the earth for metals and log the forest for wood. With each passing year the land became hotter and the rivers became dirtier, so we could no longer drink the water without boiling it first.  With each passing year we had to walk farther and farther to find some bamboo or catch some fish because people would come into the forest and take out more than they needed. And with each passing year we saw more and more wilderness cleared so that towns could be built.

I enjoyed going to town where many things could be bought, but to do that we had to sell durians, petai, bamboo, cane (manao) and aromatic wood (gaharu) for cash. Yet I could never imagine myself living in a town where it’s always so noisy and hot. Like all Orang Asli, I dearly love the jungle which is our natural home and hunting ground. I would rather die than be forced to live in a town.

Japanese soldier in Malaya, 1942
When I was 12 the world turned upside down. Planes dropped bombs in the jungle to destroy bridges and railway tracks. We had to hide in caves on the slopes of mountains. For many years my family stayed hidden deep in the forest, for fear that we may be captured or killed by the invaders. During those war years we missed the taste of salt and sugar. We lived in the middle of the Malay Peninsula - far from the sea – and had grown accustomed to flavoring our food with salt bought from the Chinese merchants.  My mother taught me how to make cooking oil from the perah nut.

After the war life became even worse for us. The government put us all in detention camps, surrounded by barbed wire, and guarded by soldiers. They said it was to protect us from the communist guerrillas. Unused to suddenly being confined in a small space so close to town, many of our people became depressed, fell sick, and died. This is how I lost both my parents.

Sembo, Minah's favorite granddaughter
But I was already an attractive young woman with many admirers. My life stretched ahead of me like a newly laid road, and I had a taste for adventure. I found myself married to a man I hardly knew. At least he could take me away from the confines of the resettlement camp. We ran back to our beloved jungle and built a hut along the river, along with many others who could no longer bear living within a fence.

My first marriage was a tragedy. I was too young to be a dutiful mother. My children died of illness and my husband left me. For a while, I flirted with the idea of becoming a white man’s mistress. Then I met Angong who had recently become the Batin (headman) of Kampong Gerachi. He was a patient man with great wisdom. It was he who taught me the ceremonial songs passed down to him by his ancestors. Angong taught me to be proud of my noble naga (dragon) lineage. Not every family has an animal totem. Only those with some knowledge of jungle medicine (jampi) or who possess magical powers (dukun) have special allies in the animal kingdom. 

I bore Angong five children and greatly missed him when he returned to Pulau Buah, where souls go after they drop their physical bodies (which we call baju, or clothes). When my children grew up and started their own families, I moved to Kampong Pertak to live with my younger sister Indah and her husband Rasid. My elder brothers, Diap and Utat, lived nearby.  My eldest son, Ramsit, took over as Batin of Gerachi.

Minah Angong & Nai Anak Lahai with Akar Umbi lineup in August 1995

Mak Minah with Antares & Chandrabhanu
after performing 'Birthplace Reclaimed'
in 1993 (photo by Rafique Rashid)
It was fated that my life would begin to change in 1992. I met a few people from the big city who happened to be musicians. They heard me singing and decided to record my voice, adding musical instruments to give my traditional sawai (healing) songs a modern sound. The first song we created together was called Burung Meniyun. I was asked to sing it on stage during a performance by a famous dancer named Chandrabhanu who lived in Australia. I was surprised and touched that people in the big city would receive my humble song with such open hearts.  Never before had I sung for so many strangers in such a large hall! Chandrabhanu himself was quite a colorful character, dressed up as some kind of witch doctor with all sorts of strange objects dangling from his body. I found it exciting to meet so many new friends who were delighted to hear my ancient songs. 

It all happened so quickly. One moment I was just an Orang Asli widow gathering firewood and tapioca leaves in the forest and going fishing with my sister. Then suddenly I was on national TV singing for thousands of people in a huge stadium! I shall never forget the pleasure of hearing the loud applause and shaking hands with everybody afterwards. I felt proud to be able to please so many people with my simple songs. For once I could feel that no one was looking down on me, or ignoring me, for being an uneducated Orang Asli. 

Can you imagine how it feels to be recognized by someone in Ulu Langat who had seen my performance on TV?  When I went to the market in town, people came up to me and congratulated me on my performance. But back in Kampong Pertak, I was greeted with a mixture of wholehearted support and suspicion. Some whispered behind my back that I was soon going to be too sombong (proud) to be their friend. That really hurt my heart.

Minah performs at the first Rainforest World Music
Festival in Sarawak, August 1998 (Wayne Tarman)
I enjoy singing for people, and my late husband taught me that these songs handed down from our ancestors carry healing power. They are medicine songs. When I sing I can feel my spirit expand like a strong wind blowing through a tree. Naik angin, we call it.  Once I start I must carry on until the wind becomes a breeze and goes quietly on its way. If I don’t let the spirit wind flow (lepas angin) I can get very sick.

My first experience of flying was when Akar Umbi performed in Sarawak at the Rainforest World Music Festival. I had such a grand time and made even more friends. I returned to Sarawak with Akar Umbi the next year, for the last time. At the party after the close of the festival, my newfound friends sang me a rousing Iban farewell. My heart was light and heavy at the same time. Perhaps I knew this was our last meeting on this earth.

Photo by Roland Takeshi
Even as I felt the pleasure of being applauded, I could feel the pain of losing our past and future. The dam project would soon destroy Kampong Gerachi and its durian orchards. A man-made lake would fill the Selangor River Valley, drowning a once-beautiful forest, along with our ancestral graves. I could not imagine anyone so foolish as to declare war against the forces of nature.  Did they have no understanding of, or respect for, our deep love of the land? Were they totally unaware that destroying the land would mean the end of our livelihood and future?  We are the land. If the land dies, we die. 

My sister Indah and brothers Diap and Utat felt the same way that I did. We cherished our traditions and would never lose our heart connection to the land, even if we were offered vast amounts of money.  The Temuan tribe has lived here for many thousands of years; the hills and valleys and rivers are much, much older than that. Our fruit trees can live for over a hundred years and as long as we keep planting new ones, our great-great-grandchildren will never starve. But if they destroy the wilderness and put our people in housing estates and make us work in factories, our tribe will be disappear within a generation. Our nenek-moyang (ancestors) told us: “When Orang Asli are no longer visible on this earth, the sea will rise, the sky will fall, and everything will perish.”

Minah Angong by Antares (1999)

It all seemed hopeless. My own son, as headman, had signed an agreement with the dam builders and loggers, allowing the destruction to begin.  I tried to talk him out of it, but he silenced me, his own mother.  My sorrow ran deep.  Before it had even started the dam project had split our families apart. 

But there were thousands of voices raised against the dam, and I was glad that we had so many friends, people who knew the true value of the rainforest and fought hard to stop the destruction.  I was interviewed by many reporters and I told them how I felt about seeing our way of life being taken from us.  One reporter asked me: “Don’t you want to see your grandchildren getting a good education, which they can only get when development reaches the rural areas?” I replied: “All those who cut down the trees and make the hills bare, causing landslides and floods, aren’t they educated too? If that’s what being educated means, then we Orang Asli don’t want to be educated!” The reporter had nothing to say to that.

Minah gazes at the Indian Ocean at Batu Ferringhi, Penang, 1993 (photo: Rafique Rashid)

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t live to see the bulldozers and excavators arrive. Three weeks after I performed in Sarawak, I fell ill and surrendered my body to the earth. It has become part of the sacred landscape of my ancestors. But my spirit is reunited at last with the Great Spirit That Dwells In Everything and I am happy.

[Originally published in Off The Edge © Antares 2002, first posted 21 September 2014]