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Monday, January 16

Battle for critical water supply to Damascus

Leith filed his report at 10 am Syria time. Syria is 7 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time. No word as yet from AMN or any other source on the status of the battle. 

Syrian Army storms Al-Fijah Springs in Wadi Barada
By Leith Fadel

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:00 A.M.) - On Monday morning, the Syrian Arab Army launched a powerful attack against the jihadist rebels of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) in rural Damascus, targeting the Al-Fijah Springs of Wadi Barada from their positions at the nearby Khadara Springs.
Leading the way was the Syrian Arab Army's 42nd Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division, who began storming the Al-Fijah Springs this morning after the jihadist rebels refused to leave the area.
No gains have been reported as of yet at the Al-Fijah Springs, despite the intensity of the clashes taking place between the Syrian Arab Army and jihadist rebels of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham.
However, the jihadist rebels reneged on the ceasefire agreement and assassinated one of the lead negotiators in the peace talks; thus, resulting in the Syrian Arab Army's resumption of their offensive operations in Wadi Barada.

We don't like the pastries in Kazakhstan. We want Swiss pastries.

Europeans grumpy they don't control upcoming Syrian ceasefire discussions being led by Russia and Turkey in Astana. 

No date set for intra-Syria talks: German FM
AMN Newsdesk
16 January 2017

(TASS) A date for the resumption of talk in Geneva on a political settlement of the conflict in Syria has not been set yet, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said upon arrival for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

"We should insist the process of negotiations on Syria’s future should be placed back into the UN hands," he said. "At this point we cannot say that this is guaranteed and most certainly we cannot say when the Geneva process will be resumed."

The EU, Steinmeier stated, should make up its mind regarding its own strategy for Syria.

"We keep a close watch on the efforts being exerted by Russia, Turkey and other participants in the de-escalation. We in Europe should be talking about the role and place reserved for the EU in this process," Steinmeier said.

At the end of December 2016 Russia and Turkey concluded agreements on the ceasefire in Syria and enter into consultations with the Syrian government and the armed opposition. The consultations are scheduled to begin in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on January 23.



"Aleppo's Famous Street Market Opens for First Time in Two Years (VIDEO)"

Sputnik has the report today and a short video. Heartening news:

Aleppo’s main market area was swarmed with customers as it reopened for the first time in two years on Saturday. Shopkeepers displayed their goods at fixed shop entrances, while families walked between the different shops.

The Al-Tall street market was closed after being targeted with missiles by terrorist groups. Aleppo locals begin to get back to normal life after the Syrian Army's announcement on December 22, that it had recaptured the whole of eastern Aleppo following four years of militant occupation.

Prior to the conflict, Aleppo was Syria’s industrial and financial center. Now the city is trying to return to its previous glory.

Some vendors have already laid out their goods for sale while in the neighboring areas and houses reconstruction work is still ongoing. People are repairing the wiring and electricity is being supplied to the areas.



Much of N. California's deluge simply flowed into the Pacific Ocean

"We’ve gotten two wake-up calls – one a severe drought, the other a series of major storms – that tell us we’ve neglected the state’s most important issue."

Very important opinion piece by columnist (and Californian) Dan Walters:

Drought and storms prove again California needs more storage
by Dan Walters
15 January 2017
The Sacramento Bee

After a half-decade of drought, California has been buffeted this winter by a series of powerful rain and snowstorms that dumped countless billions of gallons of water on the state’s watersheds.

Some of the deluge was captured in the form of mountain snows that will feed rivers and streams during the annual spring melt. But at lower elevations, it was rain, some retained in man-made reservoirs that had become seriously depleted, but most flowing swiftly to the Pacific Ocean.

At one point last week, flows on the Sacramento River and its American River tributary were more than 130,000 cubic feet each second, much of which was diverted into bypass channels to protect the state capital from flooding that periodically devastated the city during the 19th century.

Let’s put that flow in perspective. Each cubic foot is equates to 7.5 gallons, so that meant nearly a million gallons were passing through, or around, Sacramento every second – enough water to fill an empty Folsom Lake-sized reservoir in about four days.

As the Sacramento River was running high, fast and dirty last week, a few blocks away, in the state Capitol, Gov. Jerry Brown was unveiling a new state budget. He renewed his annual pitch to build financial reserves so that when recession hits, as it inevitably will, the impact on the state budget will be cushioned.

It’s good advice, whether it involves a state budget or a family’s finances. Having a cushioning reserve is, as Brown terms, it “prudence.”

But what is prudent in a state’s budget also is prudent in a state’s water supply, which is at least as volatile and unpredictable as tax revenue.

The drought that the storms may have ended [in the North of the state] has been the hydrological equivalent of a severe economic recession, and proved once again that California has not provided enough water storage to sustain its nearly 40 million residents and its economy when precipitation is scant.

Moreover, were predictions of climate change to prove true, it would mean California could depend even less on the natural reservoir of mountain snowpacks because it would receive more of its precipitation as rain, and thus would logically need more man-made storage to close the gap.

Had we done what we should have done decades ago, and provided more reservoirs – such as the long-delayed, off-stream Sites project on the west side of the upper Sacramento Valley – or built systems to recharge depleted underground aquifers, we could have retained some of those heavy flows on the Sacramento and other rivers this month. Even a tiny percentage would make a huge difference when drought once again hits.

Oddly, relatively arid Southern California has been more attentive to protecting itself from drought than Northern California.

Those in the south state have built new reservoirs, expanded old ones, undertaken extensive conservation and reuse programs and, most recently, have opened one major desalination plant and have begun preliminary work on at least one more.

In Northern California, meanwhile, Sites and other storage projects have been kicking around for decades without decisive action.

Perhaps it’s because misplaced environmental sensitivity is stronger in the north, or perhaps because one superagency dominates water planning in the south while in the north, it’s scattered among hundreds of agencies that incessantly spar with each other.

We’ve gotten two wake-up calls – one a severe drought, the other a series of major storms – that tell us we’ve neglected the state’s most important issue.



Mexican government cries poor to avoid filling known border smuggling tunnels

"A cross-border drug smugglers' tunnel that had been shut down but left unfilled on the Mexican side was found to be back in operation in December, officials said."
Photo: Mexico attorney general's office / Associated Press via Los Angeles Times

Border tunnels left unfilled on Mexican side pose security risk, officials say
By Richard Marosi
15 January 2017
The Los Angeles Times

Mexican drug cartels have burrowed dozens of tunnels in the last decade, outfitted them with rail and cart systems to whisk drugs under the U.S. border and, after being discovered by authorities, abandoned them.

But some of the illicit passageways live on.

At least six previously discovered border tunnels have been reactivated by Mexican trafficking groups in recent years, exposing a recurring large-scale smuggling threat, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials.

The breaches of border defenses, most recently in December, occur because Mexican authorities, unlike those on the American side, do not fill the tunnels with concrete once they have been discovered. Mexican authorities say they lack the funds.

Instead, only the tunnel openings are sealed. That allows traffickers to simply dig a new entry point to access the largely intact subterranean passageways leading to the U.S. border.

The security lapse is a boon for traffickers, experts say, saving them time and money and reducing their risk of being caught as they haul away dirt.

“The biggest threat is that it’s a huge open invitation for drug traffickers, and it’s definitely going to be taken advantage of,” said Michael Unzueta, a former special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.



If you think you know how bad Beijing's air pollution is, read this BBC report

"For much of the past month the cloud of toxic air hanging over this country has extended for thousands of miles, a giant, continent-sized cocktail of soot from coal fired power stations and car exhausts, smothering the lives and filling the lungs of hundreds of millions of people."

But that's not the half of it; it turns out that only the most draconian precautions can protect Beijing residents from the pollution while they're indoors -- precautions that are financially out of reach for most Chinese. 

The photos accompanying the BBC report include this one:

Beijing: The city where you can't escape smog
By John Sudworth
15 January 2017
BBC Magazine
China's capital is notorious for its chronic pollution. Even indoors it's a struggle to find clean air, says John Sudworth.
Having already taped most of my windows shut, I have now started on the air conditioning vents. The aim is simple - to close off every access point through which the toxic outside air leaks into our Beijing home.
Even our double-glazing doesn't keep out the smog. The most dangerous constituent, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter - or PM2.5 as it's known - finds a way through the tiniest of gaps where the windows close.
So the only solution there is duct tape.
It's like a re-enactment of a 1970s government information film on surviving a nuclear holocaust. Only it's not radiation we're trying to keep at bay, but the fallout from fossil fuels.
The most useful device in our armoury is our PM2.5 monitor. We have two, one upstairs and one downstairs, which we glance at frequently, and it was their arrival that prompted the frenzy of taping and draught-excluding that continues to this day.
When I first arrived in China, five years ago, there was no way of monitoring the quality of air in our home. Like everyone else, we left it to blind faith that our air purifiers were doing the trick.
It now transpires they weren't. Even now on highly polluted days, we struggle to get our PM2.5 count much below 25 micrograms per cubic meter, the World Health Organization's maximum standard for safe air.
And that's with multiple purifiers running at full tilt, large box-like machines that sit in the corner of every room - two in some - the combined noise output of which is akin to living in the engine room of an aircraft carrier.
hina's air pollution problem is now so bad that its effects are measured in more than a million premature deaths a year and markedly reduced life expectancy - an average of more than five years or so - in the worst-affected regions.
Over the past few weeks, a period of particularly acute and prolonged air pollution, the average air quality in Beijing has been well above 200 micrograms of PM2.5 particles per cubic metre - many times the maximum safe limit.
During the worst of it, it's been like living under house arrest, our children confined to the small, deafening but breathable indoor space of our home for days on end.
And across China, the smog becomes a dominant topic on social media, with the population tracking the foulness of the air via mobile phone apps.
One group of Beijing mothers, armed with their own PM2.5 counters, have even been roaming the city in search of shopping malls or cafes with filtered air - and then sharing their discoveries online.
Of course, humanity's dependence on oil and coal long predate China's economic rise. But China offers a vision of environmental degradation far in excess of the pea-souper fogs of 1950s London or Manchester.
For much of the past month the cloud of toxic air hanging over this country has extended for thousands of miles, a giant, continent-sized cocktail of soot from coal fired power stations and car exhausts, smothering the lives and filling the lungs of hundreds of millions of people.
While growing awareness means that more of them are now taking action to protect their health, many others are either not fully informed about the danger or don't have the means to do much about it.
A set of new filters for a single air purifier can cost £100 ($120) or more and needs changing every six months or so.
It is, of course, not a problem only of China's making. The smartphones, computers, TV screens, jeans and shoes that have been pouring out of its factories over the past few decades are cheap, in part at least, precisely because they're made without environmental safeguards.
The interests of the rich world and an unaccountable Chinese Communist elite have neatly dovetailed. The West gets its cheap consumer desirables and China gets rich without the inconvenience of the independent scrutiny, regulation or democratic oversight of other markets.
The true cost is measured by the numbers on my pollution monitors, and it is one being borne disproportionately by ordinary Chinese people.
Following a crackdown on a rare protest against pollution in the central city of Chengdu recently, one blogger dared to speak out in favour of the protesters. The police, he suggested, should bear in mind that the elites, whose interests they protect, have sent their families to breathe clean air overseas.
He was promptly detained.

Sunday, January 15

As local news coverage declines in USA, politics becomes nationalized

From How Cory Booker went from progressive hero to traitor in under 2 days by Jeff Stein; January 14, Vox:

The fight over Booker’s vote highlights a real, and much broader, disconnect between Capitol Hill and the outside world.

On the one hand, members of Congress have continued to legislate as they always have — with a far greater concern for the jobs and markets in their own states.

But that reality isn’t always reflected in a media environment that increasingly sees everything through its implications for the country as a whole. In part, that’s because of the long decline in the size and staffing of local newsrooms, says Michele Swers, a Georgetown University professor who specializes in Congress. 

And in part it’s because people have stopped caring nearly as much about politics of their states, as research by political scientist Jonathan Ladd has shown.

“Politics is much more nationalized than it was just a few decades ago,” said Swers in an interview in October 2016.

She added: “That probably has to do with the fact that the way you get your information has changed. Twenty years ago ... if you were a House member, you could get the coverage of your character, of the bill you passed for your home district, or of you in parades or whatever. Now, with there being so much more national coverage and the local papers dying out, it’s much more ideological.”

And that new dynamic will create a new form of headache for senators like Cory Booker who may have higher national ambitions. They are stuck between two bad outcomes — defying the industries of their home states, or taking a position that could be broadly unpopular with their national parties.

Soon we’ll get another test of whether this calculus is beginning to change within the halls of Congress. Sanders is expected to soon introduce similar legislation to the drug prescription bill that was defeated on Wednesday. If Booker changes his position, it could be a big sign that the grassroots is winning.



Saturday, January 14

Saudis keep firing on fishing boats, starving residents of Yemeni fishing village

No food, no medicine, no money’: Yemeni town faces mass death by starvation
Published time: 14 Jan, 2017 21:29

The area remains under control of the Houthis, but the Saudi-led international coalition, which is supporting the Sunnis, who constitute just under half of the population, has blockaded the coastal areas.

Nearly 19 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN, but the worst of the civilian impact of the two-year civil war in the country has fallen on the coastal fishing area around the Red Sea coastal district of Tuhayat.

As RT’s Arabic-language crew visited the area, they witnessed scenes of chaos – as locals scrambled to gain food – and quiet desperation, with many residents swollen with hunger, waiting for outside help, or resigned to their fate.

Salem is an eight-year-old boy, though like many in similar areas around the world, he looks small enough to be mistaken for a toddler.

“We have no energy left, and I have no money with which to treat my child,” says his mother, admitting that the boy is severely malnourished, just one of more than 1.5 million children suffering from the same fate in the country, according to the United Nations.

Fishing used to be the prime source of subsistence for villagers here, prior to the break out of the full-scale civil war between the insurgent Shia Houthis, and the incumbent Sunni government in early 2015.

The area remains under control of the Houthis, but the Saudi-led international coalition, which is supporting the Sunnis, who constitute just under half of the population, has blockaded the coastal areas.

The Saudis have repeatedly fired on fishing boats operated by the locals, saying that some have been used on weapons runs to supply the rebels, even if keeping them moored on land means that innocent civilians will die.

Abdallah and Taga are two brothers, who have become so weak – their skeletons are clearly visible underneath the skin – that they have suffered bone damage, and can now only crawl.

“It is very difficult for us, as we are invalids, and we have no money. Sometimes we get a little, and then we can get tea and bread – people help us, but not very often, and not very much,” says Abdallah.

Over 7,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to international observers – a large minority of them civilians, who died in airstrikes – and more than 3 million have been displaced.

“The situation is only going to get worse, because there is no functioning government. Social welfare has not been paid for two years,” Baraa Shiban, an activist for the nonprofit Reprieve, told RT.

Shiban believes that the Houthis have to hand back power to the previous Sunni government, and in turn the Sunni international coalition must ease its stranglehold on the region, while any other means of help is temporary.

“Humanitarian aid has been delivered to some of these areas, but just depending on it is not a viable solution. We need a comprehensive solution.”

But Jamal Wakeem, professor of history and international relations at the Lebanese University in Beirut, says that the Saudis are purposefully worsening the humanitarian crisis to achieve their political aims.

“This is a conscious strategy of the Saudis, they have been trying to exert economic pressure,” he told RT from Beirut, saying that it equates to "genocide."

While the Sunnis have more material resources, the Houthi rebels still hold most of the land, and enjoy considerable manpower, so the conflict remains finely balanced. For ordinary Yemenis, regardless of creed, this likely means more instability, hunger and fear.


"Implementation of an international project of the ‘Muslimization’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina”

Alcohol Ban, Friday Prayers: Is Bosnia Going Muslim?


Turkish parliament accords country's president sweeping powers

“This is a reduction of the state to a political party."

No surprise but now it's done:

Turkish MPs approve 2 constitutional amendments to enhance president’s powers
Published time: 14 Jan, 2017 16:07

Turkey’s Parliament has approved two constitutional amendments giving more powers to the president, who will now be able to sponsor new legislation and appoint the cabinet, local media report. The changes come at the expense of MPs’ rights to oversee the government.

MPs adopted three more items from the 18-article amendment bill during a heated vote on Thursday and early Friday, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. The package of amendments to the country’s constitution is meant to advance President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire for ‘strong leadership,’ according to the local media.

Article 8 has been particularly criticized by the opposition, as it empowers Erdogan to represent Turkey as “head of state,” according to NTV broadcaster. 

With the proposed changes, the president will be able to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers, public officials, and the president’s staff. He will also have the authority to sponsor new legislation and submit it to the Parliament for review, Hurryiet said.

The Parliament, for its part, will lose a sizeable portion of its powers, according to Hurriyet. According to Article 6, MPs will execute their authority over the government only through written requests for information, parliamentary inquiries, and “general meetings” to discuss issues relating to government’s actions, NTV reported. The parliament will no longer be able to issue motions of no confidence either.

This particular article, which largely strips the Parliament of its oversight authority, was approved by 343 of 550 lawmakers.

MPs have also approved Article 7, which sets out requirements for presidential candidates, stipulating that they must be at least 40 years old, hold a university degree, and be Turkish citizens.

This article cancels the current provision that bans the president from having official connections to a political party, which is meant to promote division of power and maintain checks and balances.

“This is a reduction of the state to a political party. It seems you want a party state,” Deniz Baykal, an MP from the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Hurriyet.

Erdogan said on Friday that he does not rule out calling early elections if MPs fail to introduce a full presidential system, Reuters reported. The Turkish strongman added that he hopes talks on constitutional reform will be finalized this week.

Adopting the new amendments did not go as smoothly as expected, however. An all-out brawl erupted in the Turkish Parliament on Wednesday when MPs from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began to openly cast their votes in what was supposed to be a secret ballot on the third, fourth, and fifth articles of the bill.

Opposition lawmakers argued that the vote was held openly to put pressure on ruling party MPs and prevent them from voting against the changes. Selin Sayek Boke, a spokeswoman for the CHP party, called the proposed changes a slide into a “sultanate.”

When hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament building earlier in January to oppose the amendments, the Parliament’s security detail pushed protesters away from the gates and police then fired tear gas and deployed water cannon to disperse the crowd.

The reforms introduced by the ruling AK Party and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on December 30 bring Turkey closer to an executive presidential system similar to that of France or the United States. Yet, the measures still need to pass through two more rounds of voting before being put to a nationwide referendum.



The Heruka

I'll add that a couple months before Egon Blant posted "Acceptance" to YouTube someone beat him to the punch, but using a gorgeous video of the sun slowly setting over water as the visual accompaniment, which I've used here for a special reason I'll perhaps explain in a subsequent post.
-- Pundita, August 25, 2016

This is the subsequent post. 

Once a heruka walked into a bar and ordered a drink -- well, in those days, maybe a thousand years ago give or take a century, it was probably an inn but anyhow it served some kind of alcoholic beverage. 

After downing the drink the heruka ordered another. The barkeep, who'd never seen him before, said he had to pay up before he got a second round.

The heruka took a dorje from his belt --a small dagger associated with ritual tantric ceremonies-- put it on the table, and said he'd pay as soon as the sun went down.

The barkeep looked outside and saw it was only about 10 minutes until sunset, so he played along.

After downing the second drink the heruka ordered another. Then another and another. By this time 10 minutes had come and gone, but the sun was in the same place it had been when the heruka placed the dorje on the table.

People inside the bar and outdoors were by then pointing at the sun and shouting that it wasn't moving in the sky.

The barkeep studied the dorje and its ordinary-looking owner and got a hunch.

There are different accounts as to what happened next. One is that the barkeep yelled, "You're a heruka! Get out of here!" 

The other version, which is the more likely: The barkeep said, "All your drinks were on the house."

Whatever he said, the heruka's reply was to laugh. Then he picked up his dorje and left as the universe resumed its business.
*   *   *

As to whether I've ever personally crossed paths with a heruka -- possibly. The problem is that no one knows for certain what a heruka actually is, although a very advanced tantric practitioner can be called a heruka. But to give some idea of the confusion surrounding the term --  

From Wikipedia's article:
The Sanskrit term Heruka was translated into both Chinese and Tibetan as "blood drinker," which scholar Ronald Davidson calls "curious," speculating that the nonliteral translation derived from an association the term has with cremation grounds and 'charnel grounds' (Sanskrit: śmāśāna) (which absorb the blood of the dead) ...
Curious is right. From the Rigpa Wiki entry on herukas:
According to a tantra:
He stands for great compassion.
Ru means the absence of gathering.
Ka means not abiding in anything whatsoever.[1]
In the ZindriKhenpo Ngakchung says that, according to Patrul Rinpoche, heruka means "one in whom absolute space (he) and primordial wisdom (ka) are united.
So how did one in whom absolute space and primordial wisdom are united get to look like this?    

That is typical of the depictions of wrathful deities one can find at Google Images. So imagine something looking like that ordering a beer and the barkeep demanding payment, which explains that if the heruka in the story was also a wrathful deity he was incognito.   

How wrathful deities got to be classed with or as herukas is a very long, hideously complicated and completely confusing history of tantric Yoga (both 'Hindu' and 'Buddhist') in India, Tibet, and China, and Japan. Which over the span of more than a thousand years was translated into God Knows how many languages and dialects. If I recall the Heart Sutra was composed by a Chinese in China in a Chinese language, then only later taken to India and translated into Sanskrit.

Then of course these languages and dialects evolve or fall into disuse and their precise referents get lost in the mists of time, leaving the next batch of translators to guess.  

To pile confusion on top of confusion, at any one time there are maybe only 200 20 people who have sufficiently mastered Sanskrit to adequately translate it.

To pile on even more confusion, the Muslim invaders tore entire chapters out of Indian history. This was something that wasn't fully appreciated until the Tibetan diaspora, when Indian scholars discovered to their amazement a part of Indian history preserved by the Tibetans that the Indians didn't know had existed.

To pile the stack of confusion to the sky, there are also vastly different concepts of causality. A Tibetan who'd learned English struggled to explain to me why he had such trouble with English-language explanations about the way the world worked: "It's 'This happened' then 'That happened' then 'This happened."

He was trying to explain his encounter with the psycho-epistemology of Western reasoning:  a step-wise stringing together of concepts that are dependent on each other for their causes.

Visualize a bullet train in order to intuit the incredible power of that style of reasoning. Now imagine the bullet train hurtling through a pitch-dark night, in order to intuit the reasoning style's limitations, which obscure vast aspects of phenomena that make no sense to the mind that thinks in terms of dependent causality.  

So do not wonder at my reply when a Rinpoche who is head of a Vajrayana (Buddhist tantric Yoga) lineage asked for my opinion on the present state of Buddhist teachings: 

"You can take all the teachings and throw them in the sea. What people need is the sight of a Buddha."

This was met with disapproving clicks of the tongue from the gathered monks but after pondering the Rinpoche answered, "I agree with you."

So what to do in the meantime, if anyone asks you for the definition of a Buddha -- or a heruka? 

Well, um, you can always belt out a few stanzas from the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, "The Heart of the Perfection of Understanding," the best-known Mahayana Buddhist sutra, generally referred to in English as "The Heart Sutra," which is sung in part in Sanskrit in the above video:

iha śāriputra: rūpaṃ śūnyatā śūnyataiva rūpaṃ rūpān
O Sariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form

na pṛthak śūnyatā śunyatāyā na pṛthag rūpaṃ
Emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness

yad rūpaṃ sā śūnyatā; ya śūnyatā tad rūpaṃ
Whatever is emptiness, that is form ...

Got all that?


Friday, January 13

"Take It Easy Urvasi" 2.0 with crowdsourced lyrics takes off like a rocket Updated 1/16

Update 1/16
The video of the performance posted at YouTube was removed a couple hours ago. The video of the song can be seen at the Indian Express page, below.  

About the song

A.R. Rahman (Wikipedia)

AR Rahman's new version of 'Urvasi Urvasi' goes viral12 January 2017; The Hindu:

The new version features Rahman with Suresh Peters (who sang with him in the original hit) and composer Ranjit Barot.

Urvasi Urvasi was first composed in 1994 for Shankar’s Kadhalan, starring Prabhudeva and Nagma. The original lyrics were written by Vairamuthu.

The unplugged version, according to Rahman, is aimed to be more contemporary in its references — Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, demonetisation and some puns in Tamil. It has so far garnered more than 1.2 million views on Facebook.


A R Rahman releases the much-awaited crowdsourced 'Take it Easy, Urvasi' version 2.0
12 January 2016
The Indian Express

Music director A R Rahman who in December put out a Facebook post seeking fan contributions 'Take it easy, Urvasi' version 2.0, put out the new MTV Unplugged song on his Facebook page today.

The song became a huge cult-hit in the 1990s, featured in Tamil film 'Kaadhalan' and Hindi film 'Humse Hai Muqabla'. Starting with the same energy and enthusiasm, the song is entirely in Tamil with witty lyrics just like the original score.

It starts with the historic US elections, "Hillary Clinton thothu pona, take it easy, Urvasi... Donald Trump president aana, take it easy policy." And demonetisation was definitely not spared, "Aiynooru/ ayiram (500/1000) ruba sellama ponal, take it easy policy."

With "Kadalai naduvil battery theerndhal, take it easy policy," Rahman did not forget to address the plight of single men trying their luck with women.
Poking fun at the hole-poked clothing of today, they sing, "Kizhinja pant ah fashion nu sonna, take it easy policy.""


Here's the original version of the song: 

If the choreography and its incredibly energetic 'street sense' remind you of Slumdog Millionaire -- welcome to Bollywood, but Rahman also wrote the score for that film, including the song Jai Ho! for the dance finale.  


"Strong evidence links marijuana use to risk of developing schizophrenia and other causes of psychosis, with the highest risk among the most frequent users"

I don't know why the headline and lede in the following Daily Mail report state that marijuana use also triggers heart attacks because the claim requires clarification. It's stated in the body of the report:
There's weak evidence that suggests smoking marijuana can trigger a heart attack, especially for people at high risk of heart disease. But there's no evidence either way on whether chronic use affects a person's risk of a heart attack.
In any case the biggest news from the study is the claim of a link between marijuana use and the risk of developing serious mental disorders.     

I haven't read the scientific report but if it's citing research that demonstrates marijuana use can actually cause schizophrenia, as distinct from exacerbating a latent condition, this would be a dynamite finding -- although even the latter discovery would be serious. 

(Lobbies for the pot industry have surely sprung into action to challenge the research.)     

Marijuana DOES cause schizophrenia and triggers heart attacks, experts say in landmark study that slams most of the drug's medical benefits as unproven

By Mia De Graaf For Dailymail.com and Associated Press
PUBLISHED: 14:47 EST, 12 January 2017 
UPDATED: 19:09 EST, 12 January 2017
Daily Mail

Marijuana does raise the risk of getting schizophrenia and triggers heart attacks, according to the most significant study on the drug's effects to date.

A federal advisory panel admitted cannabis can almost certainly ease chronic pain, and might help some people sleep.

But it dismisses most of the drug's other supposedly 'medical benefits' as unproven.

Crucially, the researchers concluded there is not enough research to say whether marijuana effectively treats epilepsy - one of the most widely-recognized reasons for cannabis prescriptions.

The report also casts doubt on using cannabis to treat cancers, irritable bowel syndrome, or certain symptoms of Parkinson's disease, or helping people beat addictions.

The experts called for a national effort to learn more about marijuana and its chemical cousins, including similarly acting compounds called cannabinoids.

In fact, the current lack of scientific information 'poses a public health risk,' said the report, released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Patients, health care professionals and policy makers need more evidence to make sound decisions, it said.

Several factors have limited research. While the federal government has approved some medicines containing ingredients found in marijuana, it still classifies marijuana as illegal and imposes restrictions on research. So scientists have to jump through bureaucratic hoops that some find daunting, the report said.

A federal focus on paying for studies of potential harms has also impeded research into possible health benefits, the report said. The range of marijuana products available for study has also been restricted, although the government is expanding the number of approved suppliers.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for a variety of medical uses, and eight of those states plus the district have also legalized it for recreational use.

The report lists nearly 100 conclusions about marijuana and its similarly acting chemical cousins, drawing on studies published since 1999.

It found strong evidence, for example, that marijuana can treat chronic pain in adults and that similar compounds ease nausea from chemotherapy, with varying degrees of evidence for treating muscle stiffness and spasms in multiple sclerosis.

Limited evidence says marijuana or the other compounds can boost appetite in people with HIV or AIDS, and ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the report concluded.

There may be more evidence soon: a study in Colorado is investigating the use of marijuana to treat PTSD.

Turning to potential harms, the committee concluded:

Strong evidence links marijuana use to the risk of developing schizophrenia and other causes of psychosis, with the highest risk among the most frequent users.

Some evidence suggests a small increased risk for developing depressive disorders, but there's no evidence either way on whether it affects the course or symptoms of such disorders, or the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

There's strong evidence that using marijuana increases the risk of a traffic accident, but no clear indication that it promotes workplace accidents or injuries, or death from a marijuana overdose.

There's only weak evidence for the idea that it hurts school achievement, raises unemployment rates or harms social functioning.

For pregnant women who smoke pot, there's strong evidence of reduced birth weight but only weak evidence of any effect on pregnancy complications for the mother, or an infant's need for admission to intensive care. There's not enough evidence to show whether it affects the child later, like sudden infant death syndrome or substance use.

Some evidence suggests there's no link to lung cancer in marijuana smokers. But there's no evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support or rebut any link to developing cancers of the prostate, cervix, bladder, or esophagus.

Substantial evidence links pot smoking to worse respiratory symptoms and more frequent episodes of chronic bronchitis. [emphasis mine]

There's weak evidence that suggests smoking marijuana can trigger a heart attack, especially for people at high risk of heart disease. But there's no evidence either way on whether chronic use affects a person's risk of a heart attack.

Some evidence suggests a link between using marijuana and developing a dependence on or abuse of other substances, including alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs.



Thursday, January 12

Before telling them they can change the world teach them to master themselves

In 2013 the suicide rate in the United States was 13 per 100,000 people, the highest recorded rate in 28 years. The U.S. suicide rate also rose 24% over the 15 previous years (1999-2014), [Wikipedia]
Half of British young people have so many 'emotional problems' they cannot focus at school, study finds
... Half of young people said they feel the pressures of getting a job are greater than they were a year ago and more than a third said they did not feel in control of their job prospects.
The eighth Index, based on a survey of 2,215 young people aged 16 to 25, revealed many feel their circumstances are trapping them.
Dame Martina Milburn, chief executive at the Prince’s Trust said: “This report paints a deeply concerning picture of a generation who feel their ability to shape their own future is slipping away from them. ..."  [Telegraph, January 2017]  
Below is a YouTube video of Vietnamese martial arts Grand Master Huỳnh Tuấn Kiệt teaching students at his school, Nam Huỳnh Đạo, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.(1) He is also a qigong ("chi") master. 

Study his effortless evasive move starting at the 7:16 mark, although it happens so fast you'll have to freeze the tape to actually study it.  He then immediately does a variation of the move for students who blinked the first time, and adds a flamenco flourish for fun. 

He executes a similar evasive move at the 9:14 - 9:18 minute mark in this YouTube video, Kung Fu Master - Very Special Technique of Martial Arts, which is bound to make the student feel he's trying to land a kick on a playful ghost. 

Here are a few more YouTube videos of him teaching, all of them short:
Vietnamese Kungfu master shows defense-counter moves



There are also videos of his students going through their paces, giving exhibitions, and even one of an exam for the students, which is as impressive as it is entertaining to watch. The school also accepts females and children.

Here is the link to the school's web page.  

From what's shown on YouTube, what I find to be the most striking feature of the training is that it leaves absolutely nothing to the student's guesses.  

In this I see a marked difference between the teaching approaches of Grand Master Huỳnh and Steven Seagal and Bruce Lee. The latter two were also advanced practitioners. They attracted students who wanted to learn a particular martial arts discipline -- Aikido in Seagal's case, and Lee's Jeet Kune Do. But without basic mastery, that's putting the cart before the horse. Students who didn't have the basics mastered could get pretty banged up while studying under those two teachers, and they could get 'lost.'  

I think it was the American film actor James Coburn, who studied with Bruce Lee, who once said that he understood Jeet Kune Do but only when he was in Bruce's presence.   

And what are the basics? Before the student tries to master a particular fighting style, he must first be taught how to master himself.  You can see this in the video about the exam at Nam Huỳnh Đạo. There are young adults and children alike waving their hands to demonstrate to the examiner that they have mastered limber wrists.    

This observation should apply across the board, to all disciplines, all endeavors. But because it doesn't apply in the modern era, children are expected to perform well as adults without first being taught a mastery over themselves, which is the key to adulthood.

Instead, they're told to be the best they can be, that they have great potential, and to make their mark on the world. They're being exhorted to climb to the summit of Mt Everest without ever being taught how to climb to base camp.

The upshot is an almost existential lack of self confidence that shows up in widespread drug addiction, mental and 'behavioral' disorders, and suicides.  

Adults can't keep pointing out to children a very amorphous path to adulthood, then telling them to excel as adults -- and more than excel, to help make the world a better place. Children must first be taught how to develop a sense of self mastery that school activities are obviously not providing many of them.

Even a century ago in America there was a route to self mastery because many boys could still learn a trade from working alongside their fathers and in this way gain basic mastery of the work they'd be doing to support their own family when they married.  And girls worked alongside their mothers and learned mastery of how to be a mother and homemaker.   

It's sidestepping the issue to say that many parents today can't bring their children with them to work and that the work is so specialized the children can't be expected to learn the job. 

So what to do? Mastery of limber wrists, anyone?

1)  There are only very short biographies of the Grand Master and his school available in English on the internet, but here are the three I found, with some overlapping information and -- regarding the date of the school's opening -- contradictory information:

From a visitor's guide to Ho Chi Minh City:


VND 250,000/ 12 classes
VND 300,000/ 24 classes

This centre teaches Nam Huỳnh Đạo, a traditional martial art. There are three specialties: An Dương Vương, Trần Quang Khải and Hoa Phượng. Prices depend on the equipment needed to prepare the students.

The founder of Nam Huỳnh Đạo is grand master Huỳnh Tuấn Kiệt, the seventh generation descendant of warrior general Nguyễn Huỳnh Đức under the Nguyễn dynasty (1748-1819). 

General Nguyễn was both a nobleman and a kung fu master; he played a significant role in founding and developing Gia Định, the southern province of Vietnam. General Nguyễn was the originator of the Huỳnh martial art style.

From the YouTube page accompanying one of the videos; uploaded to YouTube on Mar 13, 2009 by KungFu NamHuynhDao:

Explore the Secrets of Vietnamese Martial Arts

Nam Huỳnh Đạo Martial Arts school officially opened starting on November 24th, 2001. Up to date, the kungfu school has gathered thousands of students, built a staff of experienced, moral and well-respected fellows, and equipped kungfu training halls modernly and professionally.

The founder of Nam Huỳnh Đạo is grand master Huỳnh Tuấn Kiệt, a 7th generation descendant of Warrior General Nguyễn Huỳnh Đức. General Nguyen was both a noble and a kungfu master, and played a significant role in founding and developing Southern of Gia Dinh. It is General Nguyen the origin of the Huynh's martial arts. Temple of General has been recognized as national heritage. It is located in Long An province, [in the] south of Vietnam.

The Master originated from a family whose many generations devoted to Medicine and Martial. He inherited kungfu and medicinal knowledge from his grandfather and father, who were well-known as kungfu and medicinal masters in Long An province. 

Master's father is also the translator and editor of the reference book "Hoàng Hán Y Học", which is one of the valuable works in ancient traditional medicine. Nam Huỳnh Đạo Martial Arts is officially founded to fulfill our ambition to promote Vietnam authentic cultures and traditions.

From the school's website, which shows the school's address, email address (gmail) and phone number:

Nam Huỳnh Đạo Kung Fu school was officially started on September 16th, 1991. Up to date, the kung fu school has gathered thousands of students, built a staff of experienced, moral and well-respected fellows, and equipped the kung fu training centers modernly and professionally. 

The founder of Nam Huỳnh Đạo is Grand master Huỳnh Tuấn Kiệt, the 7th generation descendant of Warrior General Nguyễn Huỳnh Đức under the Nguyen dynasty (1748 – 1819) . General Nguyen was both a noble and a kung fu master, and played a significant role in founding and developing Gia Dinh, the Southern province of Viet Nam. General Nguyen was the originator of the Huỳnh’s Martial art style. 

The Master originated from a family who devoted themselves for many generations to traditional medicine and martial art. He inherited kung fu and medical knowledge from his grandfather and father, who were well-known as kungfu and traditional medical masters in Long An province. 

Master’s father is also the translator and editor of the valued reference book “Hoàng Hán Y Học”, which is one of the valuable works in ancient traditional medicine. 

Based on the foundation of the Huỳnh’s kung fu, in combination with instructional principles from Y Gia, Thái Gia, Phật Gia, and Ancient Traditional Vietnamese Martial Arts, Nam Huỳnh Đạo Kung Fu was officially founded to fulfill our ambition: to promote Vietnamese authentic culture and traditions through the medium of martial arts. 

By doing the cultural exchanges, many martial art associations of both domestic and abroad have visited Nam Huynh Dao. They all are amazed when realizing the genuine values of Vietnamese martial art cultures. Besides, the school has received a great number of invitations to exchange cultures as well as to teach practitioners in many countries.


Finally, in answer to question at an internet forum "Is there Vietnamese quigong?"' the answer was yes, and there was this explanation by one poster:

Most Vietnamese martial arts are Chinese Styles which were brought across the border into Viet Nam by Chinese immigrants. However, some are indigenous Vietnamese Styles much influenced by Chinese Kung-Fu Styles, both Buddhist Temple Styles and Taoist Styles, as well as a number of 'family' styles.

Virtually all of these methods include the practice of chi-kung methods, some of which may be common to a number of different schools, and others which are unique to a particular school due to having been created and formulated by a previous Master of that school.

Listed below are a few links to sites which describe the history, training methods, and techniques of individual Vietnamese styles. Check 'em out!

Sifu Stier





[END Sifu's entry]


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