Monday, April 30, 2012

A Brave New World

"The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds.
The pessimist fears it is true."
                                                J. Robert Oppenheimer
In the beginning of the 20th century, scientists of the ranks of Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg perceive the field of physics in a manner that drastically removes it from common sense and basic understanding. As a result, physics becomes irrelevant to most people and those with a clear interest in the subject are not many. At that time, the individual scientist working alone or with a few coworkers in a small lab represents the dominant mode for the production of scientific knowledge. With the onset of the World Wars and the development of nuclear physics, however, the situation changes. In Europe, government support for potentially useful research is evident in the First World War and during the years after the war. In the early 1930s, the transformation in the political climate in Europe and the rise of new ideologies, such as fascism in Italy and socialism in Nazi Germany, are the reasons for many of the Central and Eastern European scientists to emigrate to Britain and USA. They ultimately become the people who bring to the new world this idea of large-scale projects, like the one of a possible nuclear bomb, which can aid in ending the war. 

These projects, though, need enormous amount of funds that go beyond the ones available in corporation labs. Research begins to necessitate large installations and expensive equipment, increasingly beyond the resources of individual experimenters or even universities or private research facilities. As a result, government initiatives to exploit scientific theory for practical ends do appear on the scene. Governments begin to support scientific research, and in the years before the Second World War this is a major task for the socialist society in Nazi Germany. Somewhere around that time, the idea of science not as means to improve the human condition, but as a method to find new ways of destruction starts to form in the minds of many.

The Manhattan project and the development of the atomic bomb is a perfect example of the new way of doing science: the industrialization of scientific production or what has been called Big Science. The idea of an atomic bomb that could result in complete devastation becomes evident in the 1930s. In 1939, Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist, who has immigrated to Sweden escaping Nazi Germany, proposes a theoretical explanation for fission and calculates the immense amounts of energy that in principle could be released form an explosive nuclear chain reaction. The Allies recognize the caustic potential of such a weapon and further, they realize that Nazi Germany most probably is in the process of developing one. This launched the largest science-based Research & Development venture in history: the one that resulted in the creation of a weapon that could potentially make the entire world history.

When the Little Boy and the Fat Man are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no one is truly prepared for the resulting devastation and total annihilation of everything and everybody. The fear that science and technology could be used for nefarious purposes suddenly becomes a reality. While in the past science was accepted as the way to rise against and fight superstitions and “backward thinking,” following the first several decades of the 20th century, science becomes the root of all evil humans must be wary of. There have since come many ready to exploit the situation and denounce any positive aspects of scientific and technological advancements while preaching for a return to times of superstitions and knowledge based on beliefs and what feels right, rather than facts. I always knew that the hidden and true meaning of the Descent of Man had to do with the fact that one day, the human race would simply go backward in time instead of fully aspiring to being the only “civilized” creature on Earth. Carl Sagan might have been inspired by science as a candle in the dark, but it is pretty clear even to him that somehow, unfortunately perhaps, people are once again finding themselves in a demon-haunted world created by those benefiting by such a world. 

On that note, it is important to emphasize that the Second World War did not simply result in the development of many weapons of mass destruction. The conflict also gave a push to a number of other government-funded, applied-science projects, such as radar, penicillin production, jet engines, and the earliest electronic computers. The use of the atomic bomb warned many that humans are capable of destroying the whole world if not careful, but at the same time, it also succeeded in dramatically ending a war that claimed the lives of millions. Ultimately, the problem is not with science; the problem lies in the hands and minds of bipeds who have no brakes when it comes to their desire to rule the world. 

 - Krasi

Friday, April 27, 2012

National Park Week 2012

So it is National Park Week and what is more appropriate than sharing pictures of some of the national parks I have visited in the US. So far, there are only three, but perhaps by next year’s National Park Week, that number would have increased. Actually, I am counting on it!

Sometimes I feel disappointed that there is a need for national parks, mostly because that highlights the urgency to protect nature from people’s insatiable desire to destroy it for their immediate gratification and convenience. I have been called a tree hugger before, meant to be an insult I might say, but I will stand by that title because I really do not want the children of the future to ask their parents, “Mom, Dad, what were trees like?”

Rocky Mountain National Park 

Zion National Park 

 Grand Canyon

For more amazing pictures, please visit National Geographic.  

 - Krasi

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Imagination and Power

This video made my day y'all. Watch it and I promise you'll shed a few tears but also a lot of smiles.

This little boy's imagination and perseverance are amazing. Kudos to all those folks involved that used their power (we all have personal power) to help him!

Read the full story here.

- A

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Power of an Image

With materialism and consumerism becoming major determinants of human character in many modern nations, it is inevitable that the business of advertising will flourish to become a colossal empire. In every sphere of everyday live, people are bombarded with advertisements about anything they need and everything they do not need. This is particularly true in the case of popular magazines which target the larger part of the general consumers. The advertisers fill the glossy pages of many magazines with a range of bold advertisements. The products advertised vary in nature and include many matching the theme of the magazine, such as beauty products, as well as many that do not quite fit, such as appliances and cleaning products. In order for the advertisers to attract the general population to their product they use a variety of techniques. A great success is usually the addition of a man or a woman identifying the ideal image of beauty. Even though in some cases beauty has nothing to do with the product itself, the advertisers believe that it will grab the potential buyers’ attention, build a strong interest in the product, and eventually result in increased sales.

Many agree that ideal images of beauty are a necessity in the process of selling a certain product. Thin bodies, long shiny hair, and a beautiful white smile are the rules rather than the exceptions in various advertisements. Turning the pages of popular magazines such as the Cosmopolitan and People, it is easy to become aware of a common theme or the similar images between different advertisements. Using gorgeous models is not specifically limited to advertisements about beauty products. Actually, the product itself and its purpose are not that essential. What matters most is who is promoting it. It is not even important if the product works as well as presented in the advertisement. The people buying it believe it does, because a good-looking celebrity convinced them this is the case. The idea behind the use of images of beautiful people in advertisements is that they can easily convince the general public that if they use the same shampoo, perfume and so on, they will look as great as the person in the image. In the case of products, such as a big screen TV or an oven cleaner, which do not have anything to do with beauty, the ideal image serves the purpose of attracting the potential consumers’ attention.

Advertising is a very important and necessary aspect of contemporary business. Without it the success of a certain product is quite uncertain. Even if the product advertised is great and serves its purpose, many will not even be aware of its existence if it were not for the advertisements in popular magazines. Advertising is a way of connecting the product to its potential buyers. In addition, advertising provides a creative outlet for an array of people with the desire to work in the business. Competition between different advertisers pushes them to think beyond, above, and outside the box to come up with better, unique and successful advertisements.

Despite the benefits associated with advertising, many argue that it egoistically exploits the image of ideal beauty with the goal of manipulating people’s opinions and desires. Additionally, advertisements not only promote a certain product, but they also serve to endorse a certain image as ideal. Many people will buy the advertised product not because they really like it or need it, but because they would feel closer to the ideal image presented in the advertisement. They believe that if they eat the same snack, use the same perfume, or have the same vacuum cleaner in their house that the glowing people in the advertisements have, they will eventually become those people, be just like them: perfect and happy.

Consumerism is a defining characteristic of many people, cultures, and nations of the world today. The 21st century greets the human species with an abundance of products that will potentially make their lives easier and more convenient. There are, however, too many products that are not necessarily important to one’s survival or better standard of life; they actually have no better purpose than the purpose of being in somebody’s possession. Therefore, to ensure sales of their products advertisers resort to whatever works best. As a result, in many popular magazines advertising and images of ideal beauty often go hand in hand. The ideal images not only help sell the product; they are ultimately the product.

 - Krasi

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about authenticity lately. Specifically, as Brene Brown speaks of below, the courage to be vulnerable. Living in a new place definitely requires a lot of authenticity, courage and vulnerability. Sometimes I get discouraged because it feels like I'm getting nowhere with those tools. Listening to her talk lit a fire under my booty to continue to do what I'm doing....

Do you all find it challenging to be authentic and vulnerable?

- A

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Larger Purpose?

Humans have always been interested in finding the answer to the question “Why am I here?”; they constantly search for an explanation on the ultimate purpose of human existence. The inquiry into how far the human potential can stretch is one bothering the minds of many. For the ever-advancing human beings full of themselves it is hard to accept that they are here simply to be, to exist. They believe, or they strongly desire to, that there must be something more than a mere physical existence, something higher and more meaningful.

For a long time through human history, religion is the tool that gives the answers to these questions. Many, however, cannot agree with the church doctrines and try to find a better rationalization. Newton is one of these people. In his work, he manages to turn people into the most powerful creatures on earth resembling almighty gods. His theory puts people in control both over nature and over themselves. In his work the Principia, published in the 1660s, Newton attempts to uncover the principles of the universe. The implications are devastating for the church dogma but lead to positive outcomes for humans themselves. According to Newton's discoveries, a single man is able to reveal the ways in which God makes the world go. This involves the idea that human beings are in the possession of abilities that make them god-like creatures. They are rational beings who recognize natural laws and thus can control nature. They also have enormous potential to achieve more and develop conveniences to ameliorate their harsh living conditions. In his exceptional work, Newton puts humans on a high pedestal and gives them the power to control both themselves and the environment. They have a high potential for enhancing their way of life, for being able to dream in unlimited amounts and make these dreams come true. By understanding the past and controlling their current situation, humans are also able to predict and create the future they desire.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the 20th century, though, two men by the names of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud turn Newton’s view upside down. Through their theories, Darwin and Freud remove humans from the high pedestal Newton put them on and make people doubt that they are the rational creatures Newton makes them believe they are. According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, humans have no higher purpose in life than survival and reproduction. Moreover, they have no control whatsoever over the evolutionary process. The environment itself selects certain traits that will aid survival and those who have them survive and pass their genetic heritage, while those who do not have them, eventually die out. As a result, it could be assumed that there is no design, no plan to be followed in order to become better and more productive. Rather, probability and random mutations are what people depend on to evolve the way they do. It is not only that humans have no control over evolution; the fact is that nobody else has control over it. This is a terrifying thought and not all are eager to accept it. Darwin’s theory turns people into organisms unable to control their existence. All they can do is simply to exist.
Another strike against the classical view of the world comes from a discipline that many argue is not even science: psychology. The idea that humans are not anywhere near being rational and reasonable stems from the work of the well-known Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In the beginning of the 20th century, he manages to shake the belief that humans are more than any other class of animals. According to Freud’s theory, humans also act on instincts as other creatures, and the two most powerful urges that influence their behavior are sexual desire and the need for violence. These are definitely not the motives that make Newton’s human beings higher beings able to restrain primitive desires and act in a far more meaningful and purposeful way. What Freud claims is that anything people do is a result of either sexual and violent aspirations or a consequence of their suppression. These drives have an enormous impact on one's behavior and people's failure to acknowledge that influence adds to the instability of their condition. Human existence turns into a struggle to overcome these innate urges, which aids in their becoming even more insecure.

No one would argue that people enjoy feeling superior to other creatures and in control of their current behavior as well as of their future. They feel secure knowing they are strong and rational and have a purpose in life. Newton’s theory succeeds in installing in humans the belief that they have in reality the power to understand and control the universe and themselves. His theory implies humans’ vast potential and ability to become stronger and more knowledgeable. He tries to convince others that by using science as a tool, people can explain everything, that there is no mystery left in the universe. If they do not understand everything themselves, some scientist somewhere does or eventually will. Conversely, Darwin and Freud plant the seed of doubt as to whether people are really that much better than other creatures. They make humans slow down in their effort to control the world and think about the possibility that maybe they are not advanced species with a higher purpose in life. According to Darwin, everything a person does is ultimately related to allowing them to endure and pass on their genetic material to the next generation. There is absolutely nothing beyond the need to survive and reproduce. Not only that, but considering Freud’s theory, it turns out humans cannot be in control at all because they are irrational and imbalanced beings unable to avoid acting on their primitive and animalistic instincts. As a result, people are no longer that certain that they have found all the answers referring to the ultimate purpose of their existence. It is not important whether they accept or refute Darwin’s and Freud’s theories; what matters is that all in one way or another are influenced by their ideas and sometimes are overwhelmed by the scary feeling that Freud and Darwin might be right. It is so much easier to accept Newton’s belief in people’s huge potential. Despite one’s beliefs, however, the truth about the existence of a greater purpose in life is yet to be uncovered. Until then, as the awesomest turtles from Finding Nemo would say, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…:)

 - Krasi

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The European Union, Immigrants, and Human Rights

With the establishment of the EU, the hopes for the beginning of a United Europe came to fruition. It seemed that the statement uttered by Churchill in1946 regarding the need to build “United States of Europe” was no longer an expression of an unattainable goal. In 1993, the single market and the four freedoms to unobstructed movement of goods, services, people, and money became a reality. Further, with the Schengen Agreement of 1995, borders between a few nations were abolished and people of any nationality could travel freely, with no passport controls, within those states. Further, a common monetary unit, the euro, was introduced in 1999. The introduction of the euro was expected to help Europe become strong enough to counteract the impact of globalization and to increase its competitiveness; it was the final step toward an idealistic vision of a warless Europe and economic interdependence. Europe seemed to be on the way to a bright future. According to EUROPA, the official EU website, the abolition of border controls has allowed people to travel freely within the EU and made it easier for them to live and work in any EU nation. The reforms have further allowed for the creation of millions of jobs, price reductions, and increasing consumer choice. Economic stability appeared to prevail.

Another theme accompanying the establishment and enlargement of the EU is the search for the so-called European identity. A shared cluster of characteristics, distinct to Europeans, is expected to smooth and ease the ultimate integration of all European countries into a community living harmoniously. It is not clear, however, whether the European identity already exists and the path toward integration is meant to solidify that identity or if the integration itself is supposed to create and reinforce the so-called European identity. The ultimate hope is that an emphasis on a common identity, along with economic interdependence, would reinforce the unification of European states and turn Europe into a powerful actor on the global stage. 

While the West was interested in and focused on the attempt to develop a common European market and establish a common European identity, another major event that would eventually have a serious impact on the above two was happening to the East. After forty-five years of communist rule, the USSR disintegrated and the ideological victory of democracy and the free market was celebrated all over Europe and the world. Some believed that with communist regimes in the past, the goal of a United Europe was even more realistic and East and West were finally going to join together as Europeans became “closer neighbours”. Once the euphoria of democracy’s ideological victory subsided and the Western world took a comprehensive look at life behind the Iron Curtain, the severe difference in living standards became apparent and worries about the possibility of true integration appeared.

Millions of people, both men and women, lost their jobs as an outcome of privatization and found themselves lacking the necessary skills to compete in the newly established capitalist market. Successful factories and agricultural cooperatives were closed overnight and only the remains of the destroyed and pillaged buildings are left to remind those who have not yet left that there was a time when there was work to be done and there were jobs to be had. Those people started to look West for better opportunities and the possibility to earn for one’s family, and unemployment and displacement increased their vulnerability to exploitation. While corruption prevails and EU aid disappears down mysterious alleyways and bank accounts, those who suffer the consequences are the common people who really do not care who is in control as long as they have a decent life and are able to provide for their families without having to leave the country and be underpaid, and hated and abused for being there and allowing themselves to be underpaid. So while an entry into the EU is viewed as the way out of economic depression and into prosperity and development, one cannot help but be haunted by the questions asked by Eduardo Galeano, “How many people prosper in prosperity?/How many people find their lives developed by development?”

After a rocky and murderous first half of the twentieth century, it is no surprise European nations on both the winning and losing end of the battle came together to find a possible solution for avoiding major conflicts in the future. The ideas of economic integration and a common identity certainly make sense on the surface level and present a logical solution to a destructive past. However, those ideas can only work if all the members of the proposed union function at the same level, are equally respected, and see each other as one, but very diverse, body. The fall of the USSR and the followed accession of former communist nations, the terrorist assaults on major Western cities, and regional war conflicts in the proximity of the EU have only heightened the disparities in economic, social, and cultural spheres and placed immigrants on the receiving end of prejudiced and discriminatory practices. The disparities and ever-increasing anti-immigrant sentiments have precipitated violations of human rights in the name of security and economic stability and have contributed to the growth of organized crime, specifically the traffic of humans. Instead of acknowledging a history of accomplishments made by migrants and minorities who have shaped Europe into what it is today, the major Western actors have chosen to play on xenophobic fears and allow intolerance and hate to become widespread. A compromise will have to be made as homogeneity within the union cannot, and must not, be the final goal. What defines a nation is not only how it expresses itself, but also how it differs from other nations. A true European integration will allow for the social and cultural differences to be respected while the common goal of equal treatment for all members, along with access to economic development, is reached.  For this to take place, the EU must reconsider policies that push struggling nations further into the abyss of poverty and desperation. It must not only advocate on paper, but also in practice, the equal application of human rights to all and encourage acceptance of diversity instead of forcing assimilation and similarity. Just because authoritarian and communist regimes are no longer in power and civil and political freedoms have purportedly been achieved, this fact does not imply that the citizens of these nations could no longer be oppressed. As far as Eastern European countries and their entrance into the EU are concerned, one repressive and discriminatory regime has simply been replaced by another. Without consideration for the different sociological, economical, and cultural heritage that migrants across the EU carry, Europe faces the danger of going back to where it started and any strides to unite the region that have so far been made would turn out to have been in vain. 

 - Krasi

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I just recently found out that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is only appropriate that I include facts about this heinous crime that continues to plague women, and men, regardless of economic status, race, ethnicity, or creed. The information below has been obtained from Colorado Coalition against Sexual Assault (CCSA) and Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). 

  • 85% of incarcerated sex offenders knew the person they assaulted
  • 90% of college and university sexual assault victims knew their attacker
  • 1 out of 6 American women and 1 out of 33 American men have been a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12
  • Over 50% of transgender individuals are survivors of sexual violence
  • Alcohol is the number 1 drug used in a sexual assault
  • 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police

As far as I am concerned, every day should be sexual assault awareness day, human trafficking awareness day, domestic violence awareness day, and any-other-horrible-issue awareness day. These issues should not simply be subjects to be discussed and become enraged about only when they come to or are forced on our attention; rather, they should trigger the impulse to understand the topic and its underlying causes and work hard to educate communities that unless there is a societal shift, the problems will be hard to eradicate. 

-          Krasi