Archive for the ‘Thinking Out Loud’ Category

Traffic and Wild Fruits – Connected?

6 May 2018

Sometimes working things out requires physical models. In this case the results were equivocal. The problem was: If you wanted to design a road system that would not require traffic lights to handle intersecting flows, what would it look like? Well, you’d probably have to separate the traffic into two levels (not totally necessary, but more compact) At the intersections you’d have to route the crossing flows around each other.

In another system, all the streets would be one-way, and the direction would alternate every block. To get through a city (or neighborhood) you’d have to “wiggle” back and forth through the grid.

I got these ideas from two videos reporting on new designs for intersections that use fewer road signs and no traffic lights. The videos said these designs were working better (allowing a smoother flow of cars with fewer accidents) than traditional intersections. This seems to result from a combination of spatial and psychological factors.

Urban Design

This is just one small example of what some people are thinking about concerning the broader subject of urban design. Did I mention going to a meeting about a new light rail station in an earlier post? Same basic topic.

Urban Design is linked to Urban Planning, or Land Use Planning. Urban Design is considered the more embracive subject. Planning is more directly involved with political control.

San Francisco plaza

A view of San Francisco’s Vaillancourt Fountain, in a plaza near the old ferry terminal. This is from 1977. The fountain was installed in 1971.

In trying to find out more about what people involved with this subject are thinking and doing, I searched online using several search strings that I thought would be important to the subject. However, it seems most others did not consider most of those topics that important. Which is to say, I didn’t find a lot of helpful material.

Henry George and Garden Cities

I did run across the subject of Garden Cities. These were first proposed in England by one Ebenezer Howard, who, according to Wikipedia, was inspired by American writers Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward) and Henry George (Progress and Poverty). I have read both of those books!

Really only one (you can count more) garden city was ever constructed in England, named Letchworth. The historically recent push for sustainability in urban design has created renewed interest in the Garden City concept. This resulted in “The Letchworth Declaration” of 2014, put forward by a new Community Interest Company named New Garden Cities Alliance. The declaration upholds the values of Sir Howard, including in particular the idea that the land of the city should be held by the community in trust. This is very similar to Henry George’s vision. It totally changes the traditional rules regarding land ownership, but has a more favorable history in the UK than it does in the US.

Land Ownership

If a community is unable or unwilling to take ownership of its land and charge rent to those wishing to use that land, then a Garden City degrades into a nice-looking suburb, as has happened with most attempts to create such cities in other places, especially the US. This seems to be a fundamental problem in changing the way cities form, particularly in the US, but more conspicuously in most large cities in the developing world. In those cities, the landowners have refused to build any kind of housing for poorer people, and the poor who moved to the cities were forced to build their own “cities” according to their own rules. Thus the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are much more than just “slums” as we would think of them. In the US, the original slums were created when tenements built for immigrants or poorer workers were abandoned by their original communities and rented out to new waves of immigrants, and left to run down until land owners were forced to demolish them or cities were forced to replace them. In Rio the favelas were built by their occupants, and this remains the case to this day. In 2010, over 11 million people lived in favelas in Brazil. This is more than the entire population of New York City.

I thought that land ownership, land owners, and the decisions they make about how to use their urban land would be a major topic related to the subject of urban development, design, and planning. But most writers (after George) avoid the topic. Apparently the debate is considered closed. In the US at least, land owners have the right to decide how to use their land (as long as it is not overtly destructive) and can sell the deed to their land to anyone they want for any price they want.

portion of the Railyards property, Sacramento

The above-pictured land has stood vacant very near the downtown of Sacramento for about 20 years. It is currently owned by a local developer who promises to start building on it. However, the year 2017 came and went with no significant work done. Below is the same view from a slightly different perspective.

homeless tent overlooks the railyards

This tent has one of the nicest views in the entire city (campers are periodically removed from this site, but tend to get bothered less during the colder months). Why does this overpass exist? Because the city built it and another one in 2015 to connect the new development to downtown. And when the development finally gets built, the various community agencies that provide police, fire protection, sewage, water, garbage collection, electricity and gas will obligingly re-tool and expand into the area. But how will they recoup the costs associated with doing this? George said: Charge the owners rent. If the owners of this land had to pay Sacramento-sized rent on all this property, would they continue to leave it vacant? George hoped the answer would be, “No.” But apparently Georgism in the US has been canned for the duration…And the Railyards remain vacant.

Who decides how to use the land?

When you are a homesteader sitting on your 160 acres (the Railyards cover 240 acres) you get to decide where to put the well, the house, the chicken coup, the cow pasture, the corn field or whatever. Seems fair. But what if that land is in a city?

200 acres is enough land to host one or more companies employing thousands of people, the housing, schools, clinics, restaurants and parks for those people, and probably much more. You don’t have one user, you have thousands. And you don’t have one landowner, you have (maybe) hundreds. They all have to develop their land in a way that eventually fits together with everyone else. And they might be able to do it. But it’s a sure thing that various agents for the community (or its government) are going to be looking over their shoulders and trying to influence certain outcomes.

“Modern” urban developments commonly go through years of design, planning, and approvals before the developers get the go-ahead. This isn’t the way it always was. I don’t think it is even known how the ancient cities of Europe, Asia and Africa were built. There was probably a central planner/designer, but this data seems to be lost. We know that many of these cities were rebuilt following wars, fires, floods and similar catastrophes. And not always with as pleasing results as in older times. Certainly, the majority of US cities could easily be described as “ugly.” Or as having a “disorganized” look about them. They certainly have not responded well to various economic/cultural/political changes in the past. When agriculture got mechanized, and more factories got built near urban transport hubs, were the cities ready for the inrush of new workers from the countryside? The stories I read point to the contrary. When old electric trains and trolleys were torn out and replaced with wide streets for cars, then freeways for cars, were the cities ready for that change? It seems not. And when the welfare system started dumping its failed cases into the streets of urban America, I don’t see that going very well, either.

Perhaps it is time to take a different approach to the problems that cities were built to solve.

Did cities “evolve” from rural settlements?

Students of ancient history seem to agree that something happened on Earth that led to the need for cities. Cities began developing in a big way around 3,500 BC. The city of Mohenjo-Daro in India, estimated to have been built about 4,000 years ago, is noted for its “urban planning” including some form of plumbing. It shared its layout pattern with several other sites occupied by that same civilization.

With historical scholarship as it stood in the early 1900s, historians and archeologists of those times had to assume that the humans who built and occupied those ancient cities somehow worked it all out, all by themselves. But with what we know now, there is no excuse for that theory to stand as the only one, or still very dominant one. It is much more likely that something more interesting than that was going on back then.

And in that possibility – probability – lies the key to a new approach. We have already developed part of that new approach: Computer design and simulation techniques. We still need the other part: An understanding and certainty on what we are doing on Earth, firmly supported by our own ability to recall similar situations in the past.

At this point in my own development, I’m not sure where such a certainty will lead us. The intention is that we “get it right” this time, or at least more right. We have an opportunity today that is close to unique in the history of the universe. We are now able to combine human compassion with the willingness to use advanced technologies. In our own written history, we have no obvious prior experience with a situation like this. But in our longer history, we have many such experiences. If we can humanize our technocracy so that self-destructive impulses don’t ruin our future on Earth, then we have a chance to bring something new to the table.

Of Fig trees and Freeways

Unripe fig cut open.

My fig sample.

This fig came from a tree growing underneath a freeway in Sacramento’s American River Parkway. I’ve never had a chance to look inside an unripe fig before. Perhaps the figs there will be ripe in another month or so. But, what will happen to them?

flowering plum trees Seattle

Here is a lovely row of flowering plum trees near the Queen Anne area of Seattle. How do I know they are plum trees? Because every summer their fruit ripens and falls on the sidewalks, making a big mess. How many people could those plums feed if they were harvested? Same question could be asked about the figs under the freeway in Sacramento. I know the animals there don’t eat them all. Besides, the animals also have wild grapes, blackberries and goodness knows what other treats growing in their park. With a little effort, all these plants could also provide human food. Elderberry flowers are edible, and the fruit also has many uses. The park is full of elderberries.

elderberry bushes in sacramento park

Elderberry bushes heavy with berries.

People could also be growing plants like this in their suburban gardens. Some do, but they don’t harvest the fruit. At a house just down the street stands a fine lemon tree, still holding its (I am sure now less than edible) fruit from last year!

OK, so maybe it would be more efficient to have urban orchards (like they do in Village Homes in Davis) and hire someone to harvest the fruit and get it into the hands of people who want to eat it. So, let’s do it! All I know is, that if I get a chance, I’ll be enjoying some great figs, wild grapes, blackberries, almonds and goodness knows what else courtesy of my local park.

The point is, a lot of functions that get overlooked or forgotten could be integrated into urban life (at least in a town like Sacramento) if someone just became a little more aware of what is possible. We need people thinking about things like this, and those people should be people like us. We have a chance this time to get it right. Will we blow it?

Advertisements

The Lands

8 February 2018

dead trees along american river
…Some background on a new writing project and WordPress site…here…

Inspirations from odd places

I had recently been exposed to a film story called “Blade Runner 4049.” Though I found the story overly complex, its vision of our future is not that unusual in contemporary fiction. I particularly recall from the movie an area called “San Diego” that had become a huge dump and salvage yard for the Los Angeles metropolis. The piles of junk went on for miles and miles in all directions. It was also pointed out that there were no living trees in the environment. It was noted that at a “rebel” outpost, a dead tree had been kept standing using steel cables.

The Blade Runner story is a “loose adaptation” of a story by writer Philip K. Dick. Philip is considered an important science fiction writer. Born in 1928, he was influenced by the somewhat older sci-fi writers of the pulp days, such as Hubbard and Heinlein, but also the “beat” writers like Jack Kerouac. He died at only 53 under circumstances that remain poorly understood. He was a drug user, that is for sure.

In Dick’s book, the dystopia evident on the West Coast was brought about by war. In the movie this is not mentioned, except for a reference to a “high radiation” area near Las Vegas. In both stories, androids apparently designed for robotic tasks (I don’t believe it) acquire their own sense of humanity and wish to have equal rights with humans and an end to the control programming. Science fiction writers who have gone down this road seem to be of a mind that something like this could happen. They don’t try to understand why. The difference for me is that I now know why. The design and manufacture of human-like androids would be seen as a dangerous and stupid activity by anyone who understood the likely spiritual outcome of it. The androids in the film, called “replicants,” would be even more susceptible to this problem, as they are almost totally biological.

Bicycling downtown through the riverside park, I noticed a large stand of dead trees that has always been there, but seemed unusually gloomy with no spring foliage to offset the grayness. And I thought, “this is the Land of the Dead Trees.” And so I began to formulate the starting point of a story.

I am incapable – even if I wanted to – of writing an ordinary fiction story. I have been exposed to too much actuality that is much stranger than most “fiction” written these days. The trick would be to start with how things are now and somehow show how the situation could be improved.

That leads to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” which employed a similar technique. But I have no use for his time traveler. I can simply assume a viewpoint of some future time and “look back” to now.

phto with added effects

The photo above with two effects added to it: “oil” and “sepia.”

How to Write a Constitution

29 May 2017

The title is a bit ostentatious, but it’s the best I could think of. Though I don’t really have the resources to give this topic justice, I was thinking about it, so decided to write a post on my Memorial Day time off.

I take for my reference the US Constitution of 1787. I hope the copy I have is accurate.

Talking about ostentatious: It starts, “We the People of the United States…” That’s nice, but probably a little broad. It should certainly mention who agreed to it, if not who actually wrote it. It is basically a piece of literature, so it could have an author.

Purpose

The preamble lists the things this government is to carry out:
Form a more perfect union;
Establish justice;
Insure domestic tranquility;
Provide for the common defense;
Promote the general welfare;
Secure the blessings of liberty…to our posterity.

This is important. These are the long-term and continuing goals and purposes of this government; they are its job. A group needs goals and purposes, and must sometimes be reminded of them. “General welfare” is a bit vague, but we’ll leave it that way for now.

Legislative Powers

I find it a little odd to bring this up first, rather than giving a more general overview of how the system was supposed to work. Too many incorrect assumptions could be made here; we need to spell this out better.

Article 0.

We propose that this nation take the form of a constitutional Republic. This gives us a layered approach to both policy-making and action. There are individuals at each level who represent, or preside over, a group of individuals at the next lower level. Every member of the system is not normally expected to interact with anyone above their level or below the level they supervise or represent in matters of official business, except under special circumstances. Every group at every level has the right to operate as it sees fit, and this right can only be overridden as described below. The assumption is that most people already know what to do or can figure it out.

Legislation:

The purpose of legislation is to set guidelines (policy, laws) that bind those at that level to act within certain limitations or restrictions. This document specifically covers the national, or federal, level, but is also meant to serve as a guide, or pattern, for lower levels.

I will not cover the details of Article 1 here, however, we cannot move on before inspecting Section 8.

Areas of legislative authority / responsibility:

  • Taxes, duties, imposts and excises (to be uniform across all states).
  • Specify outlay to pay debts.
  • Specify outlay to provide for the common defense.
  • Specify outlay to provide for the general welfare.
  • Borrow money.
  • Regulate commerce beyond state boundaries or responsibilities.
  • Regulate immigration.
  • Regulate bankruptcies.
  • Coin money, regulate its value, and establish standard weight and measures.
  • Establish Post Offices and post roads (ensure free flow of communications between citizens).
  • Offer limited patent and copyright protection to authors and inventors.
  • Establish lower-level judicial bodies (tribunals) as needed.
  • Protect the nation from piracy at sea.
  • Declare war, and similar war powers.
  • Raise temporary armies while maintaining a permanent navy.
  • Organizing and activating the Militia for certain purposes.
  • Rule over the seat of government.
  • There are more points, but these are the main ones…

Executive Power

Traditionally, the executives of history (kings, emperors, etc.) got to make their own rules. This was not just a matter of egotism. They had things to get done and they needed to be able to act. One of their favorite pastimes seems to have been making war. This had to change. The chief executive of a nation does have the “power” to make war, as the military is under his/her command. However, it was considered that war should be a matter of policy and not executive action, and this still seems the wiser route.

To further discourage executive policy-making, the Founders proposed putting the matter of who gets to run the Executive Branch up for a vote every four years. This seems rather arbitrary to me; why not whenever a majority or some higher ratio of legislators found it needful, but not more often than every four (or three?) years. But we shall leave this be for the time being. The point is: You can’t get policy continuity in the Executive Branch if the senior person is changing all the time, and that’s the way we want it.

Judicial Power

“Judges” have traditionally served a wide variety of functions. At their best, they act themselves, or by guiding a jury (or similar group of peers) to determine who the real criminal is when something goes wrong. As far as I can tell, they do not have a particularly high reputation in this regard. Like anyone else faced with a real criminal, the judge can be threatened when faced with a “hard decision” and forced to back down.

If judges cannot be depended upon to uphold the ethics standards of the group, then who can be? If a group is that far gone, there is little hope for it. But for now, let’s move on to Article 4.

States

This section (Article 4) goes over certain matters of equal treatment across state lines. After all, these states are all part of a Republic, and are supposed to cooperate with each other. You can’t have the police forces of two states in battle because their laws are different.

But I feel this whole subject of states is not taken far enough in this document.

Article 4.

The full and globally-recognized territory of this nation has been – and shall continue to be – divided into geographical regions known as “states” or “territories” based on a combination of historical and geographical factors. States have the right of sovereign rule within their boundaries, assuming the restrictions imposed by this document are respected. Territories have not yet attained the full rights of states, but may petition Congress to be granted these.

All policy (legislative), executive and judicial actions originating at the federal level of this republic shall not extend any further than the states, except under most extraordinary circumstances. Certainly, no federal law, federal action through any of its agents, or federal judicial decision shall apply to or be binding on any individual citizen (that being understood to include only real persons, not “private” entities created through legal means) unless that citizen has specifically requested such a bypass.

It is further expected that state governments will, in turn, deal only with county governments, and those only with municipal governments and those only with neighborhood governments (where that may apply), as this has proven to be more acceptable to citizens and more conducive to individual initiative and thus, the general welfare.

Private Enterprise. This does not mean that a private enterprise, operating across state boundaries and employing numbers comparable to numbers of citizens in a state, or producing things of value on a similar order to that of the combined production of all smaller enterprises within a state, should expect to be favored by the rights and protections afforded smaller enterprises by a state, simply by virtue of the location of their headquarters. Indeed, if any enterprise should grow to the extent outlined above, it can expect to be required to deal directly with the federal government in all matters where it must be treated as a whole, as in the matter of taxation.

The above summarizes the points that I think are important in the game of operating a nation. Though using the context of the US Constitution has limited my comments in some ways, the points I have mentioned are some of the most important. We have erred by overlooking them.

Banking

18 May 2017

I wanted to write something about this subject because I have been studying about how home loans work, and it helped me realize some things that others have been pointing out for a long time.

Note that on 19 May I rewrote this post to try to make it more accurate; see more about that below.

Financial people tend to speak in terms that are not easily understood, and to assume you know about something that you don’t actually know about. However, most people have heard of the term “balancing the books” and this is a basic concept worth going over.

I suppose the idea that the books have to “stay in balance” is similar to the idea that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In the physical universe, this is true by observation. However, money and finance are conceptual universes, or you could say a kind of mathematical model of the physical universe. If a car exists, it is assumed that someone was paid to make it, whether that’s really what happened or not. So if I buy a car, I basically convert some of my cash into a vehicle. In my books (if I kept books), the price paid moves out of the Cash asset category and into the Vehicles asset category, and they stay balanced. What if someone gave me the car? I basically have to create a special category for gifts, which in a commercial business would be similar to something called “retained earnings”.

Debt

Now, say I’m a bank, and I have some deposits from my customers, and loan a portion of these to someone. This decreases my cash – the pool I make loans from. How do I replenish that pool (other than by getting more deposits)? In normal banking I would have to use part of my income (payments on loans I had already made to other people) and put that back into my cash. In mortgage banking I could do something called “selling the loan.” Basically, the loan turns into a security (essentially a document that can be bought and sold) that I can sell to a company that buys those types of securities.

Where do those companies get their money? They also create and sell securities – stock, basically – to investors. The investors include a lot of firms that help people save for retirement, as well as other investment firms. Those firms buy all sorts of stocks and other securities with that money.

The ultimate source of money for buying debt (making loans) in the U.S. is the Federal Reserve. The “Fed” is part of a network of “Central Banks.” Central Banks get charters from governments to control the money supply for them. They regulate banks, and they buy debt (or make loans, however you want to look at it). The Central Banks deal mostly with the large commercial banks, which are all international corporations. Smaller local institutions deal mostly with the big banks. The chain of purchasing debt works its way down until you get to the borrowers, who are expected to keep up their flow of payments. Governments are also large borrowers. To borrow money, they issue “bonds,” which come with a promise to pay dividends, and the full amount borrowed at the time of maturity. So in the case of government borrowing, the taxpayers, have to pay all that through their taxes. That’s why “bond initiatives” have to be approved by voters. In the end, a lot of what we make at our jobs goes to make profits for the owners of “debt.”

Making Money

Before my recent studies, I hadn’t really heard about this practice of “selling debt.” But debt is a receivable on the bank’s books, so it is worth something. It never occurred to me that you could somehow sell that to another company to get more cash (stay liquid, as the financial people call it). But this is really just another way of saying that the bank borrowed some cash. I’ve heard of companies borrowing to make payrolls, or buy new equipment. I’d just never heard of banks borrowing so they could make more loans. Of course, assuming they continue to service (collect payments) on the loans they sell, they have to forward most of those payments to the new owners of the loans, so that portion of their income is no longer available for lending.

As I wrote this, I came to see that “selling debt” could also be given another meaning. It could also be seen as selling people – governments in particular – on the idea that they should borrow money in order to do things. They shouldn’t save, they should borrow. You shouldn’t “wait until you can afford it,” you should buy it right now, do it right now. With governments, this is particularly pushed as a way to finance wars. Every major war I am aware of was financed with debt – the taxpayers (via the government) borrowed money from banks, then had to pay it all back afterwards. It is a potent way to “make money” in a short amount of time. I don’t know, however, if it really accomplishes anything over longer periods, especially if it involves making war.

Fractional Reserve Banking

Some people believe that this is a new idea. But it is really just a newer term for an old idea. According to Google’s Ngram viewer, the phrase first appeared in literature around the turn of the last century.
As long as banks have been loaning money, they have been using deposited funds (or other assets) to do so. The idea of “Central Banks” was pushed into place after it seemed that unregulated banks had an inclination to dig too deep into their cash. Now Central Banks police what fraction of a bank’s deposits (or cash, to use a simpler term) must be held in reserve so that their depositors will be happy with the illusion that their full deposited balance could be withdrawn at any time. Depositors get to account for their full deposited amounts as “cash,” when in reality only a fraction of that amount is actually available to be paid out from the bank’s reserves.

No one likes “reserves” because they just sit there and don’t do anything. It’s kind of like a having a Fire Department in your town. In a perfect world, they would never have a fire to fight, or even a cat to get out of a tree. In this real world, you need to have one because “stuff happens.” Same goes for reserves.

Some would argue that amounts held is reserve should be quite substantial. It gives stability to an economy, and breeds a certain level of confidence, even a certain willingness to take risks. I think there is validity to those arguments. But that does not mean banks need to keep 100% of their “on demand” cash deposits as reserves. This is discussed more below.

The beauty of a cashless system (in the eye of the banker)

In the “old days” money meant gold coins, or ingots of silver, or other precious metals, or gems. Today it can be reduced to a code in a bank’s database. Money (currency, really) had to be manufactured, transported and stored when not in use. Meanwhile, businessmen had grown used to account books, and moving larger sums around using bank drafts instead of currency. This began the move away from “hard” money. The “softer” the money, the easier it was to handle and move about. Banks and their major customers really liked these benefits. And so, national currencies were pushed into place, the use of paper money was greatly expanded, and finally computer systems were developed that just require an ID card to access account records.

Global-scale electronic funds transfer systems now exist, and are very widely used. All accounts at all modern banks are computerized. Banks are now relieved of the problem of having to store precious metals in their vaults, though “modern” money can still be stolen. To the extent that the world goes cashless, banks and stores are relieved of the problem of securing their on-hand currency, and only have to worry about their computers, which can be locked away in their now-empty vaults.

So, what’s so good about cash?

However, the credit or debit card holder now has to worry about the security of his electronic transactions. I once had a bank make a $2,500 error in my favor. They never bothered to correct it, though I told them about it more than once. For them it was insignificant, but that’s a huge amount for me. What if my account suddenly one day had $2,500 less in it? They better be able to correct that!

In a secure and honest world, using a card instead of cash (currency) would be a great way to go. In the world as it really exists, I want to be able to fall back on coins and paper money. If a store’s electronic payment system goes down, I want them to accept my cash. If I need some water out of an old-style vending machine, I need some coins or I go thirsty. If I want to tip a waiter, it’s easier for me to think with using a couple of extra bills.

When money is a commodity, then you can’t have some unless you earn it or physically steal it from somebody. When money is only a number in a database, what happens if I can’t get access to that database? And what happens if someone can get illegal access to it? Or in some other way fiddle with accounts just by making some entries in a computer program? It gives the tech-savvy an advantage I’m not sure they’ve earned. The cashless ideal includes a reliance on technology that is not necessarily as reliable as I need it to be. At the business level, if a transaction gets fouled up, it can be fixed later. At a personal level, it could mean the difference between staying fed or going hungry.

I’m not advocating a return to cash necessarily, though we might be forced into it should the electronic funds transfer systems stop working. But I am pointing out that our turn away from cash did not handle the most important problems we have always had: dishonesty, thievery and avoidance of real productive work.

Reality Check

My original concept of how this scam works was simple, but incorrect:

The bank has my $100. I thought this meant it could loan out $1000. That’s not exactly right. It is only allowed to loan, maybe, $90. Except, that loaned money is going to end up in another bank account, and then about $80 of that could be loaned back out. That whole cycle can be imagined to repeat maybe 5 or ten times. Now a lot more than my $100 has been loaned – deposited – and re-loaned. That’s what people call “creating money.” I discuss this more below.

The other part of my perception of what was wrong with this system was the cashless nature of modern transactions. This possibly provides more opportunity to “fiddle” the system. If you have to provide a borrower with real currency to complete a loan, then if you run out of currency, you can’t make any more loans. If you only have to credit an account on a computer, then you don’t need the currency. So, who’s to stop you from just pumping out loans? Your accountant, if he’s honest. Or a regulator, the next time you get audited. So the real point here is that the removal of hard currency from the system, reducing it all to numbers in databases, has a tendency to degrade the underlying concepts of what money is and represents. It should represent real value, real productive work. You should not be able to “fiddle” it into existence when you have done nothing to earn it.

Interest

I originally linked this trend towards a cashless system to the decline of interest rates, close to their total disappearance. I have a problem with interest because I don’t think most of the explanations for it are correct. It is often described as a payment to the lender based on the risk he takes by loaning money. But what about the risk the borrower takes in borrowing money? And what about loans between friends or relatives? I think the banks just decided to shift the paradigm because they had the power to do so. Look at interest rates on savings accounts, for instance. It used to be recognized that the depositor was actually making the bank a loan, and should earn interest on his unused balance. But depositors had no way to enforce that idea on bankers, so gradually interest payments on savings accounts have reduced to almost nothing.

The abandonment of the use of interest rates to control inflation in certain markets, and the subsequent increase in the supply of money in those markets, are bits of history not totally explained by the factors discussed above. Though the smaller banks that overextended themselves before the Great Depression could be blamed for what happened, I think that blame would be misplaced. They, however, felt the brunt of new banking regulations, while at the same time, what was to become a huge boom in the mortgage markets can be traced back to those times. I think there remains an untold story (at least it hasn’t been told to me) about how that all came about and about what is unfolding today. My concern is that we will strike out at the wrong targets (called misidentifying root cause where I work) and simply prolong our agony as a result. Benefiting from the suffering of others has never been an honorable way to gain status in a society. Yet suffering continues while a few grow unbelievably rich. Until we begin to apply more effective solutions to problems of finance, the economy, and politics, we will continue on our slide towards a non-sustainable system that will eventually totally break down.

Credit:

I relied heavily on an article written my Kenneth Ballard here:
http://www.kennethballard.com/?p=2322
to get an explanation of how banks account for the loans they make.
I don’t know much about this guy, but he seems to know what he’s talking about…I wish the subject were easier to understand. I have had a terrible time trying to do so…
Wow! Mr. Ballard has responded with corrections here:
http://www.kennethballard.com/?p=4120

Follow-up notes for those interested

According to the Federal Reserve’s own website:
“Reserve requirements are the amount of funds that a depository institution must hold in reserve against specified deposit liabilities. … Depository institutions must hold reserves in the form of vault cash or deposits with Federal Reserve Banks.”

Notice that this says nothing about loaning money. The “reserve requirement” is a fraction of total monies on deposit. So, that means the rest of the monies on deposit are available to loan out. I think the first stumbling block here is the term “deposit liabilities.” Who, who isn’t accounting trained, knows what this really refers to? It’s like two conflicting ideas in the same term. This goes back to the fact that there are two balancing sides to every transaction. When a bank receives money from a depositor, it’s not a gift, but on the other hand, the depositor gets nothing in return, except a receipt. As the reference I cited at the beginning states, in the “old days” that receipt acted as money. Nowadays, the fact that a person has money “on account” gives them the right – or ability – to buy things with it.

The depositor counts his bank balance as cash – as a liquid asset. He can do this because there is an implied promise (perhaps written somewhere) that the bank will pay him back “on demand.” More realistically, the depositor has loaned the bank some money for its use. But there is no formal loan contract, as would be the case if the depositor had purchased a CD or a bond. So the depositor is encouraged to not think of his deposits as “on loan” to the bank. However, that is closer to the actual situation. I think this difference between perception and reality is what some people object to. Yet, if the banks do a good job, no one will ever know the difference.

It could be argued that banks should be more honest about what they are doing. It would probably better reflect how they actually operate if they sold bonds or CDs to anyone who wanted to maintain a significant balance with them. Or to make them a “member” like the Credit Unions do.

Private individuals are never going to fully realize that a portion of their deposited funds is being loaned to others unless the way their account at the bank works actually makes that clear. In the past it has been a workable system in spite of this. But since interest rates collapsed, more and more people are questioning it. The “multiplier effect” would still work, but perhaps the banks should be made more responsible for both the positive and negative aspects of it. Having to “insure” bank accounts is not something that should be necessary. If the banking system were more honest with the public about how it actually operates, I think the public would support it – especially if it resulted in real economic growth at the local level. Right now something is suppressing that growth. Questionable ethics levels in the banking community does not help matters any. The banking system has a lot of power to do good in society. Or harm. It is not currently demonstrating the good side of that power.

Symbols for Body, Mind and Spirit

15 April 2017

body-mind-spirit sketch

I was going through all the files accumulating on my desktop today to sort them into where they are supposed to go in my file system, and I ran across a few that I had pulled together to make a post that I never got around to making.

I didn’t write it at the time because the idea I had didn’t lead anywhere. But I will proceed to write about the general idea anyway.

Did you know that there are sites you can go to on the internet that allow you to make a drawing and then save it? I hate computer drawing programs because they are almost all mouse-based and a mouse is really not a very fun thing to draw with. I’ve preferred a pen, preferably black ink, for many years now. And though sometimes brushes and colors are nice, too, the real appeal of digital drawing is that you don’t have to scan it in from paper after you draw it. The above sketch is pretty pathetic, don’t you think? But it illustrates the idea I had. Is a point radiating some lines a symbol for a body, and is a big circle a symbol for the mind or the spirit?

I couldn’t get a good answer to my question. We all know that the traditional “stick figure” has been used to represent a human being since cave man times. But the information I found did not suggest that any consistent symbology has ever been used for non-material concepts like “mind” or “spirit.” And lookups are filled with modern artistic renditions that have little relation to ancient history.

oriental circle character

The simple unclosed circle was developed in Japan to convey several overlapping Zen ideas concerning human consciousness, or the human essence. Though a certain cyclic meaning is conveyed, the fact that the circle is open suggests that these cycles could be escaped from.

sketch of traditional depiction of buddha

However, as this modern sketch of a traditional depiction of the Buddha indicates, a circle placed behind the head in paintings or statuary has a special significance that is shared widely across the planet. This symbol is used both in the West and in the East to indicate a “holy” being.

It is of esoteric significance, perhaps, that if circles or balls of energy are perceived that seem to be alive, this would be a mental manifestation of the being creating it, as the being itself is entirely immaterial. Thus, the circle or sphere of light, according to esoteric findings as well as actual reported observations, is a very valid symbol for the being and its mind together, body absent or elsewhere, as this is how they actually tend to appear.

The symbol of rays radiating from a center has no similar homogeneous meaning that I could find. As a cross or “X” it is a letter and/or number in several languages and symbol systems. To include a head and four appendages you have to go to the five-pointed star or pentagram, which is rare or missing as a normal writing symbol but otherwise used abundantly in heraldry and design. The pentagram is so easy to draw, so regular, and there are so many things in life that come in fives, that it has been known to symbolize all sorts of things, including the body, or the body as a manifestation of a divine intention.

sketch representaing a turtle or body

I will end with another of my sketches, as it is more colorful than the more carefully-drawn symbols I could find. It was meant to imitate a Native American symbol I found of a turtle, so it has a little tail. However, unlike the stylized turtle I found, it has all five digits drawn in, indicating the fractal or repetitive nature of so many biological designs.

Sorting Out Society

2 April 2017

The “Thinking Out Loud” category is for hypotheses, ideas, opinions. Though of course these are always influenced, or colored, by prior training and study, I put a post here when I am unsure of the facts, or don’t care to be academically rigorous.

block man pencil sketch

Sketch I made for art class, about 1970. I picked it to symbolize the effects that “bad things” have on life and the individual.

A problem of money

What got me going on this line of thinking was a difficulty I was having obtaining funding for a project. I thought to myself: Someone doesn’t want to spend this money; they want to sit on it instead. And that lead me to the subject of banking.

Banking

Banking, it is said, started when tradesmen (this is the story I heard) wanted someplace to store their gold securely. The “banker” stepped forward, offering to provide this service. In exchange, he would be allowed to loan out the money to others, and collect interest payments on these loans. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, originally the most secure places for such deposits were temples and palaces. But we won’t go down that road just yet.

Here we have a situation where a professional-level service is invented to fulfill a need. The service consists basically of amassing deposits (and safekeeping them) which one can then earn money on. It is presumed the need arose due to 1) lack of space at home to store such items, or 2) fear for the security of the assets.

Today, money exists as figures in accounting books. And those books are actually stored on computers. There is no longer any great need to provide security for currency. All one must do is secure the computers.

Traditional banking still exists, but cash deposits bring back virtually no earnings to the depositor. Investment banking, on the other hand, has skyrocketed. The whole society has been pushed into making investments and buying on credit. Why? Keeping deposits safe doesn’t make money, especially when they are only numbers in a computer. Traditional banking can still pay off, but there is much more to be made managing investment portfolios and offering short-term credit at very high interest rates. This work relies on the existence of asset pools, and managers of these pools are often rewarded according to the size their pool. Even if you could sell some assets to buy, say, land (which works under a different system), the modern banker would prefer to loan you the money to buy the land, with your assets as collateral. It would be simpler for the land buyer to just sell one asset in order to buy the other, but is not in the interest of the bankers to operate that way.

Back to Basics

The original need for banking, then, arose – we are to suppose – from an uncertainty concerning the security of real assets (gold). Why would anyone have this uncertainty? Because people existed who were willing and able to steal such things from other people who had acquired them more-or-less honestly. Those people are commonly called “criminals.” They have always been a major nuisance in any society. They are willing to break the most basic rules, or morals, in a society. Why? That is a question to be answered elsewhere. It HAS been answered, but for the purposes of this discussion, it is irrelevant.

Let’s say you had a criminal of somewhat unusual intelligence. What might he be attracted to do, say, in the banking scenario above? One thing he could do would to become a banker. Then he could hire some hoodlums (criminals of leser intelligence, we might imagine) to go around town and steal precious things from people’s houses. He would then advertise his services, noting the recent increase in the crime rate. He would have to keep his connection to the hoodlums a closely-guarded secret. And in such a wise, he would attract more business to his bank.

Application of the criminal modus operandi (MO) to other fields

Mishaps, crime, sickness, hunger, disputes and war are some of the big problems that society must deal with. Smart criminals could secretly cause such things to happen, then offer services to “protect” people from the bad effects of these things. In modern times, criminals have even been accused of causing bad weather, floods, earthquakes, and ecological collapse. For them it would seem like “good business,” would it not?

What professions these days offer such services?

  • Lawyers
  • Doctors
  • Insurance Brokers
  • Psychiatry and Psychology
  • The military and arms manufacturers
  • Police
  • Governments
  • Educators
  • Preachers

All of the above fields are subject to pressure from the criminal world and can turn criminal. In other words, they offer services based on the fear that something bad will happen. Most people, though, would not be interested in causing such bad things to happen. Only the criminals would.

The real essentials

All an honest society of human (or similar) beings would need to survive – even prosper – would be the following:

  • Food (and water)
  • Shelter (housing and community buildings)
  • Clothing sufficient for seasonal weather variations
  • Transport
  • Systems for handling waste
  • Means of communication
  • Quiet times
  • Opportunities to play
  • Opportunities for spiritual growth

How, then, did we get governments, lawyers, war, insurance companies and psychiatry? It traces back to the criminal and his origins.

Food and Travel with Anthony Bourdain

4 October 2016

After a second exposure to Bourdain’s shows during a layover at the bus station in Portland, I wanted to write a bit about these shows.

For some reason, his Parts Unknown show on Libya, which dates from 2013, was being re-broadcast that day in Portland. I also saw his show on Istanbul (Turkey).

Some time ago I’d seen at least one of his shows featuring Chinese foods.

On this more recent occasion, I’d just finished eating a very decent hamburger at the new café at the Portland bus station, and had also gone through 3 brochures printed for travelers which – who couldn’t guess – all focused on food.

The show on Libya was blatantly anti-Gaddafi, portraying him as a hopelessly misled and ruthless dictator. The more basic fact is that Gaddafi was anti-West. If you look at what the West has done during its period of dominance over the planet, and where Gaddafi lived (in an Arab nation), this attitude would not be unexpected.

The Istanbul show was very unsure about the “goodness” of Erdoğan, and sympathetic to the Kurds. Erdoğan, for his part, has been vacillating in his support of NATO, particularly after learning that they may have had something to do with the recent coup attempt.

The West’s War of Ideas

The tactic that has been followed by the West in its conquest of the planet is to portray its opponents as “anti-freedom” rather than anti-West, and to fight against them on the basis that they are “bad” rather than that they are simply enemies. Over the centuries of European expansion into other areas of the planet, this tactic has taken many forms. It was particularly convoluted when it turned against other Europeans, such as the Germans before, through, and after WWII. In many times and places it was eventually backed away from, such as in the American colonies and later in countries like India. But this only meant that the intention to hold sway over these areas became more understated, or covert.

What is really exactly happening on the planet remains subject to debate, as no facts seem clear enough to be totally persuasive. But I find the whole argument regarding how the media (print, radio, TV, internet) has been subverted by these European-centered interests to be very persuasive. Thus on a secondary (if not primary) level, shows like Bourdain’s become propaganda vehicles for the West’s viewpoint on life and politics.

Travel and Food

The Western idea of a “successful” person is one who can enjoy travel and food in his older years, if not during his entire life. Anthony fits this definition and thus becomes a role model (winning valence) to be imitated. His neo-liberalism then comes along as part of the package. It is a basically synthetic attitude that the entertainment industry likes to develop in its celebrities to convince us that there are no higher awarenesses worth pursuing. This limits us to the lesser games of liberal-versus-conservtive, or progressive-versus-traditionalist.

Until I was introduced to Hubbard’s work, I was convinced that the game of life was limited roughly as stated above. My only problem was that the managing groups were obviously lying to us about some things, and I could not understand why. There also seemed to be a lot more violence going on than was really necessary.

Freedom

To go where you want and eat what you want are considered the ultimate attributes of freedom in the West. If this means you kill a few basically innocent people along the way, that fact has no basic bearing on the overall facts concerning how the game of life is limited. Or so we are being told.

What Hubbard taught is that a higher-level game of life has been operating for a very long time, and that our managers have an interest in keeping us unaware of this.

At the higher levels, management as we know it becomes unnecessary or irrelevant. If we were to aspire to these higher levels, what would our managers do? The most entrenched among them are hopeless to the point of total unknowing on the possibility of moving themselves up to a higher level of game. Thus, if some of us were able to achieve this state, it would appear to them as a threat to their very existence (which it would not actually be). So, they reactively – if not consciously – oppose any trend towards an awareness of the higher levels of the game. And their “enemies” have become anyone with an interest in working at those higher levels.

Thus their “enemies” become anyone with a serious interest in higher spiritual abilities. That includes all the followers of the more ancient teachings – mostly the aboriginal peoples of this planet – as well as various renegade groups within the framework of monotheism as well as beyond it, and their attempts to re-invent religion or spiritual practice into something more workable and true to genuine human aspirations.

The handling for these “enemies” has been to invent various pretexts for going to war with them and killing them off. That this has not in fact been very effective does not seem to phase the managers; they have no other “solution” to this “problem.”

The Role of Aesthetics in Propaganda

Aesthetics are needed to give the basically low-awareness propaganda of the managers of the West an appeal to their target audiences, those who seek a higher awareness. You can just lie to the others and they will accept it. To convince this target audience is a little more tricky.

Anthony’s shows are examples of this use of aesthetics. They are very artfully shot, and very carefully assembled. All aesthetic aspects are given attention, including the artfulness of the food itself, and the places being visited. The sound track, the music; they are all carefully put together for every show. This type of treatment has always been a “hook” to help pull in the seekers of higher awareness.

Do ordinary people who have lost interest in higher realms watch Anthony’s shows? I doubt it. But a lot of people who have been asking questions and playing around with spiritual ideas do watch his shows, I bet. These are people still on the fence, unsure of themselves spiritually. There are a lot of them and they are important politically. Liberated, they are capable of getting a lot of good done. Captive, they are capable of preventing a lot from getting done. The old-line managers want to keep these people on their side. And the new-line groups want to add these people to their ranks more than any other type of person.

The Future

What we all face, of course, is the future. What Scientologists, and many others to a lesser extent, know is that we will be in that future. We may or may not forget who we were before. We may or may not have the same adventurous approach to life we chose this lifetime. But – good or bad – we will be there. So we are intimately connected to the future on a long-term basis, not just in the context of one lifetime, or the lifetimes of our children.

The materialists and fence-sitters are unsure of this at best, and totally unaware of this at worst. They are turning away from the whole subject of responsibility, even if their own future experience is at stake. They can’t allow themselves to believe that they could be that responsible.

Some posit this as a “war.” But that is only true on the lower levels. The truth of the situation is that those who want to “ascend” cannot do so simply by “getting rid” of those who don’t want to. In the short term, it is highly advisable to minimize one’s exposure to such people (one reason I don’t watch television as a habit). But in the long term, we will have to bring them all along with us, or they will return later to try again to pull us back down again. So, it would not be incorrect to characterize this as a “struggle.” LRH has described it as “a game where everyone wins.” Well, they know that there are always losers in a game. LRH posits that the loser in this case is the “bank” (that portion of the mind that produces non-survival ideas and actions). But most people are as yet unaware that this exists as something separate from themselves. That problem defines the first hurdle in this struggle.

On the other side of this struggle lies a future that is difficult for most to even imagine. It involves a knowing and causative separation from the physical world, including the physical forms of life (biology, etc.), yet the probable indefinite continuation of the physical world in some form. It involves a knowing conviction of our own immortality without necessarily totally turning away from the various “thrills” of physicality. It involves ideas and experiences which we have – in theory – never experienced before, which would be entirely new.

For me right now, the most important thing that future holds is an abiding respect for truth; an end to all the fouler forms of secrecy and deception; and a chance for great happiness for every being who desires it.

Could Anthony and his show exist in this future? It probably could. But it would be minus the lies and pretense that encumber it now. After all, there are a lot of “parts unknown” left in this universe! We can’t all visit all of them ourselves. Or could we?

Epilogue

On 8 June 2018 Anthony was found dead in his room while he was working on a Parts Unknown episode in France. The media is saying suicide.

Commentators applaud his basic love of humanity – of the common man – and this is a very worthy attribute.

Let him be remembered as the good person he undoubtedly was.

San Francisco

28 September 2016

san_fran-20160927-311-transam-pyramid-south-side

Yesterday I went to San Francisco. My major destination was my church. To get there I walked from the BART Embarcadero station through the Financial District. I returned via Chinatown, hoping to find a shop selling the wooden “trick” boxes that I had loved when I was a child. Thus, I missed all the South of Market (SoMa) renewal projects (which were just beginning when I left the Bay Area in 1982 and continue to this day). Above, a view up at the Transamerica Pyramid, built in 1972.

Downtown

With the growth of electronic banking and securities-based banks, the Financial District has been transforming. Though the old buildings still stand, they are being put to new uses. Illustrative of this trend is the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange building.

san_fran-20160927-356-pacific-stock-exchange-crop

Built in 1930, by about 2001 the building was no longer housing any stock trading activities. FOr about the last ten years it has been a fitness club with a New Age angle for upscale Millennials.

The old Transamerica Building, at the triangle corner of Columbus, Jackson and Montgomery, was converted to its present use by my church in 2003.

san_fran-20160927-315-transam-bldg-west-side

Chinatown

I remember Chinatown in the early 1980s as a run-down and forlorn ghost of what I remembered from the 1960s. However, the process of urban renewal (sometimes know by the less-than-complimentary term “gentrification”) has probably helped to keep Chinatown alive. Though the center of old Chinatown is considered to be Grant St., I spent most of my time on Stockton. The northern part of Stockton is lined with food shops. Here is sold fresh produce and meats – especially seafood – cooked meats such as ducks and chickens, and dried foods of an enormous variety.

san_fran-20160927-330-stockton-market-dried-and-seafood

Many of these shops are very orderly, such as the one pictured above. All the signs are in Chinese; these food shops are for use by the local community or people who speak (read) Chinese.

The south side of Stockton is now lined mostly with upscale gift shops. This used to be the area my parents would take me to find decorated wooden “trick” boxes and other toys, and to gaze at the amazing jade and ivory carvings. This is still a major tourist destination.

These shops now carry mostly more expensive items – for adults, not children – and some cheap toys. One shop proprietor who I asked about this told me she thought that those old toys required too much hand work, and could no longer could be made inexpensively. She showed me her inventory of little hand-beaded purses. She told me she can no longer get these purses – these are her last ones.

BART

berkeley-20160927-358-inside-bart

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system began construction in the 1960s and was first opened in 1972. The cars use off-standard train trucks (the four-wheel assemblies you see on all trains) on steel rails fastened to a concrete bed on rubber shock-absorbing pads. In this system, electricity is delivered to the trains via a “third rail” which is actually up to one side of the ground rails. Most newer systems I have seen use overhead wires for this purpose, and use standard gauge rails and trucks. Per the Wikipedia article on BART, use of the wider rail gauge has increased maintenance costs. Standard American gauge rails will be used on at least one future extension.

I remember the trains being noisy when I rode them 35 years ago. But now they are VERY noisy.  And this is after a noise reduction program, completed last year. Before then, noise levels of 100dB, which is 8 times as loud as the 70dB “average,” were being reported at many points in the system.

Per Wikipedia this is because train trucks have straight axles (both wheels rigidly attached to each other) and so always screech, or slip, around curves. I can find no talk on the internet of redesigning trucks so that each wheel rotates independently. Straight axles are the tried-and-true design for coping with the weight bearing requirements of train trucks. Almost no one has considered that passenger train trucks should be designed differently than freight train trucks because of the sensitivities to noise of human cargo. A few light rail systems use special trucks with rubber wheels. But in most places the cost of these must have been considered prohibitive. It is too bad that so many have to suffer due to economic considerations. An urban train ride could be a delightful experience. Cost-cutting measures have reduced it to near-torture on BART.

Washington State Primary

2 August 2016

Got an email yesterday from a political group reminding me to vote in the primary! Thought I had more time…I was planning to actually research the candidates, but it was too late. I filled out the ballot, sealed it up, and took it downtown to deposit it in a metal drop box near City Hall.

Sending a message

You can participate in a democratic process for at least two reasons: To help someone get elected or to send a message to the “front runners.” Though using voting for the second reason is not an organized activity at this point, it well could become so. I am not happy with either of the major parties. But I found out there are a lot of candidates for state offices who identify with alternative parties like the Libertarians or the Independents. I don’t know if any of these parties ever get their people elected. But by organizing and running they are trying to send a message to the major parties that there is a section of the population which is not happy with the Republicans or the Democrats. So by voting for candidates from alternative parties, you help them send this message.

Aren’t the Asses and the Dumbos actually opposing each other?

The media and the candidates themselves try to portray themselves as political opponents. But that’s not what I see. In 1963 the Democrats lost a president under mysterious circumstances. Why haven’t they ever gone after that issue? Or the 9/11 loss, which happened while a Republican President was in office?

Ike, upon retiring from the Presidency, warned us about the “military-industrial complex.” It is very real. Why don’t the politicians or the press ever mention it? Could it be that it rose to become all their masters, as Ike warned it might? That’s the theory most of us in the “alternative community” now operate on.

So by “sending a message” of non-support through the voting process, this is the power group we are ultimately communicating to.

Are politicians really necessary?

Many in my circles have argued that the importance of politics in life – especially in modern life – is extremely over-stated by the media and the politicians. Ultimately, I think that’s true.

But it would be unwise to think that just because most people, most communities, are perfectly able to take care of themselves and make their own best decisions, that this leaves no place for politics or politicians. The problem is to find that place and put those people in that place, and keep them there. In other words, government has a purpose. Most people just don’t know what it is.

Awareness of what is

The essence of politics is probably leadership. It’s secondary purpose is management. When an individual in a group rises to help that group through some challenge, and is successful at that, the group tends to look at that individual as “powerful.” The truth is that we are all powerful, but under those circumstances that individual was more aware of something than the others, and was able to communicate it in a way that got the group to work together to get something done that needed to be accomplished.

Probably that leader’s ideal scene would be to bring everyone in the group up to his own level of awareness, so they could all share equally in the responsibilities that accompany being more aware. But most leaders don’t know how to do that, or see their “power” as something they can use to their own personal advantage.

We should never forget, though, that “power” derives from an awareness of what is – some more basic truth of existence – and concentrates into the hands of a few individuals only when they are successful in keeping those awarenesses a secret from everyone else. If you can learn to become more aware of what is, you will become more free from the control of powerful elites, but you will also carry the responsibility of that increased awareness with you and feel the need to act on it, first by sharing that awareness, or that ability to be aware, as broadly as you can. You either join one of the power elites, or you “fight” them in that manner.

Isis is an Egyptian goddess

22 June 2016

All the illustrations here are listed as Public Domain except perhaps the last one.

Isis nursing Horus sketch

Sketch of a statue portraying Isis nursing Horus.

In my recent studies I came across a comment that the Madonna and Child Christian icon was lifted from the earlier Egyptian icon of Isis and Horus.

The observation seemed pertinent, as the “other Isis” has been getting a lot of attention recently.

Indeed, in ancient times Egypt and Rome became closely linked, and so a cultural exchange took place between Africa and Europe which lives on in disguised forms to this day.

According to Egyptologists, Isis was a wife of Osiris, who resurrected him after he was killed by a rival in order to have sex with him which produced the baby Horus.

madonna nursing

Amazing old painting by an unknown artist. Note all the symbolic energy radiating off the pair.

All these personages were quite well-known in their contemporary cultures.

Horus Osiris, Isis

Horus with his avian head, Osiris and Isis.

The Africa-Persia-India-Europe connection deserves more attention (by someone anyway), but this little post is only to note its existence.

Most ancient traditions involve a “pantheon” of “gods.” It is not clear that the original tellers of these stories considered all these personalities gods the way we think of them today. But certainly this collection of personalities served as the basis for numerous stories in which the tellers and the listeners could see aspects of themselves.

And so the Yoruba of Nigeria (so many of them taken as slaves to the Americas) had their own group of personalities of which stories were told. And many students of “comparative religion” have noted similarities among these pantheons, both in terms of names and relationships, and in terms of their stories.

yoruba river godess Oshun

Oshun as depicted on a mask.

As Osiris was a major personality in Egyptian stories, so Oshun was a major figure in Yoruba stories, except Oshun was a woman.

The Yoruba beliefs, practices and stories came to Brazil, where they merged with those of other African cultures, as well as Catholic Christianity, to produce what most now call Candomblé, a Brazilian mixture of religious and spiritual traditions.

In this last illustration, a little girl gets the great honor of playing Oshun in a ceremony, wearing the traditional yellow dress, and holding a fan or mirror. The beads over her face are probably there to emphasize that she is playing a part in a story about someone else.

girl playing Oshun

Girl playing Oshun in Candomblé ceremony.