Jun 28, 2021


The Problem with Pema Chödrön

Chödrön’s many faces — tender grandmother and austere nun, feelings counsellor and religious disciplinarian— transcend the airbrushed world of Instagram self help. Her origin story and winding biography embody a message that rebels against a superficial age. She asserts that fulfillment and wisdom, if not happiness, are won through loss, disillusionment, and facing despair with an exposed heart. Chödrön has fermented an adulting tonic for American childishness.

She is faithful to the venerable Tibetan formula of renouncing worldly desires, developing limitless compassion, and using meditation to collapse the space between self and other. The message seems to be as Buddhist as her maroon robes.

But because Chödrön is also the messenger for her guru, Chögyam Trungpa, one of the most troubled and abusive Buddhist figures of the 20th century, it might be time to re-evaluate her legacy. It might be time to reckon with the possibility that her religion evolved in part as a way of finding peace in the shadow of a spiritual monster, and within a fringe church, Shambhala International, that has been by turns aspirational, evangelical, claustrophobic, chaotic, and cultic.

Chödrön’s catalogue has inspired millions, but it has also served to launder the Shambhala legacy and lend bourgeois respectability to Trungpa’s “crazy wisdom” movement. And what if, in its uncritical presentation of her roots, it also trojan-horses a reactionary attitude of abuse tolerance into the mainly-female self-help market?

Allison Mack Apologizes to NXIVM Survivors, Asks for No Jail Time: It’s the ‘Greatest Regret of My Life’

Saying sorry. Allison Mack penned a letter apologizing to NXIVM sex cult survivors prior to her Wednesday, June 30, sentencing.

“It is now of paramount importance for me to say, from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry,” the Smallville alum, 38, wrote in documents obtained by Us Weekly. Her letter was addressed “to those who have been harmed by [her] actions.”

. . .

She continued, “I threw myself into the teachings of Keith Raniere with everything I had. I believed, whole-heartedly, that his mentorship was leading me to a better, more enlightened version of myself. I devoted my loyalty, my resources, and, ultimately, my life to him. This was the biggest mistake and greatest regret of my life.”

Us confirmed that the Wilfred alum pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges involving the sex cult in April 2019.

. . .

Raniere was previously sentenced to 120 years in prison during an October 2020 hearing. He was convicted of seven felonies related to his involvement with NXIVM.

Texts Reveal How the Church of Scientology Shadowed Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez

Retired NYPD detective Yanti “Mike” Greene had spent three days weaving through Manhattan traffic in pursuit of two Cadillac Escalades and their precious cargo—actress Leah Remini and her friend Jennifer Lopez—when, on the fourth night at 2:01 a.m., he received a text from another ex-cop turned private eye, Saul Roth.

It was December 2017 and Roth, then 58 and a former Nassau County police detective, asked Greene what the job was, and whether he’d be paid his rate of $50 an hour.

. . .

“Matrimonial?” Roth asked, assuming that the job was trailing a spouse in a divorce case, one of the most common ways PIs are used.

Greene informed Roth that the King of Queens actress was in fact shooting a movie in New York City with her good pal Jennifer Lopez, and that the two often stayed together. So they would essentially be following both Remini and J.Lo.

“Nice,” Roth replied.

Godless grifters: How the New Atheists merged with the far right

The "New Atheist" movement, which emerged from the bestselling books of the aforementioned authors [Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens], was the intellectual community that many of us 15 or so years ago were desperately looking for — especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which seemed to confirm Samuel P. Huntington's infamous "clash of civilizations" thesis. As Harris once put it, with many of us naively agreeing, "We are at war with Islam." (Note: This was a dangerous and xenophobic lie that helped get Donald Trump elected. As Harris said in 2006, anticipating how his brand of Islamophobia would enable Trump's rise, "the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.")

New Atheism appeared to offer moral clarity, it emphasized intellectual honesty and it embraced scientific truths about the nature and workings of reality. It gave me immense hope to know that in a world overflowing with irrationality, there were clear-thinking individuals with sizable public platforms willing to stand up for what's right and true — to stand up for sanity in the face of stupidity.

Fast-forward to the present: What a grift that was! Many of the most prominent New Atheists turned out to be nothing more than self-aggrandizing, dogmatic, irascible, censorious, morally compromised people who, at every opportunity, have propped up the powerful over the powerless, the privileged over the marginalized. This may sound hyperbolic, but it's not when, well, you look at the evidence. So I thought it might be illuminating to take a look at where some of the heavy hitters in the atheist and "skeptic" communities are today. What do their legacies look like? In what direction have they taken their cultural quest to secularize the world?

The psychologists signing up for psychedelic therapy training: ‘Amazing things can happen’

[A]t the forefront is the US-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps), which has been conducting trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD since 2011. In April 2021, the results of its first phase 3 trial were released: more than two-thirds of participants who took a dose of MDMA no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD two months later. Participants with more treatment-resistant forms of PTSD had their depressive symptoms significantly mitigated.

“There’s a cohort of psychiatrists and psychologists who have been frustrated by the demonstrable lack of positive outcomes for a certain proportion of the patients,” he says. “They’ve come to the conclusion that the current drugs – antidepressants and mood stabilisers and so forth – just don’t work for everybody.”

So far, all Australia’s psychedelic trials involve psilocybin or MDMA, but the training needs for each are very different. With a “classic psychedelic” such as psilocybin – which lends itself to the treatment of addiction, depression and anxiety and mood disorders – the participant has a very internal experience, so the therapist may provide minimal intervention, leaving the main work to follow-up sessions. Psilocybin has been researched in the treatment of palliative care patients suffering existential distress – its properties have been known to produce profound alterations in thought and perception and, in some cases, “ego dissolution and mystical-type experiences”.

Massive human head in Chinese well forces scientists to rethink evolution

The discovery of a huge fossilised skull that was wrapped up and hidden in a Chinese well nearly 90 years ago has forced scientists to rewrite the story of human evolution.

Analysis of the remains has revealed a new branch of the human family tree that points to a previously unknown sister group more closely related to modern humans than the Neanderthals.

The extraordinary fossil has been named a new human species, Homo longi or “Dragon man”, by Chinese researchers, although other experts are more cautious about the designation.

“I think this is one of the most important finds of the past 50 years,” said Prof Chris Stringer, research leader at the Natural History Museum in London, who worked on the project. “It’s a wonderfully preserved fossil.”

New type of ancient human discovered in Israel

They believe the remains uncovered near the city of Ramla represent one of the "last survivors" of a very ancient human group.

The finds consist of a partial skull and jaw from an individual who lived between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago.

Details have been published in the journal Science.

The team members think the individual descended from an earlier species that may have spread out of the region hundreds of thousands of years ago and given rise to Neanderthals in Europe and their equivalents in Asia.

The scientists have named the newly discovered lineage the "Nesher Ramla Homo type".

Dr Hila May of Tel Aviv University said the discovery reshaped the story of human evolution, particularly our picture of how the Neanderthals emerged. The general picture of Neanderthal evolution had in the past been linked closely with Europe.

Land Temperature Soared To 48°C In The Arctic Circle This Month

If you head to the Arctic this summer, don’t forget your sunscreen and shorts. Land surface temperatures of up to 48°C (118°F) were detected this month in Verkhoyansk, a Siberian town in the Arctic Circle, according to the European Union's Copernicus program, and there's another two months of summer to go.

The temperature was picked up remotely by the Copernicus Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B satellites on June 20, 2021, The Copernicus program notes that Siberia, especially in the Republic of Sakha, is experiencing a persistent heatwave with land surface temperatures widely exceeding 35°C (95°F) across the region, including positive balmy temperatures of 43°C (109.4 °F) in Govorovo and 37°C (98.6 °F) in Saskylah.

. . .

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth as a result of the deepening climate crisis. Some environmental scientists argue the rapid changes in the Arctic are even forcing the region into an entirely different climate state. Along with this change, heat waves and record-breaking temperatures like the ones seen last weekend are becoming increasingly common in parts of the Arctic Circle, especially in Siberia. In June 2020, the town of Verkhoyansk smashed temperature records after reaching an air temperature of 38°C (100.4°F).

'It's a climate catastrophe': A Northern California river is full of dead salmon

Hundreds of thousands of young salmon are dying in Northern California's Klamath River as low water levels allow a parasite to thrive and kill off fish.

Ceratonova shasta (C. shasta) is a tiny parasite native to the river. In a typical year marked by a wet winter, the water rushing down the river controls the parasite population.

This year, the river is alarmingly low after two consecutive dry winters, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation isn't releasing so-called "flushing flows" from the dam on the Upper Klamath Lake to boost water levels downstream in the lower Klamath River. These short-term increases in flow disrupt the disease cycle.

The fisheries department of the Yurok Tribe, California’s largest federally recognized tribe, monitors the parasite on the river annually, and estimates nearly all the juvenile Chinook salmon in this year's run are infected with the parasite.

More than half the fish have died.

Earth has a 'pulse' of 27.5 million years

Most major geological events in Earth's recent history have clustered in 27.5-million-year intervals — a pattern that scientists are now calling the "pulse of the Earth," according to a new study.

Over the past 260 million years, dozens of major geological events, from sea level changes to volcanic eruptions, seem to follow this rhythmic pattern.

"For quite a long time, some geologists have wondered whether there's a cycle of around 30 million years in the geologic record," said lead author Michael Rampino, a professor in the departments of biology and environmental studies at New York University. But until recently, poor dating of such events made the phenomenon difficult to study quantitatively.

"Many, but maybe even most, [geologists] would say that geological events are largely random," Rampino told Live Science. In the new study, Rampino and his team conducted a quantitative analysis to see if they were indeed random or if there was an underlying pattern.

Mysterious 'Great Dimming' of giant star Betelgeuse finally explained

Before COVID-19 exploded and dominated global headlines, the possibility of nearby giant star Betelgeuse literally exploding captured its own share of attention. Betelgeuse went through a historically sudden and drastic period of dimming over several months in late 2019 and early 2020, leading some to wonder if the gigantic star might be preparing to go supernova. New research suggests it would be premature to write an obituary for the red supergiant.

During the so-called Great Dimming of Betelgeuse, the star was 10 times darker than usual, Miguel Montargès from the Observatoire de Paris, France and colleagues report in a paper published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The study includes new analysis of images taken in 2019 and 2020 of the star, which is just over 700 light-years away from Earth, showing that during its Great Dimming, Betelgeuse was actually being obscured by its own stellar exhalations.

"We have directly witnessed the formation of so-called stardust," Montargès, who led the observation campaign using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, said in a statement.

‘There is stuff’: Enduring mysteries trail US report on UFOs

Congress late last year instructed the director of national intelligence to provide “a detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data” from multiple agencies and report in 180 days. That time is about up. The intelligence office wouldn’t say this past week when the full document will be out.

The bill passed by Congress asks the intelligence director for “any incidents or patterns that indicate a potential adversary may have achieved breakthrough aerospace capabilities that could put United States strategic or conventional forces at risk.”

The chief concern is whether hostile countries are fielding aerial technology so advanced and weird that it befuddles and threatens the world’s largest military power. But when lawmakers talk about it, they tend to leave themselves a little wiggle room in case it’s something else — whether more prosaic than a military rival or, you know, more cosmic.

NASA releases stunning new pic of Milky Way’s ‘downtown’

It’s a composite of 370 observations over the past two decades by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, depicting billions of stars and countless black holes in the center, or heart, of the Milky Way. A radio telescope in South Africa also contributed to the image, for contrast.

Astronomer Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts Amherst said Friday he spent a year working on this while stuck at home during the pandemic.

“What we see in the picture is a violent or energetic ecosystem in our galaxy’s downtown,” Wang said in an email. “There are a lot of supernova remnants, black holes, and neutron stars there. Each X-ray dot or feature represents an energetic source, most of which are in the center.”

This busy, high-energy galactic center is 26,000 light years away.

His work appears in the June issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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