The cracked jar

By Paulo Coelho

An Indian legend tells of a man who carried water to his village every day, in two large jars tied to the ends of a wooden pole, which he balanced on his back.

One of the jars was older than the other, and had some small cracks; every time the man covered the distance to his house, half of the water was lost.

For two years, the man made the same journey. The younger jar was always very proud of its performance, safe in the knowledge that it was up to the mission it had been made for, while the other jar was mortified with shame at only fulfilling half of its allotted task, even though it knew that those cracks were the result of many years hard work.

It was so ashamed that one day, while the man got ready to fetch water from the well, it decided to speak to him:

– I want to apologize, but because of the many years of service, you are only able to deliver half of my load, and quench half of the thirst which awaits you at your home.

The man smiled, and said:

– When we return, observe carefully the path.

And so it did. And the jar noticed that, on its side, many flowers and plants grew.

– See how nature is more lovely on your side? – commented the man. – I always knew you were cracked, and decided to make use of this fact. I planted flowers and vegetables, and you have always watered them. I have picked many roses to decorate my house with, I have fed my children with lettuce, cabbage and onions. If you were not as you are, how could I have done that?

“All of us, at some point, grow old and start to acquire other qualities. We can always make the most of each one of these new qualities and obtain a good result.”

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Nelson Mandela – A Terrorist?

Today, I was impressed to find out in Digg that the U.S. has Nelson Mandela on their terrorist list.

Read more below

by Mimi Hall
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON “” Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the situation “embarrassing,” and some members of Congress vow to fix it.

The requirement applies to former South African leader Mandela and other members of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC), the once-banned anti-Apartheid organization. In the 1970s and ’80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by the country’s ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.

Because of this, Rice told a Senate committee recently, her department has to issue waivers for ANC members to travel to the USA.

(…)

Members of other groups deemed a terrorist threat, such as Hamas, also are on the watch lists.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says “common sense” suggests Mandela should be removed. He says the issue “raises a troubling and difficult debate about what groups are considered terrorists and which are not.”

(…)

To read the integrality of this article, please go here.

Three Jewish stories

By Paulo Coelho

The shortest constitution in the world

A group of wise Jewish men met up in order to try and create the shortest Constitution in the world. If anyone – in the space of time a man takes to balance on one foot – were capable of defining the laws governing human behavior, he would be considered the greatest of all wise men.

– God punishes criminals – said one.

The others argued that this was not a law, but a threat; the phrase was not accepted.

– God is love – commented another.

Again, the wise men did not accept the phrase, saying that it did not properly explain the duties of humanity.

Just then, Rabbi Hillel came forward. And, standing on one foot, he said:

– Do not do to another that which you would abhor being done to you; that is the law. All the rest is legal commentary.

And Rabbi Hillel was considered the greatest wise man of his time.

Covering the sun with one’s hand

A disciple went to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav:

– I shall not continue with my studies of sacred texts – he said. – I live in a small house with my brothers and parents, and never have the ideal conditions for concentrating on that which is important.

Nachman pointed to the sun and asked his disciple to place his hand over his face, in order to hide it. The disciple obeyed.

– Your hand is small, yet it can completely cover the power, light and majesty of the great sun. In the same way, the small problems manage to give you the excuse you need in order to hinder your progress along your spiritual journey.

“Just as your hand has the power to hide the sun, mediocrity has the power to hide your inner light. Do not blame others for your own incompetence.”

It seems so obvious

Rabbi Ben Zoma was asked:

– Who is wise?

– He who always finds something to learn from others – said the Rabbi.

– Who is strong?

– The man who is capable of dominating himself.

– Who is wealthy?

– He who knows the treasure he has: his days and hours of life, which can change everything which goes on around him.

– Who deserves respect?

– He who respects himself and his neighbor.

– These things are all so obvious – commented one of those present.

– That is why they are so difficult to observe – concluded the Rabbi.

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Worldometers – World Statistics Updated in Real-Time

Just found this very interesting list of statistics in Digg today.
This list up-dates in real time.
Enjoy – http://www.worldometers.info/

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

How much is the theme of your novel “Devil and Miss Prym” inspired by the modern problem of terrorism in the world?


The novel was written before 9-11 attacks. I was in Munich, in a signing session, when these events happened. For my surprise, not only the theme was in the book, under a metaphoric guideline, but also the answer to the attack was the same as in the book: instead of seeking for justice, it seems that the Western world decided for revenge – that, as we all know, leads to nowhere. The “Devil and Miss Prym” concludes the trilogy “And on the Seventh Day”. The first two books were: “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” (1994) and “Veronika Decides to Die” (1998). Each of the three books is concerned with a week in the life of ordinary people, all of whom find themselves suddenly confronted by love, death and power. I have always believed that in the lives of individuals, just as in society at large, the profoundest changes take place within a very reduced time frame. When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready.

Twitter to the rescue!

Today, in Digg I found this interesting story published in Mercury News. I’ve been using not only Digg, but also Twitter these days and found this fascinating.

U.C. Berkeley student’s Twitter messages alerted world to his arrest in Egypt
By Bill Brand, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/15/2008 01:57:41 PM PDT

BERKELEY _ When Egyptian police scooped up UC Berkeley graduate journalism student James Karl Buck, who was photographing a noisy demonstration, and dumped him in a jail cell last week, they didn’t count on Twitter.

Buck, 29, a former Oakland Tribune multimedia intern, used the ubiquitous short messaging service to tap out a single word on his cellular phone: ARRESTED. The message went out to the cell phones and computers of a wide circle of friends in the United States and to the mostly leftist, anti-government bloggers in Egypt who are the subject of his graduate journalism project.

The next day, he walked out a free man with an Egyptian attorney hired by UC Berkeley at his side and the U.S. Embassy on the phone.

Twitter, the micro-blogging service for cell phone users, allows messages up to 140 characters long. Twitter users can allow anyone they wish to join their network and receive all their messages. Buck has a large network, so Twitter gave him an instant link to the outside world.

(…)

To read the rest of the article, please go here.

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

Is it necessary to respond to violence with violence and to evil with evil? Is it possible to preserve good by doing evil?

I may sound romantic, but when you use violence to fight violence, you generate more violence. We are free because we are committed without being forced to do so. Evil is more related to our attitudes to other people, and from other people towards us. Evil lives in the details.

Copyleft or Copyright?

Today, In Digg – I’ve opened a profile there in order to digg news – came upon this following one on copyright.

Record companies sue Project Playlist on copyright
(Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Nine major record labels filed suit against an online music provider on Monday, accusing Project Playlist Inc of a “massive infringement” of their copyrights to the songs of artists such as U2 and Gwen Stefani.

Project Playlist enables its users to easily find, play and share music with others for free, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The website compiles a vast index of songs on the Internet and users can “quickly and easily search the index for recordings by their favorite artists. At the click of a mouse, Project Playlist instantly streams a digital performance of the selected recording to the user, who can listen to it on his or her computer or mobile device,” the lawsuit said.

(…)

The Beverly Hills, California-based company, an affiliate of KR Capital Partners LLC, also allows its users to embed their personalized playlists on social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Blogger, the lawsuit said. The record companies said projectplaylist.com gets more than 600,000 daily users, nearly 9.5 million average page views per day.

(…)

(Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

To read the full article please go here.

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

Ahabu, the founder of Viskosa, in your novel “The devil and Miss Prym”, needed to spend only one night with St. Saven to become a wise sovereign after being a road bandit. Can this happen in lives with ordinary people also?

Probably. We are always either giving or accepting examples from other persons – therefore, each act that we perform is a sacred one.

Why a “brave new world” should be outlawed

I’ve been travelling recently and decided, as a good internet addict, to explore other sources of information in the web.

Browsing in digg’s top news I came upon this interesting article published in Arstechnica.com by the John Timmer.

Thought provoking to say the least:

Insurance based on genetics: a questionable proposition
by John Timmer

Last week, the US Senate passed a bill that would bar employers and insurance providers from considering the results of a person’s genetic tests when making hiring or coverage decisions. The House has passed a similar bill and the Bush administration has indicated it would sign legislation of this sort. In the wake of the bill’s passage, however, a number of people have questioned why it shouldn’t be an employer’s or insurer’s right to make decisions based on genetics. As a matter of policy, these questions were answered a decade ago, and the intervening progress in human genetics has only reinforced some of the reasoning of the initial decision.

(…)

There are a whole host of reasons to be leery of decisions based on genetic factors, including the fact that some factors are more prevalent within some ethnic groups, raising the specter that genetics may serve as a rationale for some forms of racism. But the most powerful argument is that any genetic policies will be extremely difficult to do well and, even if done properly, could still get things wrong. Combine that with the potential for genetic-based decision making to inhibit the use of our new-found knowledge, and there is a potential for harm that could arise from policies such as the ones that may soon be outlawed.

To read the whole article please go here.

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

In your novels, events and backgrounds are “historical – mythical – cultural …” and related to far removed from Latin American reality. Did you try to escape the dominance of fantastic realism?

In my work, I try to see the world with the eyes of a Brazilian, but I do not create limits for my imagination. Therefore, as the human conflicts take place in human hearts – regardless the cultural background – I write about them, but free in time and space.

Man and the absolute power

In the Lucifer Effect- a book by Philip Zimbardo – tells of an experiment conducted in the sixties in Standford University. Students were chosen to carry out an experiment in the basement of the university. A prison was recreated and by the flip of a coin 7 students were held hostage while the other 7 students were the prison guards. The guards had absolute power over the victims (except for physical violence) and the experiment was meant to last 2 weeks. Yet, at the end of the 6th day the experiment had to be ceased – victims having nervous breakdowns. The guards, that unleashed their evil, had to go under therapy for years to come. My question then is: is Man, when given absolute power, evil?

You can watch the video here

Which biofuel?

Today, I read this interesting article of opinion in the International Herald Tribune:

Bring on the right biofuels
by Roger Cohen International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

(…)

Where fuel distilled from plant matter was once hailed as an answer to everything from global warming to the geostrategic power shift favoring repressive one-pipeline oil states, it’s now a “scam” and “part of the problem,” according to Time Magazine. Ethanol has turned awful. The supposed crimes of biofuels are manifold. They’re behind soaring global commodity prices, the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, increased rather than diminished greenhouse gases, food riots in Haiti, Indonesian deforestation and, no doubt, your mother-in-law’s toothache. Most of this, to borrow a farm image, is hogwash and bilge.

(…)

Much larger trends are at work that dwarf the still tiny biofuel industry (roughly a $40 billion annual business, or the equivalent of Exxon Mobil’s $40.6 billion profits in 2007). I refer to the rise of more than one third of humanity in China and India, the disintegrating dollar and soaring oil prices.

(…)

The danger in all this anti-biofuel hysteria is that we’re going to throw out the baby with the bath water. (…) Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have environmental credentials that are dubious.

(…)

The real scam lies in developed world protectionism and skewed subsidies, not the biofuel idea.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/04/23/opinion/edcohen.php

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

After visiting Egypt and Lebanon, what is your impression about both countries , and about Arabic literature ? Did you read any Arabic novels, and if you did what are the novels you are celebrated more, also the novelists?

The visit to Egypt, in 1987, was fundamental for me to be able to write “The Alchemist”. It was then that I learned more about Islam and about the richness of this country but I learned that when talking to common people, who still keep the ancient knowledge of Egypt in their heart, although not in a conscious manner. I was deeply impressed by the sensibility I found there. As for the Arabic influence in the world literature, you have millennia of great writers and prose, so it will be unfair to single out one or two writers.

Irrational vs Rational

By Paulo Coelho

Recently I read in an article by David Mehegan in The Boston Globe about the release of the book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.” by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT.

This book seemed very appealing to me because the author proves, by a series of behavioural experiments, that humans tend to act much more irrationally than rationally.
Indeed, as the journalist puts it:

“Ariely’s book explores the varieties of nonsensical economic thinking, such as:

We value things more when we pay a higher price for them. The Bayer aspirin and the Rolex watch
seem valuable because of how much they cost, not because they’re better in practical terms than a generic aspirin or a Timex.

Relativity distorts reality. We might be earning 10 times more money than we earned for the same work a decade ago, but we’re convinced that we’re underpaid if the people around us are earning more.

Easy choices make decisions difficult. The more nearly equal two alternative products, jobs, or presidential candidates are, the more agonizing the choice between them.

We’re hopeless suckers for the word “free” on an item for sale, even if there’s a hidden cost and the product is something we don’t need or even like.”


Indeed, how many times the power of the word “free” plunges us into an unnecessary buying spree of things that as soon as we leave the store we already regret?

Why do we keep on postponing decisions and most importantly let ourselves be guided by this illusion of abundance?

If the reasons of this irrationality are impossible for us to see, at least, Ariely’s book seem to give some sort of comfort.

We can learn from our mistakes and refrain from making the same irrational gestures that we afterwards we feel bad about.

The solution then lies in our ability to bypass our “wired-in tendencies”.

Ariely’s book is interesting in the realm of economics. It not only reveals that much of our “rational” decisions are actually irrational, but also that our rationality can guide us to step away from a vicious circle.

I believe nevertheless that when one gets away from this economic perspective – this tendency is reversed.

Sometimes it is by letting our irrationality take over that we actually manage to see our true path.
What’s your take on that?

Love
Paulo

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