Calcium and iron on a vegan diet
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Got milk?

My bodily situation forces me to have a vegan diet (and the unhealthiness of the substance formally known as 'milk', as well as the extreme cruelty of the dairy farming industry would probably lead me to be vegan even if I could digest milk). So, some people may ask: "how do you get your calcium and iron?"

The answer is not: "you must eat dairy products!", or "you must take this kind of supplement!".

The dairy industry has long perpetuated the myth that calcium is only available from milk (much like the meat industry has perpetuated the myth that the only way to get protein is by eating lots of meat). It is a testimony to the power of advertising that we believe these seemingly "universally acknowledged truths". Calcium is, in fact, available from a variety of vegetables, in much greater quality and quantity than it is present in milk.

Taking a supplement is also not the answer. The body and different types of foods work as an integrated system, each supporting each other. So, just popping a pill with the necessary mineral simply results in that substance passing through the body, unabsorbed.

You can eat as much calcium as you like, but without doing any exercise it won't be absorbed into your bones. Without exercise calcium goes into your joints instead. The result: stiff joints (arthritis) and weak bones (osteoporosis). Calcium supplements have also been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and kidney stones.

Moreover, Calcium dependents on vitamin D and magnesium to aid its absorption. The best way to get vitamin D is to spend 5 - 10 minutes in sunlight every day (without sunglasses or sunscreen). The best way to get magnesium is to eat seeds, nuts and whole grains. So, calcium, magnesium, exercise and sunlight must be taken together in order for the calcium to be absorbed (as explained in greater detail in these videos). Calcium and protein, however, do not go well together. People who consume too much protein also absorb less calcium, especially if the two are taken together.

Interestingly, however, calcium and dark fruit juices inhibit the absorption of iron in the body. To help the absorption of iron, vitamin C is required. Great sources of vitamin C are lemon or orange juices.

On the other hand, dark fruit juices (like red grape juice) are good for removing toxins in the food. So, when eating food which is unhealthy or full of pesticides (basically anything non-organic), it is a good idea to also take some dark fruit juice with it in order to remove at least some of the toxins.

So, everything works together in a web of interrelation and support. There are no quick fixes. A holistic healthy lifestyle is required.

New Request
→ Vidyapati dasa is no one special.

I would firstly like to thank everyone for helping me find the lecture series I was looking for by Ravindra Svarupa. I'm looking forward to my upcoming retreat so that I can spend a few days studying them.

Due to the resounding success I had in finding these lectures, Mahanila Prabhu has asked if I can help him find some special photo's of the Nrsimha-deva deity from Mayapur. He is trying to find some high quality photos where Nrsimha-deva has His metal teeth which go right around His mouth(ear to ear), like in the picture below:






Thank you!

And I apologise for using my blog to get favours from the devotees. I swear that I will one day actually post a blog on here that is worth reading...

New Request
→ Vidyapati dasa is no one special.

I would firstly like to thank everyone for helping me find the lecture series I was looking for by Ravindra Svarupa. I'm looking forward to my upcoming retreat so that I can spend a few days studying them.

Due to the resounding success I had in finding these lectures, Mahanila Prabhu has asked if I can help him find some special photo's of the Nrsimha-deva deity from Mayapur. He is trying to find some high quality photos where Nrsimha-deva has His metal teeth which go right around His mouth(ear to ear), like in the picture below:






Thank you!

And I apologise for using my blog to get favours from the devotees. I swear that I will one day actually post a blog on here that is worth reading...

New picture gallery
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I've installed a new picture gallery software on this website. The old coppermine gallery was nice, but kind of clunky and didn't integrate well with my desktop applications. So, out it went. In its place it put a gallery called (simply) Gallery.

Take a look at the new gallery. You will find an archive of all the photos from the old gallery and a brand new picture album. The pictures in the new album were taken with a new Pentax K20d DSLR camera. I think you will notice these pictures are of significantly higher quality than all the previous images (shot with an old Minolta A1). If, for some reason, you want to look at the old coppermine gallery, that is still online here.

A request
→ Vidyapati dasa is no one special.

In February last year, 2007, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu apparently gave a seminar series on Vedic cosmology, based on the 5th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, in Mayapur. At least, that's what I read on the Mayapur website when I was looking at the various lecture series that were going to take place that year.

I'm wondering if anyone has a copy of those lectures on mp3. Being a nerd, I often get asked questions about Vedic cosmology, and I'm trying to increase my understanding of it, to some degree, just so that I can deal with my own doubts and the doubts of others. I already have the Vedic cosmology dvd, from the Danavira Maharaja, and I have also read some of Sadaputa Prabhu's books on the issue.

If you have these lectures, or know where to get a copy of them, please send me an e-mail at my @gmail.com account - vidyapatidas@etc

Thank you!

A request
→ Vidyapati dasa is no one special.

In February last year, 2007, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu apparently gave a seminar series on Vedic cosmology, based on the 5th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, in Mayapur. At least, that's what I read on the Mayapur website when I was looking at the various lecture series that were going to take place that year.

I'm wondering if anyone has a copy of those lectures on mp3. Being a nerd, I often get asked questions about Vedic cosmology, and I'm trying to increase my understanding of it, to some degree, just so that I can deal with my own doubts and the doubts of others. I already have the Vedic cosmology dvd, from the Danavira Maharaja, and I have also read some of Sadaputa Prabhu's books on the issue.

If you have these lectures, or know where to get a copy of them, please send me an e-mail at my @gmail.com account - vidyapatidas@etc

Thank you!

I have my moments
→ Unplugged Ice

I have my moments. They are extremely rare but they are there, and they exist as a touch of Krsna's mercy. Reality as opposed to ignorance is divine, transported from a realm that can only be perceived if one is humble and ready to accept one's fate and wrongdoings. In my case, reality is perceived sporadically, like patches of a blue sky through a fog. And when I catch a glimpse I see an eternity of deeds opposed to self-realization – a mentality that is selfish, irrational, and hungry for name, fame, adoration. Obsequious and unashamed, I mount an eternal struggle for something that is detrimental to well-being, and, as a result, live in a fog while occasionally – out of Krsna's sheer unequivocal mercy upon me – I catch glimpses of the eternal - instead of relishing it's continual presence (something that I would not be unable to do had I the desire for it). It is like this for me.

I have my moments
→ Unplugged Ice

I have my moments. They are extremely rare but they are there, and they exist as a touch of Krsna's mercy. Reality as opposed to ignorance is divine, transported from a realm that can only be perceived if one is humble and ready to accept one's fate and wrongdoings. In my case, reality is perceived sporadically, like patches of a blue sky through a fog. And when I catch a glimpse I see an eternity of deeds opposed to self-realization – a mentality that is selfish, irrational, and hungry for name, fame, adoration. Obsequious and unashamed, I mount an eternal struggle for something that is detrimental to well-being, and, as a result, live in a fog while occasionally – out of Krsna's sheer unequivocal mercy upon me – I catch glimpses of the eternal - instead of relishing it's continual presence (something that I would not be unable to do had I the desire for it). It is like this for me.

Fossil of pregnant fish found: the earliest mammal
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German news Heute.de is reporting a story in Nature magazine about the recent discovery of the oldest mammal named Materpiscis attenboroughi (a type of Placodermi). Researchers from Australia found a fossil of this fish containing several embryos connected to their mother by an umbilical cord, making it the earliest known mammal. The fossil is estimated to be 380 million years old. This is older than the dinosaurs (which existed roughly 230 million to 65 million years ago).

oldest mammal.jpg

oldest mouse.jpgThis discovery suggests that mammals existed far earlier than it was previously thought. The earliest mammal previous to this new discovery was a small mouse-like creature known as Hadrocodium Wui discovered in China by Zhe-Xi Luo, Alfred W. Crompton and Ai-Lin Sun. This creature lived roughly 195 million years ago.

Lead research John Long of the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia says that this new discovery means that the current models of evolution need to be adjusted significantly.

What’s wrong with what we eat
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Cow equals Nuclear Bomb
(picture credit: cow, nuke)

The cow killing that is going on today is like a nuclear bomb. It is the new holocaust, threatening to destroy us all.

In the United States alone every year 10 billion animals are killed for food. If you lined them all up that they would reach to the moon and back five times! With that many living entities being killed there is simply no way that they can be treated ethically. Doing so also results in second highest contribution to global warming in the world (after energy production, but ahead of transportation and residences).

In this excellent presentation at the TED conference Mark Bittman reenforces much of what I talked about in the King Corn post. It is a really compelling presentation on the importance of local food (Locavore = person who only eats local food; is the new word of year), importance of eating organic food (although it isn't a cure-all) and the importance of eating less meat, less junk and more plants (eating plants is what makes us healthy).

He also talks a bit about the history of food. About how we got into the sorry state of far too much meat-eating we are in today.

Here is the video of the talk (much recommended!)

King Corn
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I saw a documentary called King Corn today. It is about two guys from Boston who decide to grow an acre of corn in Iowa to learn more about this strange grain that is seemingly in everything we eat.

Ear of corn inspection

(picture credit)

Tilling and planting one acre of corn (31000 seeds) with a modern tractor takes only about 18 minutes. So, a single farmer can farm many thousands of acres of corn. What used to be a major undertaking, requiring lots of manpower, now can be done with relative ease by just a few hard-working farmers (using lots of machines, chemicals and GMOs).

Once the corn starts growing it is sprayed with liberty weed-killer. This herbicide is non-selective, meaning it kills any and all plants. The corn, however, is genetically modified Liberty-Link corn that can resist the herbicide.

Ammonia fertilizer is used to increase yields. It quadruples the farm's yield and eliminates the need to rotate crops, like the Romans used to do. So, a monoculture of corn can be grown everywhere, year-after-year. However, as farmers are only now discovering, ammonia gradually destroys soil quality.

The harvested corn is used mainly for either animal feed or high-fructose corn syrup production.

Instead of letting cattle eat grass off fields, the fields are used to grow corn. This corn is then fed to the cows in a feed lot. The benefit is that since cows are not allowed to move, they fatten up more quickly. Corn is also a much richer diet than grass, so the cows gain weight even more quickly and less overall space is required. A cow is usually slaughters within 60 - 120 days of entering the feed lot.

Why 120 days? Because after 120 days on a corn diet a cow starts getting really sick. Its digestion system can't handle eating corn for so long. It develops a condition called acidosis, which will quickly kill the animal (humans can also develop acidosis, but usually only as a side effect of certain pharmaceutical drugs). Antibiotics are mixed in with the corn feed to keep the cattle alive for a bit longer, so they gain enough weight for slaughter.

Modern corn cannot be eaten by humans. It is optimized to produce maximum starch. You don't get something for nothing. So, the price of more starch is lower protein in the corn. The result: corn that tastes like chalk, has almost no nutritional value and is perfect for high-fructose corn syrup production.

One in eight people in New York have diabetes (although most don't know it) largely because of eating (and especially drinking) too much high-fructose corn syrup. Drinking one soda per day doubles one's chance of developing diabetes as opposed to someone who only occasionally drinks a soda. And the main ingredient in sugar water is ... high-fructose corn syrup.

Also, a typical McDonald's meal is basically all corn: The burger is made from corn feed cows, half the calories in french-fries come from the corn oil it is fried in, and the drink is, of course, mostly high-fructose corn syrup. We are what we eat, and what we are eating is primarily corn.

Government subsidies rewards the overproduction of cheap corn. Otherwise, it wouldn't be economically viable to grow so much corn. However, largely as a result of those subsidies, in the USA only 16% of people's income is spent on food. That's half the amount that people spent on food a generation ago. People like it when their food is cheap. More money to spend on other, more important things in life, right? The unfortunate side-effect is that low quality food makes people sick. Life expectation is actually going down in the USA. People are dying younger and it's because of what they eat.

The Bhagavad-Gita affirms all this. In it Krishna declares that wretched persons ingest only suffering when they cook for their selfish motives (BG3.13). (alternative translation credit: Garuda das)

Wrestling with the mind
→ Unplugged Ice

Why is KC so simple and yet so hard? Minds are quite a handful are they not? To conquer the mind is to conquer the senses, and that would be quite an achievement. I find myself thinking back to distributing Prabhupada's books. I had the same mind, the same senses, the same three gunas, and yet somehow at that time, amidst all the same chaos and turbulence, there was an obvious trail back to Godhead and a means to traverse it. Leave the books alone for a few months and the path starts to become overgrown. Leave it too long and i'll have to wrestle with my mind to decide which way to walk is best.

Wrestling with the mind
→ Unplugged Ice

Why is KC so simple and yet so hard? Minds are quite a handful are they not? To conquer the mind is to conquer the senses, and that would be quite an achievement. I find myself thinking back to distributing Prabhupada's books. I had the same mind, the same senses, the same three gunas, and yet somehow at that time, amidst all the same chaos and turbulence, there was an obvious trail back to Godhead and a means to traverse it. Leave the books alone for a few months and the path starts to become overgrown. Leave it too long and i'll have to wrestle with my mind to decide which way to walk is best.

Forgetting You
→ Servant's Report

"Forgetting You,
I came into this world,"
Says Bhaktivinoda.

He said it for me.
Forgetting You... How could we?
And for what?
To come into this maze
Of ignorance.
Struggling to be master
But failing
Again and again.
"Why is everyone against me?" we think.
"What did I do to deserve this?"

Every criminal thinks he's innocent.

Forgetting You
→ Servant's Report

"Forgetting You,
I came into this world,"
Says Bhaktivinoda.

He said it for me.
Forgetting You... How could we?
And for what?
To come into this maze
Of ignorance.
Struggling to be master
But failing
Again and again.
"Why is everyone against me?" we think.
"What did I do to deserve this?"

Every criminal thinks he's innocent.

The Great Mission
→ Servant's Report

See through the dark clouds covering your being. The storm blinds you, dizzy, floating, falling. But catch yourself and stride over the turbulent waves. Adjust but don't change positions. I swim and notice I'm far from my starting point. I wish I knew where I was. I wish I knew.

From the beginning we were trained to be great, to help and one day save the world in its darkest hour. The future hope. Long years of practice and study in that secluded monastery. "Why are we here?" we would ask. "Why not with our families and friends playing, like normal children?"

"For you are not normal. You have a great mission which only you can fulfill."

And we continued.

The Great Mission
→ Servant's Report

See through the dark clouds covering your being. The storm blinds you, dizzy, floating, falling. But catch yourself and stride over the turbulent waves. Adjust but don't change positions. I swim and notice I'm far from my starting point. I wish I knew where I was. I wish I knew.

From the beginning we were trained to be great, to help and one day save the world in its darkest hour. The future hope. Long years of practice and study in that secluded monastery. "Why are we here?" we would ask. "Why not with our families and friends playing, like normal children?"

"For you are not normal. You have a great mission which only you can fulfill."

And we continued.

Sleep is absolutely essential
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Sleep

Every living entity on the planet (and beyond) needs to sleep. Rats, die if they are deprived of sleep for 5 days (they also die if they are deprived of food for 5 days). Why this is, no one knows. It is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science. Wouldn't it be better if we didn't have to waste so much time with sleeping?

Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita (BG6.16):

There is no possibility of one's becoming a yog?«, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.

The general trend nowadays (in the mode of passion) is to sleep too little. I was listening to this 60 minutes feature on sleep. They presented all the latest research on the subject. Some surprising and alarming results:

  • Sleep enhances memory: a study showed that students memorizing a list of words could recall them with 40% better accuracy after a night's sleep than they could before going to bed. So, pulling an all-nighter to revise for an exam will actually harm one's changes of remembering the material.
  • Insufficient sleep is cumulative: the negative effects of sleeping only 4-6 hours night-after-night build upon one another. The less sleep you get, the worse your state of body and mind becomes.
  • The effects of not sleeping are similar to intoxication: sleeping for only 4-6 hours has a similar effect on your mental awareness as drinking alcohol. So, for example, your ability to drive a car is severely impaired, your emotional mind takes over and can no longer be controlled by one's rational/logical mind. In fact, the MRI brain image of someone who hasn't had enough sleep is very similar to that of someone will a severe mental disorder. Caffeine can offset these effects for one or two days, but after three days insufficient sleep no amount of coffee can mask the intoxicating effect.
  • 2-second micro-sleeps occur after insufficient rest: if you have had insufficient sleep, then you will, most likely, not realize just how tired you actually are. Your body will fall asleep for 2 second, even with open eyes, without you realizing. Needless to say, this can be very dangerous when driving a car.
  • Many disasters are caused by insufficient sleep: lack of sleep played a factor in many accidents. For example: in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and the Staten Island ferry crash the staff responsible all had had inadequate sleep.
  • Lack of sleep causes obesity: not sleeping enough causes a drop of the leptin hormone, which regulates hunger. So, not sleeping enough will make you feel hungry, even if you've had plenty to eat. It produces an uncontrollable desire to eat. The result: not sleeping makes you fat.
  • Lack of sleep causes diabetes: studies have shown that if someone is restricted to sleeping just four hours per night, they start developing symptoms of type-2 diabetes (symptoms include: weakness/fatigue, tingling/numbness in hands and feet, blurred vision, dry/itchy skin, unquenchable thirst, extreme hunger, weight loss, irritability, frequent urination, slow healing of wounds). It seems not getting enough sleep disturbs the body's ability to metabolize sugar. Indeed, type-2 diabetes, which used to only occur in elderly people, is becoming more and more common; even children are getting it (children need 9 - 10 hours sleep, yet frequently get less than 7 hours of sleep). Lack of sleep also increases one's risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Most people need 7.5 - 8 hours of sleep per night, yet the median amount of sleep people in the USA get today is just 6.7 hours. Sleeping is just as important as eating. Not sleeping is really dangerous. So, if you are not getting enough sleep, then what are you waiting for? Get to bed!

PhD result: not quite there yet
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I had my PhD viva (final oral exam) a few weeks ago. After an incredibly grueling 4:40 hours the result is: "major corrections without the need for another examination".

The examiners were happy with my performance in the viva, but they thought that the thesis had some major shortcoming which needed to be corrected before awarding me the title. They estimate about two months more work is necessary to make the corrections. Then I have to re-submit the thesis, pay a ?£250 "admin fee" and the corrected thesis gets sent to both examiners for review and approval.

This is somewhat of a disappointment, but it could have been a lot worse. At least I (kind of) passed the exam. Still, the grind goes on...

Some long-running blog bugs fixed
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I've managed to fixed a few long-running bugs in with the display of this blog.

  • Some browsers used to put an unnecessary white space under the search box. That is now fixed.
  • The pictures section now no longer has a right-hand sidebar. That makes more space for the pictures.

Unfortunately, however, the lastest WordPress update has broken the integration with Coppermine Gallery. This means the random picture display that used to be in the bottom-right corner of the front-page no longer works. Sorry.

I'm contemplating abandoning Coppermine as my gallery software. There just aren't enough plug-ins and extensions available for it. Does anyone have any suggestions for a suitable replacement gallery software (preferably something I can install on my own server and easily integrate into WordPress) (and please don't say Gallery - I don't like that one very much)?

The myth of the rising cost of food
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The BBC has a feature on "the cost of food". It shows how almost all types of food are getting more and more expensive. Drastically so!

What is happening here? Shouldn't modern high-tech farming with its nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides and specially breed (and often genetically modified) high-yield crop varieties allow humanity to easy feed everyone on the planet? Hasn't Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution dramatically increased the amount of food the world can produce (e.g. doubling wheat yield between 1965 and 1970)? Haven't exports of food increased by 400% over the last 40 years, promoting the distribution of foods from countries with lots of farmland to those without the capacity to grow lots of food?

The news reporters give two possible explanations of the rising cost of food (both bogus):

  1. The world population is increasing. Soon 6 billion people now live on the planet and the number is expected to rise by 9 billion in 2050. Feeding more mounts costs more money. Moreover, with the rising wealth of countries like China and India the people in these countries consume more food. "To put it bluntly, rich people eat more than poor people", says the BBC.
  2. The increasing use of corn for biofuels (ethanol) is decreasing the amount of the crop that can be used for food. A lower supply coupled with increasing demand due to an increasing world population naturally leads to higher costs.

Makes sense, right? Wrong!

Sure, the world population is increasing, but so are yields of crops. Sure, the use of corn for fuel is increasing, but the increase in the cost of corn has been comparatively low compared with crops like rice, soya and wheat.

The real problem is shown, but not commented upon, in the original BBC feature, as well as in other news sources. It is the increasing consumption of meat.

Increased Meat Eating

The statistics show how producing meat is radically more resource intensive than producing vegetarian foodstuffs. But take a look back at the original article: the price of meat (and sugar) is not increasing very much at all. What is going on here? Why are all foods except meat getting more expensive, when meat is the single most expensive food to produce?!

One word: subsidies.

The United States spends 35% (the greatest single amount) of its total $8 billion annual agricultural subsidies budget on "feed grains" for livestock. The European Union spends a whooping $76 billion per year on food subsidies and 18% of it (the greatest single amount) goes to subsidizing beef production. So, between them, the EU and USA spend at least $16 billion on keeping the price of meat lower than it should be, given its true cost.

Or, to put this in more down-to-earth numbers: the 380 million people that live in the EU consume 92 kg of meat per person every year. Of that 92 kg, 20 kg is beef (a total of 7 million tons of cow meat each year). This means that the EU pays an extra $2 of tax payer's money for each kg of beef that its citizens consume. And those are only direct subsidies on beef, i.e. not counting indirect tax benefits farmers get, government purchases, subsidies on other types of meat, and so on.

So, what to do?

It's actually really simple: promote vegetarianism throughout the world and simultaneously eliminate subsidies on meat. Without subsidies meat will get so expensive that few people can afford it. Would you buy a Big Mac if it cost $34 a burger?

If a vegetarian diet is advertised as the logical, cheaper, healthier alternative, then people will naturally stop eating dead animals. That lowering of demand will make it more difficult to sell the quantities of meat which are currently produced. Farmers will be forced to switch from growing "feed grain" to producing "grain for human consumption". This, I estimate, can result in a tenfold increase in the amount of available food. Enough to easily feed a world population of 60 billion!

(An added side-benefit would be a huge reduction in the number of people that get cancer, resulting in lower health-care costs and longer life-spans. Large-scale studies in Europe and the USA have proven without a doubt that meat eating causes many different types of cancer)

Doctor Bird Cage
→ Unplugged Ice



When i get nasty flus i try to avoid going to the doctor for various reasons. But this time, to save you graphic details of grossness, i got a flu that would have required a few weeks of work to get rid of naturally; so i decided it best that i kill it quickly with antibiotics since i couldn't afford the time lost. I ended up in a cheap clinic with a pleasant Thai doctor. I tried to keep quiet so that i could get the drugs and run but i slipped up and told him that i had just done prolotherapy on my back to try to fix a long running problem. I normally avoid telling these doctors of any alternative medicine i take because they tend to take it personally. This doctor was no different. His pleasant mood vanished as he began ranting on about liability, and quacks, and everything else to minimize or give a bad name to everything except his beloved allopathy. And as he was blabbering it again dawned on me that that these doctors care about everything except their patients health. Not once did he ask me if prolotherapy had helped me. His only concern was to protect all those years he had toiled in medical school so that he could become an absolute authority on something. This is the story of the material world. This is another twist in the story of the bird in the cage

Doctor Bird Cage
→ Unplugged Ice



When i get nasty flus i try to avoid going to the doctor for various reasons. But this time, to save you graphic details of grossness, i got a flu that would have required a few weeks of work to get rid of naturally; so i decided it best that i kill it quickly with antibiotics since i couldn't afford the time lost. I ended up in a cheap clinic with a pleasant Thai doctor. I tried to keep quiet so that i could get the drugs and run but i slipped up and told him that i had just done prolotherapy on my back to try to fix a long running problem. I normally avoid telling these doctors of any alternative medicine i take because they tend to take it personally. This doctor was no different. His pleasant mood vanished as he began ranting on about liability, and quacks, and everything else to minimize or give a bad name to everything except his beloved allopathy. And as he was blabbering it again dawned on me that that these doctors care about everything except their patients health. Not once did he ask me if prolotherapy had helped me. His only concern was to protect all those years he had toiled in medical school so that he could become an absolute authority on something. This is the story of the material world. This is another twist in the story of the bird in the cage

Solution to increasing health care costs
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It is well known that the aging population of the western world is increasingly placing a huge burden on all nations' health-care systems. Medicine is finding better and better (and more expensive) ways of stopping people from dying. As medicine finds new ways of curing the existing diseases, people's bodies find newer and newer ways of malfunctioning, costing evermore and more money.

I was listening to a panel discussion on what the heath-care issues will be in the upcoming 2008 US presidential election (wait, don't click that link, the discussion was pretty boring). Naturally, the issue of increasing cost and dilemma of how to ration health-care was a hot topic. Surprisingly, one expert explained, that the problem is not the evil pharmaceutical industry that many people like to blame. Drugs makes up just 8% of the total cost of health care in the United States (a "mere" $600 billion). The other 92% are the hospitals, ambulances, doctors, nurses, machines, administration, services, etc. So, even if all the pharmaceutical companies were to give away drugs for free that still wouldn't come close to solving the problem of health care costs spiraling out of control.

So what do to?

Professor Rustum Roy (amazing, the guy has over 1000 publications!) suggests the idea of "dying a good death", as presented in the spiritual teachings of India, as an idea that should be seriously considered (and, of course, everyone else in the panel discussion promptly ignored this idea...)

I certainly think that the Vedic knowledge of ancient India can provide some significant help for solving this global problem. Practitioners of Krishna consciousness could take an active role in advising governments on this issue. Here some of my thoughts as to what could be done:

  • Take care of the body in this life: all too many people are abusing their bodies with drugs, intoxication, meat-eating, and sense gratification. Bhagavad-Gita explains that this is due to self-envy (BG16.18). Hate of the supersoul in one's own body and the bodies of others. A person beginning to practice Krishna consciousness will gradually stop destroying their body in order to squeeze some enjoyment out of it. They learn to relish spiritual pleasure, and no longer long for temporary material bodily enjoyment. The result: lots of people living a healthier lifestyle and not getting sick (i.e. less heart disease because more people are vegetarian, less cancer because fewer people smoke and more people have a good diet, fewer strokes because people are less stressed, less liver cirrhosis because fewer people drink, less homicide because more people value the soul in all living beings (SB5.5.26), less suicide because people are happier with themselves, less HIV/AIDS because of less illicit sex, etc. etc.).
  • Death is not the end: Krishna describes in the Bhagavad-Gita the the consciousness lives on after the death of the body (BG2.20). Death is natural part of life in the material world. Everything that is born is sure to die eventually (BG2.27). Indeed, as the material body grows old, breaks-down and falls apart, the consciousness transmigrates into a new body, just like one might change out of some old clothes into new ones (BG2.22). Such a reincarnation is not a cause for alarm, but a natural part of life (BG2.11, BG2.13). The result: less bereavement and intoxication when a friend or loved one dies.
  • The purpose of work is not to enjoy the fruits: practically everyone works to get money to get enjoyment. However, people are becoming more and more depressed and insane because of too much work. If, as recommended in the Bhagavad-Gita (BG2.47), one works and offers the fruits of such work to Krishna, not trying to enjoy them for oneself, then one can attain unadulterated peace (BG5.12). The result: mental illness is drastically reduced.
  • Die in a sound state of mind: King Kulasekhara gave an example of how to die in a sound state of mind (SB 4.23.13). He wanted to die while he was still young and health, so that he could remember Krishna better at the time of death (note: he wasn't suicidal, he's primary concern was simply remembering Krishna, not forever clinging to his dying body). The result: more people choosing to die "naturally" and not be forever hooked up to an expensive life-support system (similar to a low-tech version of Darth Vader).
  • Look forward to the next life: if one's life is filled with spiritual activities meant to produce a high-quality body in the next life (ideally a body of pure consciousness), then the next life is something to look forward to. Moreover, in such a case, even the current life is highly enjoyable. As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB4.27.12), a sage practicing Krishna consciousness is blessed by saying that he may either live or die. It does not make a difference. Either way there is happiness. The result: less depression as disease and old age set in.

Saturday Feast: Good Government
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I hosted what will probably be the last of my Saturday Feasts in Manchester yesterday. There were a total of eight people present (much to my surprise everyone I invited came and some people brought friends along - and there was just enough prasadam to satisfy everyone). On the menu:

  • cumin basmati rice
  • chickpea, roast potato, tomato stew (from the Yamuna's Table cookbook)
  • sweet potato pie (from Great Vegetarian Dishes)
  • apple chutney
  • leaf salad with carrot strips, roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted sesame seeds and coconut (with a lemon juice dressing)
  • fruity chamomile with orange juice (which surprisingly tastes a lot like it has ginger and cinnamon in it, even though it doesn't)

After lunch we all chanted one round of the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra on beads. We then engaged in a lively discussion on: SB 4.22.45.

Since only a person who is completely educated according to the principles of Vedic knowledge deserves to be commander-in-chief, ruler of the state, the first to chastise and the proprietor of the whole planet, P??>thu Mah?r?ja offered everything to the Kum?ras.

Srila Prabhupada makes several statements in the purport which are against conventional so-called wisdom. Some people might even consider such statements controversial. However, I find the plain-spoken tell-it-like-it-is nature of Prabhupada's statements highly refreshing, enjoyable and philosophically sound.

After a discussion that lasted a little over an hour we had a stand-up kirtan. Everyone seemed to really enjoy that. After that, a little general talk and saying goodbye to everyone and the last meeting in Manchester came to a close.

Unfortunately, Vedicsoc Manchester is now no more.

The Anti-Stress iPod
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062806b.jpgForget meditation! A company called HeartMath provides the anti-stress iPod that uses bio-feedback. Hear about the device here.

It is a little box, about the size of an iPod, that takes your pulse when you put your thumb on it. It measures the micro-variations in pulse speed (similar to the pulse checking that Chinese and Ayurvedic doctors use) that determine which emotional state your brain is in. The blinks red if you are stressed out. You can then apply various relaxation techniques and the device tells you when you have managed to calm down.

Surprisingly, the best technique for reducing stress that the company recommends is appreciation. Thinking of something or someone you appreciate is a sure fire way of reducing stress. In Krishna consciousness we do this all the time. There is (or should be) so much appreciating: you appreciate your fellow devotee, your spiritual master, your food, your body, your mind (when you're not beating it into submission), your spiritualize intelligence, etc. So, Krishna consciousness, both directly, by meditation, and indirectly, by appreciation, reduces stress. Pretty cool, huh?

However, the ultimate goal of Krishna conscious meditation and appreciation is not to de-stress. That is just a welcome side-effect. The real goal is to stop repeated birth and death. No matter how stress-free you are, the body is still going to die.

So, Krishna gives it both: the best short-term anti-stress techniques and the best long-term solution. The HeartMath EmWave is useful because it can scientifically tell you how well the former is working.

The Counseling System: Taking Care of Krishna’s Devotees
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I have been reading an excellent booklet entitled "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" by H.H. Niranjana Swami. It outlines his experience and advice regarding the counseling system successfully used in Chowpatti Temple, as well as in many parts of Russia. The following is a summary of some of the book's presentation. I recommend reading the complete book since it contains much more detail and inspiration.

Everyone needs to take shelter of something. Everyone needs friends in Krishna consciousness. Everyone needs spiritual strength. Spiritual strength comes from Balarama. Balarama's representative is the guru.

A good Krishna conscious leader gives encouragement and care to his dependents. He or she is interested only in other people's Krishna consciousness; not in exploiting their skills, their money, etc. Therefore, the essential ingredient for a successful counseling system is: caring (thinking of the welfare of others).

Counselors are not official authorities. They are simply friends. They give advice only when asked and don't force their counselees to do anything these strongly resist doing. Some pushing may be there, but only out of concern and love. Aspiring devotees should deal with their counselors not because they have to, but because they want to. Devotees should trust their counselors. This is, after all, a volunteer movement. There should be no arm twisting or threatening. Devotees should not feel like they are constantly under the Sword of Damocles.

Inspiration should be the first principle, the organized system can come later. Prabhupada wrote in a letter: "This is the duty of the leaders to bring up this voluntary spirit and to fan it so that Krishna consciousness becomes an ever-fresh experience." Devotees can best inspire others if they themselves are highly inspired.

It is not so much a counseling system; it is rather more a means of establishing friendships / loving relationships. It has to come naturally and cannot be forced by the temple authorities. If someone is forced to accept someone as a counselor then they will not necessarily trust the counselor's advice; they suspect that the counselor has some hidden agenda. True friendship is secret of the success of the counseling system in a place like Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandir in Chowpatta, Mumbai. Devotees there love each other and that makes all the difference. They chant together, associate together and thereby learn to see each other's good quality. They are one family.

Fault finding can manifest if devotees associate only for the purpose of service. Therefore, in addition to service, there needs to be association in kirtan, study and support for a nice community to develop. If this is not there then association with materialists starts looking more and more attractive to the aspiring devotee.

Counselees should use meeting with their counselors to benefit personally. The meeting should not be used to complain about other devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakur said that if someone speaks about others with an attitude of pride or envy, they cannot fix their mind upon Krishna. So, meetings should only be used to discuss personal problems, both material and spiritual, as well as general Krishna conscious philosophy.

It is not that a devotee should only associate with those devotees whom he likes and avoid those whom he does not get along with. That is a kanista (neophyte) mentality. Instead, all devotees should chant very attentively, learn to see each other's good qualities and bring out the best in everyone. There must be an emphasis on internal transformation as well as external distribution. Both must go on equally.

The devotees who take up the position of counselors should expect nothing in return for their service. They should be materially stable with an honest source of income. Counselors should also be stable in their particular ashram (ideally as a householder), so they don't misuse their position of authority. They should be inspiring preachers who lead by their own example.

The counselors should ideally not be involved in temple management (or, if they are, be able to clearly distinguish between the needs of the temple and the needs of their counselees). They should be free thinkers (although strictly principled), who may, in certain circumstances, disagree with the management's ideas and plans. Management should not only appoint counselors who are sympathetic to them. Otherwise, if the counselors are simply an extension of the management, their counselees will doubt their commitment to their dependents' best interest. If a counselee cannot trust his or her counselor then the counseling will be ineffective.

Important qualification for counselors are:

  • Counselors should have a nice understanding of the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness.
  • They should have been active within ISKCON for a reasonable length of time.
  • They should be able to give balanced advice according to time, place and circumstance.
  • They should not be prone to taking extreme and controversial positions on issues..
  • They should be willing to extend themselves to help others and have a spirit of sacrifice.
  • They should be compassionate and have a genuine concern for the welfare of devotees.
  • They should be good listeners. They should be able to listen to the people they are trying to serve.
  • They should be mature and sober.
  • They should demonstrate a good standard of sadhana, etiquette, behavior, and commitment to serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
  • They should be stably situated within their own ashram.

More information on the counseling system from H.H. Radhanath Maharaja is available here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1378

Another review of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1421

An electronic version of the complete text of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/wp-content/uploads/tckd2_web.pdf

Printed copies of "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" are available for a very reasonable price by contacting Lila Smarana devi dasi at: lila.smarana.nrs@cis.pamho.net

Faith in Science
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I was listening to an interview with radio talk show host Michael Krasny. Among other things, he talks about his interview with James Watson and Edward Wilson, which he writes about in his new book (Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life). He recalls both saying that they have little concern over the risk of genetic tinkering (whether it be recombinant DNA or genetically modified food). Krasny puts this down to both men's "faith in science".

I found this interesting. Both of these researchers have a great deal of faith in their scientific work. They have worked so long in their area that they have developed not blind faith, but realized knowledge. Based on their life-long study of genetics they have firm unshakable faith that genetic engineering is both safe and useful. As a result, when they speak, they do so with such confidence that people are impressed: "oh, these people know what they are talking about. I feel I can surrender to such powerful gurus..."

Now, we can argue about whether or not genetics will save or destroy the world. However, it strikes me as ironic that these great men of science are gloried for the exact same thing great religious leaders are gloried for, namely, their firm conviction.

Of course, scientists would have us believe that all religionists are sentimental quacks, who blindly believe in some flying spaghetti monster, without any real evidence to back it up. However, this attitude is just plain wrong. It comes from a lack of knowledge.

Any bona-fide spiritual science, such as Krishna consciousness, is the "perfection of religion", because it "gives direct perception of the self by realization" (BG 9.2). Meaning that it provides means of experimentally verifying the statements made in the scripture. All that it takes is a willingness to go to school and learn the science. Just like the aspiring geneticist must study biology for a number of years, the aspiring spiritualist must study Bhagavad-Gita for a number of years. The study is both theoretically (reading, hearing lectures, etc.) and practical (meditation, karma-yoga, etc.). In the end, the result of years of applied spiritual science is: faith in Krishna.

Gender Thoughts
→ Mukunda Goswami Sanga

About ten years back the GBC discussed gender issues. One of the topics was that women tended to be nurturers and homebodies, whereas men tended to be warriors, protectors and bread winners. That aside, this bit of humor emanated from humor columnist David Barry: Title: Gender Gap is a True Gift. "This is the time of year when a lot of women (by which I mean my wife) complain that women do WAY more holiday stuff than men do. Which is true. On any given day during the holidays, my wife wraps more presents than I have wrapped in my entire life. In terms of cubic footage of stuff wrapped (CFSW), she has basically wrapped the planet Saturn. So she is definitely carrying more than her share of the holiday load."

Gender Thoughts
→ Mukunda Goswami Sanga

About ten years back the GBC discussed gender issues. One of the topics was that women tended to be nurturers and homebodies, whereas men tended to be warriors, protectors and bread winners. That aside, this bit of humor emanated from humor columnist David Barry: Title: Gender Gap is a True Gift. "This is the time of year when a lot of women (by which I mean my wife) complain that women do WAY more holiday stuff than men do. Which is true. On any given day during the holidays, my wife wraps more presents than I have wrapped in my entire life. In terms of cubic footage of stuff wrapped (CFSW), she has basically wrapped the planet Saturn. So she is definitely carrying more than her share of the holiday load."

Tonight on CNN…
→ ISKCON Communications

Hare Krishna. The ISKCON Communications blog has been out of commission for some months; we are re-tooling and putting our energies into creating an informative website (which will include a blog) for IC. In the mean time, here is some news...

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call from a producer at CNN. She asked me to be a guest on a live Holiday Show, hosted by Christian speaker and journalist Roland Martin, on the subject of Christmas and the culture wars. The show is called "What Would Jesus Really Do?" and I will be part of a panel of representatives from other (i.e. - non-Christian) faith traditions.

The show is live, and is on tonight (12/21) and possiblly will be replay on Christmas Eve (12/24) at 8pm EST. Not sure about international airing.

I am excited and more than a little nervous. I've done media interviews on TV and radio before. But still, each time is like the first. The butterflies are already holding a Ratha Yatra festival in my stomach. Oh, and let's not forget... CNN is CNN.

I want to speak with integrity, warmth, and honesty. I want to communicate the essence of my faith's spiritual message, and do so in a way that comes from the heart as much as it does from my mouth. I want to be an instrument.

Dear reader, I know that I haven't been the best at keeping up my end of this blog relationship. Okay, okay: so I've been downright neglectful. But I hope that you will find it in your heart to tune in and say a prayer for me tonight. Under the glare of the hot lights, with cameras aimed at me, and knowing that millions (?) of people are watching me from the comfort of their living room couches... I will need all the prayers I can get.

More later, if I survive...

.v.

Tonight on CNN…
→ ISKCON Communications

Hare Krishna. The ISKCON Communications blog has been out of commission for some months; we are re-tooling and putting our energies into creating an informative website (which will include a blog) for IC. In the mean time, here is some news...

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call from a producer at CNN. She asked me to be a guest on a live Holiday Show, hosted by Christian speaker and journalist Roland Martin, on the subject of Christmas and the culture wars. The show is called "What Would Jesus Really Do?" and I will be part of a panel of representatives from other (i.e. - non-Christian) faith traditions.

The show is live, and is on tonight (12/21) and possiblly will be replay on Christmas Eve (12/24) at 8pm EST. Not sure about international airing.

I am excited and more than a little nervous. I've done media interviews on TV and radio before. But still, each time is like the first. The butterflies are already holding a Ratha Yatra festival in my stomach. Oh, and let's not forget... CNN is CNN.

I want to speak with integrity, warmth, and honesty. I want to communicate the essence of my faith's spiritual message, and do so in a way that comes from the heart as much as it does from my mouth. I want to be an instrument.

Dear reader, I know that I haven't been the best at keeping up my end of this blog relationship. Okay, okay: so I've been downright neglectful. But I hope that you will find it in your heart to tune in and say a prayer for me tonight. Under the glare of the hot lights, with cameras aimed at me, and knowing that millions (?) of people are watching me from the comfort of their living room couches... I will need all the prayers I can get.

More later, if I survive...

.v.

Michael Uschold on Semantic Technology
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I attended a presentation by Michael Uschold of Boeing corporation Phantom Works. He talked about ontologies and semantic applications and the pressing need for them in today's software industry. I thought it was a great presentation. The following is a summary of his ideas from what I gathered while listening:
Value
Dr. Uschold explained that when one is talking to someone about semantics one needs to sell its value. One should provide answers to the following questions: how will semantics help? Why is it better? What is the cost / benefits? Where will it fit in the architecture?

For example: there was a task at Boeing that required someone to write a report every three months. Writing the report involved the guy formulating a bunch of database queries, loading the results into Excel, messing around with the data a bit to shape it into the required form, and then writing the report. Altogether this was a 20-hour task. Doing the same task with ontology would be much quicker and produce a more accurate and more complete result. This is because ontologies uses the same schema (or language) for everything in the workflow. There is no need to convert between different data representations.

So, the value of ontologies for IT systems is that they allow systems to be more tightly coupled. In a traditional system the semantics are implicit. That is, they are hard wired into the system. You can't see them, you can't change them and you can't maintain them. So, more often than not, the system's requirements are out of sync with the applications'. For example: suppose someone creates a model (in UML) and write the code according to that model (in Java), then the requirements changes and the code is updated to match the new requirements, but no one ever updates the model. Over time the model and the code grow further and further apart until the model is all but useless. With an ontology the model is directly used to drive the system. Any change to the requirements requires a change to the ontology model and that, in turn, results in a change to the system. The result: everything is up-to-date all the time. This is the holy grail of semantic systems: a model driven architecture (remember that buzz word!).

Benefits
The benefit of semantics is that they allow common access to information. Ontologies have unambiguous formal semantics. So, for example: in a semantic data warehouse, the ontology can provide a common schema for querying multiple databases; when doing system integration, the ontology allows for enterprise wide interoperability; and when capturing organizational knowledge, the ontology allows this knowledge to be stored, queried and accessed throughout the organization.

Speaking of querying: semantics enable better search. Semantic search goes a step beyond basic keyword-based search. It allows for detailed and very specific question answering and document retrieval.

Semantics offer many benefits in knowledge management. They allow organization to retain knowledge (e.g. when people retire), share knowledge and enable communities of practice (by e.g. informing people throughout the organization about who knows what). Semantics enable secure knowledge authoring and storage, since a rich ontology- or rule-based specification can accurately and reliably control everything that anyone is allowed to see and/or change. Semantic knowledge management would be especially useful for compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxly business process act (which all large organization are severely struggling to comply with, because it is so ridiculously complicated).

Semantic technology allows for lean and agile application development. With a database you are stuck with a given schema that was designed according to a specific problem scenario. Want to ask a different question? Then you would better get ready to spend at least two days rewriting all your SQL, or watch your performance go down the drain like nobody's business. The ontology allows for improved reliability, consistency and reusability. People still don't know how to reuse code. An ontology, however, is built for re-use.

So, in short, the benefits of semantic technology are: flexibility, flexibility, flexibility!

Limitations
Ontologies do have some limitations, however. They can't do everything.

For one, scaling is a big issue. Reasoners currently have difficulty providing efficient a-box reasoning (answering questions about a large number of individuals/instances), as well as dealing with very large ontologies. Then there also is not much in the way of commercial application support for ontologies. The triple stores on the market are, for the most part, really, really dumb. They just store triples. If you want any reasoning support at all, you need to do it yourself.

Then there is workflow control. There needs to be more support for collaborative ontology development and change management. Large groups need to be able to concurrently build ontologies.

Another major issue that is limiting the adoption of semantic technology is that it is pretty much impossible for a normal person to understand. Take OWL restrictions, for example (please!). To describe a "big red ball", one needs to write: "class: ball, that has an anonymous superclass of which some values from are restricted over the property "hasSize" with the filler of the class of "Big" and some values from are restricted over the property of "hasColor" with the filler of the class of "Red". How bizarre is that?! The non-logician/non-geek just wanted to describe a ball, not get into the details of hopelessly complicated formal logic (and that was an easy example!). The complicated stuff really needs to happen behind the scenes.

Finally: we still need code. Ontology models can't yet drive the whole system. They are just a small part of a very big picture.

Questions that need answering
There are a few common questions that people in industry need to have answered before they will adopt semantic technologies. These include: how do I use my ontology in my architecture? How do I integrate this into my Eclipse framework? How does it link into my middleware? Which API(s) should i use? Will I have to roll-my-own all the time, or can I use some kind of IDE for ontologies?

So, what we really need is a book that covers: semantic middleware and semantic programming (i.e. telling the reading: "this is Jena and this is what it does", "this is Jess and this is what is does", etc.). That, coupled with an ontology programming interface that abstracts some of the APIs and programming tasks needed for ontology development, would go a long way towards enabling the adoption of semantic technologies in real-world applications.