Epiphany On The Glacier


Searching For The Hermit In Vain

I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, “The master’s gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”

— Chia Tao (777-841), translated by Lin Yutang (1)


Old now, I feel it more than ever — so good
to be here in the mountains!
Die at the foot of the cliff and even your bones are clean.

— Zen monk Jakushitsu Genko (2)


“If only you knew how splendid it is up there, that’s where I want to die.”

“The land looks like a fairytale.”

“Adventure is just bad planning.”

— Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), the first human at the South Pole (and North Pole), speaking: in 1928 about the Arctic, and earlier about his 1911 Antarctic expedition. (3)


In the 1985 film series “The Last Place on Earth,” about the race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, the screenwriters graced the cinematic climax of Amundsen’s success, on 14 December 1911, with fictionalized speech of a Zen-like sparseness and focus that matched the expansiveness and extremity of the scene. Against a visual field of white, the lone figure of the screen Amundsen is seen from a distance walking up to an indistinguishable point in space about which the Earth rotates. How does he feel?, his companions ask; “All I know is, how good it is to be alive.” (4)

During January and February of 1911, Amundsen’s expedition established three supply depots for the return trek from the South Pole, at intervals of about 150 km (93 miles) from their base camp on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at the Ross Sea. The South Pole is about 1300 km (808 miles) from the Ross Sea. Amundsen’s party for the dash to the South Pole comprised of five men, four sledges and 52 dogs. The five Norwegians departed their base camp on 19 October 1911 and returned 99 days later on 25 January 1912 with only 11 dogs. Amundsen had planned for a 100 day trip.

Scott’s party set off from Cape Evans, 883 miles (1421 km) from the South Pole, on 1 November 1911 with twelve men, ten sledges, ten ponies, and dogs. They established supply depots for the return journey at intervals of about 70 miles (113 km), and as groups of men were no longer needed they were sent back to base camp. By 3 January 1912, Scott’s party was reduced to five men pulling sledges, and no animals (the ponies were butchered for meat). Scott was 169 miles (272 km) from the South Pole and at 10,280 feet (3133 m) elevation. He reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, thirty-four days after Amundsen, and his men were bitterly disappointed at the sight of the Norwegian flag and the many dog tracks around it. The last entry in Scott’s diary was dated 29 March 1912, he and the two men who had survived to that point were found frozen in their tent on the Ross Ice Shelf only 11 miles (18 km) from a large depot, and about 400 km (250 miles) from Cape Evans.


“How good it is to be alive” is both the alpha and omega of insight that some people find when facing the challenge of surviving extreme circumstances. It can be the endpoint of a difficult and dangerous effort; and it can be a rebirth, a new beginning, a way of focusing the mind to the tasks of living and the joy of consciousness, by overcoming fear. This attitude is the psychological buoyancy that frees the mind to direct a person’s full physical and analytical powers to working out the mechanics of survival. Such a person will go further against the opposition of implacable circumstances than a fearful one.

In the stories and poems of Zen and Taoist sages climbing the mountains to experience insight, like the Japanese poet Ryokan (1758-1831), there is usually the implicit suggestion of a subsequent descent. Otherwise, how could the tale have been told? This descent is the second part of the insight on the goodness of life; it is a descent back into the plane of human interaction, it is the goodness of life among other people. “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX). (5)

The dual realization of the “goodness” of consciousness, and that this experience is rooted in and nourished by the field of our interconnected individual psyches, is what some call love.


On Friday the 13th of October 1972, a Fairchild FH-227D twin turboprop airplane chartered from the Uruguayan Air Force by the rugby team of Stella Maris College of Montevideo, Uruguay, the “Old Christians,” crashed high in the Andes Mountains while on route to Santiago, Chile from Mendoza, Argentina, the last leg of their trip. Forty-five people, the young men of the rugby team, some family members and friends, and a flight crew of five had boarded the aircraft. Ten weeks later, sixteen survivors were rescued. The search for survivors had been abandoned after eight days, and the rescue only occurred because two of the survivors had trekked from the crash site on Las Lagrimas Glacier in Argentina at 12,020 feet (3664 m) elevation, up to a ridge crest of the Andes Mountains at 14,774 feet (4503 m), and then descended into the valleys of Chile to 4,676 feet (1425 m) elevation by walking a total of 33.5 miles (54 km) over very rugged and desolate terrain in ten days before finding another human being.

The story has been told in a popular book, “Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,” by Piers Paul Read (6), which was made into a 1993 feature film “Alive, The Miracle of the Andes.” One good English language summary with links to maps of the area appears on the internet at (7), and another site in Spanish gives an extensive presentation, including a day-to-day chronology, which conveys the emotion of the story as Latin Americans would feel it. (8)

The sensational aspect of the story is that in order to survive, the living had to eat the flesh of the dead. The essential element of the story is that the rescue hinged on the determination of one man, Fernando Parrado, to see his father again or die trying; and that his trek out of the mountains only succeeded because of the combined efforts of the group.

Parrado’s mother had died in the crash, and his younger sister eight days later in his arms. The loss of nearly half of his immediate family, the excruciating effort to prolong the group’s survival for sixty days, and then finally his arrival at the ridge 2754 feet (839 m) above the crash site after a three day climb up the steep glacier to see a westward vista of seemingly endless snowy mountains had savagely shocked then forged Parrado to the realization of “how good it is to be alive.” Yes, death in these mountains seemed a certainty, but that apparent certainty did not compel him to surrender. He could choose to use all that was in him to find help and to return to Montevideo to express his love to his father personally, or to approach as near to that goal as the force of circumstance would permit. He had found a vision worth dying for; “how good it is to be alive.”

Of the forty-five people on FAU (Fuerza Aerea Uruguaya) Flight 571, nineteen died during the crash or the first eight days. The remaining twenty-six would dwindle to sixteen and struggle to overcome the tensions of surviving at high altitude on the snow in the wrecked fuselage, without cold-weather clothing and mountaineering gear like boots and dark goggles, with very little food and no medical supplies. Despite the inevitable conflicts and the depressed or debilitating psychological state of some of the people, an effective and admirable level of group cohesion evolved and was applied to the purpose of self-rescue.

It might seem that the commonality of religion (Catholic), class, school, sport and even team would more easily incline individuals to cooperate in unexpected and difficult circumstances. However, it is really personal character that determines the capacity for cooperation under stress, because extreme circumstances can give rise to panic, desperation and despondency, which can easily lead to a lack of judgment, and unthinking selfishness in behavior.

One key result of the group effort was the fabrication of a large, three-person, insulated sleeping bag. The insulation was salvaged from the tail section of the airplane, down the slope of the glacier about a kilometer or two (about 1 mile) from the fuselage; and the bag was sewn by a group of the survivors. When the supply of thread was finished, they had to use wires pulled from the electrical circuits in the fuselage. This sleeping bag enabled Fernando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintin to survive the nights during their trek west up the wall of the glacial valley to the crest of the Andes.

It was there that Fernando Parrado had his epiphany. After the sinking dread that came upon seeing the snowy jagged crags of the Andes stretching far out to the west, instead of the lush green valleys of Chile falling away to the Pacific, he accepted the fact of his mortality and awakened to his power to choose how to employ it. About this epiphany, Cynthia Boaz wrote “in the most hopeless of situations, we still have a choice. At its core, Nando’s story demonstrates that we always have a degree of control over our lives, even if that choice is simply defining the terms under which we die. This phenomenon is much more than hopefulness or optimism; it is the manifestation of human agency. It is the essence of empowerment.” (9)

Fernando Parrado describes his moment this way: “My love for my father swelled in my heart and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. It staggered me. The mountains, for all their power, were not stronger than my attachment to my father. They could not crush my ability to love. I felt a moment of calmness and clarity, and in that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Only love can turn mere life into a miracle and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear. For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the godforsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell, I would die that much closer to my father.” This was Thursday, 14 December 1972. (10)

Parrado’s strength of purpose was enough to convince Canessa. Vizintin was sent back — a quick sled ride downhill — to wait with the thirteen others while Parrado and Canessa continued on with all the provisions the three had carried to that point. Six days later, on the 20th, the trekkers made contact with a Chilean horseman tending his cattle. On the 22nd and 23rd, Chilean helicopters brought rescue and medical people to the crash site and ferried the survivors out, two days being necessary because the weather and travel time only permitted one trip per day, and there was a limited carrying capacity.


There are many seasonal and religious themes that can come to the minds of Christians and people of the Americas when reflecting on the story of FAU Flight 571. The most poignant is that of Holy Communion, the sixteen survivors today are literally “the resurrection and the life” of many of their companions. They are a tight knit group who 35 years ago entered a horror during the harvest-time gaiety of pumpkins, Halloween and the Day of the Dead. They endured a ghastly negation of Thanksgiving, and were lifted to salvation for Christmas. Three Kings among them set forth from east to west following the star of Parrado’s vision, which carried the hopes of many and was itself the gift that gave birth to new lives for them all. Their gift to us is their story, reflecting on it can center minds otherwise distracted by the relentless hyper-animated flash of crass commercialism and mawkish religiosity that propels so many from pumpkins to turkeys to Santa Claus to cheap flat champagne with even shallower resolutions for “new” ways of living. The future is a fiction.


The plane in this story was a Fairchild FH-227D, an American built version of the Fokker F27 F. I flew in a Fokker F27 F over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California many times, on trips to and from the Nevada Test Site. Flying at 18,000 feet (5487 m) and looking down, the rocky crags poking through the snow-pack (at about 13,000 feet or 4000 m) are very clear, and the expanse of the desolation — for a marooned unfortunate — is evident. Having been through bumpy flights and frightening storms, it is not hard for me to imagine the experience of the FAU Flight 571 crash.


The majestic inhuman beauty of the Andes made a compelling impression on the FAU Flight 571 survivors, and you, too, can experience it through the photographs of a 2005 expedition to retrace the trek over the crest of the Andes by Parrado and Canessa, on the exact same dates 33 years after the events. (11) The Uruguayan trekkers had no mountaineering experience nor specialized equipment and clothing, there was no trail laid out for them, and they had no maps. Try imagining this as you look at the 2005 pictures. The 2005 expedition was sponsored by National Geographic. (12)


To me, a compelling aspect of this story is how a sense of appreciation and love can grow out of the effort to overcome adversity, and how that in turn can give one a greater psychological stamina. This same theme appears in Zen, and I believe is the essence of Buddhist insight regarding “enlightenment” as opposed to religious superstitions, which can have an uplifting effect on people facing hard times, but which are unreliable because they are a placebo effect based on fantasy.

In his book “Man’s Search For Meaning,” (1946) Viktor Frankl expressed a similar idea. His epiphany was forged by surviving a Nazi concentration camp; he was a Jew. For Frankl, survival demanded that one made a conscious choice to live fully, even happily, despite external circumstances. Again, externalities may control my life and my lifespan, but I can always choose my attitude within my time of consciousness. The attitude that made life as fulfilling as possible, whatever the constraints, was one that saw itself as directed toward a goal greater than oneself. A great love for another person, for one’s family; a desire to preserve and publish original ideas on your field of study (Frankl’s motivation); a desire to produce art, literature or some invention you can visualize; these are all examples of what could motivate a person to “live through anything” or die trying. Frankl saw humans as having an innate need to create something of personal meaning out of the physical and mental labor of their lives. If individuals can bring this insight to consciousness and make it specific to their particular lives, they would be as steeled as any human could become to face the buffeting by reality.

What Parrado and Frankl express about their epiphanies may simply be particular examples of Novalis’ elegant presentation of Heraclitus’ aphorism “Character is fate.”


On a less elevated level, a sort of Marxian view of the FAU Flight 571 story would be that in the extremes of scarcity, group action and sharing rather than resource competition and inequity have to be the rule to survive. Yet, despite this there is no loss of individuality, in fact it seems to flower as each person discovers their niche in the collective endeavor. There could also be an element of dismal math here, when there simply isn’t anything, then everyone is “poor” and thus “equal.”

If we look at the Andes story as a microcosm of humanity in a world with a decaying environment, then we could say the lesson is that cooperative attitudes must precede any ability to respond effectively — globally — to halt and then repair environmental damage. Otherwise, I suppose we could hope that as environmental damage becomes more widespread and threatening we will all be drawn together into a more cooperative frame of mind, though this is a rather unappealing form of hope. The analogy does not preclude the possibility that humanity will simply kill itself off unnecessarily through blind, obstinate stupidity. One need only drop names like Cheney and Bush to make this point.

The FAU Flight 571 story — as a story for us — pivots on a realization of happiness by Fernando Parrado that relieved him of any anxiety about the inevitability and near eventuality of his own death. The external reality remained unchanged, and it was crushing and cruel, but he had changed. All the survivors had to have this experience to some degree. The escape was as much a shedding of psychological restraints as it was a trek out of the wilderness; survival was transformation, it was a release of one’s former self. I think this is the essence of the “happiness” that is signified in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “pursuit of happiness,” and I think the reality upon which this “happiness” is based for any individual is their solidarity or “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” with the sea of individuals that surrounds them as our communities, societies and nations. Happiness is simply caring for others who care for you, and wealth can only be the extent of that mutual affection. The political structures of a population with this attitude would necessarily be socialist. So, happiness is solidarity, and solidarity is the objective of Socialism. George Orwell put the matter this way:

“I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.” — George Orwell (“Can Socialists be Happy?” 24 December 1943)

“Love is the final goal of world history – the One of the universe.”
— Novalis (1772-1801)

Enjoy your time in the wild, behind every ridge is a marvelous vista.


[1] This poem opens Alan Watts’ book Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, a “mountain journal” (1973, Random House). It is a series of essays written between 1968 and 1972.

[2] This poem opens Jack Turner’s book Teewinot, Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range. (2000, St. Martin’s Press)

[3] Map of Amundsen and Scott routes to the South Pole in 1911-1912
The Fram Museum,

[4] The Last Place On Earth,
a 1985 film series based on Roland Huntford’s book with the same title,

[5] “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX)

[6] Piers Paul Read, Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,
(1974, Avon Books/J. B. Lippincott, Inc.) ISBN 0-380-00321-X

[7] Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, The Crash and Rescue,

[8] Alexis J. Scarantino, El Milagro De Los Andes,

[9] Cynthia Boaz, Thoughts About the True Miracle in the Andes,
14 October 2007,

[10] Fernando Parrado with Vince Rause,
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, (2006, Crown Publishers)

[11] Ricardo Peña and James Vlahos,
National Geographic Adventure Expedition December, 2005,
Alpine Expeditions,
http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/ngc_adventure/index.html, http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/photos/ngc_adventure2/index.html

[12] Alive, Retracing The Survivors Daring Escape,
April 2006, National Geographic Adventure,

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair for recommending Jack Turner’s book.

[Published by Counter Punch on 21 November 2007]

Explaining ISIS Terrorism to an American Teenager

The Purpose Of This Essay

This essay is intended to be a factual synthesis that helps to answer these questions:

1. What caused the ISIS militant group to arise, and why are they terrorists?

2. Why did ISIS attack Paris, killing 129 civilians on November 13, 2015?

This essay is addressed to young people, like American teenagers, who are on the brink of being launched into the dangerous and confusing world of today which we, the elders born in the 20th century, have brought to the present sorry state that we saw tragically displayed on the 13th of November of this year, in Paris.

Actually, tragedies of equal magnitude have occurred this same month in Beirut, Lebanon, and in Africa, and they occur on a nearly daily basis in Syria and Iraq. But, terrorist tragedies that occur in Europe and the United States easily get much more attention from Europeans and Americans. So, I will have to explain why there is ISIS terrorism in the first place, and then why Paris was one of its targets.

Since my intended audience will have no tolerance for my mincing of words, I will be direct, in a manner that I believe to be fair, and can thus guarantee that many of my peers will find objections of all sorts to what is written here. Since I have no ambitions to boost a career, nor win an election, nor inflate an ego, and while remembering that I have a promise to keep, I will proceed without concern.

I have used extensive excerpts from wikipedia, and the sources are cited. The graphics were found posted on the Internet.

The Levant

Levant_(orthographic_projection)Levant colors - Version 2max

Levant_(orthographic) levantIn the above map note that Israel and the Palestinian Territories are grouped into the yellow area between Egypt, Jordan (Jo), Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.

The island of Cypress is split between Greece and Turkey.

Iran is to the east (right) of Iraq.
The Egyptian Goddess Isis

Long before “ISIS” became associated with a militarized Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group primarily based in Syria and Iraq, “Isis” was the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess.

Isis is one of the supernatural beings in the polytheistic religion of ancient Egypt. Isis was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife, as well as the patroness of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, but she also listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats and rulers. Isis is often depicted as the mother of Horus, the falcon-headed deity associated with the king and kingship. Isis is also known as the protector of the dead, and goddess of children.

The worship of Isis eventually spread throughout the Roman empire and the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of paganism in the Christian era. The popular motif of Isis suckling her son Horus, however, lived on from the fifth century in a Christianized context as the popular image of Mary suckling her infant son Jesus.

It is clear to me that many public figures, like President Obama, refer to the “ISIS” militancy by other labels so as not to tarnish the association of the word “Isis” with the lovely mythology of the goddess Isis, which most people had until recent years.

For more on the Egyptian goddess Isis, see:

ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL‎), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, or simply Islamic State (IS), is a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group and self-proclaimed Islamic state and caliphate, which is led by and mainly composed of Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria. As of March 2015, it has control over territory occupied by 10 million people in Iraq and Syria, and through loyal local groups has control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria and Afghanistan. The group also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world, including North Africa and South Asia.

All the following paragraphs help to understand the meanings of the six terms: Islamic, Sunni, Wahhabi, Salafi, jihadist and caliphate.

A Muslim, sometimes spelled Moslem, relates to a person who follows the religion of Islam, a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion based on the Quran. Muslims consider the Quran to be the verbatim word of God as revealed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. They also follow the teachings and practices of Muhammad (c. 570 – 8 June 632 CE) as recorded in traditional accounts called hadith. “Muslim” is an Arabic word meaning “one who submits (to God).”




A caliphate (khilāfa) is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph (khalīfah) — a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad (Muḥammad ibn ʿAbdullāh), and a leader of the entire Muslim community.



Sunni Islam is a denomination of Islam, which holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s first caliph was his father-in-law Abu Bakr. Sunni Islam primarily contrasts with Shia Islam, which holds that Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, not Abu Bakr, was his first caliph.

Sunni Islam is by far the largest denomination of Islam. As of 2009, Sunni Muslims constituted 87%-90% of the world’s Muslim population. Its adherents are referred to in Arabic as ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah, “people of the tradition of Muhammad and the consensus of the Ummah” or ahl as-sunnah for short. In English, its theological study or doctrine is called Sunnism, while adherents are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis, and Sunnites. Sunni Islam is the world’s largest religious body, followed by Roman Catholicism. Sunni Islam is sometimes referred to as “orthodox Islam”. The word “Sunni” is believed to come from the term Sunnah, which refers to the sayings and actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad as recorded in the hadith.

Sunni Islam


Wahhabism or Wahhabi mission is a religious movement or branch of Sunni Islam. It has been variously described as “orthodox”, “ultraconservative”, “austere”, “fundamentalist”, “puritanical” (or “puritan”). Adherents characterize it as an Islamic “reform movement” to restore “pure monotheistic worship” (tawhid), while opponents characterize it as an “extremist pseudo-Sunni movement.” Adherents often object to the term Wahhabi or Wahhabism as derogatory, and prefer to be called Salafi or muwahhid. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a strictly Wahhabi state.



Jihad is an Islamic term referring to the religious duty of Muslims to maintain the religion. In Arabic, the word jihād means “to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to persevere”. A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid, the plural of which is mujahideen. The word jihad appears frequently in the Quran, often in the idiomatic expression “striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah),” to refer to the act of striving to serve the purposes of God on this earth.

Muslims and scholars do not all agree on its definition. Many observers — both Muslim and non-Muslim — as well as the Dictionary of Islam, talk of jihad having two meanings: an inner spiritual struggle (the “greater jihad”), and an outer physical struggle against the enemies of Islam (the “lesser jihad”), which may take a violent or non-violent form. Jihad is often translated as “Holy War,” although this term is controversial. According to “Orientalist” (historian of the Middle East) Bernard Lewis, “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists”, and specialists in the hadith “understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense.” Javed Ahmad Ghamidi states that there is consensus among Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against “wrong doers.”

[Religion is the most convenient excuse ever devised to justify inflicting cruelty on selected victims — “wrong doers.”]



Salafi jihadism or Jihadist-Salafism is a transnational religious-political ideology based on a belief in violent jihadism and the Salafi movement of returning to what adherents believe to be “true” Sunni Islam.

Salafi jihadism

The term “jihadism” has been in use since about 2000, and “jihadism is used to refer to the most violent persons and movements in contemporary Islam, including al-Qaeda.” The term “jihadism” usually denotes Sunni Islamist armed struggle. Sectarian tensions led to numerous forms of Salafist and other Islamist jihadism in opposition of Shia Islam, Sufism (Sufism or Tasawwuf is, according to its adherents, the inner mystical dimension of Islam) and Ahmadiyya.


Sufism is simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam.
[My good friend Hooshi is an Iranian Sufi]


Ahmadiyya is an Islamic religious movement founded in British India near the end of the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). Ahmadiyya adherents believe that Ahmad appeared in the likeness of Jesus to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice, and peace. They believe that upon divine guidance Ahmad divested Islam of fanatical and innovative beliefs and practices by championing what is (in their view) Islam’s true and essential teachings as practiced by Muhammad and the early Islamic community. Thus, Ahmadis view themselves as leading the revival and peaceful propagation of Islam.



Shia, an abbreviation of Shīʻatu ʻAlī (“followers/party of Ali”), is a denomination of Islam which holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s proper successor as caliph was his son-in-law and cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib. Shia Islam primarily contrasts with Sunni Islam, whose adherents believe that Muhammad’s father-in-law Abu Bakr, not Ali ibn Abi Talib, was his proper successor.

Adherents of Shia Islam are called Shias, or the Shi’a as a collective, or Shi’i individually. Shia Islam is the second-largest denomination of Islam: in 2009, Shia Muslims constituted 10%-13% of the world’s Muslim population, and between 68% and 80% of Shias live in four countries: Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and India.

Shia consider Ali ibn Abi Talib to have been divinely appointed as the successor to Muhammad, and as the first Imam. The Shia also extend this “Imami” doctrine to Muhammad’s family, the Ahl al-Bayt (“the People of the House”), and certain individuals among his descendants, known as Imams, who they believe possess special spiritual and political authority over the community, infallibility, and other divinely-ordained traits.

Shia Islam


The Alawites, also known as Alawis (ʿAlawīyyah‎), are a religious group centered in Syria who follow a very highly contested and controversial branch of Shia Islam. Today, Alawites represent 12 percent of the Syrian population and are a significant minority in Turkey and northern Lebanon.The majority of Syrians are Sunni.

Since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, the government of Syria has been dominated by an authoritarian political elite led by the Alawite Al-Assad family, with Bashar al-Assad as the head of state since the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000.

The modern Syrian state was established after World War I as a French mandate, and represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Arab Levant. It gained independence as a parliamentary republic on 24 October 1945 when Syria became a founding member of the United Nations, an act which legally ended the former French Mandate – although French troops did not leave the country until April 1946.



Since 2011, the government of Bashar al-Assad has been waging a vicious war against the majority of the Syrian people, to remain in power. Today, the Syrian Civil War is an ongoing international armed conflict. It began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of “Arab Spring” protests [peaceful popular mass gatherings and marches throughout much of the Islamic Arab world, advocating democratic government and protesting corruption and repression]. Nationwide protests in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s government were met with violent crackdowns by military forces (troops firing on unarmed civilians, torture and murder of civilians taken prisoner). The conflict gradually morphed from prominent unarmed protests into an armed rebellion, after months of military sieges (which pushed many civilians to arm themselves, and portions of the Syrian Army to join the revolt).

From the early stages of the civil war, the Syrian government received technical, financial, military and political support from Russia, Iran and Iraq. In 2013, Iran-backed Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian Army.

Iran has been a Shia theocracy since 1979.

Iraq is majority Shia, with a Shia-dominant government since 2005.

Hezbollah (“Party of Allah” or “Party of God”) — is a Shi’a Islamist military force and political party based in Lebanon.

Russia has only one foreign military base (the U.S. has about 800), which is a naval base on Syria’s coast.

So, the allies of the al-Assad regime in Syria are the Shia powers of the Levant (the “Middle East”) and of Western Asia (Iran), and also Russia.

By August 2015, the territory fully controlled by the Syrian army was reported to be only about a sixth of the country, but in the most densely populated area, which lies between the Mediterranean coast (to the west) and the capital city of Damascus.

A United Nations report in late 2012 described the conflict as being “overtly sectarian in nature,” between mostly Alawite government forces, militias and other Shia groups fighting largely against Sunni-dominated rebel groups.

The Syrian Civil War is a fight between four “sides,” one side being the government of Bashar al-Assad and its allies, and three sides being in opposition to the government, but also to each other. The four sides are:

1. The Assad regime with the help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, and Iraq.

The Syrian Army and its allied Iranian and Hezbollah troops have attacked mainly rebel-held (and civilian) areas and rebel forces that are supplied (largely through Turkey) by the oil-wealthy Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates) and Jordan.

The Syrian government forces have expended less effort against the Kurds (who are seeking to establish an autonomous Kurdish province in far northeast Syria, whether under the al-Assad government or its successor). The Kurds are an ethnic minority with a unique language, though still a large population, who want to establish their own country in the territory near the junctions of the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Kurdish struggle has gone on for decades.

The Syrian government forces also seem to expend as little energy against ISIL (ISIS) as they can manage without suffering major loses. The Syrian government has tried to make it easier for ISIL to attack other rebel groups. The Syrian government buys oil from ISIL, which ISIL pumps out of oil wells it has captured in eastern Syria, and this oil helps keep the Syrian Army fueled.

Because Assad’s forces were slowly losing ground, Russia intervened in September 2015 and only bombed rebel positions, not ISIS. However, in its effort to regain territory for Assad, the Russians did attack ISIS targets in late October. So, ISIS retaliated by blowing up a Russian passenger airplane in Egypt on October 31, so by the first of November Russia was at full-scale war with ISIS, as France had been even before November 13, when the ISIS attack in Paris occurred.

2. The Kurds

The Kurds (who are Muslims) are motivated by a strong desire for a homeland where they can be free from domination by other ethnicities, and free from discrimination and oppression (as has happened in Iraq in the past, and as is always the case in Turkey). The Kurds are determined fighters against ISIS, which is both an ideological enemy (extreme Salafist “religious” violence against ‘not fundamentalist enough’ Muslims, and all non-Muslims) and a territorial competitor (the ISIL goal of creating its theocratic state, a caliphate that absorbs the countries of the Islamic world). The US supports the Kurds in Syria with arms, money and even the participation of US Special Forces teams, because the Kurds are determined fighters against ISIL.

3. Syrian Rebel Groups

The moderate and secular Syrian rebel groups have largely evaporated due to the length and harshness of the war, and to their lack of foreign military support in comparison to the Salafist Syrian groups who were favored by the undemocratic oil-wealthy Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf States. Along with that influx of Sunni wealth, these Syrian Salafist groups gained many foreign volunteers.

The U.S. had been a tepid supporter of “moderates” because it was opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad both because it is just a horrible, criminally abusive government, and also unfortunately because Israel opposes Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, and the U.S. has a major problem of not being able to untangle its national interests and foreign policy actions from Israeli ambitions.

The money from the Arabian Gulf States given to oppose the al-Assad regime is converted into arms and supplies that are funneled to Syrian Salafist rebel groups through Turkey, Jordan and Israel. With the loss of a non-Salafist Syrian opposition to al-Assad, the Obama Administration has become frustrated because it neither likes the al-Assad (Alawite-Shia) regime nor any possible Salafist (fundamentalist Sunni) successor to it, and because it is alarmed at the increased threat of terrorism worldwide from groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL, which have grown so rapidly in the destruction, chaos and power vacuum created by the Syrian Civil War.

It is important to note that France and some other US allies (Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom) had joined the U.S. in its support of Kurdish and non-Salafist Syrian rebels. France, which has had a long association with Syria (structuring the modern Syrian state and putting the Alawites in positions of power during its mandate of 1920 to 1946; and being a major arms supplier after), was even carrying out aerial bombing of ISIL targets before November 13, 2015. France has the largest Muslim population of any European country.


ISIL is in the Syrian Civil War solely to carve out and then expand its extremely inhuman fundamentalist Islamic (by ISIL’s definition) state, its caliphate. ISIL has put most of its aggressive effort into fighting the rebel groups opposing the al-Assad regime, murdering its captives, and into enslaving women and savagely abusing the civilian population in the territories it overruns.

Syrian Civil War

Syria’s War: A 5-minute History (video)
Ezra Klein
14 October 2015

ISIL/ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda, so to help understand ISIL/ISIS I will first describe al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda (al-qāʿidah, “The Base”, “The Foundation” or “The Fundament”) is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and several others at some point between August 1988 and late 1989, with origins traceable to the Arab volunteers who fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and an Islamist, extremist, wahhabi jihadist group. It has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, the United States, Russia, India, and various other countries. Al-Qaeda has carried out many attacks on targets it considers kafir (a derogatory term meaning “unbeliever,” “disbeliever,” or “infidel”).

Al-Qaeda has mounted attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, including the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings (Nairobi, Kenya), the September 11 attacks (New York City, Washington D.C., an airliner over Pennsylvania), and the 2002 Bali bombings. The U.S. government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the “War on Terror.”

With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top down, to actions by franchise associated groups and lone-wolf operators. Characteristic techniques employed by al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and the simultaneous bombing of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement who have made a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan but who have not taken that pledge.

Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new worldwide Islamic caliphate. During the Syrian Civil War, al-Qaeda factions started fighting each other, as well as the Kurds and the Syrian government.

Among the beliefs ascribed to al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of non-combatants is religiously sanctioned, but they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of non-combatants and internecine fighting (fighting between Muslims). Al-Qaeda also opposes what it regards as man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law (a body of moral and religious law derived from religious prophecy in the Quran and the Hadith, as opposed to human legislation).

Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other sects as heretics and have attacked their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, the Sadr City bombings, the Ashoura massacre and the April 2007 Baghdad bombings (all in Iraq). Since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, the group has been led by the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.


Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

ISIL began as al-Qaeda of Iraq, and grew during the early part of the American occupation of that country between 2003 and 2011. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States by 19 al-Qaeda operatives (most Saudis) inspired by Osama bin Laden (a Saudi who was in Afghanistan and then Pakistan), the George W. Bush Administration exploited the national sense of hurt, and easily manipulated popular desire for vengeance, by launching a war of opportunity in 2003 to topple the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks in the U.S.). The Bush Administration (2001-2008) aim was to install a government of its liking in Iraq (and also to the liking of Israel), and then have US companies manage the Iraqi oil industry in a most profitable fashion (Iraq lies over major subterranean pools of high quality petroleum).

George W. Bush’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush, had been president during the first US war against Iraq, in 1991 (to eject Iraq out of the Gulf State of Kuwait, which Iraq had invaded with the intention of annexing). Also, George H. W. Bush had been vice president in the Reagan Administration (1981-1988), during which the US government supported Saddam Hussein in his eight year war against Iran. The U.S. supplied Saddam Hussein with data on Iranian troop positions, observed by US satellites. The US also allowed Saddam Hussein to buy the equipment he needed to develop chemical weapons, and these were used against Iranian troops. Donald Rumsfeld, who would manage the war against Iraq in 2003, had been Saddam Hussein’s US contact person to accomplish all the deals made during the Reagan Administration. It is estimated that up to one million people died in the Iran-Iraq War.

The first members of ISIL were Sunni military officers from the Army of Saddam Hussein, who along with all members of Saddam’s government bureaucracy and military officer corps, were barred (by the US occupation authorities) from any role in the post-Saddam government of Iraq. This was not only a loss of career and status, but a loss of being able to earn a living, since the only real jobs left after the American invasion (and destruction of Iraqi industry, infrastructure and utilities) were government jobs under the American occupation.

The first election after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, in 2005, finally brought Shia representatives into positions of some political power. Because the country was majority Shia, and as they had been held back from major political power under Saddam Hussein, the Shia took advantage of electoral politics to make themselves the masters of subsequent Iraqi governments. This was a brutal process that included large-scale and vicious sectarian strife: scores of murders and counter-murders on a daily basis for years. The Sunnis now felt excluded from power and vulnerable in every way. A country in which Sunni-Shia marriages and mixed neighborhoods had been common in the days of Saddam Hussein now became one of ethnically separated and feuding enclaves, with many murderous militias at large.

Among these militias was al-Qaeda of Iraq, a group of embittered, radicalized Sunnis with military training who hated Shias, Israel, America and the entire idea of Western Civilization. These were men who knew how sweet the taste of power could be, and were ambitious, ruthless and capable enough to acquire such power “again” by taking advantage of the divisive political squabbles, cowardice and corruption of their political opponents, the lack of military expertise of their religious opponents, and the power vacuum that existed in Iraq in the aftermath of the Bush Administration’s Iraq War of 2003, and the power vacuum which developed in Syria after 2011.

Al-Qaeda of Iraq became so “notoriously intransigent” and pathologically violent that in early 2014 the main al-Qaeda network cut off any association with al-Qaeda of Iraq, which then became ISIL. In Syria, ISIL conducted ground attacks on both government forces and rebel factions involved in the Syrian Civil War. ISIL gained prominence after it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in western Iraq in an offensive initiated in early 2014. Iraq’s territorial loss almost caused a collapse of the Iraqi government and prompted a renewal of US military action in Iraq. ISIL recovered perhaps up to a billion dollars worth (?) of serviceable US military equipment (arms, ammunition, missiles, transport vehicles) left in Iraq after the US withdrawal in 2011, and also arms and equipment (originally from the US) dropped by the panicked Iraqi Army fleeing south and east back to Baghdad rather than facing the ISIL advance in 2014.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant


Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq
Seumas Milne
3 June 2015

What You Need to Know about The Origin of ISIS (video)
16 November 2015
[Libertarian viewpoint of Antiwar.com & Ron Paul]


1. What caused the ISIS militant group to arise, and why are they terrorists?

ISIL/ISIS is a militant fundamentalist Sunni group seeking to establish a medieval Islamic state in the territory of the Levant and Iraq. It is a movement by Sunni Islamic men who see no place for themselves in today’s Westernized (and feminized) world, and as a result want to eliminate any trace of it by violent means. They wish to exercise temporal power as the privileged members of a caliphate that has oil-wealth, enslaved women, and compels adherence to the ISIL view of what constitutes allowable religious practice and social conventions.

The destruction of the country of Iraq in 2003 by the Bush Administration’s war created the situation of unrecoverable loss of career potential, livelihood and personal safety for former Sunni government officials and military men, who were now living in a ruined country of unrestrained lawlessness and blood feuds under an American occupation. The ideology of al-Qaeda of Iraq was nourished by this environment, and ISIL mushroomed out of it.

The destruction of the country of Syria after 2011 because of the murderous brutality of the Bashar al-Assad regime in clinging to power against the majority will of the Syrian people created the situation of a loss of livelihood and personal safety for millions of people (many now refugees), and the collapsing of civil authority over much of the country’s territory, creating tracts of lawless power vacuum. This environment allowed for the maintenance, strengthening and growth of ISIL.

The wasteful, knuckle-headed short-sightedness of the US Defense Department and the G. W. Bush and the Obama Administrations in allowing so much serviceable US military equipment to simply be abandoned in Iraq, and then left behind after the US withdrawal in 2011, became a gift to the arming of ISIL and the increasing of its destructive capabilities and political power.

2. Why did ISIL/ISIS attack Paris, killing 129 civilians on November 13, 2015?

ISIL/ISIS suffered losses of commanders, fighters, territory, arms, equipment, oil wells (income) and prestige as a result of air strikes by the United States, France and Russia during October 2015. So, ISIL sought to avenge itself on each of these enemies. It managed to blow up a Russian airliner with 224 vacationers and crew, in Egypt on October 31, 2015, and to shoot 129 French civilians dead in Parisian restaurants and a concert hall on November 13, 2015.

Besides the immediate tit-for-tat nature of such attacks, these actions fit into the larger unfolding of ISIL’s apocalyptic vision — it sees itself as the agent for the ending of the world as we know it.

What ISIS Really Wants
March 2015


My Message To You

Lead a life of fearless kindness, fearless creativity, with critical thinking, and be proud to maintain a good moral character and a happy disposition. Then, regardless of what twists and turns your life takes and whatever its length, you will always be able to look back without major regrets. Also, you will be an individual that others experience in a positive fashion, and in that way you will be a carrier of light rather than a veiling darkness in human society.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” — Dalai Lama

Father and Son have the most precious conversation about Paris attacks
(Le Petit Journal) (video)
16 November 2015


La Negra Tomasa — Español-English

“La Negra Tomasa,” or “Bilongo,” is a song written in 1937 by the Cuban composer Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe (1907-1995).

Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe (1907-1995)

This song is an enduring classic because it is such an infectious dance tune. My current favorite version of “La Negra Tomasa” is by Los Guaracheros de Oriente, but there are many many recorded versions available on CDs, or electronically (for sale, or gratis on internet sites like YouTube).

To learn more about the Cuban music of which “La Negra Tomasa” is one example, see the lovely documentary “Música Cubana en Santiago de Cuba.”

Musica Cubana en Santiago de Cuba (Documental “Cuba es Musica”)

Este documental es precioso. Se ve gente que son totalmente musical, que son parte de una población a quien la música es tan necesario para vivir como la sangre y el aire. Y mira que nadie se puede aguantar sin mover cuando oyen la música.

This documentary is precious. You see people who are totally musical, who are part of a population for whom music is as necessary for life as blood and air. And see how nobody can keep from moving when they hear the music. The documentary is photographed with beautiful clarity, and is entirely in Spanish, but don’t worry if Spanish is not one of your languages because most of the documentary’s hour is taken up with enchanting musical performances. A delight for the ear, the eye and the soul.

The Spanish lyrics of “La Negra Tomasa” follow, along with some notes on a few of the Afro-Cuban expressions, and then my English translation of this song. After that, I list a few recorded performances posted on the Internet. Enjoy!


Cuba Antes 9 - Version 4Med

Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe (1907-1995)
[Letras a la manera de Los Guaracheros de Oriente, mas o menos]

Estoy tan enamorao’ de la negra Tomasa
Que cuando se va de casa
Que triste me pongo
Estoy tan enamorao’ de la negra Tomasa
Que cuando se va de casa
que triste me pongo.

¡Ay! – ¡Ay! – ¡Ay!

Esa negra linda
Que me hecho bilongo.
Esa negra linda
Que me hecho bilongo.

Na’ ma’ que me gusta la comida
Que me cocina.
Na’ ma’ que me gusta la cafe
Que ella me cuela.
Na’ ma’ que me gusta la comida
Que me cocina.
Na’ ma’ que me gusta la cafe
Que ella me cuela.

¡Ay! – ¡Ay! – ¡Ay!

Esa negra linda
Que me hecho bilongo.
Esa negra linda
Que me hecho bilongo.

Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!

Asi canta el gallo en la finca

—> cantantes improvisan
—> y música instrumental

Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!


Kikiri-BU ¡mandinga!
Kikiri-BU ¡man-din-ga!


enamorao’ = enamorado (enamored, in love)

bilongo = under a spell, bewitched

mandinga = A catchall name in Cuba for a variety of Senegambian peoples who were captured and forced into slavery, arriving in Cuba around 1830. — Ned Sublette

Kikiri-BU mandinga = The mystery [of the meaning of “Kikiribu mandinga”] is easily solved if you refer to the next line in the song. “Asi canta el gallo en la finca” Which means, “Thus sang the rooster in the farm” Kikiriki or Quiquiriqui is the usual Spanish onomatopoeic spelling of a rooster’s crow. “BU” is a syllable shouted to scare someone. Therefore “Kikiri Bu” is a rooster crow meaning to scare someone who might be trying to take him, in this case a “mandinga.” “Mandinga” was a term used in Cuba to refer to slaves brought over from the Senegambia region of Africa. If you listen carefully to the song, you will hear that the “BU” is emphasized when sung and there is a slight pause from the “kikiri” to the “bu” separating the words. I hope this clears the mystery. — Magicflute (at the following link)

“Kikiribu mandinga”


Abajo están las improvisaciones de Compay Segundo en su version de “La Negra Tomasa,” una de sus grabaciones de 2000 bajo el nombre “Las Flores de la Vida.”

Below are Compay Segundo’s improvisations in his version of “La Negra Tomasa,” one of his recordings of 2000 under the name “Flowers of Life,” (without English translation; that’s your homework).

Quiquiribu mandinga
Quiquiribu mandinga.

Alla en La Habana tasajo
Y alla en Oriente mabinga.

Quiquiribu mandinga
Quiquiribu mandinga.

Yo conoci a un cocinero
Que cocinaba mabinga.

Quiquiribu mandinga
Quiquiribu mandinga.

Y machacaba los ajos
Con la cabeza el mortero.

Quiquiribu mandinga
Quiquiribu mandinga.

Como bailaba Tomasa
En el barrio de la timba.

Quiquiribu mandinga
Quiquiribu mandinga.


[an English translation of “La Negra Tomasa”]

I’m in love so completely
with that black witch Tomasa,
when she’s out cause she hasta’
I get so sad and lonely.
I’m in love so completely
with that black witch Tomasa,
when she’s out cause she hasta’
I get so sad and lonely.

Aye! — Yay! — Yay!

Oh me, that black beauty,
she has made me spellbound.
Oh me, that black beauty,
she has made me spellbound.

The only food I want to eat is
what she’s been cooking.
The only coffee I want to drink is
what she’s been making.
The only food I want to eat is
what she’s been cooking.
The only coffee I want to drink is
what she’s been making.

Aye! — Yay! — Yay!

Oh me, that black beauty,
she has made me spellbound.
Oh me, that black beauty,
she has made me spellbound.

Ki-ki-ri-BOO, Mandinga!
Ki-ki-ri-BOO, Mandinga!

The cock spooks the witch to stay a free winger.

Ki-ki-ri-BOO, Mandinga!
Ki-ki-ri-BOO, Mandinga!

—> ETC.


Los Guaracheros de Oriente — “La Negra Tomasa”
[Posted by Ramoberg, with a good slide-show video, and detailed notes about Ñico Saquito, the founder and leader of Los Guaracheros de Oriente.]

This same recording as above is posted multiply by ORFEON, the record label:
[all three above have good sound]


Son de Cuba — Bilongo, La Negra Tomasa
[A live performance in Curaçao. Tamara Morales sings. ¡La mujer canta! Good bongos. Lively and tight.]

Sexteto La Playa — Bilongo
[A lively recording from back in the day (~1950s).]

Compay Segundo — La Negra Tomasa
[A modern (2000) music video with that wily old pro (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) Compay Segundo.]


Trio Matamoros, Old and New

Cubana BailaDon’t we all like to hear the music of those early years when we were young, beautiful and fancy free? I was born in the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, and lived just uphill from Riverside Drive, on 136th Street. As a child, I used to love putting my parents’ 78 rpm and 45 rpm records of Cuban music onto the Victrola, and listen to the music my mother and father had gone dancing to before live bands in the 1940s. One of my first and everlasting memories is of “El Agua Del Pon Pon.”

El Agua Del Pon Pon
(Tito Gomez y La Orquesta Riverside)

Another one of my favorites from those times is “La Bola y La Pelota”

Mi mamá — no quiere — que yo vaya — a la pelota.
Mi mamá — no quiere — que yo vaya — a la pelota.

La Bola y La Pelota
(Conjunto Casino)

The tightest bands I have ever heard, with the punchiest horn parts and most infectious driving rhythms, are Cuban and Latin dance bands.

Cuba En Las '50sAnother song I first heard in my earliest days and which continues to fascinate me still is “Lágrimas Negras,” composed by Miguel Matamoros (1894-1971) in 1929 and recorded by the Trio Matamoros in 1931. I wrote about this song in a earlier post.

Lágrimas Negras — Español-English
14 November 2013

A nice web page (in Spanish) about Miguel Matamoros is hosted by EcuRed.

Miguel Matamoros

Miguel Matamoros had a high, penetrating tenor voice, and wrote many songs with elegantly clever phrasing of knowing, witty and warmly human-hearted lyrics. He knew how to turn a phrase, pun and joke, wail broken-hearted with tongue-in-cheek, and sling the slang. He was a voice of the Cuban soul.

Matamoros was intuitively musical, and taught himself guitar, as well as harmonica and “corneta china” (Chinese cornet, a short oboe type woodwind that looks like a recorder with a trumpet flare at its end). He was composing music by the age of 16 (in 1910) and performing publicly by the age of 18 (in 1912). In 1925 he formed the Trio Matamoros, with Rafael Cueto (1900-1991) playing the second guitar, and Siro Rodríguez (1899-1981) as the second voice (baritone) who also played the maracas. Both Rafael Cueto and Siro Rodríguez also composed, and Cueto added his voice to the choruses of songs, or the occasional third vocal part, as needed. Matamoros, Cueto and Rodríguez formed a very tight musical unit that remained together and active for 35 years.

During their long career the Trio Matamoros travelled beyond Cuba to perform in Europe and Latin America, and for some tours would add musicians to perform as a sextet or septet (Conjunto Matamoros). One lovely example of the Trio Matamoros playing, with three extra hands (Los Guaracheros de Oriente), is this version [the link below the lyrics] of “Mi Veneración,” a song written by Miguel Matamoros in 1929 and gifted to Noemí Matos (the wife of Rafael Cueto) as the designated author who would collect the royalties. La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre is the patron saint of Cuba.

For more about this song see the blog site (in Spanish) by Brismaida Morfitis.

“Miguel 11/04/2014” presents the most accurate lyrics I found, at

“Cachita” is to “Caridad” as “Chuck” is to “Charles”
[from: Ushuaia “castellano rioplatense,” in Buenos Aires]


Autor e Intérprete: Miguel Matamoros.

Cuando tú vayas a Oriente
Mi legendaria región
Tierra que tiembla caliente
Cuna del sabroso son
Llégate al Puerto Boniato
Mira la loma San Juan
Vete al Caney por un rato
Y prueba las frutas que allí dulce están.

Cuando tú vayas a Oriente
Mi legendaria región
Tierra que tiembla caliente
Cuna del sabroso son
Llégate al Puerto Boniato
Mira la loma San Juan
Vete al Caney por un rato
Y prueba las frutas que allí dulce están.

Y si vas al Cobre (¡Ay!)
Quiero que me traigas
Una Virgencita de la Caridad.

Y si vas allá, donde está Cachita
traeme una estampita para mi mamá

Y si vas al Cobre
Quiero que me traigas
Una Virgencita de la Caridad.

Y si vas al Cobre
Traeme una estampita
Que sea bendita de la Caridad.

Y si vas al Cobre
Quiero que me traigas
Una Virgencita de la Caridad.

(¡Ay!) Y si vas a Oriente, traeme de allá
algo reluciente de la Caridad.

Y si vas al Cobre
Quiero que me traigas
Una Virgencita de la Caridad.

Y si vas al Cobre
Busca a mi negrita
Que es mi Virgencita de la Caridad.

Y si vas al Cobre
Quiero que me traigas
Una Virgencita de la Caridad.

Cuando pienso en mi morena
Que se llama Caridad
Rezo como alma buena
Por toda la humanidad
Virgencita tú eres buena
Hazme un milagro de amor
Mira que muero de pena
si tú no mitigas a mi cruel dolor.


Mi Veneración


Here is a description of the Trio Matamoros, lifted from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trio_Matamoros):

The Trio Matamoros was one of the most popular Cuban trova [Cuban troubadour] groups. It was formed in 1925 by Miguel Matamoros, Rafael Cueto and Siro Rodriguez. All three were singers and composers. The Trio Matamoros played boleros and son. They toured all Latin America and Europe and recorded in New York. In 1940 Guillermo Portabales performed with the trio. Matamoros expanded the trio into a conjunto for a trip to Mexico and hired the young Benny Moré as singer from 1945 to 1947. They recorded many 78rpm records and LPs; some of their output is available on CDs. The group were renowned for the harmony of their voices, and the quality of the lyrics. Miguel Matamoros was one of the greatest and most prolific composers of Cuban son. His first hit was “El que siembra su maíz”, followed by classics such as “Lágrimas negras” and “Mamá, son de la loma” (a.k.a. “Son de la loma”).

As a noun in Spanish the word “son” refers to a harmonic rhythmic form of Cuban music. As a verb in Spanish “son” is a plural form of “am,” thus used in the sense of “they are” or “they are from.” The tale (an admixture of myth and fact) behind Matamoros’ song “Mamá, son de la loma” is that a young girl was so taken with the performances of an early Matamoros-led trio in a hotel lobby that she asked aloud where the musicians were from, and immediately reported to her mother Matamoros’ answer: “mamá, son de la loma,” “mommy, they are from the hill.” The reference to “la loma,” “the hill” (a variant being “el monte,” “the mountain”) is simply an idiomatic phrase for the rural mountainous back country, basically “they’re hillbillies.” The members of Trio Matamoros were from Santiago de Cuba, in Oriente province at the far eastern end of the island. An idiomatic reference to La Habana, that vibrant urban center on a coastal plain in northwestern Cuba, is “el llano,” “the plain.” So “Mamá, son de la loma” can be taken as both a statement of the band’s geographic and cultural origins, and as an exclamation of delight on coming upon the sound of their music and recognizing its form “mommy!, son (music) from the hill!”

Mamá, son de la loma
Miguel Matamoros, 1922

Mamá, yo quiero saber
de donde son los cantante’,
que lo encuentro muy galante
y los quiero conocer,
con su trova fascinante
que me la quiero aprender.

Mamá, yo quiero saber
de donde son los cantante’,
que lo encuentro muy galante
y los quiero conocer,
con su trova fascinante
que me la quiero aprender.

¿De dónde serán? (Aye mamá)
¿serán de La Habana?
¿serán de Santiago? tierra soberana.
Son de la loma, y cantan en ‘llano.
Ya verá’, tú verá’.

Mamá, ello’ son de la loma,
mamá, ello’ canta en ‘llano.
Mamá, ello’ son de la loma,
mira mamá, ello’ canta en ‘llano.
Mamá, ello’ son de la loma.

¿De donde serán? (Aye mamá)
¿serán de La Habana?
¿serán de Santiago? tierra soberana.
Son de la loma, y cantan en ‘llano.
Ya verá’, tú verá’.

¿De donde serán? (Aye mamá)
¿serán de La Habana?
¿serán de Santiago? tierra soberana.
Son de la loma, y cantan en ‘llano.
Ya verá’, tu verá’.

The instrumentation in Trio Matamoros (and Conjunto Matamoros) was simple: guitars, maracas, hand-drumming on guitar bodies (as in flamenco); and maybe some acoustic bass, bongo drum and clave accompaniment. Trio Matamoros also recorded as part of an Orquesta Matamoros in the 1930s, and this could include wind instruments and trumpet. BennyG commented on Trio Matamoros sound production as follows.

In the early days, son was roughly divided into two categories, the big band conjunto format performed by groups like Sexteto Habanero, and the more guitar-based trio format of which Trio Matamoros were the greatest exponents. The typical Matamoros arrangement has two guitars, maracas, and of course the three voices. ‘Trio’ really refers to these three voices — many ‘Trio’ Matamoros recordings also have acoustic bass, bongo, and clave — some even have a trumpet. Matamoros’ style of singing ranges from a more trova or bolero-son style on songs like “Mariposita de Primavera” and “Juramento,” to the upbeat call and response of “Hojas para baño” or “Alegre Conga.” Their most pervasive style is the bolero-son, which usually opens with a melodic, slow tempo, romantic bolero style with rich vocal harmonies, but after two verses transitions into an up-tempo call and response between the lead voice and the chorus. The guitar and voice on this [and every Trio Matamoros] album are raw and soulful. Trio Matamoros [recorded] a natural flowing sound that is intensely musical. In comparison, music being made today sounds much more choreographed [‘auto-tuned’].

BennyG, 4 March 2005

A more detailed description of how Trio Matamoros produced their sound follows (in Spanish then English).


Trío Matamoros.
mostly copied from:

Fundado en Santiago de Cuba, Oriente, el 8 de mayo de 1925. Este trío legó, en infinidad de grabaciones, un singular panorama de sones, boleros y otros géneros de la música popular, que se difundieron casi a escala planetaria. Agrupación de este tipo que alcanzó tal nivel de popularidad e influencia en los más diversos estratos sociales. Hicieron que su música fuera y siga siendo una de las más genuinamente populares síntesis de cubanía

Miguel, director, voz y guitarra primas, empleaba de un modo libre la sustancia rítmica y melódica de la lírica popular. No hacía armonías rebuscadas; su música era eminentemente tonal; en sus acompañamientos no empleaba disonancias ni otras asperezas armónicas, y algunos críticos de la época lo tildaron de tradicionalista y anticuado. No obstante, Miguel, compositor de ideas frescas, ritmo elocuente, buen gusto y acento profundamente cubanos, hizo que su música —interpretada magistralmente por su trío— fuera genuinamente popular.

Cueto, guitarrista acompañante, no hacía, como Miguel, el típico rayado característico de la mayoría de los trovadores orientales, sino un movimiento melódico-armónico que realizaba en los bajos de su guitarra, que es lo que comúnmente se conoce como «tumbao», al que Cueto le añadía algunos elementos de percusión en la tapa de su instrumento, que se yuxtaponía al rayado hecho por Miguel en la guitarra prima. De este modo evitaba la cacofonía, tanto rítmica como armónica, muy común en otros intérpretes de la época. Esta fue la clave de Cueto como guitarrista acompañante de Miguel y parte del éxito del Trío Matamoros.

En este ejemplo, las figuras tipo romboide significan los golpes que deben producirse en las inmediaciones de la tapa de la guitarra. Este efecto se logra utilizando los dedos de la mano derecha completamente abierta. La línea ondulada representa el glisado, pero realizado en forma inversa a la normal o natural. En este caso debe deslizarse el dedo índice de la mano derecha desde la primera cuerda hasta la tercera o la cuarta. El pequeño ángulo colocado sobre la línea ondulada, indica que el glisado se realizará desde los sonidos agudos hacia los graves. Obsérvese que la línea ondulada que aparece en el acorde de este ejemplo, no tiene ningún señalamiento, por tratarse del glisado natural que siempre se ha producido en la técnica guitarrística del grave hacia el agudo.

Siro, voz segunda y maracas, poseía un intuitivo concepto armónico que le permitía confeccionar una armonía correcta que yuxtaponía al canto protagonista que hacía Miguel. Asimismo, eran sobresalientes algunas figuraciones melódicas que «inventaba» para «florear» la armonía de la segunda voz; todos estos elementos los empleaba con gran fluidez, gracia rítmica y sandunga, y los enriquecía con el accionar rítmico de sus maracas.

El trío viajó por vez primera a Estados Unidos en 1928, donde realizó sus primeras grabaciones; en 1929 va a México; en 1930 a Santo Domingo, República Dominicana, y en 1933 realiza una gira por Venezuela, Panamá, Curazao, Puerto Rico y Colombia, y en 1960 se presenta por última vez en Estados Unidos. A su regreso a Cuba, después de 35 años de intensa vida artística, el Trío Matamoros se desintegra.

El impar éxito alcanzado por el trío, es debido al carácter de gran innovador que todos le conceden a Matamoros, cosa que logró al crear el bolero-son, es decir que al tema lírico que viene expresado en todo bolero el le añadió el montuno (parte final del son), haciendo del bolero un género bailable. Conciencia, Mata y Beby, y Santiaguera son tres buenos ejemplos.

Sobre estas bases se afianzó la preferencia de que gozaron los Matamoros. El resto fue ”coser y cantar”, sobre todo esto último, ya que lo hicieron por más de treinta y cinco años, durante los que tuvieron numerosas presentaciones en el extranjero.

Actuaron por última vez para el pueblo cubano en el Teatro Chaplin a principios de marzo de 1960. En ese mismo mes viajaron a los Estados Unidos, regresando poco tiempo después, acogiéndose de inmediato al retiro.

[Translating, editing and paraphrasing the above.]

Founded in Santiago de Cuba, Oriente province, on 8 May 1925 [Miguel Matamoros’ 31st birthday], this trio bequeathed in countless recordings a unique panorama of ‘sons,’ boleros and other genres of Cuban popular music, which spread in popularity on an almost planetary scale. Musical groups of this kind reached a high level of recognition and musical influence in all social strata during the 1930s. The type of music Trio Matamoros produced was popular then, and it remains so today as one of the most genuinely appreciated syntheses of the Cuban idiom to a world audience.

Miguel Matamoros, the trio’s director, lead singer and lead guitarist, used his instrument in a free-flowing manner to sustain the rhythm and melody of popular yet sophisticated lyrics. He did not make gimmicky harmonies nor songs, his was essentially tonal music. Trio Matamoros guitar accompaniments did not have harmonic dissonances nor other harmonic asperities, and some critics of the time called Miguel Matamoros a traditionalist and outdated. However, Miguel was a composer of fresh ideas, eloquent rhythm, good taste, and all with deeply Cuban accents, who made music that was masterfully played by his Trio, and that became hugely popular.

Rafael Cueto, the accompanying guitarist, did not use the typical strum that was characteristic of most of the troubadours of eastern Cuba, as Miguel did, but instead performed a melodic-harmonic movement in the bass strings of his guitar, which is what is commonly known as “tumbao,” and to which he added some elements of percussion by finger and hand tapping on the top of his instrument, which composite sound was juxtaposed to Miguel’s strumming and finger-picking. Thus, Cueto avoided creating a cacophony, both rhythmically and harmonically, which was very common in other performing groups of the time. This is how Cueto was able to add the effect of a clave [percussion sticks] into his guitar-bass accompaniment to Miguel, and part of what made the sound of Trio Matamoros so successful. [The three musicians produced a total of four instrumental parts — treble and bass guitar, clave, maracas — and three voice parts — lead tenor, harmony baritone, and the third voice for chorus parts.]

In this example [of a sheet of Trio Matamoros music, which is not shown], the rhomboid type figures mean the taps that must be produced in the vicinity of the top of the guitar. This effect is achieved by using the fingers of the right hand wide open. This wavy line (with an additional angular marking) in the sheet music represents the glissando, but made inversely to the normal or natural one. In this case the guitarist should slide the index finger of the right hand from the first string [highest] to the third or fourth [bass]. The small angle placed on the wavy line indicates that the glissando should be stroked from treble [acute sound] to bass [deep sound]. Note that the wavy line in this other example does not have any other mark because it is for the natural glissando that occurs in guitar technique, from the bass [deep sound] to the treble [acute sound].

Siro Rodríguez, who was the second voice [baritone] and played maracas, had an intuitive harmonic sense that allowed him to properly juxtapose his voice to Miguel’s singing. Also outstanding were some of the melodic figurations that Siro “invented” to “embellish” the harmony of the second voice. Siro used these elements with great fluency, rhythmic grace and joyful acuity, and they were enriched by the rhythmic drive of his maracas.

The trio first travelled to the United States in 1928, where they made their first recordings; in 1929 they travelled to Mexico; in 1930 to the Dominican Republic on the island of Santo Domingo; in 1933 they toured Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, Puerto Rico and Colombia; and in 1960 a final trip to the United States [they had also travelled to Europe before that]. Upon their return to Cuba, after 35 years of intense artistic life, the Trio Matamoros disbanded.

All agree that the unmatched success of the trio was due to the innovative Matamoros, who created the bolero-son, which is the combination of a lyrical theme as it is expressed in all boleros, with the addition of a montuno (the ending section of a son), and this innovation produced a ‘dance-able’ [rhythmic] form of bolero. “Conciencia,” “Mata y Beby” and “Santiaguera” are three good examples.

The popularity that Trio Matamoros long enjoyed first took hold on the basis of these elements [described above]. After that “it was a breeze,” and they continued for thirty-five years, during which they gave many performances abroad.

Their final concert performance for the Cuban people was in the Chaplin Theater in early March 1960. Later that month they travelled to the United States, and on returning shortly afterwards immediately withdrew into retirement. [Their last performance was on a Cuban TV special on 10 May 1960.]


Trio Matamoros — Pobre Bohemia
(from VintageMusic.es; good sound, and a single color graphic)

Trio Matamoros — Pobre Bohemia
(from VintageMusic.es; as above, with muted video of the Trio’s 1960 TV appearance)


Pobre Bohemia
(Miguel Matamoros)

Pobre Bohemia que sola vaga
por esos mundos sin compasion,
llego en el alma cual una que-te-haga
por tu martirio, por tu aflicción.

No vez, Bohemia, que yo te quiero
con todo el alma, mi dulce bien.
Ven a mis brazos que ya me muero
por tu evasiones, por tu desdén.

No llores tanto mujer querida,
por esa senda, senda tan cruel.
Ven a mis brazos, ven enseguida,
quiero salvarte, por Dios mujér.

Yo tengo una mujér que echa candela
cuando me voy a parrandear,
yo tengo una mujér que echa candela
cuando me voy a parrandear.
Ella me plancha la ropa
y luego la quiere mojár
entonces yo le digo no (¡que va!)
y ella me dice que sí.

Mi ropa, mi ropa, ¿porque no me da mi ropa?
Mi ropa, mi ropa, ¿porque no me da mi ropa?
Demonio de esa mujér como me moja la ropa
mi ropa, mi ropa —

Por poquito se rayo mujér, como me ha mojado todo la ropa —

Y tanto cuento con tu mujér, entra la a palos para que tu vea como se acaba todo eso —

O acusa la, Miguel, acusa la, muchacho —

Mira chico, ni la acusa ni la entra a palos.
Ustedes son muy criminales.
Esa es mi mujér y yo la quiero mucho,
y además — está parida.

P-a-r-i-d-a — ¡Ay!

Mi ropa, mi ropa, ¿porque no me da mi ropa?
Mi ropa, mi ropa, ¿porque no me da mi ropa?
Demonio de esa mujér como me moja la ropa.


Poor Bohemia
(an English translation)

My poor Bohemia who wanders vaguely
in lonely worlds with no compassion,
a soul arriving to one that’s ready
for being martyred, for affliction.

You see, Bohemia, it’s you I’m loving
with all my being, my dear sweetness.
Come into my arms for I am dying
from your evasions, your separateness.

Please stop your crying, woman you’re so loved,
don’t take that pathway, so cruel a plan.
Come into my arms, come into my hug
I want to save you, for God’s sake woman.

I’ve got myself a woman that spits fire
whenever I party and carouse.
I’ve got myself a woman that spits fire
whenever I party and carouse.
She’ll iron all of my clothing
and later wants to splash it again
so then – I say no (come on!)
and she – will tell me yes.

My clothing, my clothing, why won’t she give me my clothing?
My clothing, my clothing, why won’t she give me my clothing?
Damn it all, that woman, she splashes all my clothing.
My clothing, my clothing —

I’m just about to blow a fuse woman, you’ve soaked all my clothing —

Too many excuses from your woman, give her a few smacks and you’ll see all that come to an end —

Come on man, accuse her, Miguel, come on accuse her —

Look boys, I’ll neither accuse her nor smack her.
You two are complete crimminals.
She is my woman and I love her very much,
and besides — she’s calved.

She’s – calved – , — ooh!

My clothing, my clothing, why won’t she give me my clothing?
My clothing, my clothing, why won’t she give me my clothing?
Damn it all, that woman, she splashes all my clothing.


Since I mentioned Los Guaracheros de Oriente earlier above, I think it would be nice to take a little diversion to hear them in the following selection, with: voices, guitar, bongo, clave and acoustic bass. The particular YouTube video that accompanies this song is sweetly amusing but it can also be distracting. Make sure you hear the song again later with your eyes closed, or perhaps in the dark at night, so you can just soak in the music. Enjoy!

La Cumbancha — Los Guaracheros de Oriente
[composed by Agustín Lara]

[Agustín Lara]

Oiga usted, como suena la clave.
Mire usted, como suena el bongo.
Dígame, si las maracas tienen
El ritmo que nos mueve el corazón.

Oiga usted, como suena la clave.
Mire usted, como suena el bongo.
Dígame, si las maracas tienen
El ritmo que nos mueve el corazón.

Ultima carcajada de la Cumbancha
Llévale tus tristezas y mis cantares.
Tú que sabes reír,
Tú que sabes soñar,
Tú que puedes decir como tengo el alma de tanto amar.

Ultima carcajada de la Cumbancha
Llévale tus tristezas y mis cantares.
Tú que sabes reír,
Tú que sabes soñar,
Tú que puedes decir como tengo el alma de tanto amar.

Ultima carcajada de la Cumbancha
Llévale tus tristezas y mis cantares.
Tú que sabes reír,
Tú que sabes soñar,
Tú que puedes decir como tengo el alma de tanto amar.


La Cumbancha
[Intérprete: Los Guaracheros de Oriente]

Oiga usted, como suena la clave.
Oiga usted, como suena el bongo.
Diga usted, si las maracas tienen
El ritmo que conmueve el corazón.

Oiga usted, como suena la clave.
Oiga usted, como suena el bongo.
Diga usted, si las maracas tienen
El ritmo que conmueve el corazón.

La ultima carcajada de la Cumbancha
Llévate mis tristezas y mis pesares.
Tú que sabes reír (tú que sabes reír),
Tú que sabes llorar (tú que sabes llorar),
Tú que puedes decir como tengo el alma de tanto amar.

La ultima carcajada de la Cumbancha
Llévate mis tristezas y mis pesares.
Tú que sabes reír (tú que sabes reír),
Tú que sabes llorar (tú que sabes llorar),
Tú que puedes decir como tengo el alma de tanto amar.

La ultima carcajada de la Cumbancha
Llévate mis tristezas y mis pesares.
Tú que sabes reír (tú que sabes reír),
Tú que sabes llorar (tú que sabes llorar),
Tú que puedes decir como tengo el alma de tanto amar.


The music of Trio Matamoros is “folk” or “country” music, without horns, woodwinds, pianos and keyboards, trap drums, or bowed strings. But this was very lyrically sophisticated and harmonically elegant Cuban country music. I find it spellbinding to listen to, and burst out laughing every now and then when I finally realize the meaning of some previously unnoticed phrase of the Afro-Cuban-idiom Spanish lyrics.

In this Cuban-idiom Spanish, the endings of many words are simply left off. For example “pa’ na’” has it formal Spanish equivalent as “para nada,” which means “for nothing.” The “s” of words like “vamos” (let’s go) and “Matamoros” could be left off, so one would hear “vamo” and “Matamoro.” A similar linguistic tail-chopping happens in the idiomatic speech of American urban and Afro-American communities, and is used lyrically in popular music (“gangsta” versus “gangster”). You may have noticed quite a bit of tail-chopping and clipping (dropping the ending s, swallowing the “el” before “llano”) in the lyrics of “Mamá, son de la loma,” above.

The song “Conciencia,” written by Miguel Matamoros around 1934, is a blues-son (Cuban blues) in which Matamoros sings of himself as “washed up,” as is so typical of many good blues songs. In “Conciencia” Matamoros sings (with Rodríguez harmonizing):

Ya Matamoro’, ay Matamoro’, ya Matamoro’ no sirve pa’ na’
con su guitara, y su’ maraca’, aun que quisiera ya no suena ma’

Ya Matamoro’, ay Matamoro’, ya Matamoro’ no sirve pa’ na’
que no es mentira, que si es verda’, que Matamoro’ no sirve pa’ na’

[Chorus] pa’ na’ — pa’ na’ — pa’ na’ — …

Now Matamoro’, yeah Matamoro’, Matamoro’ good fo’ nothin’ no mo’
with his guitar(s), and his maraca(s), though he wants to he’ll sound off no mo’

Now Matamoro’, yeah Matamoro’, Matamoro’ good fo’ nothin’ no mo’
and that’s no lie, and that’s the truth, that Matamoro’ good fo’ nothin’ no mo’

[Chorus] no mo’ — no mo’ — no mo’ — …

Notice the clipped endings:
Matamoro’ -> Matamoros
pa’ -> para (“for”)
na’ -> nada (“nothing”)
su’ -> sus (plural form of “his”)
maraca’ -> maracas (plural form of “maraca,” instruments usually spoken of as a pair)
ma’ -> mas (“more”)
verda’ -> verdad (“true”).

Conciencia – Orquesta Matamoros
(blues son) M. Matamoros / 30 Julio 1934

Conciencia – Trio Matamoros
Los Cubanos Miguel Matamoros, Siro Rodríguez y Rafael Cueto, gestores del Trio Matamoros y denominadores comunes de esa agrupacion que llegó a ser conjunto, sexteto, septeto y hasta orquesta, protagonizaron uno de los fenomenos mas influyentes en el despunte inicial del son como ritmo armonico y el bolero como melodia capaz de incluir cadencia. Su fórmula del bolero-son impactó el desarrollo de la musica afrocaribeña en las decadas de 1920 y 1930 principalmente.

The Cubans Miguel Matamoros, Siro Rodríguez and Rafael Cueto, the members of Trio Matamoros and common denominators in musical groupings that went from trio to conjunto, sextet, septet, and up to orchestra, were the protagonists of a (musical) phenomenon that was one of the greatest influences in the initial blending of son as harmonic rhythm, with bolero as melody capable of including cadences. Their formula of bolero-son impacted the development of Afro-Caribbean music, principally in the decades of the 1920s and 1930s.

Today, there are numerous CDs available of Trio Matamoros music (and one can also buy it electronically). It is clear that the recorded sounds of Trio Matamoros that one hears today have been electronically filtered or “cleaned up” or “enhanced” or “changed beyond recognition,” depending on your age, taste, and degree of prior exposure to their music from old records (pre 1980s). In this regard, comparing the numerous postings on YouTube of Trio Matamoros songs — from the transcriptions of muffled low-bandwidth sound from scratchy 78s, all the way to filter-equalizer computer processed “clean” bright deep echo-chamber maraca-less sound — is most helpful to gaining a sense of what must have been the true Trio Matamoros sound. Thinking about how so much popular music is artificially produced today, it is amazing to remember that Matamoros, Cueto and Rodríguez performed (and recorded) all their songs live and whole: three musicians performing three (to four) instrumental parts and two to three voice parts all at once. It must have been such a joy for them to perform together and share in a resonant and harmonic mutuality of sensation and emotion.

Of the CDs of Trio Matamoros music that I have bought, the following ones issued by YOYO, EGREM and TUMBAO are the best.

Trio Matamoros (Yoyo)“Serie Inmortales, Trio Matamoros, Todos sus Éxitos,” issued by YOYO (from Colombia) in 2002, has 15 of the most popular songs (“all their hits”) by Trio Matamoros, with a clean fresh sound that has been very nicely processed and thankfully not over-processed. You hear the words, you hear the instruments, even the sound of the maracas is crisp, and there is no noticeable background noise (even with headphones, but playing through actual speakers into an actual room always makes for warmer sound with less noticeable background noise from: needle drag, tape hiss, and electronic hum). I rate this CD five stars (*****). The cover photo of the Trio shows, left-to-right, Siro Rodríguez, Miguel Matamoros and Rafael Cueto in casual white outfits and hats. The notes (2 pages) accompanying the CD are good and in Spanish, though the song type and the composer of each selection are not shown (“El Fiel Enamorado” was written by Paquito Portela, not Miguel Matamoros as implied).

Trio Matamoros (EGREM)“Legendario Trio Matamoros, La gloria del bolero son,” issued by EGREM (from Cuba) in 2000, has 21 songs by Trio Matamoros, and is also rated by this reviewer at five stars (*****). The songs on this CD were recorded in Cuba between 1928 and 1951. To my ear the processing by EGREM was a bit more conservative than that by YOYO, but the difference between the two is slight; the YOYO selections seem a bit brighter and louder, while the EGREM selections seem a bit warmer and perhaps to more mature ears burnished and perhaps thus “more authentic.” However, a slight twist of the volume knob (or, alas, fingertip slide to the right) and the EGREM recording fills the room (or your headphones) just as abundantly as the YOYO recording did. The cover photo of the Trio shows, left-to-right, Rafael Cueto, Miguel Matamoros and Siro Rodríguez in elegant dark suits. The five pages of notes (in Spanish) accompanying the CD are superb, and include four photographs of the group, in 1926, 1929, ~1954 and 1961; also, the song type and composer of each selection are noted.

51B4qYgZcoL“Trio Matamoros, La China en la Rumba,” issued by TUMBAO (from Spain), has 24 songs by Trio Matamoros, and is rated by this reviewer at five stars (*****). This compilation was made in 1994, and the sound quality is very close to that of the EGREM recording (above). I am sure many of these songs were transcribed from old platter records (78 rpm) that were in very good condition, or perhaps even copied from the original master recordings. To my ear this TUMBAO compilation sounds like the result of excellent analog sound engineering from the old sources. At some of the quiet intervals I hear old-record needle-drag hiss, faintly. What I do not hear — most gratefully — is any indication of excessive and all-too-modern electronic filter-equalizer computer processing, those ultra-clean silences and liquid-like moldings of the sound that make you think you are listening while floating in an immense amniotic sac. To some older ears this CD may seem to have “the most authentic” Trio Matamoros sound, that which one could have heard from the old records when they were new if the turntables, phonograph needles and audio amplifiers of the 1990s had been available in the 1920s. Again, with adjustment of the volume knob and projection via speakers into a room, the sound from this CD can be experienced in a most satisfying way. It can also be quite lovely through headphones. The five pages of notes, in Spanish and English, are very good, and the song type and composer of each selection are noted.

These three CDs, as listed here, range from brighter sound with fewer songs to softer sound with more songs. However, the variation from bright to soft here is small (and can be offset by hearing the softer sounding CDs at slightly higher volume). Despite their differences they all earn my five star rating because each is a well-rounded whole of: song selection, quantity of music (playing time) and sound quality. There is some overlap in song selections between the three CDs, but not enough to make any one of these CDs redundant. With a computer and applications such as iTunes, one can reshuffle the individual songs from these CDs into longer playlists.

I do not care for the 2 CD, 24 song compilation called “Trio Matamoros,” issued by OK Records in 2011. The song selection is excellent, but the sound has been over-processed to the point of distortion, vocals accompanied by a liquidy-spacey maraca-less instrumental sound. How can you strip off the sound of Siro Rodríguez’s maracas, as if it were part of 78 rpm scratchiness and needle drag noise, and still call the result the sound of Trio Matamoros? The cover graphic of this dual-CD is a largely black field with white dotted curved lines (suggesting a close-up view of the grooves of an old platter record), with two red stars, and a small photo of the Trio Matamoros in their later years, with Rodríguez, Matamoros and Cueto (left-to-right). Young ears that had never heard the original muffled sound of Trio Matamoros from scratchy recordings, or the later nicely processed sound (as described above), might find the “noise free” (and maraca-free) clear vocals and sometimes viscous-spacey sounding instruments of the OK recordings an enjoyable addition to the popular recorded music soundscape of today. I am sure that if Matamoros, Rodríguez and Cueto would have heard themselves as portrayed in the OK Records compilation they would have laughed, imagining they were hearing Martians who had eavesdropped on the Cuban music of the 1920s to the 1950s via Martian short-wave radio; and then they would have written a parody. At most this rates 2 stars (**), for song selection and availability (at a price), but I don’t listen to it at all now, and can’t recommend it given the CD and YouTube alternatives.

51TzWAE9ygL“The Legendary Trio Matamoros 1928-1937,” issued by TUMBAO in 1992, has 20 songs recorded in New York City between 1928 and 1937. “Legendary” is the operative word here, the repertoire is that of Trio Matamoros’ first decade of phenomenal impact as both musical innovators and popular entertainers. The stocks of this CD have been depleted, and only used copies are available now, and for “legendary” prices. The 1931 recording of “Lágrimas negras,” which was indelibly imprinted on my mind as a toddler over 60 years ago, is on this CD. However loving and intelligent and technically masterful the sound processing by TUMBAO was to produce this compilation, it is inevitable that the selections will have an antique sound because the original recording technology just did not have the wide bandwidth (“high fidelity”) to capture fuller, clearer sound; hi-fi technology would increasingly become available from 1941. This collector’s item rates 5 stars (*****). The photograph of Trio Matamoros on the CD case dates from 1926, and shows Cueto, Matamoros and Rodríguez (left-to-right):

Vestidos de <<cubanos>>, con polainas, guayaberas blancas y pañoletas rojas, están armados de guitarras, maracas y machetes. Todo muy típico.

Dressed as “Cubanos,” [rural men] with chaps, white “guayabera” jacket-shirts and red kerchiefs, they are armed with guitars, maracas and machetes. All very typical.

Lágrimas negras — Trio Matamoros, 1931

Let me say “thank you” to all the kind souls who have posted songs on the internet like “Lágrimas negras” with good sound, tasteful accompanying video and/or photos and graphics, and from hard-to-get albums. All we have left today of the Trio Matamoros is their recorded music, and by now that is a treasure that belongs to the world.

I am also grateful that TUMBAO and EGREM in particular, and now also YOYO have done such good jobs of maintaining and carefully polishing the sound quality of Trio Matamoros recordings, and presenting them to the world at affordable prices.

It is interesting and enjoyable to find young musicians of today who perform Trio Matamoros songs with fresh and artistically engaging interpretations. Perhaps you will be one of them.



Lágrimas Negras 7X


Sugaring the Sky, Hummingbirds Near Me


I love hummingbirds (Torchilidae) and have put up feeders for them for many years. This is a presentation on what I have learned about and seen regarding the hummingbird species that live in my area, or are regular visitors. The five parts of this presentation follow, along with some photos.



Hummingbird Moments
(video, 5:28)
30 July 2015


Hummingbird Release
(video, 2:06)
18 June 2015



Hummingbirds Near Me
(species near San Francisco Bay)

The most common species here (in Oakland, California, USA) is the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna), which are the largest-sized hummingbirds in this area, being 9 centimeters (3.5 in) to 10 centimeters (4 in) long, and weighing between 3 to 6 grams (0.1 to 0.2 ounce). The back feathers for both males and females are colored iridescent-metallic green. Males have blackish crowns and gorgets (a band around the throat), which flash rosy purplish red at certain angles to the sun; and on the chest grayish feathers mixed in with metallic green ones. Females have spotted throats with a central patch of red spots, grayish-white underparts, and white-tipped outer tail feathers. Juveniles have plainer color schemes.

I also see Allen’s Hummingbird (Salasphorus sasin) regularly but less often. The Allen’s Hummingbirds have about 85% of the length, and 3/4 the mass, of Anna’s Hummngbirds (of length 8-9 cm, 3-3.5 in; and weighing 2 to 4 grams, 0.075 to 0.15 ounce) but they are fierce! They charge other hummingbirds regardless of size to claim a feeder. The Allen’s have a rusty reddish color (rufous), along with some green. Males have iridescent green crowns and backs, white chests, rufous sides, rumps and tails, and they also have iridescent copper-red gorgets that appear dark when not in direct sunlight. Females are bronze-green above and along the central tail feathers, with white-tipped outer tail feathers, flecked throats, and white underparts with rust tinge on their flanks.

Another species I see now than then is the Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri). These birds are of a size and coloration similar to Anna’s Hummingbirds. Black-chinned Hummingbirds are 8-10 cm (3.25-3.75 in) long, and both males and females have green backs (or, upper parts). The males have a black chin band that combined with the dark crown makes the entire head appear black when not in direct sunlight. The male’s chin band is sharply underlined with an iridescent violet-purple throat band, and below that are the mixed green and grey feathers of the underparts down to the rump. The female has a white throat and breast, buff sides, and white-tipped outer tail feathers. The male’s wings make a dry buzz in flight, I have observed this and it is quite distinctive. Black-chinned Hummingbirds have a greater preference for the dryer and warmer inland valleys east of San Francisco Bay than do the Anna’s Hummingbirds.

The Rufous Hummingbird (Salasphorus rufus) is very close to the Allen’s Hummingbird in both size and coloration, and it is possible I have seen members of this species in late winter and early spring during their migration north from Southern California and Mexico, and in late summer during their migration south from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The Anna’s Hummingbirds originated in southern California and Mexico, and only moved north along the California coast as settlers planted eucalyptus trees and other flowering trees and bushes, and suburbanites put up nectar feeders in their gardens, and hung them from house eaves. I am guessing that the Anna’s Hummingbird evolved in green leafy coastal chaparral terrain (like that of the San Diego and Baja California region), while the Allen’s Hummingbird evolved in coastal redwood forests, and that the Anna’s Hummingbirds settled in as permanent residents in coastal Central and Northern California largely in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Anna's Hummingbird (female, or juvenile)

Anna’s Hummingbird (female, or juvenile)

Allen's Hummingbird (young male, or female)

Allen’s Hummingbird (young male, or female)

Anna's Hummingbird (female, or juvenile), Allen's Hummingbird (young male, in back)

Anna’s Hummingbird (female, or juvenile), Allen’s Hummingbird (young male, in back)

L to R: Anna's (f), Allen's (m), Anna's, Anna's (f or juvenile), Anna's (juvenile male)

L to R: Anna’s (f), Allen’s (m), Anna’s, Anna’s (female or juvenile), Anna’s (juvenile male)

All hummingbirds are very feisty, though the Allen’s are particularly so. They are quick, proud and determined little motors of life, plucking insects out of the air in flight, and taking over and defending sources of nectar, which they lap up with gusto with very fine, long forked tongues. Despite what appear to us as delicate little bodies, hummingbirds are creatures of big and ferocious spirit, they are known to chase off birds of any size that threaten them, or perhaps just annoy them.

These are creatures that live life at a ferocious pace with imperious elegance, that make judgements with haughty confidence, and execute their decisions with lightning-fast precision. They are sugar transformed into sparks of wonder and flashes delight that arc through the air like rays of electrified rainbow.






Overtones Of Awareness

The reality we live in is an infinite spectrum of overlapping cycles of creation and destruction, most of which usually remain outside of consciousness because we are all so focused on our immediate wants and distractions.

Sometimes it happens that the rhythms of two monads resonate in harmony because the fundamental frequencies of their individual creation-destruction cycles match, or synchronize with one as the overtone of the other. A human consciousness involved in such a synchrony could experience it as telepathy, or love, or cosmic consciousness, or all three.

I have been thinking about the past that I have lived through. This happens when you get old, old being defined as the age when a person begins to think about the past they have lived through. Smart old people don’t talk about this because nobody — especially in the America of youthful instant omniscience — wants to hear about it. Many old people are not smart, so they talk about their memories and hard-won wisdom (being generous in the use of that word), and as a result suffer being ignored except for being ridiculed, and experience an increasingly bitter loneliness in their final years.

I have been comparing my memories of significant events half a century ago to the commentaries, commemorations, and propaganda about them in present times.

In 2009, I recalled how incredible it was to experience the popular exultation in Cuba after the success of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Freedom! I wish this for everyone on earth, always.

In 2010, I remembered how pleased we Catholics were that one of our own, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been elected president despite the wide popularity in 1960 of that stalwart commie-chaser Richard M. Nixon. (The other zealous commie-hound, still popular to American public memory, was Robert F. Kennedy.)

In 2011, I recalled how my juvenile political consciousness began to darken because of the fact, not the failure, of the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961 and the Kennedy brothers’ crusade against Cuban communism. My president had sent an armada against the home of my grandparents. Could my family ever return to Cuba?

In 2012, I remembered our family living in terror through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. At one point the question for us was: will Kennedy drop a nuclear bomb on grandma and grandpa in Havana before Khrushchev drops one on us in New York, or vice versa?

During this summer of 2013 we have seen much commemorative pageantry about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stirring sermon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (which I had visited in 1961), but nationally we have yet to seriously grapple with the pith of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of brotherhood and sisterhood. As a society we cannot say we are more egalitarian and caring than we were fifty years ago.

Later this year I expect to see much ponderous vapor issued to coincide with the half-century anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I remember the day and that week well. The sky was grey, the air was cold, the murder of a murderer was televised, and then all television was one long funeral; Thanksgiving was very subdued. I saw the “eternal flame” over John Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery the following spring on a school trip to the nation’s capital. I also got to see an FBI man shoot off a Thompson submachine gun in the basement gun range of the FBI headquarters building: big noise, flares, and splats. Education for school kids.

I remember many things, and I hear so many lies about them today. But, enough of old-mannishness. I want to describe one experience I had of the resonance of awareness.

Back in the glory days of the Regression Reich of Ronald Reagan — when Americans had orgasmically plunged into an intellectual, moral, and spiritual nosedive that Godless hope will eventually level out — I was happily employed as a physicist dreaming up ways to focus the explosive energy of nuclear bombs into ray-beams and jets that could be pointed at the clay pigeons of imperial ambition. This would never be practically realized because the concept was a fantasy concocted by liars to fleece political nincompoops. It did work at fleecing.

At the time, I lived in a small Oakland (California) bungalow at 73 meters elevation (240 feet) near the crest of a small knob just northeast of the transition from the Coast Ranges to the flat land that extends about 5 km (3 miles) southwest to San Francisco Bay. That house would be nearly shoreline property if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were to melt completely, because sea level would rise 65 meters (213 feet). The southeast to northwest trending Hayward Fault lay about 800 meters (0.5 miles) northeast of the house, and sometimes made it jolt and tremble when there was a surge of slippage along the fault.

Just east of the Hayward Fault from my old house lies a ridge, informally called the Leona Heights, whose crest line hovers at elevations between 274 m (900 ft) and 365 m (1200 ft), and that is composed of volcanic rocks about 150 million years old, from the Jurassic geologic period (201.3 Ma to 145 Ma; Ma is mega-annum, a unit of time equal to one million years). The Leona rocks were born as lava, ash, and rubble erupted from volcanoes in an oceanic arc, and have been conveyed eastward by the tectonic plates underlying the Pacific Ocean, to be altered as they were compressed onto earlier accretions crumpled onto the western margin of the westward moving North American continent.

In late afternoon and early evening during summer, the setting sun would cast its warm orange light on the western slope of Leona ridge with its tawny-colored rocks, dry golden grass and scattered oaks, and the image of that mountain would pulsate to the eye as if breathing, and glow as if flushed by a beating heart.

The back of my old house had a deck and faced San Francisco Bay. My view of the buildings in San Francisco to the west was narrowly framed by trees, and was horizontal, because of the modest elevation of my wage-earner neighborhood in comparison to that of the higher situated capital-gains neighborhoods. That view has undoubtedly disappeared with the growth of the intervening trees and shrubbery. During that particular summer, I had an ice chest on the deck with chilled Corona beers (sometimes Dos Equis, and sometimes Bombay Sapphire Gin and tonic), and I replenished it daily. I would also cook fish filets over a charcoal grill. It was nice.

One afternoon I was out on the deck immersed in reading The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (translation by Philip B. Yampolsky, 1967) when I heard the clicking song of an Anna’s Hummingbird. I maintained a nectar (sugar syrup) feeder, which hung from a tree branch that extended over one corner of the deck, and I saw hummingbirds frequently. The feeder was near my deck chair because I liked seeing the hummingbirds at close range. If I were quiet and still they would soon gain the confidence to buzz in and out for meals in my presence, and for rests on the perch bars attached to the feeder.

These birds are amazing flyers: hovering, darting, and weaving to pluck insects in flight to add protein to their diet besides liquid carbohydrates, and making whirling aerial jousts (between males) and courting dances of great speed and agility, sometimes shooting right across my view inches from my nose, so intent were they on chasing each other. I sometimes wondered that I didn’t ever get a needle-like hummingbird bill arrowed into my temples or shins. They can reach speeds in excess of 54 km/h (34 mph). With their iridescent green backs and the iridescent ruby face and throat flares of the males, the air would seem to spark red and green as they zipped across my vision. In late afternoon the setting sun would backlight their activity from my deck chair vantage point, and they would dance as buzzing shadows outlined in blazing light.

The rhythm of hummingbird life is much faster than that for human life. Hummingbirds beat their wings between 12 and 80 times a second, and their hearts are known to pump at up to 1,260 beats per minute (21 times a second). The normal human heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute. To conserve energy when asleep or when food is scarce, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called torpor where their metabolism slows to one-fifteenth its normal rate. Despite such fast living they are hardy creatures, those that manage to survive their first perilous year usually live 3 to 5 years, and there are several recorded cases of 10- to 12-year longevity. Still, all animals have a life expectancy of about 1 billion heartbeats; long-lived humans may exceed 2 billion (the same as chickens that avoid being eaten for 15 years).

Having been called away from the Platform Sutra by the song of a hummingbird perched further off in a nearby redwood tree, I decided to position myself for a possible closer look. I got up from my deck chair and stood close to the feeder. I waited. In the shade under the boughs of the feeder tree the August marine air was balmy, calm, and relaxing. Soon, the miniature hovercraft rotor sound of a hummingbird filled the space around the feeder, and an Anna’s Hummingbird female alighted to dip her beak into the hanging pool of nectar. As she was absorbed in the suction of sweet delight, I observed the delicate grey-brown mottling pattern and filigrees of her breast feathers, and the exquisite detail of her design.

Suddenly, she became aware of my presence as an animal being, rather than as a static tree or rock. She lifted off the feeder perch into a hover and looked into my eyes. I thought she would dart away in a moment, but she stayed suspended in air, analyzing me. I was enchanted, my eyes following her slow swaying motions in hover. Or rather, her precision hovering tracked my eyeballs exactly.

In an instant, she flew close to my face, and I was so surprised I froze in place. She would slowly drift from side to side in a motion as wide as the spacing of my eyes, as if a snake charmer hypnotizing a cobra. I was entranced. I looked into her shiny black beady eyes and sent a telepathic message of admiration for the wonder she was, and gratitude for being allowed to experience her presence so closely. I was so slow in comparison to her, my siphoning from the ice chest having increased the viscosity of my motions. Her beak was so close to my face that I realized this bird could easily lunge at me and puncture my eyeballs, but I trusted her. As she turned her head to cast one eye then another into my own gaze, I felt the reception of a message from her, an acknowledgement of my existence, and even some gratitude for the nectar. Our bubble of connected awareness lasted for a few minutes, but then it popped and she was gone.

It is difficult to dissect the experience verbally, but basically we two beings saw eye-to-eye in a consciously-shared and harmoniously-synchronized few minutes of in-the-moment delight in our existence within the larger symphony of living reality. The mountain was breathing warmth, my heart was the pulse of the Earth, and the hummingbird a focal point of the scintillating sky. We were one.

It is rare to have as consciously intimate, knowing, and expansive an experience with another human being as I had with that hummingbird. That it was easy for her and surprising for me was a revelation about the degree of refinement of awareness that is possible in the animal world. We humans may have become so narcissistic about our own babbling that we have become deaf to the endless singing and harmonizing occurring in the natural world, which is to say all around us.

What is the point of life, beyond delight in the awareness of our existence in the moment? So much could be cured, settled, put to rest if more of us regained receptivity to the song cycles of creation, destruction, and being that we are immersed in.

Our share of eternity is to briefly give identity to monads of mass-energy that cycle through space-time according to enduring principles. Each evanescent individual expresses the eternal universal totality.

A human life is to the earth as a glint of sunlight on the surface of rippling water.


“Overtones of Awareness” was originally published at Swans.com on 9 September 2013.




Report From An Outpost

A brief synopsis of human conditions in response to questions posed by the new Chief of Outpost Guardians, Galactic Command (COG Galcomm). This report is given from the socio-political perspective of Americans, the culture in which this outpost is embedded.*

Outpost E6A1.ox

This outpost is manned by a single pre-contact observer, in the urban environs of the San Francisco Bay Area of California, in the United States of America, specifically the city of Oakland. While it is equipped with a resonant quantum gravitational space-time reintegrator (requavator), tourist traffic is not carried on at this time, to ensure pre-contact obliviousness is undamaged. However, we do support the entry and exit requavation of Galcomm surveillance and assessment teams, and the field trips of Organite researchers in Earth and human dynamics. Our requavation capabilities are ample and can provide the carapace biosynthesis needed by any Galactic Organite to blend into humanity. Because of E6A1.ox’s isolation and minimal transport operations, observations can be carried on without notice or interruption.


First, let me congratulate Namunon Rupa for the appointment to COG Galcomm. I, and all OGs, are aware of how important the role of COG Galcomm is, as the sensory receptor nexus for all Organites with respect to the pre-contact disconnects. What follows is a brief response to the questions you addressed to E6A1.ox, as an addendum to the appointment announcement transmission. Beyond that, I will add commentary as can readily be supplied for a speedy response, yet within format limits. Greater elaboration will follow in subsequent regular reports and as requested by Galcomm.

The World

Earth today is a planet that is rapidly heating due to exothermic human activity — half of the subterranean paleo-liquid hydrocarbons have been consumed, primarily in the last eighty years. Humans have yet to devise minimum entropy systems of planetary energetics, so their use of energy is marked by waste and rapid environmental degradation. What could be a human paradise with ample water and temperate climate for several million years is instead a planet with overwhelming privation, widespread bloody conflict, rapacious conquest by plutocratic elites, and environmental catastrophe likely within decades. The most powerful country (a political entity) from which world plutocracy is building its planetary empire is the United States of America.

The Western Hemisphere

Calculations of present trends in the Planet America Model (developed in collaboration with socio-calculationists in the Planet America Special Interest Section, Institute of Pre-Contact Studies) indicate environmental collapse leading to border-expanding warfare within a century. This year alone, the Caribbean has experienced four devastating hurricanes in succession, a consequence of greater stored heat in the atmosphere and biosphere. The thermohaline cycle is expected to collapse in twenty years (plus or minus five) because of dilution in the North Atlantic due to polar melting and the rise of sea level.

The model projections show that America (the common name of the United States of America) will invade Canada to secure its natural resources, particularly oil, natural gas, water, minerals, wood and territory for military use and for waste deposits. Canadians would be absorbed into the American population, as the majority are white-skinned. This invasion would be prompted by the abrupt climate change after thermohaline collapse, from the currently warmed temperate conditions prevailing at mid latitudes on the North American continent, to a nearly Siberian drought-tundra situation.

The climate in the Caribbean and Central America would be much wetter, and with a greater frequency of severe storms. Floods would wash away what high winds have not swept away, especially in regions denuded of deep-rooted vegetation. Agriculture will be severely hampered, and waves of eco-collapse refugees will stream to Mexico and then north into the southern United States. The southern portions of South America will also be colder because of the general planetary cooling after the thermohaline collapse. Too bad all that atmospheric waste heat was not properly used in the first place, to support the development of organite civilization!

The United States will experience socio-racial shock under the deluge of invasions from the south, and it will invade Mexico to stem the tide and secure resources — oil and water. The Mexicans and Latin Americans, being of darker skin and different language from American elite standards, will be contained in a manner now being practiced by Israel in Palestine (see reports from E2P1.ox). The American military occupation of Mexico will expand south into Central America, becoming a draining overreach.

These invasions will propel the South American countries to merge into an armed alliance, which they will be able to do despite American attacks given the over-extension of American attention. The armament of the south will be done by withholding resources from export to America, such as Venezuelan oil, and using them instead for indigenous social and military needs. This will occur on a continental basis as the Latin Americans will be unified by language (Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, not difficult to bridge), by opposition to the “Colossus of the North” (under history, see “American Intervention”) and the defense of their homes. The Latin American forces that will fight the United States over control of the Venezuelan oil fields (in twenty five to thirty years) will be made up of troops from all over South America.

There will be numerous internal revolutions during this South American Renaissance, causing the collapse of some political regimes, a major expansion of socialism (see the political sections in the references) and the merging and reformation of a number of countries with a rectification of borders. The entire process in the south will be relatively bloodless, aside from the sustained terrorism organized by the indigenous plutocracy supported by America, until such terrorism can be eliminated through social revolutions, which will see a few small scale retaliatory massacres of pro-American plutocrats.

The Global Probabilities

The Latin American Renaissance will be possible because America will be overextended with its North American occupations, its projected Australian occupation (see reports from E4M2.ox on the anticipated post eco-collapse Indonesian Oil War) and the interconnected Oil Wars of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Western Pacific.

A global analysis requires integrating the projections of the Planet America model with those of other regions: East Asia, Eurasia, Islamia, Western Europe and Africa (where America will mount resource raids). At this time the boundary of Islamia and Eurasia — the Caucasus region — is in turmoil that will devolve into the next major war, the Global Oil War expected to last thirty years. The consensus of model projections is for a weakening of the American empire, perhaps even the disappearance of the American political state, under the combined pressure of the Latin American Renaissance, a Euro-Russian alliance (to secure Middle East oil, repel African eco-refugee invasions, and credibly counter American long-range nuclear capability), a Sino-Japanese allied imperial expansion contending for command of Indonesia with American-occupied Australia (though some models predict the reverse, a second Sino-Japanese war), and a fracturing of Islamia from Algeria to Indonesia as different warlords fight and ally themselves with the three blocs contending for Islamia’s oil: America, Euro-Russia (Eurasia), and East Asia. These matters are too diverse to describe here, they require a consolidation of Earth OG reports by Galcomm technical committees, and further analysis by pre-contact academics.

What remains clear is that until the natural conditions of the planet change radically, the expansion of the American empire will be unimpeded. The mechanisms used for this expansion — capitalism (the economics of imperialism) and fossil fuel energy (paleo-hydrocarbon combustion) — are the primary sources of global warming and accelerated socio-physical entropification.

Aspects of American Politics

American politics is impossible to understand on the basis of its literature, since it is entirely a product of subterfuge, denial and obfuscation. However, it is easily possible to understand the purposes of American political customs and institutions, by inquiring as to the effects of these on the great mass of the American public, and upon the much larger mass of Earth’s people. From such empirical observations, and the historical record (being careful to analyze the source motivations and embedded biases of these), one can arrive at a number of basic political facts. Below, I list a number that have been constant over much of American history, and which also find parallels in the histories of many human societies (naturally, there will always be individual exceptions to the generalizations stated below).

1. Ordinary people are always the victims.

2. Capitalism is more important than human life, even of fellow Americans.

3. American politicians will literally walk over piles of dead to raise their ambitions. A notable example occurred in New York City shortly after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001.

4. Media lies and Americans accept the lies.

5. Americans are biased against Islam, Arabs and Muslims.

6. Americans believe Israel is stealing Palestine and oppressing the Palestinians; they accept this situation, and American foreign policy reflects this acceptance.

7. Heroes are unionized blue collar workers — firefighters, police, flight attendants — and soldiers; they are supposed to die selflessly, provide patriotic backdrops to political figures who represent corporate interests, and not strike for higher pay.

8. State capitalism is a system into which all pay while few benefit. It is popular with those few, who insist it be mandatory for everybody. Its attraction rests on the possibility of gain disproportionate to contribution, as with theft. The distribution of benefits is rigged (unlike honest gambling where they are randomized, and except for the house take and discounting skill at the game). The purpose of government is to host the forums that mediate the many dealings that go into arranging the schedule of benefits. Access to these forums is proportional to wealth. America is a welfare state, and in each person’s mind their subsidy is justifiable while everyone else’s is not; the purpose of the public is to be a source of wealth that is as disorganized and unsubsidized as possible.

9. The making of money is an obsessive-compulsive disorder — an addiction. I do not mean pay for work, for the products of hand and mind labor, but about accumulating wealth. All addiction is a “loss of soul,” and to such possession the addict will sacrifice anything: people, scruples, ethics, public safety, The Bill of Rights.

10. The political energy equation: oil = military power = political power = economic power. The equation works backwards as well: money buys power to use the military to secure resources — imperialism.

11. The purpose of all political speech is to befuddle the public mind and distract it from the obvious: the goal of plutocracy is to keep its money and take yours. There is no other goal, whether organized privately as corporations or publicly as government. The recent increase in popular poverty is a clear sign of the success of the economic policies of the present political administration.

12. Ignorance is embraced as a means for social control by the elite, who work to degrade educational standards (which have fallen steadily during the last thirty years in direct anti-correlation with the rising dominance of the present majority political party) and to encourage religious dogmatism. People indoctrinated to dogma are intellectually incapacitated, being trained to dispense with evidence and logic that contradicts implanted precepts. In adapting the psychology of religious faith into the psychosis of remote control political programming, the American capitalist elite is reaching for its apotheosis in fascism. The appeal of ignorance is its ease — thought is work — and its consequence is fear, everything is an unknown and the unknown is a threat. Where the ignorant seek certainty against their fears, religion flourishes. Where religion flourishes, the capacity for cruelty and injustice expands. Elites meld the religious to the political to control the mass of the people and to channel massive popular energy into directed action — war — which taps that capacity for cruelty extracted from the vast reserves of fearful ignorance.

In Conclusion

Pardon the prolixity, but I have reached the usual limit of regular OG reports, and there is yet much to tell. Another fascinating topic here is sex (humans have two sexes and each individual is expressed as one, as opposed to our internalized multiphasic sexuality). However, since I have addressed the specific questions sent, and then elaborated somewhat on several aspects of American political customs, this is a good place to stop. I was beginning to diverge into a discussion of American religion, which is exceedingly involved as a political and psychological topic, though largely bereft of intellectual content (amazingly, few Americans realize each individual actualizes the consciousness of the universe, the Organite essence). In America, religion is an emotional aspect of nonthinking, and of subterfuge when thought is political and economic calculation.

Thank you for your interest in Earth Station E6A1.ox, and be assured I will be happy to respond with special reports on specific questions about this world. Just write.

Earth Outpost Guardian E6A1.ox


* Footnotes are suppressed as the intended distribution is among the pre-contact technical committees of Galcomm and academics specializing in Planet America. Terms not defined are as given in standard references: Glossary of Planet America; History of Human Psychodynamics on Planet Earth; Planetary Americanization: An Empire of Emotion, Calculation and Delusion.


Originally published at Swans.com on 4 October 2004


Energy for Society in Balance with Nature

“Solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y).”


<> The Economic Function Of Energy <>


Economics is the consumption of energy to process matter and produce action for the maintenance and renovation of society. Just as form follows function, the right choice of an energy technology for any society is a function of its economic model and socio-economic goals. Politics is the process of determining the allocation of costs and the distribution of benefits for an economy. Therefore, the selection of the energy technologies to power a society is based on political consensus and political power.

Industrialization is a synchronized and mechanized form of economics. For example, suburbia and exurbia are industrializations of the concepts of village, town, and city. They are the stretching of human settlements into 2D space with a compensatory time contraction provided by an energy-intensive kinetic network of unitary transport vehicles.

Public debates on the influence of industrialization on the global heat balance (the average temperature of much of the biosphere), and the sensitivity of climate change to inputs of industrial waste heat and waste matter (e.g., CO2, methane, soot), are political debates on economic forms couched in terms of the relative convenience, profitability and environmental impact of different energy technologies.

Energy For Human Development

The United Nations uses an economic parameter called the Human Development Index (HDI) to characterize the typical standard of living of every nation. It is observed that affluent nations have high HDI scores (HDI ranges from 0 to 1) and a high use of electrical energy per year per person (in kilowatt-hours/year/person the range is from 0 to 30,000), while poor nations have relatively low values for both quantities. (1)

Data from 2005 include the following:

1. The range of annual per capita electrical energy use among 177 nations was between 40 kWh/year/person and 29,247 kWh/year/person. The range of HDI was from 0.281 to 0.963.

2. The United States of America ranked 10th in HDI, at 0.944, with 13,456 kWh/y/p for 4.5% of the world’s population, which produced 24.4% of the CO2 emissions from human activity.

3. The People’s Republic of China ranked 85th in HDI, at 0.755, with 1,484 kWh/y/p for 21% of the world’s population, which produced 12.1% of the CO2 emissions from human activity.

China is racing to develop, and a momentary digression is necessary on account of its rapidly changing data. Between 2004 and 2009, China’s primary energy use grew by 40%, electricity use by 70%, energy imports by a factor of three, population by 2.7%, and CO2 emissions by 44%. (2) After 2007, China’s CO2 emissions exceeded those of the United States (though per capita emission remains far below the US level). Between 2008 and 2010, world CO2 emissions rose 12.1%, US CO2 emissions by only 0.57% because of the economic slowdown during 2009, and Chinese CO2 emissions rose by 17.2%. In 2010, China’s CO2 emissions were 24.6% of the world total, and the US share was 16.4%. (3)

The United Nations calls the striving of each nation to elevate the standard of living of its population its economic development, and a fundamental part of such development is a greater availability of electrical power.

We can visualize the sequential stages of economic development as an HDI climb up an energy ladder. People who burn matter to generate heat, and have a pre-industrial society, advance their economic development by shifting to fuels of higher chemical energy content: from crop waste and dung, to wood, charcoal, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, and then ethanol and methanol.

The higher stages of economic development are those experienced over the last two centuries by the now highly industrialized nations. Coal was the fuel of 19th century industrialization. Oil and natural gas are the fuels of rapid mass mobility and heating, and power the hyper-animated form of industrial society we know simply as “the 20th century.” Civilian nuclear power became available near the middle of that century, and remains our most concentrated source of energy for producing electricity.

In 2005, the world average HDI was 0.741, and the world average electrical energy use was 2,465 kWh/y/p. People whose lives are characterized by the low end of the HDI scale (near 0.3) can be said to remain, for the most part, in the 18th century. Those in mid-range HDI conditions (0.5-0.6) experience 19th to early 20th century living with some sprinkles of the 21st century, perhaps occasional encounters with consumer electronics like cellular telephones, or militarized police with all too modern automatic guns. Nations with HDI near the world average (0.7-0.8) are clearly modern, though they will still experience many austerities. The plateau of affluence is defined by those nations with HDI above 0.9, and energy use above 6,000 kWh/y/p.

The different levels of economic development existing today mean that no single strategy for advancement is appropriate worldwide, even though it is clear that every national strategy for development must include an effort to improve the reliable availability of energy broadly.

Several nations in the affluence plateau, like Germany, are seeking to make a transition to a post-nuclear, post-fossil fuel economy without a loss of HDI. Energy sources being explored include: solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind, ocean (wave and tidal), hydroelectric (river power), biomass (agriculture for fuel), and conservation, perhaps the richest though least popular source.

Nations that are industrializing now, like China, and are heavily reliant on coal and oil, could decide to skip the atomic age of mid-20th century America and Europe, and leap-frog to a post-nuclear, post-fossil fuel and ultimately high HDI economy by the middle to late 21st century. A recent report in Spiegel Online International notes: “In 2004, Germany held a 69 percent share of the global solar panel business. By 2011, it had declined to 20 percent” because “Chinese competitors offer systems of equivalent quality at significantly lower prices.” (4)

Nations that remain largely pre-industrial and struggle to meet the basic needs of their people, as outlined by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), (5) might conclude that duplicating the 19th and 20th century developmental path of America and Europe is just not possible today, nor conscionable since the raising of their people’s HDI cannot wait two centuries. They might decide to leap-frog from the 18th to 21st centuries, bypassing the intense industrialization of the coal through nuclear economies, and instead invest in the low capital development of many local sources of renewable energy, which would be distributed near its generation sites through low-power micro grids. Such a ubiquitous, frugal, renewable-source and essentially “gridless” power system is in contrast to the concept of a few capital-intensive technologically complex and large coal, oil and nuclear power plants feeding electricity through massive regional and long-distance transmission line systems, to eventually fan out to each particular home. Just getting enough electricity to illuminate homes (enabling reading and study at night) and to power simple machines like water pumps and refrigerators (and hand tools, and perhaps even recharge cellular telephones) everywhere in a currently low HDI nation would be a revolutionary improvement.

At this point we can pose a multitude of questions with one simple query: what are the best energy technologies to power our economy into the future?

Energy Choices For An Uncertain Future

Consider the selection of energy technologies to be: renewables (R), coal (C), oil and natural gas (O), and nuclear (N). Under renewables we group the technologies that harvest energy without resorting to burning (solar, wind, ocean, hydroelectric, geothermal and conservation), and may include some biomass schemes, like methane-generating digesters of farm, household, and municipal wastes, despite the fact that they produce a fuel for burning, which produces carbon dioxide gas. Under renewables, we exclude schemes for the industrial scale agriculture of crops intended to be processed into liquid fuels and methane; this is just the depletion of soil that could be producing food to instead fuel automobiles, farmed oil.

If we think of economic development as a process of concentrating technological complexity and capital for the purposes of improving a society’s well being, then the right fuel to power that society is one whose degree of energy concentration is compatible with the technological concentration of the society. Here, we are referring as much to E. F. Schumacher’s concept of “appropriate technology” as to the earlier description of the energy ladder. (6)

Forms Of Energy In Our Quests For Power

The appropriate choice of an energy technology for any given society will usually be some mixture of the major technologies, labeled here as R, C, O, and N. Let us identify the major attraction of each of our four technologies as follows:

R: achieve MDG, power to end poverty (social power).

C: commercial power.

O: military power.

N: political power.

Renewables can be deployed locally with little capital and are thus the first choice for moving pre-industrial people out of poverty and into the upper half of the HDI range, which corresponds to lives in humane and secure conditions that Americans and Europeans would see as elementary 20th century life.

Coal is abundant, it can fuel the great furnaces of heavy industry, and it can provide the heat to generate electricity for billions of people. This is why China burns so much coal, and why also America and Europe continue to use it. Coal is the fuel of commercial power gained through heavy industrialization, a 19th and early 20th century technique of development that is perfectly suited to countries whose typical experience of life is of a comparable time, and who have much greater ambitions.

Oil is the “liquid gold” that is refined into the fuels that make the automobile culture, the airline industry, and the highly mobile global reach of the United States military possible. The many large, heavy, complex, low-mileage, high-power vehicles of the US military could not exist without jet fuels, high-octane gasoline, diesel fuel, and fuel oil; the Air Force would be grounded, the Navy tied up at port, and the Army reduced to marching or horse-drawn wagons, since their trucks, tanks, and helicopters would be immobilized.

Civilian America could probably live quite well with only renewable energy, but it would be impossible to maintain today’s military capabilities without petroleum-based fuels. Renewables are low concentration technologies, they require large collection areas, and are completely unsuited to military mobility. If very high energy density batteries were available, perhaps the US military could maintain solar energy farms (probably all of Arizona), that constantly charged them up, to power its electrified vehicles. However, electric battery technology has not achieved anything near the energy concentration of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Electric cars remain rare because their batteries take up more space than the gas tank, which they are far heavier than, and they provide less range before being exhausted and requiring a lengthy recharge.

Nuclear reactors can power large ships like aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines, as well as large static bases, but are far too cumbersome for most military tasks. Coal can be liquefied into a fuel (producing more CO2 than the extraction of crude oil and its refinement to liquid fuels) and is probably what the US military would turn to in the event that petroleum ceased being available.

The many liabilities of nuclear power are well known, and today are being highlighted by the Fukushima disaster. But, nuclear power always has one irresistible draw: it is the source of nuclear weapons. The fascination here is entirely that of political power, the belief that in possessing nuclear weapons one possesses the ability to make the ultimate threat: to obliterate an enemy. What is often forgotten is that in order to carry out the threat one needs a reliable and accurate delivery system, usually missiles. As more nations acquire nuclear weapons and missile systems, another consideration becomes the ability to survive retaliation. As purely war-fighting tools, nuclear weapons have become obsolete because Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) guided chemical high explosives conveyed by missiles and drone aircraft can destroy targets with an accuracy of meters, eliminating the need for large-area blasts to compensate for the targeting inaccuracy of unguided gravity bombs and ballistic missiles. However, possession of nuclear weapons certainly gets their keeper the attention of other nations.

A Simple Model Of Energy Choices

So, the first method we might try for prioritizing a society’s investments in energy technologies would be to rank the four types of power the decision-makers might want (political, military, commercial, to end poverty), and then by the corresponding code letters shown earlier, we arrive at a preference ranking of energy choices. We might guess at the following two examples, and then compare them to reality:

United States:
military, commercial, political, social; (O, C, N, R).

commercial, social, military, political; (C, R, O, N).

In 2009, the United States produced 37% of its energy from petroleum, 25% from natural gas, 21% from coal, 9% from nuclear power, and 8% from renewables, the bulk of which was hydroelectric. Grouping petroleum and natural gas together, these portions become: O at 62%, C at 21%, N at 9%, and R at 8%. (7)

In 2005, China produced 81% of its electricity from coal-fired plants (C), 17% was hydroelectric (R), and 2% from nuclear power (N). Petroleum is refined for the liquid fuels used for transportation. China is the world’s leading producer of renewable energy, the bulk of which is hydroelectric. With an eye to the future, China is also the largest producer of wind turbines, solar panels and solar water heaters. At the UN climate summit in 2009, China pledged to have 15% of its energy generated from solar power within a decade. (8)

An Improved Model Of Energy Choices

The previous type of analysis is too simple — we want greater insight into the politics of energy. Decision making in most countries is a blending of competitive interests, how do we account for the many possibilities of this? My response was to devise a detailed model based on the decision theory of Richard C. Jeffrey. Decision theory combines ideas from statistics, probability theory, and logic, and is the result of work by philosophers, mathematicians, economists, and logicians. (9)

The essential points of my improved model are as follows. The agent making the decisions about national investments in energy technologies is assumed to be a composite of several characters. Each of these characters represents a major constituency or interest as regards national energy policy. I considered three single-minded characters: “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “maximum energy now.” The deciding agent is a weighted sum of these three characters. For example, if all three characters had equal political power, then the agent’s preferences would be an equal blending of “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “max energy now.” If the portions of political power for the three characters happened to be 1/7 for “no nuclear,” 4/7 for “stop global warming,” and 2/7 for “max energy now,” then the preferences of the deciding agent would be a composite of the single-minded preferences in these same proportions. Five case studies, each with a different set of political weights, were calculated from the model and are described below.

When the deciding agent is entirely the single-minded character “stop global warming,” the ranking of investment choices is R, N, O, C (renewables, nuclear, oil and gas, coal). Clearly, this character holds off on burning as much as possible, and only reluctantly agrees to it when there is no other source of energy. Notice that a single-minded concern for global warming leads to a preference for nuclear power over combustion power.

A deciding agent that is equally split between “no nuclear” and “max energy now” (and does not care about global warming) is most likely to rank investment choices as C, O, R, N. The numerical results show that this agent is equally comfortable choosing coal or oil, so the ranking could just as easily be O, C, R, N. If this deciding agent had less of the “no nuclear” character, so that its preference ranking placed R last, then this agent would mirror the actual character the US energy mix: O, C, N, R.

A deciding agent that is equally split between “stop global warming” and “max energy now” (and does not care about avoiding nuclear) is most likely to rank investment choices as R, C, and then N and O equally. The numerical results show that the single most preferred technology is coal, but the concern over global warming boosts the incentive to invest in renewables. If this deciding agent had less “stop global warming” character, so that C was first in its ranking of investment choices, then this agent would mirror the actual character of the Chinese energy mix: C, R, N, for the generation of electricity (O is used for transportation fuels).

A deciding agent that is equally split three ways between “no nuclear,” “stop global warming,” and “max energy now” is most likely to rank investment choices as not-N, R, O, C. This agent’s first priority is to stop, end, and prevent funding for nuclear power. The next priorities are positive investments in energy sources, ranked as R, O, C.

Because of its natural preference for nuclear power, the “stop global warming” character is directly opposed to the “no nuclear” character. A deciding agent that is one part “no nuclear” and two parts “stop global warming” (and has none of the “max energy now” character) will most likely rank investment choices as R, N, O, C. This is the same ranking as that of a single-minded “stop global warming” agent. However, because there is a minor portion of the agent with the “no nuclear” character, another ranking that is nearly as probable is R, O, N, C.

While it is possible to elaborate models of this type into systems of great complexity to capture many types of opinions on energy policy and their relative political weights, and to use computers to calculate projections on the possible directions of a society’s energy politics, I think it’s better to keep the models reasonably simple and to use them as guides that help the mind organize the information from which decisions are to be drawn, and then to bring out the most important points. John von Neumann (1903-1957) said: “The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.”

International Energy Politics

Based on what has been presented up to this point, we can propose the following as six points of probable conflict [1-6].

High HDI environmentalists, whose major concerns are the consequences of global warming (R, N, O, C), are:

[1] at odds domestically with their military and commercial sectors (O, C, N, R), which are interested in immediate power and profits,

[2] at odds with high HDI anti-capitalists, whose major concerns are political opposition to war, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power (R, O, C, N).

Low HDI economic developers, whose major concern is the immediate raising of living standards (C, R, O, N), find themselves:

[3] at odds with high HDI environmentalists on the issue of economic development (coal),

[4] they find high HDI anti-capitalists disinterested in low HDI economic development (interest is opposition to high HDI power),

[5] they find high HDI commercial sectors competitive with and thus hostile to their industrialization.

Low HDI economic developers are aware of and concerned about global warming, which is why they seek to develop R technology (C, R, O, N).

[6] They find themselves at odds with high HDI commercial sectors, who are disinterested to pay the cost of reducing their CO2 emissions (O, C, N, R), or of developing R technology suitable to low HDI conditions.

If we imagine that each of these conflicts is a simplified reflection of reality, then it is easy to see why the 2011 UN Convention on Climate Change, in Durban, South Africa, resulted in setting to 2015 the completion of an international agreement to limit carbon emissions, and waiting till 2020 for that agreement to take effect.

Now for a change of focus. Instead of trying to answer how societal choices on energy have been and will be made, we give free rein to realistic imagination and ask: what could we do to produce and use energy if there were no political barriers?

The Energy Systems Of Two Imaginary Futures

Let us sweep away all the conceptual restraints placed on the imagination by the fractious politics and societal indecision of our times, and instead visualize energy systems that are physically possible, to power economies that feed some subset of enduring human desires.

US National Solar Electricity System

Solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y).

We could imagine a single site in the American southwest that was a square with sides 427 km (265 miles) long; or 100 sites of 43 km (26 mi) square sides; or 1000 sites of 14 km (8.4 mi) square sides. If the conversion efficiency of sunlight to electricity is increased to 10%, then only 18,232 square km (7040 sq. mi) of collection area are needed; this could be one site of 135 km (84 mi) square sides. The combined land areas of the White Sands Missile Range, Fort Hood Texas, Yuma Proving Grounds and Twentynine Palms Base is 18,435 square km (7118 sq. mi); imagine them being used to host a national (publicly owned) solar electricity system, US NSES.

The conversion efficiency of solar (photovoltaic) cells varies with type, age, and conditions, the extreme range being 2% to 43%, where efficiencies beyond about 20% are for specialized devices in research laboratories. One expects 15% to 19% efficiency of solar cells in the field. (10)

Solar-thermal systems convert sunlight to heat, and are of many different types. (11) A solar-thermal-electric system captures sunlight as heat in a transfer fluid (synthetic oil, pressurized steam, molten salt), which is used to generate steam that powers conventional turbine-generators of electricity. One such system, Nevada Solar One, nominally produces 64 MW of electricity from a collection area of 1.2 square km (300 acres), an efficiency of 5.3%. (12)

With a combination of photovoltaic and solar-thermal-electric systems, the United States could use 18,400 square km (7,100 sq. mi) of publicly owned land (converted military bases) to provide 4T kWh/y of socialized electricity, converted from sunlight with 10% efficiency (sunlight at 1000 Watts per square meter is assumed for only 25% of the time to account for nights and cloudy days).

The obvious difficulties with solar energy are nighttime, clouds, and dust on the reflectors or their glass covers. A solar power system can supply electricity steadily if it is paired with an energy storage system that is filled during daylight hours, and discharged during darkness. We could imagine half the electricity generated during daylight being stored for use at night.

The form of storage could be electrical, in batteries, or mechanical, as the spinning masses of large flywheels, or gravitational, as the pumping of water into elevated tanks or uphill reservoirs. At night, the batteries would be discharged, the flywheels spin down by rotating the shafts of electric generators, and the pumped storage recovered hydroelectrically. We can imagine the US NSES pumping water into Lake Mead (Nevada) during the day, for hydroelectric recovery at Hoover Dam during dark times.

As for the dust, it seems we will always need people to clean windows.

Carbon Neutral Free Market Economy

Americans reached a four-fold consensus: carbon emissions must be reduced drastically, it was absolutely essential that anyone be able to own a 13 mile-per-gallon two ton, four wheel drive SUV (a truck-based automobile), the US military required enough fuel to move all its vehicles all the time, and civilian nuclear power was acceptable if the reactors were well sealed, and the radioactive wastes were moved permanently offshore.

The Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada, (13) a vast sludgy deposit of mixed crude bitumen, sand, clay, and water, with a viscosity like cold molasses, is strip mined and softened by high temperature steam into a pressurized oily slurry that is piped to US synthetic fuel plants along the Canadian border. The large amount of viscosity-reducing heat needed along the entire length of the pipeline is supplied by electric heaters, which are powered from Canadian nuclear reactors dedicated to this purpose.

The large amounts of carbon dioxide gas released by the production of synthetic gasoline is contained at the synfuels plants and piped to the National Carbon Sequestration Portal, by the Pacific Ocean at the Oregon coast. This site has large underground tanks for the temporary storage of pressurized CO2, and its own nuclear power plant, which generates the energy needed for pumping CO2 into the National Carbon Sequestration Site at the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.

The CO2 is pumped offshore 300 km (186 mi) and down into undersea basalt below a depth of 2,700 m (8900 ft), where it reacts to form stable carbonate minerals. (14) That these accumulating carbonate deposits may lead to an acidification of the local oceanic environment, and adversely affect marine life, is not seen as likely by the designers of this scheme.

Coal is still mined in the U.S., but it is all processed into synthetic liquid fuels for civilian and military transport. Electricity is generated primarily from nuclear power, with a small portion being hydroelectric. To compensate for the loss of coal as a fuel for producing industrial process heat (blast furnaces and such) a much larger quantity of electricity is generated than in the past, to provide industrial heat electrically.

The nation’s 531 nuclear reactors (up from 104 in 2008) are now of a new modular design. When the reactor core has been used up, the control rods are fully inserted into it, the containment vessel is filled with coolant and sealed, and the entire assembly is removed for disposal; a fresh replacement is installed. The spent sealed vessels are shipped to the National Nuclear Embarkation Facility in South Carolina. These sealed vessels, called “plugs,” are carried by specialized container ships to sites along the Mid-Atlantic Bathymetric Disposal Line. This line runs along the ocean floor about 4,000 meters below the surface, parallel and to the west of the rift valley in the middle of the tectonic spreading zone known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The plugs are unloaded through the bottom of the container ship’s hull, and guided by robotic submersibles to prepared emplacement holes, which have been drilled into the ocean floor. The rate of tectonic spreading is about 2.5 cm (1 in) a year, so the Mid-Atlantic Bathymetric Disposal Line moves west, along with the rest of North America, at a rate of 25 km (15.5 mi) every million years.

By these means, Americans are able to continue with their preference for luxury truck-like road vehicles, suburban sprawl, air travel, and a high HDI lifestyle, without increasing the carbon emissions of the nation. However, these emissions remain high on a per capita basis, and global warming continues.

Parting Thoughts And A Fantasy

Life is effort, and effort is energy in use. As a society, the types of energy we use and seek to acquire are reflections of who we are. Our political conflicts are like the squabbles of scavengers assembled around a fallen carcass on the Serengeti Plain, and they have their echoes as conflicts over national and international energy policy. Regardless of whether we choose to tear our earth apart by competitive selfishness, or to nurture it communally, we will have to do a great deal of work to maintain reliable cycles of energy use that sustain our many nations. I believe that working cooperatively releases more energy for improving the HDI for everybody.

An African Fantasy

The Sahara Solar Energy Consortium includes the countries Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. With technical experts from Germany and Spain, and armies of workers from the host countries, the SSEC has built many solar energy farms across the Sahara, transmitting low-cost electrical power to all of Africa, and easily paying for itself (and the African development it enables) by exporting electrical power to Europe via the undersea Trans-Mediterranean Conduit. The SSEC is the world’s leading supplier of hydrogen gas produced by the electrolysis of water. Hydrogen gas is used to power fuel cells used as back-up generators of SSEC electricity. A hydrogen fuel cell is a device that converts the heat released by oxidizing hydrogen (burning it into steam) into electricity. (15) The steam is captured for reuse, naturally.


1.  M. García, Jr., Energy For Human Development, (a series of reports from 2006),

2. “Energy Policy of The People’s Republic of China,”

3. “List of Countries by Carbon Dioxide Emissions,”

4.  Alexander Neubacher, “Solar Subsidy Sinkhole: Re-Evaluating Germany’s Blind Faith in the Sun,” Spiegel Online International, 18 January 2012,

5. “Millennium Development Goals,” United Nations,

6. “E. F. Schumacher” (1911-1977),

7. “Energy in The United States,”

8. “Renewable Energy in The People’s Republic of China,”

9.  Richard C. Jeffrey, The Logic of Decision, 1965, McGraw-Hill Book Company.

10. “Solar Cell Efficiency,”

11. “Solar Thermal Energy,”

12. “Nevada Solar One,”

13. “Oil Sands,”

14. “Carbon Sequestration,”

15. “Fuel Cell,”


Originally published at Swans.com on 27 February 2012


How “The Economic Function of Energy” came to be written.

As part of my professional technical work in 2006, I devised an improved analytical fit (a curve) to the correlation between national HDI and average electrical energy use per capita, for 177 nations. My employer (Livermore Lab) hoped to use this result in grant applications seeking funds for nuclear energy research, arguing it was a social benefit (this was for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, GNEP, a program thankfully now dead). I continued in this job effort by applying the decision theory of Richard C. Jeffrey to devise simple models of how an agent (such as a government policy-making body) might rationally select what type of energy technology to invest in for the best results in raising a nation’s HDI.

Given that raising HDI was my stated goal, and not maximizing profits to a group of speculators (such as corporations), my decision theory models always pointed to renewable energy technologies as better than gas, oil and coal. It is obvious that climate change and environmental improvement or degradation have significant impacts on HDI. So, I combined my technical work on HDI curves and decision theory to justify my recommendation that my employer instead focus on the improvement of solar and renewable energy systems. This was my last project before retiring in 2007. I found much of the data quoted in “The Economic Function of Energy” during 2006-2007.

In 2007, I was urged (by two academics) to write a clear explanation of climate change science, aimed at convincing Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012), the political journalist, and the publisher-editor of Counterpunch (along with Jeffrey St. Clair), that his climate change skepticism was misplaced. That article is

Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
4 June 2007

and it did not change minds one way or the other. Also, it is a very good article.

In 2011, I thought I would write a book on energy and climate change politics based on all I had learned in my investigations into

Energy for Human Development

, HDI, energy policy decision theory models, and climate change science.

In December 2011, I completed an outline for this planned book, and that outline is now published on this blog.

Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Once I had the outline, I realized that my imagined book would be encyclopedic, which is to say impractical for me to write. I decided that the best way to make use of all that I had learned was to write reasonably-sized articles for a general readership, articles that were informative and clear without diluting the technical insights, and which provoked thought (I hoped).

“The Economic Function of Energy” is the result of that focus. It is my favorite of my essays to date, I think it is my best work of synthesis. It won’t change minds one way or the other, but I am very happy I developed to the point where I could and did produce it.