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FEATURE

It's Official: The HoneyBees are Gone [Congressional Testimony]





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by Janet Ritz

Experts are gathering outside Washington, D.C. today for a two-day meeting to collectively scratch their heads about the Colony Collapse Disorder, aka 'Where have all the honeybees gone.'

The phenomenon was first noticed late last year in the United States, where honeybees are used to pollinate $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other crops annually. Disappearing bees have also been reported in Europe and Brazil.

Commercial beekeepers would set their bees near a crop field as usual and come back in two or three weeks to find the hives bereft of foraging worker bees, with only the queen and the immature insects remaining. Whatever worker bees survived were often too weak to perform their tasks.

http://www.cnn.com/...

There's been a lot of speculation about this lately. Others have written extensively on their ideas as to the cause. I don't know the cause, so I thought I'd write an article that addresses what we do know, what questions are being asked, what is being done, and what has been reported, so far, in Congressional testimony.

The scientists and researchers meeting in Washington today have formed working groups from several universities, government agencies and research facilities...


FEATURE

Remembering a Virginia Tech Hero: Liviu Librescu





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by Janet Ritz

By now, you may have heard of Liviu Librescu, the Virginia Tech professor who was killed as he barricaded the door to give his students time to jump out the second story window of his classroom:

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Librescu's son, Joe Librescu, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home outside Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

A courageous end for this Holocaust survivor who died on Holocaust Remembrance day.

But there's more to Liviu Librescu's story, one that shows his brave act to save his students' lives on Monday was as in character for the professor as the suit and tie he wore everyday to school.

From the NYT article:

When Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, the young Librescu was interned in a labor camp, and then sent along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a central ghetto in the city of Focsani, his son said. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed by the collaborationist regime during the war.

Librescu, who was 76 when he died, later found work at a government aerospace company. But his career was stymied in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist regime, his son said, and he was later fired when he requested permission to move to Israel.

Librescu obtained his degree in mechanical engineering and aviation construction in 1953 from Polytechnic University in Bucharest. He went on to earn his doctorate from the Bucharest-based Academy of Sciences in 1969, and an honorary degree from the Bucharest Polytechnic University in 2000.

His wife, Marlena, at his NY memorial today:

"He was a very human person who wanted to help everybody. He was a hard man also, he wanted everybody to be 100% and he asked from himself this also. He worked very hard, from morning to midnight, he was very anxious to make new discoveries. He was not a young person, but he was so very young."

Marlena Librescu.

Librescu immigrated to Israel where he taught at Tel Aviv University and worked on aeronautical engineering innovations. He first arrived at Virginia Tech on sabbatical in 1985 and stayed on as a teacher and researcher, which included work with NASA, hundreds of published papers and numerous awards for a scientist who:

specialized in composite structures and aeroelasticity

Librescu's work led to the strengthening of the materials used in aircraft skins and frames, which may have led to the increased survival rate during crashes, as well as definitely contributing to the overall structural integrity of aircraft.

There are many people that Dr. Librescu's work may have rescued.

(Publication list for Liviu Librescu)

Dr. Librescu will be remembered as much for his patience with his students, for his commitment to teaching and for his unselfishness, as for the meticulous suit and tie he wore to all occasions.

Carefully and perfectly dressed, he held the door closed and yelled for his students to kick out the second story windows as the senseless bullets that had missed him in that Nazi labor camp, that had missed him during the Communist takeover, that had missed him while he worked in Israel, finally found their mark on Holocaust Remembrance Day when he made the conscious choice to give his own life for his students.

An average Monday in professor Liviu Librescu’s solid mechanics class that in a blink turned from reviewing homework to the unmistakable pop of gunshots outside her Norris Hall classroom. In the flurry of students dialing 911 on cell phones, taking cover on the floor and twisting open second story windows to escape, Merrey, 22, glanced over her shoulder before jumping.

"I just remember looking back and seeing him at the door," the Virginia Tech senior recalled of her professor. "I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for him"

[snip]

"It wouldn’t amaze me he would do such a thing," fellow engineering professor Muhammad Hajj said. "He’s that kind of person, willing to take care of others, protect others."

http://www.roanoke.com/...

And that's exactly what he did. Dr. Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, did not survive the deadly rampage at Virginia Tech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, but, per CNN, all his students did.

(List of Virginia Tech victims)

Not available at this time: A complete list of the students whose lives he saved.

Dr. Librescu is survived by his wife, Marlena, and his two sons, Arieh and Joe. His funeral will be in Israel following a memorial service in New York today.

He will be buried in Ra'anana, Israel, just north of Tel Aviv.

Zoroastrianism's influence on Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and You...





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by Janet Ritz

Recently, I had a discussion with a writer who'd included Zoroastrianism with pagan and Wicca. I have nothing against pagan or Wicca, but found it surprising that the writer was unfamiliar with Zoroastrianism's founding influence on the world's primary faiths:

Zoroastrianism is a religion founded in ancient times by the prophet Zarathushtra, known to the Greeks as Zoroaster.

Zoroastrianism was the dominant world religion from 559 BCE to 651 CE, and was thus the most powerful world religion at the time of Jesus. It had a major influence on other religions and is still practiced world-wide.

Those other religions that Zoroastrianism influenced?

Western Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and Eastern Dharmic (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) religious traditions, including God, the Devil, sexual equality, evolution, environmentalism, and, my personal favorite, free will...

What is Zoroastrianism?

"Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed world-religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith." - Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979, p. 1)

"Zoroaster was thus the first to teach the doctrines of an individual judgment, Heaven and Hell, the future resurrection of the body, the general Last Judgment, and life everlasting for the reunited soul and body. These doctrines were to become familiar articles of faith to much of mankind, through borrowings by Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is in Zoroastrianism itself that they have their fullest logical coherence....” - Mary Boyce, Op. Cit. p. 29.

http://www.avesta.org/avesta.html

From the wiki

[Zoroastrian] Relation to other religions and cultures

Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its formative links to both Western Abrahamic and Eastern Dharmic religious traditions.

Some scholars (Boyce, 1987; Black and Rowley, 1987; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1988) assert that key concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology are evident in the Abrahamic religions, for instance in the Asmodai of Judaism.

[snip]

For example, one of the popular strains within Zoroastrianism considers both good and evil as creations of God. According to historians, this is a doctrine that influenced Christianity and notwithstanding the great deal of exposition in order to not compromise Zoroaster's otherwise coherent concept of Free Will, has a widespread following...

Why is Zoroastrianism important today?

Zoroastrianism, though small in number of adherents, is the original religion of tens of millions of Shi'a Iranians, Sunni Kurds and the Parsee of India. These populations still celebrate Zoroastrian holidays, still honor their Zoroastrian roots and, in many cases, have expressed a yearning to go back to the precepts which were noted for their tolerance of other faiths and commitment to coexistence, a point of view that is lacking in many parts of the regions where they live:

Many aspects of Zoroastrianism are in turn present in the culture and mythologies of the peoples of the Greater Iran, not least because Zoroastrianism, for a thousand years, was a dominant influence on the people of the cultural continent. Even after the rise of Islam and the loss of direct influence, Zoroastrianism remains part of the cultural heritage of the Iranian language-speaking world, in part as festivals and customs [...] which in turn is pivotal to Iranian identity.

If you want to understand the Iranians, the Kurds, the Parsi of India and the source concepts of the religions that both east and west call their own, an exploration of Zoroastrianism can be invaluable.

Zoroastrian Environmentalism

Zoroastrianism is, first and foremost, a environmentalist religion. The purity of the earth, water and air is paramount to the founding precepts and the adherents are bound, by scripture, to protect nature in all its glory. This is also evidenced by Zoroastrianism's specific holidays, which fall on the equinoxes and solstices, as celebrations of the natural cycles of the earth (more on this below).
Faravahar Symbol:

The Faravahar, a winged disc with a man's upper body, the symbol of the Zoroastrian religion, is thought to represent the guardian spirit who sends one's soul into the material world to fight the battle of good against evil.

Note: Prior to the reign of Darius the Great (522 to 485 BCE), the Faravahar showed only the winged disc. The figure of Darius was added, either at his instruction and/or to honor him, during his lifetime. It is this combined image that has survived as the representative symbol of the faith.

Basic Zoroastrian precepts

  • Equalism: Equality of all, irrespective of gender, race, or religion.
  • Respect and kindness towards all living things. Condemnation of the oppression of human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals.
  • Environmentalism: Nature is central to the practice of Zoroastrianism and many important Zoroastrian annual festivals are in celebration of nature: new year on the first day of spring, the water festival in summer, the autumn festival at the end of the season, and the mid-winter fire festival.
  • Hard work and charity: Laziness and sloth are frowned upon. Zoroastrians are encouraged to part with a little of what would otherwise be their own.
  • Loyalty and faithfulness to "family, settlement, tribe, and country."

From the scripture

On Evolution: "How is existence brought about? Just as one substance is evolved out of another according to its own laws and in the finite time."

On Action: "A thousand people cannot convince one by words to the extent that one person can convince a thousand by action."

On Religious Education: "It is the desire of Ahura Mazda [God] from people is this: 'Know me', for he knows: 'If they know me, everyone will follow me'. The desire of Angra Mainyu [the Devil] is this: 'Do not know me', for he knows: 'If they know me no one will follow me'."

Zoroastrianism's most sacred prayer

The Ahunwar (in Avestan):

ýathâ ahû vairyô
athâ ratush ashâtcît hacâ
vanghêush dazdâ mananghô
shyaothananãm anghêush mazdâi
xshathremcâ ahurâi â
ýim drigubyô dadat vâstârem!!


Translation:

The will of the Lord is the law of righteousness.
The gifts of Vohu-mano [humanity] to the deeds done in this world for Mazda [God].
He who relieves the poor makes Ahura [God] king

He who relieves the poor makes Ahura [God] king...

And then there are those ancient legal codes within the Avesta that prohibited slavery, allowed for anyone, king to poorest, to bring another before a court, required that men were responsible for women they impregnated (and the child) throughout their lifetimes, codified that women could own land and divorce without question, prohibited animal and human sacrifice and on and on and on.........

More on the basics beliefs

The supreme being is called Ahura Mazda (Phl. Ohrmazd), meaning "Wise Lord." Ahura Mazda is all good, and created the world and all good things, including people. He is opposed by Anghra Mainyu (Phl. Ahriman), meaning "Destructive Spirit," the embodiment of evil and creator of all evil things. The cosmic battle between good and evil will ultimately lead to the destruction of all evil.

The scripture of Zoroastrianism is called the Avesta, which consist of the following five books:

  • Yasna: Sacred Liturgy and Gathas/Hymns of Zarathushtra
  • Khorda Avesta: Book of Common Prayer
  • Visperad: Extensions to the Liturgy.
  • Vendidad: Myths, code of purification, religious observances
  • Fragments

The most sacred section is in the Yasna: the Hymns of Zarathushtra (also known as the Gathas). These are beautiful poems that are incredibly enigmatic, requiring a lifetime of study and thought to come to an understanding of the layers of teachings written by Zoroaster, of which, the following (from the wiki) are the basic beliefs:

  • There is one God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator to whom all worship is directed.
  • Ahura Mazda's creation - truth and order - is the antithesis of chaos - falsehood and disorder.
  • Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta) is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay.
  • The malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu, the "Destructive Principle".
  • Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over Angra Mainyu, after which, all souls of the dead will be brought from darkness and reunited with God.

Here's that bit from the scripture (Zoroaster's own words) that I like:

"It is the desire of Ahura Mazda from people is this: 'Know me', for he knows: 'If they know me, everyone will follow me'. The desire of Angra Mainyu is this: 'Do not know me', for he knows: 'If they know me no one will follow me'"

That quote is not difficult to figure out. Zoroaster is saying that Ahura Mazda [God] wants people to know him because, if they do, they will follow him, whereas the Angra Mainyu [the angry spirit] does not want people to know him, because if they did, they would not follow him.

Zoroaster was not often that direct in the Gathas. If fact, he was rarely that clear. To understand him, his writings need to be read in Avestan and mulled over for years to get any idea, at all, as to their meaning.

Even then, one can go back and find more meanings in the words, due to the nuance and complexity of the Avestan language, a nuance that exists in the resultant Indo-European languages that followed (Farsi, Kurdi, etc), making it imperative that one understands both the context and the idioms if they seek to obtain an accurate translation (more on language below).

The five sacred books were followed by multiple texts written centuries after Zoroaster's death. These additional books, while revered, are perceived as commentary -- since they were not written by Zoroaster -- rather than sacred (something that has been misinterpreted by some in western academia who have taken precepts from the additional texts as the source religion).

These text are known as the Middle Persian or Pahvlavi texts and comprise over a thousand years of thought.

Religious observances

Religious observances include the wearing of sacred garments, a sudreh (shirt) and kusti (cord or belt). There is a cleansing ritual known as the Padyab, where an adherent reties the kusti several times a day with another short ritual called the Nirang-i Kusti.

Prayer is in the Avestan language and is performed several times a day either facing fire or the sun as representative of the spirit of God.

Birthdays are honored and celebrated with gifts and ritual, as are the birth of children, which includes gifts to both the mother and child.

There are several festivals throughout the year (mostly falling on equinoxes and solstices). The modern Newroz (New Year) festival in both the Iranian and Kurdish culture is a primary Zoroastrian event.

A black Zoroastrian skullcap, known as a fenta, is thought to have influenced the use of the kippah (yarmulke) in Judaism, as well as the head coverings in both the Catholic and Islamic faiths.

Death and cleansing rituals

Early Zoroastrianism was specific in its requirement to preserve the purity of earth, water and fire. As they saw the body as a vessel for one's spirit, the flesh, upon death, was seen as unclean, because it decomposed. To bury it or burn it was, to them, a form of pollution.

Therefore the cleansing ritual (this is a bit ewwww) was a form of recycling where they left the body out to be picked clean by carrion, after which they would bury the bones which were considered purified.

Note that, with the exception of the Parsi in India, the practice is not followed as strictly in the Zoroastrian diaspora.

Sexual Prohibitions and Responsibilities

There are admonitions against sex with a women during menstruation, rape and sodomy; similar to the same prohibitions you see in the Bible.

The difference is the responsibility the perpetrator had toward those he involved and/or violated. This is a very interesting part of the religion, in that, if a man impregnated a woman (rape or not), he was responsible for her and her child's well being for life.

The sodomy prohibition was interesting, as well, in that it prohibited the practice among Zoroastrians (the punishment was a lashing), while it was specified that such judgment was not allowed against anyone who was not Zoroastrian, as they had a right to their own beliefs and practices.

You see this point of view throughout the scripture and the precepts; the requirement that Zoroastrians neither judge nor evangelize against other belief systems, which led to a tolerant religious environment and coexistence between faiths that was hitherto unseen in the ancient world.

Fire (Asha)

There has been some confusion about whether Zoroastrians worship fire. They do not. Fire is seen as a representation of the spirit of God, not as a deity in itself. It is called a symbol of "Asha," which translates as "original light of God" and consecrated flames are kept burning in major temples as a sign of esteem for the Asha.



Zoroastrian Temple at Yazd, Iran

Monotheism
The beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, the most sacred texts of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet acknowledged devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda

There is debate as to whether Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic or dualistic religion. Zoroastrians consider it monotheistic because Ahura Mazda is specified as the only and supreme god. Others cite the fact that Ahura Mazda and his opponent Angra Mainya (which means angry spirit/destructive principle) being perceived as uncreated beings locked in a battle of good vs. evil, means that Zoroastrianism is a dualistic faith.

Zoroastrians point out that Zoroaster's writings, the Gathas; the first poems of the Zoroastrian scripture and the only part of the scripture known to be written by Zoroaster himself, specifies Ahura Mazda as the one god and that such suppositions are misinterpretations of the later texts.

Zoroastrians also point out that, as dualism means worshiping more than one god, and since they would never worship an angry spirit that is equivalent to the devil, the designation does not apply to them anyway.

Not in dispute: Zoroastrianism was the only other religion of its time (approx 1700-1000 BCE) to believe in a single omniscient and supreme being besides Judaism; at a time that the Hebrew tribes were still forming their beliefs. Those beliefs had an opportunity to influence one another in the sixth century, BCE, when the tribe of Judah was exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (hanging gardens' fame), where their leading citizen, Daniel (of the Lion's Den Fame) interacted with the Zoroastrian king of Anshan (Iran), Cambyses I, his son, Cyrus the Great and Cyrus' successor, Darius the Great.

It was at that time, when the first ten books of the Bible were being transcribed from the tribe's oral history to text, that many Zoroastrian precepts were thought to have entered the belief systems of the tribe of Judah in Babylon and of the lost tribe of Ephraim, which was in Anshan (Iran) following their exile from Israel years earlier by the Assyrian King, Tiglath Pileser III (their descendants being Iranian Jews).

Influence on other religions and societies

As specified above, Zoroastrianism is thought to have greatly influenced Judaism, specifically through the prophet Daniel's close association with the Achaeamenid kings (Cambyses I, Cyrus the Great, Cambyses II and Darius the Great).

Two locations claim Daniel's tomb. One, in Kirkuk, is venerated by the Iraqi Kurds who see Daniel as a great man who both served and influenced their Zoroastrian ancestors. The other is in Susa, the former king seat of Darius the Great, in southwestern Iran; a place where Daniel is known to have lived when he was in Darius' service as an adviser to his court.

It is interesting to note that Iranians still lay flowers on Daniel's tomb. They do the same with the tomb of Esther, the Jewish wife of Xerxes the Great. They are aware that the founder of Iran, Cyrus the Great, returned the tribe of Judah from their enslavement in Babylon to the city of Jerusalem, along with the funds to rebuild their temple and a promise of protection; a promise which he and his predecessors kept until their overthrow by Alexander the Great two centuries later.

It is also interesting that Iran's major holidays are almost all Zoroastrian events. The influence of Zoroastrianism on Islam and the Iranian culture is profound. Again, the quote from the wiki:

Many aspects of Zoroastrianism are in turn present in the culture and mythologies of the peoples of the Greater Iran, not least because Zoroastrianism, for a thousand years, was a dominant influence on the people of the cultural continent. Even after the rise of Islam and the loss of direct influence, Zoroastrianism remained part of the cultural heritage of the Iranian language-speaking world, in part as festivals and customs but also because Ferdowsi incorporated a number of the figures and stories from the Avesta in his epic Shāhnāme, which in turn is pivotal to Iranian identity.

In addition, Zoroastrianism is thought to have influenced eastern Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. This is expressed through the Vedic texts of Dharma, a Sanskrit word that means both 'fixed decree, law, duty' and 'natural law, reality':

Like the historical Vedic religion, which is the historical predecessor of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism also derives from the religious principles of Indo-Iranian times. As such, and although Zoroastrianism is not considered a Dharmic religion, it is not surprising to find fundamental concepts similar to dharma and rta in the [earlier] Gathas as well.

Zoroaster (Thus Spake Zarathushtra)

"The prophet Zarathushtra, son of Pourushaspa, of the Spitaman family, is known to us primarily from the Gathas, seventeen great hymns which he composed and which have been faithfully preserved by his community. These are not works of instruction, but inspired, passionate utterances, many of them addressed directly to God; and their poetic form is a very ancient one, which has been traced back (through Norse parallels) to Indo-European times. It seems to have been linked with a mantic tradition, that is, to have been cultivated by priestly seers who sought to express in lofty words their personal apprehension of the divine; and it is marked by subtleties of allusion, and great richness and complexity of style.

Boyce - Zoroastrians, Their religious beliefs and practices, London, 1979, pg 17.

Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in the Greek form) is generally accepted as a historic figure. Most schools of thought place him around 1200 BCE, though many Zoroastrians cite him as having been born around 1750 BCE, either of which would make him the founder of the earliest religion based on scripture (others put him as early as the 18th and as late the 6th centuries BCE). The Greeks identified him as a Bactrian because he preached in the Aria province of Iran (near Afghanistan), thought there is dispute about that as his birthplace.

[The Gathas] include many rote details of his life, such as a record of his family members: His father was Pourushaspa Spitāma, son of Haecadaspa Spitāma, and his mother was Dughdova. He and his wife Hvōvi had three daughters, Freni, Pourucista, and Triti; and three sons, Isat Vastar, Uruvat-Nara, and Hvare Ciθra. Zoroaster’s great-grandfather Haēcataspa was the ancestor of the whole family Spitāma, for which reason Zoroaster usually bears the surname Spitāma. His wife and children, and a cousin named Maidhyoimangha, were his first converts after his illumination from Ahura Mazdā at age 30.

Zoroaster is reported to have lived a hermetic lifestyle as a child. He is thought to have been born either near the Dhraja River (Aria province of Iran) or by the River Araxes near the northwest frontier of the Medes. Legend says that he laughed at his birth and spent much of his childhood in reflection.

Zoroaster's first converts were his family, including his wife's aunt, Queen Hutaōsa (Atossa) of Bactria, whom, along with his daughter, Pourucista, was influential in spreading the word of his scripture.

Atossa was also a royal name in the line of the Achaeamenids, given to both the sister and daughter of Cyrus the Great, pointing to either a name of honor or the possibility that the Achaeamenids might have claimed descent from Zoroaster's line itself (although there is no evidence to support that one way or the other).

Zoroaster left the court of Queen Hutaōsa and King Vištaspa of Bactria, to preach his scripture to ordinary people; a new concept in a world where religion was thought to have been the purview of a privileged theocratic class.

The Shahnameh, which translates as the "Book of Kings," an epic poem written by the Persian poet, Ferdowsi, states that Zoroaster was murdered at the altar by the Turanians (Nomadic tribes of Central Asia) during their the conquest of Balkh (Mazari Sharif in Afghanistan).

After his death, Zoroaster's teachings were continued by his daughter, Pourucista and her husband, Jamshid, as an an oral tradition that was initially committed to writing during the Achaeamenid (Cyrus and Darius) period and then fully committed to text under the Sasanians; rulers of the third Iranian empire.

Zoroastrianism, the religion as revealed by the prophet Zoroaster would go on to become the predominant world religion for a thousand years, until the rise of Islam pushed it into the subconscious and cultural memory of the Iranian and Kurdish peoples.

Zoroastrianism also followed the Iranian exiles, those who fled Islamic persecution and forced conversion, east to India. These exiles are now known as the Parsi a close knit Zoroastrian community that is one of the few to hold on to all the old rituals and to follow the scripture as written.

Zoroastrianism in Western Academia

Much of the western understanding of Zoroastrianism comes from the early Greek writers, most specifically, Herodotus. This presents a problem because both he had reason to overlook the positive in favor of the difference and/or misunderstandings of the faith.

To understand why, it helps to look at what was happening between east and west where he lived.

Herodotus was from Ionian Greece (western Turkey) at a time when the Achaeamenid kings, Darius and Xerxes, were campaigning against Greece. During Darius' campaign, the city of Miletus (modern Bodrum), the seat of Greek philosophy, revolted against their Persian overlords and was burned to the ground.

The importance of Miletus cannot be underestimated in the hearts of Greeks. It was the home of Thales the Sage, the father of philosophy who had opened the first Greek academy of higher learning, where his students included Pythagoras and Anaximander and his colleagues, Solon and Aesop.

To quote Aristotle: All thought began with Thales.

Needless to say, after that, the Greeks were not inclined to publicized positive information about their adversaries' faith.

In addition, there has been some confusion in reading the sacred texts (the first five books of Zoroaster) as also including the later Pahlavi texts, rather than seeing the latter as commentary and religious studies.

Zoroastrianism, Avestan, and the Cuneiform of Kings

My understanding of Zoroastrianism comes through both my own exposure to the faith and seven years of research I did for a book I am writing. To facilitate that research I learned the language of the Zoroastrian scripture, Avestan, along with several forms of cuneiform used by the Achaeamenid and Babylonian kings (old Parsan, Elamite and Akkadian).

From the cuneiform inscription on Darius' tomb:

Ahura Mazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king; I am king. By the favor of Ahura Mazda I put it down in its place; what I said to them [my subjects], that they did, as was my desire.

There are many cuneiform inscriptions tying the kings to their Zoroastrian beliefs, with quotes that are both an expression of faith and of power, but it was Avestan, the language of the Zoroastrian scripture, that surprised me the most. Not only because I found it to be a beautiful languge, filled with nuance and subtlety that required patience and thought upon interpretation. But also because it turned out that Avestan is the root Indo-European language for English, Greek, German and Kurdish, among many other. This became clear through words such as (note the nuance in the different definitions):

Humata: Well thought out, well planned, human.
Anaiwyâstô: Ungirded, without holy garments (the Kusti), inexperienced.
Patha: way, road, spiritual path.
Angra: hostile (angry), evil, bad.
Patar: Father.

Here's a link to the Avestan Dictionary for those who would like to explore this very important source language.

Noted Zoroastrians

The most well known Zoroastrians are not even known as Zoroastrians. These are the three wise men, the Magi, from the bible who brought presents to Jesus at his birth. The Magi were the priestly caste of the Medes (Kurds) who were the clerics of the Zoroastrian faith within their culture.

Other noted Zoroastrians include Cyrus the Great and his successors, conductor Zubin Mehta, singer Freddy Mercury, actor Erick Averi (list).

Zoroastrianism today

While there are a small (and dwindling) number of actual adherents worldwide, the direct influence of Zoroastrianism (beyond the influence on other religions) is surprisingly large.

As mentioned above, Zoroastrianism is an archetypal foundation belief system of millions of Iranians, including those who follow Islam. Their holidays are Zoroastrian, they still lay flowers on the tombs of the Zoroastrian kings, Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great and on Daniel's and Esther's tombs, as well.

Therefore, it is possible that Zoroastrian precepts are one way to reach Islamic extremists in the Iranian culture, as they might be willing to go back to the more tolerant axioms of Zoroastrianism if they received encouragement; but not if it is misrepresented or disrespected.

The existence of the same founding precepts could be said for over 30 million Kurds. They are very close to their Zoroastrian roots, very proud of that heritage (many still follow the Gathas of Zoroaster) and that's over 30 million with an M.

Zoroastrian Adherents

Small Zoroastrian communities are found in India (the Parsis), Pakistan, Iran, as well as major urban areas in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and a worldwide diaspora.

There are estimated to be between 140,000 and 200,000 Zoroastrian hereditary adherents worldwide. The small number is because, in its most strict interpretation, Zoroastrianism requires one being born into the religion. As that interpretation has led to a significant decrease in numbers, there is increasing pressure among less orthodox Zoroastrians to allow conversion to increase the base.

This is a difficult decision because Zoroastrianism does not evangelize, as it would violate one of the founding precepts, tolerance and acceptance of other beliefs; a precept that made the early Persian king, Cyrus the Great, exceedingly popular when it became clear that to live under his rule meant to be respected for and left alone with one's own beliefs.

Summary

Zoroastrianism is a founding belief system acknowledged to have heavily influenced both Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and Dharmic (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) religions.

It is a religion of tolerance and respect for environment that is dwindling in numbers because they neither evangelize nor allow conversion. There are Zoroastrians who are arguing for conversion, as there are many who wish to join the faith in this time of intolerance and climate change. There are no Zoroastrians, however, who argue for evangelizing the faith, as it is against precepts to judge another's belief system as lessor to one's own.

Even with it's small numbers of adherents, however, Zoroastrianism's influence is profound, especially among tens of millions of Iranians, Kurds and the Parsi of India. As such, it is one possible way to reach the more extreme members of the religions that followed and bring some of them back to the early tolerance of their original faith, as it is a founding principle of their cultures, one whose precepts of equality, environmentalism and coexistence could be of benefit to all the regions of the world.

More information about Zoroastrianism:

Avesta -- Zoroastrian Archives

Wiki on Zoroastrianism

Livius (Dutch author Jona Lendering's incredible historical site) on the:
Avesta, Zoroastrianism, Zoroaster, the Achaeamenids and his complete index on Persia.

Recommended reading: Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians

Frederick Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra (this is fiction and not recommended as a religious text or commentary -- just put here for reference).

FEATURE

Google Earth Maps Out Darfur Atrocities





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by Janet Ritz

Google Earth has teamed up with the US Holocaust Museum to map out all Darfur atrocities on their satellite views and match them to the Holocaust Museum's collection of photos and documentation that the museum has been gathering on the Darfur genocide:

As of today, when the 200 million users of Google Earth log onto the site, they will be able to view the horrific details of what's happening in Darfur for themselves.

In an effort to bring more attention to the ongoing crisis in Darfur, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has teamed up with Google's mapping service literally to map out the carnage in the Darfur region.

http://www.cnn.com/...

And here's an ABC News video with an incredible (and troubling) demonstration of the Google Earth Darfur Initiative. I hightly recommend everyone take the time to watch it and tell everyone they know about the effort these organizations are making to bring this story to light.

From the CNN article:

The new initiative, called "Crisis in Darfur," enables Google Earth users to visualize the details in the region, including the destruction of villages and the location of displaced persons in refugee camps.

Elliot Schrage, Google's vice president of global communications and public affairs, joined museum director Sara J. Bloomfield to make the official announcement about the new feature.

"At Google, we believe technology can be a catalyst for education and action," Schrage said. " 'Crisis in Darfur' will enable Google Earth users to visualize and learn about the destruction in Darfur as never before and join the museum's efforts in responding to this continuing international catastrophe."

Google Earth is also working with the museum to do the same thing with the WWII Holocaust, mapping to:

Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Warsaw and Lodz with historic content from its collections to illustrate the enormous scope and impact of the Holocaust. Each place links to a featured article with related historical photographs, testimony clips, maps, artifacts and film footage.

If it is well received, it is likely they will continue with all atrocities (on all sides of debates). Therefore, imo, the more encouragement they receive for these first two efforts (Darfur and WWII), the better.

This type of hypertexting combined with search-capable satellite views that can magnify to ground level is one of the best teaching tools of the world of new technology to date. Too often, atrocities are learned about in the abstract. This is a way to bring their scope and context to light.

To quote Sara Bloomfield:

"When it comes to responding to genocide, the world's record is terrible. We hope this important initiative with Google will make it that much harder for the world to ignore those who need us the most."

Here's the link to Google Earth.

And to the US Holocaust Museum.

And to the official release about their joint efforts.

FEATURE

UN's Dire Warnings-IPCC: Warming ruining society...





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by Janet Ritz

The UN, at the IPCC climate change meeting in Belgium today, issued a report that global warming is even worse than had been recently thought:

BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) -- Top climate experts warned on Friday that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from hunger in Africa and Asia to extinctions and rising ocean levels.

More than 100 nations in the U.N. climate panel agreed a final text after all-night disputes with some scientists accusing government delegates of watering down their findings in a draft 21-page summary for policymakers.

"We have an approved report," Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told reporters after the talks in Brussels.

Long term impact, according to the report: change in sea level, impact on urban environments, increase in humidity, intensity of weather, global impact (which the report calls "catastrophic").

From the NewsHour story:

STEVE SCHNEIDER, Lead Author, Climate Study: Don't be poor in a hot country. Don't live in hurricane alley. Watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic. It's a bad idea to be up on the high mountains with your glaciers melting and losing your water supply. And if you're in the Mediterranean climate, you're going to have a fire season in the summer that's really going to be a problem.

The IPCC summary says:

the poor will be hardest hit by changes including desertification, drought, and rising sea levels. The IPCC groups 2,500 scientists and is the top world authority on climate change.

Its findings are approved unanimously by governments and will guide policy in coming years on issues such as extending the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, the main U.N. plan for capping greenhouse gas emissions, beyond 2012.

There are scientists crying foul on one aspect of the report:

China, Russia and Saudi Arabia had raised most objections during the night to a 21-page summary which makes clear that the poor will suffer most. Other participants also said the United States had toned down some passages.

Some scientists objected, for instance, after China tried to eliminate a note saying that there was "very high confidence" that climate change was already affecting "many natural systems, on all continents and in some oceans."

China, the second largest source of greenhouse gases after the United States and ahead of Russia, wanted no mention of the level of confidence.

A tone down report that says to expect "catastrophic" changes in the climate and impact on society...

Who is the IPCC?

Recognizing the problem of potential global climate change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. It is open to all members of the
UN and WMO.

The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

Their conclusion to date?

The impact of climate change is worse than we thought, the poorest countries and most vulnerable species will suffer the greatest, but every continent will be impacted more than had been previously reported.

Oh, and for anyone who thinks that Climate Change is not a real problem or that this report shouldn't be taken seriously (there are still a few), a report from Gavin Schmidt of NASA on his attempt to reason with deniers recently (loved his summary: "Well, that was interesting...").

My conclusion?

It's time for everyone to reduce their carbon footprint and to get ready for a changed environment, because we're all at effect of it now.

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