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Featured: Conviviality by Paul Walton

In Book Reviews, Featured, history, politics, psychology, review, society, sociology, technology, writers on December 26, 2013 at 14:41

Paul Walton is a journalist, editor and autodidact from Nanaimo most interested in literature and depth psychology.

Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

Featured: Ivan Illich: Tools For Conviviality by Paul Walton

Forty years after the publication of that cantankersome and challenging book by Ivan Illich, Tools For Conviviality has never been more inaccessible and never more vital.

There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions about Illich, and even after an interview series on the CBC in the late 1980s (later to be published as Ivan Ilich in Conversation by David Cayley, published by House of Anansi, 1992) anyone could be forgiven for remembering Illich, who died in 2002, as a man of the mind, a thinker, a philosophe, even a genius. This last perhaps comes closest if we recall the word djinn, a “tutelary spirit,” as the OED puts it. Tools For Conviviality might be termed in educational jargon “gifted,” well beyond its years, but it is more like a happy child who longs to share its joy.

This look at Tools For Conviviality began on a computer and taking a cue from Illich in the Cayley interviews migrated to a yellow pad and black pen. Writing by hand highlights a duality arising from Tools For Conviviality, The qualities of pen and paper include intimacy, a private moment of reflection and, if done well, humility. We can use tools on a human scale or be dehumanized by them. Composing on a computer makes demands very different from script, from posture to adjusting the eye to the glow of the electric monitor. The computer is also tentative, with constant attention to the save function and usurping what Illich later relished in In the Vineyard of the Text, about the 12th century abbot Hugh of St. Victor, who tasted the words during peripatetic readings in his garden.

Tools For Conviviality is arguably as close to a political prescription or ideology as Illich ever got. To Cayley he admitted that the essence of the book, the idea of inverting tools as abused by post-industrial interests, didn’t happen as he expected in 1973 — a dramatic Wall Street-style crash — but began to occur ways he did not anticipate. By 1988, he told Cayley, he was seeing more people recovering misused tools, i.e. resuming mastery over them for their own purposes.

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Featured: Miklós Radnóti: Letters to My Wife by Thomas Ország-Land

In Europe, Featured, history, literature, poetry, writers on October 31, 2013 at 02:07

Featured: Miklós Radnóti: Letters to My Wife; Translated from the Hungarian & Edited by Thomas Ország-Land

HOLOUCASTimage

Radnóti & his wife Fifi

THE AUTHOR of these pieces was perhaps the greatest poet of the Holocaust. His work will take centre place in a varied and energetic programme of literary and educational events in 2014 marking Hungary’s Holocaust Memorial Year.
This project just announced by the government in Budapest will commemorate the murder of hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilian captives including Radnóti – mostly Jews but also Roma, homosexuals and political dissidents – perpetrated by the Hungarian state in collaboration with Nazi Germany. This happened during the final and most intensive phase of the Holocaust at the close of WWII when an Allied victory was already obvious.
The first of the three poems below was written on the eve of Radnóti’s final arrest and deportation to a slave labour camp in occupied Serbia. The poem is quoted by the Hungarian prime minister’s office announcing the Holocaust memorial programme. It is also set in bronze at the site where the poet and 21 of his comrades were murdered by their guards.
And the following two – set out in careful, even handwriting, complete with printers’ instructions – were found on his body in a notebook recovered from their mass grave after the war. Radnóti died displaying a white armband that signified his Jewish birth and official (and totally sincere) conversion to Catholicism.
His poetry has been translated into many languages and taught at many universities. Today, Radnóti is a beloved national figure in Hungary despite the current rise of anti-semitism in his native land. These translations will be included in The Survivors: Holocaust Poetry for Our Time by Thomas Ország-Land, to be published by Smokestack Press in England in 2014.

I. FRAGMENT

I lived upon this earth in such an age
when man was so debased he sought to murder
for pleasure, not just to comply with orders,
his faith in falsehoods drove him to corruption,
his life was ruled by raving self-deceptions.

I lived upon this earth in such an age
that idolized the sly police informers,
whose heroes were the killers, spies, the thieves –
and the few who held their peace or only failed
to cheer were loathed like victims of the plague.

I lived upon this earth in such an age
when those who risked protest were wise to hide
and gnaw their fists in self-consuming shame –
the crazed folk grinned about their terrifying
doomed future, wild and drunk on blood and mire.

I lived upon this earth in such an age
when the mother of an infant was a curse,
when pregnant women were glad to abort,
the living envied the corpses in the graves
while on the table foamed their poisoned cup.
……………………….
……………………….
I lived upon this earth in such an age
when even the poet fell silent and waited in hope
for an ancient, terrible voice to rise again –
for no-one could utter a fitting curse of such horror
but the scholar of dreadful words, Isaiah the prophet.
……………………….

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Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

In Europe, Featured, human rights, interview, poetry, writers on June 28, 2013 at 21:28

Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the interview and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: Poetry may salve the wounds that have refused to heal, An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

The wounds inflicted by the Holocaust are still refusing to heal – but they are not the only burden of human rights abuse inherited by the 21st century. DAVID CUSCÓ I ESCUDERO, editor of the Catalan cultural magazine “El funàmbu”l (The Tightrope Walker) serving a country that endured unspeakable atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, questions THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND, a Jewish-Hungarian poet, translator and foreign correspondent, on his attempt to look beyond the Holocaust.

David: We are about to publish some of your Holocaust poetry in Catalan translation. We are also very interested in your English translations of outstanding Hungarian Holocaust poetry. Did you write them because you thought that the Holocaust could be fathomed only through literature since the basic facts of that crime were so huge and its premises so horrible that they could be described comprehensibly only in fiction? That would be just the opposite of Theodor Adorno’s dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – although he later qualified that, after reading Paul Celan’s poetry.

Thomas: Adorno looked at Auschwitz and despaired. But humanity must look to its future, and cannot afford to despair. I recently attended a meeting of Holocaust survivors, old people who had looked evil in the face as young adults, somehow survived and dedicated their lives to warning the world against attempting such madness ever again. They agitate, they write, they lecture, especially to the young.

But they see that the very occurrence of the Holocaust is vociferously being denied by people who would like to repeat it. These aging witnesses know that they will be silenced soon by illness and death. They fear that, when they are gone, no-one will be left to defend the world against such renewed barbarity.

I do not fear that. I believe that, as Odysseus will sail the seven seas of imagination in Homer’s hexameters for the rest of history, so the passionate warnings of the Holocaust survivors will resound through the ages in the voices of the poets of our own time.

David: In your poem “Caution,” a child summons humanity from Auschwitz. He reminds me of Hurbinek, that unforgettable child in Primo Levi’s “The Truce” who mumbles instead of talking. Despite the pain conveyed by your poem, I sense a spark of optimism here, in the dignity of the child’s response to his own suffering… Is there, to you, room for optimism after the Holocaust?

Thomas: Probably the most important thought in that poem is “hold up your head… while you’ve got it.” It radiates optimism even beyond death. I did not invent that. I found it in a surviving poetic fragment from a slave-labour camp. I’ve just managed to identify its author as Jaroslav Ježek (not the composer of that name), to whom the poem is now dedicated.

Primo Levi and Paul Celan both committed suicide after the Holocaust, perhaps because they saw no room left for decency, let alone optimism, after Auschwitz. Both turned to poetry to shout out their astounded grief and rage at their incomprehensible humiliation and abuse at the hands of the Nazis, for which they had been totally unprepared. But the subsequent generations are not unprepared. They are all survivors, and their enduring capacity for love and decency originates from within. Read the rest of this entry »

Featured: On Waiting by Raymond Tallis

In Featured, nature, philosophy, society, theory on May 27, 2013 at 18:40

Featured: On Waiting by Raymond Tallis, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

Reposted in full with permission from: Philosophy Now

On Waiting
Raymond Tallis thinks about queuing and milling about.

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton, On His Blindness

The eponymous hero of T.S. Eliot’s anti-heroic poem Sweeney Agonistes has this to say about human life:

Birth, copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, copulation, and death.

This seems to leave an awful lot out. There is rather more to life than this alphabetically and chronologically ordered trio of biological events; more to our patch of living daylight than the beginning, the end, and a few intervening highlights designed to satisfy life’s longing for more of itself. Tying one’s shoelaces, handing over a heavy object, challenging the Zeitgeist, winding people up, worrying about a cousin’s health, making soup, effing and/or blinding, setting up a business, putting aside money for a grandson’s university fees, pausing for breath, envisaging the consequences of a new policy strategy, simulating amusement, are just a few of the non-copulatory things that populate the nano-thin slice of light between the darkness before and the darkness after.

This occurs to me as I am waiting for a train, and (multi-tasking being the order of the day) thinking about our infinitely complex, infinitely varied lives. The list grows – trying to remember a joke, peering into the dark, running an outpatient clinic, practising a knowing look, crossing Antarctica on foot, campaigning against cuts in public services, and so on – until I come upon the thing I’m doing at this very moment. No, not thinking – that’s had more than its share of air-time in philosophy – but waiting.

The more I think about it, the bigger waiting appears. It fills so much of our lives – certainly more than copulation, even in the life of a dedicated seducer such as Don Giovanni. It comes in a thousand shapes and sizes and modes. A few examples will have to stand for a trillion instances: waiting for someone to finish a sentence; for a friend to catch up on a walk; for the bathwater to run warm; for the traffic lights to change; for the message on the computer screen to pass from ‘connecting’ to ‘connected’; for a fever to abate; for the music to reach a climax; for the wind to drop so you can fold a newspaper; for a child to grow up; for a response to a letter; for a blood test result, an outcome, or news; for one’s turn to bat; for someone to cheer up, admit they were wrong, or say they love you; for Spring, for Christmas, for Finals; for the end of a prison sentence; for The Second Coming (steady work, as Christopher Hitchens said); for a long-awaited heir; for fame or wealth or peace; for retirement; for the end. Read the rest of this entry »

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan by Cho Kyo

In anthropology, Asia, culture, Featured, history, society on May 20, 2013 at 19:50

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan: Aesthetics and Power by Cho Kyo (Translated by Kyoko Selden), http://www.japanfocus.org

Reposted in full with permission from: Japan Focus

An oblique tooth is viewed in the States as requiring straightening, but in Japan it may be thought of as emblematic of a young woman’s charm. While a slim body is a prerequisite for beauty today, plump women were considered beautiful in Tang Dynasty China and Heian period Japan. Starting from around the twelfth century in China, bound feet symbolized the attractiveness of women. But Japan, which received sundry influences from China, never adopted foot-binding. Instead, shaving eyebrows and blackening teeth became markers of feminine beauty. Before modern times, neither Japanese nor Chinese paid much attention to double eyelids, but in the course of the long twentieth century they became a standard for distinguishing beautiful from plain women. Thus, criteria of beauty greatly differ by era and culture, and therein lie many riddles.

Focusing on changing representations of beauty in Chinese and Japanese cultures, Cho Kyo, in The Search for the Beautiful Woman, attempts to clarify such riddles from the angle of comparative cultural history. Before modern times, Japanese culture was profoundly shaped by Chinese culture, and representations of feminine beauty too received continental influences. In considering Japanese representations of feminine beauty, the author examines literary and artistic sources scattered across historical materials and classical literary works.

Are There Universal Criteria for Beauty?

What constitutes a beautiful woman? Intrinsically, criteria vary greatly depending upon peoples and cultures. A woman thought of as a beauty in one culture may be considered plain in another. This is not normally in our consciousness. Rather, images of beauty are thought to be universal across all cultures. Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn gain worldwide fame as beauties, not simply in American eyes but in Asian and African eyes. But on what criteria?

Princess Shokushi from One Hundred Poets by Katsukawa Shunshō, Tokugawa, private collection.

Have universal standards for determining beauty emerged with the global reach of consumer culture and of the media? As products of multinational enterprises transcend national boundaries to spread worldwide, people of different races and nations have come to use the same cosmetics, and people of different skin colors and facial and bodily features have come to don similar fashions. As a result, the fact that different cultures have different standards of beauty was forgotten before we realized it.

In earlier epochs, different cultures shared no common conception of beauty. In ancient times, each culture held a different image of beautiful women. This was naturally so when cultures were widely different, say, between Western Europe and East Asia, but images were not identical even between closely connected cultures.

Both Chinese and Japanese are Mongoloid. Moreover, in pre-modern times China and Japan shared Confucian culture. Despite the fact that cultural ties between the two countries were extremely close, however, images of beauty in Edo Japan (1600-1868) and Qing China (1644-1911) were strikingly different. For example, while bound feet were a condition for female beauty in China, in Japan blackened teeth were considered beautiful.

At present, with the advance of globalization, the same commodities are not only distributed throughout the world but information easily transcends cultural walls. Boundary crossings represented by satellite television, film and the internet have greatly changed values and aesthetics of the non-Western world, but also of the Western world . . . such that the very categories of East and West, and perhaps North and South, are problematized. As American visual culture is being consumed at the global level, the Western sense of beauty inevitably penetrates today’s developing countries. But Chinese and Japanese conceptions of beauty have also, at various times, made their way across the globe through art, literature, film, commodities and communications.

Despite the rapidly advancing standardization of aesthetic sensibility, however, criteria of beauty have not necessarily become uniform. In Sichuan province, a young medical student from the Republic of Mali became acquainted with a Chinese woman. They fell in love and eventually married, the bridegroom staying on in China and becoming a doctor. A People’s Daily reporter who interviewed him asked: “Would you let us know the secret for winning a beauty like your wife?” “We Mali people have a completely different sense of beauty from yours. A person you regard as a beauty isn’t necessarily always beautiful in our eyes,” he said by way of preface before answering the reporter’s question.

The absence of universal standards for physical beauty was recognized early on along with the discovery of “the intercultural.” Ever since Darwin stated that “It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body,”1many researchers have made the same point. Claude Lévi-Strauss, who observed the body drawings of the Caduveo tribe in Brazil and described them in Tristes Tropiques, conjectured as to why many men belonging to other tribes came to settle and marry Caduveo women at Nalike: “Perhaps the facial and body paintings explain the attraction; at all events, they strengthen and symbolize it. The delicate and subtle markings, which are as sensitive as the lines of the face, and sometimes accentuate them, sometimes run counter to them, make the women delightfully alluring.”(2) When he wrote this, the aesthetics that greatly differed from Western sense of beauty did not shock his readers. In their daily lives, however, most people still believe that essential physical beauty exists universally.

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Featured: Poetry of Wanda John-Kehewin

In books, Featured, literature, North America, poetry, writers on April 2, 2013 at 20:41

Cree poet Wanda John-Kehewin studied criminology, sociology, Aboriginal studies, and creative writing while attending the Writer’s Studio writing program at Simon Fraser University. She uses writing as a therapeutic medium through which to understand and to respond to the near decimation of First Nations culture, language, and tradition. She has been published in Quills, Canadian Poetry Magazine, the Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast anthology Salish Seas, and the Writer’s Studio emerge anthology. She has shared her writing on Vancouver Co-op Radio, performed at numerous readings throughout the Lower Mainland, and read for the Writers Union of Canada. Her first book of poetry “In the Dog House” was recently published by http://talonbooks.com

Featured: One Thousand Cranes by Wanda John-Kehewin

Someone set sail one thousand cranes last night in the spirit world of amethyst dreams. Someone wished the sun to kiss your cheeks and opalescent moon beams to paint light in the darkness so you never lose your way.

Someone dreamt of a painted sea turtle, last night who knew one thousand secrets who was the keeper of the door way to the spirit world that sits on the oceans edges-he said.

Someone wished for you last night an orchard of cherry blossoms dancing gracefully in the wind reminding you to be gentle and kind to yourself and never forget to dance in the wind as cherry blossoms soar in warm winds, dance with them just be and remember me- they said.

Someone dreamt of you in the spirit world last night in a valley of fuchsia baby azaleas and a white camellia in your hair reminding you to patiently wait for the sea turtles secrets at the edge of the ocean.

Someone wished for you last night one thousand cranes to guide you to them in the twilight and astral of your sleep- They say when sorrow is too great they do not want to come too soon for you may never want to leave the dream world- And so they wait at the edge of your dreams with love resonating, encompassing you, for love has no timeline and reaches beyond the edges of the human sorrow.

Someone whispered to you last night, you will dream of them on a white Manchurian crane when you are ready to let their essence into the light and finally smile when you think of them; place blue bells in the lightest room to remind you of how grateful they were to know you and love you. Place lavender under your pillow for tender dreams where loved ones meet And we will fold one thousand cranes in a field of flowering sweet pea flowers and budding zinnia and we will let soar one thousand cranes over a thousand dreams above our temporary goodbye and we will have wished someone else peace, love, strength, light in the darkness- And one thousand cranes…

Reposted with permission from: Wanda John-Kehewin

Featured Essay: Happiness by John Zerzan

In anthropology, civilisation, Featured, nature, philosophy, society, theory on March 12, 2013 at 15:24

Featured Essay: Happiness by John Zerzan, http://www.johnzerzan.net

Reposted in full with permission from: John Zerzan

Is happiness really possible in a time of ruin? Can we somehow flourish, have complete lives? Is joy any longer compatible with the life of today?

A deep sense of well-being has become an endangered species. How often does one hear “It is good to be here”? (Matthew 17:4, Luke 9:5, Luke 9:33) or Wordsworth’s reference to “the pleasure which there is in life itself”[1] ? Much of the prevailing condition and the dilemma it poses is expressed by Adorno’s observation: “A wrong life cannot be lived rightly.”[2]

In this age happiness, if not obsolete, is a test, an opportunity. “To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without being frightened.”[3] We seem to be desperate for happiness, as bookshelves, counseling rooms, and talk shows promote endless recipes for contentment. But the well-worn, feel-good bromides from the likes of Oprah, Eckhart Tolle, and the Dalai Lama seem to work about as well as a Happy Meal, happy hour, or Coke’s invitation to “Pour Happiness!”

Gone is the shallow optimism of yesteryear, such as it was. The mandatory gospel of happiness is in tatters. As Hélène Cixous put it, we are “born to the difficulty in taking pleasure from absence.”[4] We sense only “a little light/in great darkness,” to quote Pound, who borrowed from Dante.[5]

How do we explore this? What is expected re: happiness? In light of all that stands in its way or erodes it, is happiness mainly a fortuitous accident?[6]

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Featured Essay: Rooted in Poetry by Thomas Orszag-Land

In Book Reviews, books, Europe, Featured, history, literature, poetry, writers on January 12, 2013 at 22:22

I have a special post for you today. Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured Essay: Rooted in Poetry – Kops Returns to Russia to Assassinate the Tsar by Thomas Orszag-Land

In 1881, the St. Petersburg cell of the notorious anarchist organization Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) assassinates the tyrannical anti-Semite Tsar Alexander II of All Russia, the flames of murderous pogroms sweep through the abused Pale of Settlements and a Jewish boy from Muswell Hill in 21st century London is rescued by the banned Yiddish Jericho Players company of Latvia… What?

Bernard Kops, the doyen of European poetry, has issued a great new Holocaust novel steeped in rhythms and rhyme. It tells a fantastic and entirely believable tale with warmth, humour, empathy and depth reminiscent of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem. Its text pulsates like some pieces from the immortal pen of the Jewish-Soviet master Isaac Babel. But Kops gives us more even than his towering antecedents because he is also, quintessentially, a poet.

His story is about the present. Its characters are those among us whose forebears struggled through the great European migrations since the expulsion of Jews from Spain at the dawn modern European literature as well as the giants whose explosive imaginations came to formulate the self-image of much of the world in our own time.

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Featured Essay: Dubai – A City Manufactured by Curiosity by Bilal Khbei

In aesthetics, architecture, Asia, culture, economics, Featured, politics on September 23, 2012 at 07:10

Featured Essay: Dubai – A City Manufactured by Curiosity by Bilal Khbei, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Reposted in full with permission from: e-flux (Marianna Silva)

It is hard to distinguish individuals in a crowd. Citizens of the Gulf states appear to the visitor as crowds, with their identities as individuals momentarily suspended. Such a crowd is slightly different from the kind described by Elias Canetti. This is a crowd perceived as such by a visitor conscious of his individuality against the multitude. The crowd exerts no control over this visitor, nor does it repress his personality. Rather, this visitor exerts a form of authority—engaging in an exchange of power with the crowd. For him, the citizen is imprisoned within the crowd, incapable of assuming the authority of an individual.

Visual encounters between citizens and visitors take place primarily in neutral public spaces where the visitor’s behavior is less restricted. By entering a hotel lobby, for instance, the citizen declines the possibility of establishing authority and becomes helpless. The citizen can be neither a soldier nor a noble person, but is also incapable of becoming a barbarian, an indistinguishable part of a great multitude—a grain of sand along the seashore, as Ernest Renan described barbarians. Barbarians for Renan are numberless; they tirelessly procreate despite the numerous deaths they suffer. Furthermore, their deaths complement their procreation, which is why they appear countless to Renan and other nineteenth-century European racialist thinkers.


Burj Al Arab Hotel Dubai Lobby.

But this is not how the visitor perceives the citizen of the United Arab Emirates; this citizen is part of an absent crowd. In public he appears isolated and weak—lonesome in a colonized land. The citizen appears to be performing the role of an individual, summoning a display of mannerisms in the hope of finding a place for the national costume in public space. This “uniform” is a national disposition, or perhaps an assertion of loyalty to an identity in spite of knowing it is restrictive. It is a form of reconciliation between a constructed identity and a possible connection to a formalistic modernity. The modernity experienced in hotels is superficial, and this citizen seems to imply that his costume is but one extra mask in a stage full of masks.

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Featured Essay: The Sea by John Zerzan

In civilisation, ecology, Featured, literature, nature, philosophy, poetry, society, writers on September 8, 2012 at 01:01

I have a special post for you today. Throughout the ongoing process of communicating with websites in the hope of receiving permission to repost their content, I had a few wonderful exchanges with writers and researchers. One of them was John Zerzan, author and philosopher, who sent me his latest essay for publication on this website. Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured Essay: The Sea by John Zerzan

Last remaining lair of unparalleled wildness. Too big to fail?

The whole world is being objectified, but Melville reminds us of all that remains. “There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea.”i What could be more tangible, more of a contrast with being lost in the digital world, where we feel we can never properly come to grips with anything.

Oceans are about time more than space, “as if there were a correlation between going deep and going back.”ii The Deep is solemn; linking, in some way, all that has come before. Last things and first things. “Heaven,” by comparison, is thin and faintly unserious.

“Over All the Face of Earth Main Ocean Flowed,” announced the poem by John Milton.iii Given its 71 percent predominance on this planet, why is our world called Earth instead of Sea? Much of the land, in fact, could be defined as littoral areas where land and sea meet.iv The sea is a textured place, infinite in its moods, forms, energies—and not so easily de-textured. But we see what happens when culture is privileged over place. The sea, where all life began just this side of four billion years ago, must still sustain us. Not only are its waters the original source of life, it also shapes the climate, weather, and temperature of the planet, and therefore the status of terrestrial species.

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