Saturday, April 14, 2007

Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars

I love this song -- one of the best pop songs in years.

Poem: Michael Dumanis

Today's poem from the Academy of American Poets:

Joseph Cornell, with Box

World harbors much I'd like to fit inside
that the parameters preclude me from.

I'm the desire to have had a say.
I'm the desire to be left alone

amid brochures for Europe's best hotels
behind a locked door on Utopia Parkway,

where Brother, crippled, rides his chariot,
where Mother's all dressed up and going nowhere.

Together, sotto voce, we count hours,
fuss over newsprint, water down the wine.

When I was shorter, we were all divine.
When I was shorter, I was infinite

and felt less fear of being understood.
I am the fear of being understood.

I am the modest Joe who hems and haws
at blond cashiers ensconced in ticket booths.

Lacking the words to offer her the flowers
I'd spent a fortnight locating the words

to offer her, I threw the flowers at her.
As penance, I entrenched you, Doll, in wood.

Through your shaved bark and twigs, you stared at me.
Being a woman was out of the question.

Being a question caused women to wonder.
How unrestrained you must feel, Wind and Water.

You are the obligation, Box, to harbor
each disarray and ghost. I am the author,

the authored by. I am a plaything of.
Who makes who Spectacle. Who gives whom Order.

My father was a man who lived and died.
He would commute from Nyack to New York.

The woolen business had its ups and downs.
How unrestrained you've become, Cage and Coffin.

There is an order to each spectacle.
You are the obligation, Wind, to sunder

this relic of. Am reliquary for
the off-white light of January morning.

Have seen you, Fairies, in your apricot
and chestnut negligees invade the mirror,

tiptoe on marbles, vanish from the scene.
Am reliquary for what World has seen.

I'm the ballet of wingspan, the cracked mirror.
Canary's coffin. Sunshine breaking through.

Queen - Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Queen was a cool band, and this was a cool song . . . .

Via: VideoSift

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week - Self Concept

From Snow Lion Publications:
Dalai Lama Quote of the Week have greater self-awareness or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality. Now, the opposite of reality is to project onto yourself qualities that are not there, ascribe to yourself characteristics in contrast to what is actually the case. For example, when you have a distorted view of yourself, such as through excessive pride or arrogance, because of these states of mind, you have an exaggerated sense of your qualities and personal abilities. Your view of your own abilities goes far beyond your actual abilities. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself, you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of faith in yourself. So excess--both in terms of exaggeration and devaluation--are equally destructive. lt is by addressing these obstacles and by constantly examining your personal character, qualities, and abilities, that you can learn to have greater self-understanding. This is the way to become more self-aware.

~ From The Art of Happiness at Work by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
I think this is an important observation. While there are some who over-value themselves and their abilities, the majority of us actually undervalue ourselves. We are extremely hard on ourselves in ways that diminish our true nature.

I have often been hyper-critical of myself. While I told myself that it was necessary to do so in order to be a better person, or to avoid mistakes, the reality is that it can be paralyzing. When we devalue ourselves, we have a tendency to accept less from life than we deserve.

Through self-awareness, in whatever method we choose, we can begin to get more clear on who we really are and what we really want from life. We can just as easily bury our strengths and gifts in our shadow as we can those parts of ourselves that are dysfunctional. It can be just as hard to accept that we have gifts and talents as it is to accept that we have flaws and weaknesses.

Shadow work is one of the best ways to increase our self-awareness. When we can begin to unearth our shadow material, we can then begin to have a more complete image of who we are -- good and bad. We need to have a healthy sense of self if we want to be good people.

Buddhism often is seen as negating the self, the individual ego, but what Western psychology has taught us is that we have to have a healthy and realistic sense of ourselves before we can transcend ego concerns. If we do not engage in this work, we run the risk of manifesting our wounding in very unconscious ways while convincing ourselves that we are spiritually advanced.

Do You Need Therapy?

There's a 48% Chance That You Need Therapy

If you think you need therapy, you probably do. But there's a good chance you don't.
Like everyone else, you have your fair share of problems. And unlike most people, you're fairly good at solving them yourself.

Yeah, it's probably more than 48% likely that I need therapy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

New Poem: Unconventional Love Sonnet #8

Unconventional Love Sonnet #8

What does it mean to say starlight warms
my skin? Or, I see myself growing old
with her? So much lies beyond the confines
of language. I say love, but what I mean

is ecstasy, communion, and surrender.
So little can be said, and yet we struggle
to find the words. Tonight I say I am missing
her, but what I mean is that my apartment

feels empty -- the absence of her scent, the
longing for her smile. Lacking a more subtle
language, we resort to the imprecision

of words. I say love, but what I really mean
is her touch takes me beyond myself, her
quiet eyes shine brighter than any star.

Christopher Hitchens: "The Moral Necessity of Atheism"

I don't generally like Christopher Hitchens, but he is quite erudite and witty -- so I respect him. I thoroughly disagree with him about Iraq. This speech is a bit of an aberration in that he is not too snarky, but is somewhat funny.

Further, I am not an atheist in the general sense, nor am I a theist -- although I have posted quite a bit of atheist material here. Atheism is, to me, a sign that we are moving -- slowly and painfully -- out of the primarily authoritarian, mythic order world view. In this sense, I think it is crucial that we pay attention to the movement and attempt to guide it to be more compassionate (which it seems to lack in the hands of Harris and Dawkins).

Although this looks long, the speech is only 30 minutes or so, followed by a Q&A.

Via: VideoSift

Daily Dharma: I Will Benefit All Beings

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:
I Will Benefit All Beings

Before we do anything, we should always ask ourselves whether we will be able to do it properly and complete it. If the answer is no, we should not start. Leaving tasks uncompleted creates a habit for the future. So once we have begun something, we should be sure not to go back on our decision. Self-confidence is not to be confused with pride. Pride is thinking highly of oneself without good reason. Self-confidence is knowing that one has the ability to do something properly and being determined not to give up. Ordinary beings are prepared to make a good deal of effort for relatively insignificant ends. We have promised to work for the immensely more important goal of liberating all beings, so we should cultivate great self-confidence, thinking, Even if I am the only one to do so, I will benefit all beings.

~ The Dalai Lama, A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night

Kurt Vonnegut Documentary

In honor of his passing . . . .

Via: VideoSift

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

Satire: Imus Inks Deal with Fox News for Morning Show

From Unconfirmed Sources:

Breaking: Imus Inks Deal with Fox News for Morning Show
by Dood Abides

Former shock jock Don Imus hired by Fox News
Former shock jock Don Imus hired by Fox News

New York, NY (Rotters) - In what media insiders are calling an unprecedented display of his characteristic resilience, former MSNBC and CBS talk show host Don Imus, just today fired by last holdout CBS for crude remarks, has announced that he has signed a multi million dollar deal with Fox News to migrate his MSNBC/CBS morning show to Fox's early morning time slot.

A Fox News spokesperson heralded the move as a win-win scenario for both parties and stated that the network was looking forward to providing the resources to take Imus' morning show to the next level. "We are truly blessed to have such a talented, intelligent, and well informed personality on board," stated Fox's programming director Feherely Ballance. "It was just such a shame to have to sit back and watch this true comic genius become so embroiled in such a nasty hypocritical incident."

Plans at this point are to have Imus host an early morning news commentary/comedy show reminiscent of Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Comedy Central.

"Our audience is virtually ready made for this type of format," stated Ballance. "Don should serve as a wonderful counterpoint to the serious journalistic endeavors of Bill Oreilly."

Ballance went on to state that the show would report the top news stories of the day, and in a nod to competitor MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, Imus would feature a segment called "The Worst Hos of the Day." Ballance stated that they were hoping to have the Rutgers national champion women's basketball team on the show next week to discuss how their fortunes have increased since the recognition afforded them through Imus.

Killing Coyotes

I recently wrote a fiction book (a leveled reader) about coyotes for a fourth-grade unit on ecosystems, to be published by McGraw-Hill. It was one of the most enjoyable stories I have ever written, mostly because I have always loved coyotes.

Having lived most of my life in areas where coyotes are common -- and generally demonized -- I tend to side with the coyotes because most of the time they are being scapegoated. Much of the rationale for the hunting and slaughter of coyotes is simply wrong.

I found this last night at the Mental Floss blog, which seemed a bit of synchronicity after also finding a page for the documentary, Killing Coyotes (see below).

Coyotes: They’re Just Like Us


I know this is an animal post, but it’s not exactly ripped from the annals of Cute Overload. A coyote recently entered a Quiznos in downtown Chicago, heading straight for the drinks cooler, where he remained lodged until he was brutally (it’s not just me–watch the video) removed by an Animal Control officer. I know coyotes attack, but is this kind of treatment really necessary? It was cowering next to a row of SoBe Leans–most likely wounded and described by witnesses as “passive.” In almost all the coverage, some kind of roadrunner joke was made. Which is fine. But is that to rationalize the violent wrangling? Coyotes aren’t exactly strangers to city life. According to studies conducted by Stanley Gehrt, who teaches environmental and natural resources at Ohio State, coyotes who live in cities are are integral in controlling the population of Canadian Geese and irksome city vermin. In addition, city dogs live longer:

  • Urban coyotes survive far longer than their rural cousins. A coyote living in urban Chicago has a 60-percent chance of surviving for one year, while a rural coyote has a 30 percent chance of living for another year.
  • Most coyotes pose little threat to humans. The problems generally start when people feed coyotes, even if that feeding is unintentional.
Coyotes seldom attack humans unless they are rabid, which is far more likely in rural areas than in urban areas. They also do not generally hunt livestock. They do however scavenge for sick and wounded animals, or those already dead. The hunting of coyotes is sanctioned by the government because ranchers have successfully argued that the song-dogs kill livestock, despite all the actual evidence to the contrary.

U.S. Filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis has produced Killing Coyotes, a documentary (2000) on the slaughter of coyotes in the American West.

Some reviews:
"The film's strongest point is made by science. Several biologists report that the widespread killing of coyotes....backfires. Successful kills of up to 30 percent may result in greater losses for the sheep or cattle rancher...So much for trying to fool mother nature." Eugene Weekly

"Why hunt coyotes? As a means of 'pest control,' hunting coyotes is pointless and ineffectual. Yet, coyote hunting remains a widespread practice. Why? As this well-crafted documentary illustrates, the coyote remains a popular scapegoat largely due to ignorance, ill-founded tradition, and most troubling of all, human nature."
Timothy McGettigan, Ph.D., Department of Sociology, Colorado State University-Pueblo

"An artful and intelligent look at the unending assault open the American coyote. Nearly 400,000 coyotes are shot, trapped, and poisoned every year, but the resilient creature continues to eke out an existence in the dusty West. The film shows a rich and varied series of perspectives on the issue, from the hunters who feel it is their God-given right to kill anything they please to the overeager and self-righteous animal rights activists to the absurd Wildlife Services office that siphons off tax-dollars to fund cyanide cannons. Along the way, Hawes-Davis encounters biologists who theorize that the constant hunting of the coyotes actually leads to their continued success, since the survival rate of the coyote litters increases. With a deft hand and the good-sense to the let the colorful characters do the talking, Hawes-Davis reveals a remarkable, brutal, frequently hilarious, and 100% American tale."

Here is the trailer:

The stupid thing about hunting and killing coyotes is that they are engineered to survive. The more they are hunted and oppressed, the larger the yearly litter of new pups. They respond to their environment. If their populations are low in a given area, each female will produce more pups to ensure the survival of the species. If the populations are normal or high, litter size is smaller to ensure that there will be enough food to go around.

Part of the reason that coyotes do so well in rural areas is that their natural predators (mountain lions, bears, wolves) have been hunted to extinction. Part of the reason they have become urban dwellers is because humans continually encroach upon wild areas with new homes, chasing the animals into new habitats -- and because they are so adaptable, they do well eating from dumpsters or scavenging dog food from backyards.

Coyotes are probably the best example of the conflict between human settlement and wild lands. We cannot continue to eliminate wild areas and not expect the animals to go someplace. And when we do slaughter coyotes and other predators, the populations of animals they hunt (deer, rabbits, rodents, and so on) will explode and then also become a problem.

Nature is a well-balanced system -- until you begin to mess around with it.

Speedlinking 4/13/07

Quote of the day:

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
~ Woody Allen

Image of the day from Shorpy, a very cool photo blog:

A line of unemployed men drink free coffee at the Bowery Mission in New York City on Jan. 2, 1908. The long table is covered with cups. View full image.

~ Nutrition Quest 3 -- "Did you know that if you pig out after a short calorie restriction period, you can trick your body into adding more muscle? Did you know that you can make protein bars out of road kill? Okay we lied about that last one, but regardless, Mike does offer some cool recipes for high-protein snacks."
~ 8 Sneaky Weight Loss Saboteurs -- "Find out the habits that are keeping you from getting fit."
~ Neural Biochemical Levels Increase With Exercise -- "Levels of a naturally-produced chemical that promotes brain health increase proportionally to the intensity of exercise, according to a joint research project between the Departments of Physiology and Health, Exercise, and Sport Sciences at Texas Tech."
~ New obesity gene may pack on extra 7 pounds -- "Researchers have found another gene that may keep you from fitting in your jeans." Biology is NOT destiny.
~ Smoking affects heart of even the young and fit -- "Young adult smokers may seem healthy, but smoking is taking its toll on their heart, a research team in Poland reports. Chronic smoking appears to impair the ability of the heart to relax between beats, resulting in decreased pumping capacity."
~ Hospice care does not hasten death, study shows -- "Researchers hope a new study will help dispel the myth that medications used in a hospice to relieve pain and other symptoms hasten death. On the contrary, hospice care may actually prolong life, they've found."
~ Human growth hormone use rises, but is it legal? -- "Human growth horman has been used since the 1950s to help children with growth problems. In 1990, a small study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported its fat-reducing and muscle-building effects in men. The report inspired a flood of anti-aging literature touting the benefits of growth hormone."

~ Can selfish lovers learn to return the favor? -- "What do you do when your lover isn't a team player? Can body piercing boost pleasure? Does sexual activity slow down after a walk down the aisle? Sexploration answers your queries."
~ Taking Charge of Our Charge -- Robert Masters -- an old essay being discussed at Zaadz I-I pod. "Sexual excitation -- the amplification of which will be referred to from now on as charge -- is not just something that happens to us, but often is also something that we, however unknowingly, generate in ourselves."
~ Connectedness, Intimacy, and the Self -- A nice post from Art of Intimacy.
~ Parental Relationships After Divorce: From 'Perfect Pals' to 'Fiery Foes' -- "Continuing the series on the psychology of relationships, this post examines five broad ways psychological research has found people negotiate their newfound status as 'separated parents'."
~ The Goals That Guide Us -- "Setting objectives can guide us to well-being and success."
~ Your Dream, Not Your Mom's -- "How to set goals that are yours."
~ Dreams Deferred -- "When we regret our life choices."
~ Can Science Explain Near Death Experiences -- From Mind Hacks. Also from Mind Hacks: Creative Imagination.
~ Research shows men and women look at sexual photographs differently -- "A study funded by the Atlanta-based Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) analyzed the viewing patterns of men and women looking at sexual photographs, and the result was not what one typically might expect."
~ Subliminal Rewards Trigger Harder Work, Research Shows -- "Like an invisible brass ring or dangling piece of bacon, subliminal rewards can drive people to work harder without them even knowing it."

~ Majority of Students Encounter, Engage in Bully Behavior -- "A recent survey of American elementary school students found that nine out of ten reported at least occasionally being victim to behaviors consistent with bullying. Yet these incidents are clearly not the work of a sinister minority: six out of ten of the same kids confessed to participating in or initiating acts of bullying themselves."
~ The multilevels of religion [Gene Expression] -- "I read Evolution for Everyone, and I was struck by how much David S. Wilson discussed religion."
~ Did I frame that wrong? [A Blog Around The Clock] -- "As you know, the last several days saw quite a flurry of blog posts about framing science. I posted my thoughts here and I keep updating my post with links to all the new posts as they show up (except the expected drivel by William Dembski, some minor creaitonists and Lubos Motl). Some of the other bloggers ignored my post, many linked to it without comment, and many linked to it with positive commentary - with two exceptions."
~ 2008 Candidates to Post on YouTube -- "YouTube, the popular video Web site, wants you to have a little face time with the presidential candidates. Virtually speaking, that is."
~ Pope: Evolution Cannot Be Proven -- "In a new book, the pope praised progress gained by science, but cautioned that evolution raises philosophical questions science alone cannot answer."
~ Wittgenstein, explained -- "The following essay is adapted from Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, a re-examination of intellectuals, artists, and thinkers who helped shape the 20th century."
~ Rove and Co. Broke Federal Law With Email Scam -- "Our friends at CREW are back in the news. They've put out a report saying "the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has lost over FIVE MILLION emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005." The White House was apparently given a plan to recover those emails, but has chosen to do nothing."
~ Women outnumber men online in United States: study -- "A study released on Thursday indicates that more women than men go online in the United States, defying the perception of the Internet as a male-dominated realm."

~ Apple Delays Launch of Operating System -- "Apple Inc. said it won't be shipping its next-generation operating system in June as planned, saying it had to divert resources from the project so that it could launch its highly anticipated iPhone on time."
~ Research Monkey DNA Mapped -- "Scientists unravel the DNA of rhesus macaques, hoping for insights into disease."
~ Study reveals economic role of regional clusters in rural America -- "Regional groups of industries that share common markets, suppliers or work force skills are the key to stimulating economic development in rural areas, according to a report released Thursday (April 12)."
~ Pricing practices cost consumers -- "You may be paying more for that can of soup or loaf of bread, depending on whether they have an individual price sticker or not. A new study from the DeGroote School of Business finds grocery items individually priced with stickers are more costly for consumers than those with price tags on the shelf only."
~ Organic lighting research burns bright -- "The long, challenging technological march from the low-power light bulb Thomas Edison invented to the ultimate in a bright and energy-efficient lighting device may reach fruition in work led by the two ASU researchers."
~ First major U.S. oil company joins coalition to limit greenhouse gases -- "This week, ConocoPhillips became the first major U.S. oil company to join the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of green groups and corporations begging Congress to impose federal limits on greenhouse gases forthelovagod. To walk its talk, ... "
~ Scientists shake Darwin's foundation -- chickens inherited parents' stress symptoms -- " Evolutionary theory ever since Darwin is based on the assumption that acquired traits, such as learnt modifications of behaviour, cannot be inherited by the offspring. Now, a Swedish-Norwegian research group, led by professor Per Jensen at Linköping university in Sweden, shows that chickens can actually inherit behavioural modifications induced by stress in their parents."
~ Quantum secrets of photosynthesis revealed -- "Through photosynthesis, green plants and cyanobacteria are able to transfer sunlight energy to molecular reaction centers for conversion into chemical energy with nearly 100-percent efficiency. Speed is the key - the transfer of the solar energy takes place almost instantaneously so little energy is wasted as heat. How photosynthesis achieves this near instantaneous energy transfer is a long-standing mystery that may have finally been solved."

~ Brain States Vs. States of the Brain -- "Particular brain states occur against, and only against, background states of the brain. By 'states of the brain' I intend to include such states as being awake or being asleep; although there may turn out to be more than these two once we fully explicate what one is." -- This isn't integral, but since states are important in Wilber's theory, I thought this might be interesting.
~ Life is like taking a poo -- From The-universe-is-all-in-your-head -- uh, yeah.
~ Whadya Want? -- From Dharmashanti's Blog.
~ From The Buddha Diaries: Racist Words: Another Perspective -- "Alright. Racism bad. Insult bad. Bad Imus. True. But there's a piece in all this fuss that leaves me very uncomfortable with the way it's playing out. It's associated with what I think of--and have written about--as our American literalism. It's an almost childish inability to see things in context, an inability to perceive or understand irony, a way of taking everything as a personal insult, as though the world revolved exclusively around ME."
~ From Gary at Integral in Seattle: Day 2: Shamanic Breathwork Intensive and Day 3: Shamanic Breathwork Intensive, Breathing -- good stuff.
~ Matthew Dallman at The Daily Goose offers JS Bach and classical education and How to integrate the Humanities? -- more good stuff.
~ MD also has something to say On Imus -- and for what's it worth, I think Imus is an idiot on his best days, but speech must be protected, even when it is moronic, or especially when it is moronic.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Books for Ken Wilber Fans

Joe Perez, of Until, and author of Soulfully Gay, has assembled a listmania at Amazon of books that KW has recommended. Check it out -- there are some things on there that I wasn't familiar with.

Kurt Vonnegut Is Dead -- Long Live Vonnegut

Rather than die the expected death of a lifelong smoker, Kurt Vonnegut succumbed to head injuries from a fall in his NY apartment. He was 84. [Commentary below.]

Voice of America has a nice profile:

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has died at age 84. VOA'S Chris Martin prepared this profile.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. with wife, photographer Jill Krementz (2004 file photo)
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. with wife, photographer Jill Krementz (2004 file photo)
Kurt Vonnegut emerged as one of the most influential and provocative writers in the United States, during the 1960's. His writing was an ongoing protest against what he felt were the horrors of the 20th Century. He wrote of an unending sequence of disastrous wars, the destruction of the environment and the dehumanization of the individual, in a society dominated by science and technology.

Vonnegut's themes were by no means unique to contemporary literature. It was rather the way he expressed his protest that made his works so forceful and popular. Fantasy, science fiction, humor, a keen sense of the absurd, and despair were the ingredients of his satires. In his fantastic tales, he would show the frustrations of average people with their burdens and boredom.

Kurt Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed pessimist. He believed the egalitarianism of American society was not the result of individuals realizing their opportunities in a "land of opportunity," but more the result of a decrease in opportunities. An example is his novel, "Breakfast of Champions," about a middle-aged American car salesman. The book's message is that hard work, intelligence, and perseverance do not guarantee anything in a changing America. Vonnegut believed the individual was not the controller of his own destiny, but the subject to many uncertainties.

Kurt Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the Midwestern United States. His schooling at Cornell University was interrupted when the United States entered World War II. As a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany, he witnessed the firebombing of that city. This catastrophe later became the subject of his most powerful novel, "Slaughterhouse Five."

Kurt Vonnegut became a free-lance (independent) writer in 1950 and, two years later, published his first novel, "Player Piano." This futuristic story takes place in a city where the industry has been fully mechanized. The people of the city - aware they are being phased out - revolt and destroy all the machinery. They soon realize they have destroyed the technological devices they depend upon for their existence. Another of Kurt Vonnegut's well-known works is "Cat's Cradle," the story of two families - one black, one white - who struggle to live in an icy, empty environment. Separation and war are the two themes of his novel "Mother Night."

In his novels, Vonnegut's heroes are unexceptional characters. The author's popularity can be linked to his use of ordinary people whose frustrations force them to work together to correct the ills of their society. He saw personal satisfaction as inconceivable in a fragmented world. Vonnegut pleaded, in his surreal way, for an end to the hierarchies of religion, status, money and intelligence that he said divide people and make them adversaries.

Author Kurt Vonnegut became a hero of his culture, because he celebrated human vulnerabilities - something we all can understand. Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday, at age 84.

The Washington Post, Time, The Boston Globe, the BBC, the New York Times, among others, all have articles up about Vonnegut's life and work.

When Slaughterhouse Five (probably Vonnegut's best and most famous work) was published, some reviewers thought that it signaled the death of the American novel. Actual history (the bombing of Dresden) was mixed with science fiction (the hero, Billy Pilgrim, has "come unstuck in time"), and a large dose of social commentary, making many people very uncomfortable. The book is still among the most-banned books in American schools, and a district in North Dakota once burned all copies of the book -- and fired the teacher who taught it.

However, rather than signaling the death of the novel, Vonnegut's work expanded the possibilities. There were many precedents for a non-linear narrative already (mostly European), but Vonnegut's books brought non-linearity into the mainstream, allowing younger authors to explore similar possibilities in their own work. I think it's fair to say that his books, especially the first seven or so (up through
Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye, Blue Monday [1973]), revolutionized the popular novel format in America.

This is from Wikipedia:

These structural experiments were continued in Breakfast of Champions (1973), which included many rough illustrations, lengthy non-sequiturs and an appearance by the author himself, as a deus ex machina.

"This is a very bad book you're writing," I said to myself.
"I know," I said.
"You're afraid you'll kill yourself the way your mother did," I said.
"I know," I said.

Vonnegut attempted suicide in 1985 and later wrote about this in several essays.

Breakfast of Champions became one of his best sellers. It includes, beyond the author himself, several of Vonnegut's recurring characters. One of them, Kilgore Trout, plays a major role and interacts with the author's character.

More than narrative structure, however, what made Vonnegut extremely popular was the use of humor to deal with horrific ideas and painful observations. He was depressed most of his life, and tried to suicide as mentioned above, but he still found the humor, albeit cynical, in human existence.

Politics also played an important role in his books and life. He wrote many anti-Bush articles for In These Times (a quote posted in his Wikipedia article, referencing his writings on Iraq: "By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East?" he wrote. "Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas in December" [18]).

He was generally a humanist (he was Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, replacing the author Isaac Asimov in what Vonnegut called "that totally functionless capacity"). But he also held sympathies with some elements of socialism. He made no friends among conservatives with such views.

My first exposure to Vonnegut came in high school when we read Harrison Bergeron, an anti-egalitarian short story that argues against the notion that all people should be equal in abilities and privileges. In the story, those who are stronger are forced to wear weights to keep them equal with others, while those who are smarter have their thoughts disrupted to make them more "normal." The story is a powerful argument against the notion that all people are created equal and should be treated as such. It's also wonderfully anti-authoritarian, which appealed to a young social misfit such as myself.

In college, I began reading all of his novels from Player Piano forward. Vonnegut will always rank as one of my favorite novelists -- and favorite authors. His sharp mind and cynical wit will be sorely missed.

How Cluttered is Your Mind?

Your Mind is 52% Cluttered

Your mind is starting to get cluttered, and as a result, it's a little harder for you to keep focused.
Try to let go of your pettiest worries and concerns. The worrying is worse than the actual problems!

Poem: William Olsen

Today's poem from the Academy of American Poets in honor of National Poetry Month:

by William Olsen
Because it turns out the world really is a hospital,
Because we had to have had before us a giant pair of scissors
Before four bold wings can have newly ascended,
Before new doors can revolve, before new elevators
Rise and fall empty and full, new numbers light,
New floors with new doors both open and closed
Because there are nurses to sail in and out of need,
Because need walks the doctors somewhere or another,
Because of elaborately adaptable need the bed . . .
The bed could be wheeled right into traffic and snow
Because so far there is only inside and outside
And more of both than even creation could have concocted,
Because the bed that bore us all and our desires
And our exhaustions has become a contraption,
Because the bed that keeps us coming back to it,
The bed that once sailed to the ends of the earth—
Now tied to trees dripping blood and sugar and sleep,
Anchored where overhead a TV persists, such news
As snows poor reception—because the reliable bed
Is something even a family understands, the family
Is how the world goes—a fool's dream of awareness—
Grouped around this steel altar at its least and lowered
Because the bed is a helpless, blameless invention,
All the same to it if it is made or not, empty or not,
Same fatiguing last probabilities, because there are
As many ways to die as people to find these ways
Because there surely are, because the tried is ever new,
Who can't lose their way anew among so many alive?
Because who hasn't made their own bed, because
Who hasn't slept who hasn't been led by night there,
My mother's hands playing the fabric of the spread
As if it were a piano, tongue-tied, isolate fingers,
She's ghost-smoking, working on an invisible crochet
"Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate . . . I want to die"—
"Wake up!" Machado said the Gospels reduced to
But not now, not until you have what you want—
Any belief in love itself is what I'd have you want—
Look me in the eye with that sort of love that looks
Through me as if grief were so much tissue paper,
With a love that doesn't stop with me or you, that
Doesn't stop when there's no more world to fear
Because there is no need to wheel the bed outside,
Because a hospital melts like a snowflake, because
The walls and windows and even the bed liquify,
Even the things she's seen that aren't there vanish
Because how much energy there is in emptiness,
Take everything away, there's still something there.
~ From Avenue of Vanishing by William Olsen. Copyright © 2007 by William Olsen. Published 2007 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. Used with permission.

Speedlinking 4/12/07

Quote of the day:

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."
~ John Cage

Image of the day:

~ The Hierarchy of Fat Loss -- "A Cosgrove article with references? Oh no, Alwyn must have eaten a bad batch of haggis! Oh well, just remember, when it comes to fat loss, if it's not Cosgrove, it's shite!"
~ Junior Needs a Nutrition Lesson -- "In our April issue, we ran a story on how to Build a Better Breakfast. Essentially, it said to lower the carbs, and increase the protein and fat, and then gave a few recipes on how to do that. This prompted a personal trainer to write in and give me a lecture on proper diet. I won't use his real name, since it's not really important. Instead, I'll just call him Junior, as in, 'Listen up, Junior, you have a lot to learn.'"
~ The “Fastest Thing on No Legs” Gets Even Faster -- "He has now smashed World Records that he established since competing in the Paralympic Games in Athens 26 times. His 10.91 second time in the 100m on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, makes Pistorius the first amputee to officially break the 11-second mark." Amazing -- freaking amazing!
~ Apple Consumption During Pregnancy Reduces Risk For Childhood Wheezing And Asthma -- "Eating apples while pregnant may give new meaning to an apple a day keeping the doctor away. Compelling new research has concluded that mothers who eat apples during pregnancy may protect their children from developing asthma later in life."
~ Scientists identify cancer genes, drugs to block them (AFP) -- "Researchers in the United States have isolated a set of four genes closely linked to the growth of breast cancer cells and their spread to the lungs, according to a study released Wednesday."
~ Can't Stop Eating When You've Had Enough? It's All in Your Genes -- "Overeating, and a Host of Other Detrimental Behaviors, Can All Be Traced to Our Evolutionary Past, Experts Say."

~ Exercise linked to less anxiety, depression -- "A regular run through the park may improve not only heart health but also mental health, a study suggests."
~ Gay men seen prone to have eating disorders -- "Gay and bisexual men may be at far higher risk for eating disorders than heterosexual men, while women seem to be equally affected regardless of their sexual orientation, a new study suggests."
~ Self-Awareness: The PopEye Strength -- "Self-awareness, or self-knowledge, is our ability to know ourselves. To borrow from Jon Haidt, self-awareness is our ability to be in touch with both our “elephant” and our “rider,” or both our thoughts and our feelings (Haidt, 2006). Self-awareness measures our ability to know our presence in the world and how we use it to operate."
~ The impact of failing vision on artists - and other altered perceptions -- "Many famous artists and musicians have had the perception of their own art altered by abnormal physical or mental changes. Critics and historians have often credited these changes as major sources of creativity. Insanity and Drugs seem to usually be the most cited and obvious candidates but very often something a lot more vanilla, like hearing or vision loss, can have the greatest impact on an artists art."
~ This Wednesday: One big tip for changing the way you think -- "Every Wednesday is Tip Day. This Wednesday: One big tip for changing the way you think."
~ The Blues: Can't Get Out of Bed? -- "When you'd rather stay in bed."
~ Why We Dream -- "How dreams protect and distract the brain."
~ Links between insomnia and mood -- "Data indicate that insomnia is just as common among people with anxiety disorders as people with depressive disorders. It is an equally strong link."

~ Talent: Does it always shine through? [Cognitive Daily] -- "This story in the Washington Post has been getting a lot of attention. The reporter convinced world-famous violin virtuoso Joshua Bell to play for 45 minutes in a busy Washington subway station, as an experiment to see if passersby would recognize his amazing talents and reward him appropriately. His take was a lowly $32, not counting $20 from a disgusted fan who recognized Bell and couldn't believe others weren't being more generous."
~ McCain takes on the Democrats on the war -- "Today, John McCain did the full Cheney. In his speech at the Virginia Military Institute in which he laid out his extensive support for the war in Iraq, the Arizona senator matched the vice president's scorn for his political opponents."
~ Creationism: A Museum For Middle America -- "A former teacher is opening an anti-evolution Creation Museum in Kentucky. Will its appeal extend beyond the believers?"
~ Campaign Matters: Edwards' Post-Veto Plan -- "Former Veep nominee says that Congress should keep sending Bush the same Iraq bill, over and over again."
~ Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples Meets in Guatemala -- "Thousands of Indigenous peoples from 24 countries gathered in Guatemala on March 26 for the Third Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala."
~ Academimic -- A New Criterion review of Craig Raine's new book: T. S. Eliot (Lives and Legacies Series).
~ The Changing (Inter)Face of Religion -- "Cluttered as it is with distractions, the internet seems an unlikely conduit for the spiritual. Yet many are turning to the web for religious direction."

~ Apple Adds MGM Movies to ITunes -- "MGM has become the latest major film studio to offer downloadable movies on Apple's iTunes Store."
~ Astronomers improve cosmic distance scale with Hubble -- "An international team of astronomers led by Fritz Benedict and Barbara McArthur of The University of Texas at Austin has used Hubble Space Telescope to solve one of the biggest problems in measuring the universe's expansion."
~ Trash to energy -- "The Boston Globe has a nice article on a source of renewable electricity that doesn't get nearly the attention it ought to: methane generated by landfills. This, like so many cogen opportunities, is a no-brainer."
~ Perception, Status and Bottled Water -- "In a new study, University of Arkansas researchers argue that consumers buy bottled water because they perceive it to be purer, safer and healthier than municipal water. Further findings suggest that young and high-income people, guided by the perception of higher quality, are more likely to purchase bottled water and home-filtration systems. Purchasing bottled water also carries a degree of status, or "snob appeal," the researchers found."
~ Invasive Bugs, Plants Prefer Summer Plane Flights, Study Finds -- "Like many humans, insects and plants are more likely to hitch flights to foreign destinations in June, July, and August, scientists say."
~ Photo Gallery: Quake Lifts Island Ten Feet Out of Ocean -- "The earthquake that blasted the Solomon Islands with a deadly tsunami has devastated local fishing and tourism by exposing vulnerable coral."
~ New Solar Panel Design Traps More Light -- "Sunlight has never really caught fire as a power source, mostly because generating electricity with solar cells is more expensive and less efficient than some conventional sources."

~ Buddhist Geeks Book Review: Sit Down & Shut Up by Brad Warner -- "I call myself a student of Zen (and, briefly, a student of Warner’s) but had not heard about the Shobogenzo until I read Warner’s upcoming release. Although this is ancient wisdom, Warner’s done a fantastic job of getting to the meat of Dogen’s work with generous use of his trademark humor (my most frequent margin note? Ha, ha. Oh Shit!), reminiscences on the punk scene he was brought up on and nuggets of wisdom rarely seen in an author this plugged in to youth-counter-modern-hipster-culture."
~ Right Speech, Again -- From the Buddha Diaries.
~ Miscommunication? -- From Ed Berge at Open Integral -- "Ken [Wilber] has made much of the complaint that his critics don’t understand what he’s saying, that they twist his meanings to often contrary purposes. He explains this as them not being of a high enough level of consciousness to understand because they don’t yet have the developmental signified to apprehend the referent. I think there is some validity to this but it doesn’t seem like the whole story."
~ New Paglia column -- MD pulls some cool quotes from the article.
~ UG KRISHNAMURTI, THE SOTO SECT, AND COOL HAIRCUTS - From Brad Warner at Hardcore Zen (as an aside, I listened to his band's music [Dimentia 13] long before I knew who the hell Warner was or gave a rip about Buddhism -- strange, that.)
~ The Shamanic Breathwork Process 8-day Intensive -- From Gary at Integral in Seattle.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Daily Dharma: Right Speech (and Relationhips)

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:
Holding It All In

I think a lot about the fact that the Buddha made a separate category for Right Speech. He could have been more efficient and included it in Right Action, since speaking is a form of action. For a while I thought it was separate because we speak so much. But then I changed my mind--some people don't speak a lot. Now, I think it's a separate category because speech is so potent. During the 1960s, when the social ethos was "letting it all hang out," I had recurrent fantasies about writing a book called Holding It All In. I think I was alarmed that people had overlooked how vulnerable each of us is. In recent years, I've revised my book title to Holding It All In Until We've Figured Out How to Say It in a Useful Way. I believe we are obliged to tell the truth. Telling the truth is a way we take care of people. The Buddha taught complete honesty, with the extra instruction that everything a person says should be truthful and helpful.

~ Sylvia Boorstein, It's Easier Than You Think

Over the years, I've become a lot more sensitive to this notion of Right Speech. When I was young, I was very insensitive to the possibility of being able to hurt someone by how one speaks. I thought that the truth was the truth, and it needed to be spoken. I was also more than a little critical and mean-spirited sometimes.

But the notion of Right Speech as the Buddha taught it includes both the truth and being helpful. Sometimes it is not helpful to flatly state the truth without regard for someone's feelings. Choosing our words wisely can make a huge difference.

There is nowhere that this is more true than in intimate relationships. It can be very important to pause and consider if we what we are about to say -- especially when angry -- is both true and helpful. Ken Wilber likes to mention the old Quaker injunction to let the next thing from your mouth be from your best self. I think the Buddha could groove with that.

Too many times we allow ourselves to speak harshly to our partners -- or allow them to speak harshly to us. I have been guilty of this far too often in my life. It can be very hurtful, whether the hurt is acknowledged or not. What it comes down to is a breech of trust -- when we are in an intimate relationship we trust that our partners will treat us with respect, and s/he trusts that we will be respectful.

Obviously, we are going to make mistakes in this area. And when that happens it is important that we (1) acknowledge the hurt that occurred, (2) make an effort to re-establish trust, and (3) work to become more mindful of our speech so that it does not happen again.

As with most things, it comes down to being more mindful of how we think and what comes out of our mouths.