Saturday, November 24, 2007

Feeding the Hungry

[This image has haunted me since the first time I saw it.]

There was well-intentioned post over at the I-I pod at Zaadz that referenced an online educational game that provides free rice to starving children just for playing the game. Seems like a great idea on the surface.

Except that rice is not the answer.

These were my replies (presented here as one post):

I hate to diss any organization trying to help feed people, but rice is not the answer.

Doctors Without Borders has been advocating and distributing plumpynut (60 Minutes story here), which is a fortified peanut butter with extra vitamins and milk protein. It's literally saving lives that could not have been saved before – best of all, it can be produced locally by the people who need it most.

Because it is so calorie dense, especially when compared to rice, it takes up much less space to store, costs less to make, and can be stored for much longer without fear of it going bad.

This may be the single greatest breakthrough in feeding the hungry, especially malnourished children. Lots of research supports the idea that increased protein and healthy fats in the diets of these children has a powerful impact on intelligence, with as much as a 20 point increase over those who do not get adequate protein and fats.

The body needs fats and proteins (plumpynut), but it does not need carbohydrates (rice) – in the absence of carbs, the body uses protein and fat to produce ketones, a kind of carbohydrate that the body uses to create glycogen (gluconeogenesis).

Peanut allergies seem not to exist in African nations, so there is no issue with possible allergic reactions

The choice seems obvious.

The WHO is getting behind plumpynut, so there is hope for wider adoption.

I think part of the reliance on rice has been due to lobbyists pushing rice, not nutritionists saying rice is best (although nutritionists are notoriously behind the curve on what actually constitutes good nutrition). I know that there were efforts to make rice a staple crop in Africa, but the lack of reliable water made that idea rather misguided from day one. Plus, who wants to use water to grow rice when people are dying from lack of clean water?

Peanuts, however don't need nearly as much water to be a viable crop, not to mention the greater harvest per acre of land.

I grew up thinking that rice was the answer to starvation because that is what I saw on the news so often. But it's BS. To get as much nutrition from rice as a child can get from one bottle of plumpynut would take pounds of rice. And rice has very little protein in comparison, and it's not a complete protein (all ten essential amino acids).

Watch the 60 Minutes story I linked to above -- this stuff is nothing short of a miracle for starving children.

Time - What Makes Us Moral

Time has a feature story, What Makes Us Moral, on the current state of our understanding of how morality works in human beings. Interestingly, the article presents several studies on the morality of animals, which is one of the primary research areas for a biological source of morality. The research shows that morality is not unique to humans, nor is empathy and compassion.

Overall, the research seems to indicate that we are being pushed by our biology, our beliefs, and our cultural values in many different directions, which makes morality a very confusing structure for us humans. I would add that we are also at the mercy of social structures, such as laws, that dictate behavior. I know many people who would not do the "right" thing if it meant breaking a law.

Here is the beginning of the article:

If the entire human species were a single individual, that person would long ago have been declared mad. The insanity would not lie in the anger and darkness of the human mind—though it can be a black and raging place indeed. And it certainly wouldn't lie in the transcendent goodness of that mind—one so sublime, we fold it into a larger "soul." The madness would lie instead in the fact that both of those qualities, the savage and the splendid, can exist in one creature, one person, often in one instant.

We're a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness. We nurse one another, romance one another, weep for one another. Ever since science taught us how, we willingly tear the very organs from our bodies and give them to one another. And at the same time, we slaughter one another. The past 15 years of human history are the temporal equivalent of those subatomic particles that are created in accelerators and vanish in a trillionth of a second, but in that fleeting instant, we've visited untold horrors on ourselves—in Mogadishu, Rwanda, Chechnya, Darfur, Beslan, Baghdad, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Lebanon, Israel, New York City, Abu Ghraib, Oklahoma City, an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania—all of the crimes committed by the highest, wisest, most principled species the planet has produced. That we're also the lowest, cruelest, most blood-drenched species is our shame—and our paradox.

Read the whole article, and take a brief morality quiz.

Daily Dharma: Happy Continuation Day

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle features Thich Nhat Hanh, with an interesting view of continuity in our lives.

Happy Continuation Day

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.

To be born means that something which did not exist comes into existence. But the day we are “born” is not our beginning. It is a day of continuation. But that should not make us less happy when we celebrate our “Happy Continuation Day.”

Since we are never born, how can we cease to be? This is what the Heart Sutra reveals to us. When we have tangible experience of non-birth and non-death, we know ourselves beyond duality. The meditation on “no separate self” is one way to pass through the gate of birth and death.

Your hand proves that you have never been born and you will never die. The thread of life has never been interrupted from time without beginning until now. Previous generations, all the way back to single cell beings, are present in your hand at this moment. You can observe and experience this. Your hand is always available as a subject for meditation.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Two Views on the Classics

I am a big fan of teaching the classics of literature as the foundation of ALL education. Yes, even chemistry majors should read Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. It's entirely possible now to get a lit degree at some colleges without reading any Shakespeare. That's catastrophic to the future of the classics in our culture.

Two recent articles look at the idea of teaching and reading the classics.

In Prospect (UK), Richard Jenkyns asks Do We Need a Literary Canon? When we are talking about The Canon, we are essentially talking about the classics. He generally answers in the negative, seeing the origin of "A Canon" in two ideas: The early Church's efforts to decide which texts would eventually become The Bible, thus giving the idea a religious feel he seems uncomfortable with; and the idea of genius as something that is easily recognized and clear to everyone, another idea he seems uncomfortable with.

Here is his main argument:

The present tone of politics has created the suspicion, justified or not, that there has been a trahison des clercs: that whatever they say, at heart our governors are anti-intellectual. That is evidently O'Hear's belief: he protests about a system of education that "deprives ourselves and our children of the ability to read classic authors and the opportunity to love them." The chief rabbi, for his part, is more concerned with the coherence of society and the place of ethnic and religious minorities within it. However, his argument connects at least two and probably three different things, which may be related but which are in principle separate. The first is the importance of shared experience—he is explicitly attacking multiculturalism. The second is the importance of high culture. Significantly, the examples Sacks gives of texts which everyone once knew are Shakespeare and the Bible—with which, as we know, every decent desert island is equipped—and the great novels. The great novels, note; by implication, a shared experience of Agatha Christie or Ian Fleming will not do the trick. And Sacks may also be hinting at a third idea: that it is important for us to understand where we have come from, to know the texts which have formed the beliefs and behaviour of the world in which we live. If we know nothing about the past, or even if we know only about the recent past, we are fated to misunderstand the present. This is certainly part of O'Hear's case: "We are cutting ourselves and our descendants off from our cultural roots," he has said. "It is an unforgivable form of intellectual and spiritual suicide."

It is easy to make exaggerated claims about the canon. Take Don Quixote—as it happens, the one among O'Hear's great books that I have not read (well, have you?). That may be my loss aesthetically, but I doubt whether it has wounded me in any larger way. We all know about the dotty knight and Sancho Panza and the tilting against windmills (curious how the famous parts of that very long book come so near the beginning), but we have learnt this indirectly, and it is surely debatable whether reading Don Quixote is essential to a deep understanding of our culture. None the less, O'Hear is right. The greatest loss, of course, has been knowledge of the Bible: it is not rare these days to find professors of English literature missing allusions that humble people would have picked up 150 years ago. The literature of Greece and Rome, too, remains or ought to remain essential to us, not only for its intrinsic quality but for the ways in which it has helped to shape our own world, from the middle ages onward.

Sacks is right, in turn, to say that a society needs shared references and resonances, but there is no inherent reason for these to be high cultural ones. It is surely vain to suppose that poorly educated and disaffected young Asians can be brought to a stronger sense of belonging in Britain by a diet of Hamlet, Middlemarch and the Psalms. The truth is that shared references and resonances mostly need to evolve naturally, that most of them derive from popular culture, and that many of them are like family jokes. Television has had enormous power as a unifier; this power is now declining with the proliferation of channels and new media, but in their time Morecambe and Wise did more than Milton and Wordsworth to make us feel one people.

I'm not entirely sure Jenkyns opposes the idea of a canon, but I think he feels it is no longer relevant, at least in the forms we have come to be familiar with.

Someone who does value the classics is Michael Dirda, as evidenced in his new book, Classics for Pleasure. What follows comes from the review given the book in The Christian Science Monitor:

Recognizing that classics have gotten a bad name from deadly school assignments, Dirda starts out somewhat defensively. He asserts that "Classics are classics not because they are educational, but because people have found them worth reading, generation after generation, century after century." Fearing that if he'd arranged his book chronologically, readers might skip the older stuff, he instead relies on 11 categories, such as "Playful Imagination," "Loves Mysteries," "Traveler's Tales," and "The Dark Side," enabling readers to zero in on the types of books they prefer.

More significantly, Dirda refrains from rounding up the usual suspects (Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy). Instead, there are plenty of unfamiliar names (Jean Toomer, H. Rider Haggard, Sheridan Le Fanu) and some less highbrow surprises (Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Philip K. Dick). Dirda explains, "It seemed more useful – and fun – to point readers to new authors and less familiar classics."

In other words, "Classics for Pleasure" is not a book for people hoping to chart a course toward general literacy. Instead, it's aimed at avid readers looking for substantive recommendations that are neither obvious nor contemporary – readers who might ask, "What have I missed?"

Dirda conveys his passion for some 90 authors in brief essays filled with alluring quotations, juicy minibiographies, and sharp assessments. His tantalizing plot summaries deliberately leave us dangling. (After reading his encapsulation of the 14th-century medieval romance, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," I had to unearth my copy, untouched since high school, to find out what happens.)

In case his synopses don't do the trick, Dirda clinches each "sale" with lively shorthand comparisons to more familiar, beloved works. Jaroslav Hasek's "The Good Soldier Svejk" is called "a Slavic cousin" to Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," while The Icelandic Sagas evoke "a thirteenth century Hemingway."

Discussing Ivy Compton-Burnett's novels, Dirda writes, "Imagine a mix of Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, and Sophocles, or think of a gloomy P.G. Wodehouse." Georgette Heyer's regency romances elicit comparisons to Patrick O'Brian and Jane Austen, and Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov is called "a Slavic version of Forrest Gump." "Oblomov" is one of my old favorites, but that's not an association I would have made.

Dirda is both witty and wise. Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca" is praised as "a tour de force of narrative control and point of view worthy of Henry James," while Walter de La Mare's strange "Memoirs of a Midget" "may be regarded as one of the best novels that Henry James never wrote."

Although Dirda wears his erudition lightly, his literary zeal runs unchecked. "Not enough people read Samuel Johnson," he complains. Writing about the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, he notes, "It's nearly always rewarding to read several translations when one doesn't know a poem's original language."

How contagious are Dirda's enthusiasms? He aroused my curiosity about J.G. Frazer's "The Golden Bough" ("one of the great Victorian monuments of eccentric scholarship,") C.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" ("both Dickensian and Kafkaesque"), and Georgette Heyer's "The Grand Sophy," to name just three.

This is definitely a book I'll want to read and own. People forget sometimes that the classics aren't just Homer, The Bible, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and a few others. There are core classics that nearly everyone can agree upon, and then there are secondary classics which fill in gaps, add new perspectives, and generally flesh out the tradition. All of these are the classics.

I sincerely believe that if we taught the classics, in one form or another, to everyone in college, no matter their major, we would have a much more educated and tolerant society. These great works of art, literature, music, and now film are the common thread that tie us all together. They are the expression and the foundation of much of who we are as people. We lose a lot in not sharing these common ties.

Tom Waits - 16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six

Waits is truly an American original. From the album Swordfishtrombones (1983), the first album co-written with Kathleen Brennan.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Julian Walker: The Power of Worldviews: Part One

Julian Walker, over at his Zaadz blog, has posted a very coherent post on the idea of worldviews in integral theory.

The Power of Worldviews

There is a very illuminating body of work formed by the nexus of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and the social psychology research of Clare Graves popularized by Don Beck and Chris Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics. The work describes a series of evolutionary stages that societal worldviews go through that is somewhat analogous to developmental stages as seen in cognitive development a la Piaget, moral development a la Kohlberg and the worldview stages mapped out by Gebser. Wilber has taken the substantial similarities of data from these different fields of research and come up with the idea of "altitude," as expressed in this introductory summary.

However, my interactions with the ideas in the community of people familiar with this body of work and claiming fluency in it both online and in-person has proved to be a little disappointing for reasons that will hopefully become obvious as we proceed.

The ubiquitous misinterpretation of both integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics by the dominant Pluralistic worldview and it's very common shadow form - the extreme relativist and magical-thinking regressive worldview make me want to do some writing on the power of worldviews that addresses these somewhat pervasive mistakes. This will be Part One - with a more direct exploration of the misinterporetations to follow soon.

Read the rest.

Julian makes some very good points in this post, that are useful both to us who follow integral theory and those who are novices.

New Poem: The Source

The Source

After all these years the stones
Have stopped singing, their tongues
Silenced in the chill autumn night.

What can it mean, this emptiness, how
Far have we wandered from the path
That we now reside in this quiet canyon?

We gaze into dark mirrors and fail
To see the creatures prowling behind our eyes,
Our connection to what is feral.

What price this forgetting, what loss
The stars failing to console us,
To make sense of what our eyes see?

The stones no longer sing, the birds
No longer reflect our deepest fears,
All this and more we have lost.

We step out into the cold night
Having misplaced our connection
to the source on which our bodies feed.

Chogyam Trungpa: The Dharma of Relationships

From Ocean of Dharma:


Without others, we would have no chance at all to develop beyond ego. So the idea here is to feel grateful that others are presenting us with tremendous obstacles -- even threats or challenges. The point is to appreciate that. Without them, we could not follow the path at all. Walking on the path of the dharma is connected with dealing with our neurosis. But if there were no neuros-ees, we couldn't develop any neuros-is. Therefore, we should feel very grateful to such persons. They are actually the ones who are pushing us onto the path of dharma.

~ Chogyam Trungpa, from "Transformation of Bad Circumstances," in Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving Kindness, page 92.

This is a basic tenet of psychological growth -- that we can only make so much progress on our own, then we need to be in relationship with others to see our shadow stuff reflected in our relationships. But I had never really seen a Buddhist teacher present this view, so I ordered the book last night. I look forward to seeing what else Trungpa has to say about this topic.

BBC: Secular Believers

The BBC takes a look at atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists.

Beliefs, and believers, come in many shapes and sizes, and not all of them can be described as 'religious'. This program provides an introduction to a fascinating range of non-religious people and their beliefs.

The video has six segments.


D'Oh! - I've Become a Tucsonan

I went on a great hike today, not too far outside of Flagstaff and near Sunset Crater. The morning was cold and it only was a little warmer in the afternoon (maybe in the 40s), especially in the forest and out of the sun.

It must be close to freezing right now as I write this, with a projected low of 16 degrees tonight according to the Weather Channel (buy the way, I love the Weather Channel). I'm actually a little cold sitting here in my sweats and a long-sleeve knit Henley. I even wore long jeans while hiking today -- those who know me have seldom, if ever, seen me in long pants -- I nearly always wear shorts.

All of this led me to realize that I am now a Tucsonan, a person who thinks 50 degrees is cold. Damn. I once wore shorts for two solid years in Seattle, whether there was rain, ice, or snow. I took pride in being able to wear shorts a couple of years on an ice berg tour in Alaska -- everyone else was bundled up as though they were going skiing.

But now I am weather wuss. I guess that's what happens when one has to put up with intolerable heat 5 months out of the year.

Oh yeah, one other D'Oh! I packed my tripod and my camera bag but forgot my camera. I guess memory is the first thing that goes.

Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8


Vita Quartet plays Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 110.

New York Times: 100 Notable Books 2007

Another "best of" list for books, this time from the New York Times Book Review.

The list is in alphabetical order.
There are two poets that I quite like who made the list:

NEXT LIFE. By Rae Armantrout. (Wesleyan University, $22.95.) Poetry that conveys the invention, the wit and the force of mind that contests all assumptions.

TIME AND MATERIALS: Poems, 1997-2005. By Robert Hass. (Ecco/Harper-Collins, $22.95.) What Hass, a former poet laureate, has lost in Californian ease he has gained in stern self-restraint.

Two other very good poets also made the list:

SELECTED POEMS. By Derek Walcott. Edited by Edward Baugh. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) The Nobel Prize winner Walcott, who was born on St. Lucia, is a long-serving poet of exile, caught between two races and two worlds.

THE COLLECTED POEMS, 1956-1998. By Zbigniew Herbert. Translated by Alissa Valles. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $34.95.) Herbert’s poetry echoes the quiet insubordination of his public life.

See the whole list.

Daily Dharma: The Journey of the Soul

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

The Journey of the Soul

The meditative experience is, to my mind, the practice of dying, the practice of letting go. The more you practice letting go, the more you begin to understand the journey of your soul or your spirit as it detaches from the material nature of existence. There is a river, and as soon as you unmoor the boat and you start to enter that river, you end up on a journey. Not all of us have gone to the mouth of that river, but I think we are all aware, in the meditative process, that the journey exists. As you go deeply inside your psyche you're aware of the similarity of this journey to the journey of the soul after death.

~ Bruce Rubin, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Fall 1991; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Defense of Shakespeare

A new book from Bill Bryson looks at the life of William Shakespeare -- and doesn't try to prove Big Willie didn't write the plays and poems we have come to love.

From the review of William Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson:

Fittingly, he starts with the celebrated Chandos portrait, whose authenticity is engulfed in a mystery of its own. Shakespeare's enduring enigma begins at birth. We cannot be sure that he came into the world on April 23, 1564. It's simply the traditional date.

Instead of concocting some plausible theories to fill in the many gaps in what we know about Shakespeare, Bryson draws a concise picture of his times - from the working conditions and admission prices of the Elizabethan theater to what people ate, drank and wore. He notes with amazement that the consumption of beer was a gallon daily for each person, without seeming to realize that such tippling was a necessity because the water was too foul and dangerous to drink.

Although he has visited the archives that hold Shakespearean treasures - such as the Folger Library in Washington with its unrivaled collection of First Folios - Bryson doesn't pretend to any original scholarship. His Shakespeare is a work of honest synthesis.

I especially enjoyed his spirited rejoinder to the thriving industry that has developed to advance the claims of others as the "real" authors of Shakespeare's plays. This began in the mid-19th century with the idea that Francis Bacon was the man. Bryson is right to stress what has always seemed to me a compelling rebuttal: Nobody ever questioned Shakespeare's authorship in his lifetime. Nor did the two friends and colleagues who prepared the First Folio seven years after his death and put his name and image on the title page. For the next two centuries no one raised a hint of doubt.

This sounds like a nice and brief introduction for people who may not like Shakespeare or be familiar with his work -- with none of the usual BS about authorship.

As for the seemingly endless conjecture by some that Shakespeare's plays, in particular, were written by someone else, who cares? I don't give a damn who wrote these plays, whether it was the playwright known as William Shakespeare, or Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (these are the top three candidates for authorship among those who like conspiracy theories).

The reality is that these plays are the foundation of Western literature and Western humanity, as Harold Bloom argued in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.

From the review in Boston Review:

I never supposed anyone would approach the level of admiration Harold Bloom reaches in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. For Bloom, Shakespeare stands alone not only as the greatest literary genius who ever lived, but the greatest intellect of all time, so far ahead of anyone who came before or after him that we can never catch up. He represents the outer reaches of human intelligence, and when we immerse ourselves in his plays we enter territory as yet uncharted. This means that even the most gifted critical minds-Bloom's included-cannot contain Shakespeare; he contains them. As Bloom puts it, "no one yet has managed to be post-Shakespearean."

And . . .

When Bloom claims that Shakespeare invented the human, however, he doesn't merely mean that he pioneered these psychological fields in literature before they became established in what gradually became our modern disciplines. According to Bloom, Shakespeare-especially in his creation of Falstaff and Hamlet-so utterly altered human consciousness that after him the world was a different place and we were different creatures. In other words, Shakespeare re-created humanity.

These are lofty claims, and there is no doubt that Bloom, who is one of our best critics, can back them up.

For me, however, and for Bloom as well, I suspect, the play is the thing. We will never know very much more than we know now about Shakespeare himself. And we know all we need to know about the times in which he lived. So the real focus should be on a close reading of the plays.

As much as I admire Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Arthur Miller, and David Mamet, none of these brilliant writers can even approach the depth, complexity, and insight of a Shakespeare play.

When we actually pay attention to the images, symbolism, and language in the plays, not to mention the cultural commentary, the politics, and the grasp of human interiors, why would we care who wrote the plays? The plays themselves are each a self-contained world worthy of our close reading and contemplation.

My favorite class as an undergrad was when my school hired a new director (Alan Armstrong) for our Shakespeare Center (Ashland is home of the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so we had to have a Shakespeare Center), who was teaching a class on Henry IV, Parts I and II, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V -- my favorite sequence of the Bard's plays. When we began to write papers, we were instructed NOT to use ANY outside sources. All he wanted us to do was read the play, think about it, and write a paper about some aspect of the play. Most of the students freaked out.

That class was awesome.

And it taught me about close reading, a style of criticism attributed to the new critics of the 1920s - 1960s (but corrupted by some of the post-modern deconstructionists). When it comes to Shakespeare, a close reading of the plays should be all that matters.

Everything we need to know about the work is in the plays.

Daily Om: Being Truly Thankful

Today's Daily Om is a good reminder that simply counting our blessings is not true gratitude -- we must feel the gratitude in the depths of our being.

Beyond Counting Blessings
Being Truly Thankful

Often when we practice being thankful, we go through the process of counting our blessings, acknowledging the wonderful people, things and places that make up our reality. While it is fine to be grateful for the good fortune we have accumulated, true thankfulness stems from a powerful comprehension of the gift of simply being alive, and when we feel it, we feel it regardless of our circumstances. In this deep state of gratitude, we recognize the purity of the experience of being, in and of itself, and our thankfulness is part and parcel of our awareness that we are one with this great mystery that is life.

It is difficult for most of us to access this level of consciousness as we are very caught up in the ups and downs of our individual experiences in the world. The thing to remember about the world, though, is that it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, gives and takes, and is by its very nature somewhat unreliable. If we only feel gratitude when it serves our desires, this is not true thankfulness. No one is exempt from the twists and turns of fate, which may, at any time, take the possessions, situations, and people we love away from us. Ironically, it is sometimes this kind of loss that awakens us to a thankfulness that goes deeper than just being grateful when things go our way. Illness and near-miss accidents can also serve as wake-up calls to the deeper realization that we are truly lucky to be alive.

We do not have to wait to be shaken to experience this state of being truly thankful for our lives. Tuning in to our breath and making an effort to be fully present for a set period of time each day can do wonders for our ability to connect with true gratitude. We can also awaken ourselves with the intention to be more aware of the unconditional generosity of the life force that flows through us regardless of our circumstances.

30 Days of Earth Shots

Seriously beautiful photographs from Earth Shots.


Gratitude - Thanksgiving 2007

Greetings from Flagstaff, where the temperatures actually feel representative of the time of year -- a brisk 50 degrees, breezy, and clear right now. There might be a little snow this weekend (high on Saturday is predicted for 37 degrees), but it's not supposed to be heavy (which was the prediction earlier this week).

[San Francisco Mountain just outside of Flagstaff]

I'm spending the holiday weekend alone up here in the mountains. Several friends, who know I have no family, invited me to do the Thanksgiving dinner thing with their families, which I very much appreciate, but I wanted to get out of town this weekend and spend some time alone. More importantly, I wanted to be out in nature as much as possible.

Flagstaff is beautiful. At an elevation of just over 7,000 feet, it feels like some of my favorite places in Oregon and Washington -- lots of evergreens, lots of ravens -- and it's a cool, hippie college town kind of like Ashland, Oregon, where I went to school.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. My amazing friend Susie is the coolest person I know. I have great clients. I am healthy and strong. I can afford to get out of town for a few days without stressing about money (still a new concept for me). I love my job, and I'm soon to embark on a new journey toward becoming a therapist.

I'm also thankful for places like Flagstaff, where the land is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the ravens are always around. I plan to do a lot hiking in the next few days, so I am grateful for the wild places that still exist in the world. And I am grateful for the preservation of some Native American cultural sites, of which there are many up here, that remind me I carry the blood (albeit a small amount) of some ancestors who saw this continent long before any white person every did.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving day?

Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33

Some nice music for a Thanksgiving morning, featuring Pierre Fournier.

Part One:

Part Two

Part Three:

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New Poem: Longing


We begin with what we've always had
Sensing a loss, something misplaced
Never allowing our feet to sink into mud
Running sometimes, pushing through thickets

Of blackberries, dense manzanita
Afraid that if we stop it will vanish
A magician's trick, rabbit in a hat
Candles blown out, the door slamming

In the cathedral of hope, afraid to recall
Awakening at 3 am with quiet tears
Sitting in the cool darkness of morning
The gnawing hunger, a thirst

For the salty warmth of blood
Fearing the taste of our own wounds
The cobwebs we wear as a crown
Family albums, and the gentle awareness

That we are so much more, more vast
A longing for the wide lens of self
Panoramic, encompassing landscape and more
Revealing interiors, what we've always been

[Image stolen from Integral Naked]

Buy Nothing Day 2007

Friday is the annual "Buy Nothing Day," a protest -- futile though it is -- against the rampant consumerism of the holidays. The holiday was started by the good folks at Adbusters Magazine.

(November 23 in the USA and Canada, November 24 internationally)

STOP SHOPPING TO GO GREEN: This November, environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in as many as 65 countries will hit the streets for a 24-hour consumer fast in celebration of the 15th annual Buy Nothing Day, a global cultural phenomenon that originated in Vancouver, Canada.

Featured in recent years by the likes of CNN, MSNBC, Wired, the BBC, USA Today, The Age and the CBC, the international event has been gaining mainstream momentum as the climate crisis drives average people to seek out greener alternatives to unrestrained consumption.

Timed to coincide with one of the busiest shopping days on the US retail calendar, as well as the unofficial start of the international holiday-shopping season, Buy Nothing Day has taken many shapes, from relaxed family outings, to free, non-commercial street parties, to politically charged public protests. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending.

In past years, street activists have proven particularly imaginative in their celebrations, bringing zombie marches, credit-card cut-ups, and shopaholic clinics to malls and public squares in an effort to expose the environmental and social consequences of First World over-consumption.

Kalle Lasn is the co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, the organization responsible for launching Buy Nothing Day as a yearly, global event. He explains that while most participants used to see the day simply as an escape from the marketing mind games and frantic consumerism that have come to characterize modern life, the focus has since shifted in light of the new political mood surrounding climate change.

“So much emphasis,” he notes, “has been placed on buying carbon offsets and compact fluorescent lightbulbs and hybrid cars that we are losing sight of the core cause of our environmental problems: we consume far too much.”

“Buy Nothing Day isn't just about changing your routine for one day. It’s about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment. With over six billion people on the planet, it is the responsibility of the most affluent – the upper 20% that consumes 80% of the world’s resources – to set out on a new path.”

Ken Wilber on the New Atheists

In the newest issue of Shambhala Sun, Barry Boyce has an article entitled "Mind, Matter, or God?" in which he talks about the new atheists with various spiritual and religious leaders. Among those he talks to is Ken Wilber.

~C4Chaos, among others, has lamented KW's (and other integral thinkers) relative silence on this issue, when an integral perspective of some sort could help make a lot more sense of what the new atheists are all about. I don't think what Ken says in the article really adds anything for those of us who know where he stands (if we've read The Marriage of Sense and Soul), but I'm sure it might be useful for others.

In all reality, I found Mary Jo Meadow, a secular Carmelite and co-author of Christian Insight Meditation, to be much more eloquent than any of the other people, aside from maybe Joan Sutherland, a Zen Roshi in the Rinzai tradition.

Anyway, here is some of what KW had to say about the new atheism.

Wilber thinks we are in the midst of an important "national conversation about science and religion," but he finds it "very disturbing" that the conversation spurred by Dawkins, Harris, and the others "assumes that everybody knows what we are talking about when we talk about religion. While science is something that we can fairly well agree on the meaning of, religion or spirituality has a very broad range of meaning."

Boyce then goes on to explain Jean Gebser's stages of personal and cultural development -- the archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral. As many of us know, these are sequential stages of development that cannot be skipped -- we must move through each stage in order.

"What we call 'spirituality' applies to both the pre-rational stages of development and the trans-rational stages of development," says Wilber.

In pre-rational modes, like magic and mythic, we have beliefs in things like Moses parting the Red Sea and Lao Tzu being 900 years old, all the standard mythological stories and narratives we find in traditions all over the world.

"The trans-rational stages," Wilber continues, "have almost nothing in common with the pre-rational stages. The trans-rational stages of development have much more to do with awareness and the number of perspectives one can encompass. They have absolutely nothing to do with magic or mythic beliefs or dogmas. The trans-rational forms of spirituality are not really being addressed in this debate, which wastes time telling us that Moses didn't part the Red Sea. Well, duh!

"All religious activity is being lumped together, so that what a Zen master is doing and what Pat Robertson is doing are thought to be the same thing -- it's all just religious stuff. This is absolute nonsense, and it's a disaster. It takes the contemplative aspects of the world's great religions and mixes them in with all the magic and mythic accoutrements that also come with the world's great religions. Nobody is really taking the time to separate these two out."

After a brief aside about the mystic tradition in religion, and its reliance on contemplation and "transcendental meditative experience," the article continues.

Wilber describes the body-mind disciplines in martial arts and the practices in Buddhism -- from the insight meditation of the Theravada to zazen and koans to Vajrayana mantras and visualizations -- as trans-rational forms of practice. "These are paths of contemplation or paths of liberation, not dogmatic beliefs," he says. "As a matter of fact, these traditions have very few belief structures. They're mostly practices: sit, pay attention in this way, count your breaths like this, use a mantra like this, and so on. These are much more like riding a bike than they are like believing in something. They're actual practices you do with your awareness and with your mind. They allow deeper experiences to come to the fore. It's all about experience, not rationality, not dogma, and certainly not about adhering to any sort of narrative."

Wilber concludes by disputing the bright line that most of the new atheists draw between science and spirituality. "Science is empirical," he says, "but empiricism refers to that which is experiential, which is narrowly defined in science as that which can be proven using the senses and their extensions, such as microscopes. Interior realities cannot be seen with a microscope, but that doesn't mean that they cannot be confirmed through evidence. They just require a broader form of empiricism. If you follow the injunctions in Zen, if you perform the experiments properly, you will get the illumination. You will find the data, the experience. Contemplative spirituality is a kind of interior science."

From here Boyce moves into a brief discussion with Sam Harris, who is the most open-minded of the new atheists in that he acknowledges contemplation as a valuable tool, even though he doesn't recognize developmental stages in his work.

In general, this is a useful article for the common reader of Shambhala Sun, but it does little to add to the debate for those of following the various lines of integral thought. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

Speedlinking 11/21/07

[NOTE: This is the last speedlinks post this week. I'll be out of town starting tomorrow.]

Quote of the day:

"To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Image of the day (Neil Creek):

~ 20 Minutes to a Hard Body -- "Chris Shugart has all kinds of tips on how to ruin your Thanksgiving and holiday dinners. No big deal. You'll thank him afterwards for ensuring that you're not picked to play Santa Claus this year."
~ Bringing the Pendulum Back to Center: Tempo Training -- "Tempo prescriptions allow coaches to have another way to measure progress. For instance, if a trainee completes a set of five reps with an additional 5lbs, it's tough to ascertain whether or not the trainee actually improved if they actually did the set in less time. But if the trainee did the 5 reps with the additional load at the same approximate speed as before then we know they improved."
~ In Search Of Wine, Ancients Become Earliest Chocoholics -- "The human love affair with chocolate is at least 3,000 years old -- and it began at least 500 years earlier than previously thought, according to new analyses of pottery shards from the Ula Valley region of northern Honduras. But the first people to appreciate the cacao tree were probably after a buzz of another kind -- a fermented, winelike drink, research shows -- and only later discovered the chocolaty taste we love today."
~ Thanks for the Nutrition -- "Thanksgiving dinner may be associated with oversized portions and fat-laden gravy, but many traditional “Turkey Day” foods are actually a bounty of nutrients."
~ Study: More Americans exercising -- "Americans are exercising more than in the past, but most are still not working out enough to meet federal guidelines, a new survey shows."
~ Tired? It's not the turkey's fault -- "Feel sleepy after a big Thanksgiving meal? Contrary to popular thinking, it's not the turkey's fault."
~ Why Thanksgiving Veggie Side Dishes Deserve Star Status -- "Cruciferous vegetables add a health kick to any Thanksgiving feast." This is huge! Eat your veggies first, especially cruciferous veggies, and you'll eat less overall, and you'll process the simple carbs you do eat more efficiently. I've been telling my clients this all week.
~ Keeping Holiday Meals in Check -- "Tips for healthy eating at the holiday table."
~ Too Much Sugar Turns Off Gene That Controls Effects Of Sex Steroids -- "Eating too much fructose and glucose can turn off the gene that regulates the levels of active testosterone and estrogen in the body, shows a new study in mice and human cell cultures that's published this month in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. This discovery reinforces public health advice to eat complex carbohydrates and avoid sugar."

~ On Becoming Spiritually Fearless -- "What we're seeing -- if we are willing to look -- is that we are not alone in an indifferent universe. As Goethe put it, "This life, gentlemen, is much too short for our souls." If this life were sufficient for our souls, we would not go through it consumed with fear."
~ Even babies judge their companions -- "Even infants can tell the difference between naughty and nice playmates, and know which to choose, a new study finds."
~ Trauma Earlier In Life May Affect Response To Stress Years Later -- "Researchers have known for years that psychological trauma that results in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression can change how a person responds to stress. Now, Cornell researchers report that rapes, sudden deaths of loved ones, life-threatening accidents and other such traumas may result in long-term changes even if the survivor doesn't develop a clinical disorder."
~ Brain Fitness: How to Improve Your Thinking Ability -- "One of the greatest resources you have is the biocomputer between your ears: your mind. Consequently, one the best investments you can make is honing your thinking ability. This will potentially brings you great rewards in life. While the mind is not everything (things like relationships and spirituality also play important role), it is perhaps one of the most neglected."
~ 3 doors to instant relaxation -- "I have found that there are 3 quick and reliable doors to relaxation. Try these any time you are stressed to the max and need to relax."
~ This Wednesday: Twelve tips for stopping the buzz in your brain -- "The problem is – too many things are clamoring for your attention. People are trying to reach you, by phone, email, text or IM. There are the interesting subjects you want to learn more about, on the TV or the internet or the newspaper. Noises in the background occasionally catch your ear, from the TV or radio. Your kids all talk at the same time. Colleagues interrupt. You need to update, check in, post, or ping. Ads jump at you from the most unlikely places. Devices ping, buzz, ring, and vibrate."
~ SAD Comparable to Major Depressive Disorder -- "It’s common to feel depressed when the weather turns cold and dark, but seasonal affective disorders (SAD), which affects an estimated 5% of the population, causes serious emotional and cognitive changes that can be helped through treatment."
~ Thanksgiving and the Stories We Tell Ourselves -- "I’ve talked before about how stories are powerful ways of encapsulating and passing on information — but they do more than that. Stories give shape to and direct emotion, passion, and behavior. They help us to grapple with experience and extract meaning from it."
~ Holiday Ritual or Rerun? -- "Discover the meaning in your family's rituals."
~ Sustainable Happiness: Why It's All About the Day-to-Day -- "It's one of the great paradoxes of life that we all want to be happy, yet so few of us seem to know exactly where happiness comes from. Happiness itself can be defined in many different ways, it may have all kinds of components, it may be a life's work, or even no work at all, but we are, most of us, in pursuit of this elusive goal."

~ The End of America? Naomi Wolf Thinks It Could Happen -- "An interview with author Naomi Wolf, whose new book, "The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot," may confirm your worries about democracy in America."
~ The hoofbeat of horses -- "Virgil's epic, Aeneid, has been given a dynamic new translation by Frederick Ahl, says Sean O'Brien."
~ CONTEMPORARY POETICS: Redefining the Boundaries of Contemporary Poetics, in Theory & Practice, for the Twenty-First Century -- "Exploring the boundaries of one of the most contested fields of literary study--a field that in fact shares territory with philology, aesthetics, cultural theory, philosophy, and even cybernetics--this volume gathers a body of critical writings that, taken together, broadly delineate a possible poetics of the contemporary. In these essays, the most interesting and distinguished theorists in the field renegotiate the contours of what might constitute "contemporary poetics," ranging from the historical advent of concrete poetry to the current technopoetics of cyberspace."
~ Flying Spaghetti Monster Inspires Wonky Religious Debate -- "To a group of earnest academics who study faith, the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- the spiritual icon of a new internet-based religion -- is more than just a spicy pop-culture dish. They use words like "didactic device" to describe the beloved but carb-heavy god of Pastafarianism. They say the FSM is cloaked in a "folk-humor hybrid body," and reveals a web-fueled movement toward "open source theology" that challenges existing beliefs."
~ Waging war on the sublime -- "A David Moody's life of Ezra Pound is, at last, the ambitious, energetic biography the poet deserves, says Andrew Motion." This book covers Pound's early years, before he went nuts.
~ A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, reviewed -- "Schulz's mantra, his explanation of why Charlie Brown never got to kick the football in his endless and lopsided power play with Lucy, was "happiness is not funny," which sounds reasonable enough. Witnessing the principle in action last night inspired some ready-made nostalgia and some ritualized pleasure. It affirmed the conviction that Charlie Brown is not just a good man, but a beautiful loser."
~ Truth Teller -- "It takes a libertarian Republican to shame Democrats into acknowledging the true cost of this war for ordinary Americans." That would be Ron Paul, for those in a coma the past few months.
~ The Online Beat: Scott McClellan = John Dean? -- "McClellan's admission that he spoke falsely on Karl Rove's involvement in the CIA link scandal could be Bush's undoing."
~ The Best and Brightest 2007 -- "This year's batch of honorees aren't merely curing cancer, saving schools, remaking music, and creating synthetic life -- they give us reasons for hope, too."
~ SCOTT HORTON—U.S. Seeks to Prosecute Pulitzer Prize-Winning A.P. Photographer -- "Reports out since Monday note that the United States Department of Defense will seek to have criminal charges brought against Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer who belonged to a team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photographs of the war in Iraq. Hussein’s contribution to the package included a series of arresting photographs of close up fighting from the assault on Falluja. . . ." He's been in custody more than 18 months without any charges being filed -- his lawyers can't even prepare to defend him because they can't get any information on what Hussein is alleged to have done (other than having the wrong last name).

~ Embryonic stem cells made without embryos -- "Researchers have transformed ordinary human skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells -- but without using cloning technology and without making embryos."
~ Mars' Molten Past -- "Mars was covered in an ocean of molten rock for about 100 million years after the planet formed, researchers from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, UC Davis, and NASA's Johnson Space Center have found."
~ The early relatives of flowering plants -- "The emergence of flowering plants is regarded as a major botanical mystery. In today`s edition of the scientific magazine Nature, an international research team with participation from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) publishes results that shed fresh light on this controversial question. New three-dimensional non-destructive imaging procedures have been used for the first time to carry out investigations into fossilised plant seeds. As a result, it has been possible to confirm an earlier scientific theory, which had previously been cast into doubt by molecular genetic analyses."
~ Trivia time: Tom Turkey, T. rex related -- "The modern-day turkey on American tables and the extinct Tyrannosaurus rex have one thing in common: their wishbone."
~ Preserve established for bonobos -- "Congo has established a rain-forest preserve to protect the bonobo from deforestation and poachers, government officials said."
~ 3-D Photonic Crystals Will Revolutionize Telecommunications -- "Smaller, faster, more efficient: Research scientists are helping to revolutionize the future world of telecommunications -- with the aid of 3-D photonic crystals."
~ Buckyball birth observed by Sandia nanotech researcher -- "Almost everyone in the scientific community has heard of buckyballs, but no one until Sandia`s Jianyu Huang has seen one being born."
~ Riddle of the jade jewels reveals vast trade arena -- "Analysing the origins of jade used in ancient jewellery has revealed a trading arena that was active for more than 3,000 years and sprawled over 3,000km in Southeast Asia - possibly the largest such network discovered in the region to date."

~ Announcing 2008 TED Prize winners -- "The TED Prize was introduced in 2005, and it is unlike any other award. Although the winners receive a prize of $100,000 each, the real prize is that they are granted a WISH. "A wish to change the world." There are no formal restrictions on the wish. We ask our winners to think big and to be creative. The goal is that it creates an incredible sense of excitement and common purpose. It inspires the TED community, and all those who hear about the wish, to offer their help in making the wish come true." -- This year's (2007) winners. The 2008 winners are very cool.
~ Fire Rituals -- "I posted the other day about visiting Buddha Dendo in the mountains in northern California. On the site there is a new building, a goma-do. This is for the performance of the fire ritual, the goma, that is part of esoteric Buddhism in Japan. You will find it in both Shingon and Tendai Buddhism and also within the Shugendo practices that have connections to both Shingon and Tendai. Most people outside of Japan are not familiar with the Japanese goma ritual."
~ Living My Deepest Realization -- "Yesterday I wrote about a man's deepest realization with an adaptation from the book Intimate Communion by David Deida. Today I'm writing about what it means to me, personally, to live that deepest realization."
~ Vestments -- "Aside from those attached to my car, I own two mirrors. One hangs by the bathroom sink, a mirror just large enough to give me the image of my face and hair. The other is a full-length mirror stored in the back of a bedroom closet."
~ Ego Development: 9 Levels of Increasing Embrace -- "In this paper Susanne Cook-Greuter outlines her theory of ego development. Cook-Greuter's research on mature adult development has contributed strongly to Ken Wilber's AQAL model."
~ "I may skip reincarnation this time", says Dalai Lama -- "Comments in Japan come on the heels of a recent order by China that it must approve Tibet's future spiritual leaders. Tokyo, Japan -- The Dalai Lama is floating the idea of breaking a centuries-old Tibetan Buddhist tradition by naming his successor or letting monks elect the next spiritual leader, according to news reports."
~ And With Delight: Integral Spirituality, Reflections, Meditations, Offerings & Thoughts on Integral Christianity -- "The following essay is a personal attempt to contribute to the movement of “integral spirituality” through explorations of the literature, descriptions of the tasks necessary for delight and ways of facilitating spiritual growth in the larger community."
~ 'Milarepa' a philosophical, familiar pleasure -- " Most of us, sitting down to watch a film about Tibetan Buddhism, have certain expectations. We think we have a good idea of what we're about to see: scenic mountain villages, prayer flags fluttering above brutal mountainsides and calm, clear-eyed believers blessed with infinite forgiveness and inner peace. 'Milarepa' delivers on the first two counts but pulls the proverbial rug out from under the third."