Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chatral Rinpoche - Connections Between Landscape and Practice

by Chatral Rinpoche
edited, introduced and annotated
by Zach Larson


Dharma Quote of the Week

The Yolmo Valley has many different aspects that are beneficial to practitioners. Ian Baker writes:

Chatral Rinpoche said that specific [places] in Yolmo are conducive to particular kinds of practice. Places with waterfalls inspire reflection on impermanence. Places with steep cliffs where the rocks are dark and jagged are good for meditating on wrathful deities. Places with rolling hills and flowering meadows support meditation on peaceful deities....

Chatral Rinpoche clarified that the beyul [hidden lands] that Padmasambhava established in Tibet are not literal arcadias, but paradises for Buddhist practice, with multiple dimensions corresponding to increasingly subtle levels of perception. Beyond Yolmo's visible terrain of mountains, streams, and forests, he said, lies an inner level, corresponding to the flow of intangible energies in the physical body. Deeper still, the subtle elements animating the environment merge with the elements present within the practitioner--the secret level.

Finally, at the beyul's innermost level--yangsang--lies a paradisiacal, or unitary dimension revealed through an auspicious conjunction of person, place, and time.... Chatral Rinpoche contended that yangsang is not merely a metaphor for the enlightened state, but an ever-present, if hidden, reality. (p.62)

--from Compassionate Action by Chatral Rinpoche, ed., intro. and annotated by Zach Larson, published by Snow Lion Publications

Compassionate Action • Now at 5O% off
(Good until June 3rd). - Naomi Klein: Blueprint for Accountability: Gaza, Goldstone, and the Crisis of Impunity

Interesting . . . . via I don't know that any of this makes much sense - both sides are guilty of war crimes and both sides are unable to step outside of the tunnel vision of their cultural aggression. Discussing the report may be useful in terms of setting foreign policy (witness the outrage when Obama suggests Israel should return to its 1967 borders), but I watch this and shake my head.

Naomi Klein: Blueprint for Accountability

When the Goldstone Report was released in September 2009, it quickly became the report heard round the world. The United Nations Human Rights Council investigation of the 2008-09 Gaza conflict shook the international community with its unflinching look at the outrages unleashed on a captive population, and it deeply rattled Israel with its call for accountability for war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas. Last month the lead author of the report, Justice Richard Goldstone, once again made headlines when he wrote an essay in The Washington Post "reconsidering" one of the key findings of the report: the targeting of civilians by Israel. The piece has been seized on by Israel's supporters to try to discredit the report once and for all.

Come hear a distinguished panel of experts, including a co-author of the report, discuss the fallout of Goldstone's Op-Ed and the ongoing need for accountability for the crimes of Operation Cast Lead. More than 18 months after it was released, the Goldstone Report remains as critical as ever.

Culture Project and Mondoweiss are pleased to present Blueprint for Accountability: Gaza, Goldstone and the Crisis of Impunity in association with Adalah-NY, Center for Constitutional Rights, CODEPINK, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No, Haymarket Books, The Nation, The Nation Institute and Umbrage Editins. The evening will feature photos from Kent Klich's Gaza Photalbum (Umbrage Editions).

Noura Erakat

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor of international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University and the Legal Advocacy Coordinator for the Badil Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights. Most recently she served as Legal Counsel for a Congressional Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. Prior to her time on Capitol Hill, Noura received a New Voices Fellowship to work as the national grassroots organizer and legal advocate at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation where she helped seed BDS campaigns nationally as well as support the cases brought against two former Israeli officials in U.S. federal courts for alleged war crimes. Prior to attending law school, she helped launch the divestment campaign along with the Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley.

Laura Flanders

Former Air America Radio host, Laura Flanders is the host and founder of GRITtv with Laura Flanders, a daily talk show for people who want to do more than talk. She is the author of the New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species and Blue GRIT: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians She also writes for The Nation and The Huffington Post and is a regular contributor to MSNBC's "The Ed Show" and "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann. She has appeared on shows from "Real Time" with Bill Maher to Bill O’Reilly's Factor.

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, author, and filmmaker. Her first book, the international bestseller No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, was translated into twenty-eight languages and called "a movement bible" by The New York Times.

She writes an internationally syndicated column for The Nation and The Guardian and reported from Iraq for Harper's Magazine. In 2004, she released The Take, a feature documentary about Argentina's occupied factories, co-produced with director Avi Lewis.

She is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws degree from the University of King's College, Nova Scotia.

Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is co-editor of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

Trudie Styler

Trudie Styler is an English actress and producer. She is the second wife of the musician Sting.

Col. Desmond Travers

Desmond Travers is a retired Irish soldier and peace-keeper. Since retirement he has studied international law and continued working in peace-keeping, most recently as one of the authors of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, or Goldstone Report.

RSA - The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain w/ Barbara Strauch

The New York Times' health and science editor Barbara Strauch stopped by the RSA to reveal the latest research that shows that the middle-aged brain is more flexible, more capable and more surprisingly talented than previously thought. Good news for those of us with aging brains. Her book, which I have and am looking forward to reading, is The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Buddhist Geeks #218: Liberating the Soul of Organization (Brian Robertson)

On this week's Buddhist Geeks, Vince speaks with Brian Robertson on the "soul" of an organization - Robertson is the founder of HolarcracyOne, a consulting firm.

Buddhist Geeks 218: Liberating the Soul of Organization

BG 218: Liberating the Soul of Organization

24. May, 2011
by Brian Robertson


Episode Description:

We’re joined this week by Brian Robertson, founder of HolacracyOne, a company whose aim is to liberate the soul of organization. We discuss with Brian the main principles and practices behind Holacracy—a system that Brian helped develop as a new operating system on which businesses can run. He distinguishes between what he calls “predict-and-control” management practices and “sense-and-respond” processes, which are much more like the dynamic steering of a bicycle.

We also look at the parallels between the practice of Holacracy and the practice of meditation. Brian’s description of Holacracy as a practice which encourages people to be ruthlessly present with current tensions and to not identify with the roles that they fill are two striking examples of meditative principles applied to business. We conclude our discussion by exploring what he calls “the tyranny of consensus”, seeing that even with a group of highly conscious individuals we may not have the collective skills to really give life to the organizations we’re a part of.

This is part 1 of a two-part series. Listen to part 2 (airing next week).

Episode Links:


The Philosopher's Zone - Japanese Philosophy - A Short Overview

Nice podcast episode . . . .

Japanese philosophy - a short overview

 (Nakae Chomin 1847-1901)

This program is a REPEAT - it was first broadcast on 9 October 2010.

Since the 5th century, Japanese philosophy has assimilated and adapted foreign philosophies to its native worldview: picking and choosing ideas about self, government and social order from Confucianism, Buddhism and Western thought. But does this mishmash of thinking create a unique Japanese philosophy?

Show Transcript


Thomas Kasulis
Department of Comparative Studies
Ohio State University
United States

Further Information

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Japanese philosophy (online entry)
By Thomas Kasulis

Shaminsen 6 - Yoshida Brothers (music used at end of program)

Yoshida Brothers


Title: Engaging Japanese Philosophy
Author: Thomas Kasulis
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (forthcoming)

Title: Shinto: The Way Home
Author: Thomas Kasulis
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (2004)


Alan Saunders

Cerebrum - Epigenetics and the Human Brain - Where Nurture Meets Nature

This is a cool new article from Cerebrum (The Dana Foundation) - they have strict usage rules, so this is only the two paragraphs - it's worth the read though.

Epigenetics and the Human Brain

Where Nurture Meets Nature

Editor’s note: While our genetic code determines a great deal of who and what we are, it does not act alone. It depends heavily on the epigenome, an elaborate marking of the DNA that controls the genome’s functions. Because it is sensitive to the environment, the epigenome is a powerful link and relay between our genes and our surroundings. Epigenetic marks drive biological functions and features as diverse as memory, development, and disease susceptibility; thus, the nurture aspect of the nature/nurture interaction makes essential contributions to our body and behaviors. As scientists have learned more about how the epigenome works, they have begun to develop therapies that may lead to new approaches to treating common human conditions.

Since the discovery of DNA in the 1950s, one of the primary goals of geneticists has been to understand how differences in the DNA sequence can influence human health and lead to diseases. After several decades of intense research, two conclusions are clear: (1) in most cases, it is difficult to establish a direct link between any specific gene(s) and specific biological processes or diseases, and (2) most traits and pathologies are associated with more than just one gene and have complex mechanisms. Discovering that such complexity is at play led researchers to acknowledge that the genome on its own is likely not sufficient to sustain all biological functions, and that another level of regulation is contributing. They proposed the epigenome as one of these additional levels.

Read the whole article.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The End (of Religion) is Near, Scientists Say - Meet the Oracles of Math.

Interesting . . . and completely wrong. This model fails to take into account that human beings and human cultures develop through stages, and some stages make sense of the world through religion. As long as there are human beings, there will be people who pass through those stages - and there are a large number of primal cultures who have yet to reach the cultural stages for which religion is a primary mode of meaning making.

Religion may be on the decline in Europe and beginning to move in that direction in the United States, but the end of religion is only near in the cosmological sense.
The End (of Religion) is Near, Scientists Say
Meet the Oracles of Math

By Louis A. Ruprecht

I want to believe (dinosaurs are not dead). Image courtesy flickr user Romain

Louis A. Ruprecht is William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The author of six books, his most recent is This Tragic Gospel: How John Corrupted the Heart of Christianity (Jossey-Bass, 2008). His next book, JJ Winckelmann andd the Vatican's First Profane Museum will be published by Palgrave at the end of the year.

Scientists often have a funny way of talking about religion.

A case in point concerns a new study that was discussed at the American Physical Society meetings in Dallas, Texas, late last month. Religion, it seems, is going extinct. You heard me: extinct. Dead and gone. Like the dinosaurs.

The data that a team of mathematicians used to reach this rather surprising conclusion were census reports of religious affiliation. Using a complicated means of mathematical analysis called “nonlinear dynamics”—complicated, ironically, because its purpose is to make complicated things simpler by reducing them to one variable—the team attempted to extrapolate from data on religious affiliation in nine countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Turns out, every case of self-reported religious affiliation is trending downward: 40% self-identify as religiously non-affiliated in the Netherlands, as do 60% in the Czech Republic. The mathematicians seem far more surprised by these numbers than most religionists would be.

The first and most obvious reason involves an important distinction that when you shift the language away from “God” or “religion” and turn to conceptions of “sacrality” or “the sacred,”’ whole new worlds of meaning and meaningful activity bubble to the surface. Lost in the debate is the large and growing number of thoughtful people who self-identify as “spiritual, but not religious” (that is, as non-affiliated), an admittedly complex phrase than doesn’t allow for easy analysis either. But, as has been frequently noted on RD, religion is highly dispersed in the modern period; it’s not going away, it’s just going elsewhere.

Sometimes the “spiritual, but not religious” person wishes to communicate his or her disgust with organized religion and institutions. This is a major feature of the landscape in U.S. Catholicism right now, given the ongoing scandals, cover-ups, and Vatican obfuscation and delay. Sometimes the “spiritual, but not religious” person is cobbling together a life of meaning outside traditionally recognized channels.

And sometimes non-affiliation is as simple as having recently moved and not yet found the religious community that works for you or your family. It’s complicated in a way that nonlinear dynamics can’t adequately simplify.

Now, if we take the language of “extinction” seriously—as we should—as well as the evolutionary theory it seems to presuppose, then a better way to read this data might be to suggest that a number of recognizably religious traditions are undergoing some significant modern mutations, such that the affiliations into which they are turning bear only a partial resemblance to what preceded them. Dinosaurs don’t just go extinct, they became birds—that’s the idea.

But dinosaurs as dinosaurs did die out, and that’s what these scientists are asking us to remember and to take seriously as a religious possibility—and they’re right to do so. It’s happened before. There are poignant writings from the ancient world describing when and why the oracles at Delphi and elsewhere fell silent, in the period when Christians were making their first major inroads into the millennial religious structures of the Roman empire. In the late Roman period, religions did indeed die out, and downward trends in religious affiliation may have had something to do with that.

Whether or not Christianity is the bird that the dinosaur of Greco-Roman religion evolved into (or even whether the analogy itself is inadequate to the task) is a hard question to answer. And it’s similarly hard to discern just what this study is inviting us to imagine. Is it that something similar is happening to Christianity, or to the three scriptural monotheisms, today?

Something is clearly up (or down) with religious affiliation; how to read that data is the real question, and that calls for the art for interpretation, not mathematical modeling. That’s what makes this story far more interesting—and far less funny.

It turns out that this same model was applied in 2003 to the phenomenon of “extinct” languages. As fewer and fewer people possess linguistic capability in a given language, the language can and often does die out. The scientists who conducted the religion survey invite us to read that process as the utilitarian consequences of means-ends decision-making. It’s rational-choice theory applied to the language or languages a person speaks.

Here’s how survey leader Richard Weiner, of the University of Arizona (a state with its own problems vis à vis diverse linguistic communities, be sure to note), put it:

In languages there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of Quechua in Peru, and similarly there’s some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not.

Yowza. There’s a lot packed into that fairly simple analogy; or rather, there’s a lot left out.

Deliberations over “status” in a colonial context are not matters of utility; they’re exercises in power. Spanish or Quechua was a political decision as much as anything; a decision to accept or reject the new imperial order. Those who chose the more difficult bi-lingual option were often enormously useful as translators, though often deeply unhappy since they effectively belonged nowhere—no longer native and not quite imperial was their tragic new location.

When it became clear that many restive native peoples were maintaining their indigenous languages, the empire set out to shut them down; a policy that can seem a lot more like linguistic genocide than natural selection.

These concerns take us to some of the more difficult questions that this benign mathematical oracle leaves out, and it speaks to the subtle hegemony of a certain quantitative mentality among such scientists—even and especially applied to arenas of social life that don’t lend themselves to statistical or quantitative analysis.

Like health care. Like education. Isn’t this what we who are educators or health care professionals grapple with on a daily basis? The number-crunchers are forcing us to speak their language and play their game, though they make no parallel effort to learn ours.

And that is precisely what this not-so-benign linguistic analogy suggests. If “religion” (never defined) is like Quechua—and thus rapidly dying out, I take it—then who’s speaking the religious equivalent of imperial Spanish?

It would seem to be the scientists themselves, and their language of choice is math.

That makes this study no longer benign or funny. It’s an almost sneering and worrisome glimpse into the mentality of a certain kind of secularist science that’s got something invested in all people speaking the same way.

Bernie Glassman - Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Recipe for Living a Life That Matters

Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Recipe for Living a Life That Matters

Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Recipe for Living a Life That Matters

(2006) 43 min

Bernard Glassman teaches a distillation of Zen wisdom that can be used as a manual all facets of life

Bernard Glassman teaches a distillation of Zen wisdom that can be used as a manual for business, social ventures, peacemaking or just life. The documentary demonstrates the uniqueness and human impact of Bernard Glassman‘s work and life. He is not only a Zen teacher, Bernie works as a peacemaker on the field of interfaith dialog throughout the world. He has changed deeply a whole neighborhood in Yonkers (New York). The film shows how one can live a life that matters.

Watch more free documentaries

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elza Maalouf - Culture: The Missing Piece From the President's Speech

Over at Huffington Post, Elza Maalouf wrote an interesting response to the speech President Obama gave last week about the U.S. position on Middle East conflicts, including the desire for Israel to return to their 1967 borders.

Elza does a lot of "on the ground" work in the Middle East as the President of the Center for Human Emergence, Middle East, so she has some very pertinent observations.

Culture: The Missing Piece From the President's Speech

By Elza S. Maalouf - President, Center for Human Emergence, Middle East

In his long awaited speech about the Middle East President Obama reaffirmed America's role in supporting democracy in the region, but in a world that's experiencing monumental shifts the focus on culture has to take center stage in formulating strategies for foreign policy.

We are now living in an interconnected world through knowledge and information. The transition from hegemony to a participatory leadership style with the Arab world has started but policy makers haven't fully laid out the process and the mechanisms that the Arab world needs for sustainable change. There has to be a higher degree of sophistication in the understanding of the mindsets in cultures that can support emergence of institutions that lead to democracy in Egypt, Tunisia and eventually Palestine.

It is fair to say that from a strategic perspective, the Administration should not have labeled the speech as historic unless it intended to announce a policy shift as substantial as the change that is taking place on the ground in the region. The Arab Spring remains the most dynamic unfolding of social change in more than five decades, messy no doubt, but very telling of a new narrative written by young Arabs that did not live in the mental prisons in fear of dictators that their parents lived in. This is because Shadia in Cairo can communicate with Olaf in Sweden and discuss the principles of freedom and democracy that make his country a heaven for its citizens.

The uprising is an evolutionary stage of development in Arab cultures that topples governments and dictators, but has yet to harbor enough political and social roots to move it in the direction of order and nation building. These are the cultural nuances and upward shifts in sophistication of mindsets that are taking root for the first time in the Middle East that have to be addressed. Today, the US has an unprecedented opportunity as the leader of the free world, to co-design with leading Arab states a roadmap for young Arabs that show the long and arduous road that leads to democracy.

In helping the US and the Arab States design for the profound shift that is taking place in the Middle East and for our Middle East policy to have the profound and meaningful change that lays the foundation to a peaceful long term alliance I would outline the following plan of action:

Pursue A Stratified Approach to Arab Democracy: The Arab Spring is the region's first attempt at organic nation-building since the end of the colonial era. This is the region's first attempt at building democratic structures that fit the realities on the ground of each country. Leading Arab states together with the US should advocate a plan for a systemic developmental roadmap that can become the rallying call for every Arab woman, man and child. This plan would fit the value-system landscapes of each culture and should be embodied in the spirit of the following steps:

  1. A study of the profiles of the citizens in the country seeking democracy. This step starts by assessing each individual country's history, religion, topography, and cultural evolution. Who are the Egyptians, who are the Tunisians, who are the Libyans? How has modern history in the region and in their respective countries shaped their cultural evolution? What is their psychological makeup? How has religion shaped who they are today? In an address to the Senate Committee On The Future in 1979 at the dawn Iran's Islamic revolution, Dr. Jean Houston, the foremost leader in the Human Potential Movement, advised the committee's members on the need to look at the culture as a whole when it comes to Muslim countries, and not try to impose the West's own thinking on Iran and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, she warned, the disparity between culture and the Western notions of modernization would create an inevitable opportunity for the triumph of a fundamentalist regime. Which, of course, is what happened with the ascendance of Khomeini. Forty years later, and after our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan it doesn't seem that our leading politicians have understood the crucial roll that culture plays in politics.
  2. Identifying each country's zones of synergy. These are the respective sources of national wealth, be it natural resources or human capital, active or dormant. This will form the basis for a viable private sector that can provide jobs that fit the landscape and various capacities of the citizens. From building cement factories and designing sustainable agricultural models for laborers to creating the most advanced hi-tech research and development companies.
  3. Studying the Forms of Governance that work. This will be the painstaking process that will take years to evolve into a coherent platform for governance. Now we can talk about what form of democracy fits those citizens who live in such dynamic landscape, and what form of institutions are needed. Would a centralized form of democracy for this stage of development fit better than a multi-party democracy?

All this should happen with an enlightened co-leadership that can create an overarching goal for a patriotic national cause that brings forth the state into the community of nations and that Shia, Sunni and Christians alike within that nation can rally behind. The importance of setting a common, overarching goal was recently confirmed to me on a trip to Oslo where I attended a presentation by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate FW De Klerk at the Oslo Center for Peace. He spoke retrospectively about the two major factors that led to democracy in South Africa, inclusivity and leadership. Stating that leaders should be able to align with their constituencies and bring all parties to the table or else the entire effort will be "like a soccer match in which one of the teams did not appear."

Nurture Infant Democracies: A bold declaration in new US foreign policy should be made towards making a conscious effort in balancing America's values and our strategic and economic interests in the region, and our willingness to compromise the pursuit of those interests if they interfere with people's aspirations for freedom. A point that was clearly stated in President Obama speech. Sadly, we are faced with a tradition of mistrust towards the United States in the Arab world, as it's often seen protecting the two things closest to it; oil and Israel. Some of that mistrust and anger is justified and some just stems from the Arab street projecting their aggression onto what professor Fawaz Gerges calls the "Far Enemy" represented by the US and Israel. When "the near enemy" is the brutal dictator who imprisons and kills his critics the far enemy becomes the favored choice on whom to project the anger of repression. A conscious look at balancing our practices abroad started with the President's speech and has to be followed with practical steps on the ground and in our foreign policy. This will go a long way in planting the seed of mutual trust and respect with the Arab street. We have to view the region through the lenses of infant democracies that need the guiding moral compass of a mature democracy.

Align with and Empower Regional Nations of Influence: To create the paradigm shift that will establish our new participatory leadership role the US should call on the major power brokers in the region like Saudi Arabia and Turkey and facilitate the stage for them to play a more assertive role in brokering political deals in return for security guarantees. Although Saudi Arabia was criticized for supporting the Bahrain regime in quelling the Shia uprising that was in part influenced by Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, King Abdullah remains one of the most progressive reformers in the region. He is by far one of our closest allies in deterring Iranian influence in the region. Behind the scenes the Saudis have teamed up with the Turks in an effort to pry Syria out the clutches of Iran, which if successful can pull the rug out from under the spread of Iranian-brand apocalyptic Shia ideology known as Wilayet Al Faquih, that is threatening not only Israel, but every oil rich country in the region. The unholy alliance between Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas is now being broken thanks to the behind the scenes work of the Saudis who are making strides in convincing Syria to move Hamas' headquarters to Qatar, a moderate Gulf state. This type of regional leadership should be encouraged especially when it comes from another Muslim country on which far enemy projections aren't made.

Pursue a Systemic Approach to Economic Development: The US is teaming up with Arab Gulf States to help in the economic development of emerging Arab democracies. Along with the IMF, the World Bank and the respective countries that are being rebuilt, the leaders in charge of these development plans should have an "ecosystem" approach to development that address the causes of corrupt business practices. Said E. Dawlabani, an expert on economic emergence in the Middle East writes "Egypt, which is considered to have some of the most evolved business practices in the region, is also the most corrupt. The spoils of foreign direct investment and international aid went to the elite in government, the military and their inner circle and this will not longer be tolerated by the masses of people on the street today. Business practices in most of the region are geared to make one family or one clan posses power through wealth over the next family or clan." This long-term development raodmap will not be similar to that of Europe or Japan under the Marshall Plan.
The Arab Spring is signaling the birth of Industrial Age values that is emerging simultaneously with the information and knowledge age. These are the value-systems that built the modern day middle class in first world countries. This must be promoted through responsible corporate practices, and matched by transparency in governments that believe in their people as their ultimate national strength. To affect real and lasting change, a plan similar to the Marshall Plan in its ambition must be undertaken and tailored to fit the tribal and feudal mindsets that are prevalent in the region to lead them collectively to more enterprising practices based on merit not nepotism and clannish alliances. This type of commitments will require long term planning from all parties involved, especially the respective countries that are being rebuilt. Their governments and private sector have to be held accountable to higher standards in order for the entire culture to emerge and establish a permanent presence for the middle class, which is every advanced culture's insurance against chaos and collapse.

Maximize the use of Technologies that Anticipate Change: Since we don't have a full grasp on the changes that are taking place in the region, we have to gather information through technology that anticipates threats and future trends in the world and specifically in the Middle East. Technologies on the cutting edge that have made their way into advanced business practices and in the Pentagon must be applied in scanning the horizons for every variable that impacts cultural evolution. A system similar to the RAHS (Risk Assessment & Horizon Scanning) program in Singapore, which explores methods and value-system research that compliment scenario planning, is a good example. Relying on technology that scans the horizon will not only make the world a safer place, but will add complexity and precision to a diplomatic corps that can act on information in real time. Here's a partial list of political maneuvers that we should have anticipated in Egypt had we had this technology:

  • We should have known a lot more about the Muslim Brotherhood. They are ideologically organized around a set of Islamic principles yet have branched out into five factions spanning from the extremists to the more enterprising thinking factions. A few weeks ago Sheikh Qardawy a radical member of the MB who was ousted by the Mubarak regime, and was a fixture on Al Jazeera TV, made a triumphant return to Tahrir Square where he riled up the cheering crowd with his radical speech. When the young Google executive, Wael Ghoneim, who's credited with the uprising took to the stage he was booed and asked to step down immediately. The young executive had the support of more than 70% of Egyptians, while the Muslim Brotherhood had much less support, yet their ideological glue keeps them well organized, and might get them to a majority in the Parliament in the next election, even though they refused to have a candidate in the upcoming November elections.
  • Four years ago, the Egyptian Army broke rank with Mubarak when he appointed his son as his de facto successor. The army had encourages the uprising in Tahrir Square and helped direct the anger of the people towards Mubarak. Now, the demonstrators are being robbed of what they've accomplished as the army runs and governs the country. Having a general in charge could lay down a smooth transition towards democracy, but how can we anticipate what the army's intentions really are and how can we be sure the next formula for governance will be a multi-party system that does not allow for one party to dominate?
  • In order for the young women and men who started this uprising to have a say in the form of democracy their country should have, the United States in partnership with wealthy Arab States should sponsor civic institutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Palestine that teach in practical terms the principles of democracy and nation-building. Nafiz Rifaee, a Fatah leader, tells me that these young men and women have no desire to follow an ideology or an Old Guard mindset to create their political platform, they have to have a love for their country and a willingness to learn the process and mechanisms for building a democracy with viable institutions.

Building a Viable Palestinian State: The issue of Israel/Palestine is of critical importance as it's built deep in the psyche of Arab Nations when most of these Nations were gaining their independence and came to view Israel as the entity that deprived Palestinians of Nationhood. Right or wrong this is how Israel is viewed in the Arab world. Not sure if the president furthered his cause by announcing his support for a Palestinian state with 1967 borders and land swaps. He did well slapping the wrists of Israelis publicly by announcing his position on the conflict, yet did little to hold the Arabs and Palestinians accountable in the pursuit of peaceful coexistence. In a recent conversation with complexity strategist, Dr. Don Beck he explained " too often peace-making consists of stretching across a deep and historic wound, thus attempting to seal it over at the top. Unhappily, the trapped '"poison" and angry motives of pay back revenge are trapped within, only to fester and even grow more destructive." This is precisely why peace-making has to address the real causes of the conflict in a systemic and thrive and help thrive manner. It makes little difference what documents the politicians sign, unless the populations, which have been engaged in the conflict, are in step with their leaders' vision.

Based on the Spiral Dynamics Systems model created and field-tested in South Africa by visionary geo-political strategist Dr. Don E. Beck, who was praised by FW de Klerk recently in Oslo as one of the architects of the transition from apartheid, we have been working since 2005 with Palestinian community leaders on creating a national platform for building Palestinian institutions. Our work culminated in a Nation-Building conference in Bethlehem that provided a unique forum for community leaders including Fatah 3rd and 4th generation members that focused on the viability of a future Palestinian state. The participants called on President Abbas to set up a "nation-design conference" that would unleash the brightest minds in Palestine and throughout the world to create a developmental roadmap for Palestine based on much of the principal outlined in this article. This call for nation-building was informed by the needs and aspirations of all Palestinians, and put forth a vision of a thriving region. It honored the past while building the infrastructure necessary for the younger generation to emerge socio-economically and overcome the region's historic conflict. For moderates in Israel, a plan such as this would provide the assurance they need to enter into a partnership of mutual peace and prosperity, while quelling the extremists in Hamas and Israel's far right parties. What was amazing but not surprising was how Palestinian professional women emerged as leaders at the forefront in designing for their future state.

If the US intends to remain in a leadership position in a rapidly changing Middle East, it would benefit in adding some of the principles outlined in our work and incorporate them into a development template for a design conference that could play an essential role in creating a successful Palestinian state. This can only happen if President Abbas continues to strengthened Palestinian institutions before announcing an independent state at the UN in September and on the sole condition of Hamas dropping the antagonistic calls for Israel's destruction in its charter and acknowledging its right to exist. Another image that stayed with me from FW de Klerk's speech in Oslo is his description when of the initial intent of Apartheid to protect the Whites in a sea of Black Africans, but ended up isolating and limiting the same people it wanted to protect. I don't believe that the same conditions for Apartheid exist in Israel/Palestine -they are more complex and layered historically-- however, I can't help but compare how Israel is following similar patterns. It's only natural for me to ask at this point, where's Israel's De Klerk?

Like the president I am not claiming that this new Middle East development map will be easy to implement by the eager citizens of emerging Arab democracies. The region is going through monumental shifts that demand long term planning and the United States must be a the helm directing this change if it is to regain its status as the leader of the free world.

Elza S. Maalouf is an Arab-American futurist and cultural development specialist focusing her work on cultural and political reform in the Arab world. She is the President of the Center for Human Emergence Middle East a think tank that emphasizes the scientific understanding of cultures.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NPR - First Listen: Death Cab For Cutie, 'Codes And Keys'

One of my favorite bands is releasing a new album - this is cause for celebration. And NPR gives us a First Listen to the whole album.

Death Cab for Cutie's new album, Codes and Keys, comes out May 31.

Death Cab for Cutie's new album, Codes and Keys, comes out May 31.

May 22, 2011

Death Cab for Cutie's music has long had a certain innocence to it; a boyish, vulnerable charm that feels unmistakably collegiate. When the Bellingham, Wash., band broke big in the early '00s, its records played like the soundtracks to breathless long-distance romances between young adults who'd always been just a little too smart for the rooms they were in. Hearing Death Cab's music ringing over climactic scenes in The O.C. and Six Feet Under made all the sense in the world, because so few bands could convey Ben Gibbard's gift for singing like his heart can't quite fit in his chest.

Naturally, Death Cab for Cutie's music has changed since the eyes-heavenward yearning of "Transatlanticism" and "Passenger Seat" — why wouldn't it? Gibbard himself is married and sober, and a best-seller both here and in The Postal Service. Guitarist and producer Chris Walla is in demand everywhere, including as a solo artist. These guys aren't in their 20s anymore, and it's a blessing that they don't pretend otherwise on 2008's Narrow Stairs or the fine new Codes and Keys, due out May 31. The heavy, churning emotions of youth have a way of dissipating into something more abstract and complex, and both albums reflect that understanding.

While Narrow Stairs looks at what motivates wayward souls — whether in the faded stardom of "Cath..." or the heartbreaking surrender reflected in "Your New Twin-Sized Bed" — Codes and Keys feels a bit subtler in its intentions. Sure, it includes "Some Boys," one of Gibbard's patented treatises on the ways other boys can be so uncouth (a trope he'd do well to abandon), but Codes and Keys is consistently lovely, thoughtful and agreeable anyway.

It's also a true grower: Not only does Codes and Keys gain richness and depth with each exposure, but it also gets better as it rolls along. The slowly blooming epic at its center ("Unobstructed Views") is no "Transatlanticism," but it's gorgeous, and it initiates a remarkably strong second half, headlined by what sound like surefire summer singles in "Monday Morning" and "Underneath the Sycamore."

Seven full-length albums into its career, Death Cab for Cutie continues to grow up and evolve alongside the audience who came of age with it in the last decade. Stay tuned for its members' catchy and heartfelt ruminations on the soul-deadening malaise of middle age, due out in 2017 or so.

Julian Baggini - The Ego Trick - Video interview

I look forward to reading Julian Baggini's new book, The Ego Trick, when I don't have classes anymore. Baggini is collecting some of the reviews of his book at this page, as well as his own articles in support of the book (which can give us a sense of what it is he is doing).

The Ego Trick - Video interview

Video interview by Jules Evans at The Politics of Well-Being blog about British philosopher Julian Baggini's new book, The Ego Trick: In Search of the Self. The book looks at how a sense of self emerges in us without any essential or permanent self actually existing. What does this mean for our lives, and can philosophy help us to construct good characters out of the incoherent bundles of our personalities?

Being Blog - Lovingkindness (Metta) Meditation with Sylvia Boorstein

Sylvia Boorstein speaks with Krista Tippet

Nice video from the Being Blog.
Lovingkindness (Metta) Meditation with Sylvia Boorstein

In mid-February, we partnered with WDET to hold a live event in a quaint suburban village outside of Detroit. The topic: raising children in complex times.

Krista’s conversation with Sylvia Boorstein was rolling along quite nicely — stories were being told, approaches to child-rearing were being shared — when somewhat unexpectedly, Boorstein (a Jewish Buddhist teacher at Split Rock in northern California) offered to lead a lovingkindness, or metta, meditation for a crowd of more than 300 folks.

With that size of a crowd who hadn’t necessarily attended for a mindfulness retreat, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What resulted was a magical experience in which the audience fully participated in this impromptu moment of reflection.

If you’re game, we’d like you to use this as a guided meditation. As a producer, one’s never certain if an impromptu experience like this works because it was part of a particular time or if it translates into a fruitful experience for others online. What do you think?

Photo by Trent Gilliss

Lovingkindness (Metta) Meditation with Sylvia Boorstein from On Being on Vimeo.

Refuting Satoshi Kanazawa's "Objective Attractiveness" Analysis

If you follow any of the psychology blogs, you no doubt have read recently about Satoshi Kanazawa's supposed "Objective Attractiveness" analysis at his Psychology Today blog, The Scientific Fundamentalist, in which he claimed that African-American women are "objectively" less attractive.

The article has been removed from the Psychology Today site, but you can still read it here.

The response to his post has been nothing short of incendiary - in an earlier century he may well have been forced to leave the village and live alone in the wilderness.

At Scientific American, guest blogger

The Data Are In Regarding Satoshi Kanazawa

May 23, 2011

A Hard Look at Last Week's "Objective Attractiveness" Analysis in Psychology Today

If what I say is wrong (because it is illogical or lacks credible scientific evidence), then it is my problem. If what I say offends you, it is your problem."—Satoshi Kanazawa

Satoshi Kanazawa has a problem.

It is hard to believe that it was merely a week ago today that I first encountered Satoshi Kanazawa; given all that I have read, thought and talked about him this week, it feels like a year. For those of you who haven't been following this saga online, or aren't regular readers of Psychology Today: last Sunday, Satoshi Kanazawa, PhD, Evolutionary Biologist and professor at London School of Economics posed (and purported to answer) an incendiary question on his Psychology Today blog: "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?"

Though the post has been removed from the site, you can now see it here. In the post, Kanazawa promises his readers a scientific analysis of public data showing objective evidence of Black women's status as the least attractive group among all humans. In other words, he promises to wave a magic wand, say "Factor Analysis!" and make racist conclusions appear before your (bluest) eyes.

As it turns out, Kanazawa is a repeat offender, with years of roundly criticized and heartily debunked pseudoscience-based shock-jockery under his belt. Despite this, he is still posting on the blog of a reputable mainstream publication, still teaching at a respected university and still serving on the editorial board of one of his discipline's peer-reviewed research journals. Though, possibly not for long: this particular post's racist hypothesis offended many, unleashing serious righteous outrage across the internet: social media users raced to blog, tweet and even petition demanding that Psychology Today remove Kanazawa as a contributor to their Web site and magazine. Psychology Today removed the post late Sunday night, and Monday morning the largest student organization in London (representing 120,000 students) unanimously called for Kanazawa's dismissal.

Over the past week, a handful of Kanazawa's fellow bloggers at Psychology Today have posted insightful and at times scientifically-grounded critiques of his research question and methodology. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman has even done an independent statistical analysis of the data set Kanazawa uses to "prove" his theory, beating me to publication by a couple of days but coming to the same conclusions I have derived from my own independent analysis.

Independent evaluation of an article's data analysis is a critical step in deconstructing scientific inquiry, and one the mainstream media rarely undertakes. As the founder of a science journalism nonprofit – and therefore an aspiring entrant into the mainstream media ranks – I am alarmed by this. Whether we agree with Kanazawa's assertion or are horrified by it, we cannot report on it without actually comparing his hypothesis to the evidence. Yet, as the London Guardian warned us back in 2005:

...[s]tatistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn't about something being true or not true: that's a humanities graduate parody. It's about the error bar, statistical significance, it's about how reliable and valid the experiment was, it's about coming to a verdict, about a hypothesis, on the back of lots of bits of evidence.

In his blog post, non-journalist Kaufman [and his co-author on the post, Jelte Wicherts, who also wrote up a much more complete, technical analysis of the dataset here] did a reporter's job, explaining why Kanazawa's statistical analysis was bunk, independently analyzing the Add Health data set (freely available here or here for anyone to analyze!) to find that Kanazawa's conclusion that Black women are the least attractive was incorrect, even if you buy into his idea that the Add Health data set was a reasonable sample from which to ground such an assessment. See Kanazawa's graph, which is magical thinking in the guise of factor analysis:

and Kaufman's graph, which makes sense:

Like Kaufman, I take great issue with Kanazawa's use of a study on adolescent health and behavior to explain human attractiveness or lack thereof. The Add Health Study begins tracking its study participants at the age of twelve, and Kaufman wisely limits his analysis to that including participants who could reasonably be considered adults.

I am disturbed by the fact that the Add Health study's adult researchers even answered the question of how attractive they rated these youth. I am even more deeply disturbed by the idea that we are to extrapolate a general theory of desirability from these adult interviewers' subjective assessment of the children's attractiveness. Kaufman's analysis may be correct, but having run the analysis as well, I feel even more strongly that this data set is a completely inappropriate basis for Kanazawa's analysis.

Brian Hughes, of The Science Bit, agrees. Hughes' critique focuses on the lack of race and sex data of the interviewers, as well as the ambiguity around the number of interviewers used – it is a worthwhile read. Hughes also points out that the Add Health data set fails to report the race of the interviewer, or any facts about the interviewer at all. For example, there is no data to analyze to help us determine if interviewers preferred interviewees of their same race.

As Robert Kurzban comments in his Psychology Today blog retort to Kanazawa, "Rhodes et al. (2005) argued that if people prefer faces that constitute an average of the faces that they experience, then, as they put it, faces 'should be more attractive when their component faces come from a familiar, own-race population.' They indeed showed some evidence for an 'own race' effect." Hence, in knowing the race of the interviewer and the interviewee, we might actually be able to learn whether this held true and add to the body of scholarly knowledge.

Kaufman and other bloggers also address Kanazawa's painful contortion of factor analysis, which I agree is laughable. He looks at three measurements of the same test taken at three different time points and creates a one-factor model, with the one factor being "objective attractiveness." This is, of course, founded on the principle that an attractiveness rating handed out by interviewers in a study on adolescent health and well-being is actually measuring something that we can agree is "objective attractiveness."

He then says that by merging these three measurements for each interviewee into one factor, he can use factor analysis to get at that "objective attractiveness" while minimizing any error. This is just plain false. Factor analysis cannot get rid of measurement error. If it could, we'd all be using it all the time, and we'd get rid of all measurement error, and scientific studies wouldn't need to be replicated.

What his factor analysis might be saying is that over time, individuals were rated relatively consistently by interviewers on what the study called attractiveness. Without knowing anything about the interviewers, we have no idea whether this is significant. The beauty – and danger – of factor analysis is that the statistician running the analysis gets to define the factors, and there are an infinite number of factor solutions to any given problem - or at least, no unique solutions.

Kanazawa continues by looking at the attractiveness mean values for women by racial group, also as measured by the interviewer, and, seeing a difference in the overall attractiveness rating as broken down by these arbitrary racial groups (which somehow fail to include "Hispanic," despite all other study data including that category), concludes that since there are differences between groups, then the reason for that difference in the rating of attractiveness by interviewers over time is due to race.

But that is a logical fallacy. We have no idea why the interviewers felt differently about different youth in the study – correlation is not causation. In fact, according to Kaufman's reading of the data, correlation might not even really be correlation:

The low convergence of ratings finding suggests that in this very large and representative dataset, beauty is mostly in the eye of the beholder. What we are looking at here are simple ratings of attractiveness by interviewers whose tastes differ rather strongly. For instance, one interviewer (no. 153) rated 32 women as looking "about average," while another interviewer (no. 237) found almost all 18 women he rated to be "unattractive."

Kanazawa also correlates Black female self-perception of attractiveness as being higher than Black female rated attractiveness, despite there being no one-to-one relationship between self-identification of race and perceived race. The two could be completely different: for example, I could self-identify as Hispanic but my interviewer, seeing my dark skin, might perceive me as Black. Hence, Kanazawa's conclusions are nonsensical.

Kanazawa surmises that Black women's lower attractiveness might be due to low estrogen and high testosterone. Yet, high estrogen levels and low testosterone is a leading cause of fibroids, which significantly impact Black women, especially Black women who are overweight. Also, Black women have been found to have higher levels of estrogen in a study on breast cancer. Finally, Kanazawa offended his fellow Psychology Today bloggers in 2008 with his post, "The power of female choice: Fat chicks get laid more." The thesis there contradicts his supporting theory here. It leads me to wonder if this is all just some grand practical joke.

I see a more central flaw with Kanazawa's method beyond its creepiness, reliance on unscientific conjecture or abuse of factor analysis. Since the interviewers' assessment data was never intended to be used for an analysis such as Kanazawa's, the survey was not designed to capture that information. In fact, nowhere in the study monograph, nowhere on the website and nowhere in the study design materials is the interviewer's assessment of the interviewee's attractiveness mentioned. (I emailed the study designers to ask why they collected this information in the first place, and will update this post below if they answer.)

Why was the study undertaken? According to the study website, it was in response to a mandate by the US Congress inthe NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, where Congress asked a division of the NIH to "provide information about the health and well-being of adolescents in our country and about the behaviors that promote adolescent health or that put health at risk" with "a focus on how communities influenced the health of adolescents."

The Add Health study measures hundreds of variables. One has to wonder: why pick only race? Especially when the results of your "study" are so unabashedly weak? Seeing that Kanazawa based his findings on such a tenuously related study, I wonder how many other studies he scoured for evidence to support his point. This sort of "fishing" for results to support your finding leads to bad science, period.

I agree with Psychology Today blogger, Sam Sommers, PhD, of Tufts University, when he concludes:

Like it or not, the burden is higher when you're a scientist blogging about science. And anyone who can only think of one explanation for an observed difference in a data set might simply be incapable of meeting that high burden.

To quote Kanazawa, a little bit of logic goes a long way. Seeing that his work is rife with logical errors, Kanazawa should be criticizing himself.

I drafted this post after spending a couple of days sorting through my emotions on Kanazawa's work. Seeing that the man clearly relishes his role as an agent provocateur, I knew I could not impact him or those who respond to his work from a place of emotion. He has made that much clear.

From my incessant reading of blog responses and comments, I have encountered the sentiment that because Kanazawa's question was immoral to ask, his results are invalid. I agree with my heart and soul that the way he framed his so-called "research question" is offensive, racist and harmful. As I tweeted after reading Kanazawa's post, "Imagine a little Black girl reading this filth. [Toni Morrison's novel] The Bluest Eye is not history to her. It's reality." I want to protect that little girl – and wish I could heal all the little girls that came before her and grew up into beautiful women like this one, made to feel ugly by a racist society. I stand in solidarity with Black women and hope you will heed this blog's cry to stand stronger than ever in self-love.

The intent behind a question can establish an immoral line of inquiry and instigate immoral research methods (see the Nazi doctors' experiments). But a question itself is not evil. Scandalous, offensive and sometimes frightening questions are often at the root of important scientific inquiry. When supported by data significant enough to support them, these questions drive us toward the truth (see, e.g., "the Earth is round").

I agree with Psychology Today blogger Mikhail Lyubansky, PhD, when he says, "[e]xtraordinary claims ... require extraordinary evidence and editorial oversight." This does not lead us to censorship; it means requiring that an inquiry bring us closer to – not farther from – the truth. Kanazawa does not earn censure with the political incorrectness of his question, but earns social and scientific irrelevance through the weakness of his research. This irrelevance earns Kanazawa a special place in hell in today's link-driven media economy – one where no one will hear him scream. One week later, neither Kanazawa nor Psychology Today's editors has published any official defense, apology or explanation. The silence is deafening.

About the Author: Khadijah M. Britton, JD, is founder of BetterBio, a Massachusetts-registered nonprofit and fiscally sponsored project of the 501(c)(3) Fractured Atlas whose mission is to empower journalism that reinforces the intimate connection between life and science. BetterBio provides a platform for comprehensive science reporting, challenging us to ask hard questions and debunk dangerous myths while addressing our collective social responsibility. Khadijah also serves as a post-graduate research fellow in antibiotic policy under Professor Kevin Outterson at Boston University School of Law while she completes her Master's in Public Health at Boston University School of Public Health and studies for the bar exam.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.