What Should We Stand For?
For weeks, I have been thinking about how I should respond to Trump and the very real threat he poses to our democracy. Now, with the inauguration looming, thousands of Austinites are planning to participate in a mass demonstration that is being organized by a coalition that titles itself, “One Resistance.” Should I march with them?
Actually, after the election, I had been thinking about organizing a march too. I envisioned standing with tens of thousands of my fellow citizens in utter silence – no chanting, no engaging with counter protestors, no emotional or hyperbolic speeches – just a stone-like, determined and peaceful silence. One message: “We stand united.”
But what would we – or should we, stand united for?
I expect the march in Austin to feature dozens of causes: women’s rights, anti-racism, pro-immigrant, environmental, LGBT, Back Lives Matter, anti-Wall Street, electoral reform, healthcare, anti-militarism… a long list. A litany of complaints and resentments will be recited along with hopes and fears. I am sure it will...more
From Aeon, here is a worthwhile reflection about home and rootedness / rootlessness in a world turned upside down.
This is a long and thoughtful piece. To be honest, I am anxious about posting this excerpt because of the references to Heidegger. However, I think the author of this article is right to focus on the disorientation of the modern world and how it can feed right wing xenophobia and nationalism.
"Home is where the heart is, and there is no place like home, yet a sense of being at home can come from many sources. Home can be a place of residence, where you go back to after work. It can mean the place you come from: where you grew up, and to which you return in your memories and for important family rituals. Feeling at home can come from an activity in which you feel at ease, in flow, in a landscape that’s familiar and uplifting. Doing satisfying work can evoke a sense of home, as can being with friends or walking along a beach with someone you...more
Xrump talks about hitting his opponents so hard their heads will spin. He doesn’t know me from Adam, but my head has been spinning for months. The Party of Lincoln is nominating… that!?
There is so much that needs to be done. First, of course, Xrump must be defeated. Not just defeated but REJECTED. Soundly, overwhelmingly REJECTED.
Electing Hillary is not a sure bet, but even if it is accomplished by a huge margin it is not enough - by FAR. Even if the Democrats retake the Senate (which will mean retaking the Supreme Court) the Republican Party will likely still control the House thanks to the obscene gerrymandering of congressional districts. So, they will still have a haven from which they can lob the Molotov cocktails that are their substitute for governance. And, we all know that is exactly what they will do – they ran out of ideas and the desire to govern years ago – they have nothing left to offer except racist innuendo, subversion and tax cuts for billionaires. Cheered on by their hyper-agitated base and the angertainment industrial complex,...more
A Circle in the Woods: Division by Design
An Open Letter to My Fellow Citizens
“The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.” - Wendell Berry
Our nation has always been divided by cultural and political affiliations and loyalties. We have always had profound differences of opinion with the potential to flare up in both physical and emotional violence. However, there is a unique confluence of forces at work today conspiring to turn our divisions into chasms, our disagreements into irreconcilable hatreds. We suffer from division by design.
There is money to be made and power to be amassed from the carnage of our “culture wars,” money and power that we seem eager to cede to sneering angertainers and the narrow interests who bankroll them. These individuals may pose as defenders of the one true faith (whether Judeo-Christian / Capitalism or Progress) but, in reality, their loyalties are...more
Here is an article that reflects on that boundary between knowing and mystery. Science made beautiful by humility.
"Many people have this distorted notion that physicists know everything; or, at least, that physicists have a belief that reason can conquer all. The point I try to make is that this is not how science works at all. Quite the contrary, science is inspired by ignorance, by what we don't know about the world. Every discovery brings with it the seeds of new questions that we couldn't have contemplated before. Hence my metaphor of the Island of Knowledge, surrounded by the ocean of the unknown. Science allows us to expand the island. But the ocean remains."more
Kykuit, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, was the home of J. D. Rockefeller, founder of the Rockefeller dynasty. Touring the gardens has been on my "list" since the 1980's when I read an article about the spectacular setting with its beautiful views of the Hudson, the variety of gardens, and the impressive art collection of J.D's grandson, former U.S. Vice President and long-time New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. and his wife, Happy.
I finally made it, and my visit to Kykuit was one of the highlights of my recent Hudson Valley tour - it did not disappoint. I wish I could have spent twice the time touring the grounds and the art collection. I will make it back at some point. Really incredible!more
Anne Spiegel's garden in Wappinger Falls, New York, is perched on a massive rock outcropping. Anne has spent years weaving new terraces and plantings into the dramatic setting in such an artful way that it can be hard to tell what is natural and what has been created. Her garden is legendary among rock garden aficionados and has been awarded by the National Rock Garden Society. When I toured the garden, Anne was happily sharing her knowledge of the plants and her gardening techniques with note taking visitors. An amazing place!
This was the last garden I toured as a part of the recent Dutchess County Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour. However, more gardens of the Hudson Valley will follow soon!more
Copperheads is an impressive property sitting on a slope with views of the Berkshire Mountain foothills. Built in the early nineteenth century, the Greek Revival home has been carefully restored by the current owner. I loved the sinuous handrails on the front porch that evoke the property's namesake.
The house is bordered by a series of garden rooms that are influenced by English garden design. An enclosed perennial garden frames views to the hills beyond and a boxwood parterre serves as the geometric setting for a kitchen garden. Behind the home, paths lead through a gorgeous woodlands garden and beyond. Naturalistic gardens like Copperheads' woodlands are difficult to orchestrate, but strolling the paths here was a great pleasure - everything seemed balanced, in-place and yet soothingly natural. A wonderful surprise was a floating woodlands bouquet that one of the gardeners had created using a sealed pot at the top of the woodlands path. Simply gorgeous!
I visited Copperheads when it was open to the public courtesy of...more
Mead Farm House is another stunning private garden in Amenia, New York. I was checking in at the entrance during the recent Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour, when I heard a familiar voice say, "Tom Spencer!" As it turns out, an old friend and colleague from KLRU-TV, Jodi MacDougal, is the niece of the garden's creator and she was on hand to help with the tour. Talk about coincidences - I was 1500 miles from home in a tiny hamlet in New York - and a genuine friend is on hand to greet me! I received a private tour of the historic home and happily roamed the 250+ year old grounds.
The Mead Farmhouse garden features sweeping naturalistic plantings that lead your eye across the property. Highlights include a beautiful bog garden and a series of quiet places to sit and contemplate the landscape including a terrace that makes use of an old silo foundation. A gorgeous place. Thanks for the surprise and hospitality, Jodi!
Learn more about the Garden Conservancy here and...more
Located in the tiny - yet garden rich - hamlet of Amenia, New York, Broccoli Hall is the creation of Homeowner, Maxine Petro and Horticulturist Tim Steinhoff. A whimsical take on a classic English cottage garden, Broccoli Hall's strong garden "bones" are off-set by exuberant plantings and charming personal touches. A geometric courtyard and leafy parterre lead visitors to paths terminating in a woodlands garden inhabited by friendly (sculpted) bears. The harmonious blend between the garden and the rustic setting makes for a playful and inviting experience. Keep Amenia Weird (and wonderful!) Thanks, Maxine!more
I visited seven or eight spectacular gardens when I was in New York recently - most of them located in Dutchess County, where I grew up. As luck would have it, the Garden Conservancy was having one of its "Open Days" tours when I was there and I spent an entire day making the rounds.
Over the course of the coming days, I will post about each of the gardens I visited in the order that I experienced them. This is the first, Wethersfield, in Amenia, NY. Wethersfield has 10 acres of formal garden spaces that serve as a romantic and classical counterpoint to the lush natural surroundings. Situated on one of the highest points in the area, the garden is designed to provide beautiful views of the rolling countryside, The garden is open to the public for visitation during the warmer months - try to visit if you can!more
Here is a thoughtful essay about a disappearing concept: the commons.
We live on and in the commons, even if we don’t recognise it as such. Every time we take a breath, we’re drawing from the commons. Every time we walk down a road we’re using the commons. Every time we sit in the sunshine or shelter from the rain, listen to birdsong or shut our windows against the stench from a nearby oil refinery, we are engaging with the commons. But we have forgotten the critical role that the commons play in our existence. The commons make life possible. Beyond that, they make private property possible. When the commons become degraded or destroyed, enjoyment and use of private property become untenable. A Montana rancher could own ten thousand acres and still be dependent on the health of the commons. Neither a gated community nor high-rise penthouse apartments can close a human being from the wider world that we all rely on.
We have been able to ignore and damage the...more
Excellent article about our infatuation with innovation.
There is an urgent need to reckon more squarely and honestly with our machines and ourselves. Ultimately, emphasizing maintenance involves moving from buzzwords to values, and from means to ends. In formal economic terms, ‘innovation’ involves the diffusion of new things and practices. The term is completely agnostic about whether these things and practices are good. Crack cocaine, for example, was a highly innovative product in the 1980s, which involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue. Innovation! Entrepreneurship! Perhaps this point is cynical, but it draws our attention to a perverse reality: contemporary discourse treats innovation as a positive value in itself, when it is not.
Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility....more
The following essay is part of a series of reflections I wrote about childhood encounters with nature titled "Where Wonder Was Born." The following is a true story.
Where Wonder Was Born: Danger - Real and Imagined
Faraway places with exotic names tug at our imaginations and our sense of discovery and adventure. Yet, adventures are often accompanied by risk and childhood adventures are no exception.
Among the pack of kids who lived in my neighborhood when I was growing up, there were two destinations spoken of only in hushed, secretive tones: “Cat’s Cave” and “Devil’s Island.” Both places lay just beyond the usual bounds of our territory, too far to venture if you were six, but within striking distance if you were a determined ten year old. Their evocative names sounded as if they were lifted straight from the Hardy Boy books that so many of us grew up with and elevated these places to the status of forbidden territory. Of course, this made them completely irresistible to my over active imagination.
I was a very low ranking member of the gang and my...more
Here is a photo album capturing some of the late fall foliage display here in Austin. All but one of these images come from my garden - the exception is a tree I planted in a park 26 years ago.
Many people are surprised to learn that you can have fall color in Texas, but we have aa number of native plants that can be very showy at this time of year. The peak of our "fall" comes in early December. Plants include: Bigtooth Maple, Prairie Flame Leaf Sumac, Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, Mexican Buckeye, Bur Oak, and Crape Myrtle.more
Here is a powerful and beautifully written essay by Marilynne Robinson about the state of Western Culture and why we must maintain a relationship with and reverence for mystery- even in the face of the great accomplishments of "materialist" and reductive science. .
I am a theist, so my habits of mind have a particular character. Such predispositions, long typical in Western civilization, have been carefully winnowed out of scientific thought over the last two centuries in favor of materialism, by which I mean a discipline of exclusive attention to the reality that can be tested by scientists. This project was necessary and very fruitful. The greatest proof of its legitimacy is that it has found its way to its own limits. Now scientific inference has moved past the old assumptions about materiality and beyond the testable. Presumably it would prefer not to have gone beyond its classic definitions of hypothesis, evidence, demonstration. And no doubt it...more
Here is an excellent essay that illustrates one of the many ways that the quality of a place matters deeply. Good streets support healthy human beings.
Not only are people more likely to walk around in cityscapes with open and lively façades, but the kinds of things that they do in such places actually change. They pause, look around and absorb their surroundings while in a pleasant state of positive affect and with a lively, attentive nervous system. Because of these kinds of influences, they actuallywant to be there.more
Here is an interesting piece about the educational and cognitive challenges faced by youth in the Age of Distraction.
“The circuitry for paying attention is identical for the circuits for managing distressing emotion,” Goleman said. The area of the brain that governs focus and executive functioning is known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is also the part of the brain that allows people to control themselves, to keep emotions in check and to feel empathy for other people.
“The attentional circuitry needs to have the experience of sustained episodes of concentration — reading the text, understanding and listening to what the teacher is saying — in order to build the mental models that create someone who is well educated,” Goleman said. “The pulls away from that mean that we have to become more intentional about teaching kids.” He advocates for a “digital sabbath” everyday, some time when kids aren’t being distracted by devices at all....more
Found this quote by Thoreau on The Hannah Arendt Center's website this morning after my morning meditation:
"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."
- Henry David Thoreaumore
This morning I was contemplating what has become a recurring theme for me: the ever increasing challenge of paying attention. Here is a reflection on the subject from Matthew Crawford at the NY Times.
Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.more
No need to provide commentary here other than to say, I have found this site to be a delight.
You Do Not Need Many Things
- Taigu Ryōkan (1758 - 1831)
Another gem from First Known When Lost.
To state the obvious (and to sound high-falutin' at the same time): a successful work of art is the product of the keen observation of minute particulars transformed by a receptive, contemplative imagination. This thought is prompted by a visit to Thomas Hardy's poetry this past week.
People who met him, and recorded their impressions, nearly always mention two things: his eyes and his quiet, kind, and diffident manner.
"I could scarcely imagine those steady eyes 'in a fine frenzy rolling'; nor would I have expected their calm gaze either to conjure up the beauty of Tess or to read the mind of Napoleon. But if Hardy did not wear his Muse upon his sleeve, there was yet in the very inconspicuousness of his appearance something unobtrusively impressive. This impression deepened as I watched him. The high, broad forehead was very fine; the expression in the initiated, resigned eyes, unforgettable. They looked as if nothing could ever surprise them again....more
From Orion - considering how to express your gratitude to (and for) a place.
When I receive a gift I am acutely conscious of both the gift and the giver, and gratitude spreads through me. This gratitude coalesces into a wish to give something back. I long to please my giver, endow that generous benefactor with something that will offer comfort, nourishment, and delight equal to what I’ve received. When my benefactor is a place rather than a person, however, my role as recipient is less direct. I’m someone who has inadvertently stepped beneath a stream of beneficence not specifically intended for me but suddenly pouring all over me. If I wished to offer thanks, how would I do so? Does a place have consciousness, such that it can receive gratitude for what it has given just by being itself?
People of traditional cultures would say yes, indisputably, and moreover that the expression of gratitude is not a single act taken in response to a single instance of bounty, but part of an ongoing...more
by Wendell Berry (2007)
Here is an thought-provoking piece reflecting on the work of Arnold J. Toynbee and the role of the humanities in our technological times.
A curious but trenchant critic of science and technology as well as a determined moral thinker, Toynbee can help light the way through the woods for despairing humanists. Neglected and overlooked, he offers a persuasive answer to one of our most troubling questions. What are the humanities for in a technological age? For Toynbee, the answer was clear: to save us from ourselves.
Read the entire piece here.more
by David Woo
Just over twenty years ago I spent weeks reading and then re-reading Christopher Lasch's masterpiece, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics. No other book that I have read has had such a powerful influence on the way that I view religion, politics and contemporary culture. Among the many things that surprised me in my encounter with Lasch's work was the way that I responded to his explication of and praise for Puritan theology. As a Twentieth Century American steeped in a culture that mocked Puritanism as, well... puritanical (up-tight, hypocritical, judgemental, violent,dogmatic etc.) I could not believe that I found myself admiring - and at times envying - Puritan culture. There were many eye-opening moments in my encounter with Lasch, but this was certainly the most shocking.
This morning, I read...more
Now, this is interesting: a reflection on Brian WiIliams and the elusive nature of memory.
If retrieving memory is a process—and recounting it a performance—then there are numerous ways its accuracy can derail. Daniel Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has spent his career researching those ways. In The Seven Sins of Memory,he notes how “binding failures,” which happen when memory latches onto an inaccurate detail and deems it true, create “confusions between events we actually experience and those we only think about or imagine.” Our innate suggestibility tempts us to weave extraneous details from subsequent events—conversing with friends, absorbing miscellaneous media bytes, reading a novel—into the fabric of our original recollection. The gist remains (you know you landed in a helicopter in a desert amid a frisson of danger) but, as Schacter and others explain, the specifics can blur into impressions that in some cases disappear altogether. It’s not exactly a...more
More praise for Pope Francis' "Faithful Ecology"
I think what an message like Pope Francis’ does is remind us of the deeply ordinary human and moral dimensions of ecology and climate change...
...Perhaps in bringing our crises of climate down to earth, to the very intimacies, desires, and relations of our bodies, Pope Francis’ encyclical offers a way forward. Perhaps when we feel earth, affectively, lovingly in the everyday—in all of its vibrancy and tragic beauty—we’ll be better able to do the work we so desperately need to do.more
A thoughtful appreciation for Pope Francis' stance on Climate Change:
I've been watching the progress of climate science for most of my professional life. My first real science job (as a post-undergrad in 1985) was at a climate research institution. Since then, I've seen the scientific case for a warming planet grow inexorably from "maybe" to "yes" — and then to "absolutely."
In other words, the science has been settled for a long time....
It's no longer really about the science — and that is why Pope Francis' encyclical matters.
By taking on climate change, the leader of one of the world's major religions is injecting something into the debate that has mostly been missing: the question of values. Pope Francis appears ready to argue that since the science is long settled, it's now time to turn...more
No surprise here:
"...spending time in nature is correlated with better mental health, attention, and mood in both children and adults. A new study out Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that green spaces can actually boost cognitive outcomes in children—in part by protecting their brains from air pollutants."more
Over the course of the past week or two I have had a kind of reunion with an old friend, the author, R. H. Blyth, whose book," Haiku: Eastern Culture" has had a profound influence on my life.
Today, I found the following quote from Blyth on this site:
“The sun shines, snow falls, mountains rise and valleys sink, night deepens and pales into day, but it is only very seldom that we attend to such things. . . . When we are grasping the inexpressible meaning of these things, this is life, this is living. To do this twenty-four hours a day is the Way of Haiku. It is having life more abundantly.”
I was reminded of an interview I did several years ago with Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong. Responding to one of my questions, Spong said, "I do think we human beings experience transcendence,.. Part of what it means to be human is that periodically you go beyond then boundaries of your humanity and you touch something - you don't know how to process it - but you know its bigger than you are. Its...more
Here is a thoughtful reflection about stilling the "ever-humming" hamster wheels of our culture and our minds.
Modern culture is constantly entreating us to devote our thoughts and attention to chimeras and fantasies (as well as to the media-fueled frenzy of daily "crises"). This is on top of our natural human tendency to worry about the past, the present, and the future. Enough is enough.
Mind you, I am not claiming to be free of "the Tyranny of Fancy." Nor am I lying at anchor in a calm harbor of non-attachment. However, here's a good feature of the aging process: things drop away; the absurdity and the emptiness of humanity's antics become more apparent with each passing year. Peace and quiet seem to come of themselves, if one lets them (knock on wood). "...more
Here is an article that points to the physical and psychological benefits of contemplative practice. Science is confirming what the ancient wisdom traditions have been advocating for thousands of years.
Recent research provides strong evidence that practicing non-judgmental, present-moment awareness (a.k.a. mindfulness) changes the brain, and it does so in ways that anyone working in today’s complex business environment, and certainly every leader, should know about.more
The following is an excerpt from R. H. Blyth's classic work, Haiku - Eastern Culture:
In China, as in Japan, the gradual tendency, during three thousand years, was the mingling of what started as three distinct trains of thought, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism-to add a fourth, Zen. As a late example of this synthesis we may take the Saikontan, written by Kojisei. Details of the life of the author are not known, nor is the date of the book, but it was already in existence in 1624. The Saikontan consists of three hundred and fifty nine short pieces of prose and verse... The name, Saikontan means literally "vegetable root discourses" and is used to imply that only a man leading a simple life is capable of being a poet or philosopher.
...The following extracts will give an idea of his not always complete assimilation of Zen, Taoism and Confucianism. But the reader is all the more urged to apply each of the following extracts, whatever their ostensible purport, to poetry, religion and...more
Here is a thoughtful reflection re: the tension between finding "Purpose" in our work and in living purposeful lives.
It’s worth reemphasizing the role that humility plays in giving us purpose: Brooks points out that it is those who live small, unrecognized lives with contentment who are often the most happy—while those who seek a grandiose and perfect sense of “purpose” end up unhappy and discontent. They may feel that all their efforts only amount to “not enough.”
Those who live a simple life, grateful for its blessings and significances, are liberated from that discontent. They don’t need great successes or accolades in order to feel accomplished: rather, the beliefs and relationships they hold dear bring them purpose.more
Here is an interesting piece that explores the roots of today's "New Age" spiritualism. What lies behind this wildly varying set of practices and beliefs? This article argues that it is our desire - or perhaps our need - to live in a world that is not stripped of magic or mystery.
I would argue that if there is one thread that binds together the various New Age movements, it is that they represent a resurgence of magical beliefs in a modern world supposedly stripped of them.
In his now-classic book Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), the Oxford University historian Keith Thomas framed religion and magic as antagonistic social forces. In his view, when early modern Protestant and Catholic religious leaders persecuted witches, they were effectively trying to eliminate their competition as explainers of the unexplainable. In this, they largely succeeded. Because representatives of institutionalised religion had ‘all the resources of organised political power’ on...more
I love this short reflection on the tensions between our fear of missing out and that exquisite blending of awe and humility known as gratitude.
The question is one of satiation: when will we be satisfied? Or, as Colin suggests, is it a feature of human life to never be satisfied—to always be seeking more?
Some might argue that such insatiable thirst is what kingdoms and civilizations are built upon. But it seems such a view overlooks the goods that come from reaching a point of awe, and thus satisfaction, with the life we have. It seems that FOMO, especially in this world of limitless possibilities, could become overwhelming—could even drive us insane. We’re not just confronted with a tree, but rather with an endless forest of possibilities, offered to us by a globalized age. And it seems we will never see the beauty of one tree for the magnitude of the forest, if we are determined to experience all and forsake our sliver.
Thus, it isn’t a matter of...more
Thoreau's Walden had a profound impact on me when I first read it nearly forty years ago. Here is a brief article from Front Porch Republic which reflects on Walden's enduring pull on our inner compasses. .
Thoreau became attached to the natural world, but he was no hermit, as many historians will attest. He entertained guests and took frequent trips into town during his two years spent living in his small, self-built cabin on Walden Pond, just a short distance from Concord. So it would seem, for Thoreau, retreat was not about isolation, or the cultivation of any reserved, antisocial behavior. Instead, Thoreau’s simple living and contemplation of the world’s natural beauty was more an effort of re-orientation; of fixing the compass needle of his life on something purer, more permanent, and worthy of his attention, than the social, political, and industrial upheaval of the time.
“Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip,...more
How do the Liberal Arts enrich our lives? Here is a succinct answer.
Most schools in the United States still privilege literature and history, precisely because these subjects traditionally feed your imagination with the great works and great people who have shaped our civilization. Unfortunately, however, it’s doubtful that these studies still serve their classical purpose. Literary studies are too quickly manipulated to address matters of topical, political interest, while history is taught more like a social science and less as a source of exciting stories about great lives. You don’t need to object to these developments to acknowledge that they have deprived literature and history of their specifically humanizing role of stocking the imagination.more
What a depressing thought. Here is an article about the mall proposed for the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Malls may not be an American monopoly, but America’s not really thinkable without them. They’re where we come together, octogenarian mall walkers and teen Goths alike, as we aim for that perfect, elusive balance between over- and under-stimulation. They’re our own controlled-climate variation on the outdoor European arcade; only in the multipurposed American mallspace, you don’t simply exchange money for goods: you exercise, see movies, attend concerts, go to school, and worship God. They’re our culture’s vapid response to the depletion of the commons. And their increasingly empty and abandoned carapaces mottle the American landscape like munition-citadels in the war between consumerism and community.more
Here is a very interesting piece about how the loss of a loved one impacts our bodies, Quite moving.
Ruth and Harold “Doc” Knapke met in elementary school. They exchanged letters during the war, when Doc was stationed in Germany. After he returned their romance began in earnest. They married, raised six children and celebrated 65 anniversaries together. And then on a single day in August 2013, in the room they shared in an Ohio nursing home, they died.
“No relationship was ever perfect, but theirs was one of the better relationships I ever observed,” says their daughter Margaret Knapke, 61, a somatic therapist. “They were always like Velcro. They couldn’t stand to be separated.”
For years, Knapke says, she and her siblings watched their father’s health crumble. He suffered from longstanding heart problems and had begun showing signs of dementia. He lost interest in things he once enjoyed, and dozed nearly all the time. “We asked each other, why do you suppose he’s...more
Here is a great piece about the need for free play time for children. Want your kids to grow up to be happy and creative? Give them the time and space to simply play.
You can’t teach creativity; all you can do is let it blossom. Little children, before they start school, are naturally creative. Our greatest innovators, the ones we call geniuses, are those who somehow retain that childhood capacity, and build on it, right through adulthood. Albert Einstein, who apparently hated school, referred to his achievements in theoretical physics and mathematics as ‘combinatorial play’. A great deal of research has shown that people are most creative when infused by the spirit of play, when they see themselves as engaged in a task just for fun. As the psychologist Teresa Amabile, professor at Harvard Business School, has shown in her book Creativity in Context (1996) and in many experiments, the attempt to increase creativity by rewarding people for it or by putting them...more
Here is an interesting reflection about what the future might hold regarding morality and how our great-grandchildren will judge our behavior. One thing is certain, it is an illusion to think that the circle of what is considered moral behavior will inevitably expand. We must question our own morality and engage with it if we want our great-grandchildren to even care about this question.
So first, the question itself: what is it that our great-grandchildren will condemn us for? We believe that this is a very helpful question to ask. It alerts us to the contingency and particularity of our own moral views. It pricks the illusion that we are the pinnacle of something – the ‘end of history’ – and should therefore awaken us from any moral slumber. Yet it is different to asking simply ‘What are you or I doing wrong?’ This question, which implies we are not living up to current moral standards, is likely to inspire only shame or defensiveness. Our goal is a different one:...more
This website features reflections about a variety of topics, among them the importance of really engaging with the places where we live. Well, today is the day that individuals in Austin unite as a community to make a profound difference for this place.
Amplify Austin is a program of I Live Here, I Give Here - the organization that I lead. This evening, at 6 PM, our third annual Amplify Austin campaign kicks off. Take a few minutes of your day today to schedule a gift to your favorite nonprofit / cause. And keep an eye on our "Leaderboards" as throughout the day tomorrow as we try to reach our very ambitious goal of raising $7 million for over 500 worthy causes.
Say it with me, "I live here, I give here." Giving back feels good.more
When is anxiety good for you? When you are grappling with a moral dilemma according to this article from Aeon.
Moral anxiety, then, is an emotion we feel in the face of a difficult moral decision: we want to do right, but we’re uncertain about what exactly that might be. Moreover, the uncertainty we feel prompts investigation – it gets us to try to figure out what is the morally correct thing to do. We might start thinking about the options available to us, considering the reasons for and against each. We might also seek out more information from those we trust. Putting this together, then, we can see moral anxiety functioning in two ways: as asignal telling us that we face a difficult moral decision and as amotivator that prompts such things as deliberation and information-gathering.more
In an world filled with shouting voices, Wendell Berry's quiet and thoughtful reflections feel like a balm. But there is strength - a kind of hand-forged iron behind his gentle demeanor.
Here is a great conversation with Mr. Berry from The American Conservative.
My concern about modern Christianity? I don’t know when, why, or how it happened, but at some time the mainstream denominations put themselves in charge of the Sunday job of accrediting people for admission to Heaven, turning the workdays, the human economy, and the material creation over to the materialists. And so it became possible for people to commit their souls to God while participating in an economy dedicated to the swiftest possible extraction and consumption of everything it values in God’s world, with unlimited collateral damage to all creatures, humans included, that it does not value.
Once this desecration of creation, of life itself, becomes conventional economic practice, then the submersion...more
Here is a piece from Orion magazine featuring poetry and short descriptions of the natural world written by prisoners in the American Southwest. The article was curated and introduced by Richard Shelton who writes:
"In his book American Notes, Charles Dickens describes his visits to several American prisons in the early 1840s. He describes the solitary-conﬁnement prison model at some length, and then says, “It is my ﬁxed opinion that those who have undergone this punishment must pass into society again mortally unhealthy and diseased.” Dickens is suggesting that there is a relationship between humans and a natural environment, any natural environment—the starkest of deserts or polar regions, the heat and smothering humidity of the tropics—a relationship which, if sufﬁciently violated, will be not only punishing but permanently damaging to the human. And this, with the exception of capital punishment, is perhaps the greatest crime against humanity our penal system can inflict—and it is also one of the...more
"Andrew Keen argues that the free business model employed by Google and Facebook -- in which the use of their services is paid for by users' personal data -- has corrupted the internet and birthed a new "creepy economy." Keen says if he could reconfigure Google's business model, he'd erase the data tracking and instead charge for the web search service."
Remember that important thing, about that movie and the North Koreans? Kind of? Yeah, I know that was so last year.
Here is an on-point essay about how our amnesiac culture, The Interview and that place where Orwell and Huxley face each other across a no-man's land.
Our entire culture’s spikes of intensity and forgetfulness over both the superfluous and the truly profound demonstrate that the problem extends far beyond L.A. County. In his classic lamentAmusing Ourselves to Death — growing only more timely as the years progress — Neil Postman opens by comparing the dystopian views of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:
"Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As he saw it, people will...more
For many years, I have argued that our greatest challenge in this age of distraction is simply paying attention.
Here is a piece from The Atlantic about a physician who prescribes the practice of paying attention for healing and happiness.
After years of practicing medicine in a more traditional Western sense left him feeling like he was missing the bigger picture in his doctorly goal of minimizing human suffering, Sood decided to dedicate his career to mindfulness. Through his work cultivating attention, among other facets of intentionality, the demands for his time from new patients have outstripped his availability. The approach is predicated on understanding and restructuring "neural predispositions": the ruts in which our brains have gotten used to operating. In the era of intensive medicalization of attention deficits, Sood is finding an audience for his approaches (which I'm inclined to describe as "alternative," but also annoyed at my...more
Here is an interesting piece about Bart Campolo, who is the new Humanist Chaplain at the University of Southern California. Campolo is a former evangelical Christian and the son of Tony Campolo, the famous evangelical preacher.
The whole point of theologically progressive Christianity is that Christianity is not about turning people into Christians, or even making sure that they stay Christian. It's about the same thing that Bart is about. It's about love, and creating communities of love. If Bart can spread this love without Christian or any other religious content, I will holler a hearty hallelujia! His way is a good way, just as my way is a good way.
People are different. What works for some does not work for others. For those of us who love the myth and poetry and music and art and legacy of selfless service of Christianity, liberated from irrational and suffocating dogma, there will always...more
Everywhere you look in popular culture you encounter dystopian imagery - the perpetual night of anarchy and "end-times" awaiting us. Best selling books and video games, movies and television - even advertisements portray a future of fear.
This short piece from the Baffler explores the uses of dystopian themes in marketing and their source, the “everlasting uncertainty and agitation” embedded in hyper capitalism and our psyches.
The market—or, at least, the idea of the market—possesses an energy and a logic that its opponents persistently fail to counter. The pro-capitalist reformers dismantling the welfare state and destroying the natural world invoke freedom and choice and flexibility, all of which are—like fitness, health and productivity—universally accepted as good things. Meanwhile, the Right strip-mines the social gains of the twentieth century, tapping into a genuine and legitimate hostility to sclerotic government bureaucracy, a popular disdain for the tut-tutting nanny state with...more
Here is an article sure to warm the hearts of book lovers - meaning the people who still read paper books.
Reading helps you de-stress faster or just as fast as listening to music, taking a walk, or having a cup of tea or coffee, according to a 2009 study. When researchers measured heart rate and muscle tension, they found that people relaxed just six minutes into reading.
But reading on a device might cancel out this effect, and may even impact your stress levels negatively. Repeated use of mobile phones or laptops late at night has beenlinked to depression, higher levels of stress, and fatigue among young adults. Constant use of technology not only disrupts our sleeping patterns and...more
For too many years, I approached politics with the mindset of a sports fan. As long as my "team" was winning (which was infrequent) I was happy. When the other side won, I gnashed my teeth and consoled myself with self-righteous resentment.
Meanwhile, regardless of which team won, our republic has continued its rapid slide into unsustainable empire and forever war while the vast majority of us grow poorer.
I have had enough. I am committing myself to helping those who are trying to change the system not win the next campaign. I see glimpses of a new movement that would refocus our attention on improving the life of our local communities, that is based on a thoughtful conservation of the institutions that instill virtue and nurture the human spirit and that promote peacefulness without wishful thinking.
This does not mean that I will withdraw from our present politics. No, we must work the levers wherever and whenever possible. However, wherever and whenever I can I will try to shine a light on this emerging "third way" between our existing...more
I have always been fascinated by the impact of architecture and urban design on our sense of community and belonging. Here is an article that explores that topic from the viewpoint of political conservatism. Interesting.
Since Austin is one of the least dense / most sprawling cities in the country I've excerpted a section dealing with "New Urbanism" and land use codes. The article suggests that we should offer dual codes and let the market decide who "wins."
New Urbanism does not need government compulsion to succeed. It will do far better if it relies on the free market. The mechanism that opens New Urbanism to the free market is dual codes. Every urban area should offer developers two codes, one sprawl, the other intended to facilitate Traditional Neighborhood Design. The sprawl codes are already in place; they are the only codes in most of America. They demand separation of home, shopping, and work by distances too great to walk, and the suburbs they create, with...more
Just in case you missed it, a good read about the endless, compulsive conveyor belt of digital content.
Pre-Internet, we accepted that media had a mayfly’s life span: Yesterday’s news was yesterday’s news, and that was it. If you were the creator of it, you made peace with the notion that people either saw it or didn’t when it appeared, and you moved on; there was no alternative.
If it lingered in the public consciousness, it was because of its durability, not repeated reminders. Content had finite endings and deaths, not asymptotic approaches and long-term vegetative states from which resuscitation is always an option...
...Now, with just about every airing of a much greater number of shows obtainable at any moment, there is no excuse for missing one — and, therefore, a more urgent compulsion to catch up, in case you missed it.more
Over a decade ago I had the great pleasure of working with a small team from KLRU-TV and independent Producer, Alan Oakes to produce a documentary titled The Painted Churches of Texas: Echoes of the Homeland. This past week I toured some of the churches and, as always, I was reminded of the many rewards of working on the program and the beauty of the churches themselves.
The slide show below contains a few images from this past weekend.more
Cultivating sustainable food can also mean cultivating healthier / sustainable families and children.
Here is an article with several embedded videos that offers a reflection on the benefits of raising free range kids (of the human variety).
In our increasingly urbanized world, where children are more likely to be able to identify corporate logos than any of the plants or trees growing in their neighborhood, and where their food is more likely to come from a can or box than from the soil, the growing disconnect between kids and the natural world probably shouldn't surprise any of us.
Ouch. This hurts to read.
No bad big idea achieves its full cultural potential without first being sacralized by Wired magazine. Crowdsourcing is no different. In June 2006 the tech industry’s bible ran a story called “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” (the cover headline was more typically hyperbolic: “A Billion Amateurs Want Your Job”). “The new pool of cheap labor,” the article’s writer, Jeff Howe, explained, is “everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R&D.”
The casual characterization of human beings as something like modular computer components, complete with their “spare cycles,” was a revealing tic, one that has gone on to mark much of the subsequent popular literature on crowdsourcing. In this field, humans are required only so long as they complete the minimum amount of work that cannot be done by software. Even if they are replacing highly paid and skilled human beings, they are still treated like vestigial parts of a machine. As...more
From one "fuddy-duddy" to another. Here is a thoughtful tribute to idleness.
Hat Tip to Books Inq.
These thoughts may mark me out as a reactionary anachronism. For my younger readers, I offer the following anecdote in order to provide some perspective on my fuddy-duddyness. Long ago, in my early years of practicing law, I received letters from clients and opposing counsel. These letters arrived in envelopes that had stamps on them. I would take a couple of days to consider how to respond to each letter. I would then write a letter in reply, place it in an envelope, put a stamp on the envelope, and deposit it in a mailbox. I’m not pulling your leg.
Yes, I come from an ancient world. A lost world. Hence my fondness for idleness.more
Here is a piece from Orion about one of the most hopeful trends in our nation today: the emergence of a new generation of farmers.
Miller looks out onto her farm. The diminishing daylight suffuses everything with a saffron glow: young apple trees not yet bearing fruit, her husband running the tractor, a shaggy llama, like a gangly guardian, standing attention at the fence. “Here I’m building something,” she says. “And I like that. I like that we’re stewards of this land, that we’re building the soil and taking care of the pollinators, the bees, the birds—it’s just so positive.”
She thinks for a moment. “What’s hard is when you’re so tired, and your body hurts so much, and you’re so poor. We finally figured out we make less than five dollars an hour. How much do you sacrifice for this vision?
“But when I get down, I think about a conversation with my mom that really helped me,” she reflects. “She asked, ‘If everyone was doing what you’re doing, would the world be a better...more
I often get the feeling that 21st Century Americans are lost in the generic urban and suburban worlds that we inhabit. We yearn for a sense of connection to real places and are willing to pay exorbitant sums to travel to destinations that wear a distinctive "thereness" on their sleeves. I believe that recapturing a true sense of place in our localities would go a long way to curing what Christopher Lasch called our "uprootedness."
Here is a review of a new book that features a series of essays on the critical importance of "thereness" and place.
Why Place Matters is a collection of essays that make the case for place. As co-editor Wilfred M. McClay writes in the introduction, “There is no evading the fact that we human beings have a profound need for...more
Some of the staunchest and most brilliant defenders of science are trumpeting the coming "unity of knowledge." Not so sure about that. Here is a thoughtful essay by Marcelo Gleiser that questions that goal.
Can there be some kind of unification of knowledge? One way to think about the issue is to identify what are the common trends in the history of humanity, the essential urges that define us all: to learn, to love and be loved, to create bonds with members of the many tribes we belong to, to defend those bonds. The hope to know it all, to construct a grand edifice of knowledge seems to me to be an impoverishing one. We don't want to arrive at an end where all is one; we want to celebrate the plurality of learning, the unstable nature of knowledge so that we keep on searching and growing.
There are many ways to look at the world — and science provides one of them. I love it, of course, and have dedicated my professional life to it. As...more
When faced with international tensions and conflict or the resentments of our own "Culture Wars" we would do well to heed Claes G. Ryn 's advice.
... most attempts to deal with conflict do not deal in any depth with what may be the very core of the problem, man’s moral predicament. Proceeding from a dubious or incomplete understanding of the basic moral terms of human existence, scholars and others exaggerate what elaborate, clever international arrangements or techniques can do to lessen tension. The trouble is that when passions run high even the most efficacious measures can be swept away in the blink of an eye. In fraught, very tense circumstances peace will have a chance only if the actors involved are not only experienced, knowledgeable, and creative, but capable of withstanding, in themselves as well as others, the onrush of rashness, belligerence, and ethnic-nationalistic fervor. Such urges can be tamed in the end only by strong character, including habits of...more
I have often wondered at the pastlessness of Americans. We tend to think of ourselves and our nation as ever-new and forward thinking and we are shocked when others point to the trail of wreckage that so often follows in our wake.
"Get over it. That was yesterday," we say as we forgive ourselves and forget.
We cannot imagine a people or a nation that harbors memories or worse, grudges.
All great endeavors and nations, even Empires like our's, have mixed histories. On the whole, I believe that our nation has been a force for good in the world, but to ignore and forget our faults and happily proclaim our perpetual innocence is a form of delusion. We are not "exceptional" we are human and that implies both good and evil.
Here is an essay that examines Christopher Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism" and asks some pretty tough questions.
Every American has been immersed since birth in the propagandistic reassurance that he or she is the most superior citizen on earth,...more
Another reason to give thanks. Here is an article that highlights a profound reason why we should be grateful for each other and for the role that we can play in the lives of those within our circles.
Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn’t know that germs spread them, we’ve known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven’t been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can...more
As we prepare to sit down at our ceremonial Thanksgiving tables one of the things that we should be grateful for is the presence of beauty in our lives.
In the eighteenth century, when organized religion and ceremonial kingship were losing their authority, when the democratic spirit was questioning inherited institutions, and when the idea was abroad that it was not God but man who made laws for the human world, the idea of the sacred suffered an eclipse. To the thinkers of the Enlightenment, it seemed little more than a superstition to believe that artifacts, buildings, places, and ceremonies could possess a sacred character, when all these things were the products of human design. The idea that the divine reveals itself in our world, and seeks our worship, seemed both implausible...more
This article is about more than just the role of the physical environment on one's life - but it points to the negative role that distressed places can have on succeeding generations.
Consider the ways that the immediate environment shapes a child’s development. It does so physically. Air and soil pollution, noise, and traffic, for example, measurably affect children’s health, stress, and cognitive development. Local institutions and resources, such as the policing, quality of the schools, availability of health services, food options, parks, and so on matter, as well. And the social environment may matter most of all. Growing up in a community with gangs, dangerous streets, discouraging role models, confused social expectations, and few connections to outsiders commanding resources is a burden for any child. Just getting by day-to-day can be a struggle. In a pair of studies, Sharkey found that a violent crime occurring near black children’s homes in the...more
Here is an interesting piece that explores the efforts of a scientific team to measure the impact of architecture on the brain and our emotions. No big surprises for those of us who believe that place matters.
I spoke with Dr. Julio Bermudez, the lead of a new study that uses fMRI to capture the effects of architecture on the brain. His team operates with the goal of using the scientific method to transform something opaque—the qualitative “phenomenologies of our built environment”—into neuroscientific observations that architects and city planners can deliberately design for. Bermudez and his team’s research question focuses on buildings and sites designed to elicit contemplation: They theorize that the presence of “contemplative architecture” in one’s environment may over time produce the same health benefits as traditional “internally-induced” meditation, except with much less effort by the individual.
Disturbing. Very disturbing. Here is an essay that asks the question, "Should Science End Humanity?" Given our rush to embrace technology the question might be, "When will science end humanity?"
Technologists point to a perfect super intelligent trans or post-human human freed of physical constraints. Meanwhile, back here in the gene pool we remain the same flawed creatures we have always been, as prone to violence and mayhem as we are to civility and compassion. What will super intelligence look like if it inherits original sin?
From physical form (there will be many possibilities) to culture and behavior, it's hard to even imagine how alien our post-human progeny might seem to us or us to them. Given the likelycompleteness of the post-human transformation, how ready are we to be so completely replaced? It's a question that has to be on the table because we are, as a culture, rapidly pushing the enabling technologies forward right now.
So even in the most...more
What can I do? My only expertise is in dysfunction.
Here is a sad / funny but true reflection on the cynical vacuum under the dome in DC.
The congressional session that begins in the New Year, according to the incoming leaders of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, will do nothing to address anything.more
Waiting for Godot indeed. American politics as staged by our political parties and media has devolved into a kind of surrealistic theater that always leaves us frustrated. Those who still cling to some semblance of hope find ourselves waiting. Half suffocated by cartoonish ideologies and dysfunction we wait for a new force to emerge that will blow our corrupt order off of the stage.
Here is a piece that suggests that the kind of candidate and politics we are waiting for has already made its debut.
Ralph Nader’s question, “Where are the Democratic Dave Brats?” is a stumper on the order of “Where are the neoconservative Marines?” They will all show up ten minutes after Godot arrives.
In late summer Nader received an answer in New York, where a genuine insurgent Democrat took on a repugnant centrist (which has become a political synonym for centralist), Governor Andrew Cuomo. Zephyr Teachout lost her primary, but she held Cuomo to 62 percent of the vote and won...more
Thinking about the military in the wake of Veteran's day. Here is an important piece exploring the divorce between the military and our larger culture. Written by a veteran it raises some critical questions about why we are so quick to use force around the world.
We’ve come a long way from the citizen armies of America’s past, when everyone knew someone who was overseas, and the nation was galvanized by a sense of shared sacrifice during brief periods of wartime. Instead, we’ve abolished the draft, and now have a small, quasi-elite, professional fighting force perpetually deployed around the globe. We have a military that is mythologized by the Right, misunderstood by the Left, and culturally severed from the country that it protects. How did we get here?
It might be easy to lose the thread of history in the miasma of the moment, but America hasn’t traditionally favored a large standing Army. Nearly every founding father...more
Here is an essay by acclaimed novelist Marilynne Robinson about the theology of Jonathan Edwards who is usually presented as a two-dimensional "fire and brimstone" preacher. I have been reading and re-reading Christopher Lasch's interpretation of Edwards this past week and then along comes Marilynne. Makes me appreciate our Puritan forefathers that much more.
In his great treatises, Edwards dealt directly with aspects of orthodox teaching that were and are most problematic, taking on himself, in the eyes of posterity, the dark associations that had caused many within his own tradition to renounce them. Original Sin was a crucial element in his theology in a way dependent on his and his tradition’s understanding of it. For him it had little or nothing to do with sin as we ordinarily understand the word, taking its character instead from a kind of unawakened experience or perception that is blind to the glory of God and therefore...more
We are what we like? Here is an interesting short reflection about hobbies and the self-curated self.
Identity, then, is not something we’re stuck with: it can be created, developed, bought, and sold. There is certainly something liberating in being defined by what you love, rather than by your job; the two only coincide if you’re lucky. In a recent blogpost on capitalism’s war on nature, George Monbiot wrote that we “use consumption as a cure for boredom, to fill the void that an affectless, grasping, atomised culture creates, to brighten the grey world we have created.” All-absorbing hobbies serve a similar function, adding color to lives that extend beyond the confines of the workplace. They also relieve loneliness, creating identities which are collective in nature; no burlesque dancer is an island.
Read the entire piece...more
How do you begin to turn the petrochemical capital of North America into a model of conservation? Ask Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Starting with the City of Houston's own energy consumption, she is making smart decisions that are having big conservation payoffs.
Here is a profile from onearth.
Parker’s immersion in the petrochemical industry, and her understanding of that industry’s existential relationship to her hometown, meant she also knew how slow Houstonians would likely be to tackle climate change for its own sake. So when the time came for the new mayor to speak up on the matter, she deftly borrowed from the local business patois of cost-cutting and efficiency. She energetically touted the need to curb the city’s greenhouse gas emissions but did so using the language of a CEO, citing “ancillary benefits” and “return on investment” rather than moral imperatives. “Messaging is critical,” she says when discussing how she chose to frame her argument initially. In Houston, she adds, “we...more
Here is a bit of a revelation: I am working on a book and have completed about one-third of the project. The book is the result of over two decades spent both participating in and reflecting on our infamous "Culture Wars." There is a confessional quality to what I have written thus far, in that I admit to being blinded by the tribalism that is at the root of the Red / Blue divide.
More on that later.
The reason for this post is that I want to briefly sing the praises of an author who has served as one of my guides: Christopher Lasch. Lasch is best known for his book, "The Culture of Narcissism." However, in my eyes, his great accomplishment is the epic, "The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics."
I have been rereading The True and Only Heaven in preparation for one of the chapters of my own book. It is a genuinely astonishing tour de force - the work of a man whose passion for ideas, honesty and truth is evidenced on single every page. Unfortunately, we lost Christopher Lasch two decades ago, but we can still access his "ardor, energy and devotion"...more
Here is a piece from the Guardian that gets to the heart of the quasi-religious delusion that has infected both Progressive and Neo-Conservative politics: the belief in inevitable progress and the coming victory over evil.
This analysis focuses on the Middle-Eastern policies of Tony Blair, but it could just as well be about George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Blair’s secret – which is the key to much in contemporary politics – is not cynicism. A cynic is someone who knowingly acts against what he or she knows to be true. Too morally stunted to be capable of the mendacity of which he is often accused, Blair thinks and acts on the premise that whatever furthers the triumph of what he believes to be good must be true. Imagining that he can deliver the Middle East and the world from evil, he cannot help having a delusional view of the impact of his policies.
Here Blair is at one with most western leaders. It’s not that they are obsessed with...more
More about the tensions between empire and republic / big and small / patriotism and nationalism. From Katherine Dalton at Front Porch Republic.
Dalton's speech has much to recommend it, but this passage caught my attention:
"In The Politics of Human Nature, Tom Fleming, the editor of Chronicles magazine, makes the argument that a right ordering of our ethical lives could best be pictured as concentric circles of responsibility—that the closer our physical ties to a person or place, the stronger are our ethical responsiblities for the well-being of that person or place. None of us has infinite amounts of time, emotional energy, or money, and so we must by necessity put our responsibilities in some kind of order. When we do, says Dr. Fleming, we should follow the general premise that our kin and neighbors and hometown ought to come before acquaintances or even strangers who live in far-off places. That doesn’t mean we have no obligation or no right to think beyond on our family circles...more
Can a scientific understanding of our insignificance lead to wonder, awe and joy? Physicist Lawrence Krauss thinks so.
What quantum and astro- physics means for us humans is that a) from the perspective of the universe, we hardly matter at all and b) our prognosis as a species is dim. For Krauss, this is exhilarating, uplifting news because it means that our lives are all the more precious. For all we know, we may be the only living beings in the universe, or at least the only ones with consciousness. How remarkable that on this remote planet, we’ve got the ability to ask questions, to write blog posts, to seek cures for cancer. If all we have is one another, our brief life spans, and the things we’re able to discover and create, then we’ve got the power and responsibility to make our lives meaningful.
What we’re talking about here is courage. For those of us lucky enough to live in circumstances where our basic needs are met and our lives aren’t...more
Increasingly, I find that the only real political hope I feel is coming from small causes in small places. Perhaps localism is the antidote to empire.
The following is an excerpt from a speech delivered by the author Bill Kauffman at a conference held by the Campaign for Liberty. It is passionate, poetic, at times funny, and yes, hopeful.
We are, today, subjects of an empire, not citizens of a republic. The idea of “citizenship” has been diluted from one of membership in an organic body in which each person matters, takes part in civic affairs, to the current condition, in which you are a cog in a machine, just another brick in the wall. The role of an American citizen, as viewed by our rulers in Washington, D.C., is to pay your taxes, cast a meaningless vote every four years, and shut the hell up. You have almost—almost—no say in U.S. foreign policy. As Dick Cheney once replied when told that the vast majority of Americans wanted our soldiers home from Iraq:...more
A reader of Andrew Sullivan's The Dish notes the hysterical tone of the U.S. media when compared to that of Canada. Welcome to the United States of Fear.
You might note the contrast between American and Canadian reporting on the Ottawa shooting. I listened to CBC on my drive in to work (I live in Los Angeles), and I was impressed by just how measured the reporting was, even with the crisis still ongoing. The attached picture probably goes a long way to explaining why Americans are terrified that tomorrow ISIS will be invading and imposing Sharia, and that we’re all going to die of Ebola, even though the chance of that actually happening is about 1/100th the chance of getting hit by lightning.more
Years ago, at a function and the LBJ Presidential Library, I shared a dinner table conversation with John Agresto who was at that time the President of St. John's College, Santa Fe. I found him to be a sharply insightful and passionate defender of the classical tradition of the liberal arts. Judging from this article, it sounds like he hasn't changed a bit and that makes me smile.
The biggest wake-up call came from John Agresto, past president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe and former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. (St. John's in Santa Fe, which celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting the “What Is a Liberal Education For?” conference, has an older campus in Annapolis, Md.) Quoting worrisome statistics about the humanities today – English, long a go-to concentration, now accounts for just 3 percent of majors nationwide, for...more
I once did battle with raccoons. Legions of raccoons. My weapons included pepper spray, coyote urine, motion sensitive sprinklers, and "have-a-heart" traps. I had boots on the ground, my own. If the technology had been available to consumers at the time, I would have employed drones. My efforts provided a few temporary truces, but the raccoon insurgency was like the tide - the waves just kept coming.
Having survived that experience (unlike the fish in my garden pond) I have a natural sympathy for others who crusade against "pests." So this morning, I found myself giggling when I read this piece about doing battle with a lone beaver.
I read about beavers. There was no webpage with a neutral view of beavers; everyone came with a decided beaver agenda. Either they were cute spirit animals, sacrosanct in North America, or they were unctuous minions of the devil who needed to be exterminated.
My family named it Mr. Busy, so I focused...more
We live in the house of big data. We assume it is fabricated of objective truths that are as neutral as off-white paint swatches. Big mistake.
Here is an article that pulls back the curtain on why we find the promise of big data so alluring. Read the entire piece if you can spare the time because it provides genuine insights about why modern culture rushes to embrace ostensibly fact-driven / value-free truths that are actually laden with their own gospel-like ideologies and agendas.
According to the author, the seductive power of big data is actually a reflection of "positivism" - a pervasive ideology that promises us understanding without limits. Buyer be aware.
Modernity has long been obsessed with, perhaps even defined by, its epistemic insecurity, its grasping toward big truths that ultimately disappoint as our world grows only less knowable. New knowledge and new ways of understanding simultaneously produce new forms of nonknowledge, new uncertainties and mysteries. The...more
Marilynne Robininson reflects on our default setting: fear.
This June, as a grandfather clock rang the quarter-hour in her modest Iowa City living room, the American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, a woman of 70 who speaks in sentences that accumulate into polished paragraphs, made a confession: “I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear.” Perched on the edge of a sofa, hands loosely clasped, Robinson leaned forward as if breaking bad news to a gentle heart. “What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations: ‘He looked at me funny.’ ”
“ ‘So I shot him,’ ” I said.
“ ‘Can you blame me?’ ”
(Hat Tip to the Hannah Arendt Center)more
Its about time:
Here is an article about freeing kids of their protective leashes.
Most school field trips are to places students might never go on their own: a museum, a play, a nature preserve. The idea is to open kids wide to the wonderful world. This past spring, one grammar school in Silicon Valley started sending kids to a very different but equally mind-blowing place: their own neighborhood.
On their own. Without an adult.
This is a blog that is, in part, dedicated to the notion that we need to tend to the places where we live - both in the physical realities of our communities and environment as well as in the cyber realities we are crafting. However, we also inhabit psychic spaces. We create architecture and place out of emotions and desires.
Sadly, it seems we now inhabit the Terror Dome of fear referenced in this article.
We have been driven both by the terrorists and those who exploit their inhumanity into houses of anxiety where borderline hysterics feed us a steady diet of fear.
The disgusting and abhorrent videos of ISIS, produced by a handful of deranged inquisitors / executioners, have driven a mighty nation of 300+ million into a state of panic. As this article suggests, they did this on the cheap as a marketing strategy knowing that our over-wrought reaction would secure their "brand." And of course, the usual suspects here at home were happy to play puppet to the terrorists'...more
A worthwhile reflection on the difference between living in the moment and the desire to "capture" and share it.
Everyone is, or wants to be, the star of their own life, and the rage is on to capture every moment deemed meaningful. YouTube micro-stars have selfie videos that go viral within hours, like the recent one by journalist Scott Welsh who recorded from inside his JetBlue flight as oxygen masks came down due to a mechanical malfunction. If you are facing death, why not share your last moments with those you leave behind?
There is a side of it that makes sense; we all matter, our lives matter, and we want them to be seen, shared, appreciated. But there is another side that leads to a disengagement with the moment.
Are people forgetting to be present in the moment, scattering their focus by looking at life through a screen? Should you be living your life or living it for others to see...more
There are many of us who are apprehensive when we think about our current economic order: massive inequalities, hyper-centralized global systems that are highly vulnerable to a variety of shocks, and the constant disruption of new technologies are just a few of the specters that darken the horizon.
Here is a piece that examines several critiques of our current economic "order" and suggests that our best option is to move to a less consumerist and decentralized system. I suspect that a political movement calling for these kinds of changes would win adherents from both the left and right. At least I hope it would.
Here is an excerpt:
What could replace the current iteration of global state-capitalism? If we assemble these three potentially transformative dynamics—degrowth, the recoupling of risk and loss, and entrepreneurial mobile capital—we discern a new and potentially productive teleological arc to global capitalism, one that moves from a capitalism based on...more
Encountering the Japanese tradition of haiku when I was a teenager had a profound influence on my life. For years, much of the energy I devoted to writing was spent trying to craft haiku.
Here is a brief essay / tribute to the great haiku master, Matsuo Basho, which explores the gentle philosophy behind his art.
Bashō was an exceptional poet, but he did not believe in the modern idea of “art for art’s sake.” Instead, he hoped that his poetry would bring his readers into special mental states valued by Zen. His poetry reflects two of the most important Zen ideals: wabi and sabi. Wabi, for Bashō, meant satisfaction with simplicity and austerity, while sabi refers to a contented solitude. (These are the same mindsets sought in the well-known Zen tea ceremony defined by Rikyu). It was nature, more than anything else, that was thought to foster wabi and sabi, and it is therefore unsurprisingly one of Bashō’s most frequent topics. Take this spring scene,...more
From the ever thoughtful Adam Frank at cosmos & culture, a reflection about the necessity of our cities learning to co-evolve with nature.
There will always be a day-to-day distinction between living in urban spaces and getting away into nature. But as far as our civilization building goes, we need to go beyond the old distinctions. With the dawning of the Anthropocene we've become a true planetary species. That's what gets the astronomer in me really interested. With all our city building, it's the entire planet that we're changing now. And once we get to that scale, the distinction between nature and not-nature has to get updated. We need a perspective that's more sustainable and more resilient if we're going to make it for another 100, 500 or 5,000 years.
If we're building cities that affect the entire planet, maybe it's time to start thinking like one. Maybe it's time to think how nature and cities can evolve together.
Read the entire article...more
As a citizen of a community that seems to be the favored child of our current economic order, it is tempting to consider growth and prosperity as inevitable by-products of our superiority. However, I have long worried about the limitations and flaws in how we define being prosperous. True, Austin has nearly doubled in size every twenty years for over a century, but are we growing in a way that improves our lives and contributes to our well being? Is the only measure of prosperity the height of our burgeoning skyline or the scale of our economy?
Obviously, these questions seem more pressing in communities that are not faring as well as our's. (Including the unseen swaths of Austin where people are working feverishly - often holding multiple jobs - to stay afloat in our city.)
So, what does it mean to live prosperously as an individual and as a community?
The Guardian has just launched "Rethinking Prosperity" an exploration of...more
The renowned biologist E. O. Wilson explores the necessary and delicate balancing act of the human conscience and its evolutionary role. Vice / Virtue or selfishness vs. selflessness: we embody both extremes - often simultaneously and they are biologically rooted..
When an individual is cooperative and altruistic, this reduces his advantage in competition with other members but increases the survival and reproduction rate of the group as a whole. In a nutshell, individual selection favors what we call sin and group selection favors virtue. The result is the internal conflict of conscience that afflicts all but psychopaths, estimated fortunately to make up only 1 to 4 percent of the population.
...The internal conflict in conscience caused by competing levels of natural selection is more than just an arcane subject for theoretical biologists to ponder. It is not the presence of good and evil tearing at one another in our breasts. It is a biological trait...more
Wow. I cannot recommend this essay highly enough. It is an excerpt from Paul Roberts' book "The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification."
There is so much that is true - and alarming - in what Roberts has to say. Yet, he finds reason for hope, as I do. in the younger "millennial" generation. Let us pray that they do a better job coping with our culture of instant gratification than we have.
Here is a brief outtake:
...the world we’re busily refashioning in our own image has some serious problems. Certainly, our march from one level of gratification to the next has imposed huge costs—most recently in a credit binge that nearly sank the global economy. But the issue here isn’t only one of overindulgence or a wayward consumer culture. Even as the economy slowly recovers, many...more
Here is a very thought provoking piece by Patrick Deneen about what you might call the "Achilles heel" of democracy - that the private / material obsessions and anxieties of a free people would ultimately transform them into consumers not citizens. Deneen's piece is based on the ever-prescient observations of Alexis de Tocqueville.
Tocqueville relates that this is one of the central consequences of democracy. Democracy’s relentless drive to equalize our station in fact makes democratic humans extraordinarily fretful about their station. Having rejected the arbitrary inheritance of birthright and rank of aristocratic ages, democracies inflate especially differences of attainment in the material realm. Democratic citizens become obsessed with material markers of success—not only what one might need to lead a good and decent life, but how one’s attainments compare to others. We become driven especially to measure our worth in monetary terms, and economics and business (note the...more
Continuing with my theme regarding the impact of technology on our lives, here is a book review that introduces us to "The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection" by Michael Harris.
...Harris reminds us that “every revolution in communication technology – from papyrus to the printing press to Twitter – is as much an opportunity to be drawn away from something as it is to be drawn toward something.” Technology in itself is neither good nor evil, but there’s no arguing with the fact that it has come.
“Casting judgments on the technologies themselves is like casting judgment on a bowl of tapioca pudding. We can only judge, only really profit from judging, the decisions we each make in our interactions with those technologies. How shall we live now? How will you? … The questions we need to ask at each juncture remain as simple as they are urgent: What will we carry forward? And what worthy...more
This essay echoes a familiar concern - but one that most of us simply shrug our shoulders at, "What can you do?"
All new technologies, when widely adopted, constitute a kind of giant cultural / psychological experiment. Books, radio, television, PCs, smart phones and now wearables... each technology has its own imperatives and impacts on our humanity. Benign? I have a hard time thinking this is going to end well as we train our children for a post-literate world.
Here is an excerpt from the essay in question - from Jason Boog at Reluctant Habits:
On November 27, 1960, only a few months after Green Eggs and Ham was published, Dr. Seuss called for a movement more modest than the Ham and Eggs pension drive. Seuss argued that “children’s reading and children’s thinking are the...more
As a former history major, this essay by Adam Gopnik really caught my attention. He is so right in so many ways.
First, he appropriately focuses on our "presentism" - an affliction that is reinforced by our breathless 24/7 news cycle which careens from craziness to crisis with barely a moment of measured perspective.
I agree with Gopnik that an intelligent reading of history should lead us to a less reactionary and more humble approach to interventionism. Citing our disastrous wars in Libya, Iraq and Viet Nam he suggests that, "Studying history doesn’t argue for nothing-ism, but it makes a very good case for minimalism: for doing the least violent thing possible that might help prevent more violence from happening"
Here is a longer excerpt:
...The real sin that the absence of a historical sense encourages is presentism, in the sense of exaggerating our present problems out of all proportion to those that have previously existed. It lies in believing that things are much worse than...more
In praise of looking, finding and the genius of place.
This classic essay by Guy Davenport recalls childhood hours spent hunting for Indian arrowheads with his family. Take the time to read it in its entirety, it will have a balm-like effect on you. It is like taking a slow Sunday drive or saunter down a Southern back road - just the detour needed in the rush and placelessness of our lives.
Here is a lengthy excerpt:
Some slackness of ritual, we are told, that hurt the feelings of the dii montes, the gnomes of the hills, allowed Rome to fall to the barbarians. These gods of place were genii, spirits of a place. All folklore knows them, and when a hero died who had wound his fate with that of a place, he joined its genii and thereafter partook of its life. Our word “congeniality” means kinship with the soul of a place, and places have souls in a way very like creatures.
In hunting Indian arrowheads we were always, it seemed, on congenial territory, though we were...more
For years, I have risked the befuddlement and disapproval of friends and colleagues when I have raised the topic of "virtue" or the "virtues." Many associate these words with a kind of Victorian prudery and are repelled by them. Even after I explain that the virtues include such desired traits as compassion, courage, gratitude and humility I still receive puzzled and worried looks. I think that this reaction stems from the first commandment of modern culture: that anything that might inhibit or limit personal desire or personal expression is suspect. To modern ears being "virtuous" sounds like being condemned to wearing a moral chastity belt.
The lack of virtue in our culture though, has ramifications that go beyond well sexuality. This morning, I read this excerpt from the new book,The Demise of Virtue in Virtual America by David Bosworth, which explores the financial crisis of 2008 through the lens of virtue. I ordered the book immediately.
Here is a...more
Many of us are haunted by our "selves." Caught in the the cul de sacs of our egos we slowly sink into pools of anxiety about me, I and mine.
Here is an interesting essay about the nature of happiness and how we measure it: by our own isolated standards or - another possibility - by the standards of human potential.
The modern person starts with questioning his or her own well-being. Kierkegaard starts with questioning how the person is living up to the standards of being a human being. Here lies the quintessential difference. It’s something that is extremely hard to truly understand for the modern person—the person who has always been taught to ask himself: “How do I feel?”, “Am I happy?”, “Would I like my life to change?”. The irony is that by asking these exact kinds of questions, the modern person might make him or herself unhappy.
When they always start with ME, the modern person runs the risk of never really leaving ME. Instead they...more
Amen to this! A short reflection on baseball and boredom.
I say: God save us from today's ramped up, multi-interrupted, selfie-consumed, fast-paced world! We need to slow down. We need to turn off. We need to unplug. We need to start things and not know when they are going to end. We need evenings at the ballpark, evenings spent outside of real time.
What's so bad about being bored?more
Something to ponder for a minute (or millennium) or two:
“Is it not possible that rocks, hills and mountains, and the great physical body of the Earth itself may enjoy a sentience, a form of consciousness which we humans cannot perceive only because of the vastly different time scales involved? For example the mind of a mountain may be as powerful and profound as that of a Buddha, Plato, Spinoza, Whitehead and Einstein. Say that a mountain takes 5,000,000 of our human or solar years to complete a single thought. But what a grand thought that single thought must be. If only we could tune in on it. The classic philosophers of both east and west have tried for 5,000 years more or less to convince us that Mind is the basic reality, maybe the only reality and that our bodies, the Earth and the entire universe is no more than a thought in the mind of God. But consider an alternative hypothesis. That Buddha, Plato, Einstein and we are all thoughts in the minds of mountains, or that humanity is a long, long thought in the mind of the Earth. That we are the means by which the Earth,...more
Here is a brief review of Eric Cline's book, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Over dependence on complex systems can spell disaster. This should serve as a warning about the importance of local sustainability in globally interconnected times.
For Cline, climate change — along with the famines and migration it brought — comprised a "perfect storm" of cataclysms that weakened the great Bronze Age "global" culture. But the final blow, the deepest reason for the collapse, may have come from within the very structure of that society.
The world of the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians was complex, in the technical meaning of the word. It was a system with many agents and many overlapping connections. That complexity was both a strength and weakness. Cline points to recent research in the study of so-called...more
Apparently, we will do literally anything - ANYTHING - and look the other way if oil is involved. This includes causing earthquakes.
Read all about it in this piece from The Atlantic.
For 30 years—from 1978 until 2008—Oklahoma experienced an average of two earthquakes per year that measured 3.0 of bigger. But then something crazy happened. In 2009, the number of earthquakes began to shoot up. And it kept climbing. "People thought oh this might be a swarm of earthquakes, where you get a series of small quakes that build up to a bigger one then dies off," Williams said. "But this has just gone on and on. It's over a much broader area. We're not even calling it a swarm anymore. It's surprising."
Last year there were 109 earthquakes of 3.0 or bigger in Oklahoma—a record high. But by one-third of the way through...more
I have been wanting to check out the new boardwalk that completes the trail system around Lady Bird Lake since it opened a couple of months ago. I am taking the day off today, so I went down to experience it at sunrise. It is a wonderful addition to our community! Way to go Austin.
Here are a few pics...more
Wendell Berry is a genuine hero to me. A novelist, poet, essayist, philosopher and farmer he embodies a way of life that is at once rooted and transcendent - a life he has quietly urged us all to live, whether we be farmers or city dwellers. First and foremost, he reminds us to honor and pay loving attention to the places where we live. It is that call that inspired this website.
I have had the great pleasure of exchanging a few letters with Mr. Berry and the wonderful opportunity of chatting with him at an event here in Austin a few years back. Talking with him was like talking to my Grandfather (who was also a farmer.) Standing among a swirl of people at a reception held in his honor, I felt I was in the presence of man who came from somewhere particular. a place that was on his mind and under his feet even though he was standing on a literal red carpet rolled out for him. In the words of the author of this birthday tribute, you could sense his anchor - the soil beneath his...more
Andrew Sullivan's "The Dish" is a part of my daily routine. There is always a post (or two or three) that interest or amuse. He is a conservative in the classical sense and a proponent of a balanced approach to politics and policy that we are sorely missing.
Recently he has been posting about the French Philosopher Michel de Montaigne and Sarah Bakewell's new biography written about him: How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. Sullivan outlines Montaigne's emphasis on a balanced approach to governance that aims "merely to keep the ship afloat – not to reach the perfect desert island or to conquer distant lands."
Here is a brief excerpt from one of Sullivan's posts:
"...what motivated both Montaigne and Oakeshott was a preference for “present laughter” over “utopian bliss”. Yes, reforms may well be necessary; yes, there are...more
More on "Forest Bathing."
Does that sense of cleansing we feel after an encounter with the woods come from an awareness of some kind of immanence above and beyond the fouled up tangle of our own thoughts and anxieties - an immanence that speaks to us without words or judgement?
Here is a quote from the Poet, Robert Creely, about his experiences as a child of walking in the woods.
I did however used to think, you know, in the woods walking, and as a kid playing the the woods, that there was a kind of immanence there - that woods, and places of that order, had a sense, a kind of presence, that you could feel; that there was something peculiarly, physically present, a feeling of place almost conscious... like God. It evoked that. - Robert Creelymore
What is a miracle?
Now, that is an old question.
I tend to think that the greatest miracle of all is the peace that I, and I hope you, are enjoying at this present moment.
It is still fairly early in the morning, I have finished my gardening for the day, and my laundry. I had a wonderful breakfast at a local cafe and right now my cat is nuzzling me wanting some attention... miracles all - if you look at them through the long lens of human history and prehistory. I did not have to risk hoof or claw for breakfast nor beat my clothes with rocks. Better still, I am not hiding from brutish neighbors as I type this.
This peace is a by-product of something called civilization, which is the exception, not the rule of our history. It is something to be marveled at - and carefully cultivated. One of the tragedies of our time is that we seem to take it for granted. We play perverse political games that tear-at and weaken our democracy as if our anarchic angertainment will do us no harm.
The miracles of nature are a given, those of our own creation are not....more
A few days ago I posted a piece about the psychological benefits of what the Japanese call "forest bathing." Well, it is clear that trees also provide physiological benefits to humanity.
Here is a brief piece from The Atlantic that highlights new findings about just how valuable our urban forest is.
It is becoming increasingly clear that trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published this week. And we're only beginning to understand the nature and magnitude of their tree-benevolence.
Full article here.more
"Love is a source of anxiety until it is a source of boredom; only friendship feeds the spirit." - Edmund White
An interesting reflection on the rewards of love versus the rewards of friendship from Edmund White. Full quote below.
via Andrew Sullivan
“[W]hen we are young and literary, we often experience things in the present with a nostalgia-in-advance, but we seldom guess what we will truly prize years from now. I always placed a high value on friendship, but even I had no way of guessing back then that it was more fun to get drunk with a friend than with a lover. Love is a source of anxiety until it is a source of boredom; only friendship feeds the spirit. Love raises great expectations in us that it never satisfies; the hopes based on friendship are milder and in the present, and they exist only because they have already been rewarded. Love is a script about just a few repeated themes we have a hard time following, though we make every...more
A rather extraordinary event is taking place in the most ordinary if not dull places... every evening a flock of approximately 500,000 Purple Martins is roosting in front of an abandoned store at the former Highland Mall site here in Austin. I went to see the birds come in last night with a friend and took a few pictures. Enjoy!more
We often hear about the restorative power of encounters with nature. Well, here is an interesting article about one (very unlikely) city that is harnessing that power to revitalize itself.
At the heart of the article you'll encounter two paragraphs that really caught my attention. I am always up for a forest bath! You?
Biophilia remains in each of us, expressed in traits like preference for waterfront property or an apartment with a view of a park. More to the point, though, Wilson’s hypothesis says that satisfying these desires makes us physically and emotionally healthier. The hypothesis has been tested not just in labs but in offices, hospitals, schools, slums, and suburbs; in Korea, throughout Europe, in the United States, and especially in Japan.
An attachment to nature is embedded in Japanese culture, expressed in a formal movement known as shinrin-yoku, which translates roughly as “forest bathing.” The Japanese are fond of walks in the woods...more
William Pogue Harrison is one of my favorite writers, his books Gardens: An Essay of the Human Condition and Forests: The Shadow of Civilization are among the the most beautifully written and thought provoking works that I have read in the past twenty years.
In this essay, Harrison takes on the the technological disruption - and destruction - of our civilization. Really insightful - the man is brilliant.
Our silicon age, which sees no glory in maintenance, but only in transformation and disruption, makes it extremely difficult for us to imagine how, in past eras, those who would change the world were viewed with suspicion and dread. If you loved the world; if you considered it your mortal home; if you were aware of how much effort and foresight it had cost your forebears to secure its...more
Here is an interesting essay to ponder as we wake in our fast-growing, ever more cosmopolitan, yet proudly local (if not weird) city. From Mark Mitchell via Front Porch Republic
What I am suggesting represents something of a third way that avoids the cosmopolitan temptation while at the same time shuns any aggressive tribal reaction. This third alternative, what we might call humane localism, appreciates the variety and differences between cultures and thus resists the homogenizing impulse that is so strong in modern liberal democracies. It recognizes that the language of global village represents an abstraction that will never satisfy human longings. It is characterized by a love for one’s particular place and the people thereof. Yet at the same time this humane localism is not animated by fear of the other, for by an act of imagination it sees through the inevitable differences and recognizes the common humanity we all share. It recognizes that we are all living souls with...more
In our bombastic times there is great need for modesty in both religion and science. Isn't there enough authoritarianism in the world? Given that, it is refreshing to encounter a scientist who recognizes the limitations of his discipline to explain all things and who holds a respectful (yet challenging) perspective on religion.
The following is an excerpt from an excellent op-ed piece in The New York Times featuring an interview between Gary Gutting and Michael Ruse, a professor of philosophy and the author of the forthcoming book “Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know.”
G.G.: So do you think that we need religion to answer the ultimate question of the world’s origin?
M.R.: If the person of faith wants to say that God created the world, I don’t think you can deny this on scientific grounds. But you can go after the theist on other grounds. I would raise philosophical objections: for...more
For many years, my favorite Biblical quote has been a brief passage from The Gospel of Thomas:
"When will the Kingdom come?" asked the disciples.
Jesus replied, "It will not come if you look for it. Neither can you say, it is here, or, it is there. For the Kingdom of the Father is already spread out over the earth but people do not see it."
Was Jesus referring to the power within us or the majesty of creation? Both?
Here is a brief reflection on the transforming power of the Kingdom of creation. via OnEarth
"...the kingdom of heaven isn’t some plane in another dimension, understandable only through symbols and reachable only upon death. The kingdom of heaven ishere on earth. The natural paradise that surrounds us is our true home, both physically and spiritually. It’s the mysterious marine ecosystem that protected Noah; the mountaintop from which Moses received and dispensed his epochal code; the desert...more
For years I have been saying that paying attention to life, to the things that matter to us as friends, family members and citizens has become a counter-cultural activity in the age of distraction. Here is an commencement speech from New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier that explores that notion.
via The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas at The University of Texas.
We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience...
The machines to which we have become enslaved, all of them quite astonishing, represent the greatest assault on human attention ever devised: they are engines of mental and spiritual dispersal, which make us wider only by making us less deep. There are thinkers, reputable ones if you can believe it,...more
Depressingly accurate. That's what I would call this assessment of the level of corruption that has burrowed into every corner of our political system (and the systems of other "advanced" democracies.)
Why would I post this essay on a blog dedicated to "cultivating gratitude and roots"?
Because this endemic corruption saps our willingness and ability to genuinely cultivate the essential public sphere that is our real home. There is little to be grateful for in a fixed game. However, we must not surrender to the status quo or we will be abdicating our own role as stewards / cultivators of the common good.
via The American Conservative
Most Americans probably think of corruption as a cop in a third-world country demanding a bribe in lieu of issuing a parking ticket. Real corruption is actually much more damaging in the U.S. than elsewhere because it involves far larger sums and is frequently hidden behind a smokescreen of law.
...More than in Europe if...more
What does it mean to be a true American? This essay / book review looks at that question through a very particular and poignant lens by examining the tragic intersection of three lives: a Bangladeshi immigrant, a white supremacist killer,and an Israeli documentarian.
Reviewing The True American in the Washington Post, Eboo Patel writes:
The premise is simple — Bhuiyan forgives his attacker in the name of Islam and then wages a campaign to save Stroman from execution. An inspiring enough story, surely worthy of the flurry of news coverage it received around the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But a book-length treatment, especially with a title like “The True American,” runs the risk of being taken for a middle-school morality tale. Simply put, it’s not. This is a haunting book, one that penetrates...more
They are nature's back drop - ever changing and ever present. Here is a short homage to clouds, trees, and streams.
We should not leave the encounter with clouds, trees or streams to chance alone. We would ideally have collective routines and events around them to edge us into good habits. Perhaps for a minute before lunch, we would ritually pause and look at the clouds – just as Christians have been encouraged to say a quick prayer of thanksgiving on sitting down to dinner. No week should be counted complete if it does not include three minutes given over to a tree. If streams are hard to come by, a picture of them should be a priority of interior decoration and each of us should make a point of stopping before a ‘stream-icon’ to reacquaint ourselves with its benign and beneficial moral.
We too easily lose touch with the better and saner aspects of ourselves. Somewhere inside us, we have the potential for calm and reason, tenderness and thoughtfulness. Clouds, trees and...more
One of the great weaknesses of the political movement labeled "conservatism" in contemporary America is its reactionary stance against government itself. Rallying to Reagan's battle cry that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Tea Party adherents and so-called conservatives have blithely adopted the role of anarchists who see all government as evil and who seek to thwart effective governance of any kind. This stance amounts to an abdication of responsibility which contributes to the decay of our democratic institutions and weakens our national resolve.
Here is a thoughtful essay by Roger Scruton on the necessity of a conservative defense of government that should be required reading for anyone who cares about our politics and our shared fate as a nation. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)
Government is not what so many conservatives believe it to be, and what people on the left always believe it to be when it is in hands other than their...more
A short reflection on Mother and Father's days (in the cosmological sense.)
We don't celebrate our collective mother Earth enough. We are too lost in our tribal differences and disputes to look at the core of who we are. We are ungrateful children, the kind we don't want for ourselves, disrespectful of our parents, the kind that once they leave home never look back.
There is a difference, however, and a crucial one. We can't leave our collective home. When we try, we quickly realize how much we need it. (The movie Gravity comes to mind.)
We could find substitute mothers out there, already Earth-like planets or terraformable worlds we could shape in our home-planet's image. (See Barbara King's article for 13.7 last week.) But as it is also true for our flesh-and-blood mothers,...more
I took another pleasant walk down Johnson Creek yesterday and found a few ancient treasures. As always, I kept my eyes tuned for fossils and Native American tools and I found a few keepers including an impressive stone ax / chopping tool. History is all around us if you know what to look for!more
My last post about unfriendly artificial intelligence got me thinking about our complicated love / hate relationship with technology, I asked myself, "What would it mean to unplug?" And, "Is that even possible?" So, naturally, I turned to my computer and ran a Google search for the word "unplug."
Technology is pervasive and offers us so much. Yet, we worry about where all of this might be heading. Will "the cloud of things" engulf us? Will we be chipped and tracked like cattle or an Amazon delivery?
The temptation of rebelling against technology is strong, yet what would that achieve? And, frankly, is it really an option?
Here is an interesting piece from The New Yorker that reflects on our dilemma and the real...more
An interesting article about the psychic benefits of libraries. Hat tip to Books, Inq.
Visit a public library in nearly any major American city and it can quickly become clear that the space is being used not just for reading, nor even for using the Internet, but as a place for those who have few other choices of places to spend a great deal of time. We might imagine the obvious reasons: For those without a good home, the library is a source of shelter, bathrooms, and no-cost entertainment.
Of course, not everyone living in a state of homelessness has mental health problems, but many do. And a new study by a researcher and teaching fellow with the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester in the U.K. finds that people dealing with depression and other mental health challenges are extracting a great deal higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from their time at...more
Well, who'd a thought it?
“Taken together, our findings suggest that well-being may depend on attending to higher values related to family, culture, and morality, rather than to immediate, selfish pleasure,” the authors write.
Taken from an an article in The Atlantic titled Meaningful Activities Protect the Brain From Depressionmore
Here is a beautiful essay on the nature of the sacredfrom the ever thoughtful, Adam Frank.
The older I get the more I begin to think that the philosopher Immanuel Kant was at least partially correct when he held that, for all our inquiry into the "objective world," human beings never get a direct view of things-in-and-of-themselves. Despite the power of our reasoning (including science), we can not get direct access to some perfectly objective, perfect "God's eye" view of universe. Instead, the view we gain is mediated. It's filtered by what Kant called "categories," which for him were things like space, time and causation.
So what, then, is this experience of sacredness? Perhaps, in the moments when that strange, pregnant feeling of presence rises up to meet us — that sense of more and of less — we are gaining an intuition of the thing-in-itself. While Kant spoke of his categories as intuitions, I...more
True, localism, as opposed to our globalizing, centralizing, homogenizing ways is, in some ways, an emerging alternative that is only now being discovered and articulated. On the other hand, localists have resources that stretch back into the distant past of human history. Yes, the empire builders have always been among us, but so too there have always been those inclined to think and act on a more modest scale, a scale informed by the standard of human flourishing. Such people cultivate the disposition to think primarily in terms of quality rather than mere quantity and as a result can better distinguish between alternatives. They can speak of the good, the true, and the beautiful rather than merely the big, bigger, and biggest or the new, newer, and...more
...I got up from the sofa and walked down to the Hudson River, which I live not far from. I sat on a bench by the river and rested. I stared across it to the tall apartment buildings in New Jersey. Thinking of how people were living out their lives in those buildings comforted me somehow. I looked at the gray rushing water and its movement, the fact that it was coming from someplace and going someplace else also consoled me. It was then that I realized that I needed somehow to always be outside myself. My mind had become uninhabitable.more
From The School of Life blog, a few thoughts about wonder and its role in our lives.
A life lived without a sense of wonder can easily drift into despair. But the experience of wonder does not necessarily make life easy either. Sometimes, when it brings us close to what William Wordsworth called “the utmost that we know/both of ourselves and of the universe,” wonder verges on terror. In many cultures, this kind of wonder, which we usually call awe, was and is associated with visions of the divine. Two striking examples, which were probably first written down at about the same time, come from The Book of Job and The Bhagavad Gita. In verses 38 to 41 of the former, Jahweh – magnificent and terrifying – speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, challenging him as to what he knows of creation and death, the deep seas and the breadth of the earth: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? ...When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or...more
Yes, Austin has made another top ten list. But this is one we don't want to be on. From The Atlantic; America's most segregated cities, by income.
In 1970, roughly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans lived in neighborhoods that could be described as middle income; today that number is just slightly more than four in ten (42 percent), according to a study by Cornell University’s Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon of Stanford University. Over the same time span, the proportion of families living in affluent neighborhoods rose from 7 to 15 percent, and the share living in poor neighborhoods increased from 8 to 18 percent. The share of Americans living at both extremes grew from 15 percent in 1970 to 33 percent in 2009.
...As middle class neighborhoods have declined, America’s economic landscape is increasingly polarized.more
From Anamnesis Journal, here is a review of a new book about the great Southern writers Eudora Welty and Walker Percy that focuses on their commitment to place and celebration of the "sacramental world."
Though I disagree with some of the arguments made by the author of the review, this passage stood out for me as an obvious truth:
"Eudora Welty and Walker Percy believe our age has a myopic view of human existence without any sense of wonder. Our vast media, from comic strips to PBS, unceasingly broadcast that there is no mystery to things and that everything can be explained by modern science. This consensus of our times propagates the belief that man will solve the problems of human existence through the application of science and technology. Montgomery states that our age assumes that order is sustained by the human intellect “imposing order out of its own authority.” In short, modern man believes that he is his own god...more
Well, folks, today is a big day for me and the organization I lead, I Live Here, I Give Here. In less than twelve hours we will kick off our second annual "Amplify Austin" online giving day. This is a great opportunity for you and our entire community to give back to the nonprofits that have given us so much. Be generous. Give local. Do it today! Let's raise $4 million in 24 hours!more
As an inveterate stone collector, I appreciated this piece from Killing the Buddha.
One of the oldest surviving garden manuals in the history of the world begins by telling us that gardening is “The art of setting stones.” This is the first line of the eleventh-century treatiseSakuteiki (“Records of Garden Making”) attributed to a minor court official during Japan’s Heian period (794-1185). During the Muromachi era three hundred years later, another manual, Senzui narabi ni yagyo no zu (“Illustrations for Designing Mountain, Water, and Hillside Field Landscapes”) appeared.
From the first line of the Sakuteiki through the end of the Senzui, the manuals offer training in stone use and arrangement, instruction on how to complement certain stones with other materials and elements of the natural world, as well as strategies for connecting stones to the humans who participate in the garden. The Sakuteiki explains the cornerstone-like importance of beginning with a “particularly...more
Are the ideas of "God" and "Providence" confirmed by beauty and joy? Or are they negated by the loathsome and evil? Should we give thanks? Curse our fate? Or, just grit our existential teeth? Here is a thoughtful essay on how these themes inform the movie Gravity.
Hat tip to Books Inq.
As many have acknowledged, "Gravity" features astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in two parallel journeys: a physical journey back to earth, and a spiritual rebirth in which she acknowledges God’s guidance. In the form of a survival narrative, a disaster forces Stone and comrade Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) to hopscotch spacecrafts in search of an undamaged escape pod, and although Kowalski dies, Stone manages to return unharmed. Concurrently, in the parallel and primary narrative of "rebirth as a possible outcome of adversity" (to use Cuaron's words), the emotionally remote Stone works through the death of her young...more
Man, does this article really nail it! Peek behind the hyper ventitlating curtain of the culture wars and you see a cool and calculated power grab by those who don't give a damn about all of that Christianist vs. Progressive moralism. While the nation has been divided into opposing teams that still chant and rage at one another, the culture wars were won a long time ago by those who couldn't give a damn about abortion, gay marriage, and Merry Christmas.
"...the culture war turns politics into a question of identity, of tribalism, and hence narrows the effective choice in elections. We no longer vote for the person who better represents our interests, but for the person who talks our talk, sees the world the way we do, is one of us. That contest is a cheap and easy one for politicians of any stripe to enter – and, usually, an easy one to win. It sorts the overwhelming majority of the population into easy-to-count-on camps who will not...more
Alas, celebrity worship has always been a part of human culture. Why not choose individuals worth celebrating? A suggestion from The School of Life.
... We need serious news outlets to engage with the task of identifying and then promoting a raft of original celebrities. We need them to pick out for us the clever and kind actors, research scientists, molecular biologists, poets, venture capitalists, mothers, nurses, cleaners and parking attendants, the very many people who would be more appropriate targets of celebrity than those we know today - people whose physiques, attitudes and routines we should constantly have paraded before us through enticing photography and heart-warming anecdotes.
The job of serious news outlets is to make the celebrity section no less exciting than it is now, and yet ensure that it features people who will spark our imaginations and help us lead our lives wisely and ambitiously, because they have something properly consoling and good to...more
Our deepening political divide explained as the result of education and evolution. - from The Atlantic
A familiar explanation for our deepening partisan divide is Bill Bishop’s Big Sorthypothesis. He contends that over the past 40 years, Americans have been sorting themselves into communities where people increasingly live, think, and vote like their neighbors. In 1976, for example, just more than a quarter of Americans resided in counties where presidential candidates won the election by a margin of 20 percent or more; but by the year 2004, nearly half of Americans lived in these more politically homogeneous counties.
Bishop’s idea is a convincing description of what is happening. But why is it happening? Thanks to research in demographics and anthropology, it’s now possible to get a clearer picture of the underlying reasons: education and evolution.
The dynamics that fuel...more
The philosopher, Edmund Burke is an oft-cited hero of conservative intellectuals. Here is a brief essay that looks at Burke through the prism of contemporary conservatism and comes to the conclusion that the intemperance of the radical right is colored by "liberal emotion".
Interesting in its entirety, here is my favorite passage:
An essential aspect of the conservative mind is the belief that society and civilization are neither competitions nor games to be won or lost. They are not contests between hostile ideas or policies or movements. In Reflections on the Revolutions in France, Burke defined society as “a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.” The basic contours of this kind of partnership—things like justice, charity, fellowship, temperance, and patience—build a lasting civilization.
Furthermore, to concede to the popularity of Paine’s way of thinking and call it a victory...more
Ain't it the truth? via cosmos&culture
So, what is our problem? We fly through the air and complain about the food. We project our thoughts around the globe almost instantaneously and then complain about a one-second lag. We live in age of miracles. We live with machines that can look painlessly inside us if we get sick and medicines that can heal us from things that were deadly a century ago. We should be amazed ALL THE TIME! We should be freaking out in wonder, marveling at the view from 30,000 feet and the wirelessly connected supercomputers we're carrying in our pockets. (Apologies to Louis CK; see the video at the end of this post.)
But we're not.more
Here is a bracing review Peggy Noonan's recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal where she wrings her hands over the "decadence" of our political and economic elites. Noonan's moralizing has always been selective, and usually seems intended to provide a smoke screen for right-leaning elites, but in this case she hits the bull's eye.
Peggy Noonan is worried about the decadence of elite American culture. While the folks over at DailyKos are foaming about the irony of Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter complaining about the excesses of the power elites, Noonan makes an important point about the corrosive effects that irony has on elites and on culture more generally.
The two targets of Noonan’s scorn are a “Now This News”...more
From The School of Life Blog, an essay about our uneasiness with being alone
How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfilment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?
Think about it for a moment. It is truly very odd.
We apparently believe that we own our own bodies as possessions and should be allowed to do with them more or less anything we choose, from euthanasia to a boob job, but we do not want to be on our own with these precious possessions.
We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.
We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms,...more
Luminous and lovely...
From Colossal: Giant Suspended Net Installations by Janet Echelmanmore
Here is a thoughtful and poignant essay about the ebbing of genuine community in our hyper-linked world. It was prompted by a scene from our past (and the present of rural Ireland.) From Brian Kaller via Front Porch Republic.
The other night I saw the end of a life well-lived. I didn’t know him; I just saw his funeral.
My bus rolled through the dark night I was riding the bus from my job in Dublin to our home in the Irish countryside, and the tiny roads take us through one rural village after another. That night police stopped us just outside one where a funeral was being held; as there is usually only one road through town, there was nothing to do but wait half an hour or so.
I’d seen funerals here, but never one this big – by my estimate, several times the population of our village. I pictured half the farms and houses for many miles around emptying out for this man, who by all accounts was not wealthy or renowned, but simply beloved.
I was one of the only people...more
Since I launched Dry Creek Bed, I have used a quote from one of my intellectual heroes, Christopher Lasch, as a kind of slogan for this site:
"Uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots."
I first encountered this particular quote in Eric Miller's wonderful biography, "Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch."
Here is a review of Miller's work from Anamnesis.
I highly recommend this thoughtful review and Miller's work to you. If you want to head straight to Lasch, I view his magnum opus, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics, to be among the most challenging and satisfying reads of my life. More than any other single work, A True and Only Heaven has shaped my view of our contemporary politics and culture.
I watched the incredibly powerful and very moving documentary The Amish: Shunned last night on PBS. I highly recommend that you try to watch it. It is the story of seven individuals who left their Amish families and communities behind and were ostracized or shunned as a result.
This story represents a distilled micocosm of our "culture wars." What are the culture wars, after all, if not an almost tidal force pulling us between innovation, individual freedom and expression on one side, and custom, tradition, and the bounds of community on the other?
This remarkable film may feel very strange, certainly foreign or archaic to most of us, but the themes are familiar- the voices, whatever the accents, could be those of our own families as we struggle to find our way through our distracted, disrupted and tense times.
Here is a quote from the...more
Dramatic region to region and state to state differences on the most basic questions. via Andrew Sullivan and the Dishmore
A charming story about a three year-old's sense of wonder and the gifts of star gazing...
The other evening after supper, my wife asked Hannah to make a wish. Without hesitating she replied, “I wish I could have a ladder tall enough to reach the stars.” As usual, I didn’t know what to say. It is impossible to dismiss a three-year-old kid when she articulates hopes that are at once so perfectly reasonable and so beautifully impossible.
Before she goes to sleep, Hannah and I look at the six-dollar cardboard star wheel I bought to help us identify constellations. Too tired to make much of it, I toss the disk down on her bed in mild frustration. She picks it up, holds it upright in front of her in both hands, stares earnestly out beyond the walls of her room, and begins to turn it left and right as if it were a steering wheel.
“Where’re you going?” I ask.
“Pleiades,” she says. “You want to come?”more
During his long life, Pete Seeger was many things... a folk singer, political activist, environmental advocate, and, as it turns out, a former neighbor of mine. Well he didn't live next door, but in the next town. When I was a kid growing up in New York most of the adults I knew distrusted him as a banjo playing commie. (True on both counts for at least part of his life.) One of my parent's best friends was Pete's electrician and bridge partner. Apparently he was a hell of a bridge player too.
What I remember Pete Seeger for was his sloop - the Clearwater, that sailed the Hudson when I was a boy. I caught sight of it on several occasions plying the wide waters of the river. It lit up my imagination, and many others as well, and it became a symbol that called us back to the Hudson, which at that time was a majestic - yet toxic stew of chemicals, sewage and debris.
Pete's campaign for the Hudson changed things. Today, people actually swim in the Hudson and consume the fish caught there. Unthinkable when I was a boy. All along the river, towns are sprucing up their...more
From Adam Frank at cosmos&culture a short posting about the species that just might be the most endangered by global warming, Polar Bears? Think again...
Sixty-five million years ago, our tiny mammalian ancestors were overjoyed when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. The evolutionary bounce-back from mass extinction means that life on Earth will do just fine, thank you very much. But that recognition forces us to see the real challenge of climate change.
The danger is not to the planet but to our civilization on the planet.
This uber-technological civilization we have constructed so quickly is a network of networks (energy, transportation, economic, information and social networks). We all rely on those networks to keep food appearing in grocery stores and electricity flowing into the plugs in walls. To scientists studying the overlapping webs that define civilization, it has become clear how vulnerable these systems are to not just risk...more
Here is a short reflection about all of those "Best Places" lists we see in magazines and on the web. (From Christie Aschwanden at The Last Word on Nothing)
My little town will never make one of those glossy magazines’ best places lists, and I’m grateful. The thing about those lists is that they attract the kind of people who expect a place to serve them, but this is backwards thinking. The best places are those with a devoted population.
It has taken me most of my life to learn how to inhabit a place, and I did not glean this lesson from any list. I’ve fallen irreparably in love with my little town by accepting it for what it is and forgiving it for what it isn’t. My community and its people aren’t perfect, but they’re perfect enough. If I want this place to become better, it’s up to me to make it so.more
Passed on via cosmos & culture - a brilliant music video.
The reduction of citizens in a democratic state to consumers in a society defined by their purchases has been explored many times in science fiction. The pull of this idea springs from the ever-growing sophistication and pervasiveness of advertising in shaping all aspects of our culture. The advent of big data — with its ability to identify patterns in oceans of information — has taken customized marketing to new levels, with no end to this trend in sight.
But knowledge is power and resistance can be as simple as a good line of reasoning or a clever song. In that spirit I give you "Sold," a video that came across my desk by accident. It's by Buffalo-based producer Bill Boulden and...more
I find myself admiring Pope Francis more and more with each passing week. He is an exemplar of the kind of leader needed in our divisive times. He exhorts us all (whether Catholic, Christian or not) to focus our moral imaginations on the consequences of our actions.
American reactionaries hate him because he has shifted attention from culture war issues to economics. But, what does it mean to be a conservative, if you turn a blind eye to one of the most relentlessly destructive and disruptive forces in modern life: capitalism? Francis is not calling capitalism evil, I think he recognizes its necessity and creativity. He is simply calling us to be mindful of the consequences of unfettered capitalism trampling what is decent and yes, holy - the things that bind us together and provide the space for the liberation of our creativity and our spirits. Any true conservative would do the same.
Here is a thoughtful reflection on the topic from John Stoehr via The American...more
I have genuine respect for Patrick Deneen, the author of this provocative piece from The American Conservative. While, I think his broader thesis is essentially on-target, nearly every time I read one of his pieces I find myself counting the paragraphs until he inevitably rails against what he sees as the ultimate symbol of our cultural decline: gay marriage.
Read his essay. Deneen is right to defend custom, our culture is far too quick to discard tradition in favor of "innovation" and what is new. However, I believe that customs themselves are not merely bunkers to be defended, but are organic entities that can and do grow and change as they extend the boundaries of civility and order.
Allowing gay and lesbian couples access to the custom of marriage, is, in part, a way of liberating them from reckless "innovations" spawned by violent disapproval. What many would consider to be the aberrant behaviors of homosexuals are often the reactions of a people having to live out their lives in...more
This essay from iconoclast, James Howard Kunstler speaks directly to the malaise of our national politics. Kunstler is not for the faint of heart - but it is hard not to recognize ourselves in his damning portrait.
Considering the problems we face as a nation, the torpor and lassitude of current politics in America seems like a kind of offense against history. What other people have allowed circumstances to run over them like so many ‘possums sleeping on the highway?
The financial disturbances of recent years especially have trashed millions of households, yet the fat middle (no pun intended) of the broad public (ditto) seems strangely content with all the tawdry sideshows of the day — Black Thursday, the Kardashians, the NFL playoffs, Twitter, texting, twerking, side boobs — taking little-to-no interest in politics while their prospects for a habitable future swirl around the drain. How might we account for such supernatural passivity?
Here is a review of David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss .
Looking forward to reading it.
The deeper reason why theism can’t be rejected, according to Hart, is that every pursuit of truth, every attempt to be good, every longing for beauty presupposes the existence of some idea of truth, goodness, and beauty from which these particular instances are derived. And these transcendental ideas unite in the classical concept of God, who simply is truth, goodness, and beauty. That’s why, although it isn’t necessary to believe in God in some explicit way in order to be good, it certainly is the case (in Hart’s words) "that to seek the good is already to believe in God, whether one wishes to do so or not."more
What is it about our present that makes us obsess so darkly and self-pityingly about the future? What is up with the dystopian annexation of our imaginations and the End Times rants of plate passing preachers and authors?
I say lets reclaim the present as Beginning Times!
Here is a great essay on our apocalyptic obsession from Lewis Lapham.
Although I’ve yet to see sandwich-board men on the steps of the nation’s capitol declaring that the end of the world is nigh, I expect that it won’t be long before the Department of Homeland Security advises the country’s Chinese restaurants to embed the alert in the fortune cookies. President Obama appears before the congregations of the Democratic faithful as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, cherishing the wounds of the American body politic as if they were the stigmata of the murdered Christ. The daily newscasts update the approaches of weird storms, bring reports of missing forests and lost polar bears, number the dead and...more
From the ever-engaging Michael Pollan via The New Yorker: an essay on smarty plants.
Scientists have since found that the tips of plant roots, in addition to sensing gravity, moisture, light, pressure, and hardness, can also sense volume, nitrogen, phosphorus, salt, various toxins, microbes, and chemical signals from neighboring plants. Roots about to encounter an impenetrable obstacle or a toxic substance change course before they make contact with it. Roots can tell whether nearby roots are self or other and, if other, kin or stranger. Normally, plants compete for root space with strangers, but, when researchers put four closely related Great Lakes sea-rocket plants (Cakile edentula) in the same pot, the plants restrained their usual competitive behaviors and shared resources.
Somehow, a plant gathers and integrates all this information about its environment, and then “decides”—some scientists deploy the quotation marks, indicating metaphor at work; others...more
From Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, a wonderful essay about Alan Watts and presence.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her timeless reflection on presence over productivity — a timely antidote to the central anxiety of our productivity-obsessed age. Indeed, my own New Year’s resolution has been to stop measuring my days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence. But what, exactly, makes that possible?
This concept of presence is rooted in Eastern notions of mindfulness — the ability to go through life with crystalline awareness and fully inhabit our experience — largely popularized in the West by British philosopher and writer Alan Watts (January 6, 1915–November 16, 1973), who also gave us this fantastic...more
Now here is an article that should be required reading. From David Gelernter at Commentary Magazine, a very challenging essay on the hubris growing within our technocratic / scientific elite. Sam Harris, this one is for you!
That science should face crises in the early 21st century is inevitable. Power corrupts, and science today is the Catholic Church around the start of the 16th century: used to having its own way and dealing with heretics by excommunication, not argument.
Science is caught up, also, in the same educational breakdown that has brought so many other proud fields low. Science needs reasoned argument and constant skepticism and open-mindedness. But our leading universities have dedicated themselves to stamping them out—at least in all political areas. We routinely provide superb technical educations in science, mathematics, and technology to brilliant undergraduates and doctoral students. But if those same students have been taught since...more
A reflection on the passage of time as we ring out the old and ring in the ever present new. From Hayden Carruth's "Collected Shorter Poems 1946 - 1991."
Song: The Old, Old Man
What are we to make of our remarkable new Pope? He has thrilled liberals by down-playing sexual issues and focusing instead on the plight of the poor. Of course, this has triggered waves of fuming dissent from the reactionaries who pose as "conservatives" in our culture (further delighting the liberals.)
However, I suspect the Pope cares little for our political labels. After all, we tend to think of liberals as being those who have enlightened views about race, gender and sexual issues - economic issues and the huge disparities in our culture are little more than an after thought for most. The global liberal elites are card carrying members of the meritocracy (AKA creative class) that is reaping the material rewards of our technological advances.
Let's face it... we still live in the age of Reagan, the market is considered holy by both liberals and "conservatives" alike.
Here is an interesting essay on the deeper challenge being articulated by Francis that goes beyond...more
A lovely poem / essay on "knitting as creation story" from Barbara Kingsolver via Orion. Read the full post here.
Everything starts, of course, with the sheep and the grass. Beneath her greening scalp the earth frets and dreams, and knits herself wordless. Between her breasts, on all hillsides too steep for the plow, the sheep place little sharp feet on invisible paths and lead their curly-haired sons and daughters out onto the tart green blades of eternal breakfast. It starts on tumbled-up lambspring mornings when you slide open the heavy barn door and expel the pronking gambol of newborn wildhooray into daylight. And in summer haze when they scramble up onto boulders and scan the horizon with eyes made to fit it just-so, horizontal eyes, flattened to that shape by the legions of distant skulking predators avoided for all of time. And in the gloaming, when the ewes high up on the pasture suddenly raise their heads at the sight of you, conceding to come down as a throng in their...more
From Wendell Berry...
Screech Owl - by Tom Spencer
Here is a great read featuring an interview with the essayist Richard Rodriguez (from Salon.)
Salon: Let me read a line to you from late in the book, and if you could explain it a little bit. You say, “After September 11, critical division in America feels and sounds like religious division.” Where are you going with that?
Rodriguez: Well, it seems to me that there are two aspects of that. One of them is that I think that increasingly the left has conceded organized religion to the political right. This has been a catastrophe on the left.
I’m old enough to remember the black Civil Rights movement, which was as I understood it a movement of the left and insofar as it was challenging the orthodoxy of conservatives in the American South. White conservatism. And here was a group of protestant ministers leading processions, which were really religious processions through the small towns and the suburbs of the South. We shall overcome. Well,...more
Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These arrangements fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not. In truth, this division...more
The Promise and the Threat of the Internet - a thoughtful essay from E.L. Doctorow via The Nation.
...The World Wide Web was conceived as a somewhat academic resource some years ago, but its years of development since the 1980s have seemed to me the work of a moment, coming into being with the force of an astronomical event. Here was this virtual world, a companion planet in orbital swing with our own. And its stuff, its substance, was not mountains and seas and deserts and melting icebergs, but information, data, knowledge in every form, of every kind, transmitted for every purpose, personal, governmental, commercial, educational, political. It is a companion world mined to create wealth, to educate, to bring news, to spy, to save lives, to make war. But my odd sense of it as something that exploded instantly into being has to do with a population putting itself eagerly into its arcane service, as emigrants swearing fealty to a new world—the techies, the programmers, webmasters,...more
A short essay on digital overload, our disconnection from the natural world and the disappearance of contemplation. From cosmos&culture.
...We are the targets of an ongoing war for our attention: the Web, new technologies, food, clothing, music. We feel the constant need to be connected; TV and radio are just not enough. We need to link to social media outlets, know what's going on or else be out; each instant of time is taken by a screen, small or large; information pours down in torrents.
If we forget our cell phone at home, we feel like a body part is missing; we are the phones, the phones are us. We are addicted to it, as we can see when a plane lands after a 45-minute flight and hundreds of passengers turn on their phones as if their lives depended on information that just came out. We are addicted to linkage and I am guilty as charged.
We no longer allow time for contemplation.
People feel time is passing faster because we have less and...more
I have heard Wendell Berry (one of our greatest essayists, poets and thinkers) described as a "crank." Well, here's to cranks! Found this essay online this morning. Merry Christmas.
We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion.
Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on "doing us good" according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication.
The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else. Nobody who is awake accepts the favors of these hawkers of...more
The Buddha once said, "If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change."
As post-modern screen viewers are we ever really experiencing a "deficit" of nature? Or are we simply not seeing it?
Here is a thoughtful reflection on the nature of seeing from The School of Life blog.
“There is a difference between seeing and seeing” wrote Goethe, and “no one who is attentive will ever find nature dead and silent”.
On Goethe’s reading of the relationship between us and the natural world, the way we actually see - that is, the attentive character of our conscious awareness - marks an index of our sense of disconnection. If we don’t look properly, we just won’t feel it. In fact in logical terms, we cannot actually have a nature deficit. We are in nature, part of it. It constitutes us. Yet the feeling of disconnection is pervasive, and the tidal sense of displacement and distance is a common one. The suspicion that we are living somehow at one...more
Just in time for Thanksgiving - a brief reflection from cosmos & culture.
Our suffering and our joy is not just our own. The planet has been rolling around the sun for so very long. Through out much of that history there has been life here, be they fishes of the Silurian, dinosaurs of the Cretaceous or mammals of the Miocene. That life has known good days and bad, times of peace and times of upheaval. Standing there on that hill, for a moment, I could feel my place in that long line of creation and destruction.
"It just this moment," I thought. "Like so many moments before and yet completely different from all that has come before."
To be present for that moment, on that hill as the planet turned towards yet another night: what else could I feel but...more
During this week when we focus (or at least try to focus) on gratitude, here is a reflection on regret from Collective Evolution.
A palliative nurse recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings into a book called ‘The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.’ It’s not surprising to see what made the list as they are all things that touch each of our lives as we struggle to pay attention to and make time for things that we truly love. Below is the list of each regret along with an excerpt from the book.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few...more
Buddhists have been doing it for centuries, but in the age of distraction others are now learning the benefits of "training" their attention in the same way that we train our bodies. Here is an interesting reflection on the topic from BigThink.
...we need to learn to train our attention because, as with anything, attention is like a muscle. It's an analogy that you hear over and over in psychology - self-control is like a muscle - because it's an analogy that works incredibly well.
So if you train it, it gets stronger, it gets better. You are able to lift more weight, we have more endurance. And similarly with attention the more you train yourself to uni-task and to only pay attention to one thing at a time, the longer and longer and longer you’re able to maintain your focus.more
From Patrick Deneen at The American Conservative, a thoughtful essay on the nature of education.
...In our modern insistence to standardize and equalize, we necessarily discard any higher aspiration of education’s end in an embrace of a widely-secured agreement about lower, debased ends: an education based upon a lowest common-denominator, “career-readiness.” Our civilization thus shows its ultimate commitments through how it educates its young—that we think them incapable of anything higher than being workers in a deracinated globalized economic system, neither citizens nor, in the fullest sense, humans.
At the same time, we condemn ourselves, betraying our ancient faith in our own ability to educate and cultivate our young, handing over our final and most basic liberty to a distant power. Contained in the very act of handing over the education of our young is the self-indictment of a decaying Republic, a future feared by, among others, Tocqueville, as a possible...more
As we enter into the holiday season, it is interesting to think about the role of ritual in our lives. The rites of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the other religious / cultural holidays are so ingrained and commercialized that it is easy to lose sight of the role they were intended to fill in our lives. Yes, we really need thanksgiving, we really need to gather together to mark the deep-darkest days of winter knowing that rebirth, light and spring are always coming - always present.
One of my annual rituals is a pilgrimage to my favorite place in the Texas Hill Country: the area around Lost Maples State Natural Area in Bandera and Real counties. This is a region of high ridges, scenic roads and beautiful canyons carved by cypress-lined streams with evocative names: the Nueces, Frio, Sabinal and Medina rivers.
I think of my annual trip to Lost Maples as a ritual because I have been traveling to this area for nearly thirty years - and not just traveling - but gathering with dear friends for a few days of deep engagement with one another and a special place.
Christian Wiman is a superb poet and thoughtful essayist. This post from the PBS program, Religion and Ethics Weekly, is well worth your time. There is a brief passage in the video where Wiman talks about his Grandmother, a role model for him, "inhabiting the life she had." He adds, "I think you can argue that's what being with God is, being fully able to inhabit the moments we are given."more
An interesting piece from BigThink about the benefits stemming from the practice or discipline of gratitude.
One key of understanding how gratitude works resides in forgetting about the popular notion that our thoughts influence reality beyond our means. Formerly called sympathetic magic, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about this phenomenon...
"Thoughts are not objects with mass; they are patterns of neuronal firing within the brain…if they were exerting some sort of gravitational force on material objects around them, it would be difficult to take off one’s hat."
Focusing on gratitude during meditation (and subsequently in our lives) changes our outlook on life, not life itself. This is what helps making it through the day more pleasant, what makes even daunting tasks seem accomplishable. This is not to deny problems we may have in our lives; it’s simply disciplining ourselves to not devote mental energy...more
Now here is a great read from BigThink re: the benefits of prolonged engagement with art - or, in other words, paying attention to it.
Simply paying attention (to anything) is our biggest challenge in the age of distraction.
Have you ever noticed how long people look at a painting in a museum or gallery? Surveys have clocked view times anywhere between 10 and 17 seconds. The Louvre estimated that visitors studied the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world, for an astoundingly low average of 15 seconds. Our increasingly online, instantaneous existence accounts for those numbers, obviously. Can we ever again find the patience to look at art as it was meant to be seen? A recent article by Harvard University art history professor...more
From Orion, a thoughtful conversation between MIchael Pollan and William Cronon about the "blurry boundary" between the cultivated and the wild.
Quotes (from Michael Pollan):
"...I started out steeped in the nature ideas of Thoreau, Emerson, John Muir, and that whole wonderful nineteenth-century tradition that found a measure of wisdom in wild nature. I wrote a master’s thesis on Thoreau, and did a lot of writing on Emerson, and just love those ideas to my bones. But for me, they rubbed up against some practical experience in the garden—that if you believe our relationship with other species can be completely harmonious, you’re not going to be a very successful gardener. If you believe with Emerson, for example, that a weed is just a defect of human perception, you’re going to find yourself with a very weedy garden. You’re not going to harvest much of anything. Thoreau found this out when he planted his bean field; he tried to garden in keeping with his ideas, but couldn’t fit his head around...more
An interesting article from Charles Murray about the downsides of elite isolation. Via BigThink
" If you are in the Palo Alto area living in Atherton or in Portola Valley, which are the most expensive, most exclusive suburbs, you’re not surrounding yourself with a community that is going to be necessarily the most enriching. In fact, you’re actually putting yourself in a place where you have, in effect, said community is not important to me. And you’re denying yourself that whole dimension in which to live a satisfying life. I am asking members of the new upper class to stop concentrating so much on living a glossy life and think of the ways in which they can lead a more textured life."more
How we are sustained by the unknowable and mysterious... a thoughtful post featuring the musings of Ted Gioia. Via Andrew Sullivan.
"Those committed to a spiritual life understand what popular culture hasn’t yet learned (or is afraid to admit)—namely that the hunger of the soul cannot be satiated with sugary sweets and shallow entertainments. Somewhere along the way, many people got the idea that the religious sphere and artistic sphere are at odds with each other. I believe the opposite is true. Both the arts and spiritual discernment broaden our perspectives and enrich our lives, and in very similar ways.
This was the single greatest lesson I learned from my years studying philosophy at Oxford—namely that the pervasive empiricism of modern life, which only accepts what it sees and quantifies, is ultimately a brutish philosophy. The most important things in life cannot be seen with the eyes or measured with charts and numbers. They are love, trust, faith,...more
As we retreat into tribal enclaves, here is a thoughtful reflection on the "big sort" from The American Conservative.
"When we talk about “place,” then, we need to be clear. Are we talking about our own immediate neighborhood, which we try to control for the sake of our “property values” and where we want the people to be rather like us, especially if we don’t know them; plus an archipelago of similar neighborhoods scattered all over the country? Or are we embracing our entire metropolitan area or region, including its Samarias as well as its Judeas, its leper colonies as well as its “clean” parts?"more
"We are a landscape of all that we have seen." - Isamu Noguchi
Here is a thoughtful interview with Richard Rodriguez about how we are shaped by the places we inhabit.
"A lot of the things we think about the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God come out of the fact that the Israelites experienced a very specific ecology. The God who came to them was a desert God. One of the most important desert cities in the American West is Las Vegas. Las Vegas seems to represent a particular anxiety we feel in this landscape. This is not a landscape to which we feel immediately welcomed.
We have learned, in desert cities like Phoenix, to insist on the desert’s sky by denying the desert’s terrain. So we plant gardens that are not appropriate; we water the desert. In Las Vegas, there’s this fantasy, this architectural idea of the denial of the desert: If the desert is flat, you build these shapes into the...more
Here is a depressing but stunningly accurate assessment of the economic apartheid that has taken root in America - from Patrick Deneen at The American Conservative.
There is much that I disagree with in Deneen's column, but who can argue with this:
"William Galston has written an important column in the Wall Street Journal, devoted to an assessment of Tyler Cowen’s new book, Average Is Over. The book tells of a coming(?) nation of two economic classes, the meritocratic elite and an increasingly poor, even third-world economic class of underemployed who gather in large ghetto areas (e.g., Texas) with poor public services but plentiful distractions (think: internet porn, 24/7/365 football, and soon-to-be legalized marijuana delivered by e-joints).
...The Right laments the decline of “family values” as it...more
Via Andrew Sullivan - a funny and sadly true post about why the intrusion of technology into our quiet moments matters. Don't miss the mini-debate after the video of comedian Louis C.K..
Is texting on your cellphone really different from listening to your car radio? What is standing between us and the quiet, reflective time that allows us to come to terms with being human / being dust?
"I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you. I shall be quiet then, comforted that I am dust." - Job
"Today there is no more potent contrivance than the mass distraction of cell phones. This is no anti-technological rant—all of our tools have purpose and can be used for good reason. The reasons we justify, however, need to be questioned. As an avoidance of silence, we’re never going to be able to reckon with loneliness. That’s a shame. So much is learned in the quiet space." - Derek Beres
"Are these old-fashioned modes of entertainment and distraction any...more
From First Known When Lost - a meditation on the "unattainable flower" of the autumn sky. (With a reference to R.H. Blyth whose quartet on Haiku changed my life.)
"This haiku is by Basho (1644-1694):
A flower unknown
To bird and butterfly, --
The sky of autumn.
Basho (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid.
As I have noted before, Blyth's four-volume Haiku is the place to start in order to learn about haiku. As I have also noted, one of the wonderful things about Blyth is that he is as knowledgeable about English literature as he is about Japanese literature. Thus, after his translation of the above haiku, he quotes (without comment) a sentence by Richard Jefferies:
"The rich blue of the unattainable flower of the sky drew my soul towards it, and there it rested, for pure colour is rest of heart."
Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart: My Autobiography (1883), pages...more
From Joel Weishaus / Beginner's Mind:
"It's a ten minute walk to the trailhead, past the kaleidoscopic floral arrays in front of neighbors' homes, past the storefront Aikido dojo, the Italian restaurant, the Mexican grocery and laundromat, past a Jesus Lives sign, and a ranch's horses carrying rich young kids trot in wary circles.
Where Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire is burned by the same dazzling sun as Van Gogh's golden fields, a woman on horseback looks down and says: "You're gonna have a good day: a roadrunner just crossed your path."
Few brains, topped
By a crown—
And a flair for swift in-fighting—
[P. Whalen. From, "The Road-Runner"]
A slight jolt, and I wonder how many invisible beings have, without my knowledge, crossed my path.
When the First People arrived here thousands of years ago they lived off the land, both cuisine- and spirit-wise. But the marks they left, the signs and symbols they painted so brilliantly on rocks in nearby places, are not...more
On our dependence on the afterlife (of others.) Via BigThink.
"Whether or not you will continue to exist as a conscious being after your corporal death, the presumed existence of terrestrial life after your passing is largely what gives life meaning, says New York University philosophy professor Samuel Scheffler. "Consider a hypothetical scenario. Suppose you knew that although you yourself would live a long life and die peacefully in your sleep, the earth and all its inhabitants would be destroyed 30 days after your death in a collision with a giant asteroid. How would this knowledge affect you?" Scheffler suggests that many of our activities, from cancer research to engineering projects, would grind to a halt."
Full post from BigThink here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.commore
Here is an interesting reflection from The School of Life on the ways that we come to know and map our worlds.
"...personal cartography is so easy to overlook and forget as we go about our busy lives. Yet it is this deep, idiosyncratic connection to the city that encapsulates our emotional experience of the metropolis, interweaving place, time, and memory."more
Several years ago I visited Turkey as a member of a small delegation of folks from Austin who had been invited to participate in an interfaith learning experience. During our trip we were taken to Harran, an archaeological site outside of the city of Urfa. It was a fascinating experience - the site had been a center of the Hittite Empire and a far flung outpost of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, Later, it was the site of a great Islamic university which was destroyed by the Mongols. So much history!
Unbeknownst to me, just a few kilometers away, archaeologists were excavating Gobeki Tepe, a very ancient temple. In fact, it is the oldest religious structure ever found, predating the pyramids by THOUSANDS of years!
Now, it appears as if the temple may have been constructed as a place to worship the "dog star" Sirius which had just "popped into view" at the time the temple was built. Fascinating.
From The Atlantic, an article about the connection between good public transportation and happiness. It refers to a survey of Minneapolis citizens who have access to a light rail line that connects them to vital pieces of their civic infrastructure.
"...Respondents rated the quality of transit in their area (namely, service quality and accessibility) as well as the quality of their lives (how satisfied they were). To form points of comparison, Cao sent the same survey to residents of four other corridors: two in urban areas with transit but no light rail, and two in suburbs with similar demographics but no transit.
What he found spoke to the power of living along the rails. People in the Hiawatha corridor had higher ratings on questions related to the quality of their lives compared to people in the other four corridors. These were items like "In most ways my life is close to my ideal" and "The conditions of my life are excellent." In short,...more
Here is a charming and thoughtful article from 13.7 cosmos & culture about time, chaos, tidy desks and the remarkable gift we bring to the universe.
"...your efforts to tidy up that desk are doomed to failure. But in that very act of trying you embody life's most essential victory.
Even the effort of your cells doing their moment-to-moment work, purging their innards of poisons, allows life to create astonishing islands of order. Each of our bodies, each of our lives, represents a triumph. Life is order and structure hammered out, for just a time, to give the blind universe its sight.
Yes, in time, our lives must give way to entropy's demand for chaos. But with every act of creation — from the songs we write for collected voices to the meals we bake for our families — we turn back the tide. And for this, we can only imagine, the universe must be grateful."
From The American Conservative. a reflection about the ubiquitous selfie.
It is true that individualism and life disassociated from family and community is more widespread today than in past civilizations. It could be that this individualism has fostered our egotism. The person who lives with family or roommates must learn patience, self-control, and sacrifice. The individual, however, need not reconcile with other people’s wants and desires. Personal wants reign supreme. This obviously cultivates a different set of values and perceptions in the individual. But one must caution against the tendency to stereotype and predict behavior based on such perceived “trends.”
The human mind is not one massive mound of ever-growing egotism. It is a complex, varied, wondrous thing — scarred with the pains of human experience, spotted with sin and excess, ever shifting with the cadence of human experience. While we should be wary of social media’s influence on our mental and...more
The small apartment where I live has always felt like a tree house thanks to the large picture windows that frame my second floor views. Glancing up from my computer monitor, I look out on a venerable possumhaw holly that changes with every season.
This lovely post from poet Camille Martin reflects on the simple gifts offered by the locust tree outside her window.
Thank you, locust tree outside my window. Hugging the north side of my building, you were always last to sprout leaves in spring. I waited and waited for the little buds at the tips of your branches to blossom. You played dead and I worried, and the relief was all the sweeter when you exploded into green.
In summer, your thousands of tiny leaves flitting in the breeze cooled and fanned me, and concealed my lover and me behind a screen of intricate patterns.
Your leaves were last in autumn to morph into a bright yellow curtain for my window, last to flutter to the sidewalk and stain it black...more
More about seeds - and genuine hope. From Paul Tillich:
"...there are many things and events in which we can see a reason for genuine hope, namely, the seed-like presence of that which is hoped for. In the seed of a tree, stem and leaves are already present, and this gives us the right to sow the seed in hope for the fruit. We have no assurance that it will develop. But our hope is genuine. There is a presence, a beginning of what is hoped for. And so it is with the child and our hope for his maturing; we hope, because maturing has already begun, but we don't know how far it will go. We hope for the fulfillment of our work, often against hope, because it is already in us as vision and driving force. We hope for a lasting love, because we feel the power of this love present. But it is hope, not certainty."more
Re: Heirloom tomatoes and our dependence on the humble seed. From on earth:
"Over reliance on so few food sources doesn’t just deprive us of dietary pleasure—the Roma and Beefsteak can only do so much, after all, as The New York Times pointed out today. It could also threaten our ability to feed ourselves over the long term. The lost diversity means that we have fewer resources to tap when it comes to facing down new pests and diseases, not to mention the many hazards implicit in climate change. The key to confronting these enormous challenges? The humble seed.
For thousands of years, farmers around the world have saved seeds from one season to another, taking them along when they moved to new regions and selecting those that fared best in various environments. But in the 20th century, as people began planting modern hybrid seeds—mostly...more
My friend, Richard Louv, has written extensively about the "Nature Deficit Disorder" affecting American youth. His work served as the inspiration for several of the autobiographical essays that you will find here on Dry Creek Bed.
This article, from 13.7 Cosmos and Culture, points outs the sad disconnect between nature and our kids.
A children's adventure garden, a $62 million education center focused on earth and life sciences, is about to open in Texas at the Dallas Arboretum. Maria Conroy, the Arboretum's vice president and the driving force behind the garden, told The New York Times last week that, because Dallas is an urban jungle without much green space, some children there are afraid of nature:
"We have watched many times a butterfly come flying at a group of...more
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” - Greek Proverb
Here's an article from Tree Hugger about roots that just wont't quit.
Among the first wave of immigrants to the New World was an English Puritan named John Endicott, who in 1629, arrived to serve as the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Charged with the task of establishing a welcoming setting for new arrivals upon the untamed land, the Pilgrim leader set about making the area around modern-day Salem as homey as possible.
In approximately 1630, as his children watched on, Endicott planted one of the first fruit trees to be cultivated in America: a pear sapling imported from across the Atlantic. He is said to have declared at the time: "I hope the tree will love the soil of the old...more
With the dawn of the "Age of Fracking" we'll soon see Port Arthurs everywhere.
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory places Jefferson County among the very worst in the nation for air releases of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive disorders. In a state that regularly records in excess of 2,500 toxic emissions events per year, Port Arthur is near the top of the list of offending cities. Data collected by the Texas Cancer Registry indicates that cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only...more
An interesting article from 13.7 cosmos & culture. On how we see music.
"Music is not sound art, even though musical ideas find natural expression in melody and harmony, timbre and rhythm. Music may be carried in sound, but only in the way that our applause at a concert is carried in sound. Applause is clapping; it is stomping and shouting. These are noisy, but they are not noise. They are not sound as a physicist might think of sound. Music is to sound as gesture is to mere movement. Physics is only part of the story.
Full article here.
And speaking of sound and vision, check out the Beck video at: http://drycreekbed.com/blog/videos-digital-artifactsmore
In the Zen tradition, "kensho" means a little flash of enlightenment - a revelation - as opposed to "nirvana" which is a more permanent transformation of consciousness. If we are wakeful - our lives can be filled with small revelations, kensho moments.
This brief article from Alexandra Harris at The School of Life examines "forms of sanctity which have nothing to do with divine transfiguration." Lovely.
‘The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark’.
These lines from Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse startle and move me every time I read them. Somehow they never settle down and become familiar; the meaning flares up slightly differently on every reading, like the suddenly-struck matches to which Woolf refers.
Partly out of curiosity, wanting to see what other people made of it, I used this quotation as one of the assessed...more
I think that each of us can recall a favorite "secret" place from our early childhood that called to our imaginations. Even if were denied access to natural settings, we created hide-outs and "forts" by rearranging the pillows from a sofa or making "tents" with blankets.
Here is a brief recollection about a favorite spot of mine when I was growing up in the Hudson Valley:
My First Hide-Out
It was just a small tangle of privet-like shrubs in the undeveloped lot between our house and our next-door neighbors - remembering it today; I’d guess it was about fifteen to twenty feet wide and maybe three times as long. I don’t know who or what had first made the tunnel-like path that cut through the middle of the thicket, but I can remember spending a lot of time in there- it was my first secret “fort.”
The path was narrow, and had just enough headroom for a five or six year old. During the summer, dappled sunlight would fall between the leaves and stems illuminating little patches of open ground on either side of the path that I called rooms. I claimed one of the...more
Re: Renowned Horticulurist, Dan Pearson
from The School of Life
"Gardens have given him continuity, variety, joy. In return they’ve needed him to let them unfold at their own pace, to retreat in order to bloom. They’ve required him to look and notice, to understand the habitat, to be timely. He’s had to be constant, consistent, hard-working. Along the way gardening has taught him lessons, he says, about relationships in all their forms. “You set something to grow and help it flourish. You grow alongside it. And potentially both of you, and the relationship between you, carry on getting better.”more
The creatures that take up residence - after we leave.
From Bored Pandamore
Several years ago, when Interfaith Action of Central Texas was initiating our "Red Bench" interfaith dialogue program, I suggested that we begin the program by focusing on the "virtues." I thought discussing things like gratitude, patience, forgiveness, and compassion would be welcoming to people of all faiths and none.
However, I found that many people had an almost visceral negative reaction to the word virtue. They thought of virtue as a kind of lingering puritanical and explicitly Christian wraith that needed to be exorcised. Weird. And very worrisome.
The following quote comes from an article on The School of Life. It offers a suggested list of virtues for our times. Bravo!
The full article is here.
"The Virtues Project comes as a response to the wave of discussion and feedback that followed the publication of my book,...more
From Jessica Love at The American Scholar:
"About five years ago, I stopped eating anything smarter than my cat. This, I decided, spared all non-rodent mammals, as well as cephalopods—the latter thanks to an 11th-hour magazine piece on octopus ingenuity. Everything else was on the menu.
Friends have quibbled with my sorting. There’s no way a cow is smarter than a cat. Even your cat. I have no grand defense. Mine is a stance honed not by reason but by gut feel—more Citizen Kane vs. The Godfather than Pythagorean theorem. How the hell do I know whether my cat is smarter than a cow? How could anyone?"more
From Lake / Flato:
A very worthy addition to the place where I live. Can't wait.more
From Big Think:
An article that ponders our growing detachment.
"...Social neuroscientist John Cacioppo reports in his book that 60 percent of Americans perceive themselves to be lonely. The Social Science Surveys found in 1984 that Americans had an average of three “confidants” (as opposed to more casual friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, confidants are told most anything, and the friendship is close enough to encourage disclosure). By 2000, that number had dwindled down toward one or “none.” Ironically, "social" media might not help matters. Social media favors grazing over root-laying. It favors the mile wide and inch deep over the intense. Does having a friend require more than a fleeting commitment in social media and, if not, does that really count as an attachment?"
From The Atlantic:
An article that explores what happens when highway engineering is applied to Main Street.
"The 20th-century model of traffic engineering is not only outdated, but is also downright hazardous to public health and economic development. Every year, communities around the world are demonstrating that there is another way. Treating a community’s streets like a sewage system that flushes cars through quickly and efficiently has been a disastrous experiment."more
Re: "The Entire State of Texas"
"Devastating droughts caused by rising temperatures have Texans’ ten gallon hats running on just a couple of quarts. Ranchers are struggling statewide, and farmers who once grew melons and cotton are looking to get by on algae. Meanwhile, ever more powerful hurricanes are a growing menace. And then there are the biblical plagues. It’s a veritable perfect storm for perfect storms. Yes, Texas, we know everything is bigger here, but can you build a wall big enough to keep out climate change? Can you shoot a hurricane? If any state could,...more
From World Mapper - an animated map that shows income levels around the world. Note that most of the other advanced nations (Japan, Germany, etc.) start to contract at the top-most levels of income while the USA bloats out.more
From Killing the Buddha
An article on the blurry boundaries of love.
"There is a stork whose yearly migration—from South Africa to rural Croatia—brings him to his destination on the same day, at approximately the same time. Humans have begun to call him Rodan. They want a name for him, it seems, because he has become a kind of inspiration. He travels these 8,000 miles in order to be near his mate, who is called Malena. She cannot fly south with him, in the winter, because she harbors permanent injuries from a gunshot wound. Malena winters at the homestead of a local human, who has been witness to this annual reunion of storks. As of 2010, Rodan had been making this journey for five years. Together the storks have apparently born thirty-two chicks. Every year, Rodan teaches the little ones how to migrate south before the weather turns.
I don’t think I need to explain what’s made so many humans...more
From City Journal:
Here is an article that explores a phenomenon that we are seeing sweep over central Austin as real estate prices escalate: childless neighborhoods occupied by wealthy seniors and hipsters.
I found the focus on green space particularly interesting:
"Families are also deeply attracted to open space. The great Frederick Law Olmsted–designed New York parks, including Prospect Park in Flatbush, are enormous assets for families without backyards. Irvine may lack stunning urban architecture and glorious cathedrals, but it has a magnificent park system that gives residents ideal settings for recreation, exercise, and family gatherings. “It’s an environment that is clean and nice and open to everyone,” says Veronika Kim, a mother of three and an apartment tenant in Woodbury, an Irvine neighborhood. “You can walk there with the kids and let them play. Even if you rent, you don’t feel like an outsider.” The parks are good not only for kids but for adults—for example, the members...more
From Fast Company: Pangea, the original "supercontinent" drawn with today's political boundaries.more
This article, titled, "When Nostalgia Was a Disease", from The Atlantic is worth noting during our times when it appears as if many Americans have become almost pathologically nostalgic for a past that never existed - the all-white, suburban world portrayed in 1950's television programs like "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver."
"Obviously the prevailing view on nostalgia has changed over the years, to the point where we now actively cultivate it with GIF-laden lists and VH1 specials, and rarely, if ever, die from it. But advice on treatment from French doctor Hippolyte Petit is as relevant to someone clinging to the past today as it was to a soldier driven mad by a milking song hundreds of years ago: 'Create new loves for the person suffering from love sickness; find new joys to erase the domination of the old.' Or, just let it go."
But, there is a danger in thinking that all references to the past are nostalgic. Christopher Lasch wrote about...more
A good catch from Andrew Sullivan.
Key take away:
"We are in dire need today of practices that shape our identity as a people, and that teach us to slow down and be attentive to the world around us and the power that it exerts upon our desires. As Gandhi’s experiences in South Africa indicate, reading can be an important practice of this sort, but it must be done with intentionality about what we read and how we read it. Committing to practices of reading and conversation (about reading) in our church communities can help to provide the structure we need to begin the challenging process of slowing down. Perhaps our communities will have leaders like Gandhi who can help guide us in these kind of practices, and recommend resources that will help us to read (and live) more slowly and attentively. If we are to bear witness to a different way, then we must seek to apprentice ourselves to practices that—when sustained over many years—will inevitably slow us down."
Worth reading the...more
Faraway places with exotic names tug at our imaginations and our sense of discovery and adventure. Yet, adventures are often accompanied by risk and childhood adventures are no exception.
Among the pack of kids who lived in my neighborhood in rural New York, there were two destinations spoken of only in hushed, secretive tones: “Cat’s Cave” and “Devil’s Island.” Both places lay just beyond the usual bounds of our territory, too far to venture if you were six, but within striking distance if you were a determined ten year old. Their evocative names sounded as if they were lifted straight from the Hardy Boy books that so many of us grew up with and elevated these places to the status of forbidden territory. Of course, this made them completely irresistible to my over active imagination.
I was a very low ranking member of the neighborhood gang and my opinions counted for very little, so my nagging requests to accompany the older kids on expeditions initially went nowhere. Eventually, however, when I was about nine or ten years old, I talked my way into an ill-fated...more
From Colossal (via Vimeo)
A lovely portrait of two artists and their house of made of windows.more
This essay posted on Front Porch Republic recounts Eric Miller's participation in a conference held at Baylor University on the topic of “Technology and Human Flourishing,"
Miller is the author of a superb biography of Christopher Lasch titled, Hope in a Scattering Time.
...Deneen, a Notre Dame political philosopher, had opened the conference by noting the looming, oppressive sense of inevitability that hovers over our lives as the techno-juggernaut rolls on. It’s an inevitability that may occasionally leave us uneasy but is, he thinks, our nationally preferred state of being: we are at bottom a constituency of selves, we Americans, freed by our mutual pact, ironically, to pursue life on our own. Our “political technology,” Deneen suggested, is our “operating system,” from which our morally and structurally individuated society has emerged. He quoted the novelist Stephen...more
"The terms hedonism and eudaimonism bring to mind the great philosophical debate, which has shaped Western civilization for over 2,000 years, about the nature of the good life. Does happiness lie in feeling good, as hedonists think, or in doing and being good, as Aristotle and his intellectual descendants, the virtue ethicists, think? From the evidence of this study, it seems that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive. In the words of Carl Jung, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” Jung’s wisdom certainly seems to apply to our bodies, if not also to our hearts and our minds."
From Fast Company:
"This week, SLO Architecture celebrated the crash-free launch of Harvest Dome 2.0, a 24-by-18 foot floating sphere made of umbrella skeletons and plastic bottles. It smoothly sailed down the Bronx River and arrived at the inlet of Inwood Hill Park, where it’s on view as a public art installation for the month of August."more
From Big Think - a short note about efforts to revive the original Eden.more
I had just celebrated my fifteenth birthday and was enjoying a leisurely summer vacation the day my Father came home from work early. I don’t recall anything else about that day, but I remember nearly every detail of what unfolded after he and my Mother called us together.
My Brother, Sister and I were hanging out on the back porch of our home in the Hudson Valley of New York when we heard Dad arrive. Even though he was only twenty or thirty minutes early we were surprised to hear him, he always kept a very regular schedule. He was talking to my Mother in the living room in a low voice, and then Mom called to us, “Kids, come in here for a minute. Your Father has something he wants to tell you.”
My Sister and I looked right into each other’s eyes. She was holding a glass of iced tea which she dropped onto the stone floor. It smashed and splashed around our feet, but we remained frozen in place. We both knew something momentous was about to happen. Words surfaced past the tightening knot in my gut and I heard myself say, “We’re moving.”
How I knew this, I cannot...more
Summer morning -
Here is an interesting article about the psychological state that we "go" to when we are "on" Facebook. The answer, it appears, is the "machine zone" - a place that for many of us has usurped the actual places we inhabit.
What is the machine zone? It's a rhythm. It's a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It's a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don't. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It's the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.
"Everything else falls away," Schüll says to Mars. "A sense of monetary value, time, space, even a sense of self is annihilated in the extreme form of this zone that you enter."
Yesterday, when I posted "Enlightenment" the poem by Ch'en Yu Yi (translated by Kenneth Rexroth) several people contacted me about the term "Milky Way" and how inadequate / tacky it feels when compared to the breathtaking extravagance of the real thing.
The Chinese refer to the Milky Way as the "Silver River" and the Japanese call it "Heaven's River." I believe this river imagery adds a deeper resonance - or ripple - to the poem. Inspired by the river imagery, I thought you might like at closer look at "our place" in the universe. Enjoy...more
Ch'en Yu Yi - Translation by Kenneth Rexroth
A breach of clear heaven opens
In the clouds. To the Southwest
The River stretches smooth and still.
There are tattered skirts of mist
On the sandbars. On the wall a
Magpie shakes his wet feathers
And scolds. Beyond the rooftops
The thunder is still grumbling.
I decide to profit by
The fresh air and pay myself
A small sum of peace. I hunt
Busily for some fine words
To announce the return of
Good weather, and the splendor
Of the evening, but I have
No one to share them with.
So I sit quietly and watch
The Milky Way light up.
I am suffused with its glow.
All my spirit is illuminated.
Ch'en Yu Yi - T'ang Dynasty, China
Translation by Kenneth Rexrothmore
From The Atlantic
"The aquarium's conservative management frowned upon the racket of English long hairs blasting their electric guitars, but Paul figured, what the hell? He'd give the Stones a go. He got the LP out of its sleeve and put it on the record player. "All of a sudden, Hyak swam at me and charged around the pool making great waves that washed over the edges," Paul recounted. "He went down one side, leapt, and then turned the corner and r-r-raced down the other side. Then he shot his body out of the water once again, did a barrel roll, and dove back in. After that he slapped his pectoral fin on the water. He'd sit there and spray great plumes out of the side of his mouth. It was such an amazing transformation of behavior. And I said to myself, wow, he really digs the Stones!"
Check out this posting from Mark Mitchell at Front Porch Republic
"The inimitable Onion once again shows how satire should be done. Title: 'Unambitious Loser with Happy, Fulfilling Life Still Lives in Hometown.' There is much to pity."
Longtime acquaintances confirmed to reporters this week that local man Michael Husmer, an unambitious 29-year-old loser who leads an enjoyable and fulfilling life, still lives in his hometown and has no desire to leave.
Claiming that the aimless slouch has never resided more than two hours from his parents and still hangs out with friends from high school, sources close to Husmer reported that the man, who has meaningful, lasting personal relationships and a healthy work-life balance, is an unmotivated washout who’s perfectly comfortable being a nobody for the rest of his life.
A lovely reflection from Wendell Berry on reading about the miraculous under the sky.more
"Nevertheless, it means much to have loved, to have been happy, to have laid my hand on the living Garden, even for one day." - Jorge Luis Borges
Early in the career of the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the scientists in charge of the mission had the brilliant idea of pointing its sensitive lens at the darkest patch of the night time sky. For countless generations mankind has peered into that void and seen nothing. What was out their beyond our view?
NASA called this effort the “Ultra Deep Field Experiment.” Over a period of ten days, hundreds of images were taken of the same seemingly empty coordinates. Frame by frame, distant particles of light were captured and compiled. The final composite image was breathtaking; in fact, some call it the most important photographic image ever taken.
What did the picture reveal? Ten thousand galaxies.
One galaxy has approximately one hundred billion stars. Here, in one image, were one quadrillion stars. 1,000,000,000,000,000 stars inhabit the...more
My parents were among the millions of young couples who left the farms and cities they grew up in to settle in the newly emerging suburbs of the early 1950’s. My Dad was a farmer’s son from the cornfields of Illinois; and my Mom grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. My father was serving in the Army when they met, and as soon as he was discharged, they moved to the Hudson River Valley of New York where he had a job waiting for him as a Chemist at a corporate research facility.
Our little patch of suburbia was miniscule compared to the “Levittowns” that ringed New York City; it was just a small circle of homes that sat on the side of a hill offering picturesque views stretching off in every direction. The Hudson Valley was, and remains, one of the most beautiful regions in the nation, and my parents had chosen their home site well. The view from our front yard encompassed a large field that had been an apple orchard and was still dotted with a few rugged old trees. Beyond the field, a stone wall marked the edge of a forest that to my young eyes, seemed to encircle the world. If...more
North of the Colorado River, Austin spreads out over an alluvial terrace shaped like the palm of your left hand. The loose U of the palm is defined by the course of the river which exits the Texas Hill Country within sight of downtown. Etched into the palm, creeks cut "life" lines deep into the gravel and clay.
The grid of the city sits on top of the wobbly boundaries of the creeks and their water sheds. I live beside Johnson Creek, or what is left of it, just over a mile from downtown. I can see Austin’s sparkling new skyline through the branches of an ancient oak when I sit on the balcony of my apartment.
Usually dry, Johnson Creek roars to life following a heavy rain. With each rain, the sedimentary layers of its banks erode and the accumulated debris gets churned up leaving an ever-changing mosaic in its wake. The creek bed is a jumble of limestone gravel and boulders, broken glass, porcelain fragments, fossils, flint, broken chunks of concrete and garbage from the homeless camps hidden in the thickets.
For most of its history Austin has cast a wary eye...more