The “Alt-Reich”

Folks – I’m about as disinterested in politics as they come. But I care about society. You won’t catch me talking about politics often on facebook or in personal conversation for that matter. In case you are not sure though it’s important to understand two things concerning the upcoming election.

* Thing one? Trump and the Alt-Right movement have deep hooks into each other. This is so well documented that I’ll let you ask Google if you are unclear.

* Thing two? The Alt-right is one of the scariest US home-grown racist organizations to come around in a hundred years. I’ll mention that I have read Mein Kampf (Hitler’s journal) and found it chilling because of how reasonably and mildly it proceeds down a logical path whose conclusion is hell on earth.

As for the Alt-Right- I read this piece of rhetoric about it which is a lot like Mein Kampf to me in style – like arsenic in that it is sweet going down but lethal to metabolize. You know they used to sweeten pastries with arsenic? They didn’t know any better. This article: http://www.breitbart.com/…/an-establishment-conservatives-…/ is mentioned in Wikipedia “In March 2016 Breitbart News writers Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos published a piece on the alt-right, which CNN described as being similar to a manifesto.” It has been also referred to in the “show about race” podcast as “the Alt-Right manifesto” That’s a great podcast, by the way, you should check it out.

Honestly, that article gave me chills more than Mein Kampf did. I’m not exaggerating – of course, Mein Kampf was from a different time and place but this new strain of racism is persuasive and subtle – in the way of Hitler’s arguments but to me, though brief and loose, in their way they seem even more sophisticated and palatable to the naive. It’s the same arsenic “Now with improved taste!” for American consumers. It’s a case of “check the ingredients”.

Here is one article about the Alt-Right leadership that is interesting to parse: http://www.vox.com/2016/9/19/12970134/alt-right-racism

At bottom, if you have believed that maybe Trump would “make America great again”, a lot of Americans have made this mistake. Please consider the two points I have just outlined, that Trump is embedded in the Alt-Right movement and that the Alt-Right is a racist organization. Research it, feel free to talk to me about it. Talk to minorities about it and just minded and well-read folks. Reconsider. This one is important. The world has been at this point in the past. It’s a place we hoped we’d never return to – but we have to recognize it.

All of this is to say – I pray you will do some soul searching on this. I have friends and relatives who have been Trump supporters who I know are good people. I say this with all love and hope and prayer. Check your sense of smell. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Seriously. This for me is not about politics but is more of a “soul of the country” issue. It’s worth discussing lovingly and openly so that we understand what it is we are supporting.

Here are a couple of related resources:

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Bahaviorism critique based on an email chat with a friend.

A friend brought to my attention an article about how behavioral psychology can be used to manipulate people, citing it as an example of how science can be used for harm. In essence here was my response:

Behaviorism bothers me in a lot of ways. I appreciate its simple elegant genius but I am thrilled that the world of psychology has moved beyond it as a mono-perspective. It is one of my favorite perspectives to critique not because it is wrong – it’s not wrong, it’s just that it is incomplete and can be reductionist in application.  I love to critique it because the brain as a reward system is a really disappointing model.

It also turns out it can be a poor model for healing and a great model for (as the article suggests) brainwashing, addiction, and manipulation. Electrodes in the hypothalamus of rats in the seventies showed that as soon as the stimulus was removed “learnings” didn’t survive well.

One of the insights from this may be that the behavioral model for learning and development is too primitive and limited. It relies on ancient reward systems and doesn’t really address what makes us most human. It treats us like lizards with faster processors. We are so much more and our needs are more complex and meaningful.

Behaviorism is a valid tool but it is too often used by advertising firms, and not for healing – but rather for hurting and for extruding in what arguably constitutes a violation of the Hippocratic oath. The decision about that latter idea may rest on the question of to what extent psychology is to be understood as essentially a healing discipline analogous to medicine, or rather an economic device. Of course doctors have to make money and even, medical equipment manufacturers who are not doctors but who are also not- NOT relevant to the healing disciplines, so there is as in most things, room for a grey area and a discussion. But this is not the same thing as a license for relativism. A relevant quotation that keeps coming up and sticking in my mind these days and which helps to clarify follows:
Plato asks the question in The Republic:
“Is the physician, … a healer of the sick or a maker of money? And remember that I am now speaking of the true physician.

Those Greeks were great with the big questions weren’t they?

Meeting a Buddhist “Bhikshu”

When my friend called me before going out of town for a little while he asked me to help him to make his food offering to a Buddhist monk in Nashville. I was intrigued and kind of excited, which is why I am blogging about the experience. On the phone I commented that I have been asked to feed, pets, and water plants when friends go away – but never this.

My son’s, Ethan and Eli and I traveled to a Theravada Buddhist temple today in Nashville.

The website along with the address and event’s information may be found at thebuddhisttemple.org

There we met a Buddhist Monk and presented to him an offering from my good friend who would normally present the offering today. This friend of mine was out of town and for my boys and I it was a good opportunity to visit a Buddhist monk.

My family also gave him a small gift which Ethan made. I asked if Ethan would give him the gift – a coaster which he decorated with the word "love" in Chinese.

The monk was very kind and seemed very sincere and nice. He explained that in the Pali language "Bhikshu" means monk and that I could call him "Bhikshu"

Also he explained a couple things about Buddhist practice and tradition of the offering which was helpful. In turn I shared with him that I have been interested in Buddhism since I was around my children’s age and have studied it and had dreams about Buddhism, Buddhist temples and Buddhist monks throughout my life.

When we left I took a picture of a Chinese Church that was his next door neighbor. Incidentally, this Buddhist Monk is Caucasian. He feels very genuine at first meeting and was dressed in traditional Buddhist monk clothing. I must remark – what a wonderful age we live in where we can see in the United States, a Chinese church – right next to a very authentic – yet uncommonly pale-skinned monk of a very eastern tradition. He said he has been a Buddhist for almost forty years but a monk for not quite that long. I thought he wont mind me posting on this blog a little about our visit – although it felt presumptuous to ask for his photograph, and so there is none here.

Nurse Jackie and Stuff

Before you read this, listen to a couple of minutes from this position of the “US and Them” podcast episode “Heroin I – N’ganga Dimitri” from March 22: http://pca.st/G2Md#t=27m37s beginning at minute 27.37 when Dimitri talks about why addicts are his favorite people. It’s a real perspective shifter and frankly I feel a little bit of a recognition of some of what he is talking about. My favorite people are often the vulnerable, the incarcerated, the messed up etc. and it really isn’t because of morbid fascination or some kind of pathological interest in distraction like it might have been when I was younger. I think it is a mixture of my desire to reach into humanity where the rubber really meets the road on the one hand (in the midst of humanity’s trouble in other words) and a kind of recognition of the way in which people are not what they are cracked up to be. The troubled or pathologised are often people who have beautiful a great and uncommon gift or sensitivities that go un-appreciated or sometimes untapped and the people “in good standing” out there are often not so decent when it comes down to it. You have to find their closets or talk to their spouses. The people who “are troubled” in other words simply have troubles we know about (and often gifts that we DON’T know about) and the “well” might not actually be doing as well as they seem. With the troubled you have an in – they are often able to get to a place of beginnings, of reaching out, of receptivity more easily than people who have much to loose.

So I had to collect a couple of clips from my new favorite show – Nurse Jackie. This show was very challenging for me because it involves a lead character who lies, cheats, manipulates and commits adultery. Watching it makes me cringe- especially the adultery stuff. I am repelled by the main character of the show in a lot of ways – but also fascinated. I wondered if it was a guilty pleasure or if the show had some substance (a little of both?).

In any case, I collected two video clips here that I was very fascinated by: http://link.faizoro.com/njclips

  • In one clip the main character intervenes on behalf of a waitress who is being persecuted in a manner that employs her powers of manipulation, lying and power-politics for the forces of good. This totally fascinates me because it makes me realize that she has some characteristics that are not only admirable but very enviable if they can be used for the right reason and that these characteristics are the same ones that make her an accomplished addict and adulterer. Did I mention the show is challenging for me? Really interesting stuff.
  • in the other clip, on a somewhat similar note you see how one of her daughters – the troubled one shows how her tremendous sensitivity towards a really good end in cheering up her little sister. This same sensitivity which has caused her to engage in ripping her hair out and morbidly obsessing over dangers and worries too maniacally for a well adjusted adult – much less a child – makes her an uncommonly skillful sister at times. It’s a beautiful insight.

This all reminds me a lot of the “Exploring the Disease Model” episode of my favorite podcast, ShrinkRapRadio. Here is a link to the episode number 503: http://pca.st/q5Yf in which a professor of clinical psych. makes a compelling case for de-pathologizing our view of the troubled people psychologists serve.

  • In the same podcast episode from about minute 44 he gives an excellent example of how we often have a backwards view of peoples strengths and weaknesses in the way we pathologize folks in the world of psychology. Really one should listen to the whole episode and while I don’t automatically agree with all his opinions (I reserve judgment and have some questions) I find his perspective generally deeply illuminating and thought provoking.

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I was just watching my favorite Chinese singer and thought to myself some things that might be worth sharing. Here is the singer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fJrJ3H2MDE&nohtml5=False

What I was thinking about is how the popular music in the states – that is to say so called “pop” music especially, rap music, R&B and maybe to some extent rock that is somewhat everpresent – these days the stuff that is coming out is sometimes lewd and to my taste even when it is not lewd, fairly uninteresting and emotionally – not at all magnetic and alluring.  Concerning lewd music I feel like there is a kind of irony in that it seems to come partly from a sexual liberation impulse at at the same time, sometimes it seems to actually degrade the station and dignity, especially of women in a way which I find possibly “un-liberating”.  It may sometimes even contribute to attitudes among men which can be harmful.  I lived in China for a while and have visited several times since – sometimes for weeks.  I haven’t found any music there that degrades women except what has been imported and is in either Japanese or English.

It’s a contrast.  There isn’t much lewd music to be found in China and while some of the themes are the same, such as romantic love, the content is less childish and more moving, a little more surprising (unpredictable) and subtle. Even if it’s none of these things, it’s usually well – a little sweeter – the sentiment expressed seems somehow less hyperbolic and more simple-hearted and expressive. Admittedly many of the songs sound very naive, so there’s that.

There are huge themes that in our music have almost disappeared from the American landscape in most genres which still have a powerful hold on Chinese popular culture and this I think ads to the charm and bredth of the content. The most popular songs in China still sing about the countryside, about life, about the beauty of the land – of a particular place, or childhood, or home-town, of family and heartbreak. In that way it’s thematically something like old country music in the states – it reaches more through the breadth of life and it does so with a kind of modesty which leaves plenty of space for quieter thoughts and emotions.

About that modesty – I hope I’m no prude but look at and notice – don’t you think Teresa Teng is actually more attractive and alluring with her less barbie-doll shape and much more modest – if a bit sparkly and gaudy (hey – it’s the entertainment industry we are talking about) attire? Isn’t this woman sort of doing really well, without having to try so hard in other words? In fact, isn’t that why she is so attractive because she isn’t exhibiting herself, she is just singing and singing well and with feeling and simply making contact with the audience by emoting and also by dressing up some?

I just wanted to point some of these things out in the vein of “less is more” – I hope I don’t sound prudish or that I have misrepresented either culture. Open to corrections. But let me just admit – I’m not saying “all” our music is a certain way or anything of the sort. Of course there is an infinite amount of great music probably in most countries including our own. I’m more talking about general sweeping trends of who tends to get propped up and who gets air time, and what kind of stuff people are able to easily find. To this I can say that to my own ears, the most popular music radio stations and TV stations in China tend to be something I find really refreshing when I lived there and I thought I’d comment.

Now, here is my favorite song by her – Tian Mi Mi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SE-HlEG9m7I

American cover of same song with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAoHInuj7o4

Of course I love all sorts of music and all sorts of American styles – I couldn’t listen to only Chinese Pop – but I just feel like I notice some “pigments” for lack of a better word that we might be missing out on in the popular culture here. Thoughts? Response?

P.S.  Now it is 2016.04.13, seven days after I originally posted this.  I’m changing the title from “Not to pick on our culture but ..” to “Try” after a song by Colby Caillat I heard for the first time today which expresses perhaps more eloquently than I – some of the points I had wanted to convey.  I was inspired by how the singer during the video begins removing all her make up.  It was in a way – a brave way to punctuate the video.

Divine Superfluous Beauty

So I’ve been thinking lately about a concept Joseph Campbell uses some times. He talks about how we see a logical progression throughout prehistoric evolution between the higher primates and our own species with regard especially to tool manipulation and fashioning. You can see for example some of the great apes occasionally developing systems of sharpening sticks in order to dig into termite mounds and such. It is readily clear how this could have progressed in the progenitors of man to refinements in tool craft and in tandem, refinements in his eye-hand coordination and in the brain that drove this dialectic throughout eons of evolution.

A child can understand this. Something startling happens though when we look at the crudest and oldest tools of the neoliths and their ancestors. At some point we see blades that are designed to be not just useful but to be beautiful. Why would man do this? Why make a blades that are increasingly curved, serpentine, or embellished? Strictly speaking there was no necessity for it and if anything it makes the tool much more difficult to make and potentially, arguably – less useful?

We see that beauty is really a kind of principle in nature but one which to a superlative degree – man latches on to as a kind of conscious value. Why? Why spend time – lifetimes even, honing a poetic tradition? Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about this at length in part of her interview by Kristina Tippet in “On Being”. She discovered scientific reasons for Asters and Goldenrod to be found so frequently growing together when they look so beautiful and complimentary as compared with their growing separately.

So there may be many thoughts along the lines that man’s pursuit of “Divinely Superfluous Beauty” may be a spiritual longing which is unique to man and somehow outside of the purview of evolutionary science – this interpretation may also be too limiting. It turns out that Asters and Goldenrod – being complimentary colors, do better together because they attract more pollinators then when growing separately. Therefore they breed more prolifically than when growing apart so that growing separately is a less favorable circumstance for each. We might say that beauty brings with it – greater fecundity and if that is so in many circumstances in nature we can see easily how there is an evolutionary advantage to it.

In any case- the degree of the superfluity(seeming non-necessity let’s say) and divinity(deliberately aspirational and inspirational character lets say) of that beauty in the mundane life of man is sometimes staggering when we take a moment to think about it. It’s easy to point these things out in grand works like the Sistine Chapel or (personal favorite) the sand mandalas of the Buddhists, but that has not been on my mind. I have been more fascinated by the mundane divine superfluity in our quest for beauty – the more mundane the more fascinating. It mirrors my deepening fascination at the ingenuity of the humble, ancient pocket-watch – almost comprehensible but just beyond intellectual reach of this humble wayfarer. I have no deep fascination with the inner workings of my (vastly superior) cell phone because at that level it just may as well be magic it is so far beyond my comprehension.

I have snapped a couple photos related to my fascination about mundane pursuits of beauty. Here is a picture from a couple of days ago – the 22 of March. I was having a conversation with my friend Brandon Mealer. He generously let me record his dream in pursuit of a notion I have to eventually put up a podcast syndication about dreams, personal stories and other ponderous tops of interest to me. Here is the coffee beverage I was served – a delicious “Monkey Mocha” – a superbly crafted Mocha Latte infused with fresh banana puree. Wonderful. But look at that foam? Actually they have tenders there that do a better job than this with specific images of hearts or flowers. Superfluous, Divine, Beautiful. Nothing to do with taste or nutrition – but a delight. Of course we could talk about the embellished wood finish or the cup or the ring but again – I am more fascinated in my mood these days by the most ordinary and frivolous instances of this phenomenon. It is as wondrous to me as the antics of the birds of paradise as they attract their mates.

Then here is a case of something fairly ugly which is beautiful only in abstract but it came to mind for me in this vein. My compost heap. It’s troublesome and ugly but it is the beginning of an aesthetic experience which is holistic, comprehensive and aesthetically immersive – that of gardening while reducing the garbage and carbon footprint of my family. From a survival standpoint it’s an incredibly superfluous activity – composting. Capitalists are probably allergic to the very idea – but for me it’s kind of a wonderful thing.

We sometimes find contradictions in our quest for beauty. The hippie in me likes to eat organic broccoli for example – but I buy this stuff at Kroger and the packaging is abhorrent to that same inner-hippie. I think – “Didn’t manufacturers realize that by making a tag that is so difficult to recycle they would be putting off the very people that want to buy their organic products?” But at the same time – the little tag is attractive and neatly and beautifully constructed. It’s a battle of two opposing aesthetic paradigms – one ideological and one physical.

Finally – the most mundane of all – here I find my self spending ten minutes deeply, frenetically and OCD-ishly engaged in chipping away and the minutest imperfections after a “pretty good” paint job of the new railing we installed at the kitchen stage of our old property. I’m enraptured by this activity and my endorphin are surging. I can feel a kind of joy at noticing and banishing such small and persistent details and wiping them clean I feel a kind of beatific joy. We do all these things without noticing them but for me- perhaps just for this one month of my life – I’m noticing a lot of things in the human world which involves our pursuit of beauty. Are their evolutionary explanations for that or spiritual explanations for that? Everyone can and should make their very own answer but my answer – a Bahá’í answer is that very harmoniously – there will be both which are fully and equally valid. Beauty, and a sensitivity to and thirst for it is something which evolved and on the other hand – evolution it’s self for that matter may be more than beautiful – it may be divine..

Joseph Campbell on the contemporary myth

I am slowly wending my way through a film which is a long series of interviews with Joseph Campbell called “The Power of Myth”. I rented it through the library. It appeals to the humanist in me deeply but to the Bahá’í in me it is even more inspirational since Bahá’u’lláh seems to outline 160 some years ago such a myth as Campbell seems to anticipate here: (link to the video clip https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uFHLk0ejh3yk_SSD_rbqGGQW4MD-8EtODA/view?usp=sharing )

Most big myths of extensive and long lived civilizations, past and present in a way I think anticipate this new mythos and cosmology – and this new identification of society as a universal social monad. In fact you get this idea in very plain language from the teachings the majority of religions and philosophies only it is clothed in a language which places this world peace and unity in the future and which is often less emphatic than Campbell and Bahá’u’lláh employ. I say less emphatic but this is not always the case. We should not forget that the end times prophecies of both Buddhism and Christianity clearly talk about universal peace and the uniting of the tribes of man in language which is unequivical actually little as it is brought up. Really they sound to me like an end time story describing very much the same thing with the same outcome. A little less well known to some of you may be Hopi and other first nations prophecies concerning the end times and the uniting of the “four canoes” in the end times.

The latter is very interesting and powerful. There are many different versions of this end time White Buffalo Calf woman prophacy but there are some common features to many of the different versions. Often, she will return as a white buffalo calf instead of a woman or that a white buffalo calf will harold her return (she would return as a person but before then, a white buffalo calf would be born). In other stories she returns as a “white man” – interesting since it is unlikely many of the ancient first nations peoples would have encountered any white men though not impossible. There was of course the voyage of Leif Erikson the Viking who did land in America in ancient times and there may have been others for all I know. But this latter version is said by many anthropologists (and this theory is widespread enough you may have heard of it) why many of the tribes encountering Europeans for the first time venerated them. The thinking is they were looking for the return of their prophet. You wont find much written on the details of these prophecies perhaps because they exist primarily as a sacred and an oral tradition. I encountered them out of the mouths of first nations friends and elders severally – sometimes during ceremonies. I would go far into these details suffice it to say the four canoes are regarded by first nations peoples as euphemisms referring to the four tribes of man – once and in future – united, the red, the white, the black and the yellow man with each his different teachings and path and destiny given by the Creator.

And Campbell I think is right in pointing out that without the tenets of a universalizing mythos in terms of for example a societal identification as “the people of the world” as a single tribe – the world will fail to progress and will languish in the face of a changing. modernizing and connected situation. In other words- we seem to have entered an age when the world has shrunk sufficiently and become sufficiently technologically advanced that we will not survive another thousand years unless we operate as a harmonious planet. That is to say – unless the tribes of man behave as members of a family and the species of man behave as a responsible citizen of nature.

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That said – I don’t wish to define the many in terms of the one. By pointing out how insightful Bahá’u’lláh’s vision was I do not presume to diminish the validity of other points of view whether religious or those or indifferent to religion. Far from it – my point is rather that we are looking at the beginning of an age in which it becomes possible and even necessary not only for important and powerful and numerically significant civilizing world-views to recognize and respect one-another peaceably (miracle enough) but for perspectives to regard one another with no less than mutual appreciation recognizing certain valid, fundamental underpinnings, certainly common goals, and increasingly a common planetary fate and stake in a commonwealth of human values. I have said many times over the years that despite being deeply religious in my perspective – I admire very much the atheist spirit for example and the honesty, skepticism and often enough, the virtue which it has brought to balance a world so oft ravaged by religious hypocrisy, fanaticism and violence. How in justice can we fail to acknowledge and appreciate the sobriety and reason that comes with an empiracist perspective and responsibility?

I remember recently the Pope acknowledging evolution as a valid science. I was floored by this when I read about it and while many acquaintances have told me “well yes, but the Catholics always believed in evolution” my own experience with my Catholic friends was that they were extremely averse to the idea. For the pope – perhaps the single most influential Christian on the planet to acknowledge evolution for me felt like we live in a world where new possibilities might be in store which didn’t manifest in the past even in my own short lifetime thus far. For millennia into the past it seemed it was impossible for Christianity to live comfortably in a world where science and empiricism could develop without sensor. When Bahá’u’lláh talked about the oneness of science and religion as components of a harmonious view of reality it must have read as naive. We see this very perspective gaining traction slowly but inexorably so that today the view has passed out of obscurity and become one of the more dynamic engines of thought animating the contemporary thought.

And now we have the Pope and the Jews conversing in apparent friendship and mutual appreciation. I am naive enough to hope there is sincere admiration taking place but if the truth is more calculated I am alright with the idea that just the notion of an end to strife is one which some prominent religious leaders are willing to endorse at least in word and symbol. This is not the same world I was born into. Not the same which I went to high school in – there are new possibilities.

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/12/10/orthodox_rabbis_issue_groundbreaking_statement_on_christians/1193458

In any case- the words of Campbell have inspired me. Yesterday I told my sisteor Amelia that if it didn’t seem too crazy I had a mind to plant a flag in my front yard- like those American flags I see. But this flag would the a lithograph on fabric hoisted on a proper flag pole of the view of earth from space. This is my home – this is our home- we are one family it would suggest. The earth is my country. In fact Bahá’u’lláh did say something emphatically similar: “the earth is one country and mankind its citizens.” but again – is see this idea represented in many traditions of the world as something that will happen one day in the future. I can declare it now though and feel the idea come of age for me. I am an American, a white man, an English speaker but I am proud more of my humanity than of any of those distinctions.

Sandstone and Lightning Storms

[published on behalf of the author, Arthur Ketcham written on his flight back from the Middle East]

Sandstone and Lightning Storms
28 October 2015

When one wakes up in the middle of the night to a clamoring electric storm, it may be natural to sit up and watch the show, especially knowing it’s going to keep you awake regardless. The morning, I awoke this way. The unusual part of my vantage to this storm, was that I was looking out from a wavy red sandstone mouth of a cave, and my Bedouin guide Awad was fast asleep under the opposite wall, dreaming about the lush fields of winter barley this torrent will germinate.

That evening, our group of three Coloradans, four Bedouin young men, and one Bedouin elder had met for dinner, in a cave used during herding seasons. Getting there was an accomplishment in its own right, as our guide’s ancient Toyota pickup braved monsoon rains, crawling up dirt roads, leading us to a point where me continued by walking on stone trails built along cliff wedges. When me got to our cave, we met the other guides who would have dinner with us. When the rains started flooding the first cave, we evacuated to a larger cave close by, carrying all the food, drinks, and sitting blankets which had been brought by donkey before the heavens opened up.

Once we got set up in the new cave, we bantered about the sites and archaeology in Petra we saw earlier that day, then about families, freedom from high tech, and paradoxically the lack of desire to leave home range-lands for the semi-nomadic Bedouin, and the globe-trotting wanderlust on the part of we urban Americans. To quote one, “I left home for nine days once, and I missed Petra more than I could handle.”

Under the magical wavy sandstone ceiling accented with hundreds of year old campfire soot, we regaled each other with stories. The elder, a dark and wrinkled soul, his head covered by a large red-and-white Arabian Kafia held in place by heavy black leather bands, told tales of warfare, pointing up to the scars in the sooty ceiling above our heads, where bullets from across the valley had targeted the caves dwellers, just a couple generations previous. The stone wall covering the opposite entrance of the cave, except for a small portal window, was used as a gunsight by those defenders of these cliffs, against rival tribesmen.

Then came stories of how the previous king promised free infrastructure developments in return for them moving out of their ancient city, inhabited since pre-antiquity, only to fill it with tourists, hotels, and high bills for these “free” infrastructure improvements. That said, they’ve learned to resourcefully hock wares, souvenirs, and mule rides to tourists.

While waiting for dinner to cook, two young Bedouin would call out a melodic chant in their language, and the elder, standing outside by the fire, would call back with a responsive verse.

Our dinner, after an hour of prep and another of cooking, was eaten entirely by hand-and-pita: sliced potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and chicken legs, served with crème fraîche. There were no plates, utensils, tables, or chairs. Just our cross-legged laps, and abundant pita bread.

Though my travel mates went back to their hotel after dinner, I stayed behind with the Bedouin, ready to enjoy the finest Sandstone accommodations this side of Utah. I wouldn’t say I slept well in a cave on a stormy night, but I’m so glad I had the experience!

So what do I make of it all? Well, I have new friends: nomadic goatherds connected by Facebook and WhatsApp. I discovered the wonders of Arab hospitality, and this I will never forget. I look forward to visiting my friends again, insha’Allah.

E Ink vs. The Red Book

I feel like I need to keep posting during this early period to give the blog a shot at sustaining momentum.  For that momentum to kick in, I’m hoping this will become conversational with responses, challenges, questions and comments and – posts by other ‘tribe members’ (Ketchums, Crofts, Youngs, Proudfoots, Bagginses etc.).

jung109

I was thinking about getting another digital ereader for the family though I am somewhat ambivalent about it.  I’m considering a B&N Nook Glowlight. Here is my need: I have boys that often need to read some form of literature which exists in the public domain so long as we are willing to forego the wonderful substance made of wood-pulp which feels so lovely between the fingers to dog-ear and scribble on and bookmark and even to smell.  Additionally it can be helpful even to buy an expensive E-book in a format fairly impervious to the degradation and limitations of time and space.

The next best thing to paper books for reading might not be a phone or tablet.  Think of the glare, the poor battery life, the aesthetic clutter, the distractability of the operating system, and the fact of the discomfort of even the lightest varieties of these during extended reading.  The E Ink readers I think are much better for reading because their batteries last long enough to put on a shelf in the library like any book, and they read much more like paper.  Yet there are terrible weaknesses.  Some of my interface design gripes deal with the fact that annotation is still a terrible experience.  I’m much better served by actual margins on physical paper which I can dog-ear, flip through, bookmark, tag with post-its, highlight, scribble on, sketch on etc. much more naturally and efficiently- though not in a way that is searchable.

In the future, improvements maybe made here.  Imagine being able to study a text from a computer and annotate and bookmark and tag in detail and then to later reference those details from your E ink reader.  Imagine scrawling a lasso and diagram in the margins of an e-book from your E-ink or phablet display and then to be able to tag those scribblings from your computer.  Imagine desktop software capable of optionally pulling Chicago Style citations along with a text snippet for use in your essay from a book which you primarily read the first time from a Nook Glow-light E Ink display.    Imagine easy, ubiquitous and standardized annotation capabilities delivered from a centralized cloud based platform, the augmentation of stylus based annotations and other fine touches can be imagined by cleverer people than me.

The question is – will E ink readers ever be a great experience?  I think they can be but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest around doing this stuff profoundly better than we are doing them right now.  Considering the savings and the base utility – it’s a worth-while trade off in many ways so I think in my own case I’ll get one soon after agonizing about it.  It’s a shame we seem to be stuck in a plateau of interface an machine design on these E ink readers.  It reminds me of the phone era just preceding the introduction of the iPhone.  The hardware was all there- we just needed Steve Jobs to deliver us from the Egypt of terrible interface design.  Steve – if you are listening – somewhere an E ink product manager needs a good muse!!

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There is a part of me and a part of my culture that feels like E ink will never compare to a book.  When I think about this – trying to be impartial and just, I would say this: it partly depends on the book.  To give an extreme example, I just received “The Red Book” by Carle Gustav Jung the other day which I ordered from Amazon and an E ink based divice would be hardest pressed to ever deliver an experience comparable to the magic and wonder of parting the pages of that bad-boy which weighs about 8 pounds.  That book is printed on “two different special types of paper” with library quality materials (see from about minute 19 in the first lecture found here from gnosis.org). The spine of which is partially hand-bound in Italy so that it takes 6 weeks to produce a printing.

Here is a moment I like a lot in the introduction of that book written by one of Jung’s colleagues which by way of description gives us some insight into how it is that some books especially must be obtained and admired as material artifacts in order to be appreciated fully:

Tina Keller, who was in analysis with Jung from 1912, recalls 
that Jung "often spoke of himself and his own experiences": 

In those early days, when one arrived for the analytic 
hour, the so-called "red book" often stood open on an 
easel. In it Dr. Jung had been painting or had just finished a 
picture. Sometimes he would show me what he had done and 
comment upon it. The careful and precise work he put into 
these pictures and into the illuminated text that accompanied 
them were a testimony to the importance of this undertaking. 
The master thus demonstrated to the student that psychic 
development is worth time and effort. 122

While technically the art of the book can be seen in an ereader and to some degree appreciated, especially if it is a color e-reader yet that appreciation is a dim shadow from the scene described where the book itself has a vital dialectical force and influence upon the reader – even to the extent that it’s physical presence in the room has a transformative effect upon the inhabitants – even the room itself.  As much as I admire- even fetishize technology – there is a dark side to it which for me is ever-present.  Simply put it is a dim shadow and a distraction away from – the natural and the authentic in some ways.  What it displaces – it can never fully replace and this is not a bad thing as long as that fact is fully appreciated.  Negatively, I thought just last night of modern connective technology as a kind of “glowing scatology” which we must dietarilly restrict ourselves from as if it were access to an endless supply of Haagendazs.  The kind of balance to be struck really I think is suggested by the modern prevalence of exercise.

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People have exercised throughout history but as modern man has slipped into a relatively more sedentary life-style exercise is less and less the dominion of athletes and enthusiasts and more the mandate of every conscientious citizen who wishes for fitness.  In the past, hoeing your row, building your house, riding your horse, washing your clothes or just walking from home to work and to wherever else would give you more than enough physical exertion to stay fit in many cases.  Similarly as we use our phones to text our loved ones we must not forget how to look into their eyes or in using interceding and older forms of technology – at least call them on the phone or write them an actual real letter.  And the way to stay fluent with these more natural behaviors is to do them continuously, with frequency and with deep regard and consideration.  We can have our tech “and eat it too” it just requires a kind of deliberation that previously was rarely ever as necessary for most people as it is today – kind of like jogging.  The lumberjack didn’t have to do it but the cubicle rat really should as much for his mental, emotional and spiritual as for his physical well-being.

That Red Book is available as a pdf sometimes on the web for free – I’ve pulled it down and have a copy.  However it’s not the same experience.  There is a whole ritual involved in reading this red book in the large paper form.  In many ways it is a ‘period’ experience in which you travel backwards in time through many ages and stages of the book-publication process as well as through ages of the history of art.  The book is in German and is hand-written so that what I read is the translation, referring painstakingly to the corresponding pages in order to peer through the veils besides time and place – of language and culture.

Jung’s interior world informs and enriches my own.  I think too – he was writing to me – don’t author’s search for their appreciators just as readers search for their a connection and relationship within the page, to their favorite authors?

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Reading the Red Book on a PDF is a bit like listening to classical music through ear-buds and – given the production character of the physical book, reading that physical book is more like attending a great orchestral performance in an exquisite auditorium.  The emotion, the power, the beauty, the warmth, depth and size of the experience – it’s something incomparable.  The PDF – much like an audio CD of a Beethoven piece seems very true to the melody but not faithful to the fidelity of the original.  It’s a sketch, a silhouette, a photograph of the loved one long to visit.  You want those too, but not the way you require the periodical glance and voice of the person.  You get the accurate fact of the thing but not the three-dimensional and motive truth of it.

His exquisite yet fluid and wild calligraphic style uncannily hearkens to many disparate bygone ages and diverse cultures besides his own simultaneously.  I have to clean the table carefully and make sure there is space and time for the experience – which is what it is – experience more than acquisition or product. I pour myself into the page and enter into a presence with the author and with times bygone and geography far-flung.  My children and wife have rarely seen it out since it’s arrival because I need time and space for the reading ritual to protect both the book and state of mind.

While an e-reader can never adequately bookify a thing like this which is as much art as it is literature even removing the artistic embellishments we find that an E-Bible or E-Tao Te Qing or an “E-book of poetry can never experientially approach anything like a replacement of the physical counterpart.  In truth however – they can augment it the natural book.  Case in point, this blog post may ironically enrich a reader’s appreciation of hard books and the Red book in particular.  In addition, augmenting my study of the Red Book by reading the PDF gives me some added freedoms and time with aspects of the tome.  Thus – modernity may enhance our lives very much as long as we are mindful of the aforementioned dark side.  In fact the crisis of technological abstraction can enhance our appreciation for life in a way because – just as this post does, it can draw us to reflections about the value and nature of things like visceral experience and personal human interaction – even of the natural world.  Authenticity and nature can allude us cleverly for a time but it is possible to relocate it if we are mindful and even to move deeper in our appreciation of our humanity in a way that unites us to all ages and definitions in a kind of handshake and nodding, affectionate glance with our neolithic primogenitors.

Ethan’s Coming of Age party Saturday Oct 3 2015

So Saturday my eldest son Ethan had his “Baha-Mitzfa” (no – that’s not a real word). That is to say – he celebrated with friends and family becoming an adult in the eyes of the Bahai community. This happens at age 15. It’s like a quinceanera only for both sexes.

It was just so wonderful to have Ethan’s friends over. Also present were my mom and my dear friend Chase foster and Ethan’s wonderful Baha’i friend Iman. Also my sisters showed up and my niece Tabby showed up but they were late because there were other things going on that day. Ethan’s friendships seem to run deep and they are very sweet people. I said a few words about his nature and the process of becoming an adult to those gathered, directing my talk mainly to Ethan’s friends. I talked about how Ethan is very intuitive and sensitive and told about how weeks before a surprise cancer diagnosis, Ethan told me he dreamed a huge vulture came down and grabbed his grandfather (mother’s side) by the shoulders and flew off into the horizon with him.

I also played a recording of Ethan telling me about a dream he had one night in November of 2011 which anticipates the coming of adolescence. Listen to it here – it’s really delightful. I asked the youth gathered “what do you think that frog means. Do you remember the name of the frog? Why would it have a name like that? What does it mean?” To her credit, one young lady shot her hand up and said “It’s called an Infrog and that means it’s like Ethan’s ‘inner frog’!” Quite right!! Very Exciting!! Then we discussed how, isn’t that what adolescence is like? Just like in the dream you are discovering your inner creatures and they are all different and unique? Isn’t it just like that how like in the dream, some of these young men and women will get “carried away” and become lost in their life or as if captivated and kidnapped by that process of discovery, while others wonderfully learn as if how to name their inner self and to call on it and to command it and bring it to bear in the world? Isn’t this dream wonderful and exciting, giving wisdom about what troubles to avoid and what wonderful discoveries and new powers to look forward to as you grow into adulthood? There is tons in this dream but the kids were surprised I think and enjoyed this insight that Ethan’s dream provided. It was also wonderful to hear his young voice again before “the change” came, deepening the sound of his speech.

Since so many of his non-Baha’i friends were there we decided he wouldn’t have any kind of Baha’i ceremony that day but save it for a more intimate occasion maybe this coming weekend at my sisters home.

Anyways I was really nervous about things going well on Ethan’s birthday party and I had a nightmare the night before. It was really important to me but everything just flowed really well and was really very effortless and filled with wonderful experiences and warm exchanges.

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