Archive for November, 2010

(Roman lictor with fasces by Cesare Vecellio)

I was reading this terrifically sad and horrifyingly hilarious blog post about the body scanners and pat downs yesterday (don’t read it if you don’t like harsh and borderline obscene language…but you really should read it though), when I came across a quote from a fellow named Roger Cohen in the New York Times who said in his brilliant op-ed piece entitled The Real Threat to America:

I give thanks for Benjamin Franklin’s words after the 1787 Constitutional Convention describing the results of its deliberations: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

To keep it, push back against enhanced patting, Chertoff’s naked-screening and the sinister drumbeat of fear.

(Chertoff is the former secretary of Homeland Security who is poised to make a fat wad of cash off the expensive “Rapiscan” devices that provide a 3D view of whatever happens to be inside it, via a wash of radiation, the health effects of which are yet unclear. In this article, Annie Lowery of the Washington Post tells about her experience of looking at the 3D scan of an executive vice president at Rapiscan, in which his “appendages are clearly visible.” Ew.)

I’m not going to get into the whole body scan issue because it’s already been done beautifully well. My only job in that category is to congenially refuse to let my appendages (or lack thereof I suppose) be viewed with radioactive light come traveling time this holiday.

What I am interested in is the sinister drumbeat of fear. While the cadence of the phrase confirms the feeling, consistent and ever present, ever threatening, it also belies the manic hysteria that propels this fear forward, top heavy and seemingly out of control. How do we stop it? My first instinct has always been to throw myself on top of it and wrestle it until one of us dies. As I grow older (and, alas, a tiny bit flabbier) my instinct is slowly changing.

This is what I read in A Course in Miracles this morning:

You are indeed essential to God’s plan. Without your joy, His joy is incomplete. Without your smile, the world cannot be saved. While you are sad, the light that God Himself appointed as the means to save the world is dim and lusterless, and no one laughs because all laughter can but echo yours.

You are indeed essential to God’s plan. Just as your light increases every light that shines in Heaven, so your joy on earth calls to all minds to let their sorrows go, and take their place beside you in God’s plan. God’s messengers are joyous, and their joy heals sorrow and despair.

We will prepare ourselves for this today, in our five-minute practice periods, by feeling happiness arise in us according to our Father’s Will and ours. Begin the exercises with the thought today’s idea contains. Then realize your part is to be happy.

Now, when I first read this, I was like…ummmm…just go ahead and be happy? Even if I’m not? I think that Jung would call the repression police and bring me in for delusional therapy. But then I started to remember what my (also fully accredited) counselor told me about letting go of things that make me angry…she said I should do it, not because I am so like Jesus and able to be so giving and fair, but because when I don’t, it doesn’t feel good. No altruism necessary. It’s not fun to be bent out of shape and unhappy.

Last bit, and here’s the real rub, my counselor told me that the best cure for when you are being selfish is to be generous instead. So when I’m feeling down in the dumps because nobody wants to to their own dishes, what I really need to do is to give away shoulder rubs or something. But wait a minute! Then they will think that I’m always going to give away shoulder rubs AND they won’t do the dishes!! Grumble, grumble…If they think that I’m going to…they’ve got another thing coming…

The sinister drum beat in my head. Fascism starts at home.


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(Roger-Noël-François de La Fresnaye)

I was reading a blog posting this afternoon when I came across this quote:

The greatest threat to science and scientific progress is not religion, ignorance, or superstition, it is the mistaking of a model or paradigm for Reality, or “laws of Nature.” It is the creation of a type of religious fundamentalism around a paradigm – a kind of black and white, authoritarian absolutism about the model.

I couldn’t find the author of the quote, so I googled it. It belongs to Richard Milton, author of a book entitled Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment. There is a “read inside” option on the Amazon page for this book, and so I did. In the introduction to the book (which is pretty much all I could read for free) I found some very interesting information.

After mentioning a few scientists who were demoted or dismissed because their work showed “repeatable and empirical evidence” of such things as consciousness affecting electric instruments, positive effects of homeopathy, and the discovery of cold fusion (which is cheap and isn’t supposed to work–despite the fact that 92 universities and corporations have recreated cold fusion results), Milton goes on to say that:

The scientific fundamentalism of which these are disturbing signs is found today not merely in provincial pockets of conservatism, but at the very top of the mainstream management of science, on both sides of the Atlantic. In times such as these, some academics appoint themselves vigilantes to guard the gates of science against troublemakers with new ideas and new discoveries.

This all reminds me of the latest chapter I read in The Incarnation of Ahriman by Rudolf Steiner. I go back and forth on some of the things that Steiner said, but , I’ve gotta say, this particular chapter really vibed with me. He basically said that the ancient people knew inherently that spirituality was a part of the world around them. They felt themselves in the stars at night. They believed that the forces that push the water down the river were also inside of them. They knew that if they prayed, the energy from their thoughts would reach the gods of the rain and these gods would bless them. Our newer, more evolved sensibilities have put the kibosh on this type of tomfoolery. We believe that for something to be accepted, it needs to be evidenced in repeatable scientific forms. None of this “it just feels right” nonsense for us…

(This is a bit ironic because we often trust scientists to tell us what our reality is, because we can’t always experience it ourselves. When I teach my middle school class about some historical scientific beliefs, such as “the world is flat” and we all giggle and yammer about how silly that is. The funny part is that I have never experienced first hand the roundness of the Earth. If some highfalutin scientist came on the news and said that they have just proven in Laboratory LMNOP that the Earth is actually shaped like a stiletto high heel, experientially speaking, I would have no evidence to disprove her…We trust scientists to shape our world view for us, because we don’t have rocket ships or billion dollar labs.)

Steiner goes on to say this:

Today, gazing up from earth to the star-world, it appears filled with fixed stars, suns, planets, comets, and so on. But with what means do modern human beings examine all that looks down on them out of cosmic space? They examine it with mathematics, with the science of mechanics. What lies around the earth is robbed of spirit, robbed of soul, even of life. It is a great mechanism. What the ideas of Galileo and Copernicus have brought to mankind is grand and mighty, but not an absolute truth, by no means and absolute truth. It is one aspect of the universe, one particular perspective. For modern education we need these illusions of a mathematical nature about the universe, we must acquire them, but we must know that they are illusions. (emphasis added by me)

It just feels right.


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(Keep your bunk!)

Graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Despite having to creep about at night and lie to your mum it’s actually the most honest artform available. There is no elitism of hype, it exhibits on some of the best walls a town has to offer, and nobody is put off by the price of admission.

A wall has always been the best place to publish your work.

The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit…(Banksy, graffiti artist, qtd. from Banksy)

I was watching an art 21 program with my parter last night. Two artists were featured, a husband and wife team named Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen. The program centered on the fact that both of these artists were highly influenced by street art or graffiti art. Both artists were shown working on large installation pieces, but they made it clear that, while these larger projects paid the bills, they would not abandon the different blends of urban and folk art that inspired them. At one point in the video they went to some train tracks (presumably in San Francisco) and drew some images on the train cars there and looked around at what other artists were throwing up (that’s a graffiti art term…just learned it from here in a paper by Timothy Werwath).

Watching the show inspired me to go out and skulk around the train yards here in Eugene and see what folks have been up to:

After that heart thumping late night excursion, I was then further inspired to go the the Eugene Public Library and check out some books on graffiti art. I checked out the book Banksy by Banksy (see above quote), Stencil Nation by Russell Howze, and Obey by Shepard Fairey. All three books are full of examples of street art that made me feel like laughing and crying at the same time.

(stencil art by Banksy)

(Barry McGee aka Twist Graffiti Mural, Photo by Bixby)

Why do people make graffiti art? Why do other people paint over it? Why is graffiti art so intriguing? All of these questions and more are about to be answered (at least partially…)

Why do people make graffiti? There are lots of reasons…a couple of  the top contenders (in my opinion) are 1.) graffiti is a cheap and effective way of saying “I was here,” as well as “fuck you” in a world where most people are considered to be expendable by the authority. 2.) There’s nothing like a stripe of paint to break up the monochromity of the world, i.e., graffiti is a way of disrupting and discrediting the rule bound, constricted and sterile world of apathetic and consumptive citizenry. 3.) Graffiti is interesting to look at. It’s creative and, some would say, way better than a plain brick wall. 4.) It’s free and exciting, as long as you don’t get caught.

Why do people paint over grafitti? Here is a beautiful quote from Banksy:

Criminologists James Q Wilson and George Kelling developed a theory of criminal behavior in the 1980’s that became known as the ‘Broken Window Theory.’ They argued crime was the inevitable result of disorder and that if a window in a building is smashed but not repaired people walking by will think no-one cares. Then more windows will be broken, graffiti will appear and rubbish get dumped. The likelihood of serious crime being committed then increases dramatically as neglect becomes visible. The researchers believed there was a direct link between vandalism, street violence and the general decline of society.

So, people who are in authority paint over graffiti in order to ensure that more graffiti doesn’t pop up. A trickle will certainly become a rushing brook will certainly become a raging torrent. At least as far as criminal behavior is concerned. And graffiti is, apparently, the gateway drug to the degeneration of society.

Which, moving onto the next question, is, in my humble opine, the reason graffiti is so intriguing. It’s edgy. It reminds us that there are people in the world who are willing to spend the night in jail in order to make a point. The tagger might be from a city far away down the track, or she might be sitting next to you on the bench at Saturday Market. Graffiti is a constant visual reminder that there are other people in the world, different from you, who stood in the same place you are standing (or possibly sitting…some of the greatest graffiti I’ve seen has been in bathrooms). They may agree with you, they may disagree with you, but, it is clear that you are not alone here on this planet. It’s easy to forget.

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It’s surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you’re not comfortable within yourself, you can’t be comfortable with others.

~ Sydney J. Harris

The other night I dreamed I was in a thrift store rummaging through the shoe racks, looking for the perfect pair of shoes. After trying on several pairs that didn’t quite work, I saw some cool black ones like my grandmother used to wear. I was trying them on, when I noticed one of my old students from several years ago walking around in the COOLEST pair of shoes ever. They were basketball sneakers, green and red and aqua suede lace-ups. They had been handmade by my old student’s dad. I asked her if I could borrow them and she agreed and I wore those sweet sneaks for the rest of the dream, all the while planning to have her dad make me my very own identical pair.

Shoe: To dream of shoes may mirror an old cliche, “if the shoe fits, wear it,” and may indicate that the dreamer is coming to grips with accepting who and what they are in their expression in the world. (The Dream Encyclopedia, by James R. Lewis)

Maybe I’m starting to finally accept myself for who I am! Hooray! Indescribable happiness is sure to follow!

I recently heard a great quote in the movie The Count of Monte Cristo. The wise old man tells the resentful young man who has just been betrayed by his best friend that “being miserable is easy…it’s being happy that takes hard work.” It’s so true. Being miserable, although it’s miserable, is easy. You don’t have to exercise your will at all. You can blame everybody else for your misery without a second thought. No deep introspection, no asking of difficult questions, no taking responsibility…No free will at all, in fact, just bad habits.

What does this have to do with being nice to yourself? one might ask. Simply that by familiarizing yourself with your own weaknesses and forgiving yourself for having them, allows you to have more empathy for other people’s weaknesses making you a nicer person to be around. (Also personal weakness forgiveness also has the added bonus of allowing you to have some pre-warning as to when a weakness might show up, which gives you the opportunity to bail out before you’re in too deep.)

The news from my counselor is that unhappiness comes when we try to change somebody else so that we can be happy, when what we really need to do is to change ourselves so that everyone can be happy. Here’s a quote from a Brahma Kumaris handout:

The moment we become upset with someone in our family or at work it means we are trying to control them. And the moment others sense we are trying to control them, they distance themselves from us, and that reduces our ability to influence them in that situation. This in turn kills our effectiveness at getting things done through others, and leaves us frustrated and stressed, wondering why the world does not behave the way we want it to. This finally turns into the a very important realization – the more we try to control, the less influence we will have, whereas the less we attempt to control others, the more influence we will have. (emphasis added by me.)

So, in summation, true happiness will come from doing the opposite of whatever my first reaction is AND from ferreting out my weaknesses and learning to love them…right?

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It’s getting wintery outside! Well, as wintery as it gets here in my temperate town. This morning my dog woke me up at seven to go outside and the air was so delicious that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I can feel the holiday spirit rising up inside me…I wonder if we’ll have any snow days this year?

Thursday was Veteran’s Day so there was no school. (In celebration I watched a few happy-soldier-comes-home-to-his/her-family vignettes on facebook, but rather than warming my heart they broke it a little.)

Veteran’s Day morning we went to the mall to try and buy Harry Potter movie tickets. Unfortunately they weren’t available yet for Thanksgiving weekend so we were forced to walk around the mall for a little bit to ensure that our visit wasn’t wasted. They had all the Christmas stuff up, the big fake tree, the Santa visiting center (empty, as expected…the elves are busy elsewhere at the moment), the 50% off sale racks, Andy Williams crooning over the loudspeakers. It was actually pretty fun. Nothing gets my Christmas energy pumping like a good visit to the mall. Takes me back to the olden days when I was a teenager at Fashion Square Mall in Saginaw, MI. They still even have most of the same stores.

What is it about Christmas that brings with it so much…everything? It’s not just happy times. The holidays can be stressful too. The joyful things often have a stressful other side that begs to be examined: joyful reminiscing, buying presents for loved ones, parties and family gatherings can also be spun differently: bringing up old painful memories, realization that you can’t afford things that you want, and increased social interactions with people who you may not enjoy. It’s all there wrapped up in one energy (positive and negative) filled season.

I looked on snopes.com to see if it is true that more people commit suicide during the holidays. Their response is interesting: The only holiday that brings a marked increase in suicide is New Year’s Day. Not Christmas! By New Year’s Day, it’s all over! Snopes says that people actually commit suicide with the prospect of the end of the holiday season. The fun is over. Time to go back to work. The doldrums.

It would appear that, despite the appearance of the dark side of the holidays, we still love it. It’s a rush of fun/stressful excitement that lasts a whole month and a half. And then it’s over and gone for another year. I’ve felt it…the huge buildup to December 25, and then it passes. Life goes on. Plodding, plodding, plodding and never stopping.

So what’s the cure? I remember that once one of my old Recreation, Parks and Leisure teachers at Central Michigan University (yes, that is a real department and I minored in it) telling us that in order to escape winter in Michigan without becoming depressed, each person has to have three activities that he or she loves, that can only be done in the winter. His were probably something like snowshoeing, downhill skiing and winter camping. I shudder at the thought doing those particular activities more than once every ten years. That’s why I had to move. My anti-depression winter activities include staying in my pajamas as long as possible, mushroom hunting, and reading books in the bathtub.

But that’s just me.

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I’m reading an interesting book at the moment entitled The Incarnation of Ahriman: The Embodiment of Evil on Earth. It is a collection of lectures by Rudolf Steiner about Ahriman, the specter of ultra domination who has already incarnated or will be incarnating soon, here in the West.

In the first lecture, which is all I have read til this point, Steiner speaks about a mistake that folks in the modern world make, namely the idea that we live in a dualistic world. Steiner makes the point that in ancient times, people believed in a trichotomous cosmology. In other words, humans were made up of three parts–body, soul and spirit. Your body is your physical body, your soul is your intellect and your spirit is the supernatural part of you that interacts with spirit realm.

It isn’t too difficult to see why the Catholic church would work really hard to nix that last little bit about every human having his/her very own link to God…the priests wanted a corner on the God market. At some point during the 8th or 9th century it became heretical to believe in three parts. This was enforced rather vehemently by some powerful groups.

Steiner points out that this switch to an erronious dualistic view is apparent in most popular modern work. He points to Milton’s Paradise Lost and Goethe’s Faust to show the how conflict has taken on the duality of good v. evil. This duality is also present and prevalent in the even more modern stories by JK Rowling, Tolkien, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Philip Pullman, etc., etc., etc.

In Steiner’s world view, things are a bit different. Rather than one horrid source of evil striving to possess the souls of the multitudes fighting against one source of goodness, Steiner believes that there are two sources of evil, Lucifer-who urges humanity to throw caution to the wind and be free from the annoying rules and ethical boundaries and self discipline…”let them eat cake!”–and Ahriman–whose goal is to divert power away from the “natural” divine sources toward himself, a task that can only be completed by divorcing a human being from her own beliefs and intuitions.

Between these two powers of decay is the balancing point. For Steiner, the balancing point is Jesus. Jesus personifies the calm compassion that it takes to remain unswayed by ultimate hedonism or by ultimate domination of spirit. Steiner is not the first to corollate Jesus with the fulcrum between two parts. Here is the ancient symbol of the vesica piscis:

Notice the (for lack of better term) football shape between the two circles with equal radiuses. That shape is the pictorial form of the middle path. The dualism (two circles) automatically creates a third form, the point that lies in the middle of the two. Between any two poles (heaven/hell, good/evil, black/white, Lucifer/Ahriman, etc.) lies a middle point. The trichotomy can’t be escaped, no matter how hard those fundamentalists try.

(Grønbæk Kirke-Jesus in a vesica piscis surrounded by symbols)

Personally, I prefer to think of the vesica piscis as the middle path, rather than labeling it Jesus right away. It is the point that is neither too far in one direction or too far in the other. Our job as humans is to always check for drift and adjust course if necessary.

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Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Guy Fawkes was an English Catholic military man who, in 1605, hatched a plan with a team of conspirators to assassinate King James I and have him replaced with a Catholic princess. In order to carry out the plan they rented out the tunnels underneath the Parliament Building and set out to blow it up. They purchased barrels of gunpowder and fusing and laid them out through the “undercrofts” directly beneath the House of Lords, where the King and his evil retinue plotted their plans. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending whose side you might be on, someone wrote a warning note to a fellow Catholic who would also be in the building that day.

On the evening of 26 October, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away, and to “retyre youre self into yowre contee whence yow maye expect the event in safti for … they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament.” (from Wikipedia)

The note was delivered to the King, who had the undercrofts searched. Guy (Guido) Fawkes was arrested later that evening as he left the tunnels. He was subsequently tortured for three days with increasing brutality until he revealed the name of his co-conspirators. Shortly thereafter he was to be hanged, drawn and quartered, one of the most horrific of the punishments available to wrongdoers of the day. Guy managed to break his own neck by throwing himself off the scaffolding before the drawing and quartering, saving himself at least a portion of more pain.

Nowadays the 5th of November is celebrated as the the day that the treasonous attempt was curtailed. Each little village or town has it’s own burning of Guy Fawkes–a ceremony of sorts–in which an effigy of Guy Fawkes (clothing stuffed with rags or paper to resemble a human form) is hung up and burned. There are fireworks and special foods (black treacle, bonfire toffee, toffee apples, roasted potatoes and chestnuts, black peas and vinegar). One town burns tar barrels:

Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its tar barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century, and which is held on 5 November each year. Each of Ottery’s central public houses sponsors a single barrel. In the weeks prior to the day of the event, 5 November, the barrels are soaked with tar. The barrels are lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people’s backs and shoulders. The streets and alleys around the pubs are packed with people, all eager to feel the lick of the barrels flame. Seventeen Barrels all in all are lit over the course of the evening. In the afternoon and early evening there are women’s and boy’s barrels, but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger and by midnight they weigh at least 30 kilos. A great sense of camaraderie exists between the ‘Barrel Rollers’, despite the fact that they tussle constantly for supremacy of the barrel. In most cases, generations of the same family carry the barrels and take great pride in doing so. … Opinion differs as to the origin of this festival of fire, but the most widely accepted version is that it began as a pagan ritual that cleanses the streets of evil spirits. (from Wikipedia)

Sounds raucous. Definitely a shift from the Diwali celebrations that are happening across the seas in India and beyond…perhaps a contrast and compare in in order?

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