Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Old Family Photos Round Six

(Originally posted to Multiply December 16, 2008)

School Christmas Concerts

When my three children were young, my parents attended every event: sports days, commencement exercises, games, birthdays, Christmas concerts, the works. It was a routine they have kept up with all their grandchildren, my sister's two boys, now University students, Joel and Scott and my brothers children, Seth, Taylor and Lindsey. My oldest daughter is 33. Lindsey is a high school freshman. That tells you how many years they have been doing the grandparent duties.

My father is out again tonight. It is "hockey night in Canada" for the junior leagues. My nephew, his grandson, Seth is playing so father is off to watch the game just as he goes out to every game and every event his grandchildren are involved in. Normally Taylor would be playing tonight also but he is sick so is staying home. Together he and his brother are known as "the handsome brothers." They make quite a pair on and off the ice.

My father says that for many years he didn't really know if the grandchildren knew or cared whether he was there at their events or not. Now he knows they knew and they really cared. They would always looked to see if he was in the audience.

Tonight the torch was passed to a new generation, so to speak.

My grand-daughters Hailey and Sabrina live many, many miles away and so I have never been able to go to any of their concerts or sports games or who-have-you. But tonight was grand daughter Sharleigh's kindergarten Christmas concert and she lives here in this community. I could attend.

Not only could I attend, apparently I had to attend. Sharleigh had her mother call me not once, but twice. "Tell Poppa my Christmas concert is tonight." That is a message a grandfather cannot ignore.
Christmas concerts haven't changed since my children were young. I don't think they have changed any since I was young. Hundreds of parents crowding into an undersized, overheated gymnasium to proudly watch their offspring perform, cameras snapping, flashes popping and all to wild applause. Well, not just parents but grandparent also. My flash popped, my camera snapped, and I applauded.

Kids are all the same. I love watching the expressions on their faces. Each one is different. Each one expressing an entirely different emotion.

Well, I don't really need to say anything about the experience. You have all been their with your own children or with your grandchildren or with someone else's children. You know the drill. The play never goes out of fashion.

You always have to watch the performances of someone else's children. Even if your kid is in kindergarten because they have preliminaries now, don't you know. Even though they aren't your children you clap anyway and you mean it because they were all so damn cute and because it is the Christmas season and a little bit of good will is beginning to trickle into everyone's heart for a change.

Then it is your child or you grandchild or your niece or your nephews turn. The curtain opens and, of course, the first thing you do is look for your kin in that sea of little faces. Once you have them pinned down then you take in the wider scene. You wave at your own hoping they see you and you think they might because they wave back even though they aren't suppose to and then you realize, because you were young once too, that they can't see you at all and are just waving because they know they are loved and that them that love them will be waving at them. Sharleigh is in the red dress on the right.

And then it is all over. The little urchins file off stage and back to their classrooms where the teachers will all do admirable duty keeping them quiet until the festivities are over (Sharleigh's class were watching a movie).

Then you sit and watch everyone else's kid because that is the polite thing to do and, well, in the spirit of the season, you enjoy the performances of the kids you don't know.

My daughter Christina went to this school when she was in kindergarten. Her first Christmas concert was here. Tonight was her daughter's night.

The walls of this school are lined with the class photos of all the kids that ever attended there. Christina's photo is still there.  Sharleigh's will be there soon also. Christina is the blondie in the second row, second from the left.

Time marches on.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 11, 2008)

Sharleigh's Christmas Concert 2008

This last photo is a class photo from when Sharleigh's Mom, my daughter Christina, attended this same school.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 11, 2008)

Book Review: The Angel of Grozny

Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs
Author: Asne Seierstad
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Who said it? War is hell? It rolls so glibly off the lips of those of us who really have no idea how grim it really is. Some wars are grimer, dirtier, more horrific than others. The war in Chechnya was about as dirty as they come. To read this book is to read with your stomach in a knot and with your heart pounding and with tears in your eyes for the thousands of victims of torture for the sake of torture, it is to weep with a broken heart for the children, it is to sit numbed knowing that the cycle of violence will go on and on and on. Seierstad is a great writer. He subject is ugly. This review by Marjorie Kehe of the Christian Science Monitor says it better than I can.

Asne Seierstad is a journalist with a moth-to-flame-like attraction to the world’s hot spots. Famed for her bestselling “The Bookseller of Kabul” (based on three months she spent there in 2002), she has also written about Baghdad and Serbia.
So in a sense it’s not surprising that Seierstad’s latest book, The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War, deals with Chechnya.

And yet, reporting on Chechnya posed a different kind of risk for Seierstad: It threatened the love of Russian culture that had propelled her into journalism. Enamored of Russian poetry, the Norwegian Seierstad learned to speak the language fluently and then became a Moscow-based reporter, eagerly canvassing Russia by train as she “searched for the Russian soul with fascination and uncontrollable curiosity.”

But what she saw in Chechyna nearly extinguished her passion. “Little by little,” she writes, after experiencing Chechnya, “I had become almost anti-Russian.”
Seierstad first travelled to Chechnya in 1994 as Russian tanks rolled in to squelch an uprising. Ten years later, she returns in disguise, this time to explore a territory and a people brutally brought to heel by Russia’s military.

What she discovers is a land in which 12th-century buildings have been leveled and human lives blasted. For centuries, Russians and Chechens have fought, but this last round has been particularly devastating.

Today, Chechnya is again part of Russia. The territory has a Russian-approved Chechen president and yet, “People are more afraid now than during the war [with Russia],” one Chechen tells Seierstad.

“It’s called ‘chechenising’ the conflict,” says Seierstad. “Whereas before, Russian forces committed the worst abuses, now the Chechen militia maintains control in a society maimed by fear.”

With Russia in the headlines again after last month’s incursion into Georgia, this book is bound to atract attention. Seierstad has not written an anti-Russian book.
She does, however, offer readers chilling views of the effects of conflict and upheaval on life in Chechnya. She interviews ordinary people (a schoolteacher brutalized by government thugs, a farming family who live as outcasts because a relative became a terrorist, an elderly man who recalls Russia’s 1944 forced evacuation of Chechnya) and the injustice of it all is almost unbearable.
Seierstad also attempts to write about those now in power in Chechnya and, after a series of miscues, she finally meets with Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. The interview is a surreal encounter, almost a cross between “1984” and a Judd Apatow film.

But the dramatic center of this book – and its most wrenching material – comes from the months that Seierstad spent living with Hadijat, a Chechen woman who – after discovering that she could not have children of her own – began taking in the abandoned and neglected children of Grozny.

Tragically, there are an enormous number of such children.

Not only have many of the adults in charge of them been killed, but the breakdown of Chechen society has left them doubly bereft. (Kadyrov recently shut state-run orphanages, saying it is the job of relatives to be responsible for children in need.)
By the time Seierstad arrives in her life, Hadijat has dozens of children living with her. Having grown up as an orphan herself, Hadijat is determined that none of her charges will lack love.

Hadijat’s willingness to give her all for these children warms the heart of Seierstad’s book – and yet even all that Hadijat can give is not nearly enough.
Seierstad also interviews Russians (including the family of a soldier blinded in Chechnya) and makes clear that incomprehension exists on both sides of the equation.

But in the end it is a Russian who speaks most eloquently. “War?” wrote Tolstoy in 1853 after fighting with the Russian army in Chechnya. “What an incomprehensible phenomenon. When common sense asks: Is it right, is it necessary? the inner voice replies: No.”
(Originally posted to Multiply December 8, 2008)

Book Review: The White Tiger

Genre:  Literature & Fiction
Author: Aravind Adiga
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This, Aravind Adiga'a debut novel won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. That, a rather heady achievement for a first time novelist. Upon reading it, however, one sees that this award was clearly deserved. This was a wonderful read that was reminiscent in style of Moshin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Of this book the New Yorker wrote: "In this darkly comic début novel set in India, Balram, a chauffeur, murders his employer, justifying his crime as the act of a "social entrepreneur." In a series of letters to the Premier of China, in anticipation of the leader’s upcoming visit to Balram’s homeland, the chauffeur recounts his transformation from an honest, hardworking boy growing up in "the Darkness"—those areas of rural India where education and electricity are equally scarce, and where villagers banter about local elections "like eunuchs discussing the Kama Sutra"—to a determined killer. He places the blame for his rage squarely on the avarice of the Indian élite, among whom bribes are commonplace, and who perpetuate a system in which many are sacrificed to the whims of a few. Adiga’s message isn’t subtle or novel, but Balram’s appealingly sardonic voice and acute observations of the social order are both winning and unsettling."
This book is well worth your time. Pick up a copy today and wait for a snowy winter weekend and curl up with it.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 5, 2008)

Be Here WOW

No mind
No matter
No matter
Never mind

This photo of the Sombrero Galaxy was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and was voted the top space photo of all time by a panel of astronomers.

The Sombrero Galaxy lies 25 million light years, or 146,642,400,000,000,000,000 miles from earth. It has 800 million stars and is 56,000 light years, or 328,478,976,000,000,000 miles across.

There are upwards of 100 billion galaxies in the universe and each galaxy contains billions and even trillions of stars. The total number of stars in the universe is estimated to be 100 sextillion stars. A Sextillion looks like this:


while 100 of them would be equal to:


Try to wrap your head around that. That is a lot of stars, don't you think? There is probably not enough space on this page to put in the number of the possible number of planets in this universe. It would be an inconceivable amount and yet estimates done by the late Carl Sagan indicate that even with such huge potential we may, indeed, be the only intelligent life in all of this. Think on that for a moment. I find it a frightening thought given that as a species we do not seem all that intelligent to me.

The question is not whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe but whether there is intelligent life on earth.

Carl Sagan liked to say that we are made of "star stuff." All of the heavy elements in our bodies were created in the super nova thermonuclear explosions in the beginning of things. We are indeed quite factually made of star stuff.

Wes Nisker, founder of Inquiring Mind and Buddhist teacher says, "We are pieces of the universe wondering about itself." If that doesn't befuddle your mind I don't know what will.

What are we doing here? Why is there life instead of just inanimate objects? In the creation of the universe no life was a more likely outcome than life. How did atoms learn to reproduce and how and when did that reproduction give rise to consciousness? Why did it give rise to consciousness? It would seem to be a rare occurrence having beings wandering about aware of themselves.

Astrophysicist Brian Swim said, "Four billion years ago  the earth was a molten rock of lava and now it can sing opera." Nisker asks, "How did that happen? And why?"

Yes, how? Why?

Perhaps strangest of all is that consciousness, our consciousness, plays a role in the creation of reality. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics says, "There is no reality in the absence of observation."

Perhaps you should read that again. It is a little hard to digest. Without observation there is no reality. It is amazing how far science has come. Of course, 2500 years ago Buddha said, "Mind is the fore runner of all things."

As hard as it is to digest, it is fact. What we see if not what really exists. In the act of observation probability waves solidify as particles. This is an experiment that quantum scientists have recreated thousands of times. This is all very high weirdness. Just who and what are we that we create reality?

Here is something to think about. Science tell us that every single cell in our bodies processes about 4000 transactions a second. There are about 56 trillion cells in our bodies so the total number of actions every second is in the quadrillions. Let's see IBM come up with a computer that can do that many flops.

The following dharma talk, Be Here Wow, by Wes Nisker is both highly amusing and extremely profound and I encourage you to have a listen.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 4, 2008)

The Virus and the Damage Done

(Apologies to Neil Young)

Okay, folks. I am back up and running Everything is back to hot, straight, and normal.

The 'virus' that hit me was not technically a virus as such but a Trojan. It truncated all by .xls, .doc, .txt, and .jpg files and was attempting to hold me hostage, wanting me to but their virus cleaner in order to get my files back. This particular Trojan was so poorly written, however, that it only made one attempt to take me to their web page and then gave up. It all happened so quickly I could not even capture the program name. This one is so new it hadn't even been picked up by Norton or Trend or any of the big anti-virus makers. If I had been able to capture that web page info I could have reported it to Trend and they would have been able to research it and make a fix but without it I was dead in the water.

Lazy and feeling incompetent, in spite of the fact that I have been working on computers since the days of an abacus, I originally took my box to a computer store to be reformatted and have everything reinstalled but friend Scott talked me out of it. We installed it ourselves but with one mistake and later in the evening I redid it myself.

Everything of importance was finished by this morning. There will be more programs to install but they can be done as I need them. I will also probably make an adjustment here and there as I go along but basically everything is copacetic now.

Well, sort of. You are never able to get your computer back to exactly how it looked like and felt before something like this happens. The timing of when things are installed make a difference how they appear on your screen. For instance, I installed the software for my Creative Zen MP3 player after I had gotten a SP 3 update months back. This time I installed it before I had gotten the SP 3 back in. Before there was an icon for a directory with all the programs in it. Now, due to when I installed it, it has thrown 3 icons onto my desktop. Nothing serious. It is just the feng shui of the thing but it feels disruptive.

What has been lost is incalculable however. All my Jpeg photos that weren't on Multiply are lost forever including my middle daughters wedding. All my documents and spreadsheets containing information needed and information stored are gone. All my databases for my library are gone. This all is quite disheartening.

Now, of course, you can say it was my fault for not having an up-to-date virus checker and that is partially true. Not entirely, however. I had all of my stuff on my C drive backed up onto my D drive. That should have spared me. Most viruses and Trojans will not jump across physically separate drives. This one did.

The only fortunate thing in this mess was it did not touch my MP3 files as some Trojans have been known to do. I have tens of thousands of Old Time Radio shows, hundreds of gigabytes. I would have committed ritual suicide if I had lost those.

The people who make these malicious programs need to be hung from the balls. Sadly, as ubiquitous as the Internet is, government does little to prosecute those who use it to attack others unless it affects them, Big Brother, or unless it is a high profile case of hacking into a potential vice-president's Yahoo account. Why don't they prosecute those scores of hackers sitting in Yahoo chat rooms who are forever hacking into users email accounts?

I do have a new virus and security program. I is provided free by my ISP saving me $69 during the Christmas season here where I have enough expenses without this. I do not much care for it, though, and come January I will buy a copy of Trend PCcillin Pro.

And in the meantime I will be backing essential files up nightly from now on onto my external USB drive even though that is painfully slow.
I do not want to go through this again any time soon.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 3, 2008)

Help. I've Fallen and Can't Get Up

In a move that has proved to be penny wise and pound foolish I have ran the last two years with an expired copy of PCcillian, my virus checker. I justified this stupidity because I am extremely cautious on the Internet, only going to trusted sites, run an old email client that cannot take a virus by email (and do not give out my real email address to anyone I do not trust), and because in 23 years of computing have only ever gotten two viruses and never been in a position where I have lost everything.

All that ended yesterday. I was searching for a photograph of the Sombrero Galaxy in anticipation of a blog I wanted to write when I hit a re-director and my web browser was hijacked. I heard my hard drive start to churn but immediately shut down the browser and thought I was safe. I had to go out later and thought no more of it, Until this morning.

This morning I woke to discover that my wall paper was corrupt. Then discovered that every single Jpeg on the computer had been overwritten with a picture that was 5K in size and was a picture of text that said 'FileError 21001.' All my Excel worksheet files had similarly been corrupted, the data erased and  containing but a single entry that said "FileError 21001."

My computer started making a few feeble attempts to contact a web site to "fix" my problem which my two year old virus checker was preventing. Why hadn't it prevented this in the first place?

Several hours of work, dozens of virus checkers later, I gave up. This virus had infected deep within the XP operating system. I could not get rid of it and this particular virus was so new that none of the big virus companies, Norton, MacAfee, etc, had caught up with it. So, on one hand it would seem that even having had an unexpired checker wouldn't have saved me, but on another it would, You see the newer ones like PCcillian Pro have a feature to lock system files to prevent them from being corrupted.

Fixing this is beyond me. The computer needs to be reformatted and XP and all the drivers reinstalled and, frankly, while I am hardly a neophyte, I don't want to do it. I have taken it to the computer store where I will fork over $125.00 to get someone else to fix it.

And suddenly they are inundated with computers needing attention. Go figure. So it will probably be Friday before I get my box back. Using this laptop is a major pain in the ass so it will be until then before I am back online for any length of time. If you don't see me on your pages or answering your comments, this is why,

And once the computer is back and I have paid Discovery Computers by $125 I will be paying Trend Micro $69 for a new virus checker/internet security program. Then I will pay the dentist $900 for my new crown and I will pay various stores several hundred for Christmas presents.

"Tis the season it would seem.

So, friends, make sure your virus and security software is up to date. You do not want this one! (I had no back up of all my pictures nor of my Excel spreadsheets or any of my other data. It is all lost and will take months to recover even a fraction of it. Most of it cannot be recovered and that information is lost forever.) 

I will respond to you all when I am back up and running with my desktop.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 1, 2008)

An Attitude of Gratitude

"Some of the worst thing in my life never happened."
~Mark Twain

1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

3. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

4. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

~The Dhammapada

In the church I grew up in it was the custom on Sunday nights for there to be an extended hymn sing. Parishioners were encouraged to call out the page numbers of their favorite hymns, Pastor Smith would write them down, and we would sing for the first half hour of the service.

The hymn that was most requested and invariably sung every week was "Count Your Blessing."

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings,
name them one by one, Count your blessings,
see what God hath done! Count your blessings,
name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

I am sure many of you have heard this many times before and sung it often in your church services.

What surprises me about the popularity of this song now that I can look at it with over forty years of hindsight, was that most of the members in that small, Maine, Baptist church seemingly did not have a lot of blessings to count if one were to look at what they posses materially. We were all an impoverished group in a poverty stricken state. Yet everyone in that congregation belted out the words to that hymn and, if asked, would probably be able to enumerate endlessly the blessings they were thankful for.

I think of this often these days in this age where consumerism is a religion and where sending your children to school in clothes that are not designer label is tantamount to child abuse. We have become a society where blessings are not something we tend to be thankful for but rather consider to be our rightful due. People go into clinical depression when they are unable to afford Tommy Hilfigger for their children, an  Accura as their second car, or are unable to eat Chateaubriand every night of the week.

Years ago I found myself in a position I never thought I would be in and began attending the meetings of Narcotic Anonymous. Let us just state for the record that I was not their as a mere observer or a "friend of the program." Things were tough and I was in desperate shape. There was not much sunshine in my sky at that period in my life. There being only two meetings a week in my community and two meetings a week not enough to steady me, a friend began taking me to meetings in another city twice a week, There came a period where it seemed every meeting that group had was a 'gratitude meeting' and when I asked them when there was going to be a different topic the reply was that the topic would change when I managed to find some gratitude. It took a long time but the truth they were trying to impart finally began to sink in and from time to time I was able to conjure up some real gratitude for the blessing I did have.

It seems to me, and I could be wrong - I often am, that we have, as a society, mostly lost the notion of thanksgiving, of gratitude, of receiving blessings of grace and there should be no mistake, grace it is. Completely unmerited favor. Luck. We sure as hell haven't earned the advantages we have in North American society. Yet even on this day of Thanksgiving, most of us really won't. We will just mouth the words. If that.

A few years ago the University of Wisconsin at Madison undertook a series of experiments involving accomplished meditation masters of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition - Yongey Mingur, Rimpoche and Matthieu Ricard to name but two. While meditating on compassion or loving kindness or gratitude fMRI studies were done on the subject and the results were stunning. Those who had developed the skills to focus their meditation on metta (loving kindness and compassion) and on gratitude were thousands and thousands of times happier (as measured by activity in the 'happiness' areas of the brain) than the rest of us ingrates.

It seems that counting one's blessings, of being thankful for what one does have rather than disgruntled at what one does not have, pays real dividends in happiness and healthiness and well being. As the Dhammapada says, " If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow."

I have suffered from severe and ongoing clinical depressions for over 25 years where the black dog has howled, where the Noonday Demon has often seemed my sole companion. Or my soul's companion. Take your pick. I am told that as a person with bipolar disorder I have no control over my moods and my emotions. For a long time I believed that and so my life evolved accordingly. I no longer believe that neuro-transmitters are the sole determinate of my mental health. More important than serotonin is my attitude. When my attitude is upbeat, when I am grateful for what I have, when I practice loving kindness and compassion, my mood seldom darkens. Indeed, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is now recognized as a highly effective treatment for depression.

The past and the future are both only thoughts right now. If I ask myself, "Am I okay now" the answer is always yes. Now I am okay,
I have found that the more I am grateful, the more I am okay. It has taken a lot of years since those early Narcotics Anonymous meetings but I have finally established an attitude of gratitude.

What were you grateful for on this Thanksgiving day?

Book Review: Autobiography of a Buddhist Monk

Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs
Author: Palden Gyatso
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Nearly the entire world turns a blind eye to the horrific crimes perpetrated by the Chinese in Tibet. China's rape of the environment and it's subjugation of it's people have rightly been called cultural genocide. Yet the truth is far worse and the genocide has been more than cultural. To call China's treatment of the Tibetan people inhuman or barbaric or criminal is still to minimize a horror that few of us can imagine. Yet this should not just be the struggle of the Tibetan people alone. China ia ascendant and attempting to inflict it's will on the rest of the world. It would be dangerous and foolish to think they would, given the chance, treat any oh the rest of us any differently. If they have no respect for the human rights of their own people what hope have the rest of the "barbarians" in the world.

Palden was a young 28 year old monk when the Chinese invaded Tibet. He was arrested for protesting that invasion and spent the next 33 years in Chinese prisons within Tibet enduring hardship and torture that few of us could even imagine. Gyatso planned his escape from Tibet before he was even released from prison. He smuggled out from prison the implements of torture that the Chinese insisted didn't exist and in the years since Gyatso has been a voice of conscious speaking all over the world; a witness to Chinese brutality and the apathy of the world at large.

The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk is his incredible story.

Each year I usually find one book that speaks to me as no others have and which touches me deep within my soul. Each year I usually find one book that makes reading worthwhile. Each year I usually find one book I wish I could place in the hands of everyone in North America as required reading. This is the book for this year.

Even if you have no interest, and sadly many do not, in the plight of the land and people of Tibet I urge you to read this book. It is a shining testament to courage and faith and the indestructible optimism of the human soul.

(Originally posted to Multiply November 27, 2008)

Book Review: Where God Was Born

Genre:  Travel
Author: Bruce Feiler
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Several years ago I became addicted to reading Old Testament Bible commentaries which were written by Jewish Rabbis and from an entirely Jewish perspective. Their take on scripture was entirely different than the Christian notions I was familiar with and, I suspect, more in keeping with what the Torah writers were trying to convey. After all, the language was their's and they had been studying it for several thousand years longer than we Christians have.

Bruce Feiler is not a Rabbi although he is Jewish and his views and opinions on the people and places of the Bible are entirely in keeping with his tradition making Where God Was Born refreshing reading while maintaining a level of scholarship that was appreciated by this reader.

Amazon says of this book, "Bruce Feiler's latest book combines now familiar elements into his own peculiar, delightful alchemy. Any particular page may be found effortlessly weaving together strands of theology, biblical exegesis, physical exploration, history and personal reflection as Feiler continues his journey of discovery, looking at the common roots of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The Middle East has become a more dangerous place since the writing of his first book in this vein, Walking the Bible. But Feiler is impelled to answer his continued call, even when a flak jacket is necessary. He explores tunnels under Jerusalem. Goes to where David may have slain Goliath. Even looks for the Garden of Eden in Iraq while acknowledging that "the garden would never be found." It is this externalization of searches typically only made in the heart that fascinates us and brings power to Feiler's narrative. In one of the more compelling sections of the book, a meditation on Jonah, Feiler makes a persuasive argument that "God cares only that you conduct yourself in a moral way… And what might come across as preaching in another context is instead organic; Feiler's ideas seem to grow as much out of his travel and present-day experience as they do from Scripture and history. Of particular interest is his writing on King Cyrus II. He travels to Persepolis, in modern-day Iran, and finds an ancient precedent for religious tolerance in this king who helped the Jews build the Second Temple. Feiler provokes us to reflect that if the Bible itself can sing the praises of a king who accepted the various religions of those he ruled, perhaps there is hope we can find room for more tolerance in our own time. Highly recommended"
Highly recommended indeed.

(Originally posted to Multiply November 26, 2008)

Book Review: A Thousand Names For Joy

Genre:  Religion & Spirituality
Author: Byron Katie
Rating: 2 out of 4 Stars

"We're born alone, we die alone, and we live alone, each on our own planet of perception. No two people have ever met. Even the people you know best and love with all your heart are your own projections. Sooner or later, you're the one who's left." (Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy, page 126)
Katie's basic premise is my favorite saying: Don't believe everything you think and she proposes four questions to lead one away from falsehood into the truth about one's thinking.

I usually avoid popular psychological and self-help books like the plague and only purchased this one because of the glowing recommendation of Bernie Glassman, Roshi.

While this was, in many ways, a brilliant book, I would neither purchase nor read any more of Katie's books. When she is "on" she is spot on in this book which echos some basic Buddhist principals. But where she is off, she is way out in left field by herself. Worst of all, she is too often cold and arrogant and there is a pretense about her that is annoying. One simply knows she is not as self-advanced as she projects.

This is worth a read for the gems but perhaps only if one is a gemologist and can tell diamonds from quartz.

(Originally posted to Multiply November 24, 2008)

Come, Take A Walk With Me

I was telling a couple of people here about a new trail I had found and wanted to get some photographs of but I have been unable to get back up to it until today.

The river front trail system here winds around both sides of the Fraser River. On the east side which I usually walk and most often photograph, the train meanders along both the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers. On the west side which I
seldom walk, it follows along the Fraser River and Baker Creek. On this other side the trail goes up and over a ridge to get down to where it follows the creek.

The other day I discovered a trail running through the woods where it crosses this ridge and found a wonderful walk where this new trial runs along the top of this ridge for miles and miles back into the wilderness of Baker Creek.

The climb up there, however, is a killer. The first time I did it I was not sure my legs would handle it. It climbs, and climbs, and climbs. I finally made it and got back in there a fair distance but I stopped when I realized how very slippery it was, how remote it was back there, how many bear tracks there were, and that I had neglected to tell anyone where I was going.

I tried to get back up that ridge twice more but it has warmed up, the frost had melted, and the mud had become so slick I simply could not get traction to climb up there.

Today I tried again. It was very, very hard. It was very slick, The mud was gumbo and made that steep climb nearly impossible but I did manage to get up there a ways before giving up once I allowed myself to think about how the hell I was going to get down out of their in that slick mud.

So, here are a few photos. Hopefully we will get a hard frost before it snows and I will be able to get way up and back in there again. If not, it will have to wait until next summer.

(Originally posted to Multiply November 22, 2008)