30 September 2007

Ahimsa is often translated ‘non-violence’, but to practitioners the word connotes an all-embracing commitment to a mind free of bitterness and ill will.  Ahimsa may be cultured over a lifetime, but it must begin with an absolute renunciation of outward actions that can physically harm another.

More difficult and subtle is to renounce the use of coercion.  We become aware of relationships of power based on family or employment or social station, and we seek to transcend those conditions to find a human meeting ground with everyone whom we encounter.  It is difficult enough to renounce power in relationships where we have been given the upper hand, but the greatest challenge is to extend this attitude to people who may assert power over us.   How do we protect ourselves from coercion in the spirit of ahimsa, while avoiding guile and psychological manipulation?

Non-violence cannot solve problems, but it is a prerequisite to every relationship in which problems are resolved.  Only when we renounce the use of force can seeds of trust begin to germinate.

–Josh Mitteldorf

29 September 2007

Portrait of Judy Wicks from YES Magazine

Judy Wicks runs the White Dog Cafe in West Philadelphia, and through the restaurant has created a forum for progressive politics, a market for sustainable agriculture, and a model for responsible commercial activity.

“I'm helping to create an economic system that will respect and protect the earth—one which would replace corporate globalization with a global network of local living economies. Business is beautiful when it's a vehicle for serving the common good.”

from  Portraits of Americans who Tell the Truth, by Robert Shetterly


28 September 2007

 Wenn der uralte,
 Heilige Vater
 Mit gelassener Hand
 Aus rollenden Wolken
Segnende Blitze
 Über die Erde sä’t,
 Küss’ ich den letzten
 Saum seines Kleides,
 Kindliche Schauer
Treu in der Brust.
 Denn mit Göttern
 Soll sich nicht messen
 Irgend ein Mensch.
 Hebt er sich aufwärts,
 Und berührt
 Mit dem Scheitel die Sterne,
 Nirgends haften dann
 Die unsichern Sohlen,
 Und mit ihm spielen
 Wolken und Winde.
 Steht er mit festen,
 Markigen Knochen
 Auf der wohlgegründeten,
 Dauernden Erde;
 Reicht er nicht auf,
 Nur mit der Eiche
 Oder der Rebe
 Sich zu vergleichen.
 Was unterscheidet
 Götter von Menschen?
 Daß viele Wellen
 Vor jenen wandeln,
 Ein ewiger Strom:
 Uns hebt die Welle,
 Verschlingt die Welle,
 Und wir versinken.
 Ein kleiner Ring
 Begrenzt unser Leben,
 Und viele Geschlechter
 Reihen sich dauernd
 An ihres Daseins
 Unendliche Kette.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1789

When the primeval
All-holy Father
Sows with a tranquil hand
From clouds, as they roll,
Bliss-spreading lightnings
Over the earth,
Then do I kiss the last
Hem of his garment,
While by a childlike awe
Fill’d is my breast.

For with immortals
Ne’er may a mortal
Measure himself.
If he soar upwards
And if he touch
With his forehead the stars,
Nowhere will rest then
His insecure feet,
And with him sport
Tempest and cloud.

Though with firm sinewy
Limbs he may stand
On the enduring
Well-grounded earth,
All he is ever
Able to do,
Is to resemble
The oak or the vine.

Wherein do gods
Differ from mortals?
In that the former
See endless billows
Heaving before them;
Us doth the billow
Lift up and swallow,
So that we perish.

Small is the ring
Enclosing our life,
And whole generations
Link themselves firmly
On to existence’s
Chain never-ending.

– Goethe, tr Edgar Alfred Bowring (1826-1911)

27 September 2007

Bob Koehler writes about breaking the cycle of violence using eye contact.  After publishing a column with a story about a woman threatened by her ex-husband with a gun, he received many other accounts from readers about staying calm in the face of life-threatening danger, and seeking an assailant’s humanity through his eyes.

“This is the truth of redemptive connection. We connect primarily through the eyes. And when we connect thus, it’s with a nakedness and honesty that makes me think of nothing so much as the words of philosopher-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: ‘Someday, after we have mastered the wind, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.’”

26 September 2007

Cover Figure“The first stars in the universe form when chemically pristine gas heats as it falls into dark-matter potential wells, cools radiatively because of the formation of molecular hydrogen, and becomes self-gravitating. Using supercomputer simulations, we demonstrate that the stars’ properties depend critically on the currently unknown nature of the dark matter…”
– Liang Gao and Tom Tehuns, Lighting the Universe with Filaments" Science 317:1527 (14 Sept 07)

Translation: Given our present understanding of the Big Bang, it’s not easy to imagine how stars first formed. The problem that is the focus of the article is this:

Ironically, the hard thing to understand about how stars form is not how they got so hot – that’s easy given the energy of infall when gas clumps together from gravitational attraction. The hard part to understand is how the stars stayed cool enough to form in the first place. According to theory, we would expect any gas that starts to fall together toward a proto-star to heat so much that pressure would arrest its infall.

(Parenthetically, this process is much more mysterious for the first stars than the stars that form today. Cosmic gas today is full of grey dust that came from earlier supernovae, and the dark, dusty clouds have a much easier time cooling than the transparent clouds that presumably were the norm before the first supernovae.)

In this article, the authors show how the problem can be solved if ‘dark matter’ has just the right properties. The only trouble is: ‘dark matter’ is a completely hypothetical substance, a figment of our theories. Cosmologists have predicted that it must be there all around us, and that it must be made of some substance which people on earth and in physics labs have never observed before. ‘Dark matter’ may be consensus science, but it is also wild speculation.

The line between physics and metaphysics, science and science fiction is blurring. The standard theories of our scientific community about the nature of the universe in which we live simply don’t work unless we supplement what we know about physics with new and strange phenomena that exist only in our hypotheses.

It may turn out that ‘dark matter’ is discovered some day, and that it has just the right properties to vindicate our theories. But, if history of science is any guide, the future is more likely to hold deep surprises, and the ‘conservative’ hypotheses that we have put in place in order to extend and thereby preserve our most successful theories will lead to scientific culs de sac. In the 21st century, ‘dark matter’ will prove to be a naïve and unimaginative extension of our theory, much like the ‘ether’ hypothesis that died a century earlier.

Fortunately, the cosmology community is not lacking in imaginative theorists.  But the process of sorting through wild possibilities and matching them to observation is the daunting and wonderful program of science on a grand scale.

25 September 2007

After a decade-long career as a concert pianist, Glenn Gould retired in 1962 to the recording studio, where, he said, he could make music more daringly, because he did not have to fear mistakes.  Here is a dialog between Glenn Gould and Yehudi Menuhin on the subject.

YM: You are building a structure corresponding to your vision and anything that helps is legitimate. But take the Beatles, who started out as playing publicly spontaneously; by the time they became accustomed to crutches which enabled them to record tracks separately and put them all together, to add notes and take them away, they could no longer play in public because the public expected something else, having become accustomed to this form of recorded creation.

GG: In a sense, that is also what happened to me. I found I was competing with my own recordings, which nobody can do really. My recordings represent my best thoughts.

YM: I refuse to believe that. I’ve heard you play and I know that if you wanted to you could carry off a performance in a concert hall which would be as staggering as anything you do in the recording studio.

GG: I believe this whole question of splicing is a red herring; I think it’s become all mixed up – and improperly so – with the idea of ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity.’ Naturally, it’s antithetical to the concert process, where you go from first note to last, but that antiquated approach has nothing whatever to do with the major precepts of technology. It matters not to me whether I am ‘successful’ in creating a performance through one take, or whether I do it with 262 tape splices. The issue is simply not important.

Glenn Gould would have been 75 years old today.

Watch and listen to Gigue from Bachs Fourth Partita, live performance
Listen to the same piece performed by Gould in the recording studio

Watch and listen to Tocatta and Fugue from Bach’s Sixth Keyboard Partita, live performance by Glenn Gould
Listen to the same piece performed by Gould in the recording studio

24 September 2007

The course of history “is not circular.  It is the way.  In each new æon fate becomes more oppressive, turning more shattering.  And the theophany* becomes ever nearer, increasingly near to the sphere that lies between beings, to the Kingdom that is hidden in our midst, there between us.  History is a mysterious approach.  Every spiral of its way leads us both into profounder perversion and more fundamental turning.  But the event that from the side of the world is called turning is called from God’s side redemption.”

– from I and Thou, by Martin Buber (tr Ronald Gregor Smith)