Archive for February, 2008

Scotland Bound

February 28, 2008

I’m off to Scotland to see my bonnie.  Will be back in a week.20070627235615_0614.jpg  

Bhutan going Democratic

February 25, 2008

There is a very good article in this month’s National Geographic about the small Himilayan nation of Bhutan and their quest to modernize yet keep tradition intact.  This tiny country has managed to remain very isolated from the rest of the world.  The countries King came up with the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).  I think this is brilliant and where else would it come from but a Budhist country.  In the past I have stated that the poorer countries of the world, that we call “less developed” are really the “developed countries” and when I say that I am referring to GNH not GNP.  Material wealth does not bring happiness.  In the article it states referring to GNH:

For many Bhutanese, this idea is not merely a marketing tool or a utopian philosophy. It is their blueprint for survival. Guided by the “four pillars of Gross National Happiness”—sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance.

Bhutan has done a remarkable job of raising its GNH by applying the above mentioned pillars. Now the King has taken a major step by handing over power to an elected Parliament. What I find funny is that many of the Bhutanese do not want a democracy. They love their King and see no reason for the system to change. This is one of the reasons I believe that if you have a good king, monarchism is a superior way of governance. Of course that’s a big “if”, but people are naturally inclined towards having a ruler they love and respect and if this ruler maintains policies that keep the people happy, stable government will prevail. However, the article goes on to discuss the minority Nepali sector of Bhutanese citizenry that is often discriminated against. I wonder if they will be able to elect Nepali MPs. We will see.

Evolution; what’s the point?

February 24, 2008

Last weekend my father and I had a long conversation about how to understand evolution from a spiritual standpoint.  We resorted to this document, an assortment of the works of Frithjof Schuon.  Schuon took on the “evolutionist error” and explains evolution in a way that incorporates the Divine.  This stuff gets pretty heavy duty and many of you will already be “turned off” by the mere mention of “Divine” and this may mean you are either, not ready for, or inclined to, an understanding of existence at this level. Schuon explains that:

Original man was not a simian being barely capable of speaking and standing upright; he was a quasi-immaterial being enclosed in an aura still celestial, but deposited on earth.” 

This “celestial aura” started the evolutionary process. Evolution did not occur by chance. There was a point to it, the point was to reflect the Divine in all its glory, and the ulitimate realizer of this is the human form.

Creation – or “creations” – should then be represented not as a process of transformism taking place in “matter” in the naively empirical sense of the word, but rather as an elaboration by the life-principle, that is to say, something rather like the more or less discontinuous productions of the imagination: images arise in the soul from a non-formal substance with no apparent link between them; it is not the images which transform themselves, it is the animic substance which causes their arising and creates them. That man should appear to be the logical issue, not indeed of an evolution, but of a series of “sketches” more and more centered on the human form – sketches of which the apes seem to represent disparate vestiges – this fact, or this hypothesis, in no way signifies that there is any common measure, thus a kind of psychological continuity, between man and the anthropomorphic and in some sense “embryonic” bodies which may have preceded him. The coming of man is a sudden “descent” of the Spirit into a receptacle that is perfect and definitive because it conforms to the manifestation of the Absolute; the absoluteness of man is like that of the geometrical point, which, strictly speaking, is quantitatively unattainable starting from the circumference. (1) [Stations of Wisdom, p.89]. 

What I see Schuon saying is that creation is like an artists sketch book in which you see the artist starting out with just a few rough lines and gradually the drawing takes form until the artist arrives at the finished product. The sketches are the artists imagination becoming clearer and clearer until the final work. Schuon goes on to explain that when humans were arrived at it was a sudden “decent” of the Spirit into the perfect receptacle for the Absolute.Scientists tend to extract the Divine from creation which makes it impossible to explain. Here is what Schuon states if the scientific world view is correct:

If the evolutionists are right, the human phenomenon is inexplicable and human life is not worth living. Moreover it is to theses conclusions that they arrive in the end, whence their axiom of the absurdity of existence; this is to say that they attribute to the object, which is inaccessible to them, the absurdity of the subject, which they have deliberately chosen by following the propensity towards not innocent, but human, animality. 

The scope this existence we are experiencing is beyond words. It is our human nature it explore it and try to explain it, but we cannot use empirical knowledge to explain that which is beyond our limits.

Carbon Footprint =’s Mostly Bullshit

February 22, 2008

I just read a very interesting article in The New Yorker titled Big Foot.  This article discusses the complexities of computing this elusive individualistic, often pointless, abstract concept called “carbon footprint.”  The article begins by discussing the massive British supermarket chain Tesco and their goal of putting a carbon contribution label on every product they sell.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Tesco was taking climate change so seriously.  However, as the article moved on it became apparent that Tesco had no idea how complex it would be to accurately label their product’s carbon contribution.  The article also questions whether this is the best method to react to climate change.  The article discusses in detail the power of using economics to control the problem by creating a carbon emissions marker.  The article continues to explain how important the tropical rain forests are as a carbon sponge and if we just paid Indonesia and Brazil to keep their forests intact we would have the battle half won.  Here is an excerpt:

From both a political and an economic perspective, it would be easier and cheaper to reduce the rate of deforestation than to cut back significantly on air travel. It would also have a far greater impact on climate change and on social welfare in the developing world. Possessing rights to carbon would grant new power to farmers who, for the first time, would be paid to preserve their forests rather than destroy them. Unfortunately, such plans are seen by many people as morally unattractive. “The whole issue is tied up with the misconceived notion of ‘carbon colonialism,’ ” Niles told me. “Some activists do not want the Third World to have to alter their behavior, because the problem was largely caused by us in the West.”

This sounds like a sound argument to me. The West pays the less developed countries to not cut down the forests. However, this solution does not address the overarching problem of our overly consumptive lifestyle.I like how this article discusses ways we as a society can try to respond to global warming and not lay all this focus on the individual’s decisions. It may sound like I am trying to justify my own “carbon footprint” but in reality this notion of the carbon footprint takes the focus away from finding larger solutions and attempts to lay a guilt trip on the people. This is a much more complex issue and we cannot rely on individual’s guilt to address it. I strongly recommend reading this article if you are interested in this topic.

Hindu Mantras Blessing US Politricksters

February 20, 2008

A “Hindu Chaplain” (as referred to on his wikipedia page) Rajan Zed, has somehow been able to make his mark by providing state legislative bodies with the “historic” opportunity to open their sessions with an ancient Sandskrit Hindu Mantra. Zed has opened the US Senate and a number of state senates and assemblies with recitations of Hindu mantras from the Rig Veda, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita. Pretty cool stuff. Here is what an article in News Blaze writes describing how Zed plans to address the Oregon State House of Representatives on February 26th:

Reading from Brahadaranyakopanishad, Rajan Zed plans to say “Asato ma sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrtyor mamrtam gamaya”, which roughly translates as “Lead us from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, and from death to Immortality.” Reciting from Bhagavad-Gita, he proposes to urge State Representatives to keep the welfare of others always in mind.  

I wonder how many Oregon legislators will really take the sacred words to heart?  Here is another article about him addressing the Utah State government.

Afghan Post

February 18, 2008

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This weekend in 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan after having occupied the country since 1979 with much resistance from the mujahideen. Civil war, refugee crises, and Taliban rule followed, then the United States struck the Taliban in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Magnum has a nice short history of Afghanistan in pictures. There are some really nice shots.Meanwhile, 140 Afghan civilians have died in the past two days, making it the deadliest span since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. When will this country see peace? The coalition of predominately Western forces don’t seem to be bringing much peace. lon9471.jpg 

Food Prices Sky Rocketing

February 7, 2008

My sister has been drawing my attention to the rising costs of food. She showed me this letter that was posted in Schat’s a few weeks ago:

Dear Valued Shat’s Customer:

Some of you have noticed small price increases on most baked items. I just wanted to share a little information with you to explain the increase. We are not raising prices to make more money or to gouge the customer. We are only raising prices in an attempt to stay even with huge price increases we are seeing in our produce costs. Here are some examples:

50# organic wheat flour January 2007 = $16.50
50# organic wheat flour January 2008 = $30.00  Up 85%

Egg prices in January 2007 = $1.13 dz.
Egg prices in January 2008 = $1.91 dz. Up 69%

Bulk cheese prices in January 2007 = $1.85 lb.
Bulk cheese prices in January 2008 = 2.76 lb. up 35%

Walnut prices in January 2007 = $2.25 lb.
Walnut prices in January 2008 = $6.50 lb. Up 190%

All indications are that we will be seeing more price increases throughout 2008. My only hope is that we start to see some stabilization in the world market.

I apologize to you for these price increases. We will be actively looking at locally produced items in hope of bettering our local economy. It seems very apparent that our US economic wheel is broken.

Thank you for your business. We really appreciate you.

Sincerely,

Zachary Y. Schat  

This is a sad state of affairs when working middle class families are struggling to put food on the table.

Ash Wednesday

February 6, 2008

Got this e-mail today from my friend, Isabella, via my sister.  I guess she thought I might need some education on this holiday, and she is right:

The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites the faithful (I.e. anyone who is interested) to a forty-day journey of renewal through the remembrance of our baptism (i.e. our intention in life) and meditation on the cross. The imposition of ashes is an act of recognizing our humanness not only by acknowledging our mortality but by confessing once again the wonder of God’s love for his people and the world.

While Lent is a time of sobriety and leanness, it is not without joy. Lent is a time of renewal, during which God’s people prepare with joy for the paschal feast. The season of Lent draws to a close with the Holy Week observance of the Triduum (The Three Days). The invitation to Lent on Ash Wednesday culminates with the individual absolution on Maundy Thursday, the adoration of the cross on Good Friday, and the Resurrection Proclamation of Easter Sunday.

Thanks Isabella!

Happy Big Fat Super Tuesday!

February 5, 2008

Today is the primary elections in many states throughout the country and also the first day of Mardi Gras!

Golden Dome to be Rebuilt

February 5, 2008

This golden dome of this beautiful ancient sacred mosque in Samarra was destroyed on February 22, 2006.  Today construction was started to resurrect the golden dome of the mosque.  AFP writes:

The attack on the Shiite pilgrimage site in the largely Sunni city is widely regarded as the tipping point at which rivalry between Iraqi rival Muslim sects turned into a brutal sectarian conflict which left tens of thousands dead. 

UNESCO is helping with the construction efforts. I see this a great news from Iraq and wish it was getting more attention by the media. But, the media loves to latch onto the sensationalism of death and suffering. I hope the reconstruction is not the target of attacks.