August 16th, 2006

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Art -

In Joan M. Erikson's book,  Wisdom and the Senses,  Leo Garel, a painter, speaks about what art means to him.

    "Painting is full of paradoxes.  Your style is made up of your limitations and your strengths.  You must preserve the flatness of the surface, yet you must deal with the illusion of space.  Symmetry and ugliness.  Movement and balance.  Line and mass.   Simplicity and complexity.  The color should maintain the quality of the paint, but it should also be atmosphere.  Though it is possible to speak of these all as separate elements, in painting they all must be unified into one inseparable force."

    "You have hydrogen and oxygen, but you don't have water until they are combined in an exact way and then there is an exciting, new, indispensable element.  What combines all the separate and contradictory forces that go into a painting and make it an exciting new element?  Simple feeling.  Our feelings are magically able to compress all the complexities of our experiences into an elegant unity that becomes a direct statement, a painting."

    "Salt is made up of sodium, a corrosive substance that eats metal, and chloride, a deadly gas.  Combined together they make salt, which is so useful and adds so much flavor for all mankind.  Painting is like that.  It is made up of the sorrows and chaos of people, but transforms them into order and beauty."

    I think life is like that.  Combining the tragedies of our lives in such a way, that we have something useful and flavorful for all mankind.  Today, I celebrate the union of hydrogen and oxygen, and sodium and chloride.  Without them, we would not be here. 

    Kitties are bouncing all over the house.  The calm air is trying to understand what happened, and is building little cushions within itself to sit and compare.  

    Hmmm!   The air considers,  decides movement is rest, and settles back into the rhythm of a rocking chair.   

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Movement -

M.C. Ecsher wrote in a letter to his son Arthur, on May 28, 1955:

   " What a fantastic experience is it on a freighter like this, when waking up at night in your own cabin you are suddenly able to account for that contrast with your immovable bed on land, in which you're used to lying still and horizontally, while your bed at sea is continuously rolling around that horizontality."

       Having kittens is like that.  The world is not still for them, or what they create is not still.   They take what has been motionless for years, and bounce it across the floor on their paws.  The whole house is rolling on a freighter, and vertical and horizontal are rounded here. 
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The synchronicity of acrobatics -

I decided I need to do something about my fears around moving since all this happened, so, in noting that a Pilates-Feldenkrais studio had opened up less than a mile from me, I stopped in yesterday, and asked for a session.  I went in this morning, and I am amazed.  It is like moving like my kitties.  All was ease.  I am a ball, an acrobat.    I told her that it is painful for me to lift my arm.  She had me lean into some springs as though I were falling.  It is the same movement as lifting my arm, and there was no pain.  The idea is to move through space, and utilize it, just like my kitties.  As if that weren't enough joy for one day, I mentioned I am a Rosen practitioner.  She said that yesterday she had decided they needed a Rosen practitioner for the treatment space.   It is all new, and still in organizing mode, but, it seems, if I would like to begin working that way again, I have my space, and what could be easier to reach than the junction.  I am thrilled, and she was amazed that her thought could be so easily fulfilled. 

I then went to Pet World, and the kitties have another scratching apparatus, and I have some mats to catch the kitty litter, and I purchased a recommended kitty litter that clumps, and is for multiple cats, and an enclosed litter box is on its way.  I see that we got the kitties, unprepared, but, now, we are making the steps for them to fit more easily in.  I watered outside yesterday on the deck, and both Bella and Tiger did fine, and I see they are not going to fall through the slats, so I can relax a bit on that door, and give them a little more space, and a chance for some sunlight, when the sun is out.

Anyway, I feel more anchored in space.  I was shocked to feel how my body changed through this year of fear.  I am braced to one side to protect, and ironically, have been using my left side, as the right one was rigidly fixed, like armor, to fend off the next attack.  I am looking forward to the balance Pilates will bring.

My brother checked out freighters after my comment on freighters this morning  It seems traveling on freighters is a good way to go.  A friend of Chris's did it a few years ago, and loved it, so, who knows?  Possibly booms  - Freighters Ho!

Here is to energy moving, scampering, bouncing and playing in new and exciting ways.  Here is to all the ways to be in space, and round, bend, push, release,  and bound.  
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Adventure -

My brother sends this as an inspiration to hop aboard a freighter.

 "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.....Explore. Dream. Discover."
                                ...Mark Twain

I saw an amazing vapor trail in the sky today.   I thought if Bella and Tiger saw it, they would chase it like a ribbon or string, but I was content to watch, and imagine how it felt to be water released in the sky in just such a way.   I also bought a Gardenia of incredible scent.    Do I need any more excitement than that?   Not in this moment.  I look down and Ode Magazine is open to a photo of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge in China.  It is 22 miles long, and when finished in 2008 will be the second largest bridge in the world.  "What is the longest," you ask.   The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans is 24 miles.

Also from Ode - "Bamboo plants suck heavy metals like cadmium out of the soil, which means they can make drinking water safer."  My yard is loaded with bamboo.  British biologist Colin Black is planning to reintroduce bamboo to Africa, where it was once an indigenous plant, and has now nearly disappeared due to overcutting.  It can be used for furniture, houses, floors, and carvings.  And I add, "flutes."

Another tid-bit from Will Pryce in Architecture in Wood.  The average skyscraper requires a costly renovation within 30 to 40 years of completion.  A steel frame can last 150 years, tops, but frames made of oak trees can survive more than 800 years. Wooden buildings can last for thousands of years and are ultimately biodegradable. 

Today, on Michael Krasny, there was a discussion on the educational value of video games.  Ode Magazine addresses the subject, and finds a place to admire the interactivity of video games.  Hmmmm!   It is not yet for me, but our children are a different breed.  I did re-read Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.  It is a way to understand what we know.  The world of our children is different than ours.  May we bond in commonality, and stream like a vapor trail until we disappear to form. 

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from The Nation -

Here is John K. Galbraith.   Imagine 11 hours of flying without a book.
I like his questions, and I wonder why the terrorists don't just blow up an airport.  Imagine the damage that would do, and it would get rid of the security line.
Someone pointed out that it probably wasn't so smart to throw all the liquids into one container at the airport.  What if there had been explosives in the contact lens solution and toothpaste?   That would have been a surprise.  

posted August 16, 2006 (web only)

Groundhog Day

James K. Galbraith


James K. Galbraith flew from Manchester to Boston on August 10, enduring eleven hours without a book.

Let's see... It's August. Bush is in Crawford on a "working vacation." His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don't look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It's 2001. No, it's 2006.

In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx reports that "Hegel writes somewhere" that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce.

On September 11, nineteen hijackers commandeered four airplanes and succeeded in killing some 3,000 people. On August 10, we are told, British authorities upended a suicide-murder plot aimed at destroying twelve airplanes, killing everyone on board including the bombers, possibly with more fatalities than on 9/11. As a senior British police official put it, "This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

From all official statements so far, we are led to believe that August 10 was a highly developed, far-advanced conspiracy, under surveillance for some time, which could have been put into action within just a few days. And perhaps 8/10 really was the biggest thing since 9/11. But then again, perhaps it wasn't. We don't know yet. And it's not too early to ask the questions on which final judgment must depend.

Well, then. Here is a checklist of some things we should shortly be hearing about. Bombs. Chemicals. Detonators. Labs. A testing ground. Airline tickets. Passports. Witnesses. Suspicious neighbors. Suspicious parents. Suspicious friends. Threats. Confessions. Let me spell this out: By definition, you cannot bomb an aircraft unless you have a bomb. In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board.

Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it's too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated--it's not the 3 percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can't open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It's possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of 17 and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.

So, there must have been training. That means there must be a lab, or labs. There must have been trial bombs. There must be various bits and pieces of equipment used to mix the chemicals and set them off. There must be a manual. There must be a testing ground. And each one of the young men under arrest must have been to these places. Interestingly, it must have all happened, too, without a serious accident, injury or death among the conspirators. If so, they are a lot more competent than the Weather Underground ever was, in my day.

Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Maybe this will come out later, but it hasn't so far, even though the authorities seem anxious to tell just about everything they know.

Now, in order to get on an airplane, even the most devout suicide terrorist needs a ticket, and these generally must be purchased with money. Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees. One little-known feature of airline security (in the United States, anyway) is that people traveling on one-way tickets bought at the last minute get special scrutiny at the gate. Those tickets are also (a lot) more expensive. If you want to pass unnoticed, you will buy your ticket round-trip, in advance, and also save money like everyone else. Actually, if you didn't know this already, you're not fit to be let out of the house.

Further, to get on an international flight from Britain to the United States, in these days of the modern nation-state, you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them. Someone lacking a passport can, I think, safely be excluded from the ranks of potential suicide bombers of UK-to-US flights. They could, of course, have a counterfeit or be operating in a support role--but so far we are not being told of any counterfeit documents or any support operation. And to pass security you would use a different person to carry each chemical you needed. For twelve flights, that's twenty-four people.

As for the suspicious parents, friends and neighbors--it's technically possible that the bombers' security was so excellent that none existed. It's just that, in dealing with young people swept up in a fervor of religious hatred, the odds are extremely low. Of all the Islamic groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon is the only one that maintains effective military security, which it does by isolating its fighters as completely as possible from the civilian population. But these young men were picked up at home; they were well-known and yet apparently suspected by no one at all.

As to threats: A joke going around the Manchester Airport on August 10 was that at least the IRA would remember to call. What's the point of a suicide bombing if no one knows what it's for? The downing of twelve airplanes would be horrific to those on them (including me, as it happened), but it wouldn't put a dent in Western capitalism. It would have to be part of a much larger, ongoing, unstoppable campaign. Otherwise, why bother? A once-off attack shows the weakness, not the capacity, of the plotters, and in the end it strengthens not them but the governments they attack. After 9/11, terrorists should know this.

Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested, according to some reports. Nineteen have been named. Happily, the detainees were taken alive. Unlike the man arrested in Pakistan, we may presume (I trust) that they are not being tortured. Therefore, they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were. If they do that, I'll eat my hat.

In short: Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake--or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn't be the first one, either. I'm not saying it will, necessarily. I'm not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I'm not suggesting the plot was faked--at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.

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I just read a fascinating book, Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King.   The author has written from the true accounts of two men who survived a shipwreck off the coast of Africa in 1815.  They actually each wrote a book of their harrowing experience.  Abraham Lincoln was enthralled with the account by Captain James Riley.   While enduring incredible suffering, Riley had a dream that he would survive and see his family.  He even saw his rescuer.   That hope carried him through, and came to be true.  The book shows how much we can survive, and is a wonderful tribute to compassion and trust.  It also gives a much-needed look into the Arab world, one that we each need to better understand. 

Here is an interesting tid-bit on camels.

    "The unusual ability of the camel to endure thirst would not be accurately explained by scientists until the twentieth century.  When dehydrating, camels sustain their plasma volume, losing tissue fluid first and maintaining good circulation.  Even as a camel's blood thickens, its small red blood cells circulate efficiently.   When water becomes available, camels can drink great volumes because the liquid is absorbed very gradually from their stomachs and intestines, preventing osmotic distress, and, whereas the red blood cells of other species can swell with water to only 150 percent of their normal size, a camel's can grow to 240 percent."

Where did the camel originate?  Here, in North America, and then, they crossed over on the Bering Strait.   I like imaging them wandering around here.  Also, the Sahara Desert was not always a desert.  I knew that, but, not how recently that is so.  "From 5500 to 2500 B.C., it was relatively fertile, wet, and inviting.  Up until Roman times, antelope, elephants, rhinoceroses, and giraffes roamed a savanna densely studded with acacia, while crocodiles and hippopotamuses wallowed in lush rivers."

The article in Ode magazine on using video games for education is fascinating.   Here is an excerpt from Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter.

    The header is "If video games had come before books ....  this is what critics would say."

             "Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the long-standing tradition of game playing - which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements - books are simply a barren string of words on the page."

             "Books are also tragically isolating.  While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him-or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children.  These new "libraries" that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers."

             "But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path.  You can't control their narratives in any fashion - you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you.  This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they're powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process: it's a submissive one.  The book readers of the younger generation are learning to "follow the plot" instead of learning how to lead."

    Well, there is a different interpretation of books.  Wow!    The article lists education computer and video games.  One called Re-Mission is made for children with cancer.  "Roxxi the mini-robot helps you destroy cancer cells on your way to better health."  It actually is helping the kids to take their medicine on time and believe they have their condition under control.  It is a modern world.  Hooray!