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Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Spiritual Message’ Turns 80

The Nanga Fakir's Speech, 1931 –  In 1888, when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) arrived in England to study law, hardly anyone came to receive him at the port. He dressed like an average Englishman and went about his business in obscurity. In 1931 this same man arrived again in England to attend the Second Round Table Conference to broker peace between the British government and the Indian Independence Movement. This time huge crowds of people poured in the streets of London to have a glimpse of him, for he was dressed in a loincloth, like the poorest of Indians whom he came to represent. Hundreds would gather to listen to this “Nanga Fakir” (as Mr. Winston Churchill used to call him). The crowds were touched and influenced by the … [Read more...]

Weaving the World _ Part Two

The Politics of Internal Transformation –  The following is Part 2 of a two-part series. In this piece I take up the challenge of beginning to apply the theory of adaptive cycles to the processes by which we weave our perceptions into a coherent world. If Part 1 was on the academic side, this is decidedly more personal, exploring subjective states I have experienced, and their possible implications in terms of social history. Click here for Part 1 When I look out my window I see houses across a small valley, and the leafy tops of the trees that grow between the houses. The morning is hazy, and all the different surfaces of this landscape reflect the soft light toward me. The rays of light pass through my retina and become impulses … [Read more...]

Weaving the World _Part One

Human "Nature" and the Theory of Adaptive Cycles –  Part One of this post was written as part of the Master program in Urban Sustainability at Antioch University Los Angeles. I imagined a conversation between the Post-war Marxist critic Raymond Williams and the Marina Alberti, an urban design professor at the University of Washington who applies complex systems thinking to urban eco-sytems. Click here for Part Two I am meeting with Raymond Williams and Marina Alberti at the concrete picnic tables atop Mt. Hollywood. Mt. Hollywood is the crest of Griffith Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the world, and a crucial refuge for my wife and I since we moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s. These hills are vitally alive. We’ve … [Read more...]

Bring on the Clowns

Paul McCarthy, Wallace Shawn and a Mountain I Know – There are beefy guard rails now on the road up Mount Lemmon, outside Tucson. When I was a boy the drive was more of an adventure, the steep canyons littered with the skeletal remains of cars that had lost control on the tight curves. Often my grandfather would have been at the wheel, bent hands steering the pickup or, at other times, the big Cadillac he’d earned with hard labor and quick wits. I’d watch as the topography outside the windows shifted from saguaro and mesquite to pine forest, and the big rock formations came and went, spinning majestically as the road took us around and upwards toward Summer Haven near the summit. Today my father’s wife Elena is driving and my father, … [Read more...]

The Cat, the Bee and the Bird

Wedded to the World, A Continuous Encoding – I've often felt myself to be a kind of visitor to the land of the present. Not a tourist, please - more like a kind of honored guest. Yes, an honored guest en route from the respected kingdom of the past toward the glittering land of the future, and it’s like I’m bearing important documents of state. As such, I expect certain amenities which the squalid land of the present often has a difficult time providing. I take a breath and check my watch - I won’t be staying long. My daughter Eliza took a whack at this way of thinking before she was six months old. We were in the back garden and the first cat Eliza ever saw came across the ivy beneath the rubber tree and jumped up onto … [Read more...]

Wallace Shawn and Our Planetary Fever

Material and Mystery on a Bathroom Floor –  Ignoring their embedded-ness, complex systems relate to the environment with greed and aggression. If world religions are based on any one experience, it’s the kind of night Wallace Shawn documents in his play The Fever. We’ve all had them. The harsh inner judge shows up with his clipboard and his tilted scales demanding full access to the heart. In flashes of self-recognition we glimpse the demonic patterns that have covertly governed the course of our lives. Cherished self-images collapse in on themselves as the mind swirls around in a soup composed of everything it feels disconnected from. Delivered as a single long monologue, The Fever manages to link an experience of this kind to material … [Read more...]

Dark Matter and the Dirac Array

Shakespeare Emerges –  I remember being enthralled in astronomy class the first time I heard about “dark matter.” This is the unknown mass out there providing the gravitational stability needed for luminous structures like spiral galaxies. Although thought to be many times larger than the visible matter in the universe, the jury is still out on what dark matter is composed of. Neutrinos must have mass, some people say, referring to the ghostly particles that burst from the guts of stars each time a particle of hydrogen gets cooked into a particle of helium. Others say the lit galactic arrays are surrounded by fields of Jupiter-sized planetary bodies. No, say others still, dark matter is composed of vacuum fluctuations, the sub-atomic … [Read more...]

Ecce Heston

How to Survive Our Own Success – In Santa Fe dramatic thunderstorms are common late on summer days. Afterwards the massive banks of purple clouds will often part, allowing shafts of intense sunlight to angle down, creating sometimes vivid rainbows. At a house near downtown last summer I saw a rainbow like this, clear as a Technicolor dream. I was with a group of young scientists and I watched as their wonder shifted into analytical mode – here is an example of water molecules interacting with rays of refracted light – and then back again toward a more embodied appreciation. The sequence reminded me of the Buddhist saying in which a mountain becomes, for the meditator, something very different …and then, at a later stage, returns … [Read more...]

Citizens Koch

The Face Outside the Window –  It’s hard to know what to say about Charles Koch after reading Jane Mayer’s astonishing expose in the August 30th issue of The New Yorker. American politics have been running hot for decades; finally we can name the source of the fever. Together with his brother David, Charles Koch owns Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the US; only Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are thought to be wealthier. In a remarkably narcissistic and anti-democratic act, the Koch boys long ago anointed themselves the heroic duo who would “rip government out by the roots.” In the grip of this wayward intention, they have, for the past four decades, pumped billions of dollars worth of high-grade hatred into the … [Read more...]

The Invariant Memory of Empire

The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire, Getty Villa –  When, in a crowded casino, the endangered hero of a lousy movie grabs his girl and jumps into a car that is on display to zoom out through shattering windows into the neon-lit boulevards of Las Vegas, it is all about generating a moment of surprise. When Teardrop, in the film Winter’s Bone by Debra Granik, grabs his niece Ree by the hair and tells her “I told you to shut up once with my mouth” we are caught off guard, and in that shocked opening we engage anew with the world. When Shakespeare writes “And pity, like a naked new-born babe…” he varies the um-pah, iambic rhythm in the last three syllables to surprise us, and then focuses our opened minds on that vivid closing … [Read more...]