Sunday, September 28, 2008

Videos I've encountered on the Internet and enjoyed

Today I'll post some videos from YouTube that I like.

First, here is a cute cartoon about Critical Mass.

Here is an amazing music video for a song from one of my favorite albums (and the book is good, too), My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. This is for the song Mea Culpa.

A nice peace video.

One of the best attempts I've ever encountered of trying to capture or induce a mystical experience through video. This 2006 film by Sonja van Kerkhoff is worth watching.

A music video I somewhat like, more for the message than the music, although the music isn't bad, this is World on Fire by Sarah McLachlan.

I love The Fall, and this video for Plastic Man shows a series of images related to Plastic Man while you can listen to Mark E. Smith sing Plastic Man.

And here we have an interpretation of a Captain Beefheart song. Well worth study.

My favorite art videos are animations of abstract works by my favorite artist, Kandinsky. You can see this one or this one.

One of the greatest short films ever made, Jan Svankmajer's 1966 Punch and Judy (Coffin Maker) is available to be seen, and everyone should view it. To me, this is one of the greatest commentaries on the vanities of this life. Greed and jealousy are lampooned, and this material world is portrayed as deeply disturbing and yet somehow tragic and funny. Any Baha'i who knows the about Baha'u'llah's youth cannot forget how He too was inspired by a puppet play when He saw the great Shah puppet thrown in a box after the show.

In the Lawhu'r-Ra'is, Baha'u'llah announced as his aim the unification of the peoples of the world. In the Persian Lawh-i Ra'is, written upon his arrival in Akka and also addressed to Ali Pasha, Baha'u'llah compares the ephemeral pomp and circumstance of the Ottoman court to the elaborate puppet shows he saw as a child at court in Tehran, at the end of which the royal puppets in all their finery were unceremoniously packed into a trunk. - Juan Cole

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When I was young.

I was feeling nostalgic tonight, so I put up a little page with some photographs from my youth, when I was in high school and college, and those years in Taiwan before I came back to America for graduate school. So, if you want to see what I looked like when I was 14-24, visit the new photo page.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Route 66 Festival Cars

After the Critical Mass bike ride we remained around the Old State Capitol for a few minutes to watch some of the old cars arrive for the Route 66 Festival here in Springfield. Here are a few of the cars that we saw. There is also a nice view of the state capitol building seen from the south just as the sun set.

Critical Mass

It was the last Friday in the month, so here in Springfield, Illinois, some friendly people got together to ride through downtown Springfield. We joined up with the group and took part in the Critical Mass ride. These are some photographs of the event.

Critical Mass is a global celebration of bike riding.  In a town like Springfield (a little over 100,000 residents) it's possible to get around on many errands by bike, and if the city were designed to encourage human-powered transport, people could probably use bikes for much of their transport instead of relying on carbon-fueled automobiles. Do you know how many people die each year in automobile accidents?  About 42,000 motorists, 4,900 pedestrians, and 700 cyclists are killed each year in this country. Cars have their uses. Traveling more than 5-10 miles?  You'll usually need a car.  Need to pick up something bulky or heavy?  You'll probably need a car?  Is there a rain storm or blizzard?  Yeah, you're better off in a car (or bus).  But when the weather is fine, or your trip is relatively short, a bike is a sensible mode of transport.  If people used bikes for their short rides (say, under 5 miles), and the transport infrastructure was built to facilitate this as a way-of-life, think of how many lives might be saved. People would be healthier. Cities would be quieter. 

For two years I lived in Taiwan and used bikes, buses, and trains to get around. I've used bikes and buses to get around rural Denmark, urban Beijing, and for four years when I lived in Urbana, Illinois, I almost exclusively used my bike or city buses to commute to work. 

If you want to do something to reduce global warming, use public transport, bicycles, and your feet to get around as much as possible, and reduce your use of private internal-combustion engine vehicles. You can also reduce your consumption of meat, that would help as well. And, advocate for more bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly urban planning and city design. We need more bike lanes, bike trails, and wider sidewalks.

  The deaths caused by automobiles touch all of our lives. I had a family member killed by a car while she was crossing a street in San Diego.  While I was a high school student I had a girlfriend whose father had been killed while riding his bike home from work. The Critical Mass movement reminds people driving cars to be on the look out for bicyclists, because people on bikes have the same right to the road as automobiles.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two movies available online.

I've put two rather large movie files online for people to enjoy.

The first one I'll mention is the video I took at the World Expo 2008 in Zaragossa, Spain. This is an 18.5 minute film of the large multimedia presentation made each night on the Ebro River. You can watch it here (.mov file 45.1 MB, will stream in most browsers). I found it profoundly moving, like Gorecki's Third Symphony. It contains a good collection of images, and offers some interesting combinations of music and visuals. I believe the people shown from about 5 minutes to 6.5 minutes into it are victims of diseases brought on by environmental contamination.
We saw the show on a Thursday and a Friday night, and there were tremendous crowds of all ages present. I was somewhat impressed that all sorts of families from all over Spain and Europe, even from all over the whole world were coming to see this program. I wonder if a show like this could be presented at one of the Disney theme parks as an evening program before the nightly fireworks. Somehow I can't imagine that sort of thing happening just yet.

The second film I've put up is a sort of slide-show with readings and music I made in 2006 to express my feelings about war. Rather than watch it on-line, if you have space for a 206 MB file on your hard-drive, I suggest you download the film as a .mov file [205.8 MB], which means you should right-click (or hold down the control key as you click, Mac users) on the link to the film. That will bring up a little window in your browser and you can tell the browser to download the linked file). If you try to view it in a browser you'll need to wait about four minutes for it to start playing if you have a fast connection. If your connection is slow I can't guess how long it would take to load it into a browser to play it. It's a 43 minute film.
This film about peace and war tries to create a strong feeling by using music, images of war, and writing about war and peace, some of it from a religious or idealistic perspective about how horrible war is. I used quotations from various books that have informed my opinions about war and combined with images of war. I used many color photographs from World War I and II. You can also see many of the "Disasters of War" sketches by Goya. Most of the quotations are taken from a talk that 'Abdu'l-Baha gave during the summer of 1914, just before/as World War I was starting. The film is certainly PG-13, as there are many scenes of corpses. Some of the stories remind me of the stories my Great-Grandfather told me about his time in France in 1918.

- Eric

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Back Yard

We're visiting my parents in St. Louis this weekend, and I'm spending most of my time working on my online course.

Arthur was playing in the backyard while Mom and Jeri planted flowers. Here are a couple photographs showing what was going on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Biking to work

Once or twice each week I bike from home to work and back. It's a little over seven miles each way, and I usually require about 45 minutes between office and home. It's an easy ride, but the prairie winds can slow you down. Last night as I rode home around 6:00 p.m the sun was coming out to shine on the land just before it set. We hadn't seen the sun around here for a few days.

There is a bike trail (really just an extra wide shoulder along a road) from campus to a point about 300 meters from busy 6th street, and for most of the last 300 meters I can ride on a sidewalk. After crossing 6th, there is a little over a mile of riding on a frontage outer road on the south side of an interstate freeway. There is no shoulder at all on this outer road, so cars tend to hesitate to pass. In the morning coming to school there are large trucks going to and from the construction of the new overpass and MacArthur road extension, and these trucks drive slowly past.

Once I get to the construction site I can turn north (going home) and take a recreational bike trail for about a mile up to Jerome, a small town on the south side of Springfield. There in Jerome I get to cross Wabash, a road that is even busier than 6th street. From there on home I ride through the quiet residential streets of Jerome, taking a horribly bumpy bike path across Sebastian's middle school's athletic field and parking lot before getting into my neighborhood on the south side of Springfield.

As I said, the sun was looking nice peaking out from low above the horizon last night, and I had my camera with me, so I took these photos I thought I'd share here. I didn't take photos before I got to the recreational bike trail. Up to that point I tend to be intent on avoiding traffic and taking photographs wouldn't occur to me.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I burned a bunch of CDs for an old friend and her family this past weekend. I was listening to the songs and noticed one by Conrad Lambert. Lambert had a CD of Baha'i music with a strong southern African influence in its style that came out in the early 1990s (Heathrow Terminal One). I remember many years ago being frustrated that there were so few good Baha'i popular or folk singers (Seals and Crofts were about it, and they were pretty good; I liked Dizzy Gillespie too, but two isn't a large number). Well, I liked the do-it-yourself amateur attitude. Many decent talents that were playing guitar and singing at local community events, but they weren't popular beyond those of us who knew them. The Baha'is in Nairobi (where I lived in 1988) and St. Louis (where I lived 1982-1986 and 1992-2000) had (and have) tremendous talent. Then, in the 1990s, we started hearing more Baha'i musicians with strong talent who were releasing recordings, and now there are many fairly good Baha'i musicians, and even the ones that don't stand out for their amazing talent sometimes produce a few fantastic pieces. One of my favorites among the Baha'i musicians is Conrad Lambert, who now has a professional name: Merz. Others among many I like include Grant Hindin Miller, and Brian Taraz (Nahüm).

Anyway, I really love this song, "Awake." I have so many dear friends who live in Taiwan, and people who have touched my life who live far away, and this song is, for me, about attraction and unity and tender concern transcending the barriers of physical distance and time. I was looking for lyrics online and found some, but I hear some of the words differently, so here are the lyrics as I hear them:

I know you're awake, 
I Know you're smiling in your heart

'Cause there are three reasons why we are never apart,
I know you are miles [away],

But what’s a mile anyway 

When our Maker says that we're of the same dust?
You are a part of me

And I am always with you 

So what’s a few months, so what’s a few years?
I know you're awake,
I know you're smiling in your heart
'Cause there are three reasons why we are never apart,
Number 1,
I look at the moon

I know the light that bathes me in silver

Is reflections from the sun that bathes you in daylight,
Number 2,
like atoms
the more we separate

[The] more light we bring to the whole world

A force is created when we part,
Number 3,
where there is love

There is always time

And when there is time we are always together...

And, here is a sample of the song [mp3 550 KB]. You can watch a video of a song by Merz on YouTube. I'm not sure where you can buy Heathrow Terminal One. It's not easy to find.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Teaching by Example.

I took the family, all four of us, to hear James Loewen speak at the university tonight. It was even better than his talk at the Unitarian congregation back in November of last year. I think Sebastian (who is 13) enjoyed the talk as well, but I'm afraid Arthur (who is 9) was not so interested. I recommend Dr. Loewen's home page:

Looking over some of the e-mails and newsgroups I subscribe to, I found a wonderful story about 'Abdu'l-Baha, remembered by Julia Fung and Lua, and then copied and shared with us by Sen McGlinn.


IT WAS my great privilege to be in New York during the last days
spent by 'Abdu'l Baha in America. There was a question which I
greatly longed to ask, but fearing the reply would be that I must
talk to people, everywhere, I hesitated.

Finally, on the last day, almost the last moment of my stay, it came
to me that it was cowardly to hesitate. On that day, as I came into
His Presence, He immediately said, "Are there any questions?" At once
I asked the question, "Which is the best way to give the Baha'i

'Abdu'l Baha's Face became very serious, His Voice loud as He
answered in these words:

"The first thing to do is to acquire a thirst for Spirituality, then
Live the Life! Live the Life! Live the Life! The way to acquire this
thirst is to meditate upon the future life.

Study the Holy Words, read your Bible, read the Holy Books,
especially study the Holy Utterances of Baha'u'llah; Prayer and
Meditation, take much time for these two. Then will you know this
Great Thirst, and then only can you begin to Live the Life!

"To live the Life you must be the very kindest woman, you must be
the most pure, you must be absolutely truthful, and live a perfectly
moral life.

"Visit your neighbors when they are sick or in trouble, offer your
services to them, try to show them that you are longing to serve

"Feed the poor, divide what you have. Be contented to remain where
God has placed you; be faithful in your care of those to whom He has
trusted you, never waver in this show by your life you have something
different, so that all will see and will say, 'What has this person
that I have not?'

"Show the world that in spite of the utmost suffering, poverty,
sickness, you have something which gives you comfort, strength and
peace that you are happy serene satisfied with all that is in your

"Then they, too, will want what you possess and will need no
further teaching after you tell them what it is."

- Star of the West, Vol. 19, p. 69

Monday, September 08, 2008

Labor Day Weekend Trip

Over Labor Day weekend we took the Chinese visiting scholar from Harbin, Tianhua and her daughter Annie with us for a visit to Hannibal (Missouri), Nauvoo (Illinois), and southeastern Iowa.  I've just been experimenting with the iPhoto ability to generate photo galleries, and you can check out some photos from the weekend at this website.

Family Art

In our undergraduate program at the university we try to encourage students to take a couple upper-division art courses. When I was in college I can't remember taking any courses that were specifically about art. I had components of art and popular culture as significant topics in many of the courses I did take, but I never took courses like ceramics or photography (I did learn to use a dark room in high school and did some black & white photography then).

Over the past years I've put up some web pages with images of art created by myself, my wife, or our children. There are five pages up now. These are:

A page with some works by myself and Chun-Chih.
A page with some of Arthur's early work (and an abstract oil painting I did in high school)
A page with Sebastian's early drawings.
A page with Arthur's third grade work.
A page with some assorted works by Sebastian, Arthur, and me.

Some of the work is pretty interesting. I like Chun-Chih's versions of the Van Gogh Paintings.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Influences on my thinking about consciousness

I've tried to make a list of some of the people and ideas that have been most influential in my thinking about consciousness, the mind, and the self. I thought I might as well share it here in this blog.


Henry P. Stapp:

Henry P. Stapp. Is certainly worth reading. This guy worked with Wolfgang Pauli and Werner Heisenberg. See if your has library has The Mindful Universe.

Max Tegmark:

Max Tegmark is also interested in consciousness and physics, but he doesn't think our brains are likely to be using quantum effects to give us consciousness (too much heat and atomic interactions to allow the stability you need for quantum effects to do much influencing, he's calculated). Some of his cosmology writings are fun.

Roger Penrose:

Roger Penrose has written accessible works such as the Emperor's New Mind, Shadows of the Mind, and The Road to Reality. Here he answers critiques of Shadows of the Mind.

Stuart Hameroff:

Stuart Hameroff runs a whole website dedicated to quantum consciousness, the new frontier in brain/mind science. He is affiliated with the Center for Consciousness Studies in Tucson and an editor of the 1996 book, Toward a Science of Consciousness.

Stephen Wolfram:

Stephen Wolfram is interested in the idea that the universe works like a series of mathematical algorithms, and we live in a computational universe. His famous book is A New Kind of Science.

Richard Evans Schultes:

I think we have a lot to learn about consciousness by studying the effects of entheogens and hallucinogens, as well as peak experiences and transformative conversion exeriences. Schultes was a pioneering ethnobotanist who studied psychoactive plants and their uses in human culture.


Transpersonal Psychology:

I earned my bachelor's degree from the Johnston Center, which was founded by some people who were interested in transpersonal psychology. There are now associations and institutes for transpersonal psychology.

The Holographic Universe an the holonomic model of the brain:

This is an interesting idea I like, and it seems to have relevance to consciosuness. Ed Mitchell, Michael Talbot, Karl Pribram, and David Bohm have contributed to this idea.

Myth and Archetype:

As a religious person and a scientist, I face the difficulty of reconciling two very different approaches to truth. I am therefore interested in folklore, myth, and the concept of the archetype. I'm interested in dreams and have even made a compilation about dreams.

Life and Evolution:

I am interested also in theories that see Life as a process of the Universe coming into self-awareness, and the unity of Life. I am especially inspired by the essays of Loren Eiseley, Rene Dubos, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Matthew Fox. I like mysticism and Panentheism as well.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why did Russia Invade Georgia?

A friend asked why I thought Russia invaded Georgia. First of all, although we say, "Russia invaded Georgia" what we really mean is that some units of the Russian military entered Georgia's territory and destroyed things and killed people. It wasn't the whole Russian nation that did this, but some soldiers, who took orders from the government, and I don't know how representative the Russian government is of Russia as a whole. It seems to me the Russian government keeps a pretty tight control on what Russian people know about the world, and shapes domestic opinion in such a way that it's difficult to know what Russian people would really want or do if they knew what people outside of Russia know. Also, nations and governments are made up of thousands of people with thousands of different opinions and values and motives. When a country does something like send units of its military into another country, there will be various reasons for this, and some of the generals or political leaders that ordered the intervention or invasion will have quite different motives or understandings than their colleagues. But, that said, here are reasons I suppose Russians decided to send some military units into Georgia, going as far as Gori (a city I've actually visited, in 1985).

1st. The Russians must maintain credibility with their allies, and the South Ossetians are their allies, so they had to respond to the Georgian attack on South Ossetia.
2nd. The Russians desire that South Ossetia will gain its independence or perhaps join with North Ossetia as part of the Russian Federation, and so they want to stop Georgia from daring to exert control over South Ossetia.
3rd. The Russians feel a moral obligation to protect ethnic groups they perceive to be oppressed. From the Russian point of view, the South Ossetians are oppressed by the Georgians, and so they must punish the Georgians for attacking South Ossetia. (Some Russians see the South Ossetians the way some Americans see the Kosovo Albanians, the Tibetans, or the persecuted minorities in Sudan).
4th. Certain figures in the Russian government and military wanted to make a demonstration of strength to demonstrate that Russia is still a powerful country. This is mainly for domestic consumption, to keep up Russian loyalty to the elites who control Russia, but it is also a communication to nations around Russia, that they must be careful in their diplomatic and military actions, because Russia is not afraid to intervene (or invade). In essence, the invasion of Georgia was a morale booster for Russia and a way to intimidate other countries.
5th. Russian political elites wanted to stop NATO from enlarging, and wanted to show that if NATO included states too close to Russia that have unresolved diplomatic problems, this could draw NATO and Russia into military conflict. The Russian elites expect that this will make the NATO elites reconsider extending NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia.
6th. Russian elites have a intuitive hatred of the current administration in Georgia, and were eager to attack Georgia to destabilize it and drive its current administration out of power.

I think the domestic morale booster rationale should be ranked pretty high. Also, the humans running the Russian government and military are vulnerable to the same irrational hubris and short-sightedness that plagued American elites who decided we would fight a certain sort of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's old world thinking.

Now for my opinion of the whole thing. It's ridiculous to fight over land. The desire of the Abkhazians and South Ossetians for independence from Georgia is not comparable to the desire of the Confederate States of America for independence. There is no ideological bond or historical reason why those little enclaves should be part of either Georgia or the Russian Federation. The fact that those people find themselves within the borders of one or the other administrative state hardly matters, and certainly isn't worth a bloody war. If Russia can get independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, this would set an interesting precedent for Tibet, where people would like greater independence or autonomy from China. I think northeastern Sri Lanka where the Tamils want greater autonomy or independence, Kashmir, and some of the provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could all point to what happened in Kosovo and what may happen in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ask, "why not here for us?"

Also, I wonder if Russia's government's desire to remove Georgia's Saakashvili from power is similar to the American government's desire to remove such political leaders as Manuel Noriega in Panama (1989), Saddam Hussein in Iraq (2003), Jacobo Arbenz Gusmán in Guatemala (1954), Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran (1953), Patrice Lumumba in the Congo (1961), Dgo No Dingh Diem in South Vietnam (1963), Salvador Allende in Chile (1973), or Bernard Coard and Hudson Austin in Grenada (1983). Noriega, Hussein, Diem, and Austin were bad guys, and I'm glad someone removed them from power. But Gusmán, Allende, Mosaddeq, and Lumumba weren't so bad at all, and it's a crime that our government had a hand in stripping them of power (and in some cases, having them killed). I think Russia is behaving as the United States did in these sorts of situations, and with Saakashvili I think we have a leader who is flawed but overall pretty good (like Lumumba or Allende), not a bad guy like Austin or Hussein or Noriega. So Russia is blameworthy the way the United States was when it waged an undeclared war against Nicaragua in the 1980s. The Georgians (like the Sandanistas in Nicaragua) are not saints, and they deserve harsh criticism for some of their actions (especially the murderous attack on South Ossetians that triggered the Russian invasion), but the response by Russia, like America's foreign policy in the 1980s, is wrong.

But it's difficult to say. I don't follow Georgian or Russian politics. I have my hands full keeping track of developments in Iraq. Recently the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani called al-Maliki's government "totalitarian" and I'm worried about what the Peshmerga might do in Kirkuk. And did anyone notice that very few (hardly any) of the Awakening Council tribal leaders attended the handover of al-Anbar in Ramadi? I think the Iraqi Islamic Party was behind the (temporary) ouster of al-Anbar police chief Major General Tareq Youssef al A'sal al Dulaimi. I think this means the Iraqi Accord Front is going to try to rig the 2009 elections where they can, and that could be disastrous.