Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Baha'i Pages

I've added and improved a couple of pages of materials I put up at my Baha'i page.

One of this is a short (about 10-minute to 15-minute) devotional with annotated footnotes to facilitate study. This particular devotional was prepared for Mothers' Day in 2005.

I also improved the study session paper related to the concept of death in the Baha'i Faith.

100 Books (not the BBC list)

On Facebook people have been counting how many books from a list put out by the BBC they have read. I've read 29 from the BBC list, but I have some friends who have read nearly 60.

I thought I'd create my own list of 100 books I have read or would like to read. There is significant overlap with the BBC list, since I used it as a starting point. I couldn't figure out the order of the BBC list; was it in order of popularity? My list is not in any particular order, although I have clustered books according to some similarities. Anyway, here is my list:

1, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
2, Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
3, The Harry Potter Books (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows), J.K. Rowling
4, The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
5, The Once and Future King, T.H. White
6, The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
7, The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
8, Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
9, The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
10, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
11, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
12, Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
13, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
14, The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King), J.R.R. Tolkien
15, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
16, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
17, Dream of the Red Chamber, Tsao Hsueh-Chin
18, In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust
19, Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
20, Memory of Fire (Genesis, Faces and Masks, Century of the Wind), Eduardo Galeano
21, The Alexandria Quartet (Mountolive, Balthazar, Justine, Clea), Lawrence Durrell
22, The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street), Naguib Mahfouz
23, The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
24, The Republic, Plato
25, The Inferno, Dante
26, Beowulf, Unknown Anglo-Saxon bard
27, The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
28, The Guide of the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides
29, Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
30, Hamlet, William Shakespeare
31, MacBeth, William Shakespeare
32, Beyond Rationality, Kenneth R. Hammond
33, Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin
34, Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War, William Manchester
35, Hiroshima, John Hersey
36, The Star Thrower, Loren Eiseley
37, So Human an Animal, René Dubos
38, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
39, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
40, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
41, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
42, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
43, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
44, A Death In The Family, James Agee
45, Moby Dick, Herman Melville
46, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
47, The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
48, Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott
49, Catch 22, Joseph Heller
50, Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
51, On The Road, Jack Kerouac
52, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
53, Turbulence (Fuzao), Jia Pingwa
54, The Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Analects (The first three of The Four Books), Confucius
55, Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
56, Journey to the West, Wu Cheng-en
57, Sadhana, Rabindranath Tagore
58, God’s Bits of Wood, Sembene Ousmane
59, Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
60, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61, Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
62, The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
63, Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama
64, Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
65, In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
66, Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis
67, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
68, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, Ambrose Bierce
69, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
70, The Trial, Franz Kafka
71, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Lafcadio Hearn
72, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
73, It, Stephen King
74, Dracula, Bram Stoker
75, The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
76, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
77, The Iron Heel, Jack London
78, 1984, George Orwell
79, Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
80, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Philip K. Dick
81, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
82, Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
83, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.
84, Empire Falls, Richard Russo
85, Watership Down, Richard Adams
86, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
87, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
88, The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
89, Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
90, Freedom from the Known, Jiddu Krishnamurti
91, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
92, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
93, The Book of Certitude (Kitab-i-Iqan), Husayn-`Ali Nuri (Baha’u’llah)
94, The Hidden Words, Husayn-`Ali Nuri (Baha’u’llah)
95, The Four Gospels and the Acts of the New Testament (of the Bible), Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
96, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis
97, Why I Am Not a Christian, Bertrand Russell
98, The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Gandhi’s Autobiography), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
99, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther King Jr., & Clayborne Carson
100, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, Reinhold Neibuhr

Friday, February 27, 2009


Well, we've reached those magical four days before the fast begins. The boys have two or three present to open each day. I think they are rather disappointed to find clothing and books, and not any DVDs or video games, but I think the books they are getting are good.

This has me thinking about what my sons do with their free time. When I was their age I loved to read, and I read quite a bit more than they are reading now. But, I also liked to play computer games (I think Atari games came out when I was in fifth or sixth grade). Back in 1980-1982 I had a TRS-80 Color Computer, and I pretty much learned how to type by trying to write programs in BASIC to generate characters for Dungeons and Dragons games. I played D&D, Diplomacy, and spent many hours outdoors walking around cornfields and woods and the neighborhood, or went on long (sometimes 20+ mile) bike rides on rural roads through the countryside north of Indianapolis. I was in a soccer league, and then ran in cross-country and track in middle school, and I joined Boy Scouts when I was in sixth grade, around the time my dad moved out when my parents separated. That was my life in late elementary and middle school.

My sons don't have quite the same life. The Internet, Game Cube, X-Box 360, Wii, and GameBoy systems give them a more attractive way to practice their eye-finger coordination than the TRS-80 and Atari did. I think rather than use the "four-hour per week with extra hours allowed if an adult is playing with you" as our limit for computer gaming and playing on the internet, we're going to shift to a system where minutes of screen time are bought by reading. Every page read in an approved book gets a minute of screen time. So, the Ayyam-i-Ha gifts give them some good choices for reading, I hope.

I'm wondering what to do about the fast. Usually I go to bed early, wake up early, and there's nothing much to it. If you wake up at 5:00, finish breakfast by 6:00, and you've gone to sleep at 9:00 or 10:00 the previous evening, the fast is easy to do. But, my habit is to grade papers and participate in online discussions (for my classes) after my sons go to bed (between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.). The switch in sleeping habits that comes with March can sometimes be difficult at first. Lately I've been up late putting up photographs (180 of them) from my recent college renewal, which you can see here, here, and here.

(I'm a practicing and enrolled Baha'i, and Baha'i adults of a certain age, when in good health and not traveling, refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours from March 2 to March 20).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The 25 random things

Lately on Facebook some friends have sent me lists of 25 random things about themselves. These have been very enjoyable to read. I've finally finished my 25 random things. These were indeed the first 25 things that occurred to me. I didn't delete anything I started to write or plan out what I would share. They are pretty darn personal, and they are mostly about my inner life. I guess that's just me. Where the heck did my sense of boundaries ever go?

1) Just about every day I think about death. I think of my son who died when my wife miscarried. What was he? Was he a person? Was he a thing? What about my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my ancestors whose names and stories I know, and my ancestors who are entirely forgotten and unknown? What has happened to them? What is in store for me? What about after the sun destroys planet Earth? What about after the heat death of the universe? What does it mean to cease existing?

2) I always have good intentions, but it seems to me I rarely act on them. I mean well, but there never seems to be time to do well as much as I want to.

3) I always have this tension in my heart and mind between on one hand, my scientific training and my materialist approach to the way I understand the universe and, on the other hand, my faith and belief in a supernatural reality. I really wonder if the fact that when information is arranged in particular forms (matter-energy gets into specific configurations) certain qualities emerge (life, consciousness, etc.) is a “fingerprint of the Divine” or is this merely something that can eventually be explained by mathematics and experimental observation? How is it that matter has mass? What is it about the universe that things like Planck’s Constant, the speed of light, the Natural Log, or pi, etc. happen to exist as they do? How is it that gravity is a property of mass? Are these in any sense spiritual questions?

4) I don’t feel jealous about anything. I remember feeling jealous when I was 12 or 13, but it was a horrible emotion, and I haven’t felt it since. I’ve been in situations where I should have felt jealous, but I just can’t feel a sense of injustice, outrage, or desire for things that I don’t get. I do feel angry that some people are underpaid and others are overpaid, but this is more a violated sense of justice than any personal jealousy.

5) I generally don’t like country music or rap or soul music, but I like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Lee Hazelwood, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earl, and Alison Krauss (country musicians). I also like Michael Franti, Public Enemy, KRS-One, and Gil Scott-Heron (Rap and Hip-Hop).

6) I give too many details, explain too much, and repeat myself quite a bit. I’m probably a bit of a bore.

7) I like to keep myself clean, but I don’t care about other aspects of personal grooming like combing hair, shaving, dressing smartly, and so forth. If my wife wasn’t reminding me to brush my hair and insisting I cut it once or twice a year I’d probably look like a wreck.

8) I like to look at pleasing faces, and I find a smiling face to be the most attractive part of the body. I especially like large eyes, and darker complexions, thicker and darker eyebrows, and long hair (in both sexes). Like most people, I find symmetrical faces a bit more attractive than asymmetrical ones, and I like faces that tend toward the average. I think more “feminine” and “youthful” faces are beautiful on women, but more androgynous faces are lovely as well, and I like elderly faces almost as much as youthful ones. A face that laughs often, and has exaggerated animation in its expressions is always attractive.

9) I like to wear unusual clothing. I think mainstream clothing, both the formal suits and the informal t-shirts and jeans are all boring. I like colorful African and and Asian traditional clothing, and I actually wear them fairly regularly. I also like historical clothing, and enjoy wearing 18th and 19th century styles. It’s not so much about cultural appropriation (although I do question the very idea of cultural ownership or barriers), but mainly the fact that I like pretty and unusual or exotic garments, and enjoy wearing them because I wish everyone dressed in unique and lovely ways, drawing on all the diversity of the past and the many cultural styles invented by our species.

10) I love photography. I take lots of photographs. I look at old photographs and keep my photographs organized. Sitting down with an old photo album seems like a good way to spend a half hour on a weekend afternoon.

11) I love to travel. I don’t get to travel very often. So, I love to plan trips. In planning these trips I learn details about all sorts of places I never go. I read travel books and imagine going to the places described. This can sometimes amaze people, when I learn they are from some far-away place I’ve never visited, and I can ask them about restaurants in their town or obscure tourist attractions there because I’ve planned a trip to their town or read about it in a travel book. I've been told that the philosopher Kant had a similar trait, although he evidently never got to travel.

12) I often think about this: do I even exist in the first place? I mean, perhaps I’m just a manifestation of various universal experiences. After all, the feelings and motivational drives I have: the love, the fear, the joy, the empathy, and the frustrations are all biochemically pretty much the same as what any other human feels. In fact, most animals have similar nervous systems and neurotransmitters, and they exhibit behaviors that correspond to the sensations, emotions, and motivational drives I seem to feel. When matter is arranged in particular ways creatures (such as myself) seem to exhibit behaviors I associate with the various emotions and thoughts. So, how are my particular emotions and thoughts really mine? Aren’t they just the emotions and thoughts of the universe temporarily exhibited in the time and space my body happens to occupy? Perhaps I’m just a particular collection of memories, relationships, and experiences, and the sense that there is a “self” that is responsible for all this and owns it is part of that illusion that I stand alone and apart from the whole, the Universe, and the Divine. It seems that way sometimes.

13) I pray. I like to pray alone and silently, and I don’t like praying in a group. I often pray for people, both the living and the dead. Sometimes I’ll read a Baha’i prayer or say a Baha’i prayer I’ve memorized, but most of the time I just talk to God or get into a devotional attitude and a meditative spirit, and pray with my own thoughts and feelings.

14) I still feel enthralled and totally in love with my wife sometimes. I feel this way more about her now than I did in the earlier years of our marriage, and in fact, I was more often dissatisfied and frustrated in our relationship when we were in our twenties than I am now, after over 16 years of marriage. I find it easier to encourage this feeling of being head-over-heels in love with my wife as if we were young and in the first stages of falling in love by spending time apart from her for a few days, like when I go away for a weekend, or when she goes back to Taiwan for a few weeks without me or I take the boys somewhere for a few days without her. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But only a short absence, please.

15) I waste a lot of time looking up stuff and learning about all sorts of things that cross my consciousness and come to my attention. I’m not so distractible or plagued with a short-attention span that you could say I’m “scattered” or diagnose me with clinical “attention-deficit” problems, but I am spread pretty wide (and, I’m afraid, thinly) over the facts and experiences that come my way or are sought by me.

16) I’m a bit messy with my papers and clothing. I should be neater.

17) I’m a native Californian, and feel proud of that. I love California, and think of it as my true home, but I only lived there for the first six years of my life and for a little over three years when I was an undergraduate student in college.

18) I’m also constantly wondering about Baha’u’llah (Husayn-`Ali Nuri) and His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (Abbas Effendi). How accurately were they getting Revelation from God? What is the nature of a Manifestation of God like the Bab (Ali Muhammad Al Shirazi Bab Al Din) or Baha’u’llah? Sometimes the Manifestations of God sound a bit like persons with psychotic disorders, and They don’t seem to be perfect or infallible in the sense that They are “perfect” in Their behavior or always perfectly accurate in everything They say or believe. And yet, I have faith that these Persons are the source of Truth, knowledge of goodness, and so forth. This creates a tension. I try to learn what I can about the historical Jesus, Mohammed, and the founders of other religions. I just can’t stop wondering and thinking about the Manifestations of God. Sometimes I am moved to tears in feelings of awe and devotion, but other times I’m critical of (or baffled by) what people report these Persons did or said.

19) I’m not very engaged with certain aspects of mainstream American culture or life. I don’t know many movie or television stars, and I don’t follow any sports closely. I have no idea what is popular in music, as I rely on friends and disc jockeys on public/community radio to alert me to new music I might like. We don’t have cable television, and I hardly watch any television anyway. No one in our family enjoys shopping. We don’t have a mobile phone of our own, although my mom lets us use a spare one she has, and we only use it when we are traveling. We almost never eat out in restaurants. I drive (seldom) a 21-year-old car when I’m not riding my bike or taking a bus. If I play any trivia games I’m good with the history, geography, and science questions, but the entertainment and sports questions tend to mystify me. So, these are some of the ways I’m de-linked from mainstream culture.

20) I’m quick to anger and my anger passes over me in a quick and intense wave, and then it is gone. Now that I’ve learned to let the anger pass silently without acting on it, this works pretty well for me, as I’m usually over anger within a few minutes, if not seconds. The trick for me is to remain silent and let the feeling pass. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to understand how people can get angry and stay angry for more than a few minutes. I’d rather not get angry at all, and maybe I’m successful in framing reality in a way that I don’t get angry or upset very easily. But still, I think my temperament is such that I am vulnerable to flashes of anger, and it’s taken years to learn to let the waves of rage just pass over and dissipate without using that energy.

21) I’m six feet tall. I was 177 centimeters tall when I graduated from high school, 180 centimeters tall when I graduated from college, and I’m now 182.5 centimeters (just a tiny fraction of an inch shy of 6 feet tall). I didn’t stop growing until I was in my early thirties. That’s supposedly impossible, but my grandmother also continued growing into her thirties.

22) I’m very much concerned with the idea that things are determined, and we don’t really have free will, or anything like responsibility, guilt, honor, or anything else that people would deserve if they had free will. David Hume and others seem to have pretty good arguments against free will. I believe in free will, but take it as a sort of supernatural belief or faith. I wonder about it often.

23) I’m very sentimental. I keep old things, and find it difficult to throw them away. I like to reminisce, and I like cute things and pathetic things.

24) I’ve always thought love should be open and liberating, and not limited and confining. I guess I still believe that, although I gave up on “free love” (at least in terms of sexual relationships) long ago, before I was married. Despite my early interest in open relationships and free love (I never had an exclusive girlfriend until I was a senior in college), I was not a libertine. For example, I remained a virgin until I was 20 years old, and hadn’t had sex (as President Clinton defined the term, narrowly) for the four years preceding my wedding. I guess I’ve been frustrated by the quick association between sexual expression and the emotions and motive drives of love in my culture and time. It seems to me our culture, encouraged by capitalism and its reliance on capturing our immediate attention and selling stuff to us, neglects feelings of philia (friendly love), agape (spiritual love), and storge (familial love), and instead emphasizes something that resembles eros, but is often just base lust mixed with greedy possessiveness, without the beauty of true eros. Well, that’s my take on it anyway, and I guess I’ve felt this way since I was a child. I’m interested in love, openness, community, solidarity, group cohesion, tenderness, kindness, and all the sorts of things you would associate with those terms, rooted in love.

25) I’ve lived in many different places. I lived for years in: central Orange County in California, northwestern Indianapolis in Indiana, central and western Saint Louis County in Missouri, Redlands in California, Chiayi in Taiwan, Urbana in Illinois, and now in Springfield in Illinois. I’ve lived for several weeks or even months in Antioch in California, Nairobi in Kenya, Berlin in Germany, Xi’an in China, Evanston in Illinois, Yamhill County in Oregon, and Taichung in Taiwan. I’ve enjoyed all these places, and would be happy to return to live in any of these places again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lincoln turns 200

Last week marked the completion of the 200th year since baby Abraham Lincoln was born in a cabin in Kentucky. Here in the town where he settled as a young adult and lived most of his life we had a fairly large celebration. Our family went to join in an effort to have thousands of people read the Gettysburg Address all together at the same time. While there, we met our new governor, Pat Quinn. Here are a couple photographs of the event.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

New Orleans 2009

A few weeks ago I went to New Orleans for the annual meeting of the Society for Social Work and Research. I have finally finished making a couple web pages that show some photographs of people I met and things I saw (especially the Prospect 1 art show). So, if you want to see the photographs, follow this link.