Saturday, March 30, 2013

Devotion Through Art

This seems an appropriate post for Easter, even if you're not a Christian. Music and art belong to all of us. So, here is Handel's "The Hallelujah Chorus" performed by the Chicago Symphony, featuring  Michelangelo's ceiling paintings from the Sistine Chapel. It's funny now to think that Michelangelo at first did not want to accept the commission because he considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. Yet he accepted the challenge, having to paint the ceiling lying on his back on a scaffold. He also wound up painting The Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar of the Chapel.

Click here for a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Monday, March 25, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy.... and He Is Us

I found myself bemoaning the state of education in the United States with an online friend this morning. Even though on political issues we are sometimes at opposite ends of the spectrum, we often find points of agreement, and education is one of them. Our public schools are now spitting out hordes of students who haven't been taught to think for themselves, or to even value the idea of being able to think for themselves. Part of this we laid at the feet of the standardized testing movement, as if all education in the country should be standardized, as if every corner of this large country has identical educational needs. But no, now educrats--who've never set foot in a classroom themselves--are dictating the curriculum, awarding school funding based on standardized test scores, and so on, so naturally school districts are wasting time teaching kids lists of bullet points and how to regurgitate trivia. Creativity, innovative thinking, heck, just reasoning your way through a problem of fairly easy pros and cons, are things that aren't conducive to "multiple guess," easy to score by machine tests, so these more important skills are falling by the wayside.

We are in the process of producing a generation of obedient workers, people who know enough to learn a process and how to carry it out but not how to invent a process, and certainly not how to think for him or herself and question the sanity of the system.

We've read Elie Wiesel's Night in my pre-freshman comp class (easy book, high school level) and I asked my class a question today: "Could something like the Holocaust happen in America today?"

I got no answer. Nada. Zilch. No answer. Blank expressions. Dead silence. Finally a hand went up. "Of COURSE it can!" "Of course it can," I agreed. We'd spent only two classes going over how Hitler and the Nazis rose to power despite getting only about 33% of the vote from the German people, yet quite legally, and how denial is such a powerful factor in the lives of so many, and how fear can prevent people from speaking up, and how our own country hasn't been immune to scapegoating others, or conjuring up attacks on us out of thin air, or putting people like the Japanese in concentration camps, and the list goes on. I pushed her for her reasoning and she cited some of the above, along with something we hadn't discussed--the "wave experiment"--which was an excellent point, to which I added the Stanford Prison Experiment, but here is what made me sad. The student who was able to answer my simple question was an international student. She's still learning English. But the kid can THINK. She's informed. She cares. She did not receive her high school education in the United States.

So, I look at the photo posted above, and I think, "That little world--get a job, consume, work harder because you consume, and repeat, repeat, repeat, until you die" is the world we inhabit. If I ask my students today their primary reason for going to college, the answer is "to get a better paying job." So few seem to care WHAT field, what career, what personally excites them, what is meaningful work to them--they just want to make money. And for what? To consume. Their minds are trapped in a tiny cage.

I'm reminded of that old McDonald's commercial: "Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Get up, go to work, come home--GO TO MCDONALD'S!" As if buying a Big Mac were the highlight of your week....

Fortunately, we all have more power than we think we do. There are other ways to live in this world. Things will not make anyone happy. Einstein said we're all geniuses.... but if you judge an elephant by its ability to climb a tree, the elephant is going to look awfully stupid. Find your own talents, the gifts that are wonderfully, uniquely YOURS. Pursue that. Screw the money, the car, the fancy planned obsolescence gimmicky gadgets, society's pressure to "live in the real world, and be a drone." Be a totally idealistic unrealistic person. Do not conform because you think you have to, or because that's the only way. Don't believe it. Think for yourself, and forge your own path in the world.

Be free.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Imagine a World Free of Hate

Okay, if this one doesn't tug at your heartstrings, I don't know what will.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Warriors

Today I visited San Francisco's Asian Art Museum because the traveling exhibit of Qin Shi Huang's terracotta army is in town. It's truly an extraordinary thing to see: terracotta archers, cavalry, officers, a general, a chariot drawn by four horses, armor made of limestone tiles and copper, and all kinds of weaponry--swords, arrows, crossbows, and daggers. I had known from reading various articles and watching a National Geographic special or two that there had been various trenches dug with the warriors and horses, armor and weapons placed in them, but one thing I had been clueless about was the fact that there was also a section of acrobats, musicians, and other entertainers, and yet another section that was basically a terracotta zoo. I mean, we are talking an entire compound of "stuff" surrounding the Emperor's burial mound. All of it was then buried in the 3rd century BCE and unearthed totally by accident in the 1970s. (You can read more about it all here.)

It is mind-boggling to think that there were over 8,000 soldiers, and every last one of them is unique.

We weren't allowed to use a flash (actually, I was surprised they let us take photos at all), but the exhibit was dramatically lit and my iPhone does passably well. Here are some of my favorites:

Another thing to bear in mind is that, originally, all of these warriors were painted in vivid colors, but when they were unearthed and exposed to the air, the colors rapidly vanished. So several were recreated digitally to give you a sense of what they looked like when painted (compare to the squatting archer and general, 2nd and 3rd photos, above):

Finally, here is the crane I took a shine to. There's some glare because, unlike the warriors, it was in a glass case.

If this exhibit comes to your city (or nearby), definitely check it out. It'll be time well spent.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Binaural Beats Meditation

You can't watch the whole video or your eyes will hurt. That's not the purpose anyway. It's the music that's the purpose. You're getting synchronized tones in both ears at a certain hertz, which has been proven to stimulate activity in the pineal gland and improve clarity in meditations. So, put in your earbuds, click play, lean back, and relax for twenty minutes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Do Some Good in The World

Right now Kiva is letting you make your first $25 loan for free and at no risk at all. So there is no reason to not pick a borrower and make a microloan that could really help change someone's life much for the better.

I liked the concept, so I used PayPal to fund a second $25 loan. When that money is paid back, I can relend it to someone else, then someone else, and then someone else, and so on, ad infinitum. And yes, if you believe helping others should start right here at home, Kiva does help individuals living in the United States. My first two loans were to women living in the US. After that, I will probably "diversify" and loan it to people in other countries as well.

I like the idea of the same $25 loan going all over the world to make a genuine difference in the lives of real people, the "little people" like you and me. (To me, $25 is basically four large mochas at Starbucks.) Besides, I've got plenty of coffee at home.

So, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Water Therapy, Anyone?

This is video I took with my iPhone a couple weeks ago on Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay, California. I just now got around to uploading it to Youtube. Nothing is as soothing as the sound of the ocean waves pounding and then the hiss of the water as it retreats from the sand. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds

This is a fascinating and gorgeous movie that's posted in full on Youtube. It's in four parts of about 30 minutes each, so I suggest tasting it in small bites. Watch one part, ponder it; the next day, watch the next, ponder it; and so on.