Wednesday, September 28, 2011

E-Cigarettes Could Be Coming To A Hotel Front Desk Near You


Everett: So, You Want To Buy A Boeing 787 Dreamliner?


Japan Explains "Grope and Change" TSA Policy


Rocking beats for peace on an Israeli tank

At the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, heres a little reminder for peace.

AT SUNDOWN today Rosh Hashanah begins. In Jewish liturgy its described as the day of judgment and the day of remembrance. During services there is a phrase repeated several times: On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. I remember as a kid listening along and having the image of God basically searching through each persons deeds for the year as if written in a ledger. It seemed fucking terrifying.

Probably my clearest Rosh Hashanah memory though was of one year where our congregation seemingly forgetting we were in the sanctuary and not at an Atlanta Hawks game or something started vigorously applauding a particularly long blast on the Shofar. The look on the rabbis face, the way he shook his head to indicate total disgust at our congregational faux pas: it was powerful.

Anyway, Im not trying to make fun of Rosh Hashanah here. Its just that Ive always felt a lot of confusion about the high holidays. I do believe in ceremonies though, even if, and perhaps especially if like skateboarding in a pool they re-purpose existing constructs in ways the original builders never couldve imagined.

This is why I like this video so much. Heres Dror Gomel an Israeli drum teacher who studied percussion in Africa, breaking shit down on this IDF armored personnel carrier.

Lshanah tovah yall. Peace.

Feature photo courtesy of the IDF.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How meditation relates to happiness

Meditation leads to mindfulness

Studies point out how valuable meditating can be to overall well-being.

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN meditating for thousands of years, but it seems only recently that its gaining credibility by the scientific community. The shame is that many wont even give things a second thought unless some researcher or scientist proves its benefits, choosing to ignore the wisdom of experience. An article at Forbes discusses research done that correlates meditation and happiness.

First, a Harvard University study has shown that wandering minds are an attribute of unhappy people. 2250 volunteers (ages 18-88, from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations) were used in the study they were contacted at random intervals by the researchers and asked what they were currently doing and what they were actually thinking about.

almost half of the time (46.9%) people were thinking about something else.

They were then asked whether what they were thinking about was pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. They found that almost half of the time (46.9%) people were thinking about something else. In other words, they were not engaged in the present moment. These people with the wandering minds were found to be the least happy.

The Forbes article then points to another study that correlates wandering minds and a neural network called the default mode network (DMN). This network becomes active when our brains are moving from one thought/worry to the next. Tying this all together is more research at Yale University (led by Judson Alyn Brewer, MD/PhD) that shows that people who meditate have a large decrease of activity in the DMN (as well as less wandering minds).

What does it all mean? Practitioners of meditation are able to notice and acknowledge their wandering minds and, without judgement, curb their thoughts about future or past events (and non-events) and focus on the present moment. Its through this practice that the parts of the brain that are centered around me, me, me (e.g. the medial prefrontal cortext, as shown in this study) become less activated, even when not in a meditative state.

Studies and research aside, I can tell you from experience that meditation does work. I started practicing regularly about a year and a half ago, shortly after separating from my wife, as a way to cope. As most people who have tried it will tell you, the mind races unbelievably fast when you just sit there and try to focus on your breath. Its very uncomfortable.

But the more I practiced (I tried to do 15-20 minutes everyday) the more I noticed that this racy brain slowed down and I was able to focus easier. For someone who is interested in discovering and acknowledging thought and emotional patterns, its an invaluable practice (not to mention free and easily accessible as anything can be).

Try this right now.

Sit comfortably but not lazily back straight and upright, hands in your laps. Close your eyes. Focus all your attention on your breath. Notice it as it comes into and goes out of your nostrils. When thoughts arise (and they will, fast and furious) acknowledge them without judgement, and then release them (one of my favourite things to do is imagine them as bubbles floating up in water). Bring your attention back to your breath.

at first it might feel like youre failing or not getting it. You are not failing; you are getting it. This is the process.

Its a constant cycle and at first it might feel like youre failing or not getting it. You are not failing; you are getting it. This is the process. The exercise is staying with it. All this leads to mindfulness, becoming aware of thoughts and emotions as they come up. This extends beyond meditation practice into everyday life. I find that I am able to catch myself having an instinctual emotion (a pattern learned in childhood, essentially) and am able to choose my reaction to it, to choose what I think is the most appropriate response, instead of letting it get the best of me.

I notice how my body reacts, especially when my defensive mechanism fires up (heart racing, blood rushing to head) and I remember to take some breaths the mind comes back to me and the guard goes down. I find myself thinking, hm, thats interesting when these emotions arise. I try not to judge them. Theyre neither good nor bad, they just are.

What are your experiences from your meditation practice?


Friday, September 23, 2011

Travel illusion: The awkward African diptych [VID]

Is it funnier because its true?

BINYAVANGA WAINAINA once wrote a little piece for Granta magazine, titled How not to write about Africa. It would turn out to be one of the most popular pieces the magazine ever published. Its as sarcastic as it is perfectly executed, and if you havent watched it before, take a peek below.

And when you have finished watching, and cant possibly believe that anyone would be so silly as to fall into these traps, take a gander at this pearlescent gem of a video from Robin Wiszowaty. Author, white Maasai, and knower of fundamental truths African.

There seems little doubt that Robin truly believes in the things she saw, and the sacredness of the experience that she had in Kenya. Yet there is equally little doubt that her impressions of the place, and reduction of the people to props around her own story of discovery fall into a great many of the traps that Wainaina rails against.

Its more than a failure of vocabulary, or a reductive approach to describing it almost feels like a caricaturing process of experiencing. One where things are new and novel up until they can be assimilated into a story in which I am the hero, and I am able to progress towards my own enlightenment through the simple and unproblematic assistance of local support characters.

The world isnt like this. People dont exist to one-dimensionally facilitate my journey of discovery any more than I exist solely to facilitate theirs. Lived experience and particularly lived experience in foreign surroundings is absolutely dripping with fine detail and contradiction.

Yet even if not to Wiszowatian levels of delusion Ive often failed to think of a journey as a story beyond my own self-involvement. Its hard, sometimes, to look past the world where you get to be a hero in a foreign land. But its perhaps the non-negotiable first step in really starting to see your surroundings.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paris: Paris' Coutume Caf Boasts Imported Beans and a NYC-Imported Barista


What's In Your Carry-on, Annemarie Dooling?


Los Angeles: Cranky Angelenos Want to Create 'Tourist-Free Zone' Around the Hollywood Sign


Notes on transition

The leaves on the trees here are still green. The mountains are still green. But they wont be for much longer.

I ARRIVED IN Nelson almost one year ago. It was early October, and when I flew here from Vancouver I crossed over a sea of reds, oranges, and yellows in the mountains. These same colours surrounded the town on all sides, fallen leaves scattered the sidewalks and streets. It was one of the most beautiful things Id ever seen.

I returned Sunday from what could have been the last camping trip of the season. The evenings were chilly. Beanies, long johns, and jackets were required around the campfire. Warm sleeping bags and cuddling bodies in the tent necessary to resist the cold air. Then the heavy rains came last night. Windows were shut, fans turned off, sweatpants worn to bed. The seasons are changing.

I often feel like that lone person in those time-lapse videos in which I am still in the middle of the frame while everything else zooms around me.

I wouldnt have it any other way I love living through four seasons. Change for me is necessary. But it can also be hard to let go. Let go of the summer, of the ease, of the playfulness. While my life continues unchanging, others around me are going through their own transitions. Close friends moving, students returning to school, teachers back to work. I often feel like that lone person in those time-lapse videos in which I am still in the middle of the frame while everything else zooms around me.

Transitions are inherently full of turmoil. There is excitement, anxiety, nervousness, confusion. Feelings of being lost. Searching. Maybe finding. Maybe not. But one thing is certain, on the other side of it is exactly where I should be.


ABC Talks to Some Real Pan Am Stewardesses, Not Christina Ricci


Monday, September 19, 2011

Frankfurt: Back by Popular Demand: More Time-lapse and Tilt-shift Video on the Tarmac


Los Angeles: Is a Canceled Flight to Blame for Julianna Margulies' Odd Emmys Gown?


Ray Kurzweil: The human-machine civilization is our destiny

Ray Kurzweil

An interview with director Barry Ptolemy on his intimate portrait of futurist Ray Kurzweil and the coming Singularity.

IN THE FUTURE, humans will live forever. This is the promise of the coming Singularity, as predicted by futurist Ray Kurzweil. The charismatic and prolific inventor has dedicated his life to accelerating intelligence. Called the rightful heir to Thomas Edison, he is also:

the principal developer of the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition.

After reading his most recent book, The Singularity is Near, filmmaker Barry Ptolemy approached Ray to shoot a documentary on his life and the future of humanity. The result: Transcendent Man, a film spanning 2 years and five countries.

I caught up with the director/producer for his thoughts on Rays personal life, the difference between intelligence and wisdom, and the fusion of human and machines.

BNT: First off, what is the singularity?

BARRY: The Singularity is a point in time in the near future when technology will be accelerating so fast that well have to merge with it in order to keep up.

What drew you to make a film about Ray Kurzweil?

There is no one else like Ray in all of human history. He came around at the right time with the right skills to reveal the destiny of our human machine civilization. He is the first person in history to do that. In my mind this makes him one of the most fascinating people in the world.

What struck you as most profound about the Ray you gradually uncovered, as opposed to Ray the public figure?

Hes known publically as being this super genius, but you cant see how deep that well of intelligence runs until you spend a lot of time with him. Hes also a very compassionate and loving person with a great deal of wisdom. Its profound to spend time with him on an ongoing basis.

Director/Producer Barry Ptolemy

Ray says the most important phenomena in the universe is intelligence. How do you define intelligence and how is that different than wisdom?

It would appear that intelligence resides within patterns of information. A pattern of information could be a hydrogen atom, a redwood tree or a Shakespearean poem. We happen to live in a universe that wants to evolve these patterns of information in an iterative process, moving always towards more complexity and more order. This has been happening since the big bang.

Recently, in the last few hundred thousand years, the level of complexity and order has become so great that the universe produced its greatest invention the human brain. The human brain is the most cutting edge form of intelligence in the universe that we know of, but it is now on the cusp of creating a new higher form of intelligence. This has been called Artificial Intelligence, but both Ray and I agree that there is nothing artificial about it. It will simply become a more complex and ordered form of intelligence.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is an application of intelligence that utilizes our memories and experiences for better quality of life to make better choices. So in this way you could call wisdom a branch on the tree of universal intelligence.

Ray refutes the idea that the purpose of life is to accept death, and sees death as a profound tragedy. Yet in his own life, attempting to overcome death appears to have driven all of his passion into technology. In a future without death, what would fuel our passions? Where would we derive meaning?

I think Ray is driven by the uniquely human quest to transcend our limitations. He sees death as one of those limitations. Blindness is another. Gravity another. Etc. There are an infinite number of limitations that we face and there will always be new challenges for us to overcome. I think we will always be passionate about breaking through barriers and transcending limitations. This is why I called my film Transcendent Man.

Ray says we have skyrocketing rates of obesity because of a limitation of our DNA (how we process food). He believes the solution is toengineernew pills that allow our habits to continue, without having the adverse effect on our bodies. Yet this adverse effects often serve as barometers on how to live our lives is there a danger to looking to change our bodies as opposed to say, the system that serves us unhealthy food?

The system we live in is still designed around a biological body that evolved millions of years ago when we walked around in a world of extreme scarcity. Having Big Macs that serve us 1000 calories per sitting would have seemed ideal to our ancestors, but we have too much of a good thing today and dont realize it.

I enjoy eating. I am programmed to enjoy it. But I would prefer to enjoy a meal and for it not to have any deleterious side effects on my body. Since there can still be unhealthy consequences to eating even a healthy meal I think we need to reprogram our biology away from these consequences. Eventually as we transcend our biology we will overcome our need for consuming calories and take energy in a more direct way, like from the sun.

Ray sees his fathers death as a profound tragedy, that he was never able to express his musical gift therefore the point of his life was never fulfilled. But what if the point of his life wasnt to fulfill that role, but many other roles instead? Could his role have been to push Ray to be the person he became?

Assigning meaning to the life of someone who has passed has been the human justification for death for thousands of years. We had no choice but to accept death and find ways to rationalize it. I dont believe Ray is implying that his fathers life had no meaning because he wasnt able to fulfill his musical potential. But, rather, there is no benefit in losing the memories, experiences, relationships and beauty of a human life.

So while his father had a meaningful and worthwhile life and everyone who ever knew him may have had a meaningful experience with him, it is a profound tragedy that that intelligence and creative life force had to die.

One scary scenario saw the future as a battle between those who preach AI (Artificial Intelligence) as God, and those that feel the risk is too great. What is the wisdom in setting ourselves up for this war? Is it inevitable?

There are a couple of things to understand before jumping to the conclusion that AIs will ever be in a position to conquer humans. The first point is that as computers become more powerful they are conversely becoming smaller at a rate of 100X volume per decade. So as these computers start to become aware they will also be a part of us, literally. Theyll go in our brains starting in the next 25 years by the billions and interface with every inter-neural connection. So there will be no us and them. We will be one human-machine civilization.

The second point is that we enter our society when we are born and must come to terms with the rules and laws that came before us. The same will be true of the millions (and then billions) of emerging AIs. They will have to live by the laws and rules of our civilization. They will have many human qualities (since we reverse engineered our own brains to create them) like ambition, creativity, love, etc. And to be able to get things done in this human-machine civilization they will learn that they need to cooperate with each other and with other humans. And we will want to get things done.

I dont anticipate any war-like scenario after the birth of AI. I think well enter into a world of much greater harmony since well all be communicating with one another more than at any other time in our history and also because our interests will be more aligned with each other than at any other time. I actually believe our future AIs will love us more than we love each other today.

Happiness, as my studies and practices of Eastern philosophy have led me to believe, is not dependent on external conditions. It lies in our own interconnectedness with the universe, and the ability to tune into the timeless moment. Yet Ray, and other futurists, appear obsessed with manipulating external conditions. Do you believe we can ever achieve this happiness?

It is true that happiness is a relative condition, but I dont think one could achieve it without ones biological needs taken care of. Like Maslovs Heirachy of Needs the more we move up the pyramaid the more we can create our own self-actualization. I think creativity is where our happiness comes from and I think Ray is describing how we can get all 7 billion of our inhabitants able to participate in that self-actualization.

In regard to the environmental crises, Ray adheres to the belief that technology will save us. The great irony is that we are becoming aware just how much the application and development of technology has destroyed our planet.Charles Eisenstein, author of The Ascent of Humanity, sees this worship of technology as the ongoing and misguided attempt to separate ourselves from nature. What are your thoughts on thisdichotomy between nature and technology?

I dont think Ray suggests that technology will save us but rather we can use technology to overcome the greatest challenges we face today. Ray is supremely aware that technology is a double edged sword and always has been, however history has revealed that we used fire primarily to heat our homes and cook our food and not to burn down the next village.

People say the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but that is not at all what we are seeing. All the important indicators, like money spent on education, longevity, infant mortality, eradication of disease, poverty are all going in the right direction. Even violent crimes in the U.S. are at 60 year lows. We have a front row seat with 24/7 cable news networks as to all the bad things happening in the world, but this is a good thing because when we see something bad happen, like the Gulf oil spill, or a group of miners stuck in a Chilean mine we immediately use technology to solve that problem.

You dont have to go back very far in our own history to see how hopeless life was without technology. It was short, disease filled and disaster prone. Ask someone who has a loved one on their death bed and who has the choice between using technology to save that person or to relinquish what we know and allow a loved one to perish. Only technology has the scale to address the challenges our world faces today. We will very quickly do away with dirty 19th century technologies and see our world become as pristine as the day we walked off the African plains.

What were your own beliefs about technology going into the film, and how, if at all, did they change afterward?

Im more hopeful today then ever before. Despite all of our shortcomings, I believe we are going in the right direction. I have faith in this universe we inhabit. Its been evolving in order and complexity for a long, long time and I believe our generation will see that order and complexity used for the ultimate step in our human evolution.

Visit Transcendent Man to learn more and watch the film.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Upgrading. It's a Beautiful Thing.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

When people ask about my Israel trip

IDF soldier in Tel Aviv. Photo by Or Hiltch

When I say, I went to reconnect with family I mean, Im not joining your crusade.

WHEN PEOPLE ASK about my Israel trip, I have to choose my words carefully.

    I walked around deserted streets on Shabbat evenings, befriended stray cats, stared at huge jellyfish washed up on the shore. An Apache helicopter flew over a miniature Coca Cola factory. A 17 year old boy in a daishiki who slept on the beach because his father brought home nightly mistresses bluffed his way through an earnest cover of Hallelujah.

The usual travel vocabulary of micro-snapshots feels vapid and inadequate. The word Israel resonates with more political weight than I am comfortable with. It sends my anarchist friend on a rant about oppression and the injustice of settlements in Palestinian territories. It causes my aunt to swallow her civil dinner tone along with another gulp of wine and rail against about Obamas lack of support, or double standards in journalism. On both occasions, I nod politely, feeling guilty.

I take the journalists fifth plead vague objectiveness. In actuality, I dont know whats more irresponsible pretending that a twenty day trip has made me informed enough to take a definitive stance on a complicated and polarizing political issue, or pretending that I can take a trip through hotly contested land which a significant part of my family calls home and remain a detached observer.

Two recent articles come to mind. In one, an Italian man arrives in Falluja as a tourist, on a guilelessly apolitical mission to see a new country. In another, an American college student on break from classes and in search of an extreme vacation flies to Libya to join up with the rebels. Was I any better than the former? Conversely, were my peers who, dissatisfied with the lack of struggle in their lives and inflamed by the idea of authentic conflict, traveled to Israel to build settlements for either side any different from the latter?

    Yael lay back in the bus seat with his feet up. He was in his last year as an Israeli Defense Force soldier. He was also a promoter at a nightclub. He had friends who died in suicide bombing attacks. He had an expensive watch and a new iPhone. Yael put his faith in Yahweh and the IDFs intelligence division: both knew about things before they happened and both promised protection. This was especially important because Yael believed his country would be at war within the next year.We shared headphones and listened to a reggae song that was a current hit on Radio Galgalatz. Time is short here, he translated, and much work exists on the way. The desert unfurled outside the window. We passed a town whose residents expected Katyusha rockets the way Boston expected rain. And when he comes, Yael translated, pointing to the sky, he always comes on time. .

    At the wailing wall, women in shawls rocked back and forth. Girls looked around nervously, then looked back at their prayer books. Many cried. Some whispered, chanted, wrapped their voices around vowels I didnt understand.

    People came here to wail and hope and wedge countless tightly wrapped pieces of paper inside the wall, ink seeping into the rock face so that their prayers would become a part of something bigger, so that a bigger force might take them into account for the continuous creation of the world. If the kingdom of heaven was a democracy, were these women casting their ballots? Warm Mediterranean waves threw me towards the shore and I cut my leg on a rock. A submarine sat watchful on the horizon.

When people say, the personal is political they mean, a place is never just a place. When a guide says, look at the beauty of the desert he means, and help us preserve it and understand that it is ours. When I say, I went to reconnect with family I mean, Im not joining your crusade. Sorry Im not sorry.

    It turned out that my Israeli cousin and I have lived parallel lives halfway across the world without knowing anything about each other. Her ringtone was Bob Dylans Tambourine Man. We had identical Chagall prints hanging in our hallways. For a year after her army service, she lived in a bummer house in the Tel Aviv ghetto, wore vintage dresses, tried to be an actress. Now we were both working at arts journalism music for me, theater for her. She took me to an exhibition of rock n roll photography. We sang Karma Police at dawn as we walk up the five flights of stairs to her flat, after a night of dancing.

    The kibbutz where my Israeli relaives lived for two years reminded me of the bungalow colonies where I used to spend my summers, especially at twilight. A scruffy dog followed us up the path, nuzzling my hand. Four teenagers sat at a table drinking bottles of Goldstar beer and talking about burlesque. My uncle pointed to a nearby field the site of his brief shepherd career. Herding sheep was never my intention, he explained, but I didnt want to deal with the kibbutzniks. Sheep were far more reasonable.

It is easier when I tell people I went to Tel Aviv their eyes light up mischievously, they ask me about the nightlife.

    Hordes of revelers danced their way down Rothschild Street, reminiscent of SXSW or a Friday night in Williamsburg. The similarity ended when we find ourselves beside a van of Rabbi Nachman followers Hasidim in white skullcaps breaking it down on top of a party van to a techno remix of the Numa Numa song. Rabbi Nachman, Nachman Meuman. Nahman Meuman. Rabbi Nachman Meuman. We dance along with the gleeful crowd, then duck into an underground dubstep club.


    People still danced and drank and laughed, only their eyes burned a little brighter and everyone seemed to drive a little faster.

    In the Negev desert in the dark, where the sky was peppered with millions of stars, the lights of a Humvee were visible from many miles away. I lay back in the cool sand and waited for something poignant to come to me, but as usual, found only snapshots and stories.

Back home, it is the same. I did learn a lot about the conflicts, but my perceptions of Israel are all colored with the warmth of family happiness, the conversations with the people I met, the taste of thick hummus and dark Turkish coffee, and the impossible hues of Mediterranean light. I remember Efi Eyal in Yad Vashem saying, What is your art like? It is like me, and feel a reassuring sort of resignation.

I dont connect with holy but I connect with home. I dont connect with war but I connect with survival. I dont connect with politics but I try to connect with people.

So then, I leave the activism to the activists the way I leave the falafel connoisseurship to the foodies and the Judaica to the believers. I deal in stories, so I come back with stories. If that means all I can do for now is learn and listen, then for me, that will have to be enough.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Whats going on in this Cuban church?

Photo: Francisco Collazo

There are conflicting news reports and not much information about whats actually happening in Havana.

ON SEPTEMBER 11, MatadorU lead faculty, Julie Schwietert, sent an email to the team. It contained the above photo, taken in Havana by her stepson. About it, she said:

From what I understand, the photo is a procession of people who are carrying the Caridad de Cobre statue (Cubas patron saint), praying for the people inside.

She also included an article from the Havana Times. It was reporting that a group of over 60 people were holed up in a Pentecostal church with their pastor, Braulio Herrera Tito, who was dismissed from his post in May 2010. It was speculated by BBC Mundo that dozens of Cuban believers are held upwaiting for a tsunami that according to their minister will cause mass destruction in these coming days. Police have barricaded access to the area and traffic has been diverted.

The next day, in a report by CBS News, a top Cuban church official (no name was given) claimed that the situation in Havana is as dangerous as Waco. It went on to specify that of the 60 in the church, four are pregnant women and 19 are children. Yesterday an update from the Washington Post said that the gathering is simply a spiritual retreat which started August 21.

William Herrera, the son of the pastor, said that the group has aims to liberate Cuba from its sins.

God told us to pray morning, noon and nightwe want a new Cuba free of sin. But this should not be misinterpreted we do not have anything to do with politics.

A medical team has gone inside to check on everyone and its reported that all are in good health. William has also dismissed the claims that the group is awaiting the end of the world, saying that those who started those rumours are trying to ruin this moment.

I searched around Twitter to try to get some updates of the situation, but couldnt find much. Matador contributor and Havana resident Conner Gorry couldnt give anymore information either, other than there hasnt been much international press.

What concerns me are the 19 children locked up in the church. Although government officials say that the entire group is there voluntarily, I wonder how many of those kids, given the choice, would actually be there.


Notes on a shrike

Photo: dobak

Mary Sojourner cant leave the dead bird there to get flattened.

I WALK NORTH in the Mojave. I listen to my friend on the cell phone. She tells me of her recent work with a healing process called EMDR. Im about to cross the two-lane highway. Something lies on the edge of the asphalt. I look. It is a dead bird gray and black and white. I pick it up. There is no mark on it, no blood or broken bone. I cant bear to think of it being flattened.

The feathers are exquisitely soft against the palm of my right hand. I am walking to the Joshua Buddha and I know to carry the bird to the dead tree that looks like a gray seated Buddha.

My friend begins to tell me the details of the second EMDR sessions. I realize I am not listening because I need to concentrate solely on carrying the bird to the Joshua Tree. I tell her I will call her back.

At the tree, I tuck the bird in the broken space between the stump and a dead branch. He for I know somehow it is a he is just below what would be the head of the Buddha. The bird faces east. I was taught that is the direction of going forward, that is the direction of gate gate paragate*; gone, gone, gone to the other shore.

I am a woman who names.

Then, of course, I begin to wonder. What is the human name for this gray, black and white bird? I am a woman who names.

***

That evening in the throes of a rattling fear that has possessed me, weeks of conscious withdrawal from everything that numbs me I open Roger Tory Petersons Western Birds. I settle on the possible identity of the bird: a Gray Flycatcher, though the beak is not quite right.

The bird I carried in my hands and now in my mind had a little hook at the end of the top mandible and the flycatchers mandible is smooth. I turn a few pages. The name Loggerhead Shrike appears. The picture looks similar.

This morning in my 27th hour of coffee withdrawal, a choice I would not have made save for the intensity of my fear these days I decide that I will take Roger Tory Peterson out to the Joshua Buddha. If the bird has been taken, it will have been taken.

The bird is there, intact, facing east. I remove it from its resting place and place it gently on the downed trunk of the Joshua Buddha, the same trunk that contains a tiny white spine in a deep crack in the bark.

I am in love with knowledge.

I open Petersons book. The bird is a Loggerhead Shrike. I am, for an instant, in love with the workings of my mind. I am in love with knowledge.

I want more. I read this: (Shrikes): Songbirds with hook-tipped bills, hawk-like behavior. Shrikes perch watchfully on treetops, wires, often impale prey on thorns, barbed wire.

I restore the bird to its resting place.

***

I walk home and go to the old Joshua Tree at the back of my cabin. I wrap my arms around it and say, Thanks to you and your cousin to the north.

Only later do I remember that the first action I took when I moved to this cabin was to remove the strands of rusted barbed wire impaling the old Joshua. My second action was to pry long rusted brads out of its bark.

I stop writing. I feel the soft feathers of the Loggerhead Shrike. I feel the rough wire against my skin. Old and new have no meaning. Only the Great Circling Around. Only that shape of love.

*Sanskrit for gone, gone, gone to the other shore


Monday, September 12, 2011

At the edge of death at Burning Man [VID]

A love letter to the most sacred space from Burning Man: Rites of Passage.

The Temple of Transition

I DECIDED THE NIGHT before she was meant to burn. I would meet her at sunrise, camera in hand, and would attempt to capture a small essence of her beauty.

When others ask me how was the burn? I tell them I was in love. With her soaring spires, arching walkways, and haunting orchestra that played as if emanating from the walls this is what it feels like, I thought, to be at the edge of death. To be awaiting the true rite of passage. From form to non-form.

On the night of the Temple burn, I knelt as a perimeter guardian. I had sacrificed my chance to watch her for the duty of watching the crowd. In the eyes of my fellow burners, as the spectrum of emotions washed over their faces, I realized what my lady meant to them.

Here is my love letter to her.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Why dont you visit Africa?

It sucks to be the unpopular kid

THE UN WORLD TOURISM BAROMETER says that Africa came stone last as a popular destination for foreign visitors last year. Putting this into perspective, Europe gets something like ten times as many visitors in a year to a geographic area around the size of both the Sudans and Algeria glued together.

That leaves 52 (depending on your politics) countries worth of African space that adventurous travelers could explore. Yet, for the most part, very few do.

Sure, a fair number of visitors come to South Africa, Morocco and Egypt (yes, you are actually a part of the continent), but comparatively few in global terms go anywhere else. Like Zanzibar. Or Madagascar. Or the Bazaruto archipelago and Timbuktu.

So why is that?

The continent is frequently criticized for corrupt and undemocratic governments, yet places like China, Laos and Cambodia remain darlings of backpackers year after year. Is it because it is seen as an unsafe destination? Then why flock to Mexico, Colombia and Brazil? If its tough going, its certainly no tougher than Nepal or India?

So why the double standard? If you havent traveled to an African destination besides Egypt, Morocco or South Africa lately, have you ever considered it?


Finding the sacred at ground zero

A poignant clip from the film Scared Sacred shot in the days just after 9/11

IN THE DAYS after September 11, 2001, filmmaker Velcrow Ripper was on his own journey to the ground zeros of the world. Hiroshima, Cambodia, Bhopal and suddenly New York City. The sad irony was not lost on him.

Velcrow was able to capture the darkness of the moment, as well as the light, ultimately culminating in his feature doc Scared Sacred.

In honour of the 10 year anniversary, heres a look back at the scene.

10 years later, the director is back in New York, and released this video message reflecting on the zeitgeist of our times.

What do you think weve learned, if anything, in the 10 years since 9/11?