Collectives, fear and the clothes we wear

Is the root of racism and gangs simply fear?

These thoughts come to mind as I re-read a book I had finished a while ago. I'm referring to "The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice," by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis (Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster, 2003). The book focuses on how the power of choice changes people's lives.

In the second chapter, which focuses on the law of attraction, the authors write about collectives. They define these as groups of individuals who share similar experiences.

Zukav and Francis make me pause for reflection when they write that "the glue that holds collectives together is not language, skin color, belief or common experience. It is fear. " (page 28, paperback version, 2004.)

They go on:

"That is why collectives cannot unify humanity, but can only divide it further. The more frightened an individual is, the more he will identify with his collective, and the more violently he will defend it. Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and fundamentalist movements, for example, are collectives of individuals who are so frightened they cannot tolerate even minor differences. " (page 28.)

So, I'm wondering, are terrorist groups made up of people who are so afraid of something that they then choose to strike at it to keep their collective together? Are nations bonded by a certain fear that requires protection from what is outside their borders? (One might argue this is the case with many countries or large collectives: Serbia and Kosovo, India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, the United States and Iran being some examples.)

But does fear also explain how individuals respond to the world? I'm not a psychologist, but if I analyze some of the darker moments of my own life, I think I'd probably agree.

Zukav and Francis advocate adopting an open mindset, accepting the world and making choices based on employing positive thoughts instead of adopting a negative stance. These are choices we can make.

They say it like this: "When you assert the superiority of your way over others, that is fear, and when you value the way of others as much as your own, that is love." (page 29). They explain that valuing others does not get rid of the fortress mentality, the urge to protect. However, history and ethnicity, differences in general, became like the "clothes you wear, not the person you are."

I think this is an important distinction that we can keep in mind as we go about our daily lives.

For more information about "Mind of the Soul," see here.
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Photo courtesy of the stock.xchng

The Fossett mystery

Will we ever know what happened to Steve Fossett? The man who so successfully managed risks to become one of the key adventurers and record-breakers of our time, simply disappeared in the Nevada desert flying a rather normal plane last September. A few days ago, a Chicago judge declared him legally dead, even though he has not been found.

And so the mystery remains.

Fossett was such an experienced flyer, navigator and survivalist that it seems impossible that he would merely vanish. Despite an extensive search by the Civil Air Patrol, the Nevada Air National Guard, naval helicopter pilots and dozens of private pilots over five states not a single sign of Fossett's aircraft was found. He was flying a very common, propeller-driven, two-seater Bellanca Super Decathlon, a plane designed for light training that he probably could have flown with his eyes closed.

His disappearance without a trace is so unusual given all of his previous achievements. Fossett set 116 records. He swam the English Channel and completed the World Loppet cross-country skiing marathon. He climbed the highest mountain on every continent, except Mount Everest. He took part in the Le Mans 24-hour car race. He recorded the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by sail and the fastest transatlantic crossing. He was best known, of course, for becoming the first person to fly alone, non-stop, around the world in the GlobalFlyer aircraft in 2005. He was also the first person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe by balloon in 2002.

He survived several crash landings with balloons on various continents and in the Coral Sea.

Through all of these endeavours he was known for one thing: managing risks.

So where is he?

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If you'd like to learn more, the Economist magazine has an appreciation, photograph and obituary that you can read here.

Smithsonian Air and Space magazine marks his passing with an article aptly subtitled: His adventurous spirit was a throwback to aviation’s Golden Age.

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The photograph of the Nevada desert is courtesy of Justin Taylor, who made it available at http://www.blogger.com/www.sxc.hu

Winter's solace

Here we are, in the middle of winter, and my dad shows me this photograph he took the other day from his apartment window. I'm not sure if you agree, but this bench in the snow is not just a bench in the snow. The photograph conveys meaning.

Read into it what you will, but to me it speaks of hope, of friendship, of peace.

The image led me to some other thoughts:

There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.
-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we're here we should dance.
-Unknown

Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-Unknown (often attributed to Albert Camus)

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
-Victor Hugo


These leaped out from The Quotations Page.

Thanks to D. David Zane for his picture.
Look for more of his photographs in future posts.

Unlocking the mystery of long lifespans in three special places

What are the secrets to living to a ripe old age? Scientists have been working on this for a long time, but some answers remain elusive.

In three places around the world people have been known to live very long lives, but no one theory can yet link these three locations. They are: the Japanese island of Okinawa, the small mountain town of Ovodda on the island of Sardinia and Loma Linda in California.

Denise Winterman lays out some interesting facts in an article in the BBC News magazine.

People in Okinawa eat many fruits and vegetables in a diet rich in tofu and soy products. They apparently have a tradition of never eating more than is necessary; they stop when they're about 80% full.

In Ovodda, on the other hand, the townsfolk don't count calories and they eat meat. Only 1,700 people live in the town and many are related through marriage. While interbreeding results in a greater probability of genetic disorders, it also increases the chances of higher percentages of centenarians.

In Loma Linda, religion seems to be a factor: many residents are Seventh Day Adventists. A significant number of people in the community don't drink or smoke. Many are vegetarians. And, as one researcher points out, people who are regular churchgoers - regardless of faith - live longer.

You can read Winterman's article here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7250675.stm

Other source for this post: The Toronto Globe and Mail

At the public library

I have enjoyed going to public libraries ever since I was a small boy learning English in South Africa. I discovered the local library at the age of nine or ten and have nothing but fond memories of my regular visits. Libraries are treasure rooms for me, the starting point for adventure and exploration; places where you can meet the great people of every era through their works. Libraries are also places where you can find the perfect escape: the novel set in the South Seas, the thriller, the love story.

Many libraries are reflective of their neighbourhoods and generally staffed with helpful people. They can also offer somewhat hedonistic experiences: have you ever had the pleasure of harbouring in one on a cold, windy day or escaping to its cool tranquility on a sweltering afternoon?

For an immigrant recently arrived in a new country, a library is often a place where one can be comfortable, ask questions and find answers.

My neighbourhood branch in Mississauga, Ontario, is no different. On any day, but particularly on Saturdays, students and parents make the library a vibrant place. I think it is for them what it was for me when I was growing up in Africa.

I drew this scene yesterday at the Erin Meadows branch.

Cartooning history: Disney and Hitler

I admire illustrators and cartoonists. In particular, the work of pioneers like Walt Disney.

Recently, I've became more aware of the historical context in which cartoonists like Disney produced their material. I've seen a number of historical references that apparently indicate that the German Nazi leadership of the 1930s and 1940s admired the works of Disney. Now, a Norwegian museum claims to have found drawings of Disney characters signed by a certain A. Hitler.

Adolf Hitler was an artist before the first World War and before he drifted into politics. You can read the story and see some samples of the drawings in the U.K.'s Telegraph page here.

While it may be true that Hitler admired the work of Disney, it's also true that the Disney company used its animators to produce anti-Nazi propaganda during the period. Take a look at this animated cartoon, which pillories the education of Nazi youth.

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Thanks to Paal Gladso of Norway for providing access to his photograph of a wallpainting in the basement of the Oslo opera house. The Germans occupied Norway during the Second World War.

Interesting times

Hello. I'm back.
Sorry, I've been quite busy lately.

A lot has happened in the news recently. Just a quick review of what stuck in my mind:

We had an eclipse of the moon (spectacular, last night); the U.S. shooting down of a spy satellite (impressive, but didn't someone think about the danger of toxic waste in a decaying orbit before they sent it up? Or was the Pentagon trying to send a message to someone this week?); a possible scandal erupting in the Republican nomination race around the figure of Tom McCain; Canada's Conservative government agreeing to opposition party demands for a timeline (2011) for the withdrawal of Canadian forces from Afghanistan; Kosovo declaring its independence (meaningful discussion, proper approval at the UN all bypassed, yet again...so, celebrations ensued in Kosovo, rioting in Serbia, confusing signs from various world capitals: do we understand what the stakes are?).

Moving on, let's see: we saw both Musharraf and religiously-inspired political parties going down to defeat in elections in Pakistan; a professional hockey player (Zednick)whose throat was slashed on the ice in an ugly skate-blade accident appearing before the press and marveling (justifiably) at his brush with death; elsewhere, we saw scientists dramatically increasing their estimates of finding earth-like planets in our own galaxy after analyzing new data (some said we may find earth-like planets even in the far reaches of our solar system), new, amazing life-forms (giant worms, jellyfish and spider-like creatures) found in the cold seas of the Antarctic and then today we had President Bush, on a tour of Africa, shedding his jacket dancing to the rhythms of African music, alone on a stage (too much sun, maybe?).

There were a lot of other strange and interesting items, but I'll stop there.

I was sitting in the car listening to the news this morning and for a moment I thought this really sounded like a 1950s science fiction radio program. Only it wasn't, of course.

If we all weren't so darn busy, we'd marvel at everything happening around us.

High wire act

Do you find your job interesting? How would you like to feel the rush of adrenaline while you work?

While many jobs require a high degree of skill and concentration, one must surely respect those jobs that require workers to put their lives at risk for the benefit of others. We're all familiar with the dangers faced by police officers, construction workers, firemen and the military. But have you ever considered the work done by oil rig workers or electricians? Have you ever wondered who looks after the high voltage power lines that run great distances in open country?

I came across a startling video showing the work of power line inspectors. It's literally a high wire act that involves perfect execution every time. This job has multiple sources of danger that are better seen than described. Take a look here.

Cold and quiet


The garden has been rather quiet lately. The light was very bright Saturday under sunshine and clear skies and I felt like drawing.

The yard will not look like this much longer. The forecast for Sunday is freezing rain turning to just rain in the afternoon as a low pressure system moves through our area. We'll see lots of melting and possibly localized flooding .

So far the winter in the Great Lakes region has provided lots of variety and one certainty: higher than normal precipitation (of all types). The spring runoff this year may help raise the water levels in lakes Michigan, Erie and Ontario.

For a post on those levels, see the item in November entitled Why is the water dropping in the Great Lakes? The link is here.

A disturbing trend

The recent violence in North American schools is setting a sad and unprecedented trend that may be scarring young people everywhere.

Some experts suggest that today's youth are exposed to much more violence than previous generations: it's in films, in videogames, in television news coverage and scripted drama, and - unfortunately - also present in real life in some neighbourhoods. Places that were once considered safe, like schools, now can become scenes of unpredictable, random acts of terror. Normal life is turned instantly on its head.

Sandy, a friend and colleague of mine, alerted me to an interesting story on WebMD about how the rash of school shootings may actually be marking an entire generation. The story is here.

I'm sure some very intelligent people are studying these events in depth and are going to give us a better idea about why some young people choose such outrageous and tragic ways to end their lives and to take the lives of others. I don't know if we can group these individuals into one category, but again I have to wonder about what kind of pain or perceived pain they are responding to, and what role deeply-wounded, tortured egos and runaway thought-processes are playing in this insane behaviour. We need to solve this mystery.

My admittedly amateurish post on theories about the ego from last Sunday is here:

A long flight back to earth

If you like the sight of paper planes floating gently to earth, you will love the experiment being prepared by a Tokyo University professor: he's building 100 original origami planes, with specially-coated sheets, in a bid to record the longest flight ever for a paper airplane.

The plan is simple, but the execution is difficult. The plan goes like this: build the paper airplanes, ask an astronaut to take them into space, get him to launch them and then see how long it takes for them to come back down to earth.

The attempt is scheduled for later this year when a Japanese astronaut is scheduled to head to the International Space Station. Tokyo University's Shinichi Suzuki estimates that the 400-kilometre trip for the floating planes making their gliding descent through the earth's atmosphere will take several months. He hopes at least one or two will make it back and not get lost in one of our oceans.

I don't know about you but it seems like a really long shot to me.

The story was reported by the Times of London and you can read it here.

For a related post on oddities, see this item about a planned hotel in space

February at the shopping mall

The scene from one of the local malls, near closing time. Not much activity. A man behind me is stacking chairs in the food court; people are leaving; a last look at the back pages of the day's newspaper.

While the retail employees are happy to be going home, to me the mall always seems a melancholy place when closing time arrives.

It’s also quirky time of year, with Valentine’s Day replacing Christmas as the dominant theme. The shops offer the usual assortment of Valentine’s gifts, many of which are just too kitschy for me.

As we open for business today, let's forget about the plastic symbols and just take the opportunity to wish each other a wonderful and happy Valentine’s Day. Even without a partner, we can all find something to be grateful for.

Very best wishes to all.

Instituting "quiet time" at work.

Today was a very busy day all around. Then, to make things more interesting, during the afternoon, evening and into the night we had another snowstorm pass through and dump a lot of snow all over our area. Driving was a real challenge.

Anyway, let's talk about office work for a minute. If you feel completely submerged by e-mails, voice mails and other messages that require your constant attention, you'll be interested in an experiment underway at Intel and at a few other companies. An engineering group at the tech firm is trying a so-called "quiet time" project, encouraging employees to avoid answering phones and reviewing any e-mail at certain times so that their energy can be devoted instead to creative thinking, the core skill they were hired to exercise in the first place... Sounds very appealing to me.

An Intel group talks about it here.

Wired magazine also looked at this experiment. You can read their perspective on it here.

The graphic above is courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/.

Streetsville on a cold winter day

This is the corner of Queen and Main in Streetsville, Ontario. The town started out as a small settlement founded in 1820, by Timothy Street. Over time, the area was surrounded by the rapid development of the City of Mississauga. Still, Streetsville retains some of its charms, including many older shops in heritage buildings.

The Streetsville Village Clock looks rather large, but the dimensions are about right. It's a unique feature of the intersection. The coffee shop behind it is very popular, as is the Starbucks down the street.

The spire in the distance is of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

It was a frigid day yesterday when I did this. I stopped the car for a few minutes and sketched the outlines while sitting behind the steering wheel. I added the colour when I got home.

Can humanity evolve to a new level of consciousness?

Some time ago, I found a great amount of help in a book by Eckart Tolle called The Power of Now. Tolle and other spiritual leaders opened my eyes to the covert and often destructive way in which our own minds and our egos take control of our lives and determine our behaviour. These two aspects of ourselves very often smother and distract us from the true essence of our being.

Tolle stresses the importance of awareness and how we must work daily to stay focused on the present.

One could argue that many sad and painful events in our world are related, in one way or another, to egos influencing people in negative ways. I'm thinking of things like wars, murder, and abuse of all kinds. These are all related to two things. First, a lack of real consciousness. Instead of focusing on what's actually happening around us, we focus on the pseudo-life that plays itself out in the mind. Secondly, we have a tendency to allow bruised egos to determine actions.

Egos demand protection and gratification. They demand revenge, action, retaliation, "honour" and a host of other entitlements. Think of something like the Gollum character in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (The pictures in the link give you a very good idea.)

And of whom do egos ask these things? Actually, of us, the very people who "own" them.

Tolle says humanity hasn't evolved to its true spiritual potential. He believes this has not happened yet because we have not reached a fully conscious state in which we can separate our thoughts, our egos and our underlying life energy. He argues our true selves are to be found in that underlying authentic essence.

His ideas aren't all that new; they've been around for thousands of years through the words of Abraham, Mohammad, Jesus, the Buddha and of the Hindu masters. However, Tolle presents them in a modern context and reminds us of the value of these teachings.

Now, Tolle's new book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, has caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who has made it one of her monthly picks. For the first time in Oprah's media world, an author's work will also be the basis for an on-line course that will be presented on her website, beginning in March.

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, offered a primer on the main messages of Tolle's latest book and the structure of the course. I found it interesting.

For a short overview of Tolle's ideas of the "egoic self," see this article.

Last October, a related post appeared here, called "The present is the only thing that's real."

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Thanks to Tibor Fazakas of Romania for his photograph of the park benches in that quiet winter setting.

The aim of the creative mind


The other day I was thinking about art in a general way, about how one could define what it is, when, seemingly out of the blue, I saw a quote from American novelist William Faulkner in an industry newsletter sent to me by e-mail.

There it was; clear and perfect. How can anyone describe it better?

"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by
artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when
a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life."

Pretty good, huh?

Illustration courtesy www.sxc.hu

Happy New Year!

Today marks the beginning of festivities for the Lunar New Year, celebrated in many Asian countries. Canada's Chinese community is celebrating in a big way, with family get-togethers, parties and lavish meals. The festivities will continue for fifteen days.

For more information, see here.

Best wishes for good health and good fortune to everyone!
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The photo of Chinese lanterns is courtesy of Yee Wong, who captured this scene in New Zealand.

Italians heading to the polls

As expected, (see posts in previous days) Italy's parliament was dissolved today, following unsuccessful efforts to form an interim government. Italians will go to the polls on April 13 and 14 for new national elections, three years ahead of schedule.

The campaign will see former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party begin with a slight lead in the public opinion polls, facing Walter Veltroni's centre-left party as his main rival.

Since World War II, Italy has had 60 different governments, a very high number that points to the need for electoral reform.

Thanks to Marco Caliulo for his photograph of the flags hanging outside the Italian parliament building, Palazzo Montecitorio.

Local hockey referees

It was hockey night again tonight, as my son's team took to the ice for the last game in the regular season.

Hockey referees are much in demand in rinks right across the greater Toronto area. They work several games each night and often skate just as hard as the players. In the youth leagues, referees are paid a few dollars each game, and often have to contend with fighting on the ice and irate parents in the stands.

Spectators can be cruel: when players make mistakes, no one's surprised; but if a referee makes just one in a game, he's ridiculed and harassed.

I suppose the love of the game keeps these officials going. Leagues couldn't function without them.

For more on how referees prepare, see this item by Toronto's CityNews.

A thorny time in Italian politics

An update to the post of January 26th ("Government in trouble"):

Italy's political crisis remains unresolved. After another round of negotiations, Senate Speaker Franco Marini has gone back to the country’s Head of State, President Giorgio Napolitano, and reported he cannot find the consensus needed among the country's parties to form a caretaker government.

Now it seems likely that the country will head to early elections, probably in mid-April. It's not a surprise. With over 25 political parties represented in parliament, and so many fragile coalitions, legislative work has consistently ground to a halt. The country needs an effective electoral system that will streamline the number of parties, eliminate needless bickering and allow lawmakers to govern effectively.

Everyone agrees. But the solution is proving difficult, as many party leaders appear unwilling to accept any formula that would result in their parties being dissolved or absorbed into larger parties. Individuals are reluctant to give up their seats and their parties are reluctant to give up the valuable government subsidies and many other privileges that come with representation.

The question this week is: are the leaders of the major parties willing to work out some rules for electoral reform before a general election is forced on them, or will the country wait until after general elections and a new government is formed to tackle this problem? It's a very thorny issue either way. The President doesn’t have many alternatives: most groups want the parties to once again go to the people and ask for their support.

And no matter what's decided this week, Italian citizens will either watch the unfolding of another painfully slow process of negotiation or they will be subjected to a fresh barrage of campaign advertising and the vague promises that come with it. Meanwhile, the country's problems, sadly, fester.

For another summary, you can refer to the following article in the International Herald Tribune, located here.

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Thanks to expatriate Canadian Sam Veres for his close-up shot of cacti needles. He made it available through the stock.xchng.

A dramatic win for New York in the Super Bowl


All the drama in tonight's Super Bowl contest happened in the fourth quarter, as the New York Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots to win 17-14. Here, a long Tom Brady pass just fails to connect, as two New York defenders crowd wide receiver Randy Moss after a sprint deep downfield late in the game.

The Giants prevented New England from becoming the first team in 35 years from completing a season without a single loss.

Across the street, as seen from the second floor

Another fast one. This is a view of my neighbourhood. Everyone has just finished digging out after a substantial snowfall in the last couple of days. A warm front with rain is expected in the next 48 hours. Much of the snow will soon disappear, to be replaced by a lot of puddles and localized flooding.

Can Britney Spears recover from her latest troubles?


A Los Angeles court decided today to give Britney Spears' father temporary control over her affairs, while she remains hospitalized under psychiatric care. The court also placed a restraining order on the troubled singer's manager, Sam Lutfi.

Spears, 26, a former child star with Disney and then a successful popular singer, has been going through tough times ever since her divorce from Kevin Federline in 2006. She has exhibited erratic behaviour and was hospitalized last month for a mental evaluation after she went into hysterics over her child custody arrangements. Last Thursday, she was taken to hospital in an ambulance in what authorities called a "carefully orchestrated intervention." She was placed on a three-day psychiatric hold.

According to media reports, the restraining order against Lutfi, who has been seen with her throughout her recent spell of strange behaviour, is in effect for 22 days.

While people have joked about Spears' antics, I just feel sorry for her. I hope she can recover from these difficult days. If she's ill, I hope someone will help her find a way out of this tunnel.

I'd like this story to have a happy ending.
I started this drawing on the train this snowy evening, then finished the shading at home.