Thursday, June 29, 2006

MACON, Ga. - Johnny Jenkins, a guitarist who worked with Otis Redding in the early 1960s and influenced Jimi Hendrix through his acrobatic playing style, has died. He was 67.

Jenkins died Monday night at a hospital in Macon, according to Jones Brothers Eastlawn Chapel.

Jenkins was touring around the South, playing fraternity parties and other venues with his band, the Pinetoppers, when he met up with Redding.

"So I went up to him, and I said, 'Do you mind if I play behind you? ... I can make you sound good,'" Jenkins recalled in the book "Sweet Soul Music" by Peter Guralnick. "Well, he sounded great with me playing behind him _ and he knowed it."

Jenkins became part of the fledgling Capricorn Records label co-founded by Phil Walden and partner Frank Fenter.

"I thought my entire world rotated around Johnny Jenkins' guitar," Walden, who died in April, said in a 1996 interview with The Telegraph in Macon. "I was convinced he could have been the greatest thing in rock 'n' roll."

The Pinetoppers had a regional hit in the early 1960s with an instrumental called "Love Twist." Redding began recording with the famed Stax Records in Memphis after accompanying Jenkins and his band there to record a follow-up, according to an account in Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 by producer-musician Steve Cropper. The singer died in a plane crash in 1967 at 26.

Paul Hornsby, a musician and producer who worked with Jenkins, said Jenkins was famous regionally as "the left-handed guitar player who was doing all these acrobatics." His stunts included playing his guitar behind his head.

His style became known indirectly through Hendrix, who saw him perform when visiting his aunt in Macon.

Vocalist Arthur Ponder, who sang with Jenkins, recalled Hendrix as a "little guy who would follow us around a lot. Next thing we know, he's Jimi Hendrix."

After Capricorn went out of business in the late 1970s, Jenkins faded from the music scene. In 1996, Walden produced Jenkins' comeback album, "Blessed Blues."

Jenkins continued to perform sporadically, including a 2000 show at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His last two albums, "Handle with Care" (2001) and "All in Good Time" (2003), were produced by Mean Old World Records.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thanks for stopping by here again. I've been meaning to talk to you (yes, you) about the future.

There are two types of people (not to sound too dualistic) - those who assume that I am addressing them, and those who assume I'm addressing others. I'm not addressing those people. I'm talking to you.

Anyway, the time has come to talk about the future. According to a recent article in the geologic press, it is possible to reasonably predict earth's future at time scales ranging from 1,000 to one million years. For example, studies have shown the average recurrence interval of major earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault to be about one every 150-200 years, so we can predict five to seven such events in the next thousand years, with total fault movement of almost 100 feet. Odds are also strong for another repeat of the 1811-1812 New Madrid quake as well within the next 1,000 years, as well.

See? Predicting the future is easy. The Mississippi is already overdue for a change of course. In 1,000 years, the river will almost certainly have changed course one way or another, and will certainly have abandoned its current delta. There is a significant statistical probability of a major meteor impact in the next 1,000 years causing significant damage or casualties and excavating a crater 300 feet or more in diameter.

Even assuming one or more global nuclear wars, many present-day human settlements should still exist 1,000 years from now, and very likely some cultural institutions and political entities, too. The Pyramids and Mount Rushmore should still be preserved. However, large steel-frame structures, such as the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge and Empire State Building, could be expected to survive 1,000 years only with the most meticulous maintenance (rust never sleeps). However, the current build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be over in a 1,000 years, if for no other reason than we will have run out of fossil fuels by then, or have switched to alternate fuels, or simply from a collapse of technology as a result of climate change. It's a self-limiting phenomena when viewed at the geologic time frame. There's really no need to factor in rapid catastrophes like global warming when predicting the future at large time scales.

But in 10,000 years, things get more interesting. The San Andreas Fault will have moved almost 1,000 feet and have experienced 50-70 magnitude 8 earthquakes, so you can pretty much kiss off LA and San Francisco. Niagara Falls will have retreated all the way up to Grand Island, and will briefly form a triple falls. And there's a very good chance of at least one meteor impact excavating a crater a half-mile or so in diameter, causing regional destruction over hundreds of miles due to the blast impact, tsunamis and ejecta.

Most existing reservoirs will have filled in by 10,000 years from now, or their dams collapsed, catastrophically for Beijing when the Three Gorges Dam goes. With its hollow construction, we can safely assume that the Statue of Liberty, shown half buried on the seashore at the climax of Planet of the Apes, would not survive any lengthy period of natural battering. Although large-scale human structures like major road cuts might still be preserved, 10,000 years is beyond the human cultural horizon. It is entirely possible that no single word in any present-day language will have survived in recognizable form.

In 100,000 years, the San Andreas will have moved enough to bring the coastal hills nearly to the Golden Gate, but not enough to close it. San Francisco Bay may well be dry, however, and the Golden Gate once again reduced to a river valley. Niagara Falls will have retreated all the way to Lake Erie, which will drain rapidly, though probably not catastrophically. There will have been dozens of catastrophic meteor impacts, however.

We have no continuous cultural tradition long-lasting enough to even enable a rough guess about human society 100,000 years from now. However, 100,000 years is enough time that, even if civilization collapses and humans regress back to Paleolithic technology, they would have time to literally "re-invent the wheel" and return to our present level. The previous depletion of natural resources might make a full recovery harder, but the scarcity of fossil fuels might spare future generations the need to have to wean themselves from non-renewable energy sources.

One million years from now, the world will be very different. In 1,000,000 years, the San Andreas will have suffered over 7,000 magnitude 8 earthquakes, and the Golden Gate will be blocked by the hills of present San Mateo County. Many present river valleys may still exist, but many others will have been diverted by giant landslides, glaciation or crustal movement. There will have been hundreds of major meteor impacts, and at least one with global effects. No currently-identified constellations will be recognizable in the sky.

If humanity does not experience any catastrophic changes in the next million years, we simply have no idea how the perspectives of people with such a long history would differ from our own. If human civilization experiences a protracted collapse into several geographically isolated gene pools, it is possible that geographically isolated segments of the human race may evolve into separate distinct species. And although a great many species will have become extinct, new ones will have naturally evolved.

So that's the future (not that you'll be around for it). But back in the here and now, let's give credit where it's due - most of this was predicted by Dr. Steven Ian Dutch of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, and published in the journal, Geosphere (May, 2006).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I spent the day flying to, and back from, Jackson, Mississippi.

The ticket cost $1,400, a ridiculous price, in my opinion, to be taken to Jackson, Mississippi.

I left the house a little late, but not to worry, I still had plenty of time to catch my flight to Jackson, Mississippi.

But the airport parking lots were full, except for the hourly parking, and since I hadn't left myself enough time to go to the Park 'n' Ride, I had to use the hourly lots to park my car for my flight to Jackson, Mississippi.

And even the hourly lot was nearly full, and I spent a lot of time driving up and down the aisles looking for an open spot so that I could catch my flight to Jackson, Mississippi.

Having finally parked, but now running very close to departure time, I got my ticket and found that the security line stretched all the way across the airport atrium, making me very concerned whether I was going to make it on time to catch my flight to Jackson, Mississippi.

And of course, once I got through security, my flight was not only at the furthest terminal, but the gate was all the way at the far end of the furthest terminal, and I got there just before they closed the door on the flight to Jackson, Mississippi.

Needless drama, I thought, as I finally unwound while en route to Jackson, Mississippi.

The meeting itself was inconsequential - lasted less than an hour - but we got done everything we needed to do in Jackson, Mississippi.

Which left me something like four hours to drive around and explore before I could catch my scheduled return flight from Jackson, Mississippi.

And of course, that flight was ultimately delayed (due to bad weather in DC, I was told), so it wasn't until almost 10:30 pm that I finally got home from Jackson, Mississippi.

And now, it all seems like a dream ("a star at night, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream") as I think back to my day going to, and back from, Jackson, Mississippi.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Faith is not blind in Buddhism, but developed through one’s own experience. Emotionally, faith is experienced as doubt, just as courage is experienced emotionally as fear. When one’s doubt is greatest, one’s faith is most tested, and when one’s fear is greatest, one’s courage is most tested.

Ordinarily, faith and doubt are related to one another in inverse proportion: where faith is strong, doubt is weak; and vice versa. But in Zen practice, the greater the doubt, the greater the faith. Great Faith and Great Doubt are two aspects of the same mind of awakening (bodaishin).

The kind of doubt that exists in inverse proportion to faith is what we term insidious doubt - anxieties and suspicions based on craving, fear and confusion. In Buddhism, Great Doubt is of the "don’t-know-mind" variety, rather than insidious doubt which is projected upon others, and fended off with philosophies and beliefs.

The kind of doubt that arises in the "don't-know-mind" of Zen is the tip of the iceberg of Great Doubt, in which all belief or opinion is ultimately called into question, including those of nihilism on the one extreme, and god, savior and eternalism on the other. The great Middle Way is the resolution of such niggling doubt in direct experience, to which the most direct vehicle is zazen.

In Great Doubt and Great Faith, as one increases, so does the other. But insidious doubt eats away at faith like a cancer, and as insidious doubt increases, faith decreases. Similarly, blind faith takes over mundane doubt, and as blind faith increases, mundane doubt decreases.

Insidious doubt also relies on the ego-self as the ultimate authority. This state of mind is the polar opposite of "don’t-know-mind," and the ego-self relies solely on its own understanding. "I know what’s going on," the ego-self tells us, but that ego-self is itself a delusion, and the insidious doubt built upon a delusion is just piling error on top of error.

We must have the courage to continue in spite of insidious doubt; doubt in the Teaching, doubt in the teacher, doubt in our own buddha-nature; recognizing that it is primarily a defensive mechanism of the small self.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Without doubt, there can be no faith. Without fear, there can be no courage.

According to Jack Kornfeld, the near enemy of loving kindness is attachment. At first, attachment may feel like love, but as it grows it becomes more clearly the opposite, characterized by clinging, controlling, and fear.

The near enemy of compassion is pity, and this also separates us. Pity feels sorry for the poor person over there as if he were somehow different from us.

The near enemy of sympathetic joy (the joy in the happiness of others) is comparison, which looks to see if we have more than, the same as, or less than another.

The near enemy of equanimity is indifference. True equanimity is balance in the midst of experience, whereas indifference is a withdrawal and not caring, based on fear.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Grandpa Meets Father Divine

On the web, I recently found a letter from my grandfather to Father Divine. Even more interestingly, there was also a letter back to him from the preacher.

I never really knew much about my grandfather. My late father’s father, he died when I was young – I don’t recall my age or even the announcement of his death, but when I saw him on a 8-mm home movie several years ago, a sudden shock of recognition (“I know him!”) shot through me. Curiously, that same feeling has not reoccurred on subsequent viewings (the film has been transferred to videotape, and I should probably get it into digital medium soon before that technology goes the way of 8 mm).

My parents did not talk about him much. My mother dismisses him as “a dirty, leacherous old man,” and leaves it at that without welcoming any more inquiry. It has been hinted that sometime during the '40s or '50s, he divorced my grandmother to marry a black woman, a scandalous act for that not-exactly-desegregated time.

Most of what I know about him is from his books. I have a small collection of his books, handed down, somewhat reluctantly, from father to son, including a 1942 edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1933 decision lifting the ban on the book as a preface, and a 1936 translation of “Capital” by Marx and Engels. The presence of these two books alone suggests a free-thinking liberal, possibly ahead of his time, who was something of an embarrassment to my parents.

There are other biographical hints about him in the books. There’s a 1906 collection of Leigh Richmond Miner photographs and poems by Paul Lawrence Dunbar called “Joggin’ Erlong,” written in a black dialect that now reads like minstrelry of the worst sort (“De da’kest hour, dey allus say, is des’ befo’ de dawn”). In good condition, the book sells for $400 on line. Written on the inside cover is “Gift of Mama, Xmas, 1906,” and a sticker identifies the book as being from his Jacksonville, Florida personal library.

The letter to Father Divine was written on October 23, 1939. The letterhead suggests that he was working at that time for the New York Department of State, Division of Licenses, and that he was living at 80 Center Street in New York City. MapQuest shows 80 Center Street as being somewhere in the middle of Staten Island.

So, based on about all that I know, he lived in Jacksonville near the turn of the century and had an interest in what we now call “black studies,” and later moved to Staten Island to work as a bureaucrat in the Division of Licenses, where his interests expanded to include avant-garde literature, socialism and Father Divine.

In the spring of 2001, while en route to Myrtle Beach for a weekend of golf, my father visited with me in Atlanta for a few days, and was fairly amused to discover me involved in Zen Buddhism. “Your grandfather was into that, too,” he said, which was news to me. I had heard once or twice that Grandfather had an interest in Father Divine, but this was the first that I had heard that his spiritual interests were eclectic enough to include Buddhism, too.

The letter begins:

My Dear Father Divine:

Permit me for my family and myself to express our profound thanks to you for the five days of exquisite peace, rest and sweet content obtained while visiting (our first time) your Extensions in Ulster County the past month. While we made the Artists Colony at Milton our headquarters, we journeyed to as many of the blessed Missions, or Peace Havens, if you will indulge me the privilege of so terming them, as time afforded, to banquet and converse with the brothers and sisters of the Missions. There were Miss Noah and Miss Sincere Heart at Krum Elbow, Miss Satisfied and Miss Merriness at Kingston, Miss Sweet Angel at High Falls and Miss Rebecca Well, the inimitable and gracious hostess at Samsonville, or Divine Lodge, the “cup in the Mountains,” verily a retreat of the angels. The moment a stranger crosses its thresholds he instinctively feels that "God's in His heaven; All's right with the world."

The letter is rather lengthy and I won’t reprint the entire content here; the interested reader, however, can find the full text here. However, he goes on to say:

I once heard a well known Senator from one of the southern states of this nation, in referring to the darker citizens of the United States, declare that the N was a race of tip takers and would always be such. Even Buddha said 560 years before Christ that all blood is of one hue.

I don’t recall the Buddha actually ever having said quite that, although it is in accord with the buddhadharma, but am impressed that Grandfather quotes the Buddha. More biographic detail, as well as insight into Grandfather’s political and moral stance, is provided in a later paragraph:

As a member of the legal profession for the past twenty-four years, having been admitted to practice in this State and in several other states and one foreign country, I am keenly interested in YOUR platform of Righteous Government as promulgated in 1936. . . Laws seem to be made to be broken and circumvented by the rich and the privileged, and to act as a noose and trap for the poor who cannot PAY for justice. The people of the State of New York pay too much for Justice when they do receive it. Justice is a power, indeed, and if it cannot create it will destroy! The question, then, is to see that Justice, and not a facsimile of it, is rendered to ALL MEN regardless of RACE, CREED OR COLOR; that it is administered by men of character and integrity and not by political hacks and incompetents of major political parties, who, indeed, must render mock justice as the leaders of those dominant political parties with slimy hands and fat pocketbooks, dictate. Justice without righteousness is destructive. It then becomes the rule of the stronger, and liberty the law which the stronger allow.

In response, Father Divine wrote:

Your letter of the 23rd is before ME and I AM writing to express MY appreciation for your unreserved communication of thanks and tribute to MY Work and Mission among men, and to say that I AM indeed glad that you and yours found personal comfort and Peace during your stay in the Promised Land.

Had you not possessed within your heart a profound conviction of Right and the sincerity of seeing Righteousness in effect, the understanding and praise you so kindly extended would have been un-conceded, as it is by those whom you referred, deprecate the Truth through their preconceived prejudices and stony hearts. . .

. . . In following out these Precepts of Righteousness, Justice and Truth, MY Spirit and MY Mind will guide you in your daily activities, that you might substantiate Righteousness in the legal courts of law, for the Kingdom of Righteousness must be legalized even as I AM establishing it scientifically and economically in the affairs of men, that all men might become to be as this leaves ME, for I AM Well, Healthy, Joyful, Peaceful, Lively, Loving, Successful, Prosperous and Happy in Spirit, Body and Mind and in every organ, muscle, sinew, joint, limb, vein and bone and even in every atom, fiber and cell of MY Bodily Form.

Respectfully and Sincere I AM

Better known as FATHER DIVINE)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

In the late 1990s, climatologist Michael Mann and colleagues Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes published historical surface temperature reconstructions, concluding that the Northern Hemisphere was the warmest it has been in 2,000 years. Their research became known as the "hockey-stick" graph, because it compared the sharp curve of the hockey blade to the recent uptick in temperatures and the stick's long shaft to centuries of previous climate stability.

Their findings weren’t universally well received. Last year, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a skeptic on global warming, launched an investigation of the three climate scientists. Prompted by a February 2005 Wall Street Journal article, Barton sent letters in June 2005 to Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes, as well as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Science Foundation "questioning many aspects of a global warming study." This move was an obvious and blatant attack on the scientists rather than a serious attempt to understand the science.

Legislators of both parties criticized Barton's approach as "misguided and illegitimate" and "a transparent effort to bully and harass climate change experts who have reached conclusions with which you disagree." House Science Committee chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said Barton should try to learn from scientists, not intimidate them. In November, Boehlert requested an independent report from the National Research Council to address the question whether global warming was a major threat or not.

Well, guess what? It turns out that the Research Council committee found Mann's conclusion that warming in the last few decades of the 20th century was unprecedented over the last thousand years to be plausible, although it had less confidence that the warming was unprecedented prior to 1600 - fewer proxies, in fewer locations, provide temperatures for periods before then.

The Research Council committee found that there is sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other "proxies" of past surface temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years. However, less confidence can be placed in proxy-based reconstructions of surface temperatures for A.D. 900 to 1600, although the available proxy evidence does indicate that many locations were warmer during the past 25 years than during any other 25-year period since 900. Very little confidence can be placed in statements about average global surface temperatures prior to A.D. 900 because the proxy data for that time frame are sparse, the committee added.

Scientists rely on proxies to reconstruct paleoclimatic surface temperatures because geographically widespread records of temperatures measured with instruments date back only about 150 years. Other proxies include corals, ocean and lake sediments, ice cores, cave deposits, and documentary sources, such as historic drawings of glaciers. The globally averaged warming of about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) that instruments have recorded during the last century is also reflected in proxy data for that time period, the committee noted.

The committee noted that scientists' reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures for the past thousand years are generally consistent. The reconstructions show relatively warm conditions centered around the year 1000, and a relatively cold period, or "Little Ice Age," from roughly 1500 to 1850. The exact timing of warm episodes in the medieval period may have varied by region, and the magnitude and geographical extent of the warmth is uncertain, the committee said. None of the reconstructions indicates that temperatures were warmer during medieval times than during the past few decades, the committee added.

The scientists said the evidence was reliable enough to conclude there were sharp spikes in carbon dioxide and methane, the two major "greenhouse" gases blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere, beginning in the 20th century, after remaining fairly level for 12,000 years. Between 1 A.D. and 1850, volcanic eruptions and solar fluctuations were the main causes of changes in greenhouse gas levels. But those temperature changes "were much less pronounced than the warming due to greenhouse gas" levels by pollution since the mid-19th century, it said.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

4:62 a.m.

Please excuse the lack of posts the past few days. I've been busy.

The hectic schedule of the past two weeks has continued unabated. Waking up at 5:00 am Monday morning, I decided that I needed another 90 minutes of sleep more than a hour and a half of meditation, and skipped the morning service at the zendo for the first time in two weeks. Monday night, after a full day of work, I did open for the usual evening service at the zendo. My "talk" afterwards was unscripted and simply horrible; I couldn't believe the shit coming out of my own mouth. I pity the poor students who stayed for it.

Tuesday, I had a 7:30 a.m. meeting at the Development Authority to discuss the project-that-shall-not-be-named, so I skipped the morning service again. That meeting was followed by another meeting with a separate client, followed by an impromptu and not-altogether-voluntary walking tour of various Brownfield development "opportunities" (in other words, alarmingly distressed properties) on the wild west side of Atlanta, followed by a permit review at the Atlanta Bureau of Buildings. And somewhere in there, I found time to get my driver's license renewed (and listing the address I've lived at for almost two years now). And all that was just Tuesday.

By Wednesday, things were finally calming down a bit. When the alarm clock went off at 5 a.m., I simply could not get myself out of bed due to sheer exhaustion, so I skipped morning service for the third day in a row. When I finally got home that afternoon, looking forward to the opportunity to catch up on some reading and blogging, the lights suddenly went out for about an hour. No problem, June 21 was the longest day of the year, and it was still light outside, so I made the best of things, grabbed some back issues of The New Yorker that I had fallen behind on, and sat outside to read. When it finally got dusky outside, the lights had come back on.

For a while. I was on the phone with a neighbor, discussing Tuesday morning's meeting and its ramifications, when the lights went out again. And then back on. And then back off. And so on and so forth until almost 11:00 at night.

I had reset my clocks several times that evening, thinking that each restoration of the power would be the last and final, only to have to repeat the task. I gave up when I saw that the bedroom clock was reading "4:62 am." How confused does a clock have to be to read "4:62 am?"

I'm actually composing this Thursday night, but will back date it to Wednesday since that's the topic here. But I will blow the suspension of disbelief by stating here that on Thursday morning I completed the week by blowing off the morning service for the fourth day in a row - there is no Friday morning service, and it didn't seem worth the effort to change my sleeping pattern for the one morning of the week.

I'll start in again next Monday.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Music Review

(excerpted from the NYT):

On Monday the JVC Jazz Festival honored Ms. Gordon, the Vanguard's 83-year-old proprietor, with a full menu of bands at Carnegie Hall that she books regularly at her club.

Multiple bills in the JVC festival can come off a bit gingerly or as overthought, programmed to avoid alienating the presumed micro-audience for each band. And in truth, a mismatched double bill can feel like a non sequitur. But a wild garden of five is much better than an awkward pairing of two.

This one had Dr. Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band, from New Orleans; Paul Motian's Trio 2000 + 1 ; Roy Hargrove's Quintet, with the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson as a guest sixth member; the Bad Plus; and finally the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Stylistically, it was all over the place. So what; nobody minded. The idea that it was designed by the filter of Ms. Gordon's ears — she is a sharp and judicious listener — helped to make it cohere conceptually without wilting. There were very few walkouts until nearly 11 o'clock, when the show was coming to a close.

Mr. Motian's trio sounded minimal, slow, undefined by era. The band — Larry Grenadier on bass, Chris Potter on tenor saxophone — played two of Mr. Motian's knotty melodies that sound as if they can be played at any speed and in any rhythm, then was joined by the singer Rebecca Martin for three standards.

They were "Everything Happens to Me," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me." All began with the songs' often neglected opening verses, sung against Mr. Motian's and Mr. Grenadier's airy improvising, before the rhythm solidified and Mr. Potter came in; this band allows everyone to solo more or less continuously, although there are proper solo choruses as well.

But Ms. Martin's voice, easy and forthright and happily unconcerned with evoking the phrasing and rhythmic nuances of old jazz singers everyone knows, relaxed the pulse, and Mr. Potter's solos accelerated from logical, melody-based structures into a controlled language of overtones and shrieks. (An exquisite new record of this band, "Paul Motian on Broadway Vol. 4, or the Paradox of Continuity," on Winter & Winter, is due Aug. 9. Write it down.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

George Will, of all people, pointed out the other day that on April 20 the Iraq war became as long as the Korean War. On June 15, the war was as long, 1,185 days, as U.S. involvement in World War II was when U.S. troops captured the Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen and became the first foreign troops to cross the Rhine since Napoleon's in 1805.

Meanwhile, we've got Stephen Hawking stating that humans must establish a base on another planet if we're to avoid extinction from global warming or another catastrophe.

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said at a news conference in Hong Kong. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

Some believe that Hawking's vision is achievable. "We're pretty sure that everything we need to live is on Mars. There's plenty of water and there's a little bit of an atmosphere," said Dr. David Robertson, director of the Center for Space Physiology and Medicine at Vanderbilt University. Humans would probably live in a pressurized, temperature-controlled biosphere that could hold up in the frigid nighttime temperatures and thin, dusty atmosphere. "There's no way you'd live without a space suit, even just to visit," said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society.

It would be easy to leave the idea of large scale colonization of the Moon to sci-fi writers were it not for two considerations. First, this fantasy is linked with the quite real problem of global warming, and can only serve to discredit it. Second, this plays to neocon plans for shifting space research efforts from robotic to manned flights. The neocons desperately need an authoritative voice to promote their plans to move funds from highly successful programs like Hubble to the doomed Moon/Mars effort. Unfortunately, now they've got exactly what they wanted.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Fathers Day!

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." - Mark Twain.

"By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong." - Charles Wadsworth

Thursday, June 15, 2006

"It seems that only success and money count in the world today. Those who can't follow leaders are considered losers, and thus despised. . ."

On May 15, 2006, ten years after Jon Krakauer's classic "Into Thin Air" documented the dangers of ambition and greed during commercial expeditions on Mount Everest, David Sharp, an independent British climber under an Asian Trekking permit, died on Everest's north side, apparently after having reached the summit the day before. About 40 people passed Sharp on their way to the summit and back, but only a small few chose to give him any help at all.

At 11 pm the previous evening, a Turkish climbing group on their ascent found Sharp sitting up near a rock cave. They told him to move on, but didn't understand his answer and continued their ascent. They claim that they did not understand that he was experiencing severe problems. At 11.15, a second Turkish group observed Sharp lying down, and believed that he was dead or sleeping.

At 1 am, a guide from Himalayan Experience (Himex), a commercial expedition company, found Sharp alive but shivering, wearing no gloves and displaying signs of severe frostbite on his hands and face. The guide claimed to have radioed Himex expedition leader Russell Brice and was advised to move on up, although Brice later said he had not heard about Sharp until 9.30 am.

A group of Sherpas and climbers from various companies, including double-amputee Mark Inglis, who that day became the first person to summit Everest with two prosthetic legs, found Sharp still alive at 9.30 am, but in very poor condition, gloveless and with severe frostbite. A Sherpa found oxygen nearby and administered it without effect. The climbers radioed Brice and were told that Sharp was, in effect, already all but dead and to move on.

At 11 am, some Sherpas from Himex with helmet-mounted cameras met Sharp and asked, "What is your name?" Sharp answered, "My name is David Sharp, I am with Asian Trekking. I just want to sleep." The Sherpas contacted expedition leader Brice and were advised to move on down.

A month after Sharp's death, Brice has refuted much of the account above. His version of the events can be found here. But whether or not Russell Brice advised the guides and customers to move on and not assist Sharp is not the essential question. The alibi that the climbers have come up with - they were told to let a suffering man die - assumes that obedience and following leaders are more important than human compassion. "It's okay that we left him to die," they claim. "Someone in authority told us to."

Don't tell me what you think you would have done in that situation unless you've been there - up in the Death Zone at 26,000 feet, with a summit within reach and a stranger dying in front of you. Several people who have been there have commented on the case.

American Ed Viesturs, who has scaled all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks without bottled oxygen, said "This isn't the first time this has happened, passing people who are dying is not uncommon. Unfortunately, there are those who say, 'It's not my problem. I've spent all this money and I'm going to the summit.'" Viesturs went on to note, "If you're strong enough to mount a summit attempt, you're strong enough to attempt a rescue, or at least sit there with him and try to provide a little comfort."

Juan Oiarzabal holds the world record in 8000-meter summits (21) and has experienced many rescues at very high altitude. Referring to Everest, he said, "That mountain turned into a circus years ago, and it's getting worse. I don't have the slightest interest in going back there, ever. Moreover, I actually try to avoid reading on what's going on there. I simply don't care anymore."

Dr. Jose Ramon Morandeira has climbed high-altitude peaks in the Alps, the Andes, Africa and the Himalaya. Currently in his sixties and with damaged knees, he has to limit himself to hiking and climbing in the Pyrenees area near his home, but finds time to attend frostbitten climbers coming to him from all over the world. "From my point of view as a Doctor and most of all as a climber" he said, regarding the David Sharp episode, ". . .words seem too soft to describe this kind of behavior."

"It is an aberration! I guess I am too old, I guess these are not my times anymore, and Himalaya is not what it used to be. But not so long ago (let's say 15 years), in a situation like that, all of us present would have jumped to the rescue. And if we saved a climber's life, we returned home utterly proud and satisfied, with or without a summit."

"Back then we were moved by a weird, indefinable value we called 'mountaineering spirit', which basically involved climbing mountains and reaching summits, but not at any cost. Those times are gone, and I feel like an old mountaineer in his sixties defending out-of-date values and longing for a world which is no longer there."

"However, this is not just a climbing issue," he said. "The current environment on commercialized Everest, where only success and money count, is only a reflection of our world today. Those who can't follow the leaders are considered losers, and thus despised."

"Just like David, wounded and lost on Everest. No one cared for him anymore: 'He should have hired a better team, instead of being so cheap; he should have been fitter,' the passing climbers might have figured. I can't help thinking that if David had thought of shouting: 'I'll give you a million dollars if you get me out of here,' he could still be alive."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Finally, My Promised Account of Last Weekend's Zen Hike

Last Saturday, we took the Zen hike along the Benton MacKaye Trail up and over Tooni Mountain and to the Taccoa River.

We had a good turnout (13 of us - a record for these hikes) and had to take four cars. The trail ascended the challenging Tooni Mountain (also known as "Toonowee Mountain") for a total elevation gain of 800 feet, or the equivalent of climbing Atlanta's 50-story 191 Peachtree Tower from top to bottom (plus 30 feet). Most of the elevation gain was in the first half mile.

After about a mile or so, the trail leveled off and followed the ridge top of Tooni Mountain before descending into the Taccoa valley. There the river is crossed by the longest suspension bridge (260 feet) built exclusively for hikers in the country. At the bridge, we swam and played with the two dogs that were brought along, before sitting by the river for 30 minutes of mountain zazen and then heading back by the same route.

The hike was about three miles each way, and since we crossed Tooni twice, we climbed a total of 1,600 feet, or the equivalent of Taiwan's 101-story Taipei 101 building, the tallest in the world.

We stopped in Cherry Log, Georgia on the way back for some barbeque.

It was the first time that I had hiked this section of trail since 1997, and I had forgotten how steep the hiking had been. Did the mountain get taller in the last nine years, or did my legs get older? And speaking of getting older,

Happy Birthday, Donna!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Broad Peak is located at the head of the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakorum Range of Pakistan. At 26,400 feet, it is the 12th highest mountain on earth and the 4th highest in Pakistan. Once named K3 by British topographers, its local name is Faichan Kangri.

Broad Peak was first climbed on June 9, 1957 by an Austrian team including Hermann Buhl. The ascent, the first 8000-meter peak climbed without the aid of high-altitude porters, is a milestone in the history of Himalayan mountaineering: the climb was made without the aid of supplemental oxygen and without base camp support. Buhl, already a legend after his solo summit climb on Nanga Parbat in 1953, thus became the first climber to make the first ascent of two 8000-meter peaks. Unfortunately, Buhl was killed only three weeks later when he stepped through a cornice on nearby Chogolisa.

This season, a German/Austrian team led by Markus Kronthaler hopes to follow Buhl’s classic route on Broad Peak and Chogolisa. The team reached Camp 1 at 5800m on Sunday (June 11) despite strong winds and fresh snowfall. Kronthaler’s team consists of nine climbers, most of whom are experienced mountain guides and/or members of the Austrian Mountain Police, accompanied by Everest researcher Jochen Hemmleb, who will be the team photographer and diarist. On Broad Peak, the team will attempt Buhl’s classic 1957 West Spur route; however, the team hopes to set themselves apart from their predecessors both by skiing down Chogolisa and experiencing a happier outcome than Buhl’s expedition.

Kronthaler’s expedition web site (in German) is located here.

The team has managed to get a first glimpse of Broad Peak as Buhl saw it – lonely and isolated. But it won’t last long. Dozens of teams are expected to descend on the peak’s slopes within the next two weeks.

A large team launched by Australian outfitter Field Touring Alpine also reached Base Camp today, and they have reported several other teams heading for Concordia – the glacier junction located several hour’s hike from Broad Peak’s Base Camp. According to the latest reports, the teams are progressing up the Baltoro Valley in frequent rains and low temperatures, with most of the surrounding mountains wrapped in dark cloud cover, apparently typical weather for the Karakorum.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A, Apparently, Is for Alberto

The inconvenient truth is that the very first tropical storm of the season is already picking up speed and intensity and threatening to become a hurricane. It's path looks like it will miss Atlanta (but thanks for the good wishes, Kat), although parts of Florida are already being evacuated.

I'll blog about last Saturday's very successful Zen hike soon, but the breakneck pace I set myself on last week is only picking up tempo, and I haven't had the time all weekend to update this blog. I didn't get back from the mountains until after 10 pm, and Sunday I was booked solid between an afternoon meeting with my counterpart in another neighborhood on The Big Project, and, miraculously, time found for a Sunday night date.

This evening I had my usual Monday night service at the Center, after a full day's work, after the morning service at the center. This week will be more of the same - morning service, workday work, evening meeting of one sort or the other for five of the five nights. Oh, yeah, and on top of it all, a hurricane's coming through.

But the beauty of it all is that despite this hectic pace, while sitting at the zendo this evening, the only thing that mattered was this very moment, the only action needed was the next breath.

Update (6/13/06): Okay, so Alberto didn't turn into a hurricane after all. That's not a bad thing.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The week's end is drawing nearer, but it felt like a month of Mondays. Once again, I was up at 5, at the zendo by 6, office by 8, home again by 6, and then at the zendo again at 7. Finally got home for keeps at 10.

Tomorrow's relatively easy - no early morning sitting, so I can sleep until the decadent hour of 6:30 am, and still make it to the office by 8:00 or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Only thing scheduled for Friday night at this point is packing for Saturday's Zen hike.

I never thought that I could handle what's turned out to be, essentially, three jobs at once, especially when only one of them pays, but like the man above who has suddenly learned how to walk on water, you don't know how to do the impossible until the right set of conditions are forced upon you.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

According to Grist magazine, a railroad connecting Beijing, China, to Lhasa, Tibet, has been completed, despite considerable political and environmental obstacles. The project, conceived over 40 years ago by Mao Zedong, is a symbol of Chinese domination and has faced opposition from proponents of Tibetan independence.

The railroad runs through seismically active areas, climbs over a mountain pass that reaches 16,900 feet, and crosses permafrost that could move as much as 15 feet over time as it thaws and refreezes. To adapt, Chinese scientists pushed the project budget up nearly 50 percent, to roughly $4.2 billion, by designing a refrigeration system (!) to keep ground underneath some portions of the railroad frozen as the globe warms. They predicted the rate of climate change at exactly 3.6 degrees over 100 years -- if global warming accelerates faster than expected, the railroad could be defunct within a decade. If all goes "well," plans are in the works for luxury resorts and other developments along the route, bringing tourists to Tibet whether nomadic herders want them or not.

But don't take Grist's word for it. Read the source article in Fortune.