Sunday, November 8, 2009

Classrooms of the Future

I wrote this in response to an email from our Head of Upper School about plans for building the school's Academic Commons (our school's name for a new type of library) and classrooms of the future. The question really revolved around what technology should be included, and how to maximize innovation for teachers. What I wrote is opinionated and idealistic, and I certainly don't claim to talk for all teachers, but the issues raised are definitely worth thinking about.


My main feeling is that the whole thing needs to be mobile. What I love about our current Audio Nonfiction class is the flexibility of sending students out for an interview at any time, because they can carry a whole recording studio with them (they use an iPod Nano and a Belkin Tune Talk microphone). We can also listen to pieces at any time with the projection and speakers in the classroom, and the fact that everything can be stored is on a laptop. The software we use (Audacity) is free and can be downloaded on any computer. However, I wish our classrooms were more flexible. The desks in the science and math rooms help this somewhat, because they are more like tables, where things can be laid out, like you would to see the whole structure of a journalism project, and the desks can be combined to make a large table for a conference room feeling. They are conducive to work, because you can have a book, a notebook, a set of pens, and a computer on them all at once without it feeling crowded. The old desks in the English classrooms are really only good for sitting, and they're not even very good for that. The math/science desks are bulky, though, and take up a lot more space, so it's more difficult to clear out the room if you want to have space to move around. My mythology class does Budokon once a semester - a form of yoga and martial arts - and I believe this type of experiential learning will become more and more important in the future. The more flexible the spaces are, and the more adaptable the technology, the more effective the teaching can be. Projection screens are useful (I mainly use smart boards as projection screens now), and it would be interesting to explore if a single projector could project in more than one direction, with screens on each of the walls. I'm not positive how I would use this, but it would offer the type of flexibility that really lets teachers and students improvise.

That's the main word I think is necessary as we move into the future with technology and innovation - improvisation. In my opinion, the smart board is a great technology, but ultimately is more limiting than a white board and projection screen. For one thing, you can't take it with you between classrooms (most rooms in our school have them, but not all of them), and it also reduces the amount of white board space you have. I know that they make pocket projectors now that work just as well as a big projector, and maybe that's the way of the future. These can be plugged into iPhones or iPods or Netbooks. To my mind, the technology we use needs to get smaller and more personalized. For the nonfiction class, the whole recording studio fits easily in the palm of your hand. This allows a spontaneous improvisation - a student at a basketball game can suddenly interview the winning coach without having to set anything up. Teachers need to have the same freedom in their classrooms.

For the Living Epic class I'm going to do with our Academic Dean next semester, our goal is to turn the students into experts. In this case, we need maximum flexibility to create any type of space that the students may spontaneously need. Some students may want to work with blueprints, and so they need desks or tables to accommodate that. Some may want to teach the class martial arts, so it needs to be able to be completely cleared out. Some may want to build something in the room (like a huge lego tower), and some may want to create a film. It's amazing how easy green-screen technology is getting to be, so having a good video camera, a big green screen that can be pulled down on a moment's notice, and good editing software on a laptop will allow students to create the next Star Wars right in the classroom itself. But we don't need to plan for the technologies - we can presume they will be small, personalized and portable, and so what we really need to concentrate on is planning for the flexibility of the space.

I think the Academic Commons also needs a few bigger spaces as well. A space that can accommodate a true class meeting will free up the complete traffic jam that is our theater for real instruction in classes like Senior Seminar. But a room for a class meeting needs to be completely flexible as well, so that it can be transformed into a medium-sized performance space for instrumental and choral music, student-directed plays, senior project presentations, etc. Since they will be used for a variety of purposes, these spaces need to be sound-proofed and have flexible lighting - in other words, a great deal of natural light that can be blocked out completely. And these spaces need to be sacred for work with students. Our current so-called Student Activity Center is anything but. It's used for so many meetings with the Trustees and Parents' Committees that it is rarely available for classes to meet in, and almost never used by students in their spare time, as far as I can tell, which is why they spend their free time in the library, and why that space becomes a difficult place to get any studying done.

The Academic Commons also needs both quiet spaces and spaces that really encourage socializing and collaboration. The sound proofing needs to be good enough that students can hold recording sessions in small rooms - both for instrumental and choral work (to make audition tapes for colleges, for example) and for projects in classes like Audio Nonfiction and the Film course. And there need to be enough of these to accommodate multiple projects happening at the same time, with no real need to schedule the spaces in advance. What we want to capture is the ability for spontaneous improvisation. There need to be smaller spaces that are just large enough for a group of students to collaborate on a project, but which don't become too casual. Access to technology should be readily available (speakers, projectors, video cameras, laptops), but should be as hidden as possible, and again - the technology needs to be small. I think the iPod Touch is a perfect model for what the technology of the future will be, especially when the pocket projectors arrive on the mass market. Even better for me is the Android phone, which allows an overlap of applications, so that one application can piggy-back on another one. The GPS technology is especially exciting, because a teacher can plug curriculum into a set of coordinates and send the students off on a quest. The folks at MIT are already working on this.

So in my opinion, we would make a mistake if we made technology the centerpiece of the Academic Commons - especially technology that is big or expensive, or which figures into the design of the buildings or rooms in any way. It's all changing way too fast to predict what it will be, except the one trend that seems definite: technology is becoming much smaller and more personalized, and soon, everything you need will be able to be carried in your pocket, and inexpensive enough to be owned by everyone. Instead, the Academic Commons needs to be designed for maximum collaboration. It needs places where students can gather to socialize, places where they can work together on a project, places where teachers can meet with students, and places where classes can really roll up their sleeves and get to work. And there need to be enough of them that one is available in a moment of spontaneous inspiration. Horizontal space (like the math desks) is essential, but it must be easily removable so that the space can be completely clear for exercises or work on the floor. Now that Barnes & Noble is releasing its version of the Kindle with more flexibility and capacity, it's only a matter of time until textbooks will be electronic, which will not only save many adolescent backs, but will let us pick and choose the physical books that really matter. I could easily see all of my classes buying an eBook reader freshman year, and then downloading all their English books for half the price they would normally buy them for. Most classics will be free, thanks to Google, and that's a large part of what we teach. The only thing that's holding me back now is the inability to scribble in the margins, but that is only a matter of months. I strongly believe there will always be a place for a real library, but the reference section will become obsolete. To me, the library will become a center of collaboration rather than a place for reference, and we need to design the space to accommodate that. Rather than making it a place for silent contemplation (we need a different space for that, like graduate carrels), the sound in the library should be geared toward group collaboration, so that sound does not carry generally throughout the room as it does now, but also doesn't make students uneasy about their excitement.

The idea that innovation can happen in a single mind is an old fairy tale. True creativity comes from the excitement of shared ideas. A classroom of the future will require the ability to focus on a variety of different projects, the flexibility to follow the whims of spontaneous inspiration, and the feeling of freedom that is essential to a playground of the mind.

Wind Talkers

I direct plays at the school where I work, and the students are always asking for clues as to what the next play will be. I put up some clues on this webpage, and thought some of you might like to try your hand at them. Two of my students cracked the clues last night. Let me know if you want any help?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Book of G

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago during a timed-writing exercise for my Bible Students. I'm just experimenting with posting directly to Blogger from Google Docs. Pretty cool.

The Book of G:

The Hebrew Bible's Jedi Training Manual

The Book of Genesis, on one level, is about the development of a nation, and that nation’s troubled and deeply conflicted relationship with the God who chose them. On another level, it can be viewed as an extended metaphor for the journey to maturity that every spiritual master must go through. If God, as Carl Jung suggests, is a name for the collective unconscious, then each of the characters can be seen as a name for the stage of development that the awakening soul travels through. From the na├»ve child eager to grow old too quickly to the fully developed Jedi Master, Genesis outlines a course of spiritual development that parallels that of the martial arts.

The stage of the young child – which Genesis calls Adam & Eve – is one of innocence and trusting. There were always snakes in the garden, but the child sees them as friends instead of enemies. For the child, the relationship between the conscious and unconscious is an easy one – the conflict doesn’t exist because there is no awareness of the duality. While ignorance is blissful, it is not the same happiness that accompanies spiritual mastery, because it needs only be tempted to realize how incomplete it is. The true spiritual master does not succumb to temptation (cf. Joseph and Potiphar’s wife), because he knows he is already complete and does not need anything else. The blissful child lacks this awareness, and so is simply waiting for the slightest provocation to slip into misery. If the snake hadn’t offered the apple, Eve would have found an equally appealing temptation to send her on the path to spiritual maturity. God in this case is not arbitrarily punishing them, since he obviously wanted them to eat the apple. Without the apple, there could be no Joseph. The meaning of the apple is revealed in Joseph, just as the meaning of Joseph’s slavery is revealed in the famine. God sends the serpent to help his consciousness start the journey, in the same way that we are sent nightmares to help heal us and deal with the more disturbing aspects of our lives. The logical extension of this – and one that most people don’t like making – is that evil (personified in the snake) is an agent of God’s purpose, without which God’s purpose cannot be fulfilled.

The unconscious then causes a crisis in the life of the individual which now must be dealt with. Because our hero (let’s call him G) is still spiritually immature, he looks on his punishment as a threat to his identity, and not as an opportunity for a grand adventure. Thus, G slips into the second stage: preservation of the individual ego by destroying any perceived threats. Genesis calls this stage Cain & Abel. This stage lasts a long time, both individually and globally (it’s the reason for all wars), and only perpetuates itself by bowing to the defense mechanisms and destroying perceived threats that are actually brothers. This cycle gets progressively worse until Lamech (seven times worse than Cain), and can only be solved by a complete cleansing of the psyche. The unconscious accomplishes this through the flood – a metaphor for the total spiritual cleansing that can happen after major tragedies, which Jung suggests are projections of the unconscious even if they seem to be external. The other people drowned in the story are not mentioned with much compassion, because they are simply vapors in the unconscious that continue the cycle, and therefore must be destroyed. Like in the Bhagavad Gita, we need not lament these losses – to do so would be to enable our addiction to violence and unhappiness.

But cleansing is not rebirth. Noah represents the stage when an addict enters rehab and abandons his enabling friends, but this is not spiritual maturity or healing. It is only the first step to recovery. Noah’s drunkenness shows that G still has a lot to learn, and the Tower of Babel represents how – in our desire to move quickly into maturity – we try to skip steps to get there. It will be a long, slow process, but at least the journey has begun.

Abraham represents the first conscious steps of this journey. His story is the most fully developed so far, and represents the first seeking for an explanation of the ways of the unconscious, and a means to develop a cohesive relationship with it. Abraham struggles valiantly but is still blocked by his need for self-preservation. He seeks to appease the unconscious through sacrifices that symbolize his own ego. He negotiates with the unconscious, seeking to find the line where the deity will finally be appeased. But sacrifice again is only a stage. It appeases God, because it shows the unconscious that it need not feel threatened. But legal arbitration is not the same as true communion.

In order to develop a relationship with the unconscious that goes beyond a mere standoff in which both parties agree to an uneasy truce, the awakening soul must learn to listen on a deeper level to the callings of the unconscious. This stage could be represented by Isaac, whose life is left fairly blank in Genesis. We hear about Isaac’s love for Ishmael, and his silent submission to be sacrificed, but then hear nothing from him until he is an old man. The whole middle part of his life is a blank. Later in his life, he is duped by Rebekkah and Jacob, but seems fairly distant from the affairs of the world. Looked at from a certain angle, this is the behavior of a hermit or a monk. And who can blame him? His mother banished his best friend and brother, and his father seemed ready to sacrifice him. After such traumatic childhood events, it’s only natural that he withdraw into himself. It’s this withdrawal that creates the space necessary in meditation, the whole purpose of which is to be able to listen and respond to the voice of the unconscious. Only in a focused stillness, away from the noise of the world, can we hear the “still small voice” that speaks to Elijah. We have very little information about Isaac, and so these are conjectures, but they are certainly consistent with the evidence.

And so now we arrive at a very interesting stage of spiritual awakening. Most monks spend years in this stage, and lay people look on this as the arrival of spiritual maturity. But what happens in meditation is like planting a garden. It’s the waiting for what happens in the spring. What happens in the spring is Jacob.

Jacob bursts forth as the first charming, truly likeable character who takes his destiny in his own hands. Granted, his actions are often amoral or immoral, but that’s part of his charm. Like Brer Rabbit or Tom Sawyer, he survives by his wits and bends social convention to his own purposes. His life reads like an adventure story. He is the arrival of the butterfly after a long sleep in a cocoon. Now spiritually awake, he is excited by the supernatural power that comes with deeper levels of awareness. He single-handedly lifts an enormous stone from Rachel’s well, he manipulates the breeding patterns of sheep to become rich, he does the work of many men and fathers thirteen children in one chapter. Jacob is life caught on fire – awake to his own spiritual powers and in love with life. He is the epicurean bodhisattva warrior, an unstoppable, charming and thrilling presence unencumbered by dusty morality. We won’t see his likes again until the arrival of David. No wonder God loves him.

But the journey is far from over. In the stage of Jacob, G is a sort of shaman, able to manipulate nature to his own advantage, and the unconscious now – instead of fearing him – is charmed by him. A personal relationship now becomes possible, because both sides are intrigued by the other. God even reverses the Tower of Babel by building Jacob’s Ladder. And instead of destroying Jacob from fear, as he did mankind in both the flood and Sodom & Gomorrah, he engages in that most boyish of pastimes – wrestling. What boy didn’t wrestle with his father at some point after dinner? Wrestling does not imply antagonism. It’s a splendid game.

But Jacob is spiritually awake enough now that God has to cheat to win! The conscious has developed to the point where it is a worthy opponent for the unconscious. G’s Jedi training is now complete.

And thus we come to the stage called Joseph. Joseph is the fully awakened, spiritually mature being. His early days with his brothers – which some may interpret as petulant – are actually simply the utterings of a precocious child. His statements about his dreams are not pretentious – he merely relates them, and his brothers and father draw the conclusions. He is a child prodigy – misunderstood as Mozart was – who can only come into his own by pursuing the hero’s adventure. He ends up in all the right places – prison, tempted by a seductive woman, tested for patience and forgiveness – and because he is spiritually mature, he meets all of these tests and passes them all. The genius of the Book of Genesis lies in its use of parallels, so that the temptation which destroys Adam & Eve has no effect on Joseph. The hardships that torment Job give Joseph no pause. The crimes committed by Cain, and perpetuated in Isaac & Ishmael and Jacob & Esau are finally resolved in Joseph, who finds the way out of the cycle of violence by practicing the art of forgiveness. Abraham and Sarah doubt the word of the Lord (with good reason!) and take matters into their own hands (Hagar  Ishmael), but Joseph has transcended time, so that he can step back and see the entire tapestry. He is the only character in the Bible so far who has a full understanding of God’s purpose, as he says to his brothers – God enslaved me so I could save you. God tempted Eve so I could become a Jedi Master. People suffer so that they may reach spiritual maturity, which often takes many generations, and with that maturity comes great powers and abilities, and also great responsibility.

So Joseph completes the spiritual training and solves the complex problems that Genesis raises. Of course, his maturity is an individual one, so he is not a good leader for the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians and Israelites who eventually become enslaved as a result of his public policy. His maturity is complete on an individual level, but not yet on a collective one.

God obviously still has work to do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


A great trip to Arizona with my wife for our fifth anniversary. I posted stuff on a site called On the Road. You can view it all here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Palin Posts Healthcare Opinions On Facebook

Sarah Palin (& everyone else) REALLY needs to stop lying about the health care bill. Please be intelligent about this. No bill is perfect, but spreading lies of this caliber is completely irresponsible.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ancient Rumblings

Here is an intriguing article about sin and salvation by the author of The Evolution of God, a book I would really like to read. It posits that our evolitionarily useful sense of guilt was developed by religion into the concept of sin. The need for salvation is a consequence of this, and the author implies what I have always believed - that whether or not God exists in the way that perceive or believe her or him to, the drive for salvation is a useful human urge. Therefore the belief in God is more practically useful on a general plane than not believing in God. Of course there are drastic exceptions on both sides - deeply moral atheists and unabashedly hypocritical believers.

I am reading another book right now called The Alphabet Versus The Goddess, by Leonard Shlain, which covers similar ground for different reasons. The section on human evolution is particularly fascinating. The hunter/gatherer stage lasted around 2,990,000 years (!), and so many if not all of what feel like natural human instincts were developed during this time. The right and left sides of the brain developed different tasks during this time, and this in turn was caused by the development of an opposable thumb to climb trees, a heel when the trees in the jungle parted, and then the consequent mastery of throwing things, which led to the particularly hominid means of hunting from a distance. But as hominid brains got bigger, the size of the brain was limited by the circumference of the female pelvis, which led to babies born without being fully developed, as other animals are. You then have a baby who cannot walk or even lift its head at birth and thus requires a type of nurturing that is unique among the species. Human brains continue to develop for twenty years, which necessitates a division of labor as females care for babies who cannot care for themselves or even cling properly to their mothers.

So, Shlain argues, this accounts for the division of labor in primitive societies, and the differences in the brain, which cause a huge psychological rift between men and women. Hunters survive by being analytical, thinking in a linear way, concentrating with a single-minded focus. Mothers, on the other hand, need more peripheral vision (which they have, since they have more rods in their eyes than men), to be able to care for children while simultaneously gathering subsistence food. The other duality that comes into play here is between relationship to others (gathering) and survival (hunting), which in many ways contradict each other. Survival necessitates an us vs. them mentality, leading eventually to the particularly human act of murder, even of the family. The resultant dualities in the brain (since men and women all contain all of these elements) is the split that has caused much confusion and anxiety, as well much of the ability to recognize the beauty and fragility of the world.

Shlain's thesis is that these hunter/gatherer societies were the most egalitarian in history, as well as the best balance in the brain hemispheres. But with the domestication of crops and animals, hunting was no longer necessary, and so the outlet for male aggression, previously so vital for survival, was diminished to almost nothing. This is when the era of human sacrifice began, as well as sports, battles, and wars. But where he's headed with the book is how the development of the alphabet made the left brain dominant, though it was the younger twin. Like Jacob to Esau, the younger twin supplanted the elder, which is a theme throughout the bible and all the religions and philosophies of the Axial Age. In the Hebrew Bible, true human nature begins with the murder of Abel by Cain, and Genesis is not complete until the younger brother (Joseph) not only supplants but finally learns to forgive his brothers. But that imbalance, between the twin hemispheres struggling for dominance, is what we are left struggling with today.

Of course, we have moved beyond the agrarian society (almost none of us have any real idea how out food makes it to our plates), but we are left with 10,000 years of patriarchal instincts, on top of and often in conflict with 2,990,000 years of hunter/gatherer ones. No wonder we feel alienated and confused!

I am just beginning to process a lot of this (I am familiar with most of the theories from Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology, a true masterwork on the topic), but I hope to write more about it, since it fascinates me so deeply and has for so many years. We have shifted so much to the left brain, with its surgical spotlight focus, but you can tell by the insistence of religion in spite of scientific evidence, by the persistence of art despite the dominance of cheap commercialism, and by the hunger for mythology as evidenced by the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomena, that the older twin is beginning to demand her birthright once again. Deep in the recesses of the psyche, the goddess is beginning to stir once again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sotomayor et al. v. The Old Boys Club

There are some good articles coming out about Sotomayor. Let me say first off that I am glad she will be confirmed, because I have been impressed at how she is handling herself, and most importantly, impressed by her spotless judicial record. What I want to write about here are the wider social implications of these hearings. It's amazing how confronting just a little bit of diversity brings out the underbelly of society in such a profound way.

Here's an intriguing article from Slate Magazine. Favorite quotation:
Sen. Graham would never have lectured Justices Roberts or Scalia about being bullies, because he thinks it's perfectly normal when men ask tough questions. He can't even see the irony in saying he welcomes wise Latina women—so long as they don't change a thing.

And here's an article The Daily Beast that makes the case that Sotomayor is a liar. The comments are pretty rabid on this one. I think she should be confirmed because she seems to have a good judicial record, but I agree that she's lying and also agree that this is the fault of the Good Old Boys' Country Club she has to pass through to get the job. Hearing the debate about all this makes my stomach turn, especially on morning radio talk shows. I am grateful to Sotomayor and Hillary Clinton and their ilk, but deeply embarrassed for them as they have to navigate this process. I know they have weathered worse than this, and will weather worse still, and I know they are more than capable of rising to the challenge. It just saddens me that they have to deal with this at all. Obama says we are now in the Joshua Generation, and that MLK and Malcolm X, etc., were the Moses generation. I agree this seems to be true in terms of race, but in terms of gender, we haven't made it to Joshua yet. We're still in the time of Miriam.

And though I hate to hear the name Sarah Palin in the same sentence as Hillary Clinton or Sotomayor, this article makes a good point that they are just using opposite tactics in fighting the same machine.

At least the Episcopal Church has finally recognized the difference between homosexuals and pedophiles. And in a recession, no less. There is hope that they may soon recognize the God-given right to get married too. It's almost enough to make me go to church again...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


My little brother (who is at least a foot taller than I am) is an engineer on the team that designed this rocket that launched successfully this week. You can watch the launch on the website. Poke around on there if you want for more info on the company. Their goal is to increase reliability and reduce cost on space travel by a factor of 10. It's owned by the same people who created the ultimate dream car, the Tesla.

Here's the SpaceX website, and here's the launch video.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A few thoughts on Iran

There are many people who are writing far more effectively on this subject than I can right now, but here are a few scattered thoughts:

Just as we did after 9/11, America stands at a major crossroads. After the World Trade Center fell, we had the goodwill of the entire world on our side, and we completely squandered it. There was a brief moment just before the Iraq war when the UN inspectors were saying they needed more time to determine if Iraq had WMD, but instead, we invaded the country before they could complete their work, and of course found no WMD. At that moment, we had the opportunity to empower the UN to do its job of peacekeeping and insuring justice between nations, just like Washington does between all the different states in America. Now, it seems (one would hope) that our new President will continue to speak out on human rights, but I am also proud so far that he is not using US military power. There are many Americans right now who are wondering why Obama is not doing more - many of these are the same people who criticized Bush for invading Iraq. Though it was a proven lie, the justification for the Iraq War was the same as the current justification for wanting Obama to do more - human rights. We must never use military might or violence to achieve the ends of human rights. Not only that, but, as the BBC points out, it would actually be harmful to the protesters for Obama to do more than he's doing. Here's a quotation from their article:

But the BBC's Jon Donnison in Washington says the president is treading a fine line - he does not want to be seen to be interfering, which could stir up anti-American sentiment within Iran and work against the protesters.

As I was thinking about this tonight (and realizing that it's 20 years to the month after the Tiananmen Square Massacre), I finally got around to watching Obama's speech in Cairo. It was wonderful, and worth watching, so I've included it below. Here's a short paragraph, but you really should watch the whole speech.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

I've heard this type of thing before, in John Donne's Meditation 17.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

It's pretty amazing to be able to watch all this develop in the present moment on Twitter, but I think there's something to be said for the old style of journalism too - the kind that verified its facts before spreading them. Fox News and CNN are pretty much using only Twitter and Facebook as their sources, which is basically just relying on gossip. We have to be careful before we rush to action, careful about mob mentality, careful not to sacrifice our principles when we become outraged at violations of human rights. That is what led us into Iraq, and so many other atrocities throughout history. Obama is right to proceed slowly and carefully. It's what we elected him to do.

I've tried not to get my hopes up since we've stood at this same crossroads so many times before. The beginning of the Iraq War was pretty much the last blow to my optimism about this. But although it's more cautious this time, I can feel that hope starting to build again. Maybe this time we'll choose the right path...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Google Bookshelf

Ok - so this is amazing. With Google Books, you can now upload the books that you have by their ISBN, which you can either enter by hand on a keyboard, or with a barcode scanner. I have a T-Mobile G1, which I was able to use to scan, and I'll be the iPhone would be able to do this too. Without a scanner, you can just type the numbers directly into the import feature. All the details are at this link, including this video which will walk you through everything you need.

The real kicker, though, which they mention at the end of the video, is that not only can you use your computer to search the titles of all your books, but because it's Google Books, you can type in any word that would be IN any of your books! If you are wondering where that quotation came from, and are just not sure which of your books has it, search your books online, and it will lead you right to the book, and in many cases, will actually show you the page number of what you're looking for. Pretty amazing!

Monday, May 11, 2009


These guys are unbelievable.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Very Own Mahabharata

I'm teaching the Mahabharata in my mythology class now, and am amazed at how often it reads like the newspaper. Here's a review of a new book by Reza Aslan about a Cosmic War. Aslan differentiates between a global war, like the two world wars we have had, and a Cosmic War, which is described like this:
"A cosmic war," Reza Aslan writes, "is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on Earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens." Earthly wars are fought with weapons. Cosmic wars are won or lost with jihads, occupations, and forcible conversions. "There can be no compromise in a cosmic war. There can be no negotiation, no settlement, no surrender."

Sound familiar?

Apparently, the book doesn't offer a way to win a cosmic war, but does offer ways to make it more manageable. Its focus is primarily on Islam and Christianity. But with North Korea testing its missile range by shooting into the Pacific, it's obviously not limited just to those two religions.

The book also has a battle between Arjuna and Aswatthaman that sounds exactly like the last days of the cold war. Arjuna and Aswatthaman have both released weapons into the air - weapons which have the power to destroy the entire universe, but which counteract each other through their intentions - and Krishna and Vyasa try to talk them down from it. Here's the passage at length:

[Krishna said,] "Arjuna, withdraw it."

"I will," said Arjuna. Majesty, it is harder by ten million times to call back that weapon once released, and at the slightest error Arjuna and all there would have died, and Earth become a desert with no life for seven thousand years. But he did it; then weak and sick he collapsed to his knees gasping for breath.

Vyasa sat before Aswatthaman and said, "Bring it down. You will not be harmed. I protect you."

Slowly Aswatthaman's fireball turned yellow, then orange. The flames flickered and smoked. Aswatthaman perspired and said, "I cannot."

"Your heart must be at peace and not burning," said Vyasa. "You are afraid of Bhima. He lied to your father. But he cannot move. You have my protection and Arjuna's weapon is gone."

"Alright." The fire was only half as large, and dim. "Because I trust Arjuna," said Aswatthaman," I kill my fear. Because I trust you, I am not sad. Because Arjuna did not wish for my death, I let my anger go."

Like a torch in the daylight the pale flames were still there. "But I must have revenge."

Vyasa sighed. "Stop your sadness, kill revenge himself. Find that cunning ugly man who holds you tight as iron chains, aim true at him where he is hidden."

"I have no other purpose," said Aswatthaman. The fireball burst into bits in midair and was gone.
Vyasa is certainly speaking now (through Aslan, as well as others), but we will need to sharpen our hearing. As Vyasa says in another context, "Understand me; do not only agree."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Global Spirit

This new show looks interesting. The first episode will have Karen Armstrong and Robert Thurman. You can watch the episodes online.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wild Things

Really hoping this will be good. Hard to tell from this trailer.

Dark Morals

An intriguing article on Dark Morals, which are equated to Dark Matter.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

David Plotz

A review of David Plotz's book that he made from his Blogging the Bible - a wonderful and illuminating read.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mythology in the News

I teach a class on World Mythology at school, and so I naturally look for news items that correspond to what we study. Usually, they're not too difficult to find, but for some reason, this week has been even more obvious than usual. There have been three more or less astonishing events that are worth sharing here.

First, there was the amazing and bizarre story of the soldier who dressed up as the Joker from Batman - makeup and all - and had a standoff with police up on Skyline Drive in Virginia. He had been in trouble before for wearing the costume and attacking his roommate with a knife and stun gun. After a car chase, he ended up trying to shoot himself with a shotgun, but after he refused to put the weapon down, he was shot and killed by the police. More details are in the article, and we'll hear more as the investigation continues.

Then, there was the case in Texas of the Fight Club for severely mentally disabled students in Corpus Christi. Apparently, it was set up by the workers in the school, and they took videos on their cell phones, which is how the police found out about it.

And then there was the man who was apparently trying to kill himself by jumping off Niagara Falls naked, and surviving, and then spending 45 minutes in the freezing waters, trying not to be saved by rescuers. They had to use a helicopter's rotors to blow him back toward shore. You've got to wonder what story lurks behind this, and what he's running from. The whole thing sounds like the story of Jonah to me.

These stories say two things to me. First, as my Mythology students will understand, this is evidence that we are living in the Wasteland. When people lose grasp of their place in the universe, there is a need for extreme action, and these poor souls are desperate to find meaning in any way they can. The Joker is meant as an example of what happens when a fictional society's laws don't speak to a troubled but gifted individual, who then tries to expose that society's hypocrisy and annihilate any semblance of what he feels to be a false sense of righteousness. However, because our society also doesn't speak effectively to those who are troubled, the Joker becomes a philosopher to be followed and even emulated.

As Joseph Campbell has noted, when we do not have a functioning mythology to explain our existence effectively, we reach for the closest and easiest way to make sense of it, even if that way is dangerous and counter-productive. And in doing this, we resort to all sorts of bizarre and nonsensical behaviors to force meaning on the world, since we don't believe we are able to find it.

Second, these acts show how completely the symbols of our current mythology have been misunderstood. They have been concretized, so that the symbols lose their meaning in a recreation of the act itself, with only the outer shell of its meaning still alive. These three stories are all responding to a very real need, but because the people have not had any guidance about how to deal with these needs, they respond in unhealthy ways. It doesn't have to be so difficult, or so tragic.

Monday, March 2, 2009


A few pictures of the amazing snowstorm we got last night. Time to go Wandering for a bit...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recycled Breath

This is amazing. An airport is going to gather fuel from recycled carbon from the breath of passengers.  It's amazing what's possible when we find the willpower to achieve it.

Your Breath Could Be Recycled into Fuel

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Milgram's 08

This is astonishing. If you don't know about Milgram's experiment, you should read about it. Peter Gabriel wrote a song about it, called "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)," and here's a video someone made for it. It gives a pretty good sense of the original experiment in an artistic form.

Well, it turns out they have done the experiment again, and the results are the same! Here's the article from the NY Times. I guess given what happened at Abu Ghraib, I should be as surprised as I am. Perhaps this is a part of human nature we will never really overcome.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I just discovered this guy from a recommendation from a former student. He is pretty great. This video sort of captures what I find good about him. You can check out his site at