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Diary of a Map Geek January 3, 2010

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I was born in California and raised in transit. In my parents’ fifty years of marriage, they have resided in forty different places in a half-dozen states and nations. My father is a restless man. He gives the term “blind ambition” new meaning: he is quite literally blind, and seems charged with a deep, innate pride. He lost most of his eyesight at age three, and then lost his eyes at age twenty. He doesn’t regret being blind, perhaps because he has achieved a great deal in his life that he might not have achieved had he been sighted. He has seen success after success as a chiropractor. As a wrestler from Mount Kisco, New York, he was once crowned state champion. They called him “King Kong of Kisco.” Blindness seemed to give him better body-awareness, and it sometimes distracted his opponents, though it was not quite enough to stop the national champ from pinning him at the national tournament in San Francisco.

My mother has also leapt some hurdles. A child of a Dust Bowl farmer, she fell victim to rickets (malnutrition) as a child, and grand mal seizures as an adult. Her tremendous will power has helped her to stabilize her blood sugar metabolism and avoid the seizures that once vexed her. Though she was timid and bereft of self-esteem as a young adult, she has since blossomed and shown herself to be a natural businesswoman with a particular knack for accounting. She and my father appear to have been made for each other, though she has never found a cure for his wanderlust.

Just after my first birthday, my family moved from south-central Los Angeles to Frogmore—a Gullah village on an island off the South Carolina coast, where my parents once attended a meeting of Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). After Frogmore, we returned to California, and bounced around Santa Maria for several years. Then we returned to South Carolina, where my parents bought what had once been a boys’ home in a hamlet named Jericho. They’d planned to make the three-story hotel-of-sorts into a regional religious center, but the old building was a maintenance nightmare, and only served to impoverish them. Long before my parents ever managed to sell their “Hotel Jericho,” we moved across the low country into a small trackside house. There was no hope there to make a living, so we moved to the edge of a black neighborhood in nearby Walterboro, where I happened to attend a small Catholic school where I was the only non-black student. After that, we moved up near Greenville. A year later, nearly penniless, we returned to California and moved into a mobile home on the Mojave Desert near Lancaster, then moved to Hanford in the San Joaquin Valley, where business was always good. We did so well in Hanford that we moved to South Africa. That didn’t work out, so we returned to California and pitched our tents in Red Bluff. Next, we returned to South Carolina, and bought a house in Lancaster—our second hometown by that name. We soon went broke again and returned to California. We settled in Tulare, again in the San Joaquin Valley, and business was good—so good, in fact, that we returned to South Africa—well, almost: on the way to Africa, my little brother and I got jobs as security guards in Israel, but our parents went ahead and moved to Africa, and not for the last time, I might add.

Most of that moving was done either for missionary purposes or to finance further missionary work. All the motion left me a bit dizzy and not particularly rich in friends, but it was a valuable experience. It was an ongoing lesson in faith and financing, to say nothing of restlessness and alienation! It has informed my personal view of the world, which has always involved maps.

The maps began as the wallpaper of my childhood. There were the maps we used when moving across county, state, and country. There were the maps used to plan moves that we never made—Belize, British Columbia, etc. There were the maps used to plan missionary campaigns throughout the countryside. At age twelve, I began to explore the countryside on my own, with the help of a county map. Then I discovered the trove of maps at my local library and the libraries of the cities that we visited. I wrote chambers of commerce everywhere, and was rewarded with more maps. Maps became my personal window into the world.

Maps present the world in a form that is at once abstraction and art. They showed me the world in a way that text and photos never could. They facilitate both exploration and imagination. It is in this capacity that maps introduced me to the Sierra Nevada. I can still see in my memory the images of maps that inspired my excursions into those mountains during my high school years.

What I learned from the Sierra Nevada became part of me. With its giant sequoias, granite domes, golden trout, caverns, canyons, wildflowers and wildfires, dizzying heights, blue lakes, waterfalls, alpenglow and starry nights, the Sierra Nevada instilled in me a passion for nature and the natural sciences. The Sierra introduced me to earth science and astronomy, and by association, taught me to enjoy physics and mathematics. More recently, the Sierra has inspired me to study geophysics and plate tectonics, to understand the mechanisms that have forged the Sierra, California, and our planet. From what I have read, it seems that earth science and planetary science are in the midst of a golden, revolutionary age, and I’m off to join the revolution.

Pareidolia November 18, 2009

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Supernova Remnant N 63A Menagerie

Supernova Remnant N 63A Menagerie

I just thought I’d try putting one of my favorite Hubble images at the head of this blog. Seems apropos as good pareidolia.

Looks like some kind of infernal fish

… or is it just me?

Beware Anonymous Cheques! October 28, 2009

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… and keep your credit cards close to your vest!

… and Burn in Hell, Budget!

Keep your credit cards close to your vest!

Keep your credit cards close to your vest!

I just got a cheque in the mail for $9.95 to be paid to me. It’s a very official, professional-looking cheque, addressed to “California Resident”, and issued from “California Processing Center”. I was set to cash the damned thing, when my wife Carolyn — bless her observant soul — pointed out to me that I was being scammed. She showed me the small print on the back of the cheque:

By cashing this check I agree to a thirty-day trial offer in Just for Me. I understand that the $13.99 monthly fee will be automatically billed to the card I have on file at Budget unless I cancel my membership by calling 1-877-658-9097 before the end of the trial period …

From another blogger who nearly got suckered by the same scam: Beware: Budget Car Rental Autovantage $10 Check Scam

The Hexad of Wisdom August 13, 2009

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In Zoroastrianism, the benevolent Lord Wisdom interacts with his creation through six gods—or principles—of his making. These can be thought of as the pillars of Zoroastrianism:

  1. Good Thinking. “Good” is regarded in two senses: both as beneficial and as effective. Thus wisdom and goodwill are implied. This “good thinking” is the means by which men are advised by Lord Wisdom.

  2. Truth. This is Asha, the most valued principle in Zoroastrianism. Asha is symbolized by fire, probably for fire’s utility in illumination, prehistoric trials by ordeal, and in purifying metals. Asha is generally translated as “righteousness”, but seeing as Asha is generally juxtaposed against “the Lie” in the earliest sources, it probably originates more in truth rather than in obedience to a moral code.

  3. Reform. This is often described as “desirable kingdom,” indicating the core objective of Zoroastrianism: world reform. This notion might also be expressed more generally as “order,” which is how Plutarch interpreted it. Thinking of it as order, we can easily see why this principle is closely associated with the heavens. Seeing it this way, “reform” can be depicted as bringing the orderliness of the heavens down to earth, hence the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, or as my Bahá’í friends say, “the New Order” or “World Order.” Plutarch describes this Zoroastrian “kingdom” as follows:

    Then shall the earth become a level plain, and there shall be one manner of life and one form of government for a blessed people who shall all speak one tongue.

    I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to interpret “a level plain” politically, rather than physically. Additionally, the principle of world reform need not entail notions of theocratic utopias. The point, I think, is to make a project of ridding the world of suffering.

  4. Devotion. This is generally seen in a conventional religious sense, but when we consider that this god of devotion often doubles as a Mother Earth figure, we can see that “devotion” in this usage can be seen as a loving commitment to the welfare of the world.

  5. Health. Symbolized by water. Coupled with #6 (see below). Sometimes cast as wholeness.

  6. Life. Symbolized by vegetation. Generally specified as immortality or long life. Along with #5, this is often presented as a reward to the righteous. I prefer to think of health and life as values. This is not far-fetched, considering the emphasis placed upon life in Zoroastrianism. Life is, in fact, often equated with goodness itself, opposed to the evil of death. Once the virtue of life is established, the virtue of health can hardly be doubted, but health is also a virtue of its own, for life has significantly less virtue when overcome with illness.

Mimi July 23, 2009

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Our daughter wants access to photos of Mimi from her summer camp; an excellent excuse to cease neglecting this blog …

Mimi's Humane Society Photo

Mimi's Humane Society Photo

Back on June 17, just three days before Mom’s heart attack, we adopted this darling gal from Humane Society Silicon Valley. She had lost her home when her family of seven years had moved—another foreclosure? She had spent three months in foster care, with a student at Palmer College of Chiropractic here in San Jose, who did a great job of bringing her weight down, which was particularly important for her, as she suffers from bilateral hip dysplasia.

Mimi Upon Her Throne

Mimi Upon Her Throne

Mimi is definitely pure mutt, a noble mix of Australian shepherd, maybe blue heeler, and Labrador retriever. She seems to have got her dense, black coat, webbed feet, and love of water from her Labrador pedigree. She also seems to have a rather soft (gentle) mouth. When she first entered our back yard, she plopped right into our little fish pond, which has not been the same since.

Uvas Falls

Uvas Falls


She loves to prance, wade, and swim in Uvas Creek. She even jumped from a cascade down into one of the creek’s little pools.

Mimi is our first mammalian family pet. I’ve cared for strays before, and even had strays spayed and put down, but never “owned” either a dog or cat. I’ve always wanted a dog. I like cats, but I love dogs, which is precisely the reason why I’ve avoided ownership, knowing that dogs in particular need activity, attention, and maintenance.

Mimi is no exception. In fact she’s downright bossy when it comes to getting her walk, but she’s worth it. She’s pulling her weight. Besides infusing our lives with affection, play, and loyalty, she’s helping one of us overcome her acute fear of dogs, and teaching our rambunctious little human pup how to be a little more gentle!

A Letter from Duska April 3, 2009

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Following is a letter that my sister Duska wrote me from Angleton, Texas, back when I was a 15 year old heavy metal fan in Tulare, California. I doubt that I had become a Rush fanatic yet. This was during my rebellion against Top 40 Ad Nauseam, just before Moving Pictures was released. There is an implication that I liked the band KISS in this letter. My response to the allegation is as follows: No FREAKIN Way!!

Duska and Tim (and daughter Alanna) had just got their precious stork delivery, Nicki, only seven weeks before.


2/3/81

Dear Danny,

Got your letter today, so I better write back
First tell Dad, Mom & everybody, that Alanna was delighted with the books and tape. She is using “The Magic Garden” for a book Report at school.
Guess I’ll switch to a pen. And the baby book is Really nice.
I am proud of all your A’s Keep it up!!
I love your list of bands.
I don’t know about our favorites but I’ll make you a semi-list-
of the bands whose songs we do (By the way I’ve started to sing again – I mean I’m practicing with the band)

ANYWAY THE LIST —–
AC/DC – “You Shook Me” “Highway to H—” (Glen Sings)
Judas Priest – Living After Midnight I Sing
Pat Benetar – “Hell is for Children” “You’e out of Touch” (Me)
Blondie – “One Way or Another” (Me)
Ted Nugent – “Storm Troopers”, “Cat Scratch Fever” (Tim sings)
ZZ Top – “Francene” (Tim) “Automobile” (Tim)
Black Sabbath – “Neon Knights” (Me)
Sue Saad & the Next – “Prisoner” Me

Well that is part of our list. We listen to almost all the bands you mentioned – and have lots of the albums – EXCEPT KISS – Don’t care for them much. But before our last bass player quit we did “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made For Loving You”
Tim is a big RUSH fan.
The[y] are trying to make me one of the only “Heavy Metal Chick Singers” around. It is hard on the old throat.
I like to sing “blues” and I’m trying to work more in.
Don’t worry about not having a cool guitar. Everybody starts somewhere.
Too bad you’re not here so Tim could give you lessons. He’s good.

If you don’t let mom read this tell her Nicki is fine. And her name is spelled Nichole. Easy to mispell.
I got the “CASE” of vitamins. MY GOODNESS!!! I’ll become addicted. I smell like Vitamin B!!
We are going to get GOOD pictures of Nicki taken tomarrow. She [is] so cute, talks and slobbers all the time. And she only messes her pants when we go somewhere – (Doesn’t want to stink up the house)
Alanna is fine too.
Got to go now.

Love,
Duska

P.S. What’s Allen’s address?

Gateway February 12, 2009

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When I was a young Redbirds fan, bouncing from coast to coast, I learned that I could pick up KMOX, Jack Buck, and Mike Shannon just about anywhere at night, though never in California.


When once I was a child in the west I was looking east,
and when a child in the east I looked west,
ever aiming through that Gateway;

and I again was on my road west
when Lady and I were again children,
basking in the wonders of commerce and truth and trivia
in fashion magazines and such vivid things,

in a moment without motion,

I looked up to feel a warm breeze from the eastern ocean,
but there was time passing in a vision

of a Gateway
rising on the horizon
over the River I could never cross completely

and in the Gateway beckoned a City
and Lady greeted the City—warmly
as though he were expected
as though they were old friends
and I followed her through the Gateway
and I cannot cross that River
and she sat in the lap of the City
she kissed the City
and before my eyes she became the City
and those eyes last saw her in the Gateway
and I continued my steps west
and I thought how strange that City had always been so friendly
how the City and I had always been such friends
but now she is the City and I cannot recognize him

And years from home I am touring Topeka
Columbia Lawrence Independence
pre dawn hours thinking on the shape of things
side walks car lots front yards thinking on the shape of things
not half sleeping in the park dodging cops and moon and
dreams that she is gazing at the sun
setting on the Pacific
that she is squinting for my silhouette on the horizon
and I am not in California
I need to see the sunrise

and her Gateway

and think upon the shape of things.

phone, revisited. February 11, 2009

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phone (fon) Informaln. A telephone.
v. phoned, phoning. To call or transmit by
telephone.

Please accept my apology
for having stooped so low,
resorting to quotations.
Take heart: I don’t cite authority lightly,
but that phenomenon that’s femi-nine—
ambiguity demands one be specific
with one’s sources of information.

I’m sure it’s nothing there’s just a
minor misalignment between the words
and their intention.

Surely it’s a simple matter of definition.

Rest assured, no sooner had she spoken it was written,
and mapped to every match in Webster’s latest
collegiate edition.

Here be where the visitors
seek advisement in these affairs,
among the natives who—
having heard a word more often—
might be a little more familiar
with words whose sounds are similar,
having only sound in common.

Asha and Commerce January 9, 2009

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It’s easy to see the prominent role of moral dualism in Zoroastrianism. It is not always quite so obvious what the characteristics of Good and Evil are considered to be. Ultimately, I think the best answer is that Good and Evil have no characteristics. To associate characteristics with these principles is equivalent to giving names to them, and to name Good and Evil is the essence of idolatry. Of course, Zoroastrianism does offer names for Good and Evil. The question is, how can Good and Evil be associated with actual phenomena? Though we ought to take care in making such a judgment, I think it safe to say that drawing a moral demarcation between general principles is not quite so hazardous as drawing such demarcations between men.

There are two readily recognizable boundaries between Good and Evil in traditional Zoroastrianism:

  • between the Truth and the Lie (Asha and Druj)
  • between life and death

That is to say, as far as particular values are concerned, Zoroastrianism values truth and life above all else.

I’ve been thinking about the Zoroastrian idea of truth, which is called “Asha”, the cousin of the Hindu principle Rta. Asha and Rta both represent universal order, but Asha carries a strong moral connotation. It connotes societal order that results from honesty in human relations. It is such honesty that is the fabric of human commerce, and I am using the broadest definition of “commerce,” including not only the exchange of goods and services, but also intellectual commerce, social commerce, cultural commerce, and even spiritual commerce. Without honesty and trustworthiness, commerce cannot thrive and society loses its very fabric. Hence it can be seen that the two named characteristics of Good and Evil in Zoroastrianism—Asha and Druj—exhibit the emphasis that Zoroastrianism places on human relations, i.e., commerce.

In a nutshell, to value Asha is to value human society. In recent years, we have repeatedly witnessed the damage that a lack of honesty and trust can do to an economy, but that is only a particular instance of a general principle of human commerce, to say nothing of the internal, psychological society of the individual.

Reconstructing Zarathustra January 8, 2009

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I am not as interested in Zarathustra the actual prehistoric man, if he ever existed, as much as I am interested in the name Zarathustra as a label for—or a personification of—the core ideas of Zoroastrianism.

For me, the essence of Zoroastrianism is the existentialist basis of cosmic dualism: the value-laden character of phenomena, or perception. As we’ve discussed here before, Plutarch considered this aspect of Zoroastrianism to be the essence of Zoroastrianism, though of course he did not discuss the idea in existentialist terms. Plutarch identified an essential correspondence between Zoroastrian cosmic dualism and the dialectic of Heraclitus. For Plutarch, all things contain a mixture of good and evil, hence existence is characteristically value-laden.

How might we imagine such an idea might be personified?

We have inherited a fairly rich body of Zoroastrian legend, archaeology, and philology from which we might assemble a myth that is both plausible and true to the meaning of Zoroastrianism.

We can certainly imagine Zoroaster as the legendary prophet who retreated to the mountains, but it seems untrue to the myth to see Zoroaster as a man who began as a prophet. What brought the man to the mountains before his epiphany—his revelation?

I’m inclined to envision the young Zoroaster as a man of some status. I do not dare suggest that a barefoot bronze age serf somehow pulled himself up by his bootlaces. Was he a priest? I think he would have had to have been, given the apparent stratification of ancient Iranian society, but the key is that we don’t necessarily need to envision him as a fully-employed priest. Perhaps he was a disillusioned son of a priest who found work as a herdsman. Perhaps seeing him as a merchant would work even better.

The marketplace is intimately tied to common views of morality that consider actions (AKA sacrifices) to be payments made toward some form of compensation, however postponed. The compensation might be delivered by a government, a god, or a force such as karma. There is a single rule at work, and Zarathushtra is no exception to it. The difference with Zarathushtra is that this celestial justice can be seen as serving a higher principle that is intrinsic and fundamental to our personal experience: the Good. The fact that Zoroastrianism makes the salvation of existence itself the priority reinforces this point. Other principles such as karma may imply the existence of a higher Good, but only Zoroastrianism can be seen as making the relationship explicit. When the Good is only implicit, it can be casually merged with notions of celestial power, which has the effect of reducing the Good to a partner—or worse, a servant—of Power.

The idea, where Zoroastrianism is concerned, is that an economy of moral commerce could be conceived. It would be imagined that this economy might trigger a “renewal of existence”. The challenge would be to motivate people to engage in this exchange of “goods.”

Perhaps this mythical moral capitalist—our prehistoric Adam Smith—might have first found work as a herdsman, and then found something to trade. That commodity could lead him to think about value and exchange. One commonly accepted translation of his name “yellow camel” may even hint that he may have been a traveling merchant. Alternatively, he could have partnered with a merchant. A partnership between a merchant and a priest could be the ideal birth of Zoroastrianism.

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