elemental change

6 signs that aliens might exist

With so many stars in the universe, science suggests we may not be alone:


“Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute.”



December 11, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pope cautions against blurring lines of religious differences

By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI praised collaboration with other faiths in pursuit of common social goals but cautioned against dialogue that could lead to blurring of religious differences.

Yes of course—all the religions came from the same God to the same human race but at different times of history, so of course we should not blur the lines of when in history they each came!  Would you want to blur the lines between third grade and sixth grade? smile Thank you for reminding us of this difference!

Posted by Shastri at 2:36 pm


December 11, 2008 Posted by | Global issues | 3 Comments

The comments on the original site are amazing!

And now for a world government

By Gideon Rachman

Published: December 8 2008 19:13 | Last updated: December 8 2008 19:13

 I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.

A “world government” would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.

So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.

First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a “global war on terror”.

Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: “For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible.” Mr Blainey foresees an attempt to form a world government at some point in the next two centuries, which is an unusually long time horizon for the average newspaper column.

But – the third point – a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

Barack Obama, America’s president-in-waiting, does not share the Bush administration’s disdain for international agreements and treaties. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he argued that: “When the world’s sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these are rules worth following.” The importance that Mr Obama attaches to the UN is shown by the fact that he has appointed Susan Rice, one of his closest aides, as America’s ambassador to the UN, and given her a seat in the cabinet.

A taste of the ideas doing the rounds in Obama circles is offered by a recent report from the Managing Global Insecurity project, whose small US advisory group includes John Podesta, the man heading Mr Obama’s transition team and Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution, from which Ms Rice has just emerged.

The MGI report argues for the creation of a UN high commissioner for counter-terrorist activity, a legally binding climate-change agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN and the creation of a 50,000-strong UN peacekeeping force. Once countries had pledged troops to this reserve army, the UN would have first call upon them.

These are the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland. Aware of the political sensitivity of its ideas, the MGI report opts for soothing language. It emphasises the need for American leadership and uses the term, “responsible sovereignty” – when calling for international co-operation – rather than the more radical-sounding phrase favoured in Europe, “shared sovereignty”. It also talks about “global governance” rather than world government.

But some European thinkers think that they recognise what is going on. Jacques Attali, an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, argues that: “Global governance is just a euphemism for global government.” As far as he is concerned, some form of global government cannot come too soon. Mr Attali believes that the “core of the international financial crisis is that we have global financial markets and no global rule of law”.

So, it seems, everything is in place. For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government.

But let us not get carried away. While it seems feasible that some sort of world government might emerge over the next century, any push for “global governance” in the here and now will be a painful, slow process.

There are good and bad reasons for this. The bad reason is a lack of will and determination on the part of national, political leaders who – while they might like to talk about “a planet in peril” – are ultimately still much more focused on their next election, at home.

But this “problem” also hints at a more welcome reason why making progress on global governance will be slow sledding. Even in the EU – the heartland of law-based international government – the idea remains unpopular. The EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in referendums, when plans for “ever closer union” have been referred to the voters. In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic.

The world’s most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen’s political identity remains stubbornly local. Until somebody cracks this problem, that plan for world government may have to stay locked away in a safe at the UN.



December 11, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Love in the Age of [Overt] Racism

U1558136Louis Gregory

Imagine you were in love with someone from another race. Now imagine that you were not permitted to marry that person because the laws of your land, the United States in this case, did not allow it. Mildred Jeter and Thomas Loving lived in Virginia and in 1958 when they wanted to marry, there was a state law on the books prohibiting miscegenation:

“If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony.”

Mildred and Thomas went to Washington D.C. to get married and returned home. In the middle of the night they were arrested and their one-year sentence was suspended pending their agreeing to leave Virginia and not return for 25 years. In his decision, the judge wrote:

“Almighty God … did not intend for the races to mix”

The aptly-named Lovings appealed the decision and the case eventually reached the US Supreme Court where all miscegenation state laws were declared null and void. Thomas died in a car crash in the late-seventies and Mildred died this past Sunday but their legacy lives on.

I’m reminded of the the story of Louis Gregory, a prominent African-American Baha’i who married Louisa Mathew, a British-born, Cambridge-educated Bahá’í in 1912. Louis spent his life lecturing on the Bahá’í principle of the equality of the races. He gave up his law and real estate practice in the pursuit of racial unity. When he was allowed to he would travel with his wife but in those days it was often illegal for Louis and Louisa to travel together so he often went alone.

Today the idea of racial equality is not a generally argued against-not publicly anyway. But to claim that racism does not still infect American society, and many others around the world, is to accept a failure which over time threatens the very values this country was founded upon:

“It is evident that both Black and White Americans in large numbers are feeling deeply disappointed and frustrated by what each group perceives to be a failure of the efforts in recent decades at effecting progress in the relations between the races. To rationalize this failure, both have been reacting by retreating to the more familiar ground of racial separation. As the problems with crime and drug addiction mount, the tendency is to use the seeming intractability of these problems as a measure of the failure of years of struggle on the part of both to overcome the barriers of centuries. Formidable as is the challenge yet to be met, can it fairly said that no significant progress has taken place since the days of the sit-ins at lunch counters across the South?”

The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue

I am moved by the courage of both the Loving’s and the Gregory’s. May we draw inspiration from their example and work together towards the day when “[t]he diversity in the human family [will be] the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord.”

The Wizard from the album “Fur And Gold” by Bat For Lashes

May 7, 2008 Posted by | Global issues | 2 Comments

Heaven or Las Vegas – Part II

So, back to Sin City. I promise this is the last posting with this particular geographic focus.

Buildings in Vegas

Another thing that always strikes me in Las Vegas is how much effort has been put into the grand architecture and how unmoving it all actually is. Sometimes I imagine it is because much of them are fake reproductions other things – and of course – no one likes a fake – even if it is kind of nice. The Italian semiologist and author Umberto Eco (In the Name of the Rose) had a lot to say on these created realities in his classic Travels in Hyperreality. I won’t get that deep here. Rather, let me just drag out a couple more of my horrible picture phone shots of the Fake Eiffel Tower and the Belagio Fountain thing (to be fair the Belagio Fountain thing actually IS kind of cool…). I took these a couple of weeks ago.

This is a fake Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel for you Franco-phone types) Hotel Belagio Fountain Show Thing

Form and Spirit

I think the uninspiring nature of these edifices also has something to do with the concept of form and spirit. Generally form and spirit need to come together for something to be spectacular – these qualities are inextricably linked. When one stands before Niagra Falls – there is something that moves you – the form is breathtaking white water – the spirit is the sheer power of the natural world. The real Eiffel Tower, for example, is animated by it’s history as a World Exposition project and a tribute to the French Revolution. Fake Eiffel Tower is a casino. More on that later.

Religion and Architecture

Detail of Cologne Cathedral

I have always been sort of into the architecture of Catholic Churches around the world. When I was about 10 years old I was lucky enough to travel throughout Italy with my family- and always stood in wonder that people could conceive of and build these awesome structures – esp given the construction technology of the time. This interest started in Venice and took me through Rome and Naples etc. Once I grew older I took side trips in places like Romania, Prague, France and Germany to check out churches at every chance. The famous Gothic Church in Milan and the Cologne Cathedral of Germany are amongst the most astounding things I’ve ever seen.

The Catholic Church does not corner the market on remarkable architecture inspired by religion. The Taj Mahal, the Pryamids, Machu Pichu, Dome of the Rock – pretty much any amazing old structure one can think of was most likely inspired by religion. There is a reason for this.

Aesthetics and Change

The architects of these sacred spaces understood their ability to move people and to effect change in them. When one enters a really large church with religious symbols and semiotic messages all around – you cannot help but feel small – and that there is a greater power at work in the world. The ability of churches to move people is just one example of the power of aesthetics. Music, art, film – these all hold in their posession the ability to affect change in us. For example if you watch the Last King of Scotland and Hotel Rwanda in a sitting – your perception of Africa will be forever changed. You might be moved to travel there. You might be moved to start a charity for refugees. Something will change in your mind and possibly in your actions.

Aeshetics and Inspiration

I think the change they are going for in the large churches, mosques and temples is inspirational/transformative change. Deepening of Faith. Willingness to give yourself over to something larger. Etc. And I am sure it generally worked. Another classic example of this sort of motivation are the military bands that used to accompany soldiers into battle. How else do you get otherwise smart folks to march to their demise – inspire them along the way. I actually never got this concept until I started working out to Rage Against the Machine and Paul Van Dyk and my workouts became much more intense. Beats loungey house hands down.

Heaven or Las Vegas?

The casino owners/developers in Las Vegas understand the change aesthetics can create just as well as the builders of the great Gothic churches of the 1400s. The buildings are a siren calling you to part with your money for $9 vodkas and $1,000 bets. Put people in lavish surroundings and they might even start to feel wealthy. Why not double down one more time ? Make people feel rich and they will act like it (i.e. spend at will). That is the secret to the Wynn and all the rest.

And it seems to be working. I was astounded to see Wynn following up his triumph of a couple of years ago with a new hotel called Encore – it’s almost complete. These buildings don’t build themselves – somewhere in here is a powerful business model. And a good part of it is aesthetics – something Vegas does well.

But when I stand back from the buildings – I’m still not excited, and something feels fishy – they don’t move me. That’s probably a good thing because if they did – I’d most likely be doubling down…

I hope that one of the brothers here will take up this theme in some new direction – as there much more to explore and this post has gone on long enough. Maybe in the area of music?

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Aesthetics, Design, Religion | , , | Leave a comment

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall …

This is a follow-on from the idea about the Forces of Light and Darkness, and I have to give major credit to my friend Mace Rosen for this insight … thank you Mace for your random thoughts …

Basically, when you make a list of “constructive forces” in society and “destructive forces”, it is quite astonishing to see that maybe 90% or even more of the time, constructive forces tend to take a long, long time to do their work, while destructive forces often operate in a much shorter timeframe.  One sobering thought along these lines is that it takes 20 years of endless effort to raise a child to adulthood, and an unfortunate bullet fired in a fraction of a second to end those 20 years of work.  You can think of many more analogies, including our dear friend Humpty Dumpty cheerfully sitting on the wall above.

So this is perhaps another reason why, in relation to the question Sholeh posed, it can be hard to remain optimistic in times when a lot of forces are operating in both directions, because it seems you have the law of time working against you when you try to align with the forces of progress.  With Humpty falling off the wall so often, and all the kings horses and all the kings men so stressed out trying to put his poor IKEA made parts back together again, its hard to maintain that cheerful Humpty smile.   Unless Humpty was hard-boiled, maybe that is the secret.


April 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Neanderthal man speaks after 30,000 years

If you ever wondered if the human race has made progress in 30,000 years or not, try listening to the sound of Neanderthal man that has just been reconstructed:


Its interesting what a factor “speech” and “language” plays in social progress.  It fascinates me that the scriptures of the Bahai Faith mention three specific “signs” for the maturity of the human race, and one of these is that all the people in the world will be able to communicate with each other using the same language (that is everyone would still learn their “mother tongue”, but we would also learn a language that was common to everyone on the planet — either one of the existing languages to be agreed upon, or a new one).  I saw an entire country change by applying this principle — I grew up in Singapore which, a few decades ago, had different races of people speaking 4 different languages.  The government then introduced into all the school systems a policy of teaching children English as a common language for everyone in the country, as well as mandatory education in another of the 3 languages spoken (usually the “mother tongue” of the child).  Anyway, no need to comment on the progress Singapore has made in the past few decades 🙂  I’m sure being able to understand each other was one among many factors but surely an important one.

Now we can only hope that whatever common language the whole human race  may eventually adopt is not as frog sounding as the Neanderthals 🙂

April 17, 2008 Posted by | Global issues, Science | , , | 1 Comment

Heaven or Las Vegas – Part I

While this blog was getting up and running I was in Las Vegas for a week long tech industry event. It made me want to post something Vegas related – as sordid as that sounds. After being in that town for a week I decided that 2 days (when someone else is paying) can be fun, 3 days is too many, and 5 days is intolerable. I digress.

The Jubilee

Of the many outrageous signs and displays I witnessed – one struck me as particularly hilarious. A friend of mine uses the the word Jubilee often when referring to celebretory events. He is riffing on the traditional Biblical definition of the Jubilee which is defined here:

The concept of the Jubilee is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. In the Biblical book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.

The traditional notion of Jubilee illustrated

In humorous contrast, the sign for Jubilee in Las Vegas displays the word juxtaposed with a picture of a woman’s backside. My camera phone does this image no justice – but use your imagination – it’s probably better that it’s blurry:

Vegas Jubilee!?

The description of this spectacle is as follows:

The showgirl is synonymous with Las Vegas and there’s no show in town that glorifies showgirls quite like Jubilee! at Bally’s. It’s obvious from the opening song about “Hundreds of Girls” that this show is going to be all about the statuesque, sequined beauties. While there aren’t quite hundreds of girls in the show, there are about 85 performers — both topless and covered.

Why are you talking about showgirls in Vegas?

The contrast between these two reminded me of a fairly profound concept that was conveyed to me in a class on spiritual philosophy. It starts with the premise that we are spiritual beings – seeking to obtain spiritual attributes or qualities through a material experience. Whether we are aware or not – our soul seeks this growth – and it is the inherit nature of our soul to do so. Sort of like the absolute nature of fire is to burn – it has no choice.

At the same time – all spiritual qualities or elements have their equal and opposite representation in the material world. Sometimes we become confused – and seek these spiritual attributes through their material counterpart. A pithy example would be to seek the spiritual quality of love through promiscuity. Or to seek communion and meditative state though mind altering elements rather than prayer and meditation. The rub of the situation is our soul will seek this growth – whether we are mindful of it or not – so if we are unaware of our own inherit nature for some kind of growth – we will often screw up and seek the wrong experiences.

And Change?

The Jubilee in Vegas sort of reminds me of a bizarro Christian Jubilee. One is the celebration of sin – the other is about God’s forgiveness and pardon for sin. How does this relate to the concept of change which is at the heart of this ongoing discussion? It seems that if one is seeking to alter the most basic building block of change – the human heart – it would be helpful to look into our own lives to discover where our soul is seeking growth in the wrong place. Are we sifting through dust as a shortcut? The way we orient ourselves – spiritual or material – can effect the way we interact with the world around us. And as we interact with the world – we change it. True and lasting change can never be mandated, managed, ordered or administered. It is difficult and messy because it happens slowly – one soul at a time.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Purpose, Religion | , , | 4 Comments

Religious Music

Dawnbreaker Collective Sufjan Stevens
The phrase religious music conjures images of clouds-with-rainbows album covers and reverb-drenched synthesizer pads. Well, at least with me it does. Because of this I’ve often shied away from it, preferring instead the less-overt spiritualism contained in the likes of U2. Sufjan Stevens represents a new type of spirituality in music, one that has at its core an authenticity consistent with the times. What’s sad is that it appears that the commercial viability of authenticity in this arena may have a commercial cost; that’s the perception anyway:

“So Stevens apparently believes the ”Christian artist“ stamp is a deal breaker. Likewise his publicist, who reminded me that ”Sufjan has asked that the topic of religion not be discussed in interviews from this point on.“ (Hmm. Does Kanye West feel the same?) But beyond railing at his own reception, Stevens, a trained oboist, also bemoans the decline of popular music and struggles to mediate the gap he sees between high art and folk.”
– Sylvester, Nick. “Without a Prayer”, The Village Voice, August 8, 2005.

All this pessimism about the state of music that reflects ones spiritual life hasn’t stopped the Dawnbreaker Collective from putting together an eclectic but coherent album which speaks to youth in a musical language they can understand (Arise, 2007). Rather than water the Bahá’í Faith’s message of the promise of world unity, the album brings it to the forefront, combining it top-rate production values that make the message that much more acceptable to those who recognize the modern sounds.

It reminds me of the time I met President Bill Clinton when he visited East Palo Alto. I was standing next to Jamal (last name forgotten) who was sharing the office next to College Track’s. As President Clinton made his way around the room, shaking every hand and introducing himself (“Hi, yes I know, Bill. Nice to meet you.”) he came to Jamal. because of my proximity to the Jamal-Bill meeting I was able to notice that the President gave Jamal what can only be described as a dap shake. You know the one, it starts with a regular handshake and goes through two additional transitions ending in the greeter’s fingers locked at the second metacarpals (how’s that for making something hip less so through description?). The president followed it with: “Hey man, I’m Bill.” Bill Clinton was modifying his delivery based on the recipient, in this case a young adult African American with shoulder-length dreadlocks. This might be interpreted by some as patronizing but on the contrary I believe it showed great cultural sensitivity.

This is all pretty close to home for me as a musician and one who cares deeply about the intersection of faith and the arts. My own explorations have yielded the following rough song which I present for the first time here publicly. Please feel free to use it for your own children’s classes if you find it useful. I offer it under creative Commons licensing. Creative Commons License

We Are Drops 2008, Pedraum, Luc and Sophie Pardehpoosh

Are there other artists you know of that have infused their music with spiritual themes without preaching? Do you have a favorite album that has clouds and rainbows on the cover and I’ve offended you with that earlier comment? Tell me so in the comments.

Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois from the album “Illinoise” by Sufjan Stevens

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, Religion | , , | 4 Comments

The link between belief and behavior (Case Study: global warming)

CO2 is the exhaling breath of the global economy. Changing this will require an unprecedented and united global effort. Which, in turn, will require a higher level of global consciousness. This is the inevitable direction we’re heading, and we should be privileged that our generation has the opportunity to achieve it.

That’s my best summary of the message in Al Gore’s new slideshow. The question of how belief and behavior are linked is a central one for this blog, and we’ll have more to stay on it, and look forward to your comments, in the coming posts. For now, here’s Al:

So how do we go about achieving a new level of global consciousness? In Gore’s 1992 book, he points out various philosophies and Faith movements that could inspire us in this direction, including the Baha’i Faith:

One of the newest of the great universalist religions, Baha’i, founded in 1863 in Persia by Mirza Husayn Ali, warns us not only to properly regard the relationship between humankind and nature but also the one between civilization and the environment. Perhaps because its guiding visions were formed during the period of accelerating industrialism, Baha’i seems to dwell on the spiritual implications of the great transformation to which it bore fresh witness:

“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”

And, again, from the Baha’i sacred writings comes this:“Civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.”

What do you see as the role of religion in addressing climate change or other global issues?

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Global issues, Religion, Science | 1 Comment