Thursday, October 31, 2013


Freud considered Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s great novel, The Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы), to be the greatest novel ever written.  Nietzsche said about it, “Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn.”  Einstein said that Dostoevsky “gives me more than any scientist.”  It happens also to be one of my very favorite books.  I’ll never forget when I read it for the first time thinking that I wanted to identify more with the Karamazov brother Alyosha than with his older brother Ivan. Ivan was the intellectual brother, while his brother Alyosha was a young novice monk looking to religion for answers about meaning in life.  By the end of the novel, I understood what Ivan was saying.  I began to see that science and religion must be reconciled in my thinking, that there was no reasonable alternative to reconciliation and respect.  One without the other couldn’t make complete sense.  I guess I was around nineteen when I first read the novel, and I think back on it as if I actually had been in the little room in Russia lit by a lamp listening from a corner as Ivan and Aliosha talked.  I remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to hear what they said, what Dostoevsky said.

But it was an older monk in the story, Father Zosima, who explained something about love and creation that continues to make clear sense to me.  “Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand,” Father Zosima declares. “Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.” 

The blue morning glory by the church, the butterfly in Balboa Park, and the bird on the melaluka tree outside our house would have delighted Dostoyevsky as they did me today.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It must be autumn somewhere… not here.
There must be a storm with lightening and thunder
and great silver sheets of rain stripping scarlet and gold
from shivering trees somewhere… not here.

I like what Winter does to mountains and rocks and lakes
when all white and gray it surrounds silent naked trees 
somewhere else… 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

North Park Murals 

We human beings are strange creatures.  
Evolutionary theory

Since participating in a lively discussion last Sunday with a bunch of people whose opinions I respect, I’ve been mulling over in my mind some of the troubling inconsistencies between religion and science that have interested me for a long time. In this post I’m not going to review the long list of conflicts between what science reveals about the universe, especially about history of life in the universe, and what religions say about those same subjects.  Mostly, I take an agnostic approach when thinking about the most glaring inconsistencies, but that’s a dodge I’ve decided not to use today. What has bugged me enough to cause me to turn my mind loose around the subject was reading a sentence that contained the words “fecund” and “memes” hooked together in the same sentence.  “The overlapping domains of science, religion, and philosophy should be regarded as virtual rain forests of cross-pollinating ideas — precious reserves of endless fecund memes that are the raw ingredients of consciousness itself in all its diverse manifestations.” James N, Gardner (The Intelligent Universe) goes on to say, “The messy science/religion/philosophy interface should be treasured as an incredibly fruitful cornucopia of creative ideas — a constantly coevolving cultural triple helix of interacting ideas and beliefs that is, by far, the most precious of all the manifold treasures yielded by our history of cultural evolution on Earth.” 

Without permission I am also quoting here the first paragraph of an essay by Susan Blackmore published in the October 2000 issue of  “Scientific American.”  I think I’ll leave it at that for now; but there is obviously much more thinking to do about evolution and theology… evolution and the history of religion, especially of the religion that I know best, Christianity.

Human beings are strange animals.  Although evolutionary theory has brilliantly accounted for the features we share with other creatures— from genetic code that directs the construction of our bodies to the details of how our muscles and neurons work — we still stand out in countless ways.  Our brains are exceptionally large, we alone have truly grammatical language, and we alone compose symphonies, drive cars eat spaghetti with a fork and wonder about the origins of the universe.”  —Susan Blackmore

Monday, October 28, 2013

I can't do better BLOG writing today than was done by my friend John Baker who responded to yesterday's post... so I'm sharing it verbatim...

Read this with interest. It affirms that poverty, the cruelest form of violence in the country and world continues to expand. Your data explains that the grief continues without much happening from the richest country in the world.

I think Jerral we are starting from the wrong place. You know the story of the traveler who got lost out in the country......he saw a farmer plowing his field and cried out to do I get to Cannon Ball? The farmer stopped, scratched his head and said.....if I was going to Cannon Ball I wouldn't start here.

The starting place is white privilege......not just about money,  power, control, access, about a white culture that established a deadend conversation about poverty
that has been carried by Republicans and Democrats......never getting results, but great amounts of jaw banging while the poor get poorer, the undocumented receive no justice.......and white folks hold on to their privilege......I am one of are you....we are white privileged men who contribute to racism everyday. Beginning with myself, I have never met a white man who is not racist in this country......

White folks will have no play in solutions on poverty until they handle their own privilege.....unearned stuff that blocks the poor, those of whom you speak eloquently.

Few whites  view themselves as whites.....liberal and conservative. alike...

I believe you discovered this when you left the your position of headmaster and went to teach in south San Diego...

I remember my roommate in seminary who was from Harlem, New York.....said to me, John until you become proud of your white skin, how will you ever be helpful to people of color and related issues of poverty, community building. 

For me, the conversation must begin with white folks.....privilege is the cornerstone of racism in this country and is what breathes life into injustice, poverty, war, and//////

This conversation is worth having....engaging white folks to look at white privilege and what they do to promote racism everyday in this country and beyond. Then consider how we can move build community that works for all....not some as it is with white privilege.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

If you want to see what is happening to a culture, to see in what direction it is heading, look to see what is happening to the indigent, the poor… the widow, the orphan, the stranger.
—Jamie Gates

Gates is an associate professor in the Anthropology Department at Point Loma University.  I didn’t write down what he said until his lecture ended, so the statement above is not an exact quote.  Professor Gates' lecture focused on “Justice and Reconciliation in Post Apartheid South Africa.”  His point is that how ideological conflicts between groups are resolved determines what a nation becomes. 

…so I’m left wondering.  Where is my nation headed?

Extreme poverty in the U.S., meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits was 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children.

America is the world’s wealthiest nation, yet almost 15 percent of U.S. households — nearly 49 million Americans, including 15.9 million children — struggle to put food on the table.

Nearly one-third of Americans don’t have the security of knowing that, if and when they need it, medical care is not available for them… so they go along without preventive care until a critical health situation appears, and they then go to a hospital emergency room.

According Dr. G. William Domhoff’s research at the University of California, in Santa Cruz, in the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands.  As of 2010, the top 1% of households owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers.  In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.1% of the country’s financial wealth.

Obviously communism didn’t work for the Soviet Union. A deformed sort of capitalism in Russia is steadily evolving into a culture that has more wrong with it than is right. The system of government in the People’s Republic of China is still called communism, but the market economy has produced almost 300 billionaires (American dollars) and citizens in the middle class. Belarus is the only communist country left in Europe. Nobody on the outside want in and the people I met in Minsk once expressed longing to be somewhere else. North Korea is the best example in the world of why communism isn’t good for people.  Vietnam, Cuba, and Laos are the other countries that call themselves communist.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The Guardian reports that annual compensation for the top US CEOs (Zuckerberg et al) topped 100 million dollars for the first time in our country’s history.  Mark Zuckerberg’s total compensation topped $2.27 billion, more than $6 million a day for last year.  His base salary was $503,205, but the vast majority of his enormous pay package came from exercising 60 million Facebook share options when the company went public last year.  You do the math.  Richard Kinder, the CEO and chairman of Kinder Morgan, the energy firm, has a base salary of just one dollar and he received no other bonuses… but he made $1.1 billion from selling restricted stock, up from just $60 million profit from stock in 2011.

The minimum wage in Arkansas, the state of my birth, is $6.25 an hour.  In California, where I now live, it is $8.00 an hour.  You understand, of course, that I’m not bragging about California’s minimum wage.  The statistics mean that most domestic workers and workers in the fast food industries in California earn $320 -a-week if they work for forty hours.  Average low monthly apartment rent in San Diego is $1079; average high monthly rent in San Diego is $1568. In Arkansas the weekly minimum wage is $250.  One bedroom Little Rock apartments currently rent for $617 to $861 per month.  

I don’t even want to know the names of family, friends and neighbors who object to adjustment of minimum wage laws because I’d begin to think about which of them go to church and signal by their regular participation in the life of a Christian organization that they have read but have not understood, or if they understood they are ignoring, the teachings of Jesus about virtue and responsibility for the poor… all of the poor, not just the nice, meek, quiet, and clean poor. If I knew for sure by name all the people who object to requiring business owners/managers who hire workers to pay workers an honest living wage, I’d think too much about it, and thinking about it too much would surely cast a pall on my daily activities like my bike ride and and my search for the photo du jour… and my thinking about it too much might make it impossible for me to continue going with any sense of satisfaction to the church I attend regularly… but tucking the knowledge away in my mind and not thinking about it is an unacceptable response to suffering and injustice; so I’m thinking and writing.  

Thinking about what happens to workers in the great economic machine that produces everything… wealth for some, comfortable living for others, and poverty for a great many… has reminded me to rethink some of the labor movements of recent world history.  For much of the Twentieth Century the attention of the world was focused on two political theories, communism and capitalism.  Communism (from Latin communes — “common, universal”) is a revolutionary socialist movement derived from Karl Marx’s theory that advocates class war leading to a society in which everything, all property, is publicly owned and each individual works and is paid according to his or her abilities and needs. Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Of course, capitalism had been around in human experience for many thousands of years before Ayn Rand defined it for Americans of the Twentieth Century.   She declared, “When I say ‘capitalism,’ I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.”  America’s capitalism is not now and never has been what Ayn Rand expressed, although some Tea Party leaders swear allegiance to her vision.

In conversations with a friend who was born and was educated in a Soviet republic, I have found reasons to rethink the life experience of Vladimir Lenin.  Although Lenin was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Simbirsk, Russia, he became involved in the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in St. Petersburg. Having become radicalized by the execution of his 21-year-old brother Aleksandr who, as a university student, had been accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate Czar Alexander III, Vladimir looked for another way to address the gross inequities in Russia’s class system.  I am not qualified academically to attempt anything but the most casual and superficial evaluation of Lenin’s part in the development of the world power known as The Soviet Union.  “Soviet” is derived from a Russian word used to refer to a council or an assembly.  The word implies advice, harmony, and concord.   Students of history of the Twentieth Century and those of us old enough to remember the long years before the period of perestroika  (Russian: перестро́йка) which occurred under Michail Gorbachev between 1985 and1991 know that harmony and concord are not nouns associated with the old cold war years. My friend Adam is challenging me to rethink Lenin’s place in history.  Rethinking causes me to actively wonder if the terrible, bleak, repressive years of Soviet Union history under Stalin would have been very different if Lenin had lived long enough to do for the working people of Eastern Europe what he declared that he wanted to do. 

I got into this tangent, which has wandered a long way around what I started out to write, by thinking about the term proletariat, which is used by Marxist theory to name “the social class that does not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labor power for a wage or salary.”  Proletarians are wage-workers.  I was thinking about those fast-food wage-workers in Arkansas who earn $6.25 an hour and those in California who earn $8.00 an hour; and I wondered what Vladimir Lenin would say about them and to them if he were alive today… and what he would say about the salary packages of the ten richest individual Americans whose individual compensation topped the hundred million dollar mark for the first time in American history. 

Something else prompted this particular tangent.  My family and I went through a short, frightening episode in the 1960s when the John Birch Society was alive and well in the Sacramento Valley where I was teaching.  A radio talk show “personality” became convinced that I was a communist.  I was chairman of the English Department of a large public high school, and she didn’t like the reading list which the faculty in my department developed.  She was fond of declaring that writers like John Steinbeck, with Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men on the list of recommended readings in the English Department, was a communist and that American high school students shouldn’t be “exposed” to his stories.

She also didn’t approve of my personal participation in the 1960’s civil rights movement, which she declared was a major American problem that would surely lead the country into communism. The episode was briefly frightening because the radio woman’s daily tirades, think if you can of Rush Limbaugh in drag, persuaded one person to begin making threatening phone calls to our home.  When the caller said, “We know where your children go to school,” I decided it was time to report the incidents to the local police.  The FBI got involved.  Margaret was advised to take the kids to her sister’s home in another town. The guy was caught after his next phone call to our house.  It was over quickly… but it was a unsettling.  I began to cast around for someplace else to teach. I took a job as head of the English Department in Singapore, where I worked for four years.  The woman expressed her satisfaction that she had been right all along.  She told her radio audience that I was moving to China. That was a long time ago, and it’s satisfying to know that few people today, even Tea Party Republicans, believe Singapore is a city in China.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Follow sprintime paths in the woods...
to winter. 

When I was young I liked autumn...
now not so much.

Some path’s brilliant october colors...
are poison ivy.

Spiders and bears are at home in it...

It’s the transition that frightens us...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I rode over to the Spruce Street suspension footbridge after my stint at the museum today... I had heard about it; but in all my years of biking all over the city, I had never seen it... and it's not hidden away... just over a city block west of First Avenue.  It's appropriate that an image of a bridge built over a hundred years ago should be presented first in black and white.  

Now in living color:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Along with 1200 other people today our neighbor Boon, a native of Tibet, became a very happy, proud, enthusiastic citizen of the United States.  To celebrate,  Margaret took her to lunch after the swearing-in ceremony.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What Teachers Do... Nah, I'm not even going to try to explain it.  Alan, who teaches English in Anchorage, is in San Diego this week on family business; but a major concern is what his classes are doing in Alaska.  He'll back in his classroom on Thursday, but between now and then he's sending daily lesson plans for the substitute teacher. Alan and I walked down to P.B, Middle School to coax Don out of his science classroom.  These two guys are remarkable teachers... Extraordinary is the word.  Alan teaches English and Don teaches Science.

On the table in Don's classroom you can see an important big cup made by Daughter Nancy to commemorate an epic bike ride across America.  The cup has our names: Jerral, Alan, Don, Mike and the inscription Bike Across America 2000.  Four of us did it, all 2400 miles... Florence, Oregon to Annapolis, Maryland.  Yaaaaaahhhhhhh! It was great for three of us to be together today.  Life is good!

But, today... on to The Tap Room

Monday, October 21, 2013

...ran into Friend Irina at the spontaneous water works show in Mission Valley this afternoon.  Irina was not the driver who hit a fire hydrant; but she was having lunch at a restaurant nearby when it happened, so she called 911 to get the show on the road.  A crowd gathered quickly... just as it does in those fantastic Flash programs that I always appreciate when they’re posted on the Internet. The performers for this one were San Diego Firemen.