Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari

Today I thought of Samsam Bakhtiari, the head of the Iranian National Oil Company. He has been a notable voice in the Peak Oil movement, and I corresponded with him briefly a few years ago. I had the thought that I would like to send him an e-mail to wish him well, and to express my consternation and dismay at the aggressive stance of my country toward his.

I cannot recall what I first wrote to him about - perhaps it was that his writings and thoughts on Peak Oil seemed to possess those marks of spirituality and refinement, and a deep sense of history, culture, and roots, that are so rare to find today. I had posted an essay on my former website called "The Prophetic Literature of Oil Depletion," in which I had quoted from him, and perhaps I was inviting him to respond to it. I recall receiving a gracious reply. I cannot remember the sequence of communication, but I offered to send him a copy of my book of short stories, Earthly Nurturance -- which I duly did, in a little package bound for Tehran. Again I received a gracious reply, in which he said he particularly enjoyed the story "Two Sisters" -- a nonfiction story in a collection of fiction. It was a story about my mother's Aunt Jennie, from Rome, Georgia, who ended up as a Principessa Ruspoli in Rome, Italy. Somehow I thought that fit - he would like the story about the aristocratic princess.

Well, in order to find his e-mail, I tried to bring up his website, which it seemed, was no longer operative. I googled his name and found a bulletin from www. dated November 23, saying that Mr. Bakhtiari had passed away. Several persons wrote in to express their feelings, memories and regrets - and some, surprise. "Was he that old?" someone wrote.

I cannot explain how, after these several years, I would have had the thought to write to Mr. Bakhtiari again - nor why, just now. I would like to believe that the e-mail I thought to send has somehow made it into another dimension - not through the clumsy medium of computers, but through the medium of thought itself - touched with thanks and blessing.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day

I give thanks today to those of my friends and acquaintances who have written to say that they read this blog and appreciate it. My computer is undergoing various agonies of dissolution and it may be that it will not last much longer. If I decide to change computers and get a new internet host I may not be posting for a while.

The boys and I are not eating a Thanksgiving feast today. It is about 70 degrees outside, here in Pennsylvania in November, and that is but the mild and fairly innocuous front of a storm of news lurking in all the corners of this land. I extend my sympathy and concern to the people in the South who seem to be facing a major water crisis. Having grown up in Birmingham, the idea that the Southeast would be turning dry is just about unthinkable to me. But so it is. A few weeks ago I read that the governor of Georgia said something to the effect that we need to better manage our water resources for our own use and for the other creatures who share in this life with us. It struck me, because how rarely do I hear anyone voice a concern for the plants and animals who share life with us, indeed make it even possible.

I extend my thanks to true farmers and to those who are attempting to sustain good practices of stewardship in agriculture, arts, churches, politics, families, relationships and professions. We need to have faith that there are such people. For perhaps never in history has there been such open and flagrant contempt for "the idea of sustaining life." Never in history has the exploitation if not destruction of words, land, people, and traditions and restraints of civility, been so intense -- indeed, lifted up as the greatest success and aspiration. As a headline of an article in USA Today put it, "Why give thanks when you can shop?" I saw it over the shoulder of a fellow-passenger on my train commute yesterday. I hope that it was being ironic. I fear that maybe it was not.

As I say, we are not indulging in a Thanksgiving feast today. Somehow, I just couldn't face the usual shopping frenzy, and the thought of going into a supermarket to get the stuff was just too overwhelming. And do we really need to eat?

That's the question addressed in a book I read recently - called Life from Light: Is It Possible to Live Without Food? A scientist reports on his experiences (Clairview Books, 2007) It tells the story of a Michael Werner, a managing director of a cancer research institute in Switzerland. He admits that he has long been fascinated by the possibility of receiving nourishment without food - from the reports of yogis and saints and the famous story of Theresa Neumann, who only received the daily Host at Communion, with 3 cubic centimeters of water, and living on that for 35 years.

Michael Werner came across a book that had been published in Australia by a "New Age" writer, Ellen Greve, a.k.a. "Jasmuheen," about the "21-day process." Called Living on Light: The Source of Nourishment for the New Millennium, the book describes the process of weaning oneself from food and living solely on light - becoming, in effect, a human plant. Werner decided to try it, and since January, 2001, has been living virtually without food and for periods also without liquid intake.

Describing himself as "Mr. Ordinary," Werner continues to manage his business, play tennis, live and socialize much as he did formerly. His co-author, Thomas Stockli, remarks that "The bewildering thing about him is that apart from having no need to eat, and practicing this with total consistency, he is an 'entirely normal person'...As a scientist for whom life also holds a spiritual dimension, however, he feels it is important to share in bringing about the paradigm change which he feels is imminent.

Once at a lecture Werner gave, he expanded on this in answer to a question of whether there was a Christian basis to living on light. Werner remarked:

"As far as I know the path for humanity at large which is provided by the 21-day
process is relatively new. I can only speculate about its origins and the
reasons why it should appear just now. . . The possibility has appeared suddenly
and could not necessarily have been foreseen. It is evident that a critical
situation has come about in the evolution of the earth. The spiritual world, I
mean the good and positive spiritual beings and leaders of humanity, are
watching planet earth and humanity with anxiety and despair because they see
that the great majority of human beings are unable to break out of a materialism
that is destructive and also no longer suitable for our time..."

Later, in a follow-up question, he also added that during his 21-day "conversion" process (from living on food to living on light) "... I did experience a strong flow of forces from the realm which I, personally, see as being linked to the forces of Christ, and this filled me with joy. I wanted to perceive it more strongly and directly, but instead I slept soundly during the night and only realized in the morning that a definite change had come about. I felt clearly that I was being nourished, and this persists to the present day."

I do not feel called to make the 21-day "conversion" - lest my readers have any anxiety on that score. Nevertheless I do find these reports full of interest, full of spiritual matters to think about and digest. Perhaps it is this spiritual activity of thinking and deepening appreciation that "we are being nourished" that seems important for me to say on this Thanksgiving Day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Boxed Up

The New Museum of Contemporary Art in the Bowery, New York City. Photo by R. Polidori; courtesy the New Yorker, November 19, 2007

Today we are going to talk about the new architecture, called the Box. A box, as you may recall, has four sides, and it can be of any size, as the above photograph indicates. For example, a very small box could hold a wedding ring. A somewhat larger box is useful for containing cereal, e.g. Post Toasties or Wheaties. And of course we know of boxes of all sizes and shapes for sending things through the mail, for example, computers or compost tumblers, or a set of wineglasses, or ammunition, or most anything, in fact.

Boxes in the modern period made a real step foward as housing design, for example in the art of Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, or Le Corbusier. Farnsworth House, for example, designed by Mies van der Rohe, looks "like an alien spaceship whose retro thrusters destroyed with their heat everything below it upon landing; but, at the same time, it remains perched above the ground as if ready to blast off at a moment's notice." (E. Michael Jones, Living Machines: Bauhaus Architecture As Sexual Ideology.) To say that this house resembles a box is somewhat generous to the truth, as it in fact remarkably flat. But certainly the form or archetype of box must have "inspired" it.

Unfortunately in human evolution the box has always had to play second fiddle to the Wheel. It is not known what genius invented the wheel, although this immortal not only invented the wheel but a common expression to go along with it, e.g. "reinventing the wheel," which means, (oddly enough, considering the importance of his invention) something utterly repetitive, futile, inane, and wasteful.

We have now a new metamorphosis of the Box as an art museum, which could perhaps give rise to a creative tweak of language. Perhaps "reinventing the box" will come to mean something so egregiously ugly that it will come to be seen as the signature of space aliens rather than human beings. Or perhaps some clever person will come up with another application of the old standby, "thinking outside the box" as an ironic comment on an architecture that does everything in its power to destroy the notions of beauty, shelter, home and place.

Paul Goldberger, the usually sane architecture critic of the New Yorker, remarks, in what must be the world's finest example of understatement, that "The visual signals this building sends... seem deliberately ambiguous." The Japanese architects who designed it were perhaps known for their design school in Essen, Germany, which is "a concrete cube, a hundred feet high, punctuated seemingly at random with windows of assorted sizes." With further understatement, Goldberger remarks that their architecture's "refined (!) style might seem odd on the Bowery, one of the grittiest streets in New York."

It would be hard to find a flatter and more understated piece of writing than Goldberger's "Bowery Dreams," to accompany the photograph of this new architectural variant of the Box. Flattery, I suppose, will get you everything, and Goldberger is evidently out to flatter the modernists who funded this eyesore -- "the decision to move to the Bowery was perhaps a clever way of assuring its supporters that its agenda remains radical."

Modernism has certainly been taking many strides backward since 1913, and we have this example of it to reassure us of its intention to go all the way - maybe back to that original genius who gave us the wheel.

Friday, November 16, 2007

For Further Reading

One of my favorite quotes: "The man who, knowing the right, fails to do it, loses the power to know what is right; and the man who, having the power to do right, is unwilling, loses the power to do what he wills." St. Augustine, De Libero Arbitrio

Also, Lila Rajiva posted a fine quote from Lord Acton: "Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought."

Lila posted an essay of mine on Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances -- read at
The essay on Barfield is one I have worked on and revised over several years. I have always felt it was important to get a grasp of the ideas of this challenging thinker and that really knowing what he says would make a difference to one's life, deeply, inwardly. Every time I work on the piece it gets a little better.