We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

In This Corner: The Middle Kingdom

Midsommar                                                                 Most Heat Moon

mao-trach-dongChina has fascinated me for a long time. Kate, Joseph and I went on an absurdly cheap week long trip to Beijing in 1999. $900, airfare + hotel + several meals, for each of us. It was a promo deal by Dayton’s travel (remember Dayton’s?) and Northwest Airlines (remember Northwest airlines?) for the new Northwest direct flight from Detroit to Beijing.

The tourism was strictly regulated, almost completely planned, but a source of wonder in spite of that. We saw Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Winter Palace, the Ming Tombs, the Great Wall, a Beijing Opera, a cloisonne factory, a drum tower and hundreds, no thousands of bicycles on the streets.

Over the last year I’ve been paying closer attention to the geopolitical situation among China, Japan, Korea, the South China Sea and Southeast Asia stimulated in part by Joseph’s year long deployment to Osan AFB in South Korea and his marriage to SeoAh.

With Mary and Mark (brother and sister) having lived in Southeast Asia for decades and with the adoption of Joseph from India and his marrying SeoAh from Korea my family has distinct and chosen Asian roots.

chinaWhile volunteering for twelve years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I had the privilege of diving deep into the Asian Art collection, especially China and Japan. That study led me more deeply into Chinese history and into Asian literature, in particular Chinese classics like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Monkey’s Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber. I also read the Tale of Genji and have more recently begun reading classics of Indian religious literature like the Mahabharata.

Two recent books, one I’ve almost finished, Destined for War: Can China and the U.S. escape Thucydides’ trap? , and a second I’ve just started, Everything Under Heaven: How the past shapes China’s push for power, have given me a much clearer picture into the geopolitical dynamics of this historically unusual moment in world history. The United States of the last century and this one is the most powerful nation-state to have ever existed and, in spite of DJT, is still a great nation and remains the dominant global superpower.



But that’s all changing. China’s rise is not the same as other, similar situations in which a dominant power faced a rising rival though there are many similarities. Destined for War gives several examples of this phenomenon and compares them to the rise of Athens while Sparta was the dominant city-state in what is now Greece. Thucydides wrote his classic, the Peloponnesian Wars, as an attempt to explain how Athens and Sparta tried, but failed, to prevent war in spite of leaders in both city-states who saw the dangers and worked actively to maintain the peace.

China has rightly been called a civilization rather than a nation-state. It’s 3,000 year old history has seen its Han majority wax and wane in power, but never disappear, not even during the Mongol Yuan dynasty and the Manchu dynasty of the Qing’s. Nation-states only came into existence after the Treaty of Westphalia in the mid-seventeenth century.

US flagThis means that we have a unique situation, maybe unprecedented, of a rising ancient civilization that during most of its history saw itself as the Middle Kingdom, the rulers of Everything Under Heaven, in direct competition with the apotheosis of the modern nation-state, the United States of America. One is the heir to 3,000 years (longer, if we move back into prehistory) of self-definition and imperial power, the other heir to the most advanced expressions of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

This conflict will probably play out over the next generation and its conclusion is far from certain. I find the process exhilarating: Western individualism and democracy challenged by the more autocratically inclined and much more group oriented Asian way. It could be a key moment for global evolution of the species. Much, much more to come.


Turtles All the Way Down

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon


It’s a wonderful morning. Blue sky with high wispy clouds over Black Mountain, lots of sunshine. Solar panels soaking up energy direct from the source. Temperatures have cooled a bit.

The sun, risen again after our mountains spun away from it last evening, shines. But, upon what does it shine? Read this surprising conclusion:

“Many (flat earthers) subscribe to the “ice wall theory,” or the belief that the world is circumscribed by giant ice barriers, like the walls of a bowl, that then extend infinitely along a flat plane. Sargent envisions Earth as “a giant circular disc covered by a dome.” He likens the planet to a snow globe, similar to the one depicted in “The Truman Show,” a fictitious 1998 existential drama about an insurance salesman unknowingly living in an artificially constructed dome.”

flat earthTurns out that among other distinctions Colorado has a central spot in the Flat Earth movement:

“The Centennial State has been the cradle of the American flat earth renaissance since birth. The first Flat Earth International Conference, which will be in Raleigh, N.C., in November, features a number of Colorado-based Flat Earthers, including Sargent, Knodel and Matthew Procella, or ODD Reality, a Denver-based rapper and YouTuber with 75,000 subscribers and nearly 7 million video views.”  These Coloradans Say The Earth Is Flat.

Now if you’re under the continuing delusion that the earth is a globe, here are Youtube channels that will correct your misguided perspective, Jeranism and Globebusters. (Get it?)



Base Instincts

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

2000_Year_Temperature_ComparisonI wish I thought it was cynicism, the gratuitous act of a calculating politician, this latest, perhaps species’ ending decision. “I’m deciding for the citizens of Pittsburgh, not the citizens of Paris.” I wish I didn’t think it was a faulty mind at work, but I do. By faulty in this case I mean stupid. Trump may not be I.Q. stupid, though I don’t imagine he’s top of the class, but he’s unlearned, uninquisitive and lacks critical thinking skills. This is the functional equivalent of stupidity.

He seems to have base instincts (a political pun, intended) which he marries to advice from people who have ideological blinders he doesn’t understand. He clearly loves being the decider so he takes in certain streams of information, then chooses what he believes will Make America Great. What will put America First. In this case, as in so many others, he doesn’t seem to understand that the U.S.A. is no longer, if it ever was, separate from the world as a whole.

GOP-Oil-Above-AllClimate change does not care about boundaries. It does not care if you’re a resident of Paris, Pittsburgh, Timbuktu or Katmandu. The rain, as the proverb goes, falls on the just and the unjust. So with a ratcheting up of the earth’s temperature. Trump thinks he’s putting Pittsburgh ahead of Paris when what he’s really doing is pitting this generation against the next, saying that this one deserves more attention than the next. There is no hint, none at all, of seven generations thinking in his choices. Today is all that matters. Right here in the U.S.A. is all that matters. Right here in the U.S.A. all that matters is the effect on my base. (which he badly misreads, by the way)

He sees the fate of the white working class and the fate of America’s energy corporations tied together, a grim marriage and one doomed to fail and in its failure to scour humanity from the planet. So much for a sustainable future.

Scraping Sharp Blades Across My Soul

Spring                                                          Passover Moon

12003381_10153606920344267_720449957253601669_nModulating the call and response occasioned by Trump era politics in my own head has proved daunting. I’m not going on a “news cleanse” or planning to ostrich myself in the several inches of snow we just got. (though that last one sounds sort of good)

I did uncouple from the Idiocy of Donald Trump facebook group. It became too much though the posts were really funny. I also changed the name of my Evernote file where I save material relating to the Trump presidency from Fighting Trump to just Trump. Felt like I was scraping a sharp blade across my soul each time I saved an article.

All that feels right for me, so far. Yet. There is reading the Denver Post and the New York Times, both morning rituals. Today I noticed Trump doomed the planet by weakening compliance with the Paris Accord’s goal to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 30% by 2030. That’s a key number because a global reduction to 50% by 2050, then zero by 2100 is the main hope the world has to stave off dire temperature rises.

There’s also the recent attempt by the GOP, with Trump’s assist, to kill 43,000 Americans a year by denying them even mediocre healthcare. Of course, as a cartoon I saw pointed out, bad healthcare is no problem if the planet gets fried to a crisp.

The lesson for me is this. Shut down the barbed rhetoric, Fighting Trump and the Idiocy of Donald Trump. No need to scrape those sharp blades across my soul. But don’t ignore, don’t forget. Stay aware and be ready. The danger is ever present as the climate change policy reversal makes clear.


To Defend the Constitution and The Laws…

Spring                                                                       Anniversary Moon

The oath of citizenship moved me more than I had expected. For a moment, I choked up and found it difficult to get the words out. But then my voice took on a new resolve: proud and determined, I swore to “defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

After the ceremony, I did not go to a park with friends. I did not have any champagne. I did not try to get a cop to give me a ticket in celebration of my newfound freedom. Instead, I did something that millions of others cannot do without fear: I joined a protest in Boston against the revised executive order on immigration.”  NYT, 3/24/2017

2012 05 07_4189When he was 12, Joseph, Raeone and I went out to an anonymous strip of businesses lining Highway 494, the southern part of the ring road around the Twin Cities and close to the airport where Joseph arrived on December 15th, 1981 from Calcutta, India. In a gray, warehouse looking concrete building we found the offices of the U.S. Immigration Service. In a brief meeting in a nondescript office, Joseph became an American citizen. Up to that time he had been a citizen of India though as an adopted child he had no real barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen.

I had held out hope that he might retain dual citizenship, thus allowing him to avoid any draft that might try to conscript him into military service. Lesley Guyton, a friend and an immigration attorney, had helped us prepare for this meeting. The dual citizenship idea did not happen. Right now I don’t recall why, but the gist of it is that Joseph became a U.S. citizen, a male, vulnerable to the Selective Service. I didn’t like it, but it was what was.

 Plume of September 11 attack seen from space by nasa

Plume of September 11 attack seen from space by nasa

Move the clock forward to 2000. Joseph has completed his high school work at St. Paul Central High School. Looking at colleges he tried for three east coast small schools, but for one reason or another did not get into any of them. As a result, he matriculated to the University of Minnesota and went off to live at Bailey Hall on the St. Paul Campus.

He was in Bailey Hall, in the very early days of his freshman year, his first time living away from home, when the planes rammed the Twin Towers on September 11th. I didn’t know it then, but those terrorists had made my hopes for Joseph’s dual citizenship irrelevant even if they could have been realized.

Like the new American citizen, Yascha Mounk, who wrote the article I quoted above, he had found the pledge to “defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic” compelling. Though he eased his way into the idea by telling us he wanted to be an astronaut, and did want to be one at the time, in fact his motivation, as he later told me, was to give back to the U.S. He signed papers to join the United States Air Force.

weapons school graduation

weapons school graduation

Today he’s on his way back to Georgia with his wife of almost one year, SeoAh Yang, after his fourth deployment, this latest in Qatar directing JSTAR‘s flights over the fight against ISIS and in the forever war zone of Afghanistan.

Love of country was a virtue whose connotations got severely scrambled in the 60’s and early 70’s. Like politics now there was a right wing who allowed only flag-waving, gun-toting, enemy killing enthusiasts as lovers of this country. “Love it or leave it” was their catch phrase. Like politics now there was strong and vibrant opposition on the left.  We defined love of country as a willingness to stand up and resist when government contravenes principles of American life like equality and not killing foreigners for specious diplomatic ideas like the domino theory.

I’ve come to realize, since Joseph joined the Air Force, that the two camps often have similar motivations, how to keep this country strong and true to its dreams, with differing ideas about tactics. There are, I know now, none of us who understand the horrors of war better than those who fight them. The passion of those who choose this country or who are brought to it as adoptees is a cue to the rest of us, those born here, to recall where we live, what it means, and why it is in fact worth defending with our lives.

Violence and Holy Wells

Imbolc                                                                       Anniversary Moon

It was with sadness that I read of the fight at the MIA last week. No matter the apportionment of blame between the two groups, this kind of violence within the museum shocked me. It also underscores the danger of cynics and demagogues setting the tone for our national conversation. Fists and physical confrontations are a means of dialogue, a blunt means, but one nonetheless. When the Whitehouse itself makes racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, xenophobia, terraism (violence against mother earth) not only acceptable, but for some normative, then this country will descend into further acts of violence, often one on one or many on one.


When I first started volunteering at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2000, continuing education events for docents and guides (I was a guide at the time.) were held on Mondays in the morning. An excellent speaker on some aspect of art, art history or museology would give us an hour to an hour and a half presentation. I have a three inch thick notebook filled with notes from those events.

After the lecture the museum was open, but closed to the public. That meant we could take as long as we wanted to wander the galleries, taking time with this work, then that one. No interference, no one walking in front of you or talking loudly. It was my favorite meditation, of all the ones I’ve tried.

Study for Improvisation V-Kandinsky

Study for Improvisation V-Kandinsky

I had certain favorites: the Bonnard with its wonderful colors, Dr. Arrieta by Francisco Goya, the Rug Merchant by Gerome, the tryptych Blind Man’s Buff by Beckman, Kandinsky’s wonderful painting in the same room, the Doryphoros. I also loved the ball game yoke, the Olmec jade mask once owned by John Huston, but the Asian art always occupied most of my time. The tea house, the tea bowls and implements, the tatami room with its beautiful screen of the Taoist Immortals, the seated Buddha, the Scholar’s room, the ferragana  stallion in metal, the Song dynasty ceramics, pieces carved from jade, the Wu family reception hall, the sand mandala, I couldn’t spend enough time with them.


On those quiet Mondays these works all became my great friends, friends that stay with me now, even 17 years later and 900 miles away. Also, on those quiet Mondays I found an alternative spirituality, one not rooted in the earth nor in the world’s great religions, but in the inside out nature of creativity. All of these works, some in overt ways, some in the covert way of working within a certain tradition, reveal the inner worlds of the artist. Reverting to the language of the post below the art allowed me-and you-to dive into another’s holy well, to see their inner life. This is a rare and privileged thing which explains to my satisfaction the enduring power of all art.

It is also the diametric opposite of Trumpism/Bannonism. The museum is a place to see what a world without these men can be.


O. My.

Imbolc                                                                             Anniversary Moon

It’s been a month plus a little now. Little doubt about the direction of Trump’s administration in general terms: chaos and bluster. As to its direction over the long term? Impossible to tell. Neither markets nor foreign countries like an unpredictable U.S. Nor do I.


The only reliable impression I have about the future under Trump/Bannon is that it will be heavy weather. Those of us who view communal responsibility as a given, those of us who view the planet as one place important to all, those of us who see government as an instrument of support rather than the enemy, those of us who see taxes as a shared obligation will find much displeasure in that future, as we already have in the short, terrible time that has passed so far.

How much can he do? Unfortunately, far more than any of us would like. The bigger question is whether he can sink our experiment in self-governance. Admittedly, he’s only brought into obvious relief the oligarchic stranglehold that has dominated post-war U.S. policy, but he’s also trying to discredit critical pieces of our checks and balances: the press, the courts, even knowledge itself. If he can strengthen these attacks, then our nation will be in serious trouble.

And, no, we may not finish the struggle, but we are not at liberty to stop either. Tarfon.


An Endangered Species

Imbolc                                                                               Valentine Moon

Let’s call alt-facts what they are: propaganda. Psychological warfare against our own citizens. Though specific attacks on the environment, refugees, people of color and regulations keeping rapacious financiers at bay are horrible, an assault on the nature of truth is deadly.

How can we keep a political dialogue going if facts are subject to derision and distortion and obfuscation? The tobacco/cancer link deniers, the pesticide purveyors, the climate change deniers, the colorful and varied tweets of our Twitler, his outright lies about his inauguration crowd and the massive voter fraud and his distance from his businesses are all instances of outright deception, propaganda presented as fact.

Facts are, of course, subject to interpretation and reasonable people can disagree about their implications. That’s not the issue here. The issue here is changing the facts, ignoring them, hiding them (see the Whitehouse website, for example). Our democracy cannot survive a buffet attitude toward the truth.

I’m not sure that the Trump folks even know the difference between facts and lies. Their ideology or their venal natures may allow them to see only what they want to see. Whatever it is, I hope we can work as a nation to protect truth-sayers, fact-gatherers, lie confounders. Science is a conspiracy, yes, a conspiracy to understand the nature of reality.

So, hard as it is for many to fathom, are the humanities. In studying literature, philosophy, theater, language, cinema we gain the tools to separate fact from fiction. Critical thinking may be the most powerful tool we have in fighting the rise of a nationalist fascism. Critical thinking is taught in the humanities. In them we also learn the value of fiction, when it can enlighten us, when it can deceive us.

Right now facts and the truth they undergird need protection under the Endangered Species act.

Interesting Times

Imbolc                                                                     Valentine Moon

I’ve been reading a lot. Still. Always. A lot of my recent reading has focused on politics. Surprise! There is no simple analysis, but certain outlines have become clearer to me.

choiceFirst, the main struggle right now, in both Europe and here, is between globalists, people like me, and blood and soil nationalists, like Trump’s America First. It’s not an either/or, of course, but most of us tend to lean toward one end of a continuum, more concerned about home or more concerned about the world as a whole.

This split has a geographic manifestation. Globalists tend to live in highly populated metropolitan areas while nationalists tend to live in rural or small town settings. If you can recall the red and blue maps of the recent election, you saw this phenomena in color, lots and lots of red, not so much blue. But, if you put population numbers on the map, the blues exceed the red.

Second, this election and its current aftermath has laid bare a disturbing reality of contemporary America. There are former middle class and working class whites whose lives have been upended by globalization and automation and union busting. When today’s world is seen from within their perspective, it looks both bleak and punishing.

mindthegapThe bleakness is the lack of good-paying jobs for those with less education. The punishment comes from seeing others getting in line ahead of you for the American Dream. This line-jumping (Hochschild’s analysis), as it is perceived by white working class folks, has been created by the left’s very successful focus on identity politics: women’s rights, LGBT rights, civil rights. Put these two together, the bleakness and the punishment, and it’s no wonder we have a reactionary revolt underway, just look at your Facebook feed for proof.

Third, there is an abysmal chasm between the 1% and the 99% and the former methods for upward mobility, especially education, seem to be failing. I say this because much of the asset and income gap can be explained by examining the economic situations of those with college degrees and those without them. This education gap reinforces and sustains the growing imbalance in a world where 5 men have as much wealth as 50% of the world’s population.

white dreamFourth, after reading Hochschild’s book, I’m no longer convinced that a focus on economic policies will adequately address the working class movement toward nationalism. I say this because Strangers in Their Own Land opened my eyes to the cultural values of much of the working class and the huge barrier they present to any kind of political conciliation. The barrier is large enough that Marilyn Saltzman, of Beth Evergreen, and I, discussing the book, wondered if this might lead to civil war.

If you can see the interlocking dynamics among all these points, then you understand the depth of the problem we face as a nation. How will all this playout? I don’t know. In the immediate future, at least four years, much of the work will of necessity be tactical, resisting the most egregious moves of Trump and his gang of mediocres; but, it cannot be only that or the electoral political situation will remain the same or worsen.

Interesting times.


Small Town, U.S.A.

Imbolc                                                                    Valentine Moon

Indiana-map-copy-312948_376x160Woke thinking about the subtitle to the book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the Right. I realized I knew this one from personal experience.

In 1956 my family, then Mary, myself, Mom and Dad lived at 311 E. Monroe Street. I was nine. Diane Bailey lived next door, the Kildow kids and the Meyers kids lived about a block away as did Candace. The Carver boy, whose name I can’t recall, lived at the bottom of the hill, Ronnie Huffman lived a block back toward Lincoln.

311 E. Monroe

311 E. Monroe

These were all modest homes, not Baltic Avenue, but maybe Tennessee, Virginia. Ours had an oil burning stove in the middle of the second room on the ground floor, a grate above it allowed the air to rise to two small bedrooms upstairs. A smallish living room and a kitchen completed the downstairs. In the living room, unusual for this time period, sat a small black and white television, a gift from the owner of the newspaper, The Times-Tribune, for which my Dad was editor.

Summer days and nights found all of us kids out, playing with each other, coming home at supper time or after dark. We had secret forts in the field, empty ground about two blocks away, a baseball diamond in the Carver’s side yard, a hill down which we rode bicycles and sleds, often putting up ramps for jumps. Once it got dark we’d play hide and go seek or kick the can. Sometimes we’d throw rocks up in the air to watch bats swoop down after them. It was not an unusual childhood, not for those times.


July 2017
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