I recently donated this important book to the collection.  It’s about the inevitability of geo-engineering, to attempt to compensate for environmental damage that the human species has done to Mother Earth.  The last half of the book is especially troubling.  Note:  books must be “quarantined” between borrowings.  Expect delays. 

A book NOT to be found at M.E.L.

In Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography of Einstein there is a footnote about an exchange between NY Regents (NY’s top group of high school educators) writing to ask Einstein what they should have students study. This was during the space-race with the Russians.  His response: “have them read the biographies of the great ones.” While he didn’t name any, it is well known that Einstein was a big fan of Spinoza — especially of  “Spinoza’s God”.  But few have ever heard of the man. So, who was Baruch “Benedictus” Spinoza?  Glad you asked.

He was recognized early in school as a prodigy, and was, perhaps, being groomed to be a rabbi — until he began to ask uncomfortable questions.  (I liken this to a fictional character in my favorite children’s book: The Emperor’s New Clothes, who dared to announce that the king was naked.) 

Spinoza was a deep student of the Hebrew scriptures, but dared to opine that Moses couldn’t have written these five books, called Torah – the “instructions”, or the “law”.  Ooops!  Nor could he believe that God would “choose” any group of people to be favorites.  Double-ooops!  Well, at the young age of 23, he found himself permanently excommunicated from his synagogue in 17th-century Amsterdam, and utterly marginalized by his own community, cursed.  His brother (his business partner) was disallowed from even speaking with him.  According to the writ, he was damned by all Jews for all time.

This didn’t seem to trouble him much.  Rather, it was liberating.  He was suddenly free to think and inquire, and hang out with other like-minded people, of which there were many in Holland.  Most of these were “fringe” Christians (not Calvinists!); one was a former Jesuit.  Spinoza began to teach his friends how to read Hebrew.  He learned to write in Latin from the Jesuit.  And he wrote deeply about his favorite topic: reality — which he was convinced was a spiritual topic: God, or Nature).  He wrote a book titled ETHICS which is almost like a geometry textbook of axioms and theorems. 

He had enemies among Jews, and Calvinists.  Somebody tried to stab him to death, but only penetrated his heavy coat, leaving a big slash.  He wore that coat for the rest of his short life.  He was especially interested in logic and math.  And tolerance.  (He never joined a church.)

The biography depicted above suggests that the English philosopher John Locke, who spent five years in Holland shortly after Spinoza’s death, hung out with Spinoza’s fringe friends. Locke was later a big influence for US Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Franklin, et al) who drafted the US Constitution.  It is possible that the concept of our First Amendment was benefited by Spinoza’s courageous free-thinking. Tolerance, and separation of church and state, are (were?) key factors in the success of the American nation.  (Another famous Jewish philosopher, Karl Popper, offered what has become known as Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance) which we would do well to grasp.

But why my headline?  For several years I’ve been donating important books to MEL, and of late have been offering to underwrite select books for approval by the Library’s Collection Committee, hoping to enhance the Philosophy and Religion section.  But this Spinoza biography was declined, for “lack of shelf space” or for being “of marginal interest to our readers” or some other inscrutable reason.  When I suggested that Spinoza’s Ethics, which the library owns (and is rarely borrowed, and is available free at Gutenberg dot org) could be replaced  (deflating the “space” argument) with a biography which is more accessible, the rejection still stood.  (I can’t tell if this is literary suppression, or something personal; but if you live in Merida, and wish to borrow my copy of the biography, leave a comment at the blog, which I will not publish;  but I’ll contact you.)

This is a dangerous book, as it will have you thinking outside the box of dogma.  Note: you can read a generous sample of Betraying Spinoza here, at Amazon — click on the cover to Look Inside.  The book contains some Jewish words that are usually translated on the fly (once), by the author, who herself is a former Orthodox Jew, and a professor of philosophy at Princeton, as well as being widely recognized as a literary talent.  (The question of identity: ¿Who am I? is a prominent feature in this book.) Dare to discover! 

If you want to read Spinoza directly (in English translation) this might be a good place to start — but Goldstein’s biography, in my view, provides inspiring context of a courageous life well-lived and well-told.



Manuscript P45  from Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.  Wikipedia.

A creative writing assignment arrived today in my t-mail (thought mail):  pick a favorite story, and juice it, bringing your own experience and insight into the account.  My pick :  the parable of the grower and the vine — feeling playful, SEE END NOTE*  (Blue words are clickable to koine Greek references, etc.)

John 15:1 (KJV)   I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

I am (consciousness) is our family nature, if you will. We’re known as the VINE family, sort of a neural network.  (¿We are all connected, no?  Queue music: Sister Sledge)   The Grower, our divine Parent (plural),  is dedicated to our family enterprise – our purpose, our assignment – which is known as the Bearing Fruit Company.

2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

All branches of the family get pruned.  Oww!  But (relax) Pa’ knows what they doin’.

3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Now, this pruning cleans us up by snipping off what’s no longer essential.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me,and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing*.

We are all One, inseparable, interconnected, nearer than hands and feet, closer than breathing, energized and made fully alive by our togetherness.  Take a bite!  Do you feel it? Can you taste it?

6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Lonely?  Come in out of the heat.  Reconnect.  Just ask for your assignment, with all your heart (but without wishing blessings onto your own plans).

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

Success is a group effort.  While there’s no i in TEAM, the i in FAMILY is bound with AM.  The point: working together is a fruit of self-discipline which is requisite for success.

9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

Our eldest brother, the firstborn, is our example, a model for success.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

The core of his teaching reflects The Growers’ instructions, which house so much love of family.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

Catch my vision and delight.  It will fill our surroundings.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

My teaching is basic: Love gets reflected by love. (I’ve staked my life on this principle, and will show it to you – when you’re ready.)

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.  15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

We’re friends and companions when you heed my instructions, which is why I think of you so fondly, rather than merely regarding you as employees; as I’ve invested in, and trusted, your spiritual aptitude.  Yes, I have faith in you!  Catch my vision.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

Doesn’t it feel great to be chosen?  You’ve got access!  And access affords welcome, one of another.

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Even if you detect hatred, our circle of love triumphs over that rawness; and our love is noticed, and it’s effectual.

20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.  21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

Yeah, persecution is ignorant, and it will threaten; but Love never fails.

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

When hatred is confessed aloud, it embarrasses itself, and blushes; it then has no place to hide.  Give it no room! Let it slink away into oblivion.

24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.  25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

DEDUCTION :  hatred has neither agent nor address. Defeated!

26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:  27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

CONCLUSION :  Our Comforter is at our side, ever reminding us, emboldening us, of Our family’s Nature, excluding nobody, but dismissing the lie and the liar, with authority.  So be it.  AMEN.


*END NOTE :  Some literalists might be offended that I’ve dealt with scripture casually, even blasphemously.  If this is you, please forgive me.  Child-mind is to be prized. (Try it!)  I’m dedicated to reading between the lines of scripture, in quest of the spirit, rather than the letter.  Blessings are ours today, if we will have them.










BOOK  : :  UNDER A WHITE SKY, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Greenland’s ice is melting, fast!  (Noah built an ark.)  Foto: Caspar Haarløv/AP  [fair use]

Did you know that, early within our civil history, there have been dramatic events (“D–O events”) when sea levels rose a foot per decade, and average temperatures swung wildly; and that history is now about to repeat these?   (In 2019 there was enough meltwater coming off Greenland to fill a pool the size of California to a depth of four feet?)  Elizabeth Kolbert, a prominent science journalist, tells this story so well . . . but we, oh well, we continue to row, row, row our boat . . . merrily : “What, me worry”?

Her book, UNDER A WHITE SKY: The Nature of the Future, is mostly about the inevitable need for geoengineering as remediation for our abuse of nature. I found the first half to be mostly appetizers for the main course, which is served steaming, based on irrefutable historical records locked into ice cores, and confirmed by other natural records (pollen, ash, tree rings, etc). She introduces us to colorful expert characters who are realists, and  are candid in sharing their evidence.

If you don’t like horror stories or thrillers (or pandemics) maybe it’s time to book a vacation on another planet, as there is no vaccine for climate change.

NOTE:  I am donating my copy of this book to Merida English Library.  MEL also has my donated copy of her earlier book, Sixth Extinction, which won a Pultizer.




What’s in a name? Ha Shem and the Shama

Wikipedia: A diagram of the many names of God, by Athanasius Kircher

Wikipedia has a fascinating article on various world religions’ Names of God.  (While my headline words are Jewish; I’m not Jewish – nor of any denomination, beyond being a frequent student of the old and new testaments of the Bible, nominally terming myself Judeo-Christian; I rarely sit in pews, except to pay personal respect.)  A name is often thought to indicate a nature.  Thus, God derives from “the ultimate good”.

In recent years I’ve been pondering what has been called the central thesis of Judaism, found in Deuteronomy 6:4  (All of chapter six is about living in the Promised Land.)  Here’s that central thesis I mentioned :

Interlinear (words below are individually clickable)sorry, ignore the ads, or use a private window :

v 4:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD

(Torah translation, KEYED  BY “me”) :
Listen up, you who call yourselves God’s-in-charge*: I AM, and WE^ the Divine, are all ONE Being, [ONE Consciousness; ONE Organism].  CLICKABLE LINKS:

* First Bible appearance of the name, Israel.

~ First appearance of I AM  (merger of Elohim + I AM = LORD God)

º Most famous appearance of the name I AM

^ First appearance of name, Elohim  (plural in Hebrew)

 Ha Shem means literally “the name”.  It is a way of expressing deep reverence, referring to what is too holy to be mentioned aloud — as in, Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. (Ex20:7). The name I AM is not said aloud for this reason — so much so that the pronunciation of the four letters Y H W H comprising this name has been forgotten by the culture.  Note: biblical Hebrew does not include vowels; so the pronunciation Jehovah, or Yehovah, is purely speculative.  (Imagine an English word written without vowels, thusly:  B R N D.  ¿Would it be pronounced brand or brained or brined or burned?)  The word Lord typically denotes “owner”.

It seems evident to me that there is more than a hint of nonduality (or monism) in this verse which I’ve extrapolated in my rendering, above. (Think monothesim in its purist form.) Note, for example, that one bunch of grapes features many berries. But there are several approaches to these ideas.

Somewhere CS Lewis observes that God’s name is I AM, and we steal it and use it with impunity, often selfishly, multiple times each day.


The Beginning is Near : a short sea-story of departure and arrival



Beginnings were about to begin again. He felt he was about to be swallowed whole, by the sea.  While wrestling the wheel, he attempted to imagine his way out of this maelstrom, for a return to Port Coseville.  Silently he mulled — why not just go with the flow of fresh experience?

“Why resist?” he screamed into the wind, as tho’ it might readily reply.  He squinted thru the foggy spray, hoping to glimpse the horizon, while resisting the temptation to gaze astern at his past, knowing this was no time for watching re-runs or revisiting regrets.  Yet, ahead there be dragons seemed a lame excuse to bypass the stress of an unknowable future. ¿Was he tempting fate?

Am I ok for the next five minutes?  Well, let’s see.  He knew the past had never been what nostalgia would claim for it, and watching himself in replay could be downright depressing. (Regrets for the past could change nothing, but might haunt and perhaps alter the present.)

If extricating himself — which direction would he even go?  He calculated.  These were uncharted waters for him, and imagining 360º x 360º brought him more than a twinge of vertigo. At the same time he was losing track of his precious log books, which were now awash. He had read them so often while becalmed that he thought he had memorized them – but they were de-materializing, swamped in the intruding splash and enveloping fog of the sea’s churning, all of which had his mind racing.  (He struggled to retain those memories, but it seemed futile, as he was even forgetting who he was.) The fog thickened.

Without compelling reason, he pondered the simplicity and risk of riding out the present turmoil, rather than clinging to the past, hoping against hope to learn the way home by closely observing his path, come what may.  He steadied his resolve, reminding himself that if he lived here in this moment then he would already be home.

Without taking further thought, he swung the tiller sharply, plunging up, up, directly into the next swell, abandoning his effort to evade the storm by sailing inside the trough of waves, parallel to them. ¿Perhaps instead of being swallowed, he was about to be burped up? He stifled an urge to vomit.

Cresting the wave had rocked him. Then another shiver.  Voices?  He suspected he was not alone in the din of this soundscape.  ¿Were there others, dangerously close, enshrouded with him? 

. . . yes, muffled voices were being spoken in a strange tongue . . .


Suddenly a wave of natal fluid crested and launched him forth into a ship’s surgeon’s hands, followed by a gentle swat on the backside. He gasped. The heaving had ceased.  His abrupt arrival in a protected harbor was beyond dazzling.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood.  ~Black Elk, on the circles of time and life.  

He would eventually come to hear stories of his birthing in a home port on a tropical isle, and of his “commissioning” from dry dock, as a light cruiser, but in reality, a navy brat.  These accounts affirmed the wisdom of his decision to cross the boundary of terror, into an utterly new experience.  ¿But . . . was the decision truly his? 

Some few years later he would ponder this question again, as he wildly spun the wheel of a toy boat tethered to revolving cross-beams in a donut-shaped tub at a country fair.  He spun that wheel to no effect, but noticed this inescapable fact. The de-frock’d  illusion-of-control was instructive, and memorable. He resolved to continue to search for an underlying principle explaining experience, without losing his joy at being entertained and instructed by it.

He would eventually be shown a report printed by his “crazy-clever” father – a two-word description told to him many years later by his Mum.  Pop was the Commander’s yeoman-stenographer, Petty Officer 2ndc, Henri Jaffe. Pop had immediately published the news of the launch of this (me!) their spanking new “vessel,” the USS Sven Jaffe, to announce the arrival of their first child, to family, friends and neighbors, complete with nautical details: ___length, girth amidship, tonnage, blanket speed____.  But I digress . . .

Yenni, mi Mum, prior to 1946, from our family album.  Photographer unknown.  (fair use)

Mum, of course, was aboard, in the ship’s dispensary.  She was a native of the island, then occupied militarily to help enforce a peace, claimed to be new, from their tiny atoll after the “second great war.”  (I would come to learn that peace was not merely the absence of war, and that war was not great – as friends and mates came home, bagged or broken.)

As sailors often do, Pop had mingled with the locals.  But Mum had chosen him, over many eager suitors.  We all three would come to feel chosen, and mightily blessed.  They had married before my arrival, and were deeply attentive of me, their newest chapter. 

They call me Sven – a good Viking name – a freeman who serves another – for someone expected to sail on to storied adventures in community by crewing as a fellow sailor.  (Hey, coconuts which drop near the sea are often claimed by the sea.)  In a gale, palm trees flex.  Nuts float off.  Rigid pines snap.

Like all newborns, I had no notion of ethnicity or race.  Pop was Jewish. Mum was Christian. I arrived assuming there was a single reality, and we were all adherents of the One, like cells in a universal body.  And they, my parents, were characters in my story. But less-than-apparently, I was a character in each of theirs. One bunch, many grapes.  (Other siblings would follow.)

As time advanced, I would find I often didn’t enjoy their exercise of authority, their verbal style of drawing word-pictures in that strange and contrived tongue of theirs, English. Pop would often be too quick to ask-and-answer, without affording me time to think, which could be infuriating.  Socrates would not have approved!  (Maybe I met Soc’ in a previous life when Meno and I played stickball together in the old neighborhood.) Mum and Pop seemed to think I, who had sailed many seas, was naive.  How absurd!

Yet I was not inclined to become a quick thinker, preferring the safety of depth, to that of speed.  To be clear, I avoided confusing depth with certainty, favoring time and space for reflection, informed by a healthy skepticism.  I welcomed being proven wrong. It was edifying.

My newest assignment was to learn how to direct these two latest additions of an ever-unfolding cast of characters.  They hovered, but were not easily managed.  My communication skills were blunt, to burble the least.  Both of them were very entertaining, and often made me laugh with their silly antics.  I could tell that both cared deeply, cheering me on with new lessons daily. We enjoyed our advancing dialog.


Mother’s milk is so much tastier than rainwater, or even coconut water.  But chewing instead of sucking should be warned against by an advisory note writ large in the owner’s manual, packed into each newborn’s shipping container, to be studied at leisure while enroute, before delivery.  To wit, my overly-eager monkey bites got me weaned early – swapped out for a breast pump and a rubber-tipped bottle.  While each meal still fulfilled its purpose, O, how I missed those sugar cones! (MEMO: Ignoring assigned homework has its opportunity costs.)

A first priority for me was to learn to use my voice with skill, rather than volume. It was strenuous work.  But it was becoming evident that amplification and comprehension are not to be conflated. (He who speaks loudest does not automatically win.)  I needed to imitate their words and use them cleverly and carefully, to exchange them for incoming entertainment and education.  Words were fun.  I collected them eagerly.

Frozen moments from paradise.

Shortly after me and Mum had recovered from the crashing surf of birf, additional clouds appeared on the horizon.  I was oblivious. This harbor felt blissfully safe. Yet change happens.

A year of snapshots in paradise from the young couple’s album would later reveal to me storied portions of their romance, plus my brief six months with them prior to departure.  My experience on the island would be charmed, but short. We all boarded a C-47 “Gooney Bird” for Hawaii and San Francisco, and then flew on to Pop’s hometown in Upstate New York, our new home port, where the waters were fresh, but far from the salt sea.

Stories from Lapland.  Learning to read.

As the years passed, and I acquired an English tongue, I became intrigued with story.  Visitors would find me eager to present them with a book to read with me, from lapland.  I had detected that those black marks in books were key to telling the story the same every time, and I wanted to learn how to make those little marks bark. While I enjoyed Dr. Seuss, my favorite story was The Emperor’s New Clothes.  I loved how it recognized that tiny people could point out observable facts to persuade adults of their follies. 

While I could almost recite that story from memory, that wasn’t good enough.  I wanted to learn the secret of converting ink into sound and meaning.  Mum, however, said school teachers didn’t like it when arriving students could already read.  This made no sense to me, but I was unable to articulate my objections.  So I had to wait for first grade to learn my very first letter-sound-meaning combo, which was :  LOOK (with eyeballs inside the O’s).  But it was torture to watch classmates struggle with exceptions, variants, and absurd explanations of why a single letter could have multiple sounds, or no sound at all.  I distinctly remember telling Mum that this language was dumb, and somebody should fix it.

Reading for meaning.

While reading for pleasure was a delight, reading for meaning required attention.  One day our teacher handed out a test on a mimeographed sheet with little drawings. The instructions told us Using your crayons, color the apple RED.  Color the pumpkin ORANGE.  Color the grapes BLUE, et cetera.  Well, silly me. I knew what it said, but I forgot to change crayons from orange to blue, and there I was with an orange bunch of grapes!  Panicked, I recalled that the teacher always wrote our score on the backside of the sheet.  So I flipped the sheet over and colored the entire backside orange to prevent her from marking me down.  But she put my score at the top of the front side, and never even asked me why I had colored the backside orange.  Adults were so incurious!

I continued collecting words, and reading for pleasure, even discovering that I didn’t have to finish a story if I didn’t like it.  Eventually I found Pop’s copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.  Word heaven. 

By the time I got to high school I was not enjoying English teachers very much.  Too often, they would torture a good story into submission by asking weird questions.  In biology class we dissected a frog to study its parts, learning in the process that living creatures were not machines, since the frog dies from dissection.  Stories often suffered a similar death by surgery.  Even history seemed dead when presented mostly as dates and events rather than as a contest of ideas or positions, afloat atop good questions.  I became interested in life outside of school, as school seemed intent on pickling life in preparation for eventual assembly-line work at an auto plant, or bucking hot metal at a steel mill. 

The only time I ever got an A+ was on a term paper about life on Walden Pond, by Thoreau, in which I referred to him throughout as Henry.  (Maybe the teacher found that endearing.)  Here was a guy who could write and think about stuff I found worth pondering – nature, and neighbors.  I read several more of his books on my own, as I wanted to learn how nature and community worked together, or could or should work.  Henry seemed focused on big questions, and wasn’t going to let anybody bully him.  He said “It’s never too late to give up your prejudices.”  But why wait?  Thoreau was perplexed at why the governor of a free state would arrest (kidnap!) runaway slaves to remand them to slave-owners in a slave state.  Good question, Henry!  (¿If Massachusetts had outlawed slavery, how could anybody be arrested for “being a slave?”)

The politics of power are perplexing.  I guess rich guys stick together to maintain ownership of the game-of-life, which apparently is not so much a game of skill, but of luck.  But how to get my head around that concept!  The English word hap, from which we get happy and happen, is an old word for luck.  Am I lucky to be born a human rather than born a crow?  Dunno.  Well, crows can’t read, so maybe I am lucky.  But maybe crows don’t need to read.  They love to crow, to fly, to be. To be happy. That seems plenty fortunate, another word for luck.

Without being force-fed, I had started reading the Bible on my own at age seven, as I liked the wisdom I found in the Psalms, which invited me to think.  (Mum was a good example, as she quietly read her Bible each morning, living those gleanings before us, daily.)

Further along in the text, I eventually got to where St. Paul tells us to give thanks, no matter what comes.  Feeling unlucky? Thank-you, Lord.  Feeling giddy about good fortune? Thanks again.  My take?  I guess that luck, good or bad, is intended to be instructive, as in: “be careful what you wish for, because if God wants to punish you, he’ll let you have what you wanted” (MEMO: thou shalt not covet).


But rather than charging God with being mean or indifferent, I prefer to think that my want-er earns its own punishment – “bad luck” is then often blamed.  (Was Job, and family, unlucky? Hmm.)   But God is innocent, and kind – A Good Teacher.   And contrary to what you’ve heard at church, humankind is innocent, too.  God knows this, but we don’t. At least, not yet.  Yes, original innocence is the lesson of that story about the garden, the tempter (the whisperer), the woman, and the apple.  Hey, there is no apple in that story.  Read it. No apple!  I promise.  Perhaps the point of that story is, that in order to detect a counterfeit, it is necessary to be deeply familiar with the original.

That ersatz “apple” is actually a red flag, saying “beware the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good AND evil [emphasis added by me; see v.16,17].  And I don’t care what your pastor or priest told you about “original sin” — s/he also learned about the flipside of that charge at divinity school or seminary, called monism or nonduality, and was pledged never to reveal it, at risk of causing a church fight, which would then cost them their jobs.  Yes, heresy has gotten many people fired, or even burned at the stake. But the fact is the garden story is an allegory, a parable, not a literal history!  It’s there to invite us to think.  (Ask any rabbi; or enjoy Stephen Greenblatt’s book about Adam and Eve.) 

So, what is heresy?  Hey, Jesus was a heretic in the eyes of many of his nation’s congregation, challenging the interpretation of the teachings and practices of a majority of the holy men alive among his tribal fellow-worshipers.  But look where it got him! — So count the cost before following him as a fellow heretic.  Dare to think for yourself!  ¿Got courage?

 “Literalism” is presently the “third rail” of religion.  It should recede as we reawaken.  Literalism – “fundamentalism” – a refusal to do our own thinking, is the great red dragon which will “huff and puff and blow your house down” – if you let it.  So, have the spiritual curiosity to read with hunger, with gusto.  (I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.) And then pray that your appetite be relocated from your belly or your flesh, to your heart.  Our invitation is to read between the lines of scripture, rather than getting ensnared by the words. We can invite the holy spirit to be our translator, our Teacher.  All of us long for a mentor.  ¿Got appetite?

But we often skip our tutorials and reading assignments. Instead, we go to a building to hear a weekly monologue. Afterwards, we often distract ourselves with social interaction rather than serious study and listening, when we could be in dialog with the Divine, at home or abroad. 

Well, if you do go to said building, you might ask yourself “¿what am I bringing to the party?”  Maybe I’m just going there to look for a date or a mate, or to socialize or eat, or to hit somebody over the head with my book — when I could simply pray to be a blessing today, everywhere I go.  ¿Daily worship?

More on Luck (and Choice)

Whether luck is good or bad, I prefer asking What’s the spiritual lesson here, Lord?    (Maybe luck is mostly a matter of interpretation, or instruction?)  Clambering to a different vista alters our point of view, if we will make the effort to climb, to ponder and listen.  ¿Got spiritual curiosity?

Does a crow feel unlucky to be born black?  What an absurd question!  Yet some folks feel this way.  And others don’t!  Did I have a choice-of-color prior to arrival?  Well, not that I recall.  And while I’ve never seen a white crow, I know there are black swans, as I once saw one in the wild with a bright red beak, gracefully paddling in a lush swamp alongside a white mate.

Few people are aware that 16% of bird species interbreed. And, of course, we’ve done this as well, anciently, with Neanderthals and Denisovans.  But racial interbreeding is all in the same family, rather than between species.  While I don’t know if it’s genetically possible, I can imagine a blackbird and a cardinal crossing, to result in a redwing blackbird.  Yes, there’s beauty in diversity.

Walking in another person’s moccasins.

So, what’s it like to be a bat, or to be you?  Can I even know? That first example is a famous question in philosophy, asked by Thomas Nagel.

Black is the color which soaks up almost all the light.  We, if we think of ourselves as children of light, then our nature, our assignment, is to live in the light.  But note: a window pane doesn’t retain light; it simply, silently displays it, by not obstructing it, by honoring its own nature.  (I can’t quite remember if choice-of-color was one of the options on that Cosmic Dream Sheet I filled out before bursting onto the scene here on this planet, when it came time for a new duty station.)

Know thyself, said the ancient Greeks.  My basic assignment is to be me.  But in order to be me, I must know who I am.  This is the biggest question of life — one that, all too often, gets put on a shelf, to be considered “later, when I have more time”.  So, along with Kermit the Frog, I might complain that “it isn’t easy being green.” But a flipside of that coin might be “am I comfortable in my own skin?”  Heads, I win… tails – if preferring to complain, or refusing to think for myself – I lose. (The crowd loves to bully us; even more, it delights in pratfalls, and failure.)

Here’s my point about luck, good or bad.  Learning, like teething – can be painful – but once done, it yields the fruit of gratitude, which is understanding.  And as with teeth, we can then chew solid food. 

Mum told me the devil can’t touch a grateful person — not even by whispering – if we’re alert!  So, if you ever hear a voice inside your head hissssing that “God doesn’t give a rip about you,” reject it instantly.  It’s a god-damned lie, and God has condemned it to hell. That liar has already been defeated.  Job learned this; Jesus, too. Shake that hypnotic suggestion into the fire by awakening to who you really are.

[To be continued]

I’m looking for an agent, sharing this writing sample under statutory copyright.

¿Know anybody?



O, how I do miss Merida English Library!  (It’s “open” for curbside borrowing during pandemic.)  I’m so grateful to the staff and volunteers for all they’re doing to keep the lights on. And the book, seen above, is one of these projects.  This mini review will not be about the recipes — but rather, mostly just a shout-out for you to buy your copy :  $500 pesos.  (I bought mine at Slow Food : Saturdays @ Reforma near Colon, 9am – 1pm).  But I can’t resist offering a few observations on the book’s production, as I have a degree in graphic design, and have published two books.

First, some matters of practicality:  slick, clay-based papers are expensive and don’t do well in kitchens, due to greasy fingers, etc.  (Mostly, such papers are chosen for better reproduction of photos, of which there are none inside the book.)  Second, grey type – especially in a light font –is ok for ads, but not well suited for busy activities such as cooking :  Readability! — especially for older eyes.  Third, as there are 200 recipes, it would have been good to provide page numbers in the index next to the names of the cooking-contributors.  (I looked and looked for my recipe, a hearty soup or stew, which we always serve as a main dish;  I finally found it under Side Dishes.)  

But these are all minor details.  The main thing is to keep MEL’s doors open, which the cookbook group has surely aided.  But now its up to us to do our part by promoting and buying the book.  It’s you’re move, dear Reader.  

Below I’ve included the recipe which I contributed (p.133) — for Beans and Greens aka “Pasta Fazool” from Buffalo’s west side — with a few minor corrections (eg: in the book, for ingredients I listed six large cloves of garlic, whereas in the recipe, itself, I call for 6 teeth, which is correct. Plus a few other details, such as using only one liter of stock, for a thicker dish.)  


BEANS & GREENS, (“pasta fazool”) 
This is a hearty dish I’ve developed over the years, inspired by an old Italian joint on Buffalo’s west side, Santasiero’s, on Niagara Street;  (“fazool” is a corruption of the Italian word for beans, fagiolo.)  They always served hot yellow banana peppers on top of this heaping bowl of pasta, which I replace with some salsa. 
Ingredients :
1 jar of white beans, 400g net, as cooked cannelinis, locally called alubias blancas cocoidas.
1 large tub of baby spinach (or other mixed greens such as kale, escarole, arugala, etc)
Garlic — at least six large teeth.
Olive oil, to cover bottom of wok or kettle generously.
200g of tiny pasta elbows (here sized as #2)
1 liter of chicken stock.
As a Mexican version, add 1 small can (425g) of Campbells Caldo Tlalpeño soup (a spicy sopa w/ garbanzos and carrots) optional
Some spicy salsa (Costeña taquera, habanero, etc) or your favorite fried chili peppers, to taste
Large white onion, or leek, or other such allium.
Some dry sherry or brandy, if available.

In sauce pan,  add 1-liter of chicken stock; add one whole garlic tooth, smashed, peeled. Maybe add some water. Bring to boil, and simmer.  
Add pasta when liquid is hot, stirring a bit to prevent sticking. Remove the garlic tooth when pasta is almost done, al dente.
In wok or large kettle, add enough olive oil to cover bottom. 
To the hot oil, add quartered onion, coarsely chopped, to simmer slowly till onions are sorta transparent. 
Next, add to the wok, five tooths of garlic, smashed, peeled, chopped coarsely – but don’t burn the garlic! 
Add lots of greens to the wok – covering, to wilt. (They will cook down dramatically.) Add some water after adding the greens, to help wilting with steam.
When well wilted, add the pasta elbows and hot stock to the wok. 
Add beans and some of the thick bean juice to the wok, mashing some of them.
Add the can of sopa tlalpeño to wok to simmer a bit.
Add salsa to wok, to taste, but don’t over do it.
Add some apple vinegar or blonde sherry vinegar, to taste.
Add optional splash of brandy or dry sherry.
Provide additional oil & vinegars and salsa, at table.  
(Makes about six generous servings.)



“If the Democratic Party wants to stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners, that is up to them. But I as your president will not be part of it. The Republican Party will remain the voice of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe.”

— Donald Trump, Aug. 28, 2020

Photo by Liz O’Neil   (fair use)


Dear fellow citizens, across the aisle:

Up until a few days ago there were about 150 elected Republicans who were on record saying they would object to accepting electors supporting the victory of Joe Biden.  (Congress can object on evidence-based cause – none of which has been found – but Congress does not have the authority to choose which electors various states send to the electoral college, but rather, only to count them and tally the count, naming the victor.) Congress is legislative, not judicial; they are not entitled to go on a fishing expedition to look for fraud, which has already failed, in courts.

Yesterday a mob sacked our capitol.  This mob was invited, incited and sent by a mobster.  Personally, I want to practice neighborliness with all fellow citizens.  (correction:  Yet, CNN reports that a total of 121 elected Republicans objected to the electors presented for Arizona; and 138 for Pennsylvania, after the capitol was sacked! )  If you, dear citizen, voted for this lying mobster in the General Election, I invite you to ponder the quote at the top which now debunks any claim of law and order by said mobster:
If these “patriotic heroes” mentioned by the mobster were acting on credible evidence, I would praise them, too!  But we must protect our community from the lame claim that the election was “stolen”.  If you believe so, please consider the many lawsuits, all of which were rejected by our courts for lack of credible evidence.  (Many of these suits were rejected by courts in Republican states!)  No court anywhere saw evidence of significant voter fraud which could have effected the outcome of the election.  But we did see a brazen attempt by the mob’s Don to demand that the top election official in Georgia (a Republican) “find” about 12,000 votes to overturn a certified election which had been counted three times.  
“Truth by assertion” — merely saying something is so, doesn’t make it so.  Saying “I won” over and over is nonsense if the votes don’t add up, not even if the words “in a landslide” are added to the claim.  Where is the evidence?  Even this Mobster’s own Attorney General has admitted there is no such evidence, when resigning.  Do you really want a mobster running America?  (The Mobster’s consigliere, Rudy Giuliani, has called for “trial by combat”!)
     Neighbor, if you still believe this election was stolen from Mr Trump, you are a Banana Republican in need of an awakening to reality.   If so, please get some help.  Our community needs you back again, in your right mind.


Naturalist Jim Conrad, photo by MeridaGOround, in Yucatan, 2012

I’ve written about this modern-day Thoreau several times here at my searchable blog.  For a guy with such big feet, he’s got the smallest carbon footprint of anybody I’ve ever met. His austere lifestyle is to walk lightly on our planet, honoring Nature’s beauty, without trampling.  

Naturalist Jim spent a few days at our home in Merida several months ago, after decamping from a rustic ranch in Tepaká, Yucatán, on his way to new digs at a remote eco-lodge in Texas, Frio Cielo Ranch, where he is resident naturalist.  During  winter solstice he released his latest project,  NATURE-STUDY MEDITATION: Mother Nature as Therapist in Anxious Times.

This ebook is downloadable for free.  And he’s now offering ZOOM conversations with the naturalist, individually and to groups, where he gladly entertains nature questions, clickable at a block on his home page, .  

Jim tells me that his recent foray into FaceBook is over, as they have foreclosed his access to his fb account, apparently wanting money from him since traffic at his noncommercial site has become busy enough that they seem to want a cut of his action, which is basically zero, as he subsists modestly on donations. (He speculates that perhaps this increased traffic is due to home-schooling during pandemic.)  

His latest ebook is somewhat autobiographical, as he interacts with posts from his past, while sharing his approach to meditating on nature, and our place in it.  It’s instructive without being preachy. He teaches how taxonomy works to help us better understand nature; and he explores mental realms that stimulate curiosity, and bring peace and relaxation.  


¿ Who knew ?  (they sure didn’t tell us in school!)  —  In 1659, Massachusetts made it illegal to celebrate Christmas—a ban that lasted for the next 22 years!  Some religionistas just don’t know how to party; maybe their puritan long-underwear was too itchy?  (The word celebrate comes from Latin, celebrare; to honor.)   ¶  Below are a sampling of some of our Christmas cards celebrating love, family, community, gratitude – so much joy over the years.

Christmas card ~1978?

Christmas card ~1979?

Christmas card ~1988?

Christmas card ~1989?

Christmas card, 1994

Christmas card, 1997

Christmas card, 1999

Christmas card, 2001

Christmas card, 2002

Christmas card, 2004. Later, I went digital. More recent greetings can  be seen by btowsing December entries.