Trivium: Rhetoric

Trivium: Rhetoric

We’re back with the third part of the Trivium: Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through communications, either written or spoken. There are always two components to rhetoric – the rhetoric and the audience. Rhetoric’s aim is to make comparisons, evoke emotions, censure rivals, and convince their audience to switch a point of view. Rhetoric takes the form of speech, debate, music, story, play, movie, poem; nearly anything that can be written or spoken may be a piece of rhetoric. In fact, it may be the rhetoric that makes the art.

In the poem, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, the author provides a brief insight into life’s travels:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 

The rhetorical line of this poem is: “I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” Frost has set a scene for us of decision, or indecision, and given us a glimpse into his thoughts, which may be our thoughts at any given moment. His work is convincing us that in order to perhaps make a difference in our lives, we should tread whether others have infrequently traveled.

When we talk about skilled negotiators, people with “charisma” and “charm,” we are really talking about the art of rhetoric. We use rhetoric in our everyday lives when we create a job resume, negotiate to buy a car, when we debate politics, or even when we are convincing a teenager to clean their room. We may do it every day, but do we really understand the finer points of rhetoric? It seems to be the pinnacle of the Trivium and the highest goal we can work toward in order to communicate our ideas with one another effectively.


A nod to this blog for providing the Cornelis Cort images.

Grammar and the Trivium

Grammar and the Trivium

Previously, I posted about the Seven Liberal Arts in general and the Trivium in particular. Recently, a challenge was given to me about providing examples of how the liberal arts are part of our everyday life, and why the human seeking to enlighten their mind might care about them. The challenge was to provide short essays on each. Three-hundred word essays are always a challenge but the gauntlet has been picked up. We’ll call these Liberal Arts: petit fours.

Therefore, for today, I give you Grammar.grammar


Grammar is the skill of knowing language. In order to form sound reasoning, one must be able to learn the words, sentence structure, and forms that make up their language and thereby, communicate clearly and with confidence. In classical training, Grammar is the “who, what, why, when, and how” of understanding and knowledge. Grammar is taught more mechanically in the modern age, which does a disservice:  humans need more than nuts and bolts to create clear ideas and communicate them. Much of what we need to learn goes beyond the adverb or adjective.

An example of this is figures of speech.Cornelis Cort 1565 Grammar Figures of speech are the use of any of a variety of techniques to give an auxiliary meaning, idea, or feeling. An example of this is dysphemism. This is the use of a harsh, more offensive word instead of one considered less harsh. Dysphemism is often contrasted with Euphemism. Dysphemisms are generally used to shock or offend.

Examples of dysphemism are “cancer stick” for cigarette,  “belly bomb” for doughnut, and “treeware” for books. Examples of Euphemisms are lighter, such as “between jobs” for unemployed, or “passed away” for death. Knowing the difference of these two figures of speech allows the audience to be placed in a certain frame of mind and creates a scene for the next stages of what is to be communicated.grandpa

As our use of grammar grows, we need tounderstand how figures of speech like this work and use them effectively when we will eventually make our case (rhetoric) via the tool of language organized into thought (logic). Thus, the well-rounded thinking man should understand not only the technical grammar of his own language, but also how the tools of grammar may be applied to the body of human knowledge for further study.

In order to communicate his own interpretation of the symbolism of any topic of organized learning, as well as what he learns from the natSocratic Methodural world around him, the study of grammar, regardless of the age of the individual, is pivotal.  Grammar is foundational to all problem-solving methods.

What would the Socratic Method be without proper grammar by which to understand and debate the ethical questions of nature?

As Socrates knew: to be able to instruct, to learn deference, and to be able to speak with authority, the enlightened human must concern himself with the very basic study of communication. That is, the study of the grammar of one’s language.

 

 

Complacency

Complacency

Are you comfortable? Are you warm, well-fed, and dry? Do you have enough to drink? Warm showers? Bathroom indoors? Excellent. This isn’t judgement. You, like me, are a benefactor of decades and centuries of prosperity, war, genocide, environmental support and ruin, negotiations, smart men and women, and incredibly ignorant men and women. Our life here in the United States is far more fortunate than most of the world. And for all this fortune and well-being, shouldn’t we be an example? A role model, if you will?

And we’ve moved into a time of just the opposite: officials and citizens of the U.S.A. who would have us cease to be citizens of the world. We citizens, in our Typical U.S.A. fashion, are dreadfully close to leaning back, away from the political and global world stage, and saying, “Yeah, not me. Not now. I’m okay right here.” There are those who think we’ve extended ourselves too far – being the military and financial might that we are. We’ve stuccomplacency-meaning-definitionk our noses into a lot of things – countries, business, trade, religion, and other government. It’s part arrogance, part global citizen, but do not believe it’s selfless. We are not by any stretch of imagination a selfless country.

Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many selfless people here in this country. Yet, we’ve not yet organized ourselves into a selfless mindset. We’re too fragmented, idealistic, narcissistic, egotistical, and fearful. With the new Republican administration sweeping our Nation’s capital, it seems we’re only going to continue down this road of fragmentation and insularity. We want to listen only to what we believe in. It’s too hard to stay in the game of change. We’re becoming immune and yes, I might say it, normalizing when it comes to the intense rhetoric. When a leading national policy maker, with the ear of the President says, that his personal agenda is the deconstruction of national administration, we should not be complacent. We should be attentive. These might be Fearful Words. I think that many of us who are idealists, moderate left to moderate right, hear this and think the sky is falling. A few might run protesting through the streets and ready to swing a heavy hammer back in another direction. Most wring their hands and hope that it will all go away. Maybe this IS the Twilight Zone.

But, hear me out… I think we need to stop and think. I mlkthink we need to understand the motivations behind the chaos and deconstruction and near-anarchy. I recently read an article on Politico regarding Bannon’s reading list. It’s fascinating. It’s really about the dissatisfaction with the status quo reaching a head. The country’s dissatisfaction has been waiting to burst for many people for sometime – else, the message would have fallen on deaf ears and Hillary would have been elected.  Many of us who would not and do not agree with Bannon’s ideology have felt this same way also for a long time but perhaps we were too locked-into a single mindset to think differently. Bannon’s is a mindset that says, “Rush the gates!” rather than “Tunnel under the wall.” It’s a system that’s advocating for intense chaos that instigates intense change. As I said in an earlier, non-related post about chaos, entropy is the death of life. And yet, it’s as necessary as the upset to our equilibrium.

I am not advocating for intense, hate-based change. I do not believe in hate, lies, bigotry, or ignorance. Quite the opposite. And I do believe these things that are being done are being done to shock and awe our consciousness. There are people on the Right who are, like some on the Left, taking the message too far. These are people who advocate for and commit acts of hate and ignorance. I am not advocating for that. What I am advocating for is that we all should listen closely to what is being said. I am hoping we can stop and listen. Listening is the only way that I have personally found to make change. We need to shift into our “thinking man’s” mindset and really listen. Can we sift through the chaos and hear the real message? Then, once heard, can we shift into non-complacency?

I think that is our clear danger here. We are on the brink of sitting back, as I said, and waiting for someone else to take the reins of the Four Horsemen’s steeds and slow the oncoming apocalypse – and yes, I mean that in a literal sense directed towards our “world” not THE world. Someone else can get bloodied. Someone else can be uncomfortable. Someone else can be at the center of the debate. I’m fine just where I am. This is what I think Dan Rather was saying when he first stepped out on the stage after the election last year. “To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties.”

complacency-quotes-7

I do not think Americans are generally a “fight” first people… generally, as individuals that is. These people who carry the message of antisemitism, bigotry, and racism are easy to hate and vilify and condemn. It’s easy to just fall into the same trap of name calling, topic deflection, and rhetoric. I think it’s a lot harder to stand up and understand them, and then fight back differently. I’m not talking about actual fighting or even some of the things that we “traditionally” do when government goes awry, like protests. I’m talking about seeking to understand and then counter their measures on their own terms. We’re already seeing some of it. We’re seeing people who would never have considered running for office doing so now – both locally and statewide. We’re seeing letter writing and phone calls and new manifestos. We’re hearing those who might have been silent in the past reaching out with a clear voice and measured, thoughtful ideas.  We’re hearing about corporations who are funding where government is dropping off. We’re hearing about rogue insiders in agencies posting the true comments and stories rather than hiding behind the media. These are all good – and we can do more. We need to get into the minds of these people and understand the source, so we can reverse the river’s course. We need weird solutions to whatever is put before us. We need, as Obama said, “smart ideas.”

Dan Rather recently posted an update to the original posting noted above. He said:

“The time for normalizing, dissembling, and explaining away Donald Trump has long since passed. The barring of respected journalistic outlets from the White House briefing is so far beyond the norms and traditions that have governed this republic for generations, that they must be seen as a real and present threat to our democracy. These are the dangers presidents are supposed to protect against, not create.

For all who excused Mr. Trump’s rhetoric in the campaign as just talk, the reckoning has come. I hope it isn’t true, but I fear Mr. Trump is nearing or perhaps already beyond any hope of redemption. And now the question is will enough pressure be turned to all those who enable his antics with their tacit encouragement. There has been a wall of unbending support from virtually every Republican in Congress, and even some Democrats. Among many people, this will be seen as anything approaching acceptable. And mind you, talk is cheap. No one needs to hear how you don’t agree with the President. What are you going to do about it? Do you maintain that an Administration that seeks to subvert the protections of our Constitution is fit to rule unchecked? Or fit to rule at all?

This is an emergency that can no longer be placed solely at the feet of President Trump, or even the Trump Administration. This is a moment of judgement for everyone who willingly remains silent. It is gut check time, for those in a position of power, and for the nation.”

This thoughtful, measured fight isn’t easy. Some people may think I’m crazy for listening to “the other side.” Truth is, I’m on the side of humanity. I’m on the side of human beings being better than they are. Sometimes, we need to go backward or sideways to actually move forward. Sometimes we need the shake up of thinking differently to get back on an upward trajectory. Look, most of us were unhappy with the government. Congress’ approval rating has been the lowest in history for years – YEARS! Did it change the way we hoped it would, with sweetness and roses? No. But, let’s admit, it wasn’t going to change itself. It needed a huge shock to shift. How many times have you or someone you know said “If only a bomb would drop on Washington?” People even made movies about it. Come on. It’s the metaphor for “I wish it would change but I don’t know what it will take to do it.” We’ve thought this for some time. The weird thing is, now it’s happening and we, most of the American public, didn’t actually instigate it.

We should not get over our revulsion of hate and ignorance, and the acts which are committed in their names. We should not ignore the lies and “alternative facts” which come out of our Nation’s capital now. As Dan said, “…these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education – even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption.” Do not ignore these. We must, though, look into the heart of what is really happening and learn their strategy. We rise above it by infiltrating it, understanding it, awalking-deadnd then, crushing it. We need to have the equilibrium unsettled, the boat tilted wildly, before we can learn how to right it again, and find a sea that we can sail swiftly.

The chaos doesn’t have a plan for what to put back in its place. Bannon doesn’t have a plan for rebuilding the Government in his image. Trump might, but it’s unlikely. Chaos seeks to break apart not put back together. We, the thinkers and the doers, are the ones who will put the fragmented ideals back together into a government that perhaps works better than a previous one did. Maybe it will be a Democratic Republic. Maybe not. Maybe it will be something new and better. If we choose to do nothing, nothing will change or happen. If we choose to ignore the rhetoric and take the path less traveled, we become the ones the current Government fears. We become the agents of the real new world.

That is who I want to be, and I’m guessing most of you, too. To that end, we cannot be complacent in these times. Two months in, do not sit back in your sofa and turn on The Walking Dead; else, you’re in danger of becoming so yourself.

Ego and the Freemason

Ego and the Freemason
I have to say, I love my Lodge’s Study Groups. They bring up all kinds of interesting subjects in relation to all aspects of life, and more particularly, life as a Freemason. We recently discussed how Ego affects our lives, and what our particular work is as Freemasons in regards to the Ego. These study sessions give me an opportunity to explore not only my own experiences with the topic but also what I think about it objectively – form an opinion, as well as be able to articulate that opinion. Since we all have an Ego, it’s easy to have experiences with it. It’s harder to form objective opinions. After all, isn’t the Ego involved in forming those opinions?
 

One of my first college classes, as a fresh-faced 18 year old, was Psychology 101. This was predated by Western Philosophy, both having an extremely big pull for me. These were classes that my high school did not offer: a whole new world of living that was and still is exciting. We learned all about Freud and Jung’s theories of the Ego, amongst other things, but nothing really “stuck” with me after that class. I never really went back and explored Ego until it came up so often in religious and metaphysical studies years later. I identified most closely with Jung’s writings, and I often go back to read up on him when questions of Psyche were, and are, involved.

In his writing about Ego, “One of Jung’s central concepts is individuation, his term for a process of personal development that involves establishing a connection between the ego and the self. The ego is the center of consciousness; the self is the center of the total psyche, including both the conscious and the unconscious.” The reference goes on to say, “For Jung, there is constant interplay between the two. They are not separate but are two aspects of a single system. Individuation is the process of developing wholeness by integrating all the various parts of the psyche.”F1B445C0-81D7-4ACC-B8DE-2F5F9B0DA2B5

The most interesting part of that statement is the fact that the Ego and the Self are different entities that must be integrated. How did they get dis-integrated in the first place? How did something that was whole become separate, linked, and our goal is to try to integrate the two? Is it birth that separated them? If so, what are we before? And is that the state we are trying to achieve? It makes my head spin to think that we might have been integrated in the womb (or before?) and dis-integrated at birth, and we spend our whole lives working toward integration. What happens, then, if you integrate earlier than dying? Is that perhaps our goal? Do we evolve as a species if that happens?

Hurts your head, right? Well, it does mine.

I imagine a binary star system, two bright points of light circling each other, embracing each other as only two fiery systems of gas and elementals can – never touching and continually burning each other. Love that consumes and renews itself. Yes, that must be the Ego and the Self, in Jung’s world.

If the Ego and the Self are inseparable, then it seems to me we have to learn to live with both, separate and equal parts, calling and screaming at one another all the time. How do we reconcile? Do we even try? Since we cannot unequivocally say where the mind resides, perhaps these two things are part of the overarching mind that controls us. And, logic gives us, that if as above, so below is representative, does that Divine mind have a Self and Ego, too? Does the Divine even have a mind? Maybe that’s a weird question, but maybe not.

5889823E-3C83-44D7-B9F5-6BA633A5FAD1I do know that Freemasonry simultaneously chooses to subdue our Egos and find our “Self.” Perhaps one of the binary stars must be dominant, and in that dominance is where we find the traits of a person – arrogance or humility, graciousness or rudeness. In the balance between the stars, we find the nature of the gasses they put off. It is difficult to be of service to your fellow Masons and at the same time be immodest and arrogant. There’s little room for others when you fill the room with your Ego. Perhaps that is also why we learn to subdue passions – the passions of the Ego – and develop the passions of the Self – the connection to the divine. One star must dim to have the other shine. The Roche Lobe of Personality. I kinda like it.

In the past, I wondered why we, as Freemasons, pin medals on our chests and put numbers at the end of our names, or added titles when we attain certain Masonic degrees. I think this is another of those tests – do we do it for prestige? Do we wear our outward jewels as a “brag rag,” as I heard one brother call it long ago? Or do we wear them to honor the Work we’ve completed and bring to the gathering? Do we shine our Ego brightly to make our “Self” fade? Intent is everything and nothing; we must be clear about what the outward trappings mean in order to not fall into the trap itself, yes?  Is one degree better than another? What have we really attained? I think about these things often. I do my best to remember the duty and cautiously regard the glitter. It seems to stick to everything. Does Masonry feed the Ego? Or help one subdue it? Maybe it’s an ongoing dialogue rather than a simple, solitary question.

Understanding Chaos

Understanding Chaos
In this first 100 days of  2017, here in America and in some other countries, there has been a great deal of what we like to call chaos. Chaos is “complete disorder or disruption.” However, I’m going to challenge us all, especially Freemasons, to look at Chaos differently. We put “Order out of Chaos” but what does this mean? The challenge I have is to look at Chaos as something different and necessary to life and growth, or at least our ability to tell the difference.
 

Let me first start by saying this is not, emphasis on NOT, a political discussion. This is using an event in politics to illustrate a point. However you feel about the politics/events, right or wrong, is irrelevant to the content of this blog. What I want to do is illustrate how science and nature have a real place in our processes to affect change. Think differently. That said, here we go.

A recent event happened in politics in America – the Immigration Executive Order that Trump signed on January 27th. The executive order was, by mostly-credible accounts thus far, written by Steve Bannon, a self-designated fear monger. He stated, in a 2010 interview, “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action.” He also stated that “I’m a Leninist,” [quoted as saying by a writer for The Daily Beast] He later said he did not recall the conversation. “Lenin wanted to destroy the stA30B258A-524B-4688-9D2F-EE9E6F4D5652ate, and that’s my goal, too,” the site quoted him as saying. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  Mr. Bannon told The Washington Post this year, “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy. We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”

I do not think that Mr. Bannon is alone in
his thinking this way, especially across the current appointees and heads of various government agencies. I think Trump has a specific goal in mind: introduce chaos into the system to turn it on its head and change it. The difficulty that most people have is that it is chaos mixed with fear, hatred, and injustice – not Masonic values at all.

In a recent Facebook posting, historian Heather Cox Richardson explained this “shock event” in very succinct and clear terms – what it is, what the outcomes may be, and what we can do to overcome it. The full text can be found in this blog. I think that one of the best sentences in this piece, and one we should all take hold of is this: “But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.” Her point, in other words, is that we don’t have to react in ways we’ve always reacted – we can take our emotions and work differently. It takes consciousness, focus, and effort. It takes energy. Energy.

Here’s where I want to turn chaos on its head. In the world of science, specifically physics and thermodynamics, chaos equates to entropy. Entropy is not sitting on your couch, drinking a Coors, and watching the game. No. In physics, entropy is the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. Simply stated, entropy is the spreading of energy until it is evenly spread. A great, in-depth, and head-expanding article on the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is here. I warn you, it’s long and even though it says “simple,” it takes focus to really follow the whole article. Bottom line: let’s just say, energy disperses.

If you look at our country, or any “related system” I will call it, we were founded by many humans with a great deal of energy for change. Events which upset the equilibrium – taxation, religious persecution, and the like – created energy, which in turn led people to expend their energy differently – fighting for and creating a new country and a new form of government. This energy, related to the creating of the United States of America, has over time, received influxes of upsets to its equilibrium; these are the events more remembered as shapers of the country. It is how we got to where we are today.

How does this relate to thermodynamics and physics? Hang with me, I’m getting there. There is new discussion about entropy and how physics can be applied to the biology of life. Another long article but with a very clear video about the thoughts and theories is found here. In essence, the article explains that in the end, thought (that is, intention, logic, and problem-solving) are the keys to fighting entropy and disorder. Another way of looking at this is that the destruction of forms happens because of entropy; the introduction of an upset to the equilibrium staves off entropy (chaos) and causes the current energy to reorganize and become a viable source for change. We can look at teleology as having a connection to thermodynamics rather than biology. Simply said, thought is energy.

Did I lose you? I might have lost myself. But, stay with me. Where I’m getting to is this: Freemasonry values nature and science – we need to look at both for the answers of how did we get here and where do we go next. Let’s take a step and connect biology, physics, and politics, weird as that may be, into a line and we can see how we got here. And, to Heather Cox Richardson’s point, how we get out. We need to take whatever energies we receive from the upset of the equilibrium and turn it into a thoughtful way to change our world.

Like the small discs of atoms the researchers used in their experiments in the above article, we too can use tools and socially organize into effective change advocates. We can create something new from the impetus we’ve been given. To me, Freemasonry has given me the balance to look at something like Chaos as see it as a blessing. I’m not talking about how that chaos is delivered, which may involve incredible emotional and physical upheaval. Pain, Fear, Hate, Ignorance – all of these continue. It is in our responses where we can affect the change. Until we think about our next moves, use the energy that we’ve been given to that plan of thought, and execute well, the shock event will actually create nothing new at all. I might even venture to say that what we might view as negative change can actually be what positive change needs to get going. All of these lessons are clear in nearly all degrees of Freemasonry. Sometimes, it takes chaos for us to see the value in what we’re learning. If we can take a breath and use our thought processes to absorb the disruption, we might be able to see the value in all sides of an event.

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

In 2015, the State of California faced one of the most severe droughts on record. Governor Jerry Brown had declared a drought “State of Emergency” in January of 2014 and directed state officials to take action to prepare for water shortages. However, conditions continued to deteriorate leading the Governor to order a 25 percent mandatory reduction in municipal water usage statewide. According to the Governor’s office, California’s water supplies dipped to alarming levels in 2015, indicated by depleted levels of snowpack, groundwater, water in reservoirs, and river water flows. Led by Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team of scientists utilized data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in an effort to better understand and adapt tograce California’s water crisis. The new data led to more responsible decision making at the individual, state, and federal level. 

National Significance of California’s Drought

California’s drought has national significance for a number of reasons, including the fact that the state currently produces 50 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. As the highest producing agricultural state in the United States, California has over 80,000 farms, which account for a large percentage of the State’s water usage.

Additionally, more than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply.  Negotiated in 1922, The Colorado River Compact allocated the water of the Colorado River across these seven states. Of the river’s lower basin water resources, California’s allotment is more than half [4.4. maf (million-acre-feet) of the 7.5 maf].  Supplying approximately 60 percent of the water for Southern California, the Colorado River provides a vital link in sustaining the region’s water for irrigation, human consumption, and hydroelectric pograce-drought-california-02-08-14_printwer.

Unfortunately, water levels in the Colorado River continued to decrease as a result of prolonged drought conditions in the West. As of April 2015, the Colorado River was flowing at 63 percent of average. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted further restrictions to the Lower Basin States due to drops in the reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority,  provided this sobering analysis: “If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000 ( feet above sea level), we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada.”   The U.S. Secretary of the Interior could declare a water shortage on the river, triggering a required alteration of “the Law of the River,” which began in 1922. The drought in California has implications for all Americans, especially those who live in the seven “compact” states. In order to address the growing drought concerns, Federal agencies and stakeholders have been diligently working to find innovative solutions to ensure adequate water supplies for the future. 

Drought Recovery in 2016 

Effective crisis management often depends on three components: encompassing data describing the problem, determined leadership, and an informed, sympathetic community. When all stakeholders have understand what the problem is and what needs to be done to correct the situation, leadership can easily motivate the general population into appropriate action. The three components are all present in California’s drought recovery. The historic drought in California saw some major improvements in the rainy season of 2o16 and millions of people experienced a slow but steady reclamation of water supply. California’s reservoirs saw significant increases in volume, and the two largest in the state, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, were well over 90 percent for the year. californiadroughtrecovery

An update to the U.S. Drought Monitor was issued in April of 2016 which declared a large area of central California, from roughly Sacramento to Fresno, improved regarding the drought. More positive news followed in the fall of 2016 as October rains lifted the drought status altogether from 12 percent of the state. 

Californians have demonstrated leadership in conserving water, as residential water use decreased by 28 percent compared with usage in 2013. Local water suppliers saved 1.6 million acre feet of water in the first 12 months of the conservation plan, which is enough water to supply eight million people for a year. In October 2015, 46 percent of the state was in top level drought.  A year later, California’s percentage of extreme drought was down to 21 percent.  “Californians’ continued commitment to conservation shows they don’t take water for granted anymore,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. 

Stewardship in Freemasonry

The unprecedented drought across the West was a signal to Americans that what worked in the past is unsustainable in the future. For many U.S. regions, intense competition for water and diminished supplies forced local and state authorities to make tough decisions on water allocations, including implementation of unpopular restrictions. As Vicki Arroyo, the Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center, explained, “We’re entering uncharted territory, and yet our expertise and our systems are based on the past. ‘Stationarity’ is the notion that we can anticipate the future based on the past, and plan accordingly, and this principle governs much of our engineering, our design of critical infrastructure, city water systems, building codes, even water rights and other legal precedents.” Changes were necessary and action was required. Thankfully, technological upgrades, increased responsible water use, and improvements in state and national water policy are now reversing past water loss into water gain. 

Likewise, Freemasons are called upon to be good stewards of our planet, which includes careful and responsible management of natural resources. A good steward diligently examines the needs and vulnerabilities of his or her community. In turn, this examination helps the steward plan and prepare for the future. By evaluating our current vulnerabilities, we can create strong communities, which can not only survive, but thrive.

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

In 2016,  Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, sparking controversy as to whether song lyrics constitute literature. What is literature, and does Bob Dylan’s work qualify him for the Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “literature” as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” When Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament in 1895, he bequeathed the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes now referred to as the Nobel Prizes. As stipulated in his will, one of the prizes would be dedicated to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Instituted in 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 109 times to 113 Nobel Laureates, a group which includes the Freemasons Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, and John Steinbeck.

nobelprize2016-litIn 2016, the Swedish Academy stated that they chose Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Following the announcement, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Professor Sara Danius, provided further explanation as to why Dylan was selected stating, “He is a great poet in the English speaking tradition.” When asked if the Academy had widened the horizon of the Nobel Prize in Literature, she replied, “It may look that way, but really we haven’t.” Professor Danius further compared Dylan’s work to that of Homer and Sappho, which were “meant to be performed,permanent-secretary-of-the-swedish-academy-sara-danius2016 often together with instruments.”

Bob Dylan: Lyrical Poet

Born in 1941, Bob Dylan has been influencing popular music and culture for more than five decades as a songwriter, singer, and artist. In the 1960s, Dylan’s work channeled America’s social unrest, and his songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin,” became anthems for the American Anti-War and Civil Rights movements. Dylan’s songwriting incorporated controversial subjects such as politics, race relations, philosophy, and religion. His music changed established pop music conventions and expanded the influence of music on the American public. As one of the best-selling artists of all time, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan’s songwriting has also been recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Jury, who awarded him a special citation in 2008 on account of “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

With thirty-seven released studio albums, the list of songs credited to Bob Dylan is extensive and diverse. Below are lyrics from a few of his most celebrated works.

Every Grain of Sand

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake. Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break. 

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand. In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

All Along the Watchtowerevery-grain-of-sand

“There must be some way out of here,” said the Joker to the Thief. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” 

“No reason to get excited,” the Thief, he kindly spoke. “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Blowin’ in the Wind

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Shelter From the Storm

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line. Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine. If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.'”

Literature and the Masonic Philosophical Society

The Masonic Philosophical Society was created to destroy ignorance through enabling greater understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Each Masonic Philosophical Society Study Center is designed to ignite discussion centered on nine topics of study, one of which is Literature which is described on the MPS website as “one of the most enduring of man’s creations, giving us glimpses masonicphilosophicalsocietyof our past, present and future.” When Professor Sara Danius compared Dylan’s lyrics to the works of the ancient poets Homer and Sappho, she demonstrated how poetic works can transcend time and connect the ancient past to our current world. Is it too far a stretch to compare Bob Dylan’s lyrics to Homer’s “Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this” from The Odyssey? Could the lyrics from Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite” be considered similar to Dylan’s ballads when she wrote, “come to me once more, and abate my torment; Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me all I long for?”

The question remains for many as to whether Bob Dylan’s work qualified him for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The album lyrics published do, indeed, meet the criteria of “written works” mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary albeit most people are more familiar with hearing Dylan’s songs rather than reading his lyrics. In my opinion, the question as to whether Bob Dylan’s musical lyrics constitute “superior or lasting artistic merit” is a somewhat subjective determination,  which the Swedish Academy is at liberty to decide as they see fit. What do you think? 

What was the Diet of Worms, and how does it relate to Freemasonry?

What was the Diet of Worms, and how does it relate to Freemasonry?

In 1521, an Imperial Council, referred to as a “Diet,” was convened at Worms, a city situated on the Rhine River in Germany.  This assembly was called by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to consider the growing crisis caused by the Reformation, particularly Martin Luther’s instrumental role in igniting the movement and promoting his protest against the Catholic Church.

Europe was in a state of transition in the first decades of the 16th century as the revolutionary philosophies of the Renaissance had brought many of the accepted practices and beliefs of the Church into question. The Holy Royal Empire was ruled by the Emperor and Path_of_Luther_Mapthe Pope, creating a joint spiritual and political leadership structure. Emperors were elected by a majority vote of four secular and three ecclesiastical princes. Frederick the Wise, ruler of Germany, was one of the secular princes who voted in favor of Charles V.

When the Papacy moved to silence Luther, Frederick provided protection to Luther and insisted that the Professor be given the opportunity to respond to the charges on German soil, surrounded by political forces which were sympathetic to his cause.

Martin Luther’s Stand

Martin Luther was an ordained priest in the Catholic Church and a Professor of Biblical Interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. In 1517, he wrote “95 Theses of Contention” and nailed the document to the door of the Wittenberg Church. The list of theses condemned the Catholicluther hammers 95 theses church door of wittenberg Church on a variety of charges including the practice of selling “indulgences” for the forgiveness of sins. As a priest he had become disillusioned with the Catholic doctrine of salvation as laypersons could only obtain salvation through good works and the purchase of indulgences.

An “indulgence” was a certificate that had been signed by the Pope which pardoned a person’s sins and promised the individual access to heaven. One could also purchase indulgences for dead relatives to relieve them of their sins and free them from Purgatory. Luther vehemently opposed the concept of purchasing salvation, radically arguing that salvation required no intermediary papal authority to act as an agent between God and man. Moreover, Luther believed that the Bible was the written word of God and should be the primary source of God’s wisdom on Earth.

The Diet of Worms

On April 16, 1521, Martin Luther was called before the Diet to testify and respond to the charge of heresy. The council members of the Diet urged him to recant his beliefs, renounce his writings, and affirm the Catholic teachings regarding salvation. He spent the night before he would deliver his final response in contemplation, praying to God, “Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth… suffering like a lamb. For the cause is holy; it is thine own.”LutherTestifyingThe following morning Luther stood fast in his truth, which he saw as God’s will. He refused to yield to considerable pressure, instead he reaffirmed his writings and stated beliefs. He concluded his testimony by stating, “I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

The Outcome

In response, the assembly issued the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, which declared Luther should be cast out of the empire, as well as, excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The Edict was never fulfilled as Martin Luther was protected by Frederick the Wise and continued to live in Germany. The professor went on to publish the first translation of the New Testament of the Bible in German in September of 1522 and published the first German translation of the entire bible in the 1530s. The invention of the printing presLuthersBibles allowed Luther the capability to spread his theology in writing across the empire and ultimately lead to the widespread public reading of the Bible with his publishing of the translated German text. The Diet and Edict of Worms catalyzed the growing Protestant reformation, which led to a schism within Christianity.

In the 21st century, Pope Francis affirmed Luther’s reasoning of relying on one’s conscience as means of achieving salvation. When asked to respond to whether God’s mercy is open to atheists, Pope Francis wrote, “God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.” Following this logic, Luther’s decision to stand firm in his beliefs, convicted by his own conscience, was ultimately justified by the head of the Catholic Church.

Duty and Freemasonry

What is duty? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines duty as, “a moral or legal obligation.” Thus, duty is what we morally or legally are obliged to do. It is a responsibility toStatue_of_Martin_Luther act in a manner that is in accordance with our morality and our obligations in life. Martin Luther was convinced that he had a duty to God and mankind to spread God’s truth. He began his 95 theses with the preamble, “Out of love for the truth and desire to bring it to light…”

Once convinced of the righteousness of his beliefs, he stood firm against intense pressure from the Church and the Roman Empire. He was so sure of his truth that he accepted excommunication and severe restrictions on his personal liberty. When Frederick the Wise arranged the Diet of Worms, how easy would it have been for Luther to acquiesce to the Council’s request that he disavow his stated beliefs? He could have stopped his excommunication from the Church and protected himself from banishment from the Empire. Yet, he did his duty. He stood firm in his truth and changed the course of history. How many today would risk such dire consequences to demonstrate our faith in God and our charity to man?

Freemasonry teaches that we have a duty to God and mankind. We are instructed to live honorably, to speak truth, to practice justice, to love our neighbor, to serve God, and to work to the betterment of humanity. To do our duty regardless of the consequence is not always easy, but it is the task we are obligated to accomplish.

 

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

How important is the role of robust and investigative journalism in a healthy democracy? Many political scientists argue journalists perform a crucial role in informing the public debate so that the electorate can make educated choices. Politicians are elected to make decisions and take action that reflects the wishes of the voters who elected them to office. In order to inform and educate the voters, journalists must scrutinize the politician’s decisions and report the implications to the public.  Thus, journalism could be viewed as crucial to the correct functioning of a Democracy.

The White House Correspondents’ Association

In 1913, President Wilson, concerned about remarks quoted by some newspapers, threatened to end the practice of Presidential Press Conferences. Pledging themselves to a professional code of conduct, a group of White House correspondents conviWhiteHouseCorrespondentsnced President Wilson to relent.

On February 25, 1914,  these journalists formally organized as the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) in response to a rumor that a Congressional committee was planning to select which journalists could attend Presidential press conferences. The organizations original mission was to keep Wilson from ending his press conferences. Since its founding, the group has expanded its mission to pushing for broader access to the White House and supporting vigorous reporting on the presidency.

Advocating for openness and transparency in every operation of the presidency, the WHCA fulfills its mission of oversight of the Oval Office and the federal agencies and supplies reporters to travel aboard Air Force One, the President’s official aircraft.

Filling the White House press room on a daily basis, the WHCA represents each sector of the media. According to the WHCA’s website, the organization traces its roots back to the newspaper reporters who, in the 1890s, stood outside the White House fence to question the President and visitors of the White House. Each generation of WHCA reporters has diligently worked to provide regular coverage of the President’s public activities through a rotating group of representatives the organization refers to as “the pool.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

On April 25, 2015, the Annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner was held in Washington D.C. Bringing together journalists, celebrities, and members of Congress, a diverse croPresidentObamaWhiteHouseCorrespondentswd gathered to hear President Obama speak in a candid fashion: reciting a collection of what his aides call the “State of the Union of Jokes.” While Journalism awards and scholarships were presented, the mainstream media’s focus remained lighthearted and jovial as President Obama and Saturday Night Live comedian Cecily Strong made humorous remarks about politics and the media. When the President took center stage, he provided the American public with these jokes:

– “Six years into my presidency, people still say I’m arrogant. Aloof. Condescending. People are so dumb. That’s why I don’t meet with them.”

– “On Saturday Night Live, Cecily impersonates CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, which is surprising, because usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.”

Humorous anecdotes aside, the role of investigative journalism is not a laughing matter. President Obama highlighted America’s need for journalists that expose corruption and provide a voice to the marginalized in our society when he honored Journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, who in his words were “murdered for nothing more than trying to shine a light into some of the world’s darkest corners.” Telecast live by Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN and CNN, the dinner was hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the press related to the President and the White House.

Freemasonry’s Search for the Truththomasjeffersonfreemason

Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, once remarked, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a Government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Like American journalism, Freemasonry’s purpose is founded in search for truth. Sharing in the journalist mission of shining light in darkness, Freemasons operate under a strong moral code of conduct. To think high, to do well, to be tolerant to others, and to search after Truth are some of the duties of a Mason. To protect our Nation’s Democracy, all Americans have a responsibility to support the search for truth and the eradication of ignorance. A robust and investigative system of journalism is provides key information needed to ensure a well-functioning democratic government. 

Catalyzing Scientific Innovation: Bald’s Leechbook and the Superbug MRSA

Catalyzing Scientific Innovation: Bald’s Leechbook and the Superbug MRSA

When we encounter what seems impossible, the solution can often be found where we might least expect it. By expanding search parameters to include information that appears paradoxical or unconventional, we can create a shift to innovation. To many, the concept of mining ancient medical texts for cures to modern diseases might seem like a waste of time. One woman’s curiosity, however, led her to do just that. When she joined forces with other open-minded researchers, they were shocked to discover that one ancient recipe was uniquely effective on the modern superbug, MRSA.

The MRSA Problem

During the past four decades, the public health impact of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has evolved from a controllable nuisance into a serious concern. Staphylococcus aureus or “staph” bacteria commonly live on our skin and in our environment, however, they can get inside the body and cause serious infections. When common antibiotics cease to kill the staph bacteria, this type of staph is referred to as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

The symptoms of MRSA depend on the infection site. In the majority of cases, MRSA causes mild infections on the epidermis, like sores or boils.  However, the bacteria can also lead to serious infections of surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract. Allowed to develop into mature growths, MRSA infections can become deadly. MRSAthreatInfographicCDC Perhaps the most worrisome component of the bacteria is that it is spread by contact: touching another person or objects that have the bacteria on them.

Referred to by scientists as a modern superbug, MRSA has become a worldwide problem due to the inability of antibiotics to effectively treat the bacteria. Epidemiological studies in the United States and Canada demonstrate a 17 percent increase in reported MRSA cases over an eleven year period beginning in 1995. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 94,000 people developed their first invasive MRSA infection in the United States in 2005. Of the 94,000 infected, 19,000 of the infected individuals died.

Acknowledged by the CDC as ‘public health’s ticking time bomb,’ antibiotic resistance threatens to return our world to the time when simple infections proved fatal. A 2014 study commissioned by the U.K.’s Prime Minister reported that by the year 2050, antibiotic resistant infections are expected to kill 10 million people each year, which is more than currently die from cancer. In response to this growing crisis, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget requested a doubling of the amount of U.S. federal funding for combating and preventing antibiotic resistance to mDoctorLeeore than $1.2 billion.

The Innovative Solution

Dr. Christina Lee had an idea. A Professor in Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, she was curious as to whether remedy’s from an ancient medical text, Bald’s Leechbook, might prove effective against modern diseases. Containing Anglo-Saxon recipes for medicines, salves, and treatments, Bald’s Leechbook is one of the earliest known medical textbooks, which is thought to originate from the 10th Century.

With her translation of Bald’s Leechbook, Dr. Lee turned to her colleague, Dr. Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the university. Together with other researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, the team decided to recreate an “eye salve” recipe from the text that listed two species of allium (garlic, leek, or onion), wine, and oxgall (bile found in the stomach of a cow). The recipe included precise instructions for the concocting of topical solution, includEyeSalveRemedying the use of a brass vessel for brewing and a specific type of purifying strainer. The mixture was then to be left for nine days before use.

“We recreated the recipe as faithfully as we could. The Bald gives very precise instructions for the ratio of different ingredients and for the way they should be combined before use, so we tried to follow that as closely as possible,” said microbiologist, Freya Harrison, who led the work in the lab at the School of Life Sciences. The researchers made four samples of the “eyesalve,” while also creating a control treatment. While none of the individual ingredients alone had any significant impact, the combined “eyesalve” almost totally obliterated the MRSA infection. Approximately one bacterial cell in a thousand survived in mice wounds.

One member of the team, Dr. Steve Diggle, stated, “When we built this recipe in the lab, I didn’t really expect it to actually do anything. When we found that it could actually disrupt and kills cells in the (MRSA) biofilms. I was genuinely amazed.” For while modern antibiotics can treat early infections, MRSA’s impenetrable reputation comes from the biofilm it builds around mature infection sites which antibiotics cannot breech. Thus, Bald’s “eyesalve” demonstrUniversityofNottinghamResearchersated the ability to do what antibiotics could not. The U.S. National Institute for Health (NIH) reports that biofilms are implicated in up to 80 percent of all chronic and recurring infections.

Biofilms serves as shields that protect bacteria from attacking antibiotics and other treatments. In addition, Biofilms allow bacteria to stick to medical implants, tissues, and other surfaces.

The University of Nottingham’s team then turned to Dr. Kendra Rumbaugh, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University, to see if their research could be replicated. Dr. Rumbaugh carried out in vivo testing of the Bald’s remedy on MRSA infected skin wounds in mice at Texas Tech and reported, “this ‘ancient remedy’ performed as good if not better than the conventional antibiotics we used.”

Dr. Christina Lee explained, “We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings. But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science.”

Freemasonry’s Approach to Critical Thinking

Freemasonry rejects dogma, teaching individuals to think for themselves. Merriam-Webster defines dogma as “a belief that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” Since the germ theory of disease was not really fully developed until the 1870s, what new information could be gained from a medical text from the 10th century? While dogmatic scientific thinking may have precluded research into text such as Bald’s Leechbook, the team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in England and Texas Tech University stepped outside the realm of conventional sources for scientific study.  Their efforts provided a needed catalyst in solving the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.