Category Archives: design

Okay: Last Patriarch

Some time later, en route to see his estranged brother Esau (“in hope of gaining your favor”) but alarmed that Esau has amassed a small army, Jacob sends his people and animals, laden with gifts, ahead of him and returns, alone, to the side of the river he has sent them across. That night, “a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Gen 32:25) The man, understood to be an angel (perhaps the angel of Esau?) does not defeat Jacob, although he renders Jacob lame.

This painting of their encounter is by the great 17th century Dutch painter Rembrandt. The angel’s expression seems to express both compassion and pity for Jacob. 1-Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

Before the angel prepares to leave, at daybreak, Jacob insists on a blessing. “You are no longer Jacob,” the angel tells him, but “Israel”–one who has struggled with God. Recall that El, Elohim, is one of the names of God. Jacob’s descendants are know as the people Israel–the God-strugglers.

Jacob has 12 sons and a daughter, Dina. Dina occasions another strange circumcision story. She sleeps with a local man, Shechem. Her brothers understand it as rape and when Shechem’s father asks for Dina’s hand in marriage, they agree on the condition that all the males of Shechem’s family be circumcised. While they are still in pain, Dina’s brothers slaughter Shechem and his men, transforming the symbol of covenant with God into a prelude to revenge.  These are the same brothers who later conspire to kill their baby brother Joseph but instead sell him to the Ishmaelites who take him to Egypt.

Joseph finds favor with the Pharoah, brings his father Jacob and his whole family to safety in Egypt. In one of Jacob’s last acts, he mistakenly blesses the younger of Joseph’s two sons, despite Joseph’s effort to set things right. On his deathbed, Joseph instructs his brothers to carry his bones to the new land. (Although he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The rest of the story follows the fate of the a particular people, the Hebrews, the people Israel (not yet the Jews), as they seek to fulfill God’s promise to the ancestors–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–in a new land.


Important Resources for Rethinking How We Operate

This will be a grab-bag for now until I can synthesize the contents of all the sources I mean to cite. First up:

A New Shared Economy for Appalachia: An Economy Built Upon Environmental Restoration, Carbon Sequestration, Renewable Energy and Ecological Design by John Todd at the University of Vermont. Todd has been thinking about and inventing new systems for many years, notably through Ocean Arks,–ecological resources for the 21st century. For example, natural water treatment ought to be primary consideration in dealing with the Great Bay’s pollution problem. Projects in the Northeast that use plants and landscapes to purity water can be done, and have been done, by John Todd and associates.

RIP, Benoit Mandelbrot

Today marks the death of the brilliant polymath who discovered that, “Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules, …repeated without end.” Click on the fractal to the right for a dizzying (10-minute) immersion in fractals. Benoit Mandelbrot (Benjamin Almondbread), growing up under the Occupation of France knew every day could be his last, he said, so he dreamed big–and discovered fractal geometry, applying the computer some very old math problems. He talks about his life and his discoveries in this TED talk.:

The image is by Wolfgangbeyer, wikimedia commons

Green Movies

Good response to the poster and flyer for the Green Movies: Sustainable Futures series. The poster is truncated because I couldn’t confirm two of the sponsors and at the last minute cut off the bottom sixth of the poster. The original looks better.

Walkability and Social Capital

A friend gave a presentation last week on her doctoral project: studying ten neighborhoods in each of two New Hampshire cities (Manchester and Portsmouth) to tease out the relationship between walkability–the number of places you can (and do) walk to–and social capital–a measure of community trust, engagement, and a sense of agency. (You can learn more about measuring social capital at Robert Putnam’s Saguaro Seminar.)

The bottom line is a linear correlation between walkability and–lots of things, chief among them, social capital, environmental sustainability, and personal health. Some interesting statistics: (1) 40% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to transportation, (2) for every 10 minutes you commute, you are 10% less likely to get involved in your community, and (3) two-thirds of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have not been built yet. Now is the time to design and construct the kinds of places we want–sustainable towns and cities with lively “village” centers within them with places worth walking to for shopping, for socializing, and fresh air.

Rush Limbaugh

I know many people adore Rush Limbaugh, thrill to his angry cries; even I admit the occasional indulgence in a Glenn Beck bathos-a-rama, but let’s be serious. All these guys are peddling is Blame. The world’s turning very dark: the Koreas are racing to assume aggressive postures, the Gulf Coast is getting slicky from an oil pipe poked a mile deep into the sea–and these guys are still pointing their fingers at guilty parties.

Pscyhologists will tell you that blame is a mighty primitive emotional state, burnished over millenia in our limbic systems. It’s often our first, comforting thought when something goes wrong. But blame is immature and unproductive.

The life we have addicted ourselves to depends on burning  fossil fuels for electricity and heat and it is in peril. It  may be dissolving before our eyes, washed away as if by some chemical dispersant.

Why do we keep hedging our bets? Where is Rush Limbaugh’s full-throated call for putting people to work designing and building a new energy system that doesn’t bake the planet at the at the same time?  Where is the cry for constructive action?

Blame’s so much easier, especially if you can position yourself as the victim in someone else’s blame game. Oh sweet, sweet passivity. Ladies, this may take more cojones than these guys have.

On Parting with a House

I put the  house I lived in for seventeen years on the market this year and it felt like I’d put in on a chopping block. This was not only my house, but an exemplary house, broad-shouldered and profoundly rational. It faced squarely south and bore enormous small-paned curving picture windows that let in a lot of light. I live now with my partner Ellen in her house not far away, a bungalow beneath towering spruce trees on the edge of a bird-filled wetland. Our lives have reached a point where we need to let go of one house in order to restore the other. We decided some time ago that my house did not suit us–so big, and somehow less private–but it has still been an agony letting go.

My sons were three (Jacob) and seven (Gabe) when I moved to this town with my ex-husband. He and I had a few good years there it was a nice place to be a family in. I wrote my book Believers in an attic studio and wrote some great poems there. Later, my father came and lived there when he was dying, only we took such good care of him that Hospice kicked him out and he moved to a nursing home.

A massive beech tree grows out back, dominating everything. It’s been scarred by children but remains amazing, easily a century old, with edible nuts that are hell on bare feet. Someone will no doubt take it down in order to built a garage and family room or something. There’s a playground way at the end of a long backyard where I let a maple forest grow after my sons grew up.

Liminal describes the time that elapses during transitions from one state to another. Some are very short, like the instant the New Year is born at 12:01 or the moment at which you marry, and some, like undertaking a complicated real estate transaction, feel interminable. They have a certain tension.