Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dentzel Stag at Glen Echo

When I returned to the Washington DC area, the most recurrent station of my youth, I was thrilled to find the painstaking restoration of the carousel at Glen Echo Park nearly complete.  I'd last seen it on my tenth birthday, in 1962, with seven friends and a hired teenage cowboy named Jimmy.

That was the year after the park opened to people of color.  Divinity student Lawrence Henry had lead a group of students in a series of peaceful protests around the DC area in the summer of 1960, including a sit-in on the carousel in Glen Echo, which led to their arrest. For ten weeks, the surrounding community joined with the students outside of Glen Echo to protest until the park owners opened the park without restrictions the following year. The students were convicted, but the conviction was overturned by a higher court.

I know my love of carousels dates back to this one at Glen Echo and to that awesome birthday celebration. I especially love Gustav Dentzel's menagerie carousels, with big-eared rabbits and ornate lions and long-legged ostriches and friendly giraffes. This leaping stag came from the Dentzel workshop in 1921, 20 years or so after art and sculpture student Daniel Carl Muller first created the model. The facial expressions varied among his deer carvings, but the pose and position were always the same: an outside row prancer. I love that Dentzel always used real antlers.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I found an old tollhouse

When I was last out rambling with the bike, near Route 7 in Ashburn, I followed a road posted as a dead end. I rode past a cluttered property with a crude sign about police dogs and trespassing, slowed when the road became gravel and turned parallel to the elevated highway. On the right, as I start downhill, this sprawl of a yellow house, and then a half-hung gate and a stone wall with a little house up against it. Beyond that, the bridge that had spanned Broad Run was demolished and unnavigable, three huge heaps of stone. Above it, on the elevated highway, cars zipped east at 60 miles an hour, some peeling off on the Route 28 ramp just beyond Broad Run. I was completely invisible to them, and they to me; they existed as noise for me.

The little stone house attracted me, although it was quite run down and not very photogenic. Still, it had a certain...attitude. I peered in windows. I found a tiny square swimming pool tucked against its walls in back. I strolled around the property, spring green bottomland spotted with dandelions. The creek was deep and brown and fast. The back of the yellow hacienda I'd passed overlooked a little pond with a filtration island on which two Canada geese were perched. They paid me no attention.

I established that there was no means of crossing the creek. The water was deep, the run as broad as its name. Further, there was no way to pass under the Route 7 bridge to the northern side, where I thought I might find my way to Algonkian Parkway. Indeed, I had to return whence I came, although ironically I would cross the stream just the other side of the Route 7 bridge an hour later.

Photo: Muriel Spetzman, 1953
I was curious, so I looked up the property. It turned out to have been the Broad Run Tollhouse, which not only collected tolls [until 1924] but sold moonshine for $2 a pint and $8 to $9 a gallon during Prohibition. Bridges had been  built there and washed away since colonial times. In 1809, a $41,450 state appropriation to build the twenty mile Leesburg Turnpike from Leesburg to Dranesville included the bridge and tollhouse. This sum, incidentally, was the largest state road appropriation to date. The stone bridge was constructed around 1820 out of huge stones from quarries in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and was was destroyed in 1972 by floodwaters from Hurricane Agnes.

1. Crystal Owens, "Activists look to save historic tollhouse", Loudoun Times, May 26, 2009.

2. Eugene Scheel (Waterford historian), "Mountains Full of Moonshiners", The History of Loudoun County

3. "The Broad Run Bridge", Broad Run Farms History, 06 November 2005

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I ran into this link on Facebook, "Namo'valokiteshvaraya Chanting," a Public Talk recorded Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 (just a few hours ago) at Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. About chanting, listening, breathing, suffering, mindfulness, concentration, compassion.  The lecture, in English, picks up at 2:41, the music and chanting around 14:00 (length: about 35:00).

It led me to search the phrase "Namo'valokiteshvaraya" and somehow brought me direct to Dharma. The Breathing Sutra...

Anapanasati Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 118) "Mindfulness of Breathing," Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Mindfulness of in-&-out breath, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit, of great benefit. Mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, when developed & pursued, brings the four frames of reference to their culmination. The four frames of reference, when developed & pursued, bring the seven factors of awakening to their culmination. The seven factors of awakening, when developed & pursued, bring clear knowing & release to their culmination.
 This clearly will take some study. "Now how is mindfulness of in-&-out breathing developed & pursued so as to bring the four frames of reference to their culmination?"
[1] Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long. [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns that he is breathing in short; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short. [3] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body, and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. [4] He trains himself to breathe in calming the bodily processes, and to breathe out calming the bodily processes. 
"[5] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to rapture, and to breathe out sensitive to rapture. [6] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to pleasure, and to breathe out sensitive to pleasure. [7] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to mental processes, and to breathe out sensitive to mental processes. [8] He trains himself to breathe in calming mental processes, and to breathe out calming mental processes. 
"[9] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the mind, and to breathe out sensitive to the mind. [10] He trains himself to breathe in satisfying the mind, and to breathe out satisfying the mind. [11] He trains himself to breathe in steadying the mind, and to breathe out steadying the mind. [12] He trains himself to breathe in releasing the mind, and to breathe out releasing the mind. 
"[13] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on inconstancy, and to breathe out focusing on inconstancy. [14] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on dispassion [literally, fading], and to breathe out focusing on dispassion. [15] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on cessation, and to breathe out focusing on cessation. [16] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on relinquishment, and to breathe out focusing on relinquishment.
And that's enough for today, I think. Here's a version from a New York sangha.

Golden Lion Tamarin


Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring on the land like an itch.

April. Spring was on the land like an itch. The whole countryside seemed to be scratching itself awake - lazily, luxuriously, though occasionally scratching so hard its nails hit bone, that old cold calcium that lies beneath our tingles. Tiny frogs, raked into alertness, were being scratched from much and mud. Tiny buds as bright as blisters, were being scratched from hardwood. The trees themselves, as juiced on sap as Tanuki ever was on booze (although the trees had a great deal more dignity), were scratching long blue notes from the sky.

[Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito, p. 5]

Five Perspectives on Error

Notes from excellent article
by Maria Popova, from Brain Pickings:
5 Must-Read Books on Error & the Science of Being Wrong
Full article:
1 Being wrong
However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.... 
To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometime seven dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story... 
Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
2 Why we make mistakes
We don’t think our perception is economical; we think it’s perfect. When we look at something, we think we see everything. But we don’t. Same with memory: we might think we remember everything, especially commonly encountered things like the words to the National Anthem, or the details on the surface of a penny—but we don’t. Our brains are wired to give us the most bang for the buck; they strip out all sorts of stuff that seems unimportant at the time. But we don’t know what’s been stripped out. One of the consequences of this is that we tend to be overconfident about the things we think we do know. And overconfidence is a huge cause of human error. 
Joseph Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
3 The invisible gorilla
Published 11 years after the original experiment, The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us encapsulates Harvard researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ findings on the mechanisms behind this “inattentional blindness” and how they translate into fundamental human behavior.

4 Mistakes were made [but not by me]
President Reagan's phrase 'mistakes were made' became an infamous hallmark of diffusion of responsibility and the failure to own our mistakes, which inspired the title of social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson‘s excellent Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts — an ambitious quest to unravel the underpinnings of self-justification and, in the process, make us better human beings.  
As fallible human beings, all of us share the impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for any actions that turn out to be harmful, immoral or stupid. Most of us will never be in a position to make decisions affecting the lives and deaths of millions of people, but whether the consequences of our mistakes are trivial or tragic, on a small scale or a national canvas, most of us find it difficult, if not impossible, to say, ‘I was wrong; I made a terrible mistake.’ The higher the stakes — emotional, financial, moral — the greater the difficulty.
Tavris and Aronson examine the root cause of these self-righteous yet erroneous behaviors: Cognitive dissonance — the mental anguish that results from trying to reconcile two conflicting ideas, such as a belief we hold and a circumstantial fact that contradicts it. In our deep-seated need to see ourselves as honorable, competent and consistent, we often bend reality to confirm this self-perception, which in turn results in a domino effect of errors.
5 How we know what isn't so
Written 20 years ago, How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich is arguably the most important critique on the biases of human reason ever published. It’s as much a throughly researched investigation into the science of mind as it is a compelling — and increasingly timely — treatise on the importance of not letting superstition and sloppy thinking cloud our judgement on a cultural and sociopolitical level.
People do not hold questionable beliefs simply because they have not been exposed to the relevant evidence. Nor do people hold questionable beliefs simply because they are stupid or gullible. Quite the contrary. Evolution has given us powerful intellectual tools for processing vast amounts of information with accuracy and dispatch, and our questionable beliefs derive primarily from the misapplication or overutilization of generally valid and effective strategies for knowing. Just as we are subject to perceptual illusions in spite of, and largely because of, our extraordinary perceptual capacities, so too are many of our cognitive shortcomings closely related to, or even an unavoidable cost of, our greatest strengths.