Saturday, December 29, 2007
Hakuin, while reading the Lotus sutra, said that he experienced his greatest enlightenment; that sutra's viewpoint clearly does not in any way comport with fundamentalist Christianity (it could be the subject for a whole bit of comparative religion to relate the Prodigal Son parable in the Lotus sutra versus that in the New Testament).
Moreover, having been raised and believing in Christianity for a good part of my life, I would have to say that the experience of dropping away of body and mind - an ordinary and extraordinary experience - simply doesn't exist in any flavor of Christianity.
And that flavor, on the balance, is more apt to save the ass of all sentient beings than my being assured of forgiveness of sins by a deity.
And there's quite a few pantloads of sentient beings that need saving.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
THREE hundred and fifty years ago today, religious freedom was born on this continent. Yes, 350 years. Religious tolerance did not begin with the Bill of Rights or with Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786. With due respect to Roger Williams and his early experiment with “liberty of conscience” in Rhode Island, this republic really owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document that was signed by some 30 ordinary citizens on Dec. 27, 1657.
It is fitting that the Flushing Remonstrance should be associated with Dutch settlements, because they were the most tolerant in the New World. The Netherlands had enshrined freedom of conscience in 1579, when it clearly established that “no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of his religion.” And when the Dutch West India Company set up a trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1625, the purpose was to make money, not to save souls. Because the founding idea was trade, the directors of the firm took pains to ensure that all were welcome...
So what was the result? As expected, Stuyvesant arrested Hart and the other official who presented the document to him, and he jailed two other magistrates who had signed the petition. Stuyvesant also forced the other signatories to recant.
But the door had been opened and Quakers continued to meet in Flushing. When Stuyvesant arrested a farmer, John Bowne, in 1662 for holding illegal meetings in his home, Bowne was then banished from the colony. He immediately went to Amsterdam to plead for the Quakers. There he won his case. Though the Dutch West India Company called Quakerism an “abominable religion,” it nevertheless overruled Stuyvesant in 1663 and ordered him to “allow everyone to have his own belief.” Thus did religious toleration become the law of the colony.
The Bowne house is still standing. And within a few blocks of it a modern visitor to Flushing will encounter a Quaker meeting house, a Dutch Reformed church, an Episcopal church, a Catholic church, a synagogue, a Hindu temple and a mosque. All coexist in peace, appropriately in the most diverse neighborhood in the most diverse borough in the most diverse city on the planet.
America's religious tradition - the tradition I was brought up with - is one of diversity and tolerance. I remember walking by that very same Quaker meeting house near Main Street in Flushing, with its roots way back to the story above; it's the place Thomas Merton used to go to before he became a monastic and before he discovered Zen Buddhism.
Turns out we Zen Buddhists are as American as apple pie.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
- Yes, it's the same crap everywhere.
Today, Chelsea Premium Outlets operates in dozens of locations in the U.S. and abroad, including the sprawling Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, about an hour north of New York City. Current Woodbury tenants include Jimmy Choo, Tory Burch and True Religion.
Generally, such brands and designers at least attempt to cultivate an air of exclusivity, which would seem to be at odds with a mammoth outdoor mall that cultivates an air of low-price treasure hunting. But consider True Religion. While the broad story of luxury’s fate in the contemporary market is often told as a steady decline from class to mass, the brand is an example of an equally pronounced countertrend: lux-ing up previously workaday products, like jeans. True Religion has been a star of the high-end denim trend, with its jeans retailing for $150 or more in boutiques and pricey department stores. The company describes itself as a “premium aspirational brand.” ...
Most every upscale brand is now engaged in this dance with the mass market. “The stratification of retail doesn’t exist anymore,” says Paco Underhill, the founder of Envirosell, a research and consulting firm, and the author of “Why We Buy” and “Call of the Mall,” books that examine the science of retail. Ever-increasing consumer access to goods of all kinds makes it harder for an exclusive brand to actually exclude and makes competition among both brands and stores that much more intense. Shunning the outlet setting doesn’t insulate premium brands from these trends. “Department stores discount them anyway,” Underhill says. At least in an outlet mall, the brand owners can control their own store environments, staff included; that’s better than having their wares in the sales-rack jumble.
- I've been perhaps a wee bit to hard in my thinking on the folks that run those Sambokyodan centers. (Although perhaps not on Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, that "Big Mind" thing is an issue, because you can drop acid if all you want is an experience; that's not what Buddhism's about. ) But I think I've been a bit to hard on many of the Sambokyodan folks because they've got a lot of hurtin' people, and they've got to serve them amidst the hurt that the folks who come to them display, and within their own enlightenment.
- Dispersion of people has been a human existence thing since we dispersed out of Africa. Someone tell the NY Times.
The loss of such intimate connections could potentially help redefine family and what anthropologists call “social fields.” Far-off relatives become strangers, while relatives and close friends living nearby cocoon themselves for the holidays, creating new rituals.
It’s back to nuclear families.
Establishing a Thanksgiving tradition of having dinner with friends, e-mailing or sending a webcam greeting instead, seeing your parents every other holiday season — these are all signs of new familial constellations in the 21st century, experts say.
On the other hand, if traditional holiday plans are not canceled or modified and the traveling remains grueling, visitors may have high, if not unrealistic, expectations of their hosts.
“With the enormous amount of money and effort it takes to get together with people you barely see, all of the tensions will be exaggerated,” said Vered Amit, a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. “I can see people saying, ‘I spent all this money, I came all this way and for what?’ It’s supposed to be a certain way. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on those kinds of contacts and connections that wouldn’t be there normally.”
- Buddhists will be in New York for quite some time.
You can fit in one more major world religion just a couple of doors down from the synagogue, at the modest temple run by the Buddhist Association of New York, one of the many Buddhist temples in Chinatown. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch orange-robed monks chanting.
But if not, take in the relaxed atmosphere and wonder if in 50 more years it will be a Buddhist temple, not a synagogue, that will be under restoration as the latest newcomers help transform the neighborhood.
- I saw this on a link from the Oregonian, how somebody was in a forum saying "See! This proves the US was founded on Christianity. And I couldn't help but think "slavery."
- I'm glad Danny Fisher has the space to be concerned about the stuff he's concerned about.
If you start a family, your concerns will change. Your entire practice will change. Totally. Updside. Down.
Seriously, Danny, keep up the good intentions. One day I woke up, had a wife, a Ph.D., and a wonderful son, and there were completely different exigencies than what you have, not in ethics or morality, but of style. There's a lot right in front of one's nose when one has a family.
- And appropos of that last point, and as a pointer to how not to do family practice, it's Festivus...
I don't have many grievances this year and I've forgotten what they were; besides, I've been to busy to nurse 'em...
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
You'll find many Buddhists from all over the world there, including, but not limited to the real folks from Shaolin.
It's a welcome respite from the New-Agey faux-Buddhist creationists, (e.g., here) as well as Western carricatures...
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Harada-roshi ("roshi" means literally "old teacher," and is actually the Japanese pronunciation of what the Chinese use for the word "teacher") has a good summary for the whole thing:
The Buddha was enlightened on the eighth of December when he looked up at the morning star, the planet we call Venus. The brightness of this planet was seen by Buddha from the depths of one week of samadhi [deep awareness]. The Buddha received that brightness with the same eyes of zazen [sitting meditation] that enable us to realize perfect enlightenment.
One week straight of this deepest possible samadhi was burst through by the brilliance of that morning star. A whole week's experience of that world burst the brightness of the morning star, plunging into the Buddha's eyes and giving rebirth to the Buddha's consciousness.
That's it! That's it! That's it. That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!
The Buddha had realized that his own True Nature was the very same - an identity - with that of all beings. To realize such a thing is to be deeply awed, humbled, and yet to know, as a later master would say, that you can enter any world as if it were a playground.
This is not some mumbo-jumbo New Agey feel good kind of a thing, some means of escape, an opiate, but rather the Source by which we can attend to one another's - and our own - suffering and misery, at the very least by figuring out the origin of such suffering and misery and attending to it mindfully.
So in gratitude for all everyone at Kos, for the sake of all beings, I will try to be a little more mindful today.
Friday, December 07, 2007
"Any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," he said. "And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."
But, while the speech tells us nothing whatever about Mormonism, it does show a lot about what he believes his audience wants to hear, and still more about the way that religions really function in politics. What he is really saying in all this is the one belief that Mormons share with all other successful American religions: that America is God's promised land, which is powerful because Someone up there loves it.
Mormonism is a kind of pop-art cartoon version of this belief. Where mainstream American Protestantism, following the British model, supposed that God had made American Protestants the new Israel in a metaphysical, though real sense, Mormons claimed that some Jews, and Jesus himself after his resurrection, had physically travelled to North America, and founded a civilisation there long before the Pilgrim Fathers arrived. Also, the Native Americans are the descendents of some of these Jews, who turned bad and were cursed with a dark skin for their wickedness. You can see why Governor Romney might not want to delve into the specifics of these divinely inspired truth...
Religious liberty thus becomes the defining feature of American culture in his speech. In fact, in common with most American nationalists, he uses "liberty" as entirely synonymous with American power. "No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that century's terrible wars - no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty."
The point is not whether this is historically ludicrous. It is whether it appears credible and desirable to his audience. Obviously it does. It reinforces the central idea that American power is a consequence of American virtue and in particular that it arises from the constitution, which he treats - as his audience does - as containing a sacred revelation that supercedes all others. "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, [to defend the constitution] that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."...
There is only one problem with the speech if it is understood as an appeal to Americans shared understanding of themselves as a holy tribe: it places secular Americans firmly outside the tribe.
Chilling. The idea of a deity divinely blessing the waterboarding at Guantanamo, the thugs of Blackwater, the notion of slavery itself, ought to be repugnant to anyone who has anything more than contempt for the notion of the sacred.
I generally have a negative view of most of what David Brooks writes, but today's piece is actually worth reading w.r.t. Romney:
When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.
The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press...
In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln’s God or Reinhold Niebuhr’s God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.
As I noted in a comment on someone else's Kos diary:
One would hope that one would see Romney's speech for what it was: nothing courageous like Kennedy's speech was (and I'm not really a big fan of Kennedy), but instead designed to divide, blatantly opportunistic, the type of slick operation of the guy who'd work at a place called Bain Capital, make sure lots of folks were impoverished by layoffs and call the result "value creation."
Also if you want to see why Hugh Hewitt's not got much respect from me; look at his drooling over Romney.
It's not even worth linking to.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
As John Avarosis said, "Did God want him to let that convicted rapist go too, because it appealed to the Clinton-hating fringe?"
Murray Waas at the Huffington Post writes:
While on the campaign trail, Huckabee has claimed that he supported the 1999 release of Wayne Dumond because, at the time, he had no good reason to believe that the man represented a further threat to the public. Thanks to Huckabee's intervention, conducted in concert with a right-wing tabloid campaign on Dumond's behalf, Dumond was let out of prison 25 years before his sentence would have ended.
"There's nothing any of us could ever do," Huckabee said Sunday on CNN when asked to reflect on the horrific outcome caused by the prisoner's release. "None of us could've predicted what [Dumond] could've done when he got out."
But the confidential files obtained by the Huffington Post show that Huckabee was provided letters from several women who had been sexually assaulted by Dumond and who indeed predicted that he would rape again - and perhaps murder - if released...
Huckabee kept these and other documents secret because they were politically damaging, according to a former aide who worked for him in Arkansas. The aide has made the records available to the Huffington Post, deeply troubled by Huckabee's repeated claims that he had no reason to believe Dumond would commit other violent crimes upon his release from prison. The aide also believes that Huckabee, for political reasons, has deliberately attempted to cover up his knowledge of Dumond's other sexual assaults.
"There were no letters sent to the governor's office from any rape victims," Huckabee campaign spokesperson Alice Stewart said on Tuesday when contacted by the Huffington Post.
Subsequently, however, the campaign provided a former senior aide of Huckabee's who did remember reading at least one of the letters.
But Huckabee and his aides insist that his receipt of the letters is irrelevant because the decision to release Dumond was made by the parole board. Huckabee on Tuesday again denied allegations by former parole board members that he lobbied them to release Dumond. "I did not ask them to do anything," he said. "I did indicate [Dumond's case] was sitting at my desk and I was giving thought to it."
Charmaine Yoest, a senior adviser to the Huckabee campaign, told the Huffington Post: "I think what should be considered here is that if he [Huckabee] could have changed what happened, he would. His whole life has been about respect for life and understanding the value of each individual life. Nobody regrets the loss of life here more than him."
In 1996, as a newly elected governor who had received strong support from the Christian right, Huckabee was under intense pressure from conservative activists to pardon Dumond or commute his sentence. The activists claimed that Dumond's initial imprisonment and various other travails were due to the fact that Ashley Stevens, the high school cheerleader he had raped, was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton, and the daughter of a major Clinton campaign contributor.
And, if you haven't read Matt Taibbi's take-down of Huckabee, you owe it to yourself.
Really, it's a form of abuse in the extreme to let creationists near the White House.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Is America freer? No.
Has bin Laden been caught? No.
But the escalation is really, truly working! They mean it!
“The toothpaste is out of the tube. And, try as they might, the military’s information nannies are not going to be able to stuff it back in,” said Noah Schatman of Wired Magazine in an e-mail from Taji, Iraq. He said soldiers will pay $55 a month for a private connection.
The military is so petrified it will lose information control screensavers were installed on military computers warning blogs could jeopardize security, said Schatman, who runs Wired’s Danger Room blog and has tracked the unofficial use of the Internet by soldiers.
The campaign has led some soldiers to steer clear of the Internet. Others do it anyway as confusion reigns because of conflicting signals sent from Washington, he said.
“President Eisenhower warned of the growing military industrial complex in his farewell address. Since Dick Cheney can now afford solid gold oil derricks, it’s safe to say we failed Ike miserably. After losing two friends and over a dozen comrades, I have this to say: Do not wage war unless it is absolutely, positively the last ditch effort for survival,” wrote Spc. Alex Horton, 22, of the 3rd Stryker Brigade in Army of Dude. “In the future, I want my children to grow up with the belief that what I did here was wrong, in a society that doesn’t deem that idea unpatriotic,” he blogged.
Sgt. Thomas Strickland, 27, of Douglasville, Ga., calling himself the Rev Wayfarer, was one of the earliest to speak out publicly. Two days before he drowned in a vehicle accident at Mahmudijah on his second tour he condemned the leadership in “One Foot in the Grave.” He asked what the chain of command had been doing since his first tour. “We were winning somewhat when I left. And now we are being pinned down in our own (expletive deleted) homes. Insurgents are pushing locals out of their homes and taking over my area at will.”
Spc. Eleonai Israel of Bowling Green, Ky., court-martialed and given a less than honorable discharge last month after refusing to go on combat missions, said that like Horton he never heard a peep about what he said on his MySpace site during his year in Iraq.
“The truth will come out, and there is nothing they can do to hide it. The occupation is a disaster. I’m convinced that everyday it continues that it makes America, and the Iraqis less safe,” he said on his MySpace Blog. He now works for the presidential campaign of Democrat Mike Gravel of Alaska.
Of course that liberal publication run by the marines is, biased...
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Many Fed watchers believe the Fed district bank presidents are more reluctant to cut the federal funds rate than the members of the Fed board of governors.
In the past few days, some bank presidents have stressed that the Fed must avoid the "moral hazard" problem by bailing out investors who took excessive risk.
Plosser put it this way: "It is not appropriate for the Fed to ensure against financial volatility per se, or against individuals or firms taking losses or failing."
Plosser suggested that he is not yet certain whether the tight credit and financial turmoil is a "temporary disturbance" that would not throw the economy off track or a "shock" that would require a rate cut.
"I believe it is important to understand and appreciate this underlying stability of the economy in the face of temporary disturbances as we seek to assess monetary policy in the face of developments in housing," Plosser said.
It is of course the Federal Reserve Board of Governors who make the actual decision to set the Federal funds rate; but the idea that dissenting voices exist in that corporate world is intriguing.
Meanwhile, next week might see some kind of Armageddon in the commercial paper market, at least in the UK (and all this stuff is connected now):
LEADING bankers are warning of the worst crisis in the money markets for 20 years, which will come to a head this week when $113 billion (£57 billion) of commercial paper – market IOUs – comes up for refinancing.
This huge refinancing, mainly through London, exceeds the $100 billion that became due in mid-August, and which sparked the most serious phase in the money-market crisis, which has seen banks scrambling for funds and market interest rates rising sharply. “This is a serious pressure point,” said one leading banker.
Another senior executive of one of Britain’s top five retail banks said: “These are the worst conditions I have seen in money markets for 20 years”.
The huge amount of commercial paper becoming due is the hangover from the crisis in credit markets that began with American sub-prime mortgages. Many of the off-balance-sheet structured investment vehicles (SIVs) set up by the banks were borrowed in the form of asset-backed commercial paper.
It may be impossible for central banks to avert this crisis, because the issue is may be much, much bigger than the sub-prime market.
Here's something I wrote on my own blog almost two years ago.
There's the war in Iraq, there's bird flu, there's soaring oil prices, there's the trade deficit, the Federal deficit, bad emergency response in Santa Ana season... but I bet you never worried about collateralized debt obligations.
Neither did I until I read the above link.
As Jim Jubak wrote way back then:
To understand this epidemic of risk, why it is such a danger to the global financial markets -- and us -- and why the Fed can't do much about it except jawbone, you can try to master the details of the $8.4 trillion market for something called credit derivatives. Or you can answer one simple question about the airline industry.
That's the issue: the sub-prime crisis may not be a cause of the market instability, but a symptom of something much, much bigger.
It wasn't just home-buying deadbeats who were getting loans for houses, but it was deadbeat companies like airlines who were getting loans.
And none of this crap can be valued correctly at present.
And no bank wants to loan if they don't know what the collateral's value is.
Look out below.
And also take all the financial media with a grain of salt...for example, this bit from Forbes...
Subprime Risks: Overblown
...On the other hand, financial stocks are one of the biggest weightings in my portfolios. As a professional investor for 25 years and an owner of an investment firm, I know this area firsthand. So for me, the real lesson behind a circle of competence is that it gives me the courage to buy and hold stocks during market dislocations and not wait for things to calm down.
Hmmm...I don't suppose he thinks the title is apt because if it's not overblown, (or if as is noted above, it's a symptom and not the cause) then his "circle of competence" isn't.
Here's another gem from Forbes:
The Fall 2007 Rally
...What makes me so sure that we're in a rally, not a long-running decline? Four things. The first has to do with the shape of a bull market termination. The final peak does not arrive sharply. It tends to have a gentle upward slope, as the final but diminishing round of suckers is drawn in. And then the decline (usually) begins with a gentle slope, too (October 1987 was the exception proving the rule--over almost instantly), as some buyers continue to come in even after the bull market is over. The bull market leading up to the July 16 peak was too sudden and the plunge too sharp to presage a real bear market.
Second, bear markets don't start from old news. In this case the old news is that many subprime borrowers are going to default on their mortgages. While this misfortune is still unfolding, the basic facts have been out for a while. A fundamental rule of markets is that old news runs out of power. It takes new information to move stock prices.
Third, it usually takes a severe credit crunch to set a genuine bear market in motion. This credit crunch, at least for corporate borrowers, is not severe. You measure crunch by the spread in yields between junk bonds and Treasury bonds of like maturity. In 2000 that spread widened by three to four percentage points, a harbinger of both a broad tumble in stock prices and an economic contraction. In that case, moreover, the widening spread came atop rising Treasury interest rates--weak corporate borrowers had two strikes against them. Contrast that with what's happening now. Junk spreads widened by only a percentage point before going back the other way, and much of the widening was from a fall in Treasury rates, hardly bearish. This is a phony credit crunch.
Yeah, trillions of dollars worth of debt can't be accurately valued as to its risk/return profile, and this credit crunch is phony.
It's not phony; even people with good credit are being turned away right now.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
[I]t is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship, which could read and condemn my thoughts and which could also consign me to eternal worshipful bliss (a somewhat hellish idea) or to an actual hell.
Implicit in this ancient chestnut of an argument is the further -- and equally disagreeable -- self-satisfaction that simply assumes, whether or not religion is metaphysically "true," that at least it stands for morality. Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included the slaughter of other "tribes," the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual "deviants" and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of "deicide," the absurdity of "Limbo," the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice...
Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.
It is indeed true, from a Buddhist perspective, that one could practice the 8-fold path, one could develop and cultivate skillful action, one could develop mindfulness without recourse to Buddha, Dharma or Sangha - although it is quite helpful, I'd say, that such a person would have to be in a like-minded community of practitioners, for encouragement, and for the feedback that being in such a community gives. Though I'd admit the potential existence of non-Buddhist hermits...
But then, such a community would be a Buddhist community in all but name, and Buddhism doesn't rely on the name or a particular Buddha for its practice. Its practice is realized when one individual does the practice, not when he takes the 3 refuges.
Friday, June 29, 2007
WASHINGTON — Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.
The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.
Bush called al Qaida in Iraq the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
"Al Qaida is the main enemy for Shia, Sunni and Kurds alike," Bush asserted. "Al Qaida's responsible for the most sensational killings in Iraq. They're responsible for the sensational killings on U.S. soil."
U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.
Bush's references to al Qaida came just days after Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and George Voinovich of Ohio broke with Bush over his Iraq strategy and joined calls to begin an American withdrawal.
"The only way they think they can rally people is by blaming al Qaida," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center who's critical of the administration's strategy...
U.S. intelligence agencies and military commanders say the Sunni-Shiite conflict is the greatest source of violence and insecurity in Iraq.
"Extremists — most notably the Sunni jihadist group al Qaida in Iraq and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi — continue to act as very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining struggle between Shia and Sunnis," the National Intelligence Council wrote in the unclassified key judgments of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq published in January. Jaysh al Mahdi is Arabic for the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
The council comprises the top U.S. intelligence analysts, and a National Intelligence Estimate is the most comprehensive assessment it produces for the president and a small number of his senior aides. It reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
I think the guy in the Whitehouse is about as lovable and charismatic as Charlie Manson.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Raleigh, NC -- The families of four American security contractors who were burned, beaten, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and their decapitated bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River on March 31, 2004, are reaching out to the American public to help protect themselves against the very company their loved ones were serving when killed, Blackwater Security Consulting. After Blackwater lost a series of appeals all the away to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blackwater has now changed its tactics and is suing the dead men's estates for $10 million to silence the families and keep them out of court.
Following these gruesome deaths which were broadcast on worldwide television, the surviving family members looked to Blackwater for answers as to how and why their loved ones died. Blackwater not only refused to give the grieving families any information, but also callously stated that they would need to sue Blackwater to get it. Left with no alternative, in January 2005, the families filed suit against Blackwater, which is owned by the wealthy and politically-connected Erik Prince.
Blackwater quickly adapted its battlefield tactics to the courtroom. It initially hired Fred F. Fielding, who is currently counsel to the President of the United States. It then hired Joseph E. Schmitz as its in-house counsel, who was formerly the Inspector General at the Pentagon. More recently, Blackwater employed Kenneth Starr, famed prosecutor in the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, to oppose the families. To add additional muscle, Blackwater hired Cofer Black, who was the Director of the CIA Counter- Terrorist Center.
After filing its suit against the dead men's estates, Blackwater demanded that its claim and the families' existing lawsuit be handled in a private arbitration. By suing the families in arbitration, Blackwater has attempted to move the examination of their wrongful conduct outside of the eye of the public and away from a jury. This comes at the same time when Congress is investigating Blackwater.
Of course, being a "contractor" for Blackwater is not most people's idea of "right livelihood."
But on the scale of benefiting all sentient beings, a contractor at Blackwater's gotta be 4 orders of magnitude further up the scale than one of their managers.
What is interesting to me is how this sort of thing goes backwards for me.
Genjo Osho takes the viewpoint that Case 29 indicates that the transiencey of All - the entire universe eventually - impels us to act well now, when we are deeply aware of this utter transiency.
However, the transiencey of All - in this 1/eon instant - impels us to act well now, when we are deeply aware of this utter transiency.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Iraq has invited Iranian firms to submit offers to take part in building at least four oil refineries across the country, Iraq's oil ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.
"Today, the Iranian firms have been invited to bid in building refineries which the ministry has already announced it was planning to build," Asim Jihad told Reuters. Iran and Iraq, who fought a bitter war in the 1980s, have been strengthening ties since the US-led invasion in 2003, prompting concern among Iraq's once dominant Sunni minority and other Arab states, as well as in the United States. Washington, which considers Iran part of an "axis of evil," accuses Tehran of meddling in Iraq.
Yeah, helping 'em drill out their oil is "meddling."
I'm sure the Saudis won't like that.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
The two scientific disciplines most noted for sympathy toward ID are medicine and engineering. Individuals from these two disciplines have been actively involved in challenging Darwinism. The increasing prominence of these two disciplines bodes well for the design revolution.
Now I asked a simple question, and apparently it's too much for them to contemplate.
My simple question was to the effect of "Gee, does this mean that ID folks are going to submit papers to the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory any time soon?"
And nope; they could not publish that.
If that is not evidence of their dishonesty I don't know what is.
(HT: Ed Brayton.)
Anyway, what I've been up to I can finally talk about - and in fact I will be doing so at a meeting of a major telecommunications standards body.
It's not 802.
Those guys - the 802 guys- have, I think jumped the shark.
It may not be known around many places, but the ITU is planning on a review of recommendations for spectrum usage this year.
The 802 guys are putting together a bit of recommendations for the usage of new spectrum for telecommuncations services, and as Jimmy Durrante would say, "Everybody's gettin' into the act!"
The most amusing bit came from the WPAN folks, who for some reason have Bluetooth and UWB confused with cell phones, but it wasn't the only amusing bit.
Some of the 802 wireless folks' greatest minds were spent on how to get the phrase "contention based access" into consideration before the mighty ITU.
What was especially amusing about this was that "contention based access" connotes lots of things, including but not limited to how one aspect of 3G phones already work.
But, as I say, that's not what I've been working on.
I've been working on some pretty neat stuff that effectively obsoletes a significant bit of 802.16 and 802.11n, in that I've developed a new way to get at pilot signal design for OFDMA/MIMO systems when the dimensionality one is given aren't nice numbers. It uses something called Frame Theory (see this excellent tutorial for an inro) by coming up with some neat extensions to this paper.
It may or may not reach standards nirvana, but it's pretty elegant stuff, if I do say so myself. It better be; the Muses had me working beacoup overtime on it.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
As with others in the left direction of the blogosphere, I had to find my choice nuggets of stupidity on that site, and it's recorded in my Kos diary for today.
Forget the politics.
Look at the math...
As Atrios says, "The stupid! It burns!"
Friday, February 16, 2007
What's The Secret?
It's a controversial self-help book (and DVD) that has reached phenomenon status — by purporting to know "the secret" to happiness.
Today the book (Atria/Beyond Words, $23.99) hits No. 1 on USA TODAY'S Best-Selling Books list.
Want a new job, a million dollars or a gorgeous girlfriend?
Author Rhonda Byrne says the secret is the law of attraction: If you think positively, you become a magnet that pulls everything you want toward you.
The book has been touted on TV by Oprah Winfrey (just last week), Larry King and Ellen DeGeneres. Word-of-mouth is helping sales as well...
People are finding out about it from other people," says Beyond Words editor in chief Cynthia Black, who heard about The Secret DVD from a friend and then signed Byrne to a book contract.
The DVD ($29.95) was released last March and has sold 1.1 million copies. The book was published in November with a first printing of 200,000. There are now 1.2 million copies in print.
Byrne, an Australian reality-TV producer, says she discovered the ancient secret to getting everything you want through her study of religious and philosophical texts.
"Everyone has to have their own experience to believe," says Byrne, 55. "People should start with little things like deciding a cup of coffee will come to you or that you'll see a feather. There's no difference between attracting a feather and anything else you want. It's as easy to attract one dollar as it is $10,000."
I thought positively that my laundry would be returned from my hotel last night, but alas, they lost it.
Seriously, the universe is not an ATM, nor should we expect it to be.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”
But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.
For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”
He likened his situation to that of a socialist studying economics in a department with a supply-side bent. “People hold all sorts of opinions different from the department in which they graduate,” he said. “What’s that to anybody else?”...
And, for some, his case raises thorny philosophical and practical questions. May a secular university deny otherwise qualified students a degree because of their religion? Can a student produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held beliefs? Should it be obligatory (or forbidden) for universities to consider how students will use the degrees they earn?
Those are “darned near imponderable issues,” said John W. Geissman, who has considered them as a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of New Mexico. For example, Dr. Geissman said, Los Alamos National Laboratory has a geophysicist on staff, John R. Baumgardner, who is an authority on the earth’s mantle — and also a young earth creationist.
If researchers like Dr. Baumgardner do their work “without any form of interjection of personal dogma,” Dr. Geissman said, “I would have to keep as objective a hat on as possible and say, ‘O.K., you earned what you earned.’ ”
Others say the crucial issue is not whether Dr. Ross deserved his degree but how he intends to use it...
“We also discuss the intersection of those sorts of ideas with Christianity,” he said. “I don’t require my students to say or write their assent to one idea or another any more than I was required.”
But he has also written and spoken on scientific subjects, and with a creationist bent. While still a graduate student, he appeared on a DVD arguing that intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, is a better explanation than evolution for the Cambrian explosion, a rapid diversification of animal life that occurred about 500 million years ago.
Online information about the DVD identifies Dr. Ross as “pursuing a Ph.D. in geosciences” at the University of Rhode Island. It is this use of a secular credential to support creationist views that worries many scientists.
On the other hand, if one is trying to use their scientific background to advance pseudo-science, you'll be caught out by scientists every time.
Especially if you're on a DVD arguing against your research.
Arguments from authority are weak.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
I tend to try to have a "don't be an asshole needlessly" attitude when it comes to dealing with religious beliefs that no one is trying to impose on me, but there's no requirement for people to share that attitude. Beliefs cloaked in religion shouldn't be granted automatic immunity from scrutiny, and nor should the sometimes powerful institutions run by people, not angels or saints, around which the various religions are organized. While genuine bigotry exists against people of various faiths which is the equivalent to the kind of bigotry which exists against gays or African-Americans (involving unfair symbols or stereotyping rooted in historic oppression, assigning unshared beliefs to an entire group, etc...), mocking or having contempt for actual religious beliefs isn't by any reasonable definition "bigotry." It's simply heated disagreement, and as with disagreements about politics, or sports, or whatever, sometimes people who disagree with each other use mockery and insults in their discourse. Religious people may think that their beliefs about religion are on a different level than these things, but, you know, I don't really agree with that.
And that's the basic issue. We disagree about things. We don't all share a belief in God, or the supernatural, or the spiritual plane, or whatever. Those who believe in these things don't agree on the details. There are a tremendous variety of belief systems in this country and across the world. The tendency to divide people into "faith" and "non-faith" has, as I wrote, obscured these differences, but the fact is that disagreement within "communities of faith" is no different than disagreement between religious and non-religious people. While I think there are those who genuinely believe in a "many paths to God" kind of worldview (and I have no opinion on whether that's theologically sound within the Christian or any other tradition), plenty of people don't actually share that worldview. They believe "other" beliefs are wacky, or stupid, or nuts, or contemptible, or immoral, or likely to lead to eternal damnation, etc.
This is also a reasonable time to differentiate between offensive and "offensive." If something is offensive to you then you have a genuine emotional reaction. If something is "offensive" then you imagine that maybe others have taken offense, or you find it offensive in some abstract sense which hasn't actually caused you any psychic distress. If you find something "offensive," as opposed to actually being offended, then you're probably just seizing on something which you perceive can be used to further whatever agenda you already had.
Seriously, though....looking at Merzel's website, I see terms related to money in a lot of places...moreover this is, shall I dare to say, a bit de trop...
Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, one of the preeminent Zen Masters in the Western world, has developed a unique and revolutionary approach for transmitting the authentic teachings that emerged from Buddha's enlightenment experience. With a mastery born of more than thirty years of teaching, Genpo Roshi has enabled thousands of participants in Big Mind workshops to gain profound insights and taste for themselves the illuminating experience from which Buddhism and all the world's great religions originate.
It is of course being promoted as "quick enlightenment."
When Dennis Merzel began his formal Zen studies three decades ago, his Japanese Zen master's methods left him perplexed. "DIE ON YOUR CUSHION!" Koryu Roshi exhorted his novices who sat cross-legged on cushions facing a wall at the Los Angeles Zen Center. "BECOME THE WALL!"
"I don't know what the hell he's talking about," Merzel remembers thinking. "And even if I knew, I'm not doing it."
From that unlikely beginning, Brooklyn-born Merzel has gone on to become spiritual leader to thousands of Zen Buddhists around the world.
But Merzel--now called Genpo Roshi--always knew the traditional Eastern approach to Zen didn't work for many Westerners. They don't like being told to die. Although he eventually realized the Zen master was commanding him to "die" in order to be reborn as a more compassionate being, he thought there had to be a better way to unlock the Zen door to Westerners.
For decades, Genpo searched for the key to enable Westerners to shift from identifying with their own self to being identified with the whole cosmos--to the Universal or Big Mind. Three years ago, he finally found it.
Call it the Western path to enlightenment.
Through a combination of Western therapy and Zen practice, Roshi now shows Zen beginners in one-day seminars at Salt Lake City's Kanzeon Zen Center how to achieve an awakening that has taken many Zen practitioners years.
And it's all possible, he says, because Westerners are suckers for a magic word: Please.
"We'll do anything for anyone if they say please," Roshi says.
At recent Saturday seminar, Roshi--wearing khakis and a short-sleeved black shirt--strode into an airy upstairs room to take his place in a director's chair before a room of 60 people sitting in padded chairs grouped in a half-circle.
"This might seem bold, this might seem strange," he tells the group, "that you will have in one day--before lunch actually --the clarity and experience that a Zen master has. But Zen is seen as the school of sudden enlightenment. And we're just making sure it remains sudden."
His technique to temporarily silence the "controller"--one's ego or commanding voice--is so simple that it's surprising it wasn't discovered earlier, he says. But such an insight wasn't possible as long as Zen remained an Eastern-centered discipline.
It is no wonder why Ken Wilber, (see the Wikipedia entry on him for more) gushes:
Let me state this as strongly as I can: the Big Mind Process (founded by Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi) is arguably the most important and original discovery in the last two centuries of Buddhism. It is an astonishingly original, profound, and effective path for waking up, or seeing one’s True Nature. It is such a simple and universal practice it can be used in any spiritual path you wish, or even just alone, by itself, as a practice for realizing your True Nature—which you can call God, Allah, Jahweh, Brahman, Tao, Ein Sof—it doesn’t really matter, because the core of the Big Mind Process is Emptiness itself, which, having no specific content at all, can and does embrace anything that arises, integrating it all. What Dennis Genpo Roshi has done is not only the most original discovery in Buddhism in the last two centuries, it is unbelievably simple, quick, and effective. In Zen, this realization of one’s True Nature, or Ultimate Reality, is called kensho or satori (“seeing into one’s True Nature,” or discovering Big Mind and Big Heart). It often takes five years or more of extremely difficult practice (I know, I’ve done it) in order for a profound satori to occur. With the Big Mind Process, a genuine kensho can occur in about an hour—seriously. Once you get it, you can do it virtually any time you wish, and almost instantaneously. It is nothing less than the discovery of your True and Unique Self, Ultimately Reality, the Ground of All Being—again, call it what you like, for “they call it Many which is really One.”
While it was Huineng who is said to have become enlightened after hearing the Diamond-Cutter Sutra, he was illiterate, and besides, he was actually training for years before that, albeit not formally as a monastic.
You can't buy enlightenment. At least, not the good kind, or not without a nasty hangover.
OK, that was a bit of sarcasm, but you can't buy enlightment: at best Merzel's "process" might get you to discover some ox footprints. Maybe. Because you don't get to those other stages of "enlightenment" without that Big Mindset permeating the interstices of your most mundane aspects of your existence. And there's no book that will teach you how to do that: you have to live it and practice it. Period. And nobody of any note is going to certify that, or give you a seal of approval eventually, and even if they did it wouldn't be worth whatever it's calligraphied on.
Reading Merzel's book to become enlightened is like reading "Tennis for Dummies" and expecting to be top seeded.
(Note to self: Huineng's temple's in Guandong province, and Huang Po's temple (黄檗山) should be in Fujian province - next time I go to China I want to go there.)
Friday, February 09, 2007
First, I'm amused that Joe Carter is pontificating on this thing. Media Matters has outed his employer, once and for all, as anti-Catholic bigots.
Secondly, if you want any stronger evidence of the right-wing idiocy in our media, look no further than William Donahue. As anyone can see from Wikipedia, the "Catholic League" is nothing but a right-wing astroturf outfit.
An array of prominent lay Catholics serve on the Catholic League's Board of Advisors: L. Brent Bozell III, Gerard Bradley, Linda Chavez, Robert Destro, Dinesh D'Souza, Laura Garcia, Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, Dolores Grier, Alan Keyes, Stephen Krason, Tom Monaghan, Michael Novak, Kate O'Beirne, Thomas Reeves, Patrick Riley, Robert Royal, Russell Shaw, Bill Simon, Paul Vitz and George Weigel.
Really, you get Alan Keyes with the Catholic League. Sweet.
Donahue, of course, is a pathological liar, a hypocrite, and probably a law-breaker:
- Re: liar:
We will launch a nationwide public relations blitz that will be conducted on the pages of the New York Times, as well as in Catholic newspapers and periodicals. It will be on-going, breaking like a wave, starting next week and continuing through 2007. It will be an education campaign, informing the public of what he did today. We will also reach out to our allies in the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities. They worked with us before on many issues, and are sure to do so again. What Edwards did today will not be forgotten."
Really, we don't have any allies with Donahue
- Re: hypocrisy:The bloggers in question actually apologized, and Donahue claimed he always forgives...oh, he said that about Mel Gibson, not about liberal bloggers.
- Re: lawbreaker: It is possible that Donahue's political activities on behalf of the "Catholic League" violate 501(c)(3) laws.
Furthermore, if you want "freedom of religion," better accept "freedom to blaspheme."
Void knows that Donahue & Co.'s very advocacy is some form of blasphemy.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Sunday, January 14, 2007
They had their sports events...
They had their brothels...funny thing about porn; you leave it around long enough and it ceases to be porn, but rather becomes archeological finds...and no I'm not being faceitious...I think this stuff would arouse only a necrophiliac...
And finally, there's still a bit of fascism around today... doubt about it.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
But it certainly is very Japanese. It seems that many folks today in Japan just don't get the Heart Sutra. It also reminds me of so-called modern "Christian music." Or whatever they call it now.
Really, the form of the Heart Sutra - especially when chanted in Japanese - expresses nullity - I don't know what else to call it and a profundity of existence - and it expresses an identity of source and object language - that is unmatched.
A song and dance number of this sutra is like putting 3 heads on top of one that's already there.
WiMAX and metro Wi-Fi are both more energy cost effective than cellular, according to a report by ABI Research (London, U.K.). The observation comes into stark relief against the backdrop of rapidly-increasing energy consumption as carriers move to high-data-rate mobile broadband access.
For those broadband networks, energy costs represent the third most significant operating expense (OPEX) for cellular carriers, and fluctuating energy costs are a significant area of concern for business planners, said the report entitled, "Energy Efficiency Analysis for Mobile Broadband Solutions." The move to higher data rates means that the energy required per subscriber arising from increasing data uptake will push per-subscriber energy OPEX for cellular solutions past acceptable barriers—unless carriers move from a traditional cellular-only approach to one that integrates WiMAX and metro Wi-Fi.
Stuart Carlaw, director of wireless research at ABI Research, says that "From a pure coverage perspective WiMAX is twice as energy-cost-effective and metro Wi-Fi is 50 times more energy-cost-effective than WCDMA. When data traffic is factored into the equation, WiMAX can accommodate 11 times today's average data consumption and still be more energy-cost-efficient compared to WCDMA or HSDPA.
A recent ABI Research study found that the total energy consumption arising from mobile broadband service delivery is forecast to grow from 42.8 billion kilowatt hours (KWh) in 2005 to 124.4 billion KWh in 2011. The Asia Pacific region will account for the majority of this growth.
A lot of words that say don't use words, but put them into practice.
Still worth the 30 bucks or so; the form and style of this work is radically different from other works I've read; it is practially spoon-feeding one the message.
Here's an on-line version, sans commentary, which would make all this stuff much much longer.
It's no wonder 大慧宗杲 (Dahui Zonggao) allegedly burned the original.
And damn, I feel so ignorant...makes me wonder what else I don't even know I should read.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
"The homicidal bitchin' that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat"
And that is what I thought of when I read kos's reaction to Bush's speech last night (which I mercifully missed).
Of course you're right, but the next step one must take is to conclude that bellowing crap like "decisive ideological struggle of our time" is exactly that - crap.
It's not the "decisive ideological struggle of our time."
The "decisive ideological struggle of our time" is basically how should 6+ billion people survive on this planet.
Solve that problem and all the religious ideological bullshit - and corrupt crony capitalist problems go away.
That, and that alone is the "decisive ideological struggle of our time."
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Friday, January 05, 2007
Not that I'm changing "teachers" or the tradition to which I'm affilated or anything - I'm not.
But sometimes change is refreshing...
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The data doesn't lie: our system is worse than just about any other.
For millennia the question of free will was the province of philosophers and theologians, but it actually turns on how the brain works. Only in the past decade and a half, however, has it been possible to watch the living human brain in action in a way that begins to show in detail what happens while it is happening (see survey). This ability is doing more than merely adding to science's knowledge of the brain's mechanism. It is also emphasising to a wider public that the brain really is just a mechanism, rather than a magician's box that is somehow outside the normal laws of cause and effect.
Science is not yet threatening free will's existence: for the moment there seems little prospect of anybody being able to answer definitively the question of whether it really exists or not. But science will shrink the space in which free will can operate by slowly exposing the mechanism of decision making.
At that point, the old French proverb “to understand all is to forgive all” will start to have a new resonance, though forgiveness may not always be the consequence. Indeed, that may already be happening. At the moment, the criminal law—in the West, at least—is based on the idea that the criminal exercised a choice: no choice, no criminal. The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.
Such disorders are serious pathologies. But the National DNA Database being built up by the British government (which includes material from many innocent people), would already allow the identification of those with milder predispositions to anger and violence. How soon before those people are subject to special surveillance? And if the state chose to carry out such surveillance, recognising that the people in question may pose particular risks merely because of their biology, it could hardly then argue that they were wholly responsible for any crime that they did go on to commit.
Nor is it only the criminal law where free will matters. Markets also depend on the idea that personal choice is free choice. Mostly, that is not a problem. Even if choice is guided by unconscious instinct, that instinct will usually have been honed by natural selection to do the right thing. But not always. Fatty, sugary foods subvert evolved instincts, as do addictive drugs such as nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. Pornography does as well. Liberals say that individuals should be free to consume these, or not. Erode free will, and you erode that argument.
And one from today's NY Times:
In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock.
Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.
The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.
In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done...
“Is it an illusion? That’s the question,” said Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Maryland. Another question, he added, is whether talking about this in public will fan the culture wars.
“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”...Other philosophers disagree on the degree and nature of such “freedom.” Their arguments partly turn on the extent to which collections of things, whether electrons or people, can transcend their origins and produce novel phenomena.
These so-called emergent phenomena, like brains and stock markets, or the idea of democracy, grow naturally in accordance with the laws of physics, so the story goes. But once they are here, they play by new rules, and can even act on their constituents, as when an artist envisions a teapot and then sculpts it — a concept sometimes known as “downward causation.” A knowledge of quarks is no help in predicting hurricanes — it’s physics all the way down. But does the same apply to the stock market or to the brain? Are the rules elusive just because we can’t solve the equations or because something fundamentally new happens when we increase numbers and levels of complexity?Opinions vary about whether it will ultimately prove to be physics all the way down, total independence from physics, or some shade in between, and thus how free we are. Dr. Silberstein, the Elizabethtown College professor, said, “There’s nothing in fundamental physics by itself that tells us we can’t have such emergent properties when we get to different levels of complexities.
If by free will we mean the ability to choose, even a simple laptop computer has some kind of free will, said Seth Lloyd, an expert on quantum computing and professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Every time you click on an icon, he explained, the computer’s operating system decides how to allocate memory space, based on some deterministic instructions. But, Dr. Lloyd said, “If I ask how long will it take to boot up five minutes from now, the operating system will say ‘I don’t know, wait and see, and I’ll make decisions and let you know.’ ”
Why can’t computers say what they’re going to do? In 1930, the Austrian philosopher Kurt Gödel proved that in any formal system of logic, which includes mathematics and a kind of idealized computer called a Turing machine, there are statements that cannot be proven either true or false. Among them are self-referential statements like the famous paradox stated by the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, who said that all Cretans are liars: if he is telling the truth, then, as a Cretan, he is lying.
One implication is that no system can contain a complete representation of itself, or as Janna Levin, a cosmologist at Barnard College of Columbia University and author of the 2006 novel about Gödel, “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines,” said: “Gödel says you can’t program intelligence as complex as yourself. But you can let it evolve. A complex machine would still suffer from the illusion of free will.”
Another implication is there is no algorithm, or recipe for computation, to determine when or if any given computer program will finish some calculation. The only way to find out is to set it computing and see what happens. Any way to find out would be tantamount to doing the calculation itself.
“There are no shortcuts in computation,” Dr. Lloyd said.
Oddly enough, I agree with Lloyd. And not just because I've met him before...