Saturday, February 24, 2007

Go read my Kos diary entry on "Conservapedia"

Conservapedia is the new "conservative" alternative to Wikipedia.

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

How to take money from people

Just tell 'em to keep thinking positively:

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

Nobody cares if you think J. Z. Knight is Ramtha

if you're a scientist and doing competent science, if the discussion is about science. Thus yesterday the NY Times sets up a false dilemma with their publication of this article on some young earth creationist paleontologist.

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

What Atrios said


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.

Ah, to have a stable of grad students

Robert Heath is probably somebody you never heard of, but void, is he productive. Or at least his grad students are.

But ah, if I could get his brain's matter into mine, what a lucky man I'd be...

How Dharma combat could get bloody...

Put Zenmar and Ken Wilber and/or Genpo Merzel in a room...

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

On the Edwards blogger brouhaha

I haven't posted here for a while, but I've a lot to say about the recent Edwards/Pandagon/"Catholic League" dust-up.

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

Nominated again?

I'm honored, to be nominated again for a Bloggisattva, though I haven't kept this up here as frequently as I'd like (more activity at Kos, though).

Anyhow, I'm grateful...though I won't be surprised if I don't win...I wouldn't vote for me this year...

Ah, purchasing DVDs in China...

For the equivalent of $1.50, I figured I can't go wrong: an anthology of "Ittai Osho" cartoons for my son...but for some reason "Danny the Dog" got in there.

Don't ask questions, it was China...