Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nah, we're not obsessed with stuff anymore...


The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. At 3:30 a.m., the Nassau County police had to be called in for crowd control, and an officer with a bullhorn pleaded for order.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. Someone taped up a crude poster: “Blitz Line Starts Here.”

By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.

Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Good stretching exercises

Here, whether or not you sit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

If there were a Christian monotheistic deity...

Why would he permit this?

HT: PZ Meyers

AP spin of the day: Pro-Vatican.

This is why I don't believe most of what I read in the news...

Nov 21st, 2008 | TOKYO -- Samurai warriors, housewives and children were crucified, thrown into hot springs and tortured, but refused to renounce their religion. Japan's extraordinary but relatively unknown history of Christian persecution is finally receiving recognition in a beatification of 188 martyrs.

The upcoming ceremony on Monday bestows honors from the Roman Catholic Church that are one step short of sainthood for Japanese killed from 1603 to 1639. The ceremony is expected to draw 30,000 people to a baseball stadium in the southwestern city of Nagasaki.

These 2 paragraphs are true, as far as it goes. What is not stated, though, not mentioned at all in the article or by the Vatican is what on earth might have driven the Japanese to do these things??

Well, the years 1603 to 1639 might be a dead giveaway.

Anyway, see here, here, and here. Yeah, Wikipedia, but the first 2 references should show the Wikipedia one's pretty noteworthy here. From the first reference:

[W]e should also take note of a few Bud­
dhist anti-Christian scriptures that provided material for Buddhist criti­
cism and strengthened its prejudice against Christianity. The first major
Buddhist anti-Christian work was Ha-Daiusu or Ha-Deusu [Refutation
of Deus],24 written in 1620 by Fabian Fucan, the apostate Jesuit brother.
Fabian had previously written an apology for Christianity, Myōtei
mondō [Myōtei dialogue],25 which purported to demonstrate the superi­
ority of Christianity over Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Ha­
Daiusu represented a sort of formal retraction of his previous defense of
Christianity;26 it was a passionate and eloquent expression of Buddhist
anti-Christian thought, reflecting the Buddhist-Christian controversies of
the previous decades and the Buddhist animosity toward Christianity in
the early Tokugawa period. In Ha-Daiusu, Fabian rejected the Christian
doctrines in seven steps, describing God and his creation, reward and
punishment, the fall of the angels and heaven and hell, the fall of Adam
and original sin, God's promise to send a savior, the incarnation and the
life of Christ, and, finally, the commandments and the sacraments. The
Christian doctrine was, according to Fabian, not only ridiculous and
childish, but dangerous, for absolute loyalty to God implied the right to
revolt. In the First Commandment "lurks the intention to subvert and
usurp the country, to extinguish Buddha's Law and Royal Sway," he
warned. "Quick, quick! Put this gang in stocks and shackles!" With
Fabian's inside knowledge of Christianity as a previous Jesuit brother, his
refutation naturally made a decisive impact on the Buddhist community
and became a source of information for later Buddhist attacks on Chris­

From the 2nd reference, a bit more apologetic to the Kirishitans:

Had the Jesuits remained contented to preach religion perhaps expulsions and martyrdoms might have been avoided. The Jesuits as this time, however, were anything but humble missionaries. They meddled in politics, attempted to influence trade to their own advantage, and even attempted to rule. The most egregious example is the accession of Nagasaki. The Jesuits did not hold this important port for long however. Hideyoshi was shocked to find them there and quickly added Nagasaki to his own domain. Other examples are seen in the Jesuit approach to the emperor or volunteering manpower to Hideyoshi. All these actions appeared subversive to the bakufu, which, indeed, they were. When the Tokugawa finally unified the country, one of its first acts was to expel the Christians. Of course, I hope no one in this seminar will confuse this with a "closed door" policy!

I think we in the US often discount the fact that after a long and brutal civil war, the first thing a government might want to do is ensure that subversives don't re-open a can of worms. I mean, that is why there were Radical Republicans during Reconstruction in the US, and (unlike Japan) the triumph of the racists at the end of Reconstruction delayed development of the US national view of its people for decades.

Let me put it another way: Hideyoshi was right to crush Christianity - it threatened to re-ignite civil war.

And the Vatican has never renounced its intent to meddle in state affairs for its own worldly ends.

In fact, the Kirishitans are still lying about it:

The beatification follows a 27-year effort, including research and documentation of the martyrs' lives, which began with a visit by Pope John Paul to Japan in 1981, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins said Friday.

"They died for their faith -- not for economic or political reasons," said Martins, who is in Japan to attend the beatification on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI. "They died 400 years ago, but they send us an important message."

Christianity in Japan began with the arrival of Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier in 1549. At first, missionaries were welcomed and Christianity blossomed, growing to as many as 200,000 followers, according to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan.

But in 1587, shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered the missionaries expelled, although the order was not immediately enforced. A decade later, the crackdown began, and 26 Christians were crucified.

Why wasn't it enforced at first? Likely Hideyoshi wanted to see if the incitements to burn Buddhist temples (mentioned in the original edict) were going to go away, and evidently they didn't.

One can admit that what the Japanese did was brutal, but it was not done in a vacuum.

A little bit of levity...

Sarah Palin's oblivious to the first precept as applied to turkeys...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Now you know where the news is going....


Publishing online means operating at half the cost of a comparable printed paper, but online advertising is not robust enough to sustain a newsroom.

And so financially, VoiceofSan Diego and its peers mimic public broadcasting, not newspapers. They are nonprofit corporations supported by foundations, wealthy donors, audience contributions and a little advertising.

New nonprofits without a specific geographic focus also have sprung up to fill other niches, like ProPublica, devoted to investigative journalism, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which looks into problems around the world. A similar group, the Center for Investigative Reporting, dates back three decades.

But some experts question whether a large part of the news business can survive on what is essentially charity, and whether it is wise to lean too heavily on the whims of a few moneyed benefactors.

“These are some of the big questions about the future of the business,” said Robert H. Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Nonprofit news online “has to be explored and experimented with, but it has to overcome the hurdle of proving it can support a big news staff. Even the most well-funded of these sites are a far cry in resources from a city newspaper.”

Evidently we have a local one in Seattle, Crosscut.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jing Hua Wu: Hear of him? He's a metaphor...

If you weren't continually watching TV, or if you didn't live in the SF Bay Area, or if you're not Chinese or close to any Chinese you might have missed this story:

There was no indication that Jing Hua Wu posed any danger when he walked into the offices of his Santa Clara employer Friday, a few hours after he'd been fired. So there was no reason for three top company officials to refuse his request for a meeting.

But some time after Wu and the three executives went into a room to talk, police say, the 47-year-old engineer pulled a 9 mm handgun and shot all three dead.

Nineteen hours later, a Bay Area manhunt ended when police cars swooped into the parking lot of a shopping center at El Camino Real and Grant Road in Mountain View. Wu was unarmed and made no attempt to struggle, police said, when officers piled out of the cars at 10:45 a.m. Saturday and handcuffed him in front of the Home Consignment Center store...

Police identified the victims as Marilyn Lewis, 67, of San Jose, who was the company's head of human resources; Brian Pugh, 47, of Los Altos, who was vice president for operations, and Sid Agrawal, 56, of Fremont, who was the company's co-founder and chief executive.

Now a few years ago, this would have made front page news, but I guess now it's just commonplace, although it's quite a rarity for the Bay Area.

And as it turns out, this happened to be a lot closer to me and my family than I'd have wanted - despite the fact that this happened in the Bay area and we're in the Pacific NW.

Seems Jing Hua Wu owns/owned houses. Rental properties. In the "Greater Vancouver WA" area.

And I happen to know one of the agents involved in the transaction.

Suffice it to say that we spent Saturday morning, before we heard of this, talking to Vancouver's finest, who didn't seem entirely aware that there might have been a rampaging mass murderer on the loose.

We joked that they'd have to contact the tenants and tell them they had good news and bad news. The good news was that they might not have to pay next month's rent.

The bad news was that their landlord was a rampaging mass murderer.

Luckily they caught him.

And so the collapsing economy and the collapsing real estate market, has collapsed get rich quick schemes, and created a little Columbine nearby, 6-degrees of separation-wise.

Speaking of Compassion: 5 Wishes???

Why the hell is it so difficult to get a "5 wishes" document that is user-friendly editable?

Whatever. I know how to "Insert 'Annex A' here and all that. There are benefits to having lawyers in the family.

Now I'm not dying, though someone in my (more extended) family is, and there's other serious stuff going on. And so I've had an opportunity to see the "death procedure" that hospitals follow.

And I give the effort a "B-," which needs there's significant changes that need to be made.

As an example of what needs to be changed, IMHO:

I wish to be cared for with kindness and cheerfulness, not sadness.

Sorry, but if I'm on my way out, it'd be a bit presumptive of me to tell my caregivers whether or not they should be sad or not.

I'd prefer kindness, of course, but if you can't be sad from time to time when somebody to whom you're close is dying I submit you have more problems than can be covered in a "5 wishes" document.

Also, "Wish 5" needs some work:

  • Buried or cremated are the only options?

    (Hey, just because there's Buddhist themes running through this blog doesn't mean I can't be an aficionado of le bad taste from time to time!)

  • "I want memories of my life to give them joy and not sorrow." See the point above. I've done stuff in my life about which I'm not entirely happy, to say the least. Like a lot of folks. I want my successors to grieve if that helps them, and to think happy thoughts if that helps them. Geez.

  • "I want my family and friends to look at my dying as a time of personal growth for everyone..."????

    Look, such things are unique once-in-a-lifetime events in which are opportunities to be a mensch and all that...But if it's me, dammit, I'm not "growing," I'd be what they call dying.

    Do the folks who made this up have a scintilla of an idea how trite and fluffy that sentence sounds???

  • No, I do not think "death is a new beginning for me." Hitting Lotto might be a new beginning for me, but I tend to agree with Mary Roach ("The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back").

  • Finally, if I have a long, horrid illness, I want my friends and family to remember me that way as well as well as when healthy. You don't stop being you with a dying, and it seems kind of disrespectful to not acknowledge that fact.

But, in a larger sense, all of this seems problematic to me. Are our lives to be reduced to polling results? Do you want a) the plug pulled, or b) the plug left in? Only one choice, please.

Naturally, like all legal document there's inevitably going to be corner conditions that make all this worthless anyway, so it's best to be sure the folks close to you know you, and therefore, it's best to have folks close to you.

That's my humble opinion; you may have another.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spend, Baby Spend

Also read Paul Krugman. He's got a Nobel prize and all that; it's good for you:

[W]ith no possibility of further interest rate cuts, there’s nothing to stop the economy’s downward momentum. Rising unemployment will lead to further cuts in consumer spending, which Best Buy warned this week has already suffered a “seismic” decline. Weak consumer spending will lead to cutbacks in business investment plans. And the weakening economy will lead to more job cuts, provoking a further cycle of contraction.

To pull us out of this downward spiral, the federal government will have to provide economic stimulus in the form of higher spending and greater aid to those in distress — and the stimulus plan won’t come soon enough or be strong enough unless politicians and economic officials are able to transcend several conventional prejudices.

One of these prejudices is the fear of red ink. In normal times, it’s good to worry about the budget deficit — and fiscal responsibility is a virtue we’ll need to relearn as soon as this crisis is past. When depression economics prevails, however, this virtue becomes a vice. F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget in 1937 almost destroyed the New Deal.

Another prejudice is the belief that policy should move cautiously. In normal times, this makes sense: you shouldn’t make big changes in policy until it’s clear they’re needed. Under current conditions, however, caution is risky, because big changes for the worse are already happening, and any delay in acting raises the chance of a deeper economic disaster. The policy response should be as well-crafted as possible, but time is of the essence.

Finally, in normal times modesty and prudence in policy goals are good things. Under current conditions, however, it’s much better to err on the side of doing too much than on the side of doing too little. The risk, if the stimulus plan turns out to be more than needed, is that the economy might overheat, leading to inflation — but the Federal Reserve can always head off that threat by raising interest rates. On the other hand, if the stimulus plan is too small there’s nothing the Fed can do to make up for the shortfall. So when depression economics prevails, prudence is folly...

All indications are that the new administration will offer a major stimulus package. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations say that the package should be huge, on the order of $600 billion.

Also this bit:

Actually, before I get to the math, some concepts. Nearly every forecast now says that, in the absence of strong policy action, real GDP will fall far below potential output in the near future. In normal times, that would be a reason to cut interest rates. But interest rates can’t be cut in any meaningful sense. Fiscal policy is the only game in town.

Wait, there’s more. Ben Bernanke can’t push on a string – but he can pull, if necessary. Suppose fiscal policy ends up being too expansionary, so that real GDP “wants” to come in 2 percent above potential. In that case the Fed can tighten a bit, and no harm is done. But if fiscal policy is too contractionary, and real GDP comes in below potential, there’s no potential monetary offset. That means that fiscal policy should take risks in the direction of boldness.

So what kinds of numbers are we talking about? GDP next year will be about $15 trillion, so 1% of GDP is $150 billion. The natural rate of unemployment is, say, 5% — maybe lower. Given Okun’s law, every excess point of unemployment above 5 means a 2% output gap.

Right now, we’re at 6.5% unemployment and a 3% output gap – but those numbers are heading higher fast. Goldman predicts 8.5% unemployment, meaning a 7% output gap. That sounds reasonable to me.

So we need a fiscal stimulus big enough to close a 7% output gap. Remember, if the stimulus is too big, it does much less harm than if it’s too small. What’s the multiplier? Better, we hope, than on the early-2008 package. But you’d be hard pressed to argue for an overall multiplier as high as 2.

When I put all this together, I conclude that the stimulus package should be at least 4% of GDP, or $600 billion.

I was in Fred Meyer's last night, at around 7:15.




And they're offering 20% discounts on $50 spending.

This economy is making these stores look like a neutron bomb hit them.

I tend to believe that things are much worse than are being reported with the measurements being enunciated.

As a Buddhist, this is not about economic ideology one way or the other, but it is purely about using skill to alleviate suffering.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Last night was history

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barack Obama for President

I'm not a clergyman, and have no legal constraints that keep me from advocating a change from the horrid policies of most of the past 40 years.

"Conservatism" was always about denying living beings oxygen, and convincing them it was in their best interests to suffocate, metaphorically speaking.

It's time practices associated with such a cynical and vicious philosophy were relegated to the time in which we assign events which would be unspeakably horrid if we were to do them today.

Barack Obama's far from perfect, and has articulated far more centrist positions than we need right now, but he's not going to destroy the country as quickly as the party which brings the word "repugnant" to my mind.

And don't kid yourselves. It's repugnant to fund death squads who murder union organizers. It's repugnant to destroy the middle and working classes. It's repugnant to position the military as the only "viable" career option for the youth in a country where everything is bought or sold as a result of imported petroleum. It's repugnant that in the (formerly unchallengeable) economic powerhouse of the world, we can't have a health care system that equals that of the French. Or hell, the unemployment benefits of the Germans.

The other side is not on the side of angels, but it's time this country went in a different direction. It's time people who advocated for the people were actually in charge of the government, who put into power supreme court justices that understood that ideological prohibitions of marijuana is not worth destroying someone's life.