Saturday, January 31, 2009

Yes, the jokes write themselves, but...

seriously, these people are bigots and misandrists:

THEY called it a lesbian paradise, the pioneering women who made their way to St. Augustine, Fla., in the 1970s to live together in cottages on the beach. Finding one another in the fever of the gay rights and women’s liberation movements, they built a matriarchal community, where no men were allowed, where even a male infant brought by visitors was cause for debate...

The communities, most in rural areas from Oregon to Florida, have as few as two members; Alapine is one of the largest. Many have steadily lost residents over the decades as members have moved on or died. As the impulse to withdraw from heterosexual society has lost its appeal to younger lesbians, womyn’s lands face some of the same challenges as Catholic convents that struggle to attract women to cloistered lives...

JANE R. Dickie, a professor of women’s studies and psychology at Hope College in Michigan, who has studied one of the womyn’s lands, in Missouri, said she was struck by the differences between the residents — feminists of an earlier era — and her students.

“There was a real sense of the need to strongly identify as a woman and have women’s space,” Dr. Dickie, 62, said of the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s. “We really felt the need to be apart, to draw on our strength and our own empowerment. But young feminists today recoil at the idea of identity politics, of being in this one category.” Among the few younger women who are part of the movement, there is concern that the old-guard lesbians are too rigid at a time when they need to be more flexible, if for nothing else than self-preservation.

“I see the whole picture and the idea of a womyn’s land utopia, unless you have unlimited amounts of finances for yourself, I’ve watched one after another go belly up,” said Andrea Gibbs-Henson, 42, who lives at Camp Sister Spirit, a womyn’s land in Ovett, Miss., where she became executive director when her mother, one of the founders, died last year. “The bottom line is the world is too diverse. The whole idea of a feminist utopia, it’s just an ideal. We would not survive here if all we did was cater to lesbian separatists.”

It explains a great deal, this identity politics: evidently if you've been heavily screwed, it's tattooed into you or something.

But geez, ladies we male folks aren't uniformly evil.

Mind creates some really bizarre crap in the presence of suffering and left to its own devices.

Bhutan's on line

And here's a useful article about practice and purpose.

The cause of selfishness is our mistaken view of phenomena and self. We see it as something solid and permanent and then cling to this mistaken view. This sounds complicated, but in reality it is not. Think of a piece of paper. If analysed, we will not find anything that can actually be called ‘paper’. It is just processed wood, which came from a tree that developed from a seed through interaction with moisture, sunlight and nutrition. Basically, it is a temporary amalgamation of elements that are conveniently labelled as paper. Everything we experience is the same, including our own body.

So, how is this understanding linked to generosity? Well, thinking of everything as clearly separate creates dichotomies, such as I and the outside world. When this occurs, people naturally try to protect this ‘separate’ self. They create a prison-like castle, where the supposed outer world is viewed as either threatening or desirable. The castle becomes a source of aggression.

Generosity, on the other hand, requires a certain degree of surrender of the self and is in tune with the understanding that all things are connected. Consequently, when we commit ourselves to others, we are chipping away at ego’s fortress. We are ending our isolation. The two hands that once gazed at each other with suspicion begin to recognize that they are part of the same body. Preserving the idea of separation, on the other hand, intensifies a selfish attitude and each lie or corrupt act is another stone added to our prison walls.

OK, so it is clear that compassion undermines the ego and severs the root of selfishness, but why offer butter lamps instead of giving to the poor? Well, all action begins in the mind, and offering butter lamps is as an excellent means to ensure the mind’s purity. It is like enriching the soil before planting a crop. However, for the act to function in a positive way it is essential to offer a butter lamp with sincere aspirations that it will benefit others.

IOW, ritual puts bookmarks in your mind which are useful when the occasion presents itself.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Excuse me, but have you ever actually read the Koran?

The NY Times helpfully tells us that the author of the snippet quoted is "Ian Buruma is the author of “Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance."

...Comparing a book that billions hold sacred to Hitler’s murderous tract is more than an exercise in literary criticism; it suggests that those who believe in the Koran are like Nazis, and an all-out war against them would be justified. This kind of thinking, presumably, is what the Dutch law court is seeking to check.

One of the misconceptions that muddle the West’s debate over Islam and free speech is the idea that people should be totally free to insult. Free speech is never that absolute. Even — or perhaps especially — in America, where citizens are protected by the First Amendment, there are certain words and opinions that no civilized person would utter, and others that open the speaker to civil charges.

This does not mean that religious beliefs should be above criticism. And sometimes criticism will be taken as an insult where none is intended. In that case the critic should get the benefit of the doubt. Likening the Koran to “Mein Kampf” would not seem to fall into that category.

If Mr. Wilders were to confine his remarks to those Muslims who do harm freedom of speech by using violence against critics and apostates, he would have a valid point. This is indeed a serious problem, not just in the West, but especially in countries where Muslims are in the majority. Mr. Wilders, however, refuses to make such fine distinctions. He believes that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. His aim is to stop “the Islamic invasion of Holland.”

Now let me begin by saying that the vast majority of Muslims I've known have indeed been nice, peaceful, tolerant people. Then again a significant plurality of people from Muslim countries I've known have in fact been not really Muslim at all.

And this dutch guy the author's talking about does seem to be racist bigot.

But one of the key things about America, as immortalized in the film The People versus Larry Flynt is that denirgration, insulting, and instilling emotional distress is protected under our constitution.

And that's not a bad thing.

We cannot be sealed away from having our feelings hurt, especially if we're jerks.

Besides, have you ever actually tried to read the Koran?

The first bit is quite harmless actually.

But the second bit? The overwhelming image put forth is a resentful, capricous and bigoted deity.

Here's what it says about people who don't see the good stuff about Islam:

Allah has set a seal upon [unbelievers'] hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.

IOW, such a deity lacks any sense of ethics.

Then again, take this bit:

And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.

But if you do (it) not and never shall you do (it), then be on your guard against the fire of which men and stones are the fuel; it is prepared for the unbelievers.

Really the threat of violence implicit in these verses is undeniable.

The thing is, it doesn't matter if millions "believe" it, whatever the monotheism is, if it is a rationalization or stalking horse or otherwise a way sublimate the expression of the believer's hate and resentment, it is conditioned on the unquenched hate and resentment of the believer.

That is why anyone who claims a literal, "true" interpretation of any of these texts is either ignorant or a mean-spirited person, because the personification of the monotheistic deity presented inevitably seems mean spirited.

It doesn't matter how many times the word "love" is used or whatever beautiful metaphors exist for care: if it comes with a threat to kick the shit out of anyone for eternity, it's nothing but hatred. And it seems mightily correlated with the fact that such deities don't have much evidence for their existence other than the fanaticism of their believers.

There's reasons why I'm Buddhist, and these are among them. If you care about human rights, if you care about people's lives, if you care about propagation of goodness, wisdom, generosity, compassion and kindness, it helps to think of where poison originates.

Sorry for the harsh words, but the fact that "millions" take a text like this to heart is part of the problem whether or not there's demagogues and bigots out there who are going to use it as another excuse for hatred, which I agree with the author of the quoted piece, is being done.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You learn something new everyday...

That obnoxious Shamwow guy is sort of Scientology political prisoner, speaking metaphorically. And an allegedly horrible film maker. Which explains why he sells Shamwows on TV.

One might not be surprised then if Billy Mays was a world-renowed koto player, but I've no information on that, or whether instead he's studied shakuhachi.

I've got another post percolating in my head on the "spiritual hucksterism" riff, from the 12 step bit: the relationship between spiritual paths a.k.a. religious paths and science.

In particular, The Zennist's false dichotomy mentioned here should be addressed:

On the same track, if Buddhism appears to be dying or overly detranscendentalized in which it seems no longer spiritual to us but, instead, scientific, it owes this—doesn’t it?—to the influence of Western Buddhists who are closet nihilists—or heading in that direction?

Why should we trust such Westerners? Didn’t these same Westerners turn to Buddhism’s emptiness in their darkest hour who were overfilled with nihilism and a disgust for the sacred? Even now, don’t they believe that emptiness means that there is fundamentally no spiritual absolute, since all is dependently originated and, therefore, finite? And isn’t the proof of their doctrine this: that in zazen we should find nothing that is not also found in the commonplace mind of the consumer who is drinking a cafè latte at a coffee house?

One of the things I admire about Buddhism, as I've apprehended it, is that you don't have to check your brains at the door or shrink to making writhing logical fallacies in response to pretty much any philosophical exposition.

This is a double edged sword, because on the one hand you've got the folks who can make Buddhism into anything ("Look! Buddhism was invented by Bill Wilson!" "And it's compatible with what Oral Roberts says!") and on the other and you can make Buddhism into not anything, as the Zennist does above.

So, like, uh, dude, where's the middle path in all of this?

More to come, and peace be upon the Shamwow guy...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

And regarding Catholicism and Buddhism...

I admit I have a problem with an organization whose head guy doesn't mind Holocaust deniers in positions of power and influence in his organization.

Pope Benedict Saturday rehabilitated a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust, despite warnings from Jewish leaders that it would seriously harm Catholic-Jewish relations and foment anti-Semitism.

The Vatican said the pope issued a decree lifting the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops who were thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1988 for being ordained without Vatican permission.

The four bishops lead the ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which has about 600,000 members and rejected modernizations of Roman Catholic worship and doctrine.

The Vatican said the excommunications were lifted after the bishops affirmed their willingness to accept Church teachings and papal authority...

One of the four bishops, the British-born Richard Williamson, has made a number of statements denying the full extent of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, as accepted by mainstream historians.

In comments to Swedish television broadcast Wednesday, he said "I believe there were no gas chambers" and only up to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, instead of 6 million.

Cutting Through Spiritual Hucksterism: Part 2: 12 Step-ism is Not the Dharma

I was asked by a commenter on another thread about my comment below as to 12 Step Groups were not the Dharma. I had said "I couldn't begin to tell" why they were not, and of course he asked to explain more.

Well, to answer such a question one needs to know what the Dharma is and what 12 Step Groups are. With regard to the former of course, there are myriad ways ("10,000" as the Asian literature says) to express and practice the Dharma. Couoldn't 12 Step-ism be one of those ways? Don't 12 Step Groups want to help people?

Going back to what Budhism is, the summary in Wikipdedia is not bad, but it leaves a glaring deficiency, which I'll get to in a moment. But key concepts in Buddhism include:

  • Karma, cause and effect, interdependency, interdependent arising, anatman and impermanence

  • The Four Noble Truths

  • The Noble Eightfold Path

  • Middle Way

I've highly abbreviated and consolidated the headings of the Wikipedia article, for a couple of reasons:

1. The notions covered in the first bullet item are all highly, densely related. Being is dense, and interdependent.

2. The section on "Buddhist Practice" (the glaring deficiency I mentioned above) is in fact woefully lacking the main Buddhist practice: i.e., practicing mindfulness, loving-kindness, and holding to the precepts in the most trivial moments of the day, even when you feel like crap because you got the cold that's going around.

I can recommend any number of books for those who want to go deeper into what Buddhism is. To deeply consider the implications of interdependency, I would recommend the reader read the Diamond Cutter Sutra, the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (the long version of the "Heart Sutra,") and Nagarjuna. (Here is a treatise on Nagarjuna on line, containing some of his text, for example.)

To study some Buddhist ethics and practice, as well as the Eight Fold Path, I'd recommend this book by Henepola Gunaratana.

To get the emotion of the Eight-Fold Path from the Mahayana perspective, I'd refer the reader to certain sections of the Lotus Sutra...

It is no doubt true that there are people in 12 Step Groups who are of good will, and people who think they're doing something not only good, but doing something necessary for themselves. There are even people in 12 Step Groups that are Buddhists, and how they reconcile the dogma of 12-Stepism with the outlook and practice of Buddhism is eventually up to them.

But just as Falun Da Fa (what you might know as "Falun Gong"), despite its name, is not Buddhism (subject for another long post, perhaps!) neither is 12 Stepism.

12 Step groups have made many claims over the years, and it's not difficult to find their boosters and backers. Again, I have no problem with those that believe they need to go to 12 Step meetings to come to terms with some behavior they want to modulate or attenuate. But, when the dogma of 12 Step groups makes empirically testable claims and when experiments repeatedly demonstrate failure of the dogma's claims, it's time to change the dogma.

For me, however, next to the Scientology and Creationism internet wars over the past 2 decades the next best cult un-doing in the past two decades was the well-overdue upbraiding of 12 Step Groups. (Though there's also the Arianna Huffington cult as well, but I digress.) Anyone reading literature relating to objective scientific studies on 12 Step Groups from reputable psychological journals could only come to one conclusion: much of what 12 Steppers were promoting as the "disease" of "addiction" boils down to a version of the placebo effect, one way or the other: it's one's beliefs about substances or actions that govern behavior. This is an important point, and an important distinction from Buddhism: in Buddhism, the little "I" is not the guy you listen to. And listening to somebody else's "little I" - or even a group of somebodies' "little we" - others' beliefs - is no substitute. It doesn't matter if they're pretending god speaks through them.

You can't get out that way. Your picture of a rice cake is no more reality than anyone else's picture of a rice cake, even if they got it from the Buddha. Yes, I know, in some forms of Buddhism there's gurus you swear fealty to or some such thing, but that system has a high abuse potential, and history has borne that out.

No, you've signed on the dotted line, in your actions, in your behavior, in your response to your thoughts. You could be drunk and a butthead or sober and a butthead, or you could do better either way.

There are folks that shouldn't drink of course, and who benefit from fellowship of people who shouldn't drink. But they're no more qualified by their abuse or dependency to propound on the nature and policies regarding alchohol abuse and dependency than Terri Schiavo, in her comatose state, was to give tennis lessons to Andy Roddick. And they shouldn't actually: they've got more important work to do. They should leave policy and responses to abuse and dependency to scientists and public policy experts who create policy informed by science, not dogma.

For the reader interested in a critical view of 12 Step Groups, I would recommend any of the See Sharp Press books (available here) as well as Stanton Peele's books. Peele, a psychologist (who 12 Steppers say is funded by the wine industry) has something that 12 Steppers do not have: science on his side. For critiques of 12 Step Groups with the accuracy and flair of doing Scientology, there's the famous Orange Papers.

There's actually tons of this stuff on the 'net; and the situation with copyrights in AA mirrors the situation Scientology had with the folks at and alt.religion.scientology.

One fact keeps coming out of all these critiques: these methods are not safe and effective and have never been shown to be. For some people, they appear to be correlated with increases in psychological disorders. In other words, they might be harming some people. And for a Buddhist to evangelize such a thing would seem to violate precepts.

And here's one guy on You Tube:

Evidently, to the extent that one's 12 Stepism is narcissism, it sure ain't the Dharma.

Finally, the official dogma is that of a religion that denies its a religion, which should give anyone pause, to say the least: why must they not be candid? Regardless of what any stepper would or can argue at this point, though, legally they are a religion; courts have found this over and over and over again.

Again, I've no problem with religion, and those who practice it, but if any religion insists on its dogma that contradicts reality, I'll have to take reality in all its impermanence and interdependency.

That's what Buddhism would lead a Buddhist to do, I would think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cutting Through Spiritual Hucksterism: Part 1.

(Sorry for the long post, but it seems that a few posts on this topic might be useful. First, because it should help clarify my thoughts on this subject, and secondly, because it occurs to me that it could become a book someday...)

One day I was in a comment thread on a Buddhist blog and it occurred to me that I was arguing a position, from within a Buddhist viewpoint, I was arguing quite counter to the notion of Chogyam Trungpa's "Spiritual Materialism."

The approach presented here is a classical Buddhist one -
not in a formal sense, but in the sense of presenting the heart of
the Buddhist approach to spirituality. Although the Buddhist way is
not theistic it does not contradict the theistic disciplines.
Rather the differences between the ways are a matter of emphasis and
method. The basic problems of spiritual materialism are common to
all spiritual disciplines. The Buddhist approach begins with our
confusion and suffering and works toward the unraveling of their
origin. The theistic approach begins with the richness of God and
works toward raising consciousness so as to experience God's
presence. But since the obstacles to relating with God are our
confusions and negativities, the theistic approach must also deal
with them. Spiritual pride, for example, is as much a problem in
the theistic disciplines as in Buddhism.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is
the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the
awakened state of mind. When the awakened state of mind is crowded
in by ego and its attendant paranoia, it takes on the character of
an underlying instinct. So it is not a matter of building up the
awakened state of mind, but rather of burning out the confusions
which obstruct it. In the process of burning out these confusions,
we discover enlightenment. If the process were otherwise, the
awakened state of mind would be a product, dependent upon cause and
effect and therefore liable to dissolution. Anything which is
created must, sooner or later, die. If enlightenment were created
in such a way, there would always be the possibility of ego
reasserting itself, causing a return to the confused state.
Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it; we have
merely discovered it. In the Buddhist tradition the analogy of the
sun appearing from behind the clouds is often used to explain the
discovery of enlightenment. In the meditation practice we clear
away the confusion of ego in order to glimpse the awakened state.
The absence of ignorance, of being crowded in, of paranoia, opens up
a tremendous view of life. One discovers a different way of being.

The heart of the confusion is that man has a sense of self
which seems to him to be continuous and solid. When a though or
emotion or even occurs, there is a sense of someone being conscious
of what is happening. You sense that you are reading these words.
This sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event,
which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous.
Since we take our confused view as being real, we struggle to
maintain and enhance this solid self. We try to feed it pleasures
and shield it from pain. Experience continually threatens to
reveal our transitoriness to us, so we continually struggle to cover
up any possibility of discovering our real condition. "But," we
might ask, "if our real condition is an awakened state, why are we
so busy trying to avoid becoming aware of it?" It is because we
have become so absorbed in our confused view of the world, that we
consider it real, the only possible world. This struggle to
maintain the sense of a solid, continuous self is the action of ego...

Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even
spirituality. For example, if you have learned of a particularly
beneficial meditation technique of spiritual practice, then ego's
attitude is, first to regard it as an object of fascination and,
second to examine it. Finally, since ego is seeming solid and
cannot really absorb anything, it can only mimic. Thus ego tries to
examine and imitate the practice of meditation and the meditative
way of life. When we have learned all the tricks and answers of the
spiritual game, we automatically try to imitate spirituality, since
real involvement would require the complete elimination of ego, and
actually the last thing we want to do is to give up the ego
completely. However, we cannot experience that which we are trying
to imitate; we can only find some area within the bounds of ego that
seems to be the same thing. Ego translates everything in terms of
its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a
sense of great accomplishment and excitement at have been able to
create such a pattern. At last it has created a tangible
accomplishment, a confirmation of its own individuality.

If we become successful at maintaining our
self-consciousness through spiritual techniques, then genuine
spiritual development is highly unlikely. Our mental habits become
so strong as to be hard to penetrate. We may even go so far as to
achieve the totally demonic state of complete "Egohood."...

Most of us, if we examine our actions, would probably agree
that we are ruled by one or more of the Three Lords, [(a metaphor for ego)]. "But," we might ask, "so what? This is simply a description of the human
condition. Yes, we know that our technology cannot shield us from
war, crime, illness, economic insecurity, laborious work, old age
and death; nor can our ideologies shield us from doubt, uncertainty,
confusion and disorientation; nor can our therapies protect us from
the dissolution of the high states of consciousness that we may
temporarily achieve and the disillusionment and anguish that
follow. But what else are we to do? The Three Lords seem too
powerful to overthrow, and we don't know what to replace them with."

The Buddha, troubled by these questions, examined the
process by which the Three Lords rule. He questioned why our minds
follow them and whether there is another way. He discovered that
the Three Lords seduce us by creating a fundamental myth: that we
are solid beings. But ultimately the myth is false, a huge hoax, a
gigantic fraud, and it is the root of our suffering. In order to
make this discover he had to break through very elaborate defenses
erected by the Three Lords to prevent their subjects from
discovering the fundamental deception which is the source of their
power. We cannot in any way free ourselves from the domination of
the Three Lords unless we too cut through, layer by layer, the
elaborate defenses of these Lords...

Whenever we begin to feel any discrepancy or conflict
between our actions and the teachings, we immediately interpret the
situation in such a way that the conflict is smoothed over. The
interpreter is ego in the role of spiritual advisor. The situation
is like that of a country where church and state are separate. If
the policy of the state is foreign to the teachings of the church,
then the automatic reaction of the king is to go to the head of the
church, his spiritual advisor, and ask his blessing. The head of
the church then works out some justification and gives the policy
his blessing under the pretense that the king is the protector of
the faith. In an individual's mind, it works out very neatly that
way, ego being both king and head of the church.
This rationalization of the spiritual path and one's actions
must be cut through if true spirituality is to be realized.
However, such rationalizing is not easy to deal with because
everything is seen through the filter of ego's philosophy and logic,
making all appear neat, precise and very logical. We attempt to
find a self-justifying answer for every question. In order to
reassure ourselves, we work to fit into our intellectual scheme
every aspect of our lives which might be confusing. And our effort
is so serious and solemn, so straight-forward and sincere, that it
is very difficult to be suspicious of it. We always trust the
"integrity" of our spiritual advisor.

It does not matter what we use to achieve
self-justification: the wisdom of sacred books, diagrams or charts,
mathematical calculations, esoteric formulae, fundamentalists
religion, depth psychology, or any other mechanism. Whenever we
begin to evaluate, deciding that we should or should not do this or
that, then we have already associated our practice or our knowledge
with categories, one pitted against the other, and that is spiritual
materialism, the false spirituality of our spiritual advisor.
Whenever we a have a dualistic notion such as, "I am doing this
because I want to achieve a particular state of consciousness, a
particular state of being," the automatically we separate ourselves
from the reality of what we are.

If we ask ourselves, "What is wrong with evaluating, with
taking sides?", the answer is that, when we formulate a secondary
judgment, "I should be doing this and should avoid doing that," then
we have achieved a level of complication which takes us a long way
from the basic simplicity of what we are. The simplicity of
meditation means just experiencing the ape instinct of ego. If
anything more than this is laid onto our psychology, then it becomes
a very heavy, thick mask, a suit of armor.

It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual
practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means
stepping out of ego's constant desire for a higher, more spiritual,
more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue,
judgment, comfort or whatever it is that a particular ego is
seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism. If we do not
step out of spiritual materialism, if we in fact practice it, then
we may eventually find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of
spiritual paths. We may feel these spiritual collections to be very
precious. We have studied so much. We may have studied Western
philosophy or Oriental philosophy, practiced yoga or perhaps studied
under dozens of great masters. We have achieved and we have
learned. We believe that we have accumulated a hoard of knowledge.
And yet, having gone through all this, there is still something to
give up. It is extremely mysterious! How could this happen?
Impossible! But unfortunately it is so. Our vast collections of
knowledge and experience are just part of ego's display, part of the
grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so
doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as
"spiritual" people.

But we have simply created a shop, an antique shop. We
could be specializing in oriental antiques or medieval Christian
antiques or antiques from some other civilization or time, but we
are, nonetheless, running a shop. Before we filled our shop with so
many things the room was beautiful: whitewashed walls and a very
simple floor with a bright lamp burning in the ceiling. There was
one object of art in the middle of the room and it was beautiful.
Everyone who came appreciated its beauty, including ourselves.

I have quoted at length from this because its point, while in a deep sense valid, is only one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin is addressed by examination of the lives of people like Chogyam Trungpa, and include myriad forms of dissolute Buddhist teachers of Americans, pedophile Catholic priests, fundamentalist snake handlers, atheists of convenient resentment, 12 Step fanatics, rabbis who hate Arabs, imams, mullahs, and other followers of Islam who hate westerners, Hindutva extremists, Tamil suicide bombers, Moonies, Falun Da Fa extremists and who knows what else in Russia, Japan, and elsewhere.

One can easily find devastating criticisms of the "American Dharma" whether through Stuart Lachs or Brian Victoria, or even some of the more local stuff that is more innocuous: the conflation of Large Group Awareness Training psycho-dynamics with Zen, allegations of sexual impropriety, and down to and including various types of pressures to conform to a "group mentality" or "group conscience."

There are folks out there that want to mix the Dharma with everything imaginable: Christian Buddhists, "JuBus," Buddhism without beliefs (full disclosure: OK, that actually makes more than a smidgen of sense to me) "12 Step" Buddhists (I can't begin to tell you how this is not the Dharma) and so on, and so on.

I have been very fortunate to study Rinzai Zen Buddhism with an osho who was more or less a "normal" Japanese family man; in the dozen or so years I've known him, I have not encountered any closet skeletons, scandals, scams, schemes or even oddball interpretations of the Dharma that don't comport with what a reasonable person reading Dharma texts in a straightforward fashion might infer. Somewhere here a digression into koans and how to read them might be appropriate, but even here, my story is that it's relatively straightforward to read them and I'm sticking to that story.

I am not sure how things got so that I have been so fortunate to have such a "teacher," (who does not teach anything) but suffice it to say that somewhere along the way I must have acquired a spiritual skepticism along the same lines in which the Reverend Jim of "Taxi" long ago must have acquired the ability to play piano.

I have had people put pressure on me to conform to their manner of spiritual thinking on several occasions in my life, and at times I have suspended relations with folks over stuff like this. It hasn't been easy, but likely my instinctive actions here protected me from greater harm. I don't really know. But suffice it to say that I am where I am now, and where that is, is:

Yeah, you have to watch out for "spiritual materialism," and "excessive scrupulosity" as they say in the Roman Catholic Church, but:

Do Not Check Your Brains at the Door.

How one might be able to do both: checking spiritual materialism while practicing caveat emptor for all beings, and how do I write it without being as dense as Nagarajuna are the subject of future posts...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Heh. Savor this Mr. Limbaugh!

I'd always thought Springsteen was a rightful heir to Woody Guthrie.

This is what America's about.

Pop stars and reputed Communists singing about America being for all on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

With all the verses.

It's morning in America.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

He may have been a corrupt war criminal, felon, near-dictator and coward...

But what a gift he had with language!

This is most screwed up:

Japan's burakumin (ぶらくみん, 部落民) - Japanese in Japan - are still by and large outcasts because they used to do things Buddhists don't like:

How far have they come since Japan began carrying out affirmative action policies for the buraku four decades ago, mirroring the American civil rights movement? If the United States, the yardstick for Japan, could elect a black president, could there be a buraku prime minister here?

The questions were not raised in the society at large, however. The topic of the buraku remains Japan’s biggest taboo, rarely entering private conversations and virtually ignored by the media.

The buraku — ethnically indistinguishable from other Japanese — are descendants of Japanese who, according to Buddhist beliefs, performed tasks considered unclean. Slaughterers, undertakers, executioners and town guards, they were called eta, which means defiled mass, or hinin, nonhuman. Forced to wear telltale clothing, they were segregated into their own neighborhoods.

The oldest buraku neighborhoods are believed to be here in Kyoto, the ancient capital, and date back a millennium. That those neighborhoods survive to this day and that the outcasts’ descendants are still subject to prejudice speak to Japan’s obsession with its past and its inability to overcome it.

Yet nearly identical groups of outcasts remain in a few other places in Asia, like Tibet and Nepal, with the same Buddhist background; they have disappeared only in South Korea, not because prejudice vanished, but because decades of colonialism, war and division made it impossible to identify the outcasts there.

In Japan, every person has a family register that is kept in local town halls and that, with some extrapolation, reveals ancestral birthplaces. Families and companies widely checked birthplaces to ferret out buraku among potential hires or marriage partners until a generation ago. The practice has greatly declined, though, especially among the young.

The buraku were officially liberated in 1871, just a few years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. But as the buraku’s living standards and education levels remained far below national averages, the Japanese government, under pressure from buraku liberation groups, passed a special law to improve conditions for the buraku in 1969. By the time the law expired in 2002, Japan had reportedly spent about $175 billion on affirmative action programs for the buraku.

I don't give a damn if being a vegetarian is morally superior to meat eating, and I certainly believe that's the case for the death penalty versus the alternative, but the idea to penalize descendants of those who did such things, especially when those who did such things were part of the overall social contract is repugnant.

And that this was/is done in the name of Buddhism is quite repugnant as well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

No terrorism since 9/11? What about...

yeah, the anthrax attacks, but also this?

A man armed with two handguns and a knife killed two people today and injured several more in the main international ticketing area at Los Angeles International Airport before one El Al airline security guard seized him and another shot him dead.

Taking place on the Fourth of July holiday, when security officials had been on particularly keen watch for terrorist acts, the incident prompted an immediate shutdown of the Thomas Bradley International Terminal at the airport and the rerouting and curtailment of dozens of flights.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mayor James K. Hahn said there was no immediate evidence of any political motivation behind the attack at a ticket counter for El Al, the Israeli airline. Some witnesses described the incident as an argument between two people that spun out of control. But another said the gunman began firing at the counter when he was 15 feet from it.

''Although we will have additional resources looking at some of the places where our citizens will gather this evening, we have not issued any kind of alert,'' said Martin Pomeroy, the city's acting police chief. ''We have not told anybody not to go. There is just no indication now that there is any risk in any location. This appears to be an isolated incident.''

But Israeli officials said that as far as they were concerned, it was a terrorist act.

''The fact that the person chose El Al, Israel's national airline, and that the attack took place today of all days, seems to indicate a connection,'' said Meirav Eilon Shahar, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Consulate here.

Even after visiting the airport late this afternoon and talking to investigators about witnesses' statements, Israeli officials said they were convinced it was a terrorist incident.

''Being over there and getting information from our people over there, I have to admit that it looks like terrorism,'' said Yuval Roten, Israel's consul-general in Los Angeles. ''The way it was conducted is very much similar to previous attacks throughout the years.''

The shooter was an Egyptian...

The wife of an Egyptian immigrant who fatally shot two people on the Fourth of July at Los Angeles International Airport said today that she could find no reason for the shooting.

''There is no motive that would make him do such a thing,'' the woman, Hala el-Awadly, said in a telephone interview. ''He is a quiet person who lived his life in peace. He carried no hatred for anyone, and he was never aggressive nor violent, never.''

American law enforcement officials have said her husband, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41, went to the counter of El Al, the Israeli airline, with the intention to kill people. Carrying two guns and a hunting knife, he killed two people and wounded several others before a guard shot him dead.

Mrs. Awadly, visiting her family here, said none of the American officials' potential explanations fit her husband of more than 12 years.

Federal investigators labelled the shooting a terrorist act.

Deep Thought:

A binary sequence of maximum entropy is not to be messed with; it stubbornly refuses to be anything but a binary sequence of maximum entropy if pumped through any kind of a symmetric channel.

Yeah, I said it was a deep thought..

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Just about done with my fundamental problem...

Few regular readers of this would care, but it relates to some of the properties of turbo codes, which, as it turns out, are substantially less mysterious than I used to think.

The properties and design of turbo codes hinge on the design of a good pseudo-random number generator.

Luckily, I have read (albeit, long ago) Donald Knuth.

American Scientist has included [The Art of Computer Programming] among the best twelve physical-science monographs of the twentieth century,[2] and within the computer science community it is regarded as the first and still the best comprehensive treatment of its subject. Covers of the third edition of Volume 1 quote Bill Gates as saying, "If you think you're a really good programmer […] read (Knuth's) Art of Computer Programming […] You should definitely send me a resume if you can read the whole thing." (According to folklore, Steve Jobs made this claim.)

Once you know how to generate good pseudo-random numbers, evidently the world is your oyster or other preferred shellfish.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Bush regime admits it: they tortured.


The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.

Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said.

Of course the defense is some Jack Bauer line, which means nothing to me; I don't have time to watch Fox TV.

Yet another cautionary tale...


"I had dinner with Jack Welch last Sunday night," [Rick Warren] said. "He came to church, and we had dinner. I've been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, 'Rick, you are the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.' And I said, 'That's interesting. I'm Rupert's pastor! Rupert published my book!'" Then he tilted back his head and gave one of those big Rick Warren laughs.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Relatively light blogging for the next few days...

Working on a ridiculously obscure problem that, if solved, will mean 2 or 3 or 4 other problems are solved that will change the state of communications systems technology.

Trust me, this problem's obscure.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Isle of Fantasy comes to youtube!

The worst movie ever to come out Hong Kong; it's so bad it's Grrrrrrrrrrrrreat!

It goes on from there...

HT to Danny Fisher, who for some reason thinks Kurosawa and Bergman made better films than this

I wade into the Israel Gaza mess

over at Kos.

Woody Allen Material

A book review on the letters of Allen Ginsburg & Gary Snyder reads like one of Allen's pieces for the New Yorker:

Within a quarter-century, however, Ginsberg had become America’s most famous living poet, attracting a congregation in which common readers mingled with political activists, students of oriental philosophy and a variety of social casualties. Words­worth’s famous pronouncement — “We poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness” — appears to have been put into reverse by Ginsberg. The open homosexual and Blake-inspired visionary took every opportunity to demonstrate that candor triumphed over shame — by taking off his clothes at a poetry reading, for example. Madness to gladness was his determined course. If the world seemed reluctant to follow, the solution was obvious: change the world.

Yet letters written in the late 1980s to his longtime partner, Peter Orlovsky, and to his friend and fellow poet, Gregory Corso, suggest that Ginsberg, a man of great geniality and natural generosity, trailed the old discontents behind him. They turned up in the form of other people’s drug and alcohol addictions, pathological self-centeredness and occasional violence. In June 1987, he issued an ultimatum to Orlovsky, who had socked the psychiatrist R. D. Laing on the mouth during a get-together in Colorado, leaving Laing with “a big blue swollen lip.” Orlovsky’s recollection of the event was dim, therefore Ginsberg felt obliged to remind him:

“You poured milk and apple juice over the harmonium as well as R. D. Laing. . . . A teapot lid was broken, tiny fragments, no vacuum cleaner yet and I was too injured to get thing straight till now. One cigarette burn on rug, one on hallway linoleum. My shin got kicked when you overturned the coffee table while I was sitting on the couch watching you and Laing go at it.

Yeah, it's sort of a cautionary tale though:

“The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder,” also edited by Morgan, is much taken up with discussions of meditation and Oriental studies, on which Snyder appears as the master, Ginsberg the willing disciple. The two men met in Berkeley in 1955 and took part in the famous Six Gallery poetry reading at which Ginsberg gave the first notable reading of “Howl.” After the event, which served as an informal coming-out reception for the Beat Generation in San Francisco, he published “Howl and Other Poems,” which became the subject of an obscenity prosecution, then moved to Europe to join forces with William Burroughs. Meanwhile, Snyder entered a Japanese Zen monastery, embarking on a course of study that would last until his return to the United States permanently in 1969.

You gotta be sedulous to do this stuff.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Roland Burris, Bad Catholic Priests, and Errant Roshis

I have in the past recommended, and still recommend the writings of Stuart Lachs as a way for any prospective students to have in mind when "kicking the tires" as they go about considering a sangha to join.

A bit of a counter to Lachs, I think is in order, and was suggested into my brain, as it were, by the Roland Burris appointed by Rod Blagojevich controversy. Stanley Fish (another one of my favorite folks to read on the internet) eloquently points out an argument I'd made at lunch to colleagues wherein I predicted the seating of Burris (I'd considered whether pedophile priests were still performing valid priestly duties & noted that according to the Catholic Church, they did):

It is not clear, however, that Mr. Blagojevich has actually done anything that merits either his conviction or impeachment. On that question, time will tell. And suppose that in the long run the governor is cleared of all charges, and suppose that in the short run Mr. Burris is denied a seat and someone else is appointed in his place. What then? Is the second appointee now dismissed because his or her appointment was “tainted” (he or she reached office as the result of an injustice)? Does the state start all over again and hold a new election?

Questions like these highlight the difficulties and conundrums that arise once the lawfulness of an official action is made to depend on the purity of the person who performs it. If the rectitude of the office-holder is crucial, how far back does one go in an effort to validate it? College? High school? Grade school? Sand box?

If an act can be declared null and void by a demonstration that those who signed off on it are unworthy, do all official acts rest on a foundation of sand? Can apparently settled decisions be undone in a second when evidence of venality is uncovered? Does your daughter lose her place in a college because the admissions officer who let her in turns out to be an embezzler? Do DWI convictions get reversed when the judge is revealed to be a drunkard? Is your marriage invalidated because the clerk or cleric who performed it cheated on his wife or stole from the poor box?

This last question is not new. It was debated in the 4th and 5th centuries in the context of what is known as the Donatist controversy. This debate was about the status of churchmen who had cooperated with the emperor Diocletian during the period when he was actively persecuting Christians. The Donatists argued that those who had betrayed their faith under pressure and then returned to the fold when the persecutions were over had lost the authority to perform their priestly offices, including the offices of administering the sacraments and making ecclesiastical appointments. In their view, priestly authority was a function of personal virtue, and when a new bishop was consecrated by someone they considered tainted, they rejected him and consecrated another.

In opposition, St. Augustine (rejecting the position that the church should be made up only of saints) contended that priestly authority derived from the institution of the Church and ultimately from its head, Jesus Christ. Whatever infirmities a man may have (and as fallen creatures, Augustine observes, we all have them) are submerged in the office he holds. It is the office that speaks, appoints and consecrates. Its legitimacy does not vary with personal qualities of the imperfect human being who is the temporary custodian of a power that at once exceeds and transforms him.

I don't know if Buddhist scriptures go into such things in such detail, but they ought to, because there's good reasons within the foundation of Buddhism itself that that they should: Buddhism of the zen variety stresses the being a lamp unto yourself sort of thing. Nobody authenticates you higher than you.

Your status as being able to sense with the senses of the Buddha and being aware with the awareness of the Buddha is authenticated only through you, and whatever performative acts you need to express conclusion of this fact is up to you.

"The office" that speaks to a Buddhist is Buddha nature of the person, as expressed performatively for authentication through great faith, doubt, and resolve. It is ultimately that office that continually authenticates the teacher. Yeah, it helps him to have some fancy calligraphy scroll somewhere and to be able to claim that it gives him inka or what-not. But the rubber meets the road where the student/sangha member accepts to be taught by the teacher, and authenticates the teacher's teaching through the sangha member/student's own practice.

That's why Genpo Merzel can have followers who outshine him (though it's questionable to me whether his authorized successors are any better than he is, judging from their internet presence, IMHO); indeed that's why some Zen Patriarchs outshone others and why revivals can happen despite shoddy or 3rd rate teachers.

Now don't get me wrong: I'd rather work with folks like Robert Gallager (as an example; I've never actually even met him) than a dolt, and luckily in my life I'm not so much at the mercy of dolts that I need to worry about their doltishness rubbing off on me. But the student can and does outshine the teacher, from time to time. In fact, it's part of the student's job to have the resolve to do so.

It's just that some teachers are suckier than others, and some teachers are so sucky that they do indeed screw up their students. But if the student's not committed to "it" beyond whatever his teacher says or doesn't say, ...well, I can't say that the student deserves a defective teacher, but I can't say the student should be surprised at the results.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Roman Catholic Church Priest Predator Scandal and Me

I recently found out that a priest who was chaplain at the high school I attended was "one of those guys."

What's amazing to me is I didn't know about it, either at the time or until a few days ago.

I mean, I get every now and then a letter regarding a class action suit for some company's stock shenanigans, asking me to become a member of the class because the management of said company were a bunch of thugs. This happens as a matter of course.

But nothing, not even a peep from my former High School? Aren't they supposed to be connected to God or something? Highest ethics you could imagine?


True, I didn't know anything about it at the time, but the fact is they don't know that.

So, if I'm criticizing abusive sects, cults, and what-not, and even criticizing my own sect's history and not speaking out, I should note that the sect that hit closest to home in this regard was in fact the good old Roman Catholic Church, and it's purely a matter of a predator's taste, I guess, that I wasn't abused.

I intend to write a missive to the school inquiring as to their ethics. I'd been thinking of writing them asking whether or not they'd think it's an "accomplishment" that one of their alumni's a Rinzai Zen Buddhist who's taken jukai, but this seems to be of greater import.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Moral Clarity in Gaza

I came across this bit of drivel from neocon wingnut Charles Krauthammer the other day, and I couldn't believe it. In order for anyone to believe it, they'd have to not know that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

Charles Krauthammer said:

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.

The reality:

The Samouni family knew they were in danger. They had been calling the Red Cross for two days, they said, begging to be taken out of Zeitoun, a poor area in eastern Gaza City that is considered a stronghold of Hamas.

No rescuers came. Instead, Israeli soldiers entered their building late Sunday night and told them to evacuate to another building. They did. But at 6 a.m. on Monday, when a missile fired by an Israeli warplane struck the relatives’ house in which they had taken shelter, there was nowhere to run.

Eleven members of the extended Samouni family were killed and 26 wounded, according to witnesses and hospital officials, with five children age 4 and under among the dead.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth; telling Palestinians to "leave" their homes, when the borders are sealed is nothing but a ghastly, cruel joke.

And Krauthammer applauds such nonsense.

That's the "moral clarity" we still see from the bloodthirsty neocons.

Buddhism and Christianity aren't the same thing...

or, "Christianity is defective."

There. I said it. So, for that matter, is Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, atheism, and any other belief or lack thereof to the degree in which it does encourage its followers to try any means possible to minimize dukkha, and specifically suffering, and especially insofar as they promote the idea that there should be attachments to the self, at least in my experience. That said, to a certain extent at times Buddhism might not be Buddhism, at least in my experience.

This idea had been in my mind for a few days now, especially after discussions with a Christian, but I was reminded of it by this post at the Danny Fisher blog. So much of what passes for "Charity" with a big C under Christianity, to me, does have tinges of greed and pride mixed in with it. This is not to say we shouldn't help the unfortunate, the poor, the Palestinians and the whales. We must. But the minute we think we're getting something out of the deal, we probably are, and any merit associated with such charity evaporates. In particular, in religious traditions which posit a personal deity overseeing everything, any charitable action requested by this deity is not a "charity" at all, but part of a quid pro quo of a relationship with this deity. A true charitable action would, as Jesus said, have the right hand not know what the left is doing, metaphorically. But this is absurdly difficult to the point of being nakedly impossible if there's an omnipresent deity.

The only remedy, I think, is to view the self as a construct of a particular confluence of form, feeling, thought, volition and consciousness. But that goes against the Christian concept of a soul.

A Christian might reply that I might suffer for eternity if his god weren't sated. The fact that this really saying "God damn you" with a smile aside, I have no evidence for that, but I do know, from experience, that when I ignore the construct in favor of those who are sharing my existence with me, life for all seems to get better, and when I don't, life for all seems to get worse: I must renounce greed to benefit others, and when I do, and when I renounce any possible concept of a merit, even the possibility of that it might benefit all this way, generally things get better. But it's that last part that takes effort. As I said, the minute we think we're getting something out of the deal, we probably are, and any merit associated with such charity evaporates. So we have to direct our mind away from the "me" that wants to get something out of every deal, no matter what, in my experience. And we, in my experience, have to keep doing this, because that little "me" is absurdly persistent.

In fact it all takes effort, and it denigrates both Buddhism and the other religion to trivialize these differences.

As I said at Danny Fisher's blog:

To Christians such as John Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, our religion is "defective," because we do not adhere to Christian (and specifically Catholic) dogma.

On the other hand, not out of hatred, not out of slander, but out of honest observation we should acknowledge that because Christianity and other religions present a distorted view of dukkha and its remedy, they are "defective" from the point of view of Buddhism.

If Buddhism were Christianity we would have Christian dogma and ritual and belief, and if Christianity were Buddhism they would have doctrines and practices of anatman, non-attachment, and such.

These are different religions. Buddhism is not another religion and vice versa. To say otherwise, I think disrespects and misrepresents others' religions.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Well, I never knew that...

When miniature horses acting as guide animals for the blind fly, they stand in first class or bulkhead because they don't fit in standard coach.

With all due respect, the Israeli government is nuts:

From an "analysis" in the NY Times:

“If the war ends in a draw, as expected, and Israel refrains from re-occupying Gaza, Hamas will gain diplomatic recognition,” wrote Aluf Benn, a political analyst, in the newspaper Haaretz on Friday. “No matter what you call it,” he added, “Hamas will obtain legitimacy.”

In addition, any potential truce deal would probably include an increase in commercial traffic from Israel and Egypt into Gaza, which is Hamas’s central demand: to end the economic boycott and border closing it has been facing. To build up the Gaza economy under Hamas, Israeli leaders say, would be to build up Hamas. Yet withholding the commerce would continue to leave 1.5 million Gazans living in despair.

Implicit in Mr. Benn’s argument, however, is that the only way to stop Hamas from gaining legitimacy is for Israel to fully occupy Gaza again, more than three years after removing its soldiers and settlers. That is a prospect practically no one in Israel or abroad is advocating.

Moreover, while it may sound decisive to speak of taking Hamas out of power, almost no one familiar with Gaza and Palestinian politics considers it realistic. Hamas legislators won a democratic majority in elections four years ago, and the group has 15,000 to 20,000 men under arms. It has consolidated its rule in the past 18 months since pushing out its rivals loyal to the more Western-oriented and moderate Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas, who sits in Ramallah in the West Bank.

And while there are plenty of Gazans who would prefer Fatah, they seem hardly organized or strong enough to become the new rulers, even with the help of former colleagues in exile in Ramallah who say, anyway, that they would never be willing to ride into Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank. In fact, the longer Israel pounds Gaza, the weaker Fatah is likely to become because it will be seen as collaborating.

There's a reason the Palestinians are peeved at the Israelis, and the cause isn't Hamas; Hamas is the result. The cause has to do with Israelis mistreating Palestinians.

Someday these nuts might learn that they can't kill their way to peace.

Friday, January 02, 2009

I'd say Buddhists tend to be liberal if

they're not tradition-bound or have an authoritarian streak. The moral foundations test at this link at and resulting psychology seems to indicate that.

My results (green) show I'm big on no harm:

However, when it comes to "fairness" too often there's singularities, corner conditions, and simple uniqueness to say categorically that one size fits all all the time, and these types of tests tend not to consider those ramifications.

More info on this at Open Left

In cae you hear this bit of nonsense:

Did FDR prolonged the Great Depression with the New Deal programs? David Sirota answers:

What about the New Deal's most "massive government intervention" -- its financial regulations? Did they prolong the Great Depression in ways the official data didn't detect?


According to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, "Only with the New Deal's rehabilitation of the financial system in 1933-35 did the economy begin its slow emergence from the Great Depression." In fact, even famed conservative economist Milton Friedman admitted that the New Deal's Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was "the structural change most conducive to monetary stability since ... the Civil War."

OK -- if the verifiable evidence proves the New Deal did not prolong the Depression, what about historians -- do they "pretty much agree" on the opposite?

Again, no.

As Newsweek's Daniel Gross reports, "One would be very hard-pressed to find a serious professional historian who believes that the New Deal prolonged the Depression."

Ignorance and hatred are poisons.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Speaking of Bill Hicks... (warning: salty language)

Given recent discussions with a conservative about abortion, the man did enunciate what I'm sure many of us feel:

Another Dead Cult Leader and 99 Monkeys...

I left out "Adi Da Samraj, " who, uh, died Nov. 27. [On Edit:] This from the Lake County News, written by Elizabeth Larsen, Dec. 16, 2008:


Followers are mourning the death of a spiritual leader who founded a religious practice and several religious sanctuaries around the world, including one on Cobb Mountain.

Adi Da Samraj, 69, died Nov. 27 at his hermitage in Naitauba, Fiji, according to a statement from his organization, Adidam.

Adi Da was a spiritual master for 2,000 devotees worldwide, said Bill Dunkelberger, a spokesman for Adidam.

The man known to many followers simply as "Beloved" died of natural causes while in his art studio surrounded by devotees, said Dunkelberger.

"This was a sudden, unexpected event," Dunkelberger said.

Although a precise cause of death was not given, Dunkelberger said Adi Da often had told his followers that one day his spirit would "outshine" the body. Adi Da's physicians said his heart simply stopped.

I guess his prediction came true.

Here's a period piece on "Adi Da," aka lots of other names...

The style back then...they all looked like they were in porno movies.

Which brings me to this


Eliezer Sobel has spent nearly forty years bowing, chanting, nude wrestling, meditating, overdosing on shrooms, puking out windows, playing guitar at Auschwitz and laughing with the Dalai Lama while urgently seeking God, gods, or at least enlightenment. He recounts these adventures -- which he calls "the endless cycle I have been caught in" and which he concedes hasn't quite worked -- in his memoir The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics, and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments (Santa Monica Press, 2008). Oh, he tried. At 23, he doffed his trousers so that Baba Ram Dass -- who coined the phrase "Be here now" -- could assess the size of his penis. (Well, Ram Dass asked.) At another point, Sobel paid homage at the graves of a cat and camel once owned by self-proclaimed "God-man" Adi Da (formerly Franklin Jones of Jamaica, New York) --but demurred when fellow disciples began greedily gulping water that had been used to wash Adi Da's sandals. Sobel sojourned to Israel, India, Nepal. He consulted a Brazilian "healer" who told him that astral beings preside over drugs: "The entity associated with cocaine wears all white" -- well, duh -- "including top hat and gloves. The mushroom being is an ancient, wizened little Oriental man."...

As his search progressed, Sobel sometimes diverged from merely consuming dogmas, products and events to create them. Basically, he made shit up. And folks went for it. He wrote a book called The Manual of Good Luck that sold over 40,000 copies via mail-order. At the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Sobel and a friend "thought we could promote a new healing approach, to be called Chicken Therapy, in which people would be asked to flap their arms and squawk like chickens, and we even developed a theoretical underpinning for the practice, in terms of how the flapping stimulated certain acupuncture meridians, and the clucking used the vocal cords to transmute the energy, or something along those lines." Granted, it's not out-and-out genuflection, but it mixes Taoist notions of yin, yang and qi with, well, barnyard fowl. "As we practiced flapping and squawking a few times," Sobel recounts, "we had our first converts to the chicken cult. And I have no doubt that had we pursued the idea people would have reported receiving amazing benefits from it. You get what you pay for."

You have to admire his honesty. His own close encounters with "a long list of spiritual masters" left him feeling "essentially nothing" -- as if, he muses, he has "missed the point."

I obviously derive benefits from my practice - which is of course ironic, because you get the benefits by actively not looking for them.

I look at my practice as basically developing a skill to live life; it's no more a consumer item then it would be taking music lessons, except for the fact that music lessons are not always effective at mitigating the desire to kick the shit out of my fellow man, inter alia.

I don't get people like Sobel, or folks who followed Franklin Jones.

Just don't get 'em.

If you're not seeing a skill developing, wtf are you doing with your life that you have to go to a spiritual smorgasbord? OTOH, the author's point is right in one respect: if you only stick to the tradition in which your parents belonged or that of the dominant culture, it does seem profoundly incurious.

But this Adi Da guy was basically phonier than magic jewelry maker Sai Baba - I guess P.T. Barnum was right.

But even Tom Cruise can figure out that you shouldn't be too weird.

But then there's the late Bill Hicks (warning: naughty words spoken):