Saturday, April 30, 2005

"There was a senator from Ecuador
Who talked about a meteor
That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru
And was found by a conquistador
Who took it to the Emperor
And he passed it on to a Turkish Guru...

His daughter
Was slated for becoming divine
He taught her,
He taught her how to split and define
But if you study the logistics
And heuristics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely move in a line
So it's much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped on a leaf in the vine."
- Brian Eno, from Backwater (Before and After Science, 1978)

Friday, April 29, 2005

Marketing Is a Dangerous Thing . . .

Someone called authorities Thursday after seeing a boy carrying something long and wrapped to Marshall Junior High of Clovis, New Mexico. The call prompted police to put armed officers on rooftops, close nearby streets and lock down the school. The drama ended two hours later when the suspicious item was identified as a 30-inch burrito filled with steak, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and jalapenos and wrapped inside tin foil and a white T-shirt.

In the meantime, more than 30 parents, alerted by a radio report, descended on the school. Visibly shaken, they gathered around in a semi-circle, straining their necks, awaiting news. After the lockdown was lifted but before the burrito was identified as the culprit, 75 students were pulled out of school.

The burrito was part of an extra-credit assignment to create commercial advertising for a product.

. . . And This Differs From A Typical Dinner Date How? . . .

A Rhode Island man solicited sex from an undercover officer Thursday night by offering a steak. The man, who works at a meat company, tried to strike a deal with the undercover officer. He didn't have any money, but he had a couple of nice T-bones sitting at home. He was arrested and pleaded innocent Friday in Providence District Court to a count of soliciting from a motor vehicle. He was released on personal recognizance.

It’ll Be a Travesty If He’s Suspended for This . . .

Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics was questioned by NBA vice president Stu Jackson on Friday for grabbing a referee during an angry confrontation with Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal. Walker, who had 14 points and nine rebounds, was ejected following his second technical Thursday night after a hard foul on O'Neal with just over four minutes to go. O'Neal shoved Walker in the chest and grabbed his jersey, but no punches were thrown. During the confrontation, Walker grabbed referee Tom Washington by the arm in an attempt to move him out of the way.

Oh, Boy! More Football! . . .

Beginning in 2006, major college football teams will be allowed to play a 12-game regular-season schedule, the N.C.A.A. Division I board of directors decided yesterday. Although the proposal to add an additional game to the football schedule had been criticized for its potential to increase the cost of major college football, the N.C.A.A. president, Myles Brand, said the board's action should not be misinterpreted.

"I don't see it as a defeat, and I don't see it as a solution," Brand said in a conference call. "The season is not being elongated. The 12th game takes up a bye week."

Division I-A teams currently play 11 regular-season games, except in years when there are 14 Saturdays from the first permissible playing date through the last playing date in November. Teams were allowed to play 12 games in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, but until the N.C.A.A. legislation was approved by the board yesterday, they would not have been able to play 12 games again for several years.

The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics came out against a 12th regular-season game before the board vote, as did the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, an alliance of faculty senates at major universities. "We have no evidence of the purported negative academic consequences of a 12th game," Brand said.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Another Green Question

Greensmile, author of an excellent blog I strongly recommend that you check out every day (I do), recently asked about a Zen story I posted back on June 25 (he's really digging deep into the archives now). So that you, gentle reader, don't need to go back that far (besides, there's a lot of crap back there that I'd just as soon not bring up again), here's the story:

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

Greensmile asks, "Is the point of the story of Tanzan and Ekido to illustrate that the karma of an action arises from the intention that brings the action? [meaning that it is at least possible to pass among the material pleasures of the world without getting lost?]"

I agree that this story is primarily about intention, but not so much about the effects of intention (i.e., karma), although that's in there for sure, but about the origin of intention. To me, the story recalls the famous line in the Diamond Sutra, "the mind that sticks to nothing" (legend has it that Hui-Neng, the Sixth Chinese Patriarch, became enlightened upon hearing just this single line, despite no previous Buddhist training).

The key to the story is in the rather humorous last line ("I left the girl there. Are you still carrying her?"). Not to belabor the obvious, but Tanzan is talking about carrying the girl, not in the arms, but in the mind.

One of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha is that of co-dependent origination - that is, everything arises out of other causes. The classic version of this teaching relates a 12-fold chain of causation, starting with ignorance and leading up through desire and to birth and ultimately to old age and death (the "cause" of old age and death being birth - everyone who dies at some point had been born). I don't want to go into the whole chain here now, but the relevant part to the story of Tanzan carrying the girl is that ignorance (avidya) conditions impulse or intention (samskara).

The ignorance referred to is not only ignorance of the impermanence and emptiness of all things, but also the delusion that there exists a separation between self and others. Karma, sometimes good, sometimes bad, arise out of the impulses or intentions conditioned by such a dualistic mind, but where there is no intention, there is no karma. In enlightenment, there is no ignorance, and therefore intentions conditioned by ignorance do not arise in a state of enlightenment. The impulses and intentions that do arise in an enlightened mind are unconditioned by ignorance and are therefore spontaneous and natural and free.

So, when Tanzan sees a lovely girl in a silk kimono trying to cross a muddy road, he simply and spontaneously (Tanzan says "Come on, girl," at once) picks her up and carries her across. With no distinction between himself and others, he is keeping the mud off of his silk kimono, the one that pleases his eyes, as much as her silk kimono. Or, to put it even better, he acts simply to protect a silk kimono with no possessives. It's as natural a reaction as catching a ball that's tossed his way. And when he puts her down, it's over, that's it, the enlightened mind sticking to nothing.

But for poor unenlightened Ekido, his ignorance conditioned an impulse, which he resisted, mainly by remembering rules and orders ("Monks don't go near females"). And his clinging mind stuck to the event - he couldn't let go of it - and finally has to be mildly rebuked by Tanzan ("Are you still carrying her?").

The point of this story is to show how an unfettered, spontaneous mind works in enlightenment, how it clings to nothing, and by contrast, how it is ignorance that clings to monastic rules of conduct (and teachers and scriptures, etc.) . As for how to approach the material pleasures of the world, that is better illustrated by this little story, one of my personal favorites:

There was an old woman in China who supported a monk. She had built a little hut for him, let him live there for over 20 years, and fed him while he was meditating. Finally, she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time.

To find out, she obtained the help of a beautiful young girl rich in desire. "Go and embrace him," she told her, "and then ask him suddenly, 'What now?'"

The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it.

"An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter," replied the monk, somewhat poetically. "Nowhere is there warmth."

The girl returned and related what he had said.

"To think that I fed that fellow for 20 years!" exclaimed the old woman in anger. "He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he should have evidenced some compassion."

At once, she went to the hut of the monk and burned it down.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Happy Freedom Day, South Africa!

There's a great article in Nature today documenting how all of the glaciers in Antarctica are now in full retreat just like in Alaska and the Arctic. Also, this week's New Yorker has the second article in Elizabeth Kolbert's series on climate change, with a fascinating discussion correlating global climate changes with the rise and fall of past civilizations (okay, just falls - I was trying not to sound too downbeat).

Imagine my surprise last Monday when, after at least a week of thinking that I had recovered from my bout with the flu, the lesson on the First Noble Truth of the Existence of Suffering suddenly reasserted itself and I quickly, almost instantly, found myself back in bed with shivers, excruciating muscle and limb pain, and sheer exhaustion. Damn! Just when I thought I was out, I'm dragged right back into the dukkha again . . .

I was functionally useless Monday, and exhausted all day Tuesday. I finally ventured back into work today (Wednesday) for half a day, but now my fear is that I no longer know if and when these symptoms will show up again. So, now that I'm healthy, at least for this moment, how do I spend my time knowing I could become sick again at any moment? Or, as Steven Batchelor once asked, "Since death alone is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what should I do?"

This is a deeper lesson than I learned after my first round with this flu. At first, I just recognized the existence of suffering (the First Noble Truth) and reflected on impermanence ("this too shall pass"), but now I'm facing the more immediate issue of living in this world of samsara, in this brittle bag of bones, this stinking sack of flesh . . . How do I spend the 23 years and eight days left to my life?

I don't mean to sound morbid, but realizing the temporality of one's own existence is essential to Zen, and I will argue, to any spiritual path. That is why the very first picture I posted when I first set up this blog nearly a year ago was the same one I still use as my banner - a man meditating alone in the desert among the skulls and bones of the dead. That is why I still carry that little death-watch icon over on the sidebar. I'm going to die at 79, if I should be so lucky to avoid other calamities in the meantime. Okay. Now what?

I received an email today from Greensmile on the "Ordinary Mind" dialog of Joshu and Nansen that I posted back on February 28. He noted similarities between that dialog and the following words of Krishnamurti:

"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organised... The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth"

Greensmile went on to say that "words are so limiting...I mean after all, mere Google will find all these teachings when I feed it the right strings and it understands nothing. I won't understand much more by only noting similarities. Are the two teachers saying much the same thing?"

I don't think Nansen or any subsequent Zen teacher who would say anything like "That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally," when Buddhism constantly reminds one that the truth is neither absolute nor conditional. I've once heard it said that if you need to condense all of the Buddha's teachings into three words, "Not always so" would be a good start. However, that being said, I agree that there are echoes between the two teachings. Both Nansen and Krishnamurti are saying that the truth (or the Way) cannot be "approached" and cannot be "attained" - any effort to grasp it merely turns one away from it.

But anyway, the truth will never be found in a teacher, in a Google search or in a blog. Zen Master Dogen said that to study the way is to study the self, and to study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe, and to be enlightened by all things is to transcend the distinction of self and other and to go on in ceaseless enlightenment forever.

No teacher, no Zen Master, no Buddha can enlighten you. Only you can do this. That is why it is said "If you meet the Buddha on the street, kill him." The "Buddha you meet on the street" is nothing but your own delusion, a figment of your imagination, and you "kill him" by forgetting the self that created this phantasm.

Find a comfortable cushion or a chair and sit upright with your back straight. Ignore all of the distractions around you. Ignore all of the distractions coming from your own mind. As thoughts arise, just set them aside. Turn your focus inward and be fully aware of yourself, but don't assign words or labels to your observations. Don't try to change anything. Just breathe naturally and let yourself be. Do this for at least five minutes every day for a week. Enlightenment will not be far off.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

5. After anyone proceeds in practice long enough, even koans that a student is not formally studying begin to take on meaning that wasn't apparent previously. What koans do you find particularly inscrutable?

Well, first of all, I'm a Soto Zen student, not Rinzai, and in Soto, we don't have a formal koan practice. To be sure, we use koans as dharma study, and discuss them, but we don't have a formal system of working on each one and becoming one with the koan before passing on to the next as in Rinzai study, and the focus of Soto study is on gradual enlightenment through shinantaza ("just sitting") rather than a sudden kensho experience. We feel that life presents enough riddles in and of itself, there's no need to challenge ourselves with any more.

This is not to say that one way is correct and the other isn't. It's just that it's been my karma to have met a Soto teacher, and I study under his direction in the Soto tradition. I appreciate and am fascinated by much in Rinzai, especially the koan practice, but feel it is better to work under one teacher than to smorgasbord around willy-nilly for what interests me here, what satisfies my ego there. So it is not a criticism of Rinzai that I do not do formal koan practice, but just an acknowledgement that my practice is shikantaza.

Many koans, on first hearing, sound inscruitable - almost like absurdist theater: "Shokai met a teacher on the road. He put his sandals on the back of a turtle, and the teacher hit him with a stick. At that moment, Shokai was enlightened." What amazes me is that with practice and teaching, many koans become clearer with time, despite the bizarre behavior and speech documented.

The upside of this is that although I may never work my way through a particular koan, I'll never get stuck on one either.

Monday, April 25, 2005

4. How would you describe enlightenment to someone like Razorskiss?

I don't know who Razorskiss is, but I would answer the question to anyone as "ordinary mind."

Sunday, April 24, 2005

3. This one came from Sogen Roshi, who was kind enough to write this shodou for me: East, South, North, West; what does not change?

Everything is impermanent and without independent existence (emptiness). Even East, South, North and West are relative and not always existant. It is asked "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" but to Americans, India is the East. If you are standing on the North Pole, whichever direction you turn to will be south - east and west, as well as north, have no meaning at the north pole.

Buddhist writings discuss the ten directions as meaning all-pervading space. The ten directions are East, South, North, West and the four points in between, as well as up and down. The Buddha, said, "When one person opens up reality and returns to the source, all space in the ten directions disappears." Master Dogen tells a story about the Chinese master Xuansha Shibei who said, "The whole universe in ten directions is one bright pearl."

The Chinese Master Changsha said, "The whole universe in ten directions is the eye of a monk." Dogen later added, "The whole universe in ten directions is a monk’s everyday speech. The whole universe in the ten directions is a monk’s whole body. The whole universe in ten directions is the brightness of the self. The whole universe in ten directions exists inside the brightness of the self. In the whole universe in ten directions, there is no one who is not himself."

So the universe in ten directions is nothing other than the self, and the self is empty of any independent existance, so everything changes, East, South, North and West.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

2. Designated hitter or pitcher hits his own?

Although I am a big Red Sox fan, and love few things more that a Red Sox-Yankees game, I have to admit despising the DH rule. The whole strategy of baseball, the game if you will, revolves around making decisions about wheter to leave the pitcher in or to put in a pinch hitter and let the bullpen pitch from there.

Imagine it's the sixth inning, and despite terrific pitching from your starter, you trail 1-0. Your team is up, and you have a man on first and second, one out, and the pitcher is due up. He's thrown maybe 75 pitches so far, still should have some game left. As the manager, do you put in a pinch hitter and try to win the game right now, or do you keep the defense strong and sacrifice an out so as not to allow any future runs? What if it were eighth inning and two outs?

It is this kind of strategy that makes baseball the interesting game that it is, and leads to the brain-boiling suspense of the most memorable games.

In contrast, the DH rule reduces the game to a home-run derby, with puffed-up steroid addicts hitting for the bleachers on every pitch, and the approximate strategy of a game to tic-tac-toe.

I once heard it said that "I'd rather watch a batter bat than a manager think." So, generally, would I, but I've at least got the ADD somewhat under control.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Due to a combination of depression and a relapse of the flu (and depression over the relapse), I have managed to fall five days behind in my blog. Allow me to atempt to make up the gap by answering Mumon's five questions.

1. You are in sesshin, and it is the fourth day. It is lunch time; so oryoki is being practiced. After serving yourself or being served, after your offering, as you mindfully eat, you notice there is a piece of a plastic fork in your food. What do you do?

I can answer this by eliminating the things that I would not do. First, I would not eat the plastic. Although the Buddha begged for his food each day and ate whatever was put in his bowl, I can see no merit in eating a piece of plastic fork.

Second, I would not leave it aside and send it back with my empty bowl. In that case, the tenzo (cook) would see the piece of fork and feel bad, despite all of his/her efforts to prepare the meal. It would not be compassionate to send it back.

It seems to me that the only alternative would be to discretely slip the plastic into a pocket and dispose of it later, say, in the bathroom or back in my room (and keep a sharp eye out in later meals).

Thursday, April 21, 2005

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese men have no reason to feel inferior about the size of their penises, according to a Hong Kong study which showed local men measured up to others elsewhere in the world below the belt. "Our conclusion is that Hong Kong people are no smaller than Western men, where their penises are concerned," said Chan Lung-wai, director of the Urology Center at the Union Hospital, who headed the study. "There has always been the myth that westerners have bigger penises and their (sexual) ability is better."

A group of scientists in Hong Kong spent five months from October last year measuring 148 ethnic Chinese volunteers aged between 23 and 93.

The average length of their flaccid penises was 3.33 inches, which compared favorably with similar studies on other men overseas. Germans have average lengths of about 3.4 inches, Israelis 3.27 inches, Turks 3.07 inches and Filippinos 2.89 inches. Italians were the longest at 3.54 inches, and Americans averaged 3.46 inches.

The study did not measure the penises when they were erect.

It found that a man's height bore no relation to the length of his member, but those with higher body mass indexes, or fat content, appeared to have shorter penises. "It seems that as someone gets older and fatter, his blood vessels change, so the penile size is not static. It may be a reflection of the condition of the person's blood vessels," Chan said, adding that this could spur yet another study.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

In this week's The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes about global warming in the first of a three-part series on climate change. The following observations are based on an online interview with Ms. Kolbert.

The principles of global warming are as well established as any in physics. Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, a British physicist named John Tyndall discovered that certain gases in the atmosphere — we now refer to these as the "greenhouse gases" —trap heat on earth by absorbing infrared radiation. There are several naturally occurring greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and water vapor, and together they produce the so-called "natural greenhouse effect." Without the natural greenhouse effect, the planet would essentially be frozen. Any basic earth-science textbook talks about the natural greenhouse effect; it’s a phenomenon that is not in any way debated.

All that the theory of global warming says is that if you increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, you will also increase the earth’s average temperature. It’s indisputable that we have increased greenhouse-gas concentrations in the air as a result of human activity, and it’s also indisputable that over the last few decades average global temperatures have gone up. As best as can be determined, the world is now warmer than it has been at any point in the last two millennia, and, if current trends continue, by the end of the century it will likely be hotter than at any point in the last two million years.

There is a very broad consensus in the scientific community that global warming is under way. To the extent that there are conflicting views, they are usually over how exactly the process will play out. This is understandable. The climate affects just about every natural system on earth, and these systems in turn affect the climate. So making predictions is very complicated. Meanwhile, we have only one planet, so it’s impossible to run a controlled experiment. Although the news tends to want to offer a "balanced" view by interviewing opponents of the theory along with the proponents, to focus on the degree of disagreement, rather than on the degree of consensus, is fundamentally misguided. If ten people told you your house was on fire, you would call the fire department. You wouldn’t really care whether some of them thought that the place would be incinerated in an hour and some of them thought it would take a whole day.

There is a surprisingly large, even frighteningly large, gap between the scientific community and the lay community’s opinions on global warming. Many very sober-minded, coolly analytical scientists are warning of the end of the world as we know it. There are several reasons why their message hasn’t really got out. One is that scientists tend, as a group, to interact more with each other than with the general public. Another is that there has been a very well-financed disinformation campaign designed to convince people that there is still scientific disagreement about the problem, when there really is quite broad agreement. And third, the climate operates on its own timetable. It will take several decades for the warming that is already inevitable to be felt. People tend to focus on the here and now. The problem is that, once global warming is something that most people can feel in the course of their daily lives, it will be too late to prevent much larger, potentially catastrophic changes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Summer Night

Late at night, the faint sound of someone pounding rice.
Dew drips from the bamboo onto the firewood pile
And the plants along the garden are also moist.
Frogs croak in the distance but then seem very close.
Fireflies light low, then high.
Wide awake; sleep is far off.
Smoothing out the pillow, I let my thoughts drift.

- Ryokan (1758-1831)

Monday, April 18, 2005

According to the 2001 National Academies of Science Report on Climate Change, "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities," and, it continues, "Global warming could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century."

On the December 10, 2004 segment of the television show 20/20, ABC news correspondent John Stossel praised Michael Crichton's State of Fear, which purports to expose concern over global warming as a media scare perpetrated by Hollywood liberals and self-serving environmentalists. He offered no countervailing view (from, say, a scientist), instead interviewing a woman ready to pee her pants in fear after seeing the movie The Day After Tomorrow - presumably representative of the hysteria on the issue. The rest of the segment was devoted to lionizing the "brave" Mr. Crichton for taking great personal risk by publishing his narrow, unscientific viewpoint. Now it seems that Mr. Stossel is ready to jump on board with Mr. Crichton as a debunker of the global warming "myth."

Mr. Stossel was interviewed on April 8 by Brooke Gladstone on NPR's On the Media:

Brooke Gladstone: Do you think that scientists are just another interest group, representing their benefactors, or is there a point at which a scientific consensus is something incontrovertible?

John Stossel: Well, [laughs] "incontrovertible" is a big word, but a scientific consensus is what I think reporters should go with, absolutely. But, what I've tried to point out in Give Me a Break is that, when I started reporting, I just took the scientists at their word. I didn't realize that, while they tend to believe in what they say, they're also subconsciously aware that they're not going to get another big grant, or they're not going to get interviewed by Good Morning America, if they don't find a problem. And I routinely found scientists finding big problems, big worries from dioxin to pesticide residues when good scientists said, you know, it's not that risky.

Gladstone: So you don't believe that there is an international scientific consensus that global warming poses a danger.

Stossel: Well, anything can pose "a danger." The question is how big a danger? Is it the crisis that I keep hearing about? And the scientists that I talk to say we don't know that that's true.

Gladstone: The scientists that you talk to say that you don't know that's true, but the vast majority of scientists that have been convened on these international panels, who have won Nobel Prizes, believe that it is true - that global warming poses a serious danger and requires some action.

Stossel: The vast majority have agreed with that? I do not believe that is the case.

Gladstone: You don't believe that is the case. The consensus seems to be clear. Why don't you believe it?

Stossel: Because scientists tell me that the people writing the alarmist reports do not reflect the majority of scientists who really understand it; that the way you characterize it is not the way I've heard good scientists characterize it; and that the idea and the tone of voice you use is very telling - it's saying "Yes, there's a crisis. How can you refute that? You're such a jerk."

Gladstone: [laughs] I'm sorry if my tone conveyed that. According to the scientists that you've spoken to, there is no immediate danger posed by global warming that requires action.

Stossel: Correct.

Gladstone: In December, you featured novelist Michael Crichton on 20/20, and you praised him for contradicting something most people believe and fear. You went on to say that environmental organizations are fomenting false fears in order to promote agendas and raise money. Why use a fiction writer to refute the scientific community?

Stossel: Because he's famous, and he's interesting, and he's smart, and he writes books that lots of people read, and I could interview the scientists for 20/20, but more people will pay attention when this particular smart fiction writer says it.

Two things jump out from this interview: first, celebrity and fame seem to count for more than qualifications and credentials to Mr. Stossel. Second, the tactic of stubbornly asserting that the false is, in fact, true ("I do not believe that is the case"), despite all evidence to the contrary, seems to be popular with the right wing. Time magazine cover girl Ann Coulter tried the same defense after ludicrously suggesting that Canada had sent troops to Vietnam:

Ann Coulter: Canada used to be one of our most loyal friends and vice-versa. I mean Canada sent troops to Vietnam - was Vietnam less containable and more of a threat than Saddam Hussein?

Bob McKeown: Canada didn't send troops to Vietnam.

Coulter: I don't think that's right.

McKeown: Canada did not send troops to Vietnam.

Coulter: Indochina?

McKeown: Uh no. Canada. . . second World War of course. Korea. Yes. Vietnam No.

Coulter: I think you're wrong.

McKeown: No, took a pass on Vietnam.

Coulter: I think you're wrong.

McKeown: No, Australia was there, not Canada.

Coulter: I think Canada sent troops.

McKeown: No.

Coulter: Well. I'll get back to you on that.

McKeown (in voice-over): Coulter never got back to us -- but for the record, like Iraq, Canada sent no troops to Vietnam.

To Stossel and Coulter, what matters is not so much what is true or not, but what one can get away with saying. This, of course, is the very essence of bullshit.

What is bullshit, after all? According to Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, it is neither fish nor fowl. In his essay "On Bullshit," Prof. Frankfurt states that bullshiters certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth. "It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth," Prof. Frankfurt writes. "A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it."

The bullshit artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is "getting away with what he says," Prof. Frankfurt writes. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to bullshit "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it," he writes. "He pays no attention to it at all."

And this makes him potentially more harmful than any liar, Prof. Frankfurt writes, because any culture, and he means this culture rife with bullshit, is one in danger of rejecting "the possibility of knowing how things truly are." It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal.

The reader is left to imagine a culture in which institutions, leaders, events, ethics feel improvised and lacking in substance. "All that is solid," Marx once wrote, "melts into air."

So let me review for a minute - in this one post, I managed to ridicule Michael Crichton, John Stossel and Ann Coulter, quote Harry Frankfurt and Karl Marx, and use the word "bullshit" several times with a straight face. Good! I think I'm ready to hit the "Publish Post" button . . .

Sunday, April 17, 2005

This morning, I decided not to go back to the zendo and complete the sesshin, despite the very strong appeal of another dharma talk by Okumura Roshi, but instead allowed myself to finally complete the healing process of last week's devastating bout with the flu.

The Sunday Times had two excellent articles - one on the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson, and a retrospective of Dustin Hoffman's career.

Around 10:30, a landscaping crew came by to help me clean up my yard. Try as I might, I was not able to keep up with the autumn's leaves and pine needles, which managed to get all caught up in the ivy all over my yard (I don't have a grass "lawn," - this place is far too shady), and even if I could rake them all up, it would literally have taken me dozens, if not a hundred, leaf bags to collect all the droppings.

The crew had three men armed with industrial-strength leafblowers (not like the little toy that I use), and starting on the roof, blew everything down the hill, where a fourth ran the leaves through a mower to mulch them and minimize the number of leaf bags needed.

They worked hard. But finally, after about four hours, they collected the leaf bags (and their pay) and headed off to the County compost facility. The place looks much better.

So, I'm actually making some progress on my list of things to do. As depressing as it is to me to do this, here's an update on the list:

1. Fix computer. Not done.
2. Change address on driver's license/tag registration. Not done.
3. Fix toilet in condo. Done!!!
4. Get duct tape marks off car. Done!!!
5. Join a gym. Not done. But with Daylight Saving's Time back in effect (longer days) and my health finally restored, this will be accomplished soon.
6. Buy living room furniture. Done, at least enough for now. The sofa arrived in February and I bought a nice Chinese carpet in March. However, I still want to replace the plantation shutters with a more open window treatment, and there's always room for more stuff.
7. Buy mirror and sconces for bathroom. Not done.
8. Yard work. Done!!!
9. Fix up the UCV: Paint the living room walls, mantlepiece and shelves as the realtor suggested - Done!!!
I still need to re-clean the bathrooms, the kitchen, the refrigerator and the freezer, and steam clean the carpets before the Open House on April 26.
10. Body work: Colonoscopy - not done. Dermatology - not done. Dentistry - not done, despite my Mother's well-intentioned nagging, but a good dentist has been selected.
11. Reading. An endless task, that will never be done. There's always something new to read. But I still haven't finished even one of the books I bought January 30th, except for Michael Crichton's State of Fear, which I'm finished with more than finished reading.
12. Writing. Blogging is part of the reason I haven't finished my books, or written anything more than what's appeared in this blog (the "substitution effect").
13. Arithmetic: Income taxes - Done!!! And refunds already received. Still need to straighten out finances and collect monies owed me.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Recently, I was asked about the lineage of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. I discussed the background and lineage of our founder's teacher, Soyu Matsuoka Roshi, last July, and encourage the interested reader to refer to that post.

This weekend, we are having a special sesshin with guest teacher Shohaku Okumura Roshi. Okumura was born in Osaka, Japan in 1948. He was ordained as a Soto Zen priest in 1970 by the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. After graduating from Komazawa University, he trained at Antaiji in Kyoto, and received Shiho (Dharma Transmission) from his teacher in February 1975. Okumura traveled to Massachusetts to practice with two of his Dharma brothers at Pioneer Valley Zendo in 1976 and stayed there until 1981 when he returned to Japan. Until 1984, he lived by himself as a caretaker of a small nunnery, living by takuhatsu (begging), practicing shikantaza and working on translations. He started the Kyoto Soto Zen Center and practiced there until 1992, and from 1993 until 1996 he was the Head Teacher of Minnesota Zen Center. In 1996, Okumura founded Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, Indiana, where he now lives and practices.

Last evening and twice today, Okumura Roshi gave some very interesting dharma talks. This afternoon's talk in particular was interesting to me since he discussed many of the sutras and scriptures that I have been discussing in this blog recently. Although the topic of his talks was ostensibly the 12-Fold Chain of Interdependant Origination, he did not limit himself to a scholarly dissertation of this teaching, but instead went into the practical aspects ("practical" as in "practice") of Zen Buddhism and provided direct and personal observations from his own practice.

In his talk, Okumura quoted the famed Song-dynasty poet Su Dongbo:

"The sound of the stream is his long, broad tongue;
The mountain, his immaculate body.
This evening's eighty-four thousand verses -
How will I tell them tomorrow?"

I briefly discussed this same verse in my blog entry of March 29, 2005. As Master Dogen states in the Keisei sanshoku ("Sound of the Stream, Form of the Mountain"), "In the great Kingdom of Sung there lived the Layman Toba, whose name was Soshuku, and who was also called Shisen." All these names, as well as Su Dongbo, refer to the Chinese poet So Toba (1036-1101). Toba was the poet's pen name and Soshoku was his formal name. He also used the name Shisen. Like Buddhist monks, men of literature in China often had many different names.

Dogen notes, "He seems to have been a real dragon in the literary world (literally, "the ocean of the brush"), and he studied the dragons and elephants of the Buddhist world;" that is, he read the writings of excellent Buddhist masters. "He swam happily into deep depths, and floated up and down through layers of cloud." Here, Master Dogen was praising his ability as a poet. As the story goes, Su Dongbo visited Lushan, a region of China famed for its beautiful scenery, hears the sounds of a mountain stream flowing through the night, realizes the truth, and composes his verse.

The "wide and long tongue" is one of the thirty-two distinguishing features of the Buddha. However, Okumura went on to say that upon realization of the truth, the poet no longer distinguished between the so-called insentient babbling of the brook and the chanting of sacred sutras, just as he no longer differentiated between himself and the objects of his perception. That is to say, on listening to the stream, he no longer experienced a separation between "himself" and "other," between subject and object, and the sound of the stream was the entirety of all existence at that moment.

The Sanskrit word namarupa means name (namu) and form (rupa). Namarupa is what our minds assign to the objects perceived by our senses, that is, it is the mind's conceptualization of reality. To transcend namarupa is to no longer differentiate between "this" and "that," including between "self" and "other." Everything becomes everything, the self is forgotten and the universe is seen as it really is, without our abstract concepts. This is realization.

There is much more I would like to say about this poem, about the Keisei sanshoku, and about the Sansuigyo (The Mountains and Rivers Sutra). This will have to wait for another day, however, as Okumura want on in his dharma talk and discussed the opening lines of the Genjo Koan, which I discussed back last October.

"When all dharmas are seen as the Buddha-Dharma, then there is delusion and realization, there is practice, there is life and there is death, there are buddhas and there are ordinary beings. When the myriad dharmas are each not of the self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no ordinary beings, no life and no death. The Buddha's truth is originally transcendent over abundance and scarcity, and so there is life and death, there is delusion and realization, there are beings and Buddhas."

As Okumura pointed out, here Dogen is saying that as long as one looks outside oneself for enlightenment, one will continue to live in delusion, for "enlightenment" then becomes just another namarupa. However, if one simply practices zazen with no goal of enlightenment or Buddhahood or of anything, and abandons discrimination among self and others and transcends namarupa, then there is realization.

Of course, here I am just skimming the surface of over 2 1/2 hours of lecture and discussion, and am scarcely doing justice to the very subtle concepts involved. You can say this post is not so much a finger pointing at the moon as a broad backhanded wave in the general direction.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Baseball's Back

Nothing like a good Red Sox-Yankees brawl to get me back up on my feet. Last night, the Red Sox were leading the Yankees at Fenway, 6-5, when Jason Varitek tripled down the right-field line in the eighth inning. The ball hugged the wall and made its way to Gary Sheffield, who bent down for it. As he did, a fan in the front row, possibly swiping for the ball, appeared to hit Sheffield in the face. "It felt like my lip busted," Sheffield said.

After gathering the ball, but before throwing to the cutoff man, Sheffield paused and appeared to punch the fan with the ball still in his hand. He went back at the fan after throwing the ball in, but resisted the impulse to escalate the fight before teammates and police intervened. Asked what he was thinking before he backed off, Sheffield said, "Ron Artest."

Two runs scored, and the Yankees lost, 8-5. They return to Fenway on July 14.

In other events, it seems that the online world has finally gotten tired of me. Hits to this blog have dropped from over 200 a day down to a mere couple dozen or so.

Now, there could be several reasons for this. First, either everybody who wanted a copy of my picture of Ray Charles finally downloaded it, or Google.images dropped me to the bottom of the search results for those looking for pictures of Ray (or Jimi or Norah or Courtney). Not that I care much; the stats indicate that very few of those who came here looking for star pictures stayed around and read much. So I'd rather have a few interested readers than hundreds of ADD downloaders.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

One Last, Vicious Gut-Kick of a Lesson on the First Noble Truth

Not entirely unexpectedly, L. decided that this was a good time to break up with me again. She had been very distant and non-committal since before I even had left for San Francisco. Although she was sympathetic and supportive when I got sick, and even brought over food for me earlier this week, there was still an iciness under the tone and mannerisms. Friday she leaves for New York for the weekend (I wasn't invited), and it became apparent that she was going to leave without even saying "goodbye" to me, so I called her tonight and asked, "What's going on?"

"Well . . .," she replied. "I was going to wait until I came back from New York and you were feeling better to talk to you, but I guess I can tell you now." As long-time readers of this blog know by now, this action is not without precedent, but this time had a finality to it that I don't think we'll overcome.

What can I say? She wants to be free, and I don't want to be her oppressor. Sesshin starts this weekend, and my dharma practice, once again, will be to let go of my attachments, to her, to us.

As the Buddha said, "Not to get what one wants is suffering." Also, "dissociation from the pleasant is suffering." Okay, First Noble Truth, the existence of suffering. I get it. Lesson over, okay?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Well, last Sunday, I somehow (amazingly, miraculously) summoned the energy to get out of my sickbed at the Fairmont Hotel, pack my bags, check out, take the SuperShuttle to the airport and fly back home to Atlanta. Although the aches and pains of the flu were still with me, mercifully the chills weren't and I managed to make it home pretty much without incident. Delta originally had me seated in a middle seat, but I complained and they moved me to an aisle (bless them).

This week, I worked 3 or 4 hours on Monday, and rested the remainder of the time, and didn't even go in on Tuesday. L. came over and brought me some food and groceries Tuesday night, but otherwise didn't stay long out of fear of coming back down with the flu that took her three weeks to shake.

I did manage to open the zendo on my usual Monday night, but I avoided shaking hands with anyone so as not to spread this illness any further. We had three newcomers and I attempted, in raspy voice, to give them meditation instruction and lead a short dharma discussion afterwards.

Spring has come to the ATL in full force, and I just want to get healthy and back on with my life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

More On the First Noble Truth

"What, now, is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering; Decay is suffering; Death is suffering; Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and Despair, are suffering; not to get what one desires, is suffering; in short: the Five Groups of Existence are suffering.

"What, now, is Birth? The birth of beings belonging to this or that order of beings, their being born, their conception and springing into existence, the manifestation of the groups of existence, the arising of sense activity - this is called Birth.

"And what is Decay? The decay of beings belonging to this or that order of beings; their getting aged, frail, grey, and wrinkled; the failing of their vital force, the wearing out of the senses - this is called Decay.

"And what is Death? The parting and vanishing of beings out of this or that order of beings, their destruction, disappearance, death, the completion of their life-period, dissolution of the groups of existence, the discarding of the body - this is called Death.

"And what is Sorrow? The sorrow arising through this or that loss or misfortune which one encounters, the worrying oneself, the state of being alarmed, inward sorrow, inward woe - this is called Sorrow.

"And what is Lamentation? Whatsoever, through this or that loss or misfortune which befalls one, is wail and lament, wailing and lamenting, the state of woe and lamentation - this is called Lamentation.

"And what is Pain? The bodily pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by bodily contact - this is called Pain.

"And what is Grief? The mental pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by mental contact - this is called Grief.

"And what is Despair? Distress and despair arising through this or that loss or misfortune which one encounters, distressfulness, and desperation - this is called Despair.

"And what is the "suffering of not getting what one desires?" To beings subject to birth there comes the desire: "O that we were not subject to birth! O that no new birth was before us!" Subject to decay, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, the desire comes to them: "O that we were not subject to these things! O that these things were not before us!" But this cannot be got by mere desiring; and not to get what one desires, is suffering.

Monday, April 11, 2005

One Big Week-Long Lesson on the First Noble Truth

What is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by clinging are suffering.

This is the First Noble Truth of Suffering: such was the vision, the insight, the wisdom, the knowing and the light that arose in me with regard to things not heard before.

This Noble Truth must be penetrated by fully understanding suffering: such was the vision, the insight, the wisdom, the knowing and the light that arose in me with regard to things not heard before.

This Noble Truth has been penetrated by fully understanding suffering: such was the vision, the insight, the wisdom, the knowing and the light that arose in me with regard to things not heard before.
- Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Escape from San Fran

That everything is impermanent
Is the way all things come into and go out of existence.
It is when these processes are over
That we see true happiness in nirvana.
- from The Nirvana Sutra

As flowers are brilliant but inevitably fall,
who could remain constant in our world?
Today let's transcend the high mountain of transience,
and there will be no more shallow dreaming, no more drunkenness.
- Kukai, The Iroha

And though it is like this, it is only that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds, while hated, flourish.
- Dogen, from Genjo-Koan

Saturday, April 09, 2005

California, Day Seven - Quarantine on Nob Hill

Well, the worst-case scenario has come to pass: I can't attend the very meeting that I flew out here for. Downstairs, my company is having its annual managers' meeting, and I'm upstairs in self-imposed quarantine in the Fairmont Hotel - shivering, aching, occasionally puking, and generally feeling miserable. My only hope is that I can rally enough strength tomorrow to catch my flight back home.

Coming here, I asked rhetorically "What could possibly go wrong?" Be careful what you ask . . . you might not like the answer.

Friday, April 08, 2005

California, Day Six - Doc Savage

Shokai -
I assume you are really sick hunch is that this isn't going away any time soon.
don't be afraid to call the hotel doctor - every good hotel has one - and sometimes it's worth it.
I've done it. You got to pull the fever down first.
So sorry -- my heart goes out to you

Yeah, you're right - each day is worse than the one before. I went downstairs for breakfast and immediately started feeling worse, came back to my room, threw breakfast up, and shivered and ached from 8 to 12. Feeling slightly better now, but that's a relative term. Obviously, I'm missing the meeting today.
I was thinking of calling the doctor anyway, but I think your email made my mind up to do it. I'm concerned about the flight home - I won't be able to fly if I'm feeling then like I felt this morning (shivering and sweating at the same time, squirming with pain in the joints etc.).
I had to take a rest while I was writing this. I can see why you weren't able to work on your book.
- Shokai

Sweetpea - get the Z-pack and stay an extra day or two if you need to.
The company will pay for are sick.
I bet your fever is higher than you think. Please get the Dr. - so that you can start to get well

Went to the doctor and he set me up with a couple of meds, including ibuprofen for the pain. I suggested Z-pack, but he said this flu has been going around San Fran, and gave me Tamiflu for the influenza and Zithromax to head off bronchitis (I'm dehydrated and the windpipe cracks and the blood could get infected causing bronchitis). The doctor (Doc Savage) was really good and seemed to know what he was talking about. So for now, I'm doing it his way.
The doctor also said that the Tamiflu should have me in good enough shape to fly home Sunday, but I agree that I will stay if I'm not up to travel. This is probably the sickest I can recall having been as an adult. . . I'm really out of it. It's not a decision whether or not to stay - if I feel like this on Sunday, it will be physically impossible for me to check out and fly home.
Thanks for your sympathy and kind words - they really help.

I thrilled you have medicine and a competent professional helping you.
Thank god. Also, that you are staying in nice surroundings probably doesn't hurt.
They recommended Tamiflu for me too - I didn't take it...also, the Z-pack IS Zithromax, which was for my bronchitis.
sorry sorry you are going through this.
Hang in there.
Yes, that was the sickiest I'd been since I was a little girl.
I understand.
Order fresh squeezed orange juice to the room & bottles of water too. The hotel will bring you anything - and you shouldn't get dehydrated - you have no excuse! They'll bring you anyting you need.
Take care,

Thursday, April 07, 2005

California, Day Five - Fairmont, At Last

Since I'm too sick and don't have the energy to blog, instead here's some email that sort of explains the situation:

L. --
Hope you're doing well.
I was feeling better for a while there, but as I was driving from the Tiburon Lodge back to the airport this morning to return my rental car, I first started getting a headache, then muscle aches, and then the chills again. Carrying my luggage from the rental car terminal to the hotel shuttle bus was among the most exhausting things I've ever done (it should have been easy), and I was shaking and shivering like I had Parkinson's or something.
I got to the Fairmont (fabulous!) at noon and shivered under the covers of my bed until 2 p.m., then went down and joined the company meeting, apologizing to everyone that I wouldn't shake their hand because of the flu.
I just got out of the meetings, and I'm going to skip the social hour and the dinner so I don't infect everyone else (and also because I'm simply not up to it physically).
I hope I'm better tomorrow. I hate being sick, especially during my once-a-year Principals' meeting. This sucks!
I assume that you are back to work full time now. How was your day? How's the weather in Atlanta? Did you get your edits back on your manuscript yet?
Talk to you soon.
- Shokai

i am so so sorry that you got what I had....shit.
Terrible time to get it too....
being so far from home & at the big meeting to boot.
Sorry my friend.
The editor had hardly any I think I am on my own...
Weather is rainy but warm.
i am getting better everyday. At the end there was a stomach/GI component too (just to finish me off!) but seriously, I am getting better everyday. I have still been home every night but one for the last 3 weeks. I have been very tired...getting stronger everyday just not 100% yet.
Take care

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

California, Day Four - Disaster

The last 24 hours or so have been a disaster.

Things didn’t start out so bad yesterday. My sister was feeling tired, so I struck out on my own and headed to Japantown in S.F. and to Mill Valley in Marin County. For lunch, I had my first In-and-Out Burger, and in the afternoon I headed up to Novato in North Marin County for a business meeting. So far, so good.

After the meeting, I stopped at my sister’s in the late afternoon. After chatting for a while, I stepped outside to play catch with her dog and immediately caught a chill. “Is it me or is it getting really cold out?,” I asked her husband, who answered that sure, it was cooling off.

But when I got back inside, I was still cold and soon started shivering. My sister found a thermometer, and sure enough, I was running a 100.6 fever. She piled me up under a bunch of blankets in the living room and we ate Chinese food, and after a while I seemed to recover somewhat, and returned to the Tiburon Lodge.

Now a word or two about the Tiburon Lodge: as I’ve said, there is no Internet access in the rooms, and I’ve been forced to blog from the Business Center. But today, they started a renovation project, and have surrounded the whole place with six-foot-high chain-link fence and have locked up the office, including the Business Center. Both have been moved to a former conference room, where I’m now typing this on a card table under the watchful eye of the night manager, sitting across from me at a second card table.

If you’re visiting the Tiburon/Marin County area, do yourself a favor and don’t stay at the Tiburon Lodge.

Anyway, I got back to the Lodge and got under the covers of my bed and rode out the fever for a couple hours, with all the usual flu symptoms: chills, aches, sore joints, etc.

When I got up this morning, I felt better and drove over to Emeryville on the Oakland side of the bay for a second business meeting, but no one I was supposed to meet with was there. S. was in another meeting and had to leave at 11:00 (it was 10), C. hadn’t come in yet, and J.’s office light was on, but no one knew where she was. So I headed over to Berkeley.

Berkeley, if you haven’t been there, is now one big neighborhood of Indian and Thai restaurants, sort of like a larger version of New York’s St. Mark’s Place but with more formica and fluorescent lights.

I had vegetarian Thai for dinner, but could start to feel my energy drain again, so I headed back to the homely comforts of the Tiburon Lodge and spent the afternoon in my room with the heater cranked all the way, alternately shivering and sweating under all of the blankets on the bed.

But being the kind of person that I am, I found a second wind and headed over to the San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center for their evening service. The meditation actually seemed to help the flu situation, and since I’ve gotten back, I’ve felt a little better. Plus the whole Zen/Mahayana experience was refreshing after last Monday’s Theravedan encounter.

So, the last thing that I wanted to happen the whole time I was taking care of L. while she was sick – namely, getting sick myself during my trip to San Fran – seems to have happened, but at least I’ve gotten caught back up to the present in my blog.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

California, Day Three - Mt. Tam to Spirit Rock

Well, I obviously got one technical difficulty fixed, I found a card reader so I can upload pictures from my camera, but now I have a conventional problem (as in, a problem concerning a convention), namely, someone I have fallen a day behind in the blog. Today is actually Day Four of my California trip, but I am only now blogging about what I did on Day Three. I guess that I messed up on April 3, which was actually Day Two, but I called it "Day One" because it was the first entry discussing this trip.

Anyhow, yesterday, Day Three, I went to Wolf Camera (I didn't know they had Wolf Camera stores in California - I thought it was a Georgia chain) looking for a USB line for my camera. They didn't have any, but they did have this neat multi-card reader with a USB plug that can accommodate my XD and Compact Flash memory cards, as well as SM, SD and MS cards should the situation ever arise. With this new toy, I was able to upload the picture for my April 3 entry, as well as April 4's photo essay (of events that occurred April 3).

After that, the day consisted on a trip up to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais with my sister, followed by lunch at Stinson Beach. We picked up her three-year-old, my nephew, at 2:30, and then took him to feed the ducks at the Academy of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and since that entailed two trips over the G.G. Bridge, the prerequisite Golden Gate pictures.

As night approached, my sister and I went over to Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Marin County. According to their Vision Statement, "Spirit Rock Meditation Center is dedicated to the teachings of the Buddha as presented in the Theravadan vipassana tradition." The Theravadan teaching really reinforced the Mahayana inclinations in this stubborn old Zenster, and I'm looking forward to going to an afternoon service at the San Francisco Zen Center's City Center, hopefully tomorrow (Day Five, but it probably won't get posted until Day Six the way things are going). I did get the chance to go and introduce myself to Jack before the service started, and he was very generous with his time and attention, even as he was getting ready to strike the gong to start the session.

That may not sound like a lot for one whole day but by the time I got home, I was exhausted . . .

Sunday, April 03, 2005

California, Day One - Tiburon

San Francisco - Everything went fine with my flight from Atlanta, despite the fact that Delta stuck me in the middle seat. Five hours elbow-to-elbow with two strangers, but I arrived here safe and sound none the less.

From the airport, I rented a standard-size Kia and drove Highway 101 North in search of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had no idea that 101 wasn't a freeway all the way from the airport to the bridge, and instead, that it would drop me off into downtown S.F., where I had to follow street signs for "101" and "G.G. Bridge." But I found the bridge despite the challenge, drove into Marin County, called my sister, and arrived around 1:00 p.m. at her house in Tiburon.

This is beautiful country: rugged hills surrounded by water, beautifully built houses, and manicured gardens. The retail infrastructure is all low profile - none of the garish billboards and illuminated signs that blight Georgia. Out of my sister's back porch, I could see Mount Tamalpais, watch deer feed in the arroyos, and smell wild eucalyptus.

Technical difficulties: When I checked into the Tiburon Lodge, I found that the rooms don't have "High-Speed Access" like implied. This is being typed in the hotel's business center, where I'm being interrupted by others requesting to check their email, print boarding passes, and other urgent business. Also, I forgot to pack the USB line for my digital camera, so right now I cannot upload pictures to the Net (If you know where I can buy a USB line for an Olympus camera in the Marin County area, please email me).

Yesterday was mostly spent in the company of my sis, her hubby and their three-year-old. We cruised around Tiburon, with its beautiful views of the G.G. Bridge (every time I type that, I think of G.G. Allin, which is a whole different mind set), San Fran, Sausalito and Berkeley. We spent an hour at a toy store for the three-year-old (I bought him a bag full of plastic lizards, and he immediately memorized the names of every one - "Kimono dragon," "chameleon," "iguana," etc.). Kid's minds are like sponges.

Sis decided we needed time to ourselves, so we left her son with hubby and drove over to Mill Valley for a sunset latte.

Today, the forecast is for rain, so we scuttlebutted our plans to climb Mt. Tam, and are going to meet for brunch in a few minutes to make alternative plans for the day. I'll post again when I can.

Friday, April 01, 2005


At one point in his novel State of Fear, Michael Crichton claims that it was not necessary to ban the pesticide DDT. He states that environmentalists incorrectly warned that DDT was carcinogenic, and then attacks this false assumption, concluding that a useful and harmless pesticide was banned, resulting in unnecessary and avoidable malarial deaths in Africa and elsewhere.

This is a classic demagogic tactic – to put words in the mouth of your opponents and then attack them for statements they never made. Carcinogenicity was not the basis for banning DDT. Crichton is correct that DDT has not been proven to be a human carcinogen. However, that was not the basis for its ban. DDT was banned in 1972 due to its effects on bird reproduction, especially raptors such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons, which lay eggs with thin shells that often break before hatching when exposed to relatively low concentrations of DDT.

The environmental science behind DDT and its fate and transport, and its effects on receptors, are somewhat complex. This is unfortunate, because it both prevents an easy understanding of the processes involved, and also because it allows one or two individual facts, taken out of context of the whole process, to suggest false conclusions.

DDT, and especially its degradation product DDE, build up in plants and in fatty tissues of fish, birds, and other animals. As a results, DDT and its degradation products accumulate through the food chain, with apex predators such as raptors having a higher concentration of the chemicals than other animals sharing the same environment.

When present at comparatively low levels, DDE (not DDT) prevents normal calcium deposition during eggshell formation, and causes some species of raptors to lay eggs with thin shells that often break before hatching. Other species are relatively unaffected; for example, the chicken continues to produce normal eggs despite high levels of exposure. However, DDT has been cited as a major reason for the decline of the bald eagle in the 1950’s and 60’s, which was of particularly symbolic interest in that the eagle is the U.S. national bird.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) addressed toxic contamination of the food chain and led to the banning of the widespread use of DDT as a pesticide. But even more importantly, the book popularized the idea in the West that all life-forms are interdependent.

Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth (1982) and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (1989) addressed different global environmental problems - the worldwide consequences of nuclear proliferation and the impact of global warming. Their warnings led to major changes in national and international policy: the START treaties that negotiated nuclear arms reduction agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Kyoto agreements to cut carbon dioxide emissions. But as Donald Swearer of Swarthmore College points out, each of these books shared a similar holistic worldview, namely, as the 1975 National Academy of Sciences Report stated, that our world is a whole “in which any action influencing a single part of the system can be expected to have an effect on all other parts of the system.”

In Buddhism, this holistic worldview is expressed metaphorically in the image of Indra’s net - the concept of the universe as a vast web of many-sided jewels, each constituted by the reflections of all the other jewels in the web and each jewel being the image of the entire universe. This principle of interdependence integrates all aspects of the ecosphere in terms of mutual codependence. Individual entities are by their very nature relational, thereby undermining the dualistic concept of an autonomous self versus the “other,” be it human, animal, or vegetable. Such a worldview represents a rejection of the dominance of one human over another or humans over nature, and is the basis of an ethic of compassion that respects biodiversity.

In the view of the Thai monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, “The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise . . . then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.”

A Western observer, noting that the term dharma not only refers to the teachings of the Buddha but also to all things in nature, characterizes Buddhism as “religious ecology.”

Master Dogen wrote, “The sutras [i.e., the dharma] are the entire universe, mountains, and rivers and the great wide earth, plants and trees.” Swearer notes that Dogen’s view can be used as support for the preservation of species biodiversity.