Sunday, December 31, 2006


A year of loss: as 2006 slips into the wormhole of time, I reflect on a year in which I lost both my father and my job. One may be soon replaced, but certainly not the other.

Returning to the subject of spiritual materialism, we tend to look to our practice to soften the blow of life's losses. Although we vow to accept all consequences of our karma with equanimity, the trouble, the materialism, comes in when we look to our spiritual practice to anesthetize the pain of our losses, to cushion us from the rough blows of life. We imagine the Buddhas and patriarchs to have walked around like saints, untroubled by pain and by misfortune, and then we try to emulate their behavior in our own life. For surely, we imagine, if we just don't acknowledge our pain and suffering, if we just ignore it, it might just go away and we'll be rescued from our misery by our practice.

But the fallacy here is that we look at our practice as something outside of ourselves, something separate that can, in turn, rescue us. We're also looking at our pain and suffering as something separate, too. And as we get locked into accepting this duality of self (the one that suffers) and other (both the suffering and the practice that will bring an end to suffering), we're merely reinforcing our sense of separateness from all other things and hence our need to protect ourselves. And as we try to insulate our separate selves from this separate suffering, the downward spiral continues and we find ourselves suffering all the more.

So what can we do? If we can't rescue ourselves, what does that leave us?

Surrender. Just give up. Stop trying so hard and just be there with the pain when things are painful, and be there with the happiness when things are joyful. And the technique to begin this letting go is sitting meditation (zazen), or more specifically, "just sitting" (shikantaza).

I've long ago realized that there is no "goal" or "purpose" to shikantaza (otherwise it wouldn't be "just" sitting, it would be sitting with a goal or a purpose), but it's taken Arthur's wise counseling (and Greensmile's reminder) to show me that there also is no "goal" or "purpose" to the broader picture of spiritual practice. If we burden our practice with a goal or a purpose, we commodify it, we perceive it as something separate from us, and this materialism diminishes our practice.

So what does that leave me with? I grieve the passing of my father, and I worry about my lack of a job and all its attendant anxieties. I observe and feel my restlessness and frustration with these quiet holidays and I feel gratitude for the occasions when the idleness passes. But having said that, neither do I wallow in self pity and amplify my pain, nor do I ignore it and pretend not to feel.

Easier said than done.

Tonight is one of those opportunities to leave the house and feel gratitude for the opportunity to be doing something other than watching the mailbox for an offer letter - the New Year's Eve celebration at the zendo tonight. So Happy New Year's to everyone, and Happy Birthday, Jackie!

Saturday, December 30, 2006


At least today I got out and ate some paella at a restaurant down the street. Other than that, however, it's been pretty quiet.

The slug-like level of inactivity I've been experiencing lately should come to a conclusion soon - tomorrow's both Sunday and New Year's Eve, so I should be spending both morning and evening at the zendo. The next day, Monday, is my usual evening service, and Tuesday night I'm giving a short presentation on Atlanta's proposed Beltline zoning overlay to the neighborhood planning association. At least a few little events to begin to give some structure to my days.

I have been catching up on my reading, both back issues of The New Yorker (I'm all caught up now, thank you) and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night," an interesting novel recommended and lent to me by my friend Andrea. My friend Arthur r. & l.'ed a Buddhist book titled "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," and I got a start on that today and even brought it with me to La Fonda Cantina to read over my paella.

"Spiritual materialism" is defined as ego-driven pursuit of spiritual goals as a commodity or a goal to be obtained. If enlightenment, the goal of the spiritual quest, were something to be attained or achieved, then it also must someday end, as all things created eventually destruct. But if the spiritual quest is instead approached as a process of letting go of the ego-based attachements and obstructions that keep one from directly experiencing the enlightenment that was always there, then, well, that's different. I'm sure I'll be posting more on this later as my reading continues.

But what's been interesting me more at present are ideas of consciousness and dualism. It seems I can't escape this issue wherever I turn. I've been watching a borrowed copy of the three-disc super-expanded version of "What the Bleep Do We Know?" (Come to think of it, I'm borrowing a lot of books and DVDs lately. I wonder what that means.) The content of the Bleep DVDs are all about this issue. and this week's The Economist, of all things, has a lengthy special section on the mind and consciousness. Are the self and the mind one thing or two? Are they a function of the brain, ir do they just come to reside in the brain? And what exactly is this thing we call consciousness?

In "What the Bleep," various quantum physicists try to explain that at the tiniest subatomic level, at the so-called Planck Scale, all matter is really just waves, which raises the question, waves on what? "Consciousness," according to at least one physicist, all matter is just waves on a sea of pure consciousness. Which implies that either consciousness is something outside and more fundamental than the mind, or that the mind, by creating consciousness, also brings all matter and the whole universe into existence.

The Buddha taught that consciousness existed in six forms, each related to the senses: sight consciousness, hearing consciousness, smell consciousness, taste consciousness, touch consciousness and mind consciousness. The latter, of course, is what most people are referring to when they speak of consciousness, but the Buddha trivialized it to a degree by classifying mind consciousness as merely the awareness of thought, just as sight consciousness is the awareness of vision. And the six consciousnesses arise from memory, which arises from ignorance. But he did not go on to define consciousness much further, as it is beyond the grasp of the mind to comprehend, just as the hand cannot grasp the fist.

So which came first, consciousness or the mind? If consciousness arises from ignorance by way of memory, does this not imply that the mind creates consciousness? But if all matter is created by waves of consciousness, what gave rise to the mind?

More on this at a later date - my brain hurts thinking about it now.

Friday, December 29, 2006


A week without borders: unaccustomed as I am to not working, the days begin to lose structure and I find myself lost without priorities.

A typical day has been to sleep as late as I like, and then read a while in bed before getting up for coffee. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon watching a bunch of surfing shows on tv before noodling around on my computer for a bit, and the highlights of the day were getting my mail, dragging the trash cans up the driveway and going to the market to buy replacement light bulbs for the kitchen. All this between naps, mind you and, oh yes, blogging. The days end in the early morning hours, as, too under-exercised to get to sleep, I stay up late reading some more.

The first several weeks of December were so busy that they still felt more or less identical to employment. The week before Christmas had enough unique events planned that time still seemed to pass normally. But since the holiday weekend began, days and nights have blurred into one, I find myself losing momentum, and I'm reluctant to jump into consumerism to pass the time out of a desire to conserve money.

It hasn't helped that all this is occurring during the winter holidays, when business is slow anyway, and the normal routines of society are slowed to a standstill.

I check the mailbox each day to see if an offer letter has arrived yet. If one doesn't come soon, I'll have to come up with a more sustainable plan on how to pass the time.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Think This May Be Important

According to a report in the journal Science, tiny microbes have been discovered living in acidic drainage water from a mine in Northern California. The microbes, members of an ancient family of organisms known as archaea, formed a pink scum on green pools of hot mine water laden with toxic metals, including arsenic. In their paper, the scientists call the microbes “smaller than any other known cellular life form.”

The discovery could bear on estimates of the pervasiveness of exotic microbial life, which some experts suspect forms a hidden biosphere extending down miles whose total mass may exceed that of all surface life. It may also influence the search for microscopic life forms elsewhere in the solar system, a discovery that would prove that life in the universe is not unique to Earth but an inherent property of matter.

The tiny microbes came from an abandoned mine at Iron Mountain in Shasta County, California, which produced gold, silver, iron and copper before closing in 1963. Today, rain and surface water run over exposed minerals, producing sulfuric acid. The mine is one of the largest Superfund cleanup sites. Starting in 2002, scientists obtained drops of the acidic slime and searched for genetic signs of novel microbes.

The microbes are about 200 nanometers wide — the size of large viruses, which scientists consider lifeless because they cannot reproduce on their own. Bacteria average about five times that size. The scientists must do further tests to confirm that the organisms are the smallest ever found, and that they can reproduce. If those analyses hold up, they said in their Science paper, “it may be necessary to reconsider existing paradigms for the minimum requirements for life.”

So life on this planet is much more prevalent that previously thought. This implies that the web of life is larger, richer and more pervasive than we had known, and that life of earth isn't confined to the flora and fauna of our childhood education.

If each one of these microorganisms is considered a unique individual life form, then by sheer numbers most re-births and prior incarnations would be exotic microbes of one sort or another, making the occurrence of a human birth all the more remarkable. If the mass of organisms is not considered to be an aggregation of individuals, but one large reservoir of living bio-mass, it makes one question where the line is drawn between individuals and living bio-mass, or if we need to re-think the concept of individual lives.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Beats working: today I went downtown to meet with the state environmental agency concerning a new, potential client. Since I'm between jobs right now, as it were, I did this on a pro bono basis to keep my clientele (don't tell anyone - I don't want the word to get out and wind up working for free for everybody). Later, I went over my friend and Zen teacher Arthur's house for dinner and talk. After we discussed my situation from every possible perspective, we watched Kung Fu Hustle.
Meanwhile, we're all still getting to know the new group of Congressmen we elected last November. I'm sincerely sorry to note that new Senator Tim Johnson (D. - S.D.) has suffered a brain hemorrhage and is recovering from surgery. While his health and his family are of course the top priority, it is worth noting that if he has to be replaced, his successor will be chosen by the state's Republican governor, likely upsetting the Democratic majority of one in the Senate.
Meanwhile, we've found that we now have more much-needed diversity in Congress. Most people know by now that new Rep. Keith Ellison (D. - MN) is the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, thanks largely to stupid comments by Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) objecting to Ellison’s intention to use the Koran for his swearing-in ceremony. Actually, the fuss is over nothing - members of Congress take their formal oath en masse and don't put their hands on anything. But they use Bibles (Ellison will exercise his religious freedom and use a Koran) for the publicity photos they take to record the event.

But most people haven't realized that the new class of 2006 also includes two Buddhists. And my love/hate thing with Georgia continues, on the love side, as I note that one of the Congressmen, Rep. Hank Johnson, is from right here in Atlanta (the other is Mazie Hirono from Hawaii).

Rep. Johnson served as DeKalb County Commissioner before taking Cynthia McKinney's former seat for Georgia's 4th Congressional District. Johnson is a graduate of Atlanta's Clark University and his top legislative interests include transportation, health care, and education. A supporter of abortion rights, he favors increased funding for health care, especially for community health centers. He lists "Buddhist" under "Religion" on his web site, but does not elaborate any further on this private matter.
For the record, he'll be using a Bible for his swearing in photo op according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tosui was a well-known Zen teacher of his time. He had lived in several temples and taught in various provinces.

The last temple he visited accumulated so many adherents that Tosui told them he was going to quit the lecture business entirely. He advised them to disperse and to go wherever they desired. After that no one could find any trace of him.

Three years later one of his disciples discovered him living with some beggars under a bridge in Kyoto. He at once implored Tosui to teach him.

"If you can do as I do for even a couple of days, I might," Tosui replied.

So the former disciple dressed as a beggar and spent a day with Tosui. The following day one of the beggars died. Tosui and his pupil carried the body off at midnight and buried it on a mountainside. After that they returned to their shelter under the bridge.

Tosui slept soundly the remainder of the night, but the disciple could not sleep. When morning came Tosui said: "We do not have to beg food today. Our dead friend has left some over there." But the disciple was unable to eat a single bite of it.

"I have said you could not do as I," concluded Tosui. "Get out of here and do not bother me again."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Some Christmas Thoughts

Christmas day passed without major event. For the most part, it was a quiet and reflective day, and in the evening I opened the Zen Center for only one participant, but was glad that I was there for the one. It's not the number that matters, but the sincerity of the practice.

In other news, at 4:19 am Christmas morning, a Mac user in Portland, Oregon Googled the somewhat improbable words "theories not yet proven cut chemist" and managed to become the 90.000th visitor to Water Dissolves Water. I point this out merely because at my current hit rate (21 per day), it will be a long, long time before I get to the more significant milestone of 100,000 (significant at least to our base-10 numerical system).

But back to Christmas. What, you may ask, does a Zen Buddhist care about Christmas? In response, I ask if am I supposed to ignore the holiday hype, the gift giving, the lights and the trees and the sometimes forced merriment? I'm often amused to observe my Jewish friends try to pretend that they don't acknowledge the existence of the holiday (even though, I notice, they still take the day off from work). Christmas is a cultural event as much (some argue more) than a religious holiday, or as Richard Dawkins, author of "the God Delusion" put it "understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas."

And finally, R.I.P., James Brown.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

Why not try doing something different this coming Christmas?

If you've already stuck your head out the window and into the snow wearing nothing but a thong and a shortie tee, consider coming to the Atlanta Soto Zen Center tomorrow night for an evening meditation service and informal chat.

Tomorrow night, Christmas evening, I will be leading the daily Zen service and you are invited. Meditation starts at 7:30 pm until 8:30, followed by the chat until whenever. If you have no experience with meditation, I will be offering free lessons to anyone who shows up anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes before the service begins.

Learn the ancient tradition of zazen (sitting meditation) as passed down through generations of patriarchs and masters. Learn to transcend all dualities, space and time. Learn to change the pH of a glass of water by one full unit using only your mental abilities. Or maybe just come on down and sit facing a wall for a while.

All are welcome. No rsvp required.

What: Evening meditation service.
Where: Atlanta Soto Zen Center, 1167 Zonolite Place, Atlanta, GA
When: 7:30 p.m. (newcomers please arrive between 7:00 and 7:15)
Cost: Free

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

My enthusiasm wasn't quite as high.

Last night, I went over to visit my friends Nick and Andrea for dinner and some movies. Andrea cooked up some tasty pizzas, and Nick rented a DVD of "Little Miss Sunshine" for the evening. For the record, I brought the wine and a borrowed copy of the three-CD "expanded" version of "What the Bleep Do We Know," entitled "Down the Rabbit Hole."

LMS had two directors and that might lay at the heart of the problem - it seemed to want to be two separate movies. The movie starts off promisingly enough, introducing a cast of characters that comprise a dysfunctional family. There's the father, a failed motivational speaker. His son, an emo kid, reads Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he enters Flight Academy. The son-in-law is a failed academic (once considered the top Proust scholar in the country) who attempted suicide after losing his grad-student lover to the number two Proust scholar in the country. Grandpa's a rebellious, dirty-mouthed old man who was kicked out of his retirement home for taking up heroin as a hobby ("At my age, you'd be crazy not to do heroin."). The daughter has delusional aspirations to be a child beauty contestant, despite her nerdy looks, weight and apparent lack of any discernible talent. I wondered aloud what the wife's character flaw might be, and Andrea suggested it was being married into this family.

Anyway, the movie starts off as a kind of dark and bitter-edged ensemble comedy, something along the lines of "American Beauty," giving each character a chance to spout off a few choice lines, usually at the expense of another character. After getting all of their dirty little secrets out onto the table, almost literally over dinner, the plot then revolves around getting all of these characters into a Volkswagen mini-bus for a road trip from Albuquerque to L.A., and this is where the movie starts to change tone.

The road movie portion starts off consistent with the opening portion, with caustic observations about the frustrations of American culture and each down-on-his-luck character getting an additional kick in the teeth, but soon too-implausible "only in the movies"-type coincidences began to distant this viewer from the film. The film then sort of swings back and forth between dark comedy and pointless side trips (literally in the case of the Dad's dashing off alone on a scooter to Scottsdale to confront his agent), and finally ends in a goofy, "Napoleon Dynamite"-style dance number. It's fun stuff, but doesn't live up to the promise of the opening sequences with their hints of meaningful insight into our human weaknesses as played out by these dysfunctional characters.

The dichotomy between the two films LMS tries to be is apparent in the marketing. I first saw previews for the film at a local art cinema (the movie's produced by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.), which showed much of the opening dinner dialogue, and then cut to everyone getting into the VW bus, thereby only suggesting that the movie features these characters on a road trip. Theatrical marketing for the "American Beauty" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" audience. However, the television ads for the newly released DVD skip the dinner dialogue altogether, and focus on the more madcap moments of the road trip and the ending dance sequence. T.V. marketing for the "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Jackass" fans.

So at this point, you may be concluding that I didn't like the film. To the contrary, I enjoyed it and, in fact, enjoyed it a lot. My only disappointment is that it could have been a far better film if only it had made up its mind and stuck to one style, or possibly one director.

Friday, December 22, 2006

And now for your moment of zen . . .

While I don't normally look to Ziggy for my spiritual inspiration (I can't take a bald-headed cartoon character of indeterminate gender too seriously), I have to admit that Tom Wilson nailed it with this one.

The duck was a nice touch, too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

This is a bit dated, but I had meant to write about it before the feces hit the fan:

Cities Compete in Hipness Battle to Attract Young
By Shaila Dewan

ATLANTA, Nov. 24 — Some cities will do anything they can think of to keep young people from fleeing to a hipper town. In Lansing, Mich., partiers can ease from bar to bar on the new Entertainment Express trolley, part of the state’s Cool Cities Initiative. In Portland, Ore., employees at an advertising firm can watch indie rock concerts at lunch and play “bump,” an abbreviated form of basketball, every afternoon. And in Memphis, employers pay for recruits to be matched with hip young professionals in a sort of corporate Big Brothers program. A new biosciences research park is under construction — not in the suburbs, but downtown, just blocks from the nightlife of Beale Street.

These measures reflect a hard demographic reality: Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains. Cities have long competed over job growth, struggling to revive their downtowns and improve their image. But the latest population trends have forced them to fight for college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future.

Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, “the young and restless,” as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade. They are people who, demographers say, like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.

That disparity was evident in a report released this week by the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which showed Atlanta leading the pack among big cities, while other metro areas, like Philadelphia, hemorrhaged young people from 1990 to 2000. (In this competition, surveys that make a city look good are a favorite opening salvo.)

In that decade, the Atlanta study said, the number of 25- to-34-year-olds with four-year college degrees in the city increased by 46 percent, placing Atlanta in the top five metropolitan areas in terms of growth rate, and a close second to San Francisco in terms of overall numbers. Charlotte, N.C., also outperformed Atlanta, with a growth rate of 57 percent, the second highest in the country after Las Vegas. (Demographers point out that Las Vegas started with very small numbers and still ranks last among major cities when it comes to the percentage of its 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree.)

Atlanta did particularly well with young, educated blacks — a boon for employers seeking to diversify their ranks. The city’s report zeroed in on people like Tiffany Patterson, 27, who on a recent Thursday night was hanging out at Verve, the sleek new Midtown bar and restaurant that is one of her marketing clients.

The place was thrumming with young African-Americans in leather jackets, stilettos or pinstripe suits — the kind of vibe, said Ms. Patterson, who is from Dallas, that made her stay in Atlanta after college. “If I go home, women my age are looking for a husband,” she said. “They have a cubicle job.”

In Atlanta, Ms. Patterson said, she can afford a new town house. A few years ago, she decided to leave her financial sector job and start her own business as a marketing consultant. “I thought, I can break out and do it myself,” she said. “It really is the city of the fearless.”

The recent study, based on census figures and conducted by Joe Cortright of Impresa Consulting in Portland and Carol Coletta, president and chief executive of CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit organization in Chicago, showed that Atlanta won its net gain in educated young people by luring them from New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

“What we’re seeing is the jury of the most skeptical age group in America has looked at Atlanta’s character and likes it,” Sam A. Williams, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said. But Mr. Williams acknowledged the difficulty of replicating that phenomenon on purpose. Had the chamber tried to advertise Atlanta, he said, “we might have screwed it up —because they’re much more trusting of their own network than they are of any marketing campaign.”

“You can’t fake it here,” he said. “You either do it or you don’t.”

In addition to Atlanta, the biggest gainers in market share of the young and restless were San Francisco; Denver; Portland; and Austin, Tex. The biggest losers included Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles.

Studies like Atlanta’s are common these days. From Milwaukee to Tampa Bay, consultants have been hired to score such nebulous indexes as “social capital,” “after hours” and “vitality.” Relocation videos have begun to feature dreadlocks and mosh pits instead of sunsets and duck ponds. In the governor’s race in Michigan this fall, the candidates repeatedly sparred over how best to combat “brain drain.”

But determining exactly what works is not easy. In Atlanta, focus group participants liked the low cost of living, an airport hub that allowed easy travel and what they perceived as a diverse and open culture.

And Atlanta has some strong advantages, of course. There are some 45 colleges and universities in the metro area. The Cartoon Network is based here, as are scores of companies in the technology and entertainment sectors. The music industry is another draw for the creative class. And the city has large international and gay populations, considered strong indicators for popularity with the young and restless.

“Atlanta’s just one of those mixes,” said T. J. Ashiru, 30, a Nigerian who chose Atlanta over New York for college shortly after the 1996 Olympics were held here, and stayed to begin his career in finance. “The Olympics was basically the catalyst for what Atlanta became.”

I had read about the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce study in the local newspapers, but didn't give it much mind - I assumed that it was just local tub-thumping - until I read about it in the journal of record.

My tie-in to all of this is my involvement in the Atlanta Beltline project. If by participating in the increase of this city's transit infrastructure, and the quality-of-life improvements that the associated parks, trails and greenspace will provide, as well as the civic planning, I will have helped make this city more livable and more attractive to the post-Boomers. I will have contributed to the migration of the 25- to 34-year-old black demographic, and that will be a good thing.

The Beltline will be a 22-mile transit loop (the transit authority is now leaning toward modern streetcars) around the heart of the city, with parks, multi-use trails and greenspace along the corridor. It is already attracting new development along its proposed path, even though the first inch of rail has yet to be laid. It's an exciting proposition, and i feel privileged to be working on it.

Speaking of "work," I had my first formal interview today to find new employment. It went very well IMHO, and I was told that if I fax my application in tomorrow, I can expect to see an offer letter in the mail as early as next week. While nothing is guaranteed, it is somewhat satisfying to note that my job search may have consisted of making one single telephone call.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Georgia: Board Yields on Evolution Stickers

Published: December 20, 2006

A suburban Atlanta school board that put stickers in its high school science books saying evolution was “a theory, not a fact” abandoned its legal battle after four years. The board, from Cobb County, agreed in federal court never to use a similar sticker or to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classes. The parents who sued agreed to drop all legal action.

"We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States." - Clarence Darrow

Great. The Scopes Monkey Trial was, let's see now. . . 1925 (thanks, Wikipedia!). In 2006, Georgia finally catches up to the Roaring Twenties, but at least it seems that we've gotten over the Civil War, at least for now.

The parent who led the drive to put the stickers on in the first place, a Ms. Marjorie Rogers, said that the stickers were needed because science books discriminate against people who believe men were created by God, not through a slow process of natural selection. "My problem is that only Darwinian evolution is presented. None of the criticism is presented," Ms. Rogers said.

Georgia is 49th in the nation in education, as measured by SAT scores. Without a proper education, how does the Cobb County school district expect students to "critically consider" their own textbooks? Ask a preacher? Of course, a critical lack of education goes a long way toward explaining Ms. Marjorie Rogers.

The basic problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way science uses the term "theory." Cobb County's logic is seriously flawed - evolution is a theory in the same sense as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease.

This is what scientists mean by "theories:" in the scientific hierarchy, theories are higher than fact, because theories explain facts. Facts are simply individual, isolated, verifiable observations or experimental results. Evolution is a theory that makes sense of millions of facts of natural history -- the age of the earth, the succession of fossils in the fossil record, the genetic capabilities of organisms -- and as such it ties things together in an extraordinary way that has been equaled by few theories in biology.

Should evolution be critically examined? Yes. Everything in science should be critically examined. Science is critical examination. If the disclaimer were to urge that all scientific theories should be critically examined with an eye toward the evidence and contrary points of views and so forth, it would have my complete agreement. However, the Cobb County disclaimer singles out evolution as the only theory that should be critically examined in science.

There are counter-arguments to just about everything in science. The mistake of the disclaimer is to single out evolution for special attention and special criticism as if it alone among scientific theories is uniquely weak, uniquely shaky or uniquely suspect. That is definitely not the case.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cobb County school district incurred legal fees of $276,402, and the fees could have gone as much as $100,000 higher had the school system's attorneys not taken on the appeal in U. S. District Circuit Court pro bono.

"It was a big waste of money," David Chastain, a Cobb school parent and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Cobb County, told the AJC. "There are a lot of other things we could have done with the money, like buy more textbooks or fund more programs for students who don't speak English."

The school district spent $14,243 to have the stickers scraped off the books after the judge ordered them removed in 2005. They reportedly paid students and teachers $10 an hour to get the job done and equipped them with sponges and solvents.

For the record, I moved out of Cobb County in 2004.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The last couple of days have ranged from the chronically uneventful to only mildly eventful.

Sunday, my enthusiasm had hit rock bottom, and I stayed home all day, barely venturing out of the house. I composed Saturday's post on Sunday morning, but other than that, I can't think of anything positive that got accomplished that whole day.

Monday, I had a sort of pre-screening for my first official new job interview. Specifically, I got a call from a senior manager for the firm whose CEO and owner I'm meeting with Thursday. Actually, the senior manager is an old friend of mine, and when he had heard I was meeting with his boss on Thursday, he called me and suggested lunch. We met, we had a good talk, and I'm encouraged that there's mutual interest on both sides regarding my employment there, but although I'm not superstitious, I'm not saying anything more about it right now.

Last night, of course, was my night at the Zen Center. Three people showed up (not bad considering the imminent holidays) and one stayed after the service for a long talk about, of all things, employment. Speaking of synchronicity. . .

I had lunch today with a good, close friend who's still at a firm at which I used to work. She had heard about my situation through the rumor mill (I was wondering how fast the word would spread) and called me giving me what-for for not telling her about it earlier. Anyway, we met for lunch today and she caught me up on all the things going on at the company I used to work at, and inadvertently reinforced my opinion that I definitely did not want to go back there.

Speaking of rumor mills, I also started getting unsolicited telephone calls from head hunters today, but it will be a long time before I'm desperate enough to go that route.

I worked about three hours on Monday, and only one today. Things are ramping down, no doubt about it, and the reality of my situation is becoming more apparent all the time. It's not long before I am out of excuses not to box up everything in my office and move it all on out.

This evening, or late afternoon or whatever you want to call the period from 4:00 to 6:00 pm, was the first meeting of the citizens' advisory committee for the Atlanta Beltline. We spent most of the time just introducing ourselves and getting to know each other, and most of the business discussion regarded the committee by-laws, but I'm hopeful this might be a meaningful way for me to participate in the future growth and shaping of this city. I'll post more on this later when I'm not so self-absorbed with my own situation.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

On What I Want To Do When I Grow Up

Last August, I discussed a telephone conversation that I had with an interesting person I met through the internets. The August post was about her advise concerning dating, but there's something else she asked me that's been on my mind lately. After she had asked me what I did for a living, and I had told her that I was an environmental consultant, she asked me if I enjoyed doing that. I replied that I must, "I've been doing it for over 20 years." She then repeated her question by asking if that's what I loved doing or if that's just what I've been doing out of long habit.

I didn't have an answer.

As a younger man, I was consumed with the idea of creating a career for myself in consultancy and had blurred the distinction between working life and non-working life. I worked typically 12-hour days and still brought work home with me. I socialized primarily with those in the same business as I, tightening and expanding my professional network, and professed that I saw no difference between "work" and "play."

This is not untypical of a man in his 30s. As the years passed, however, I developed other extracurricular activities, beyond the usual distractions of family and leisure, culminating in starting a formal Zen practice in early 2001 and extending into my involvement in civic activities over the past year. These latter interests were not mentioned during my dismissal, but to a degree part of the reason my contribution was not what the company had wanted was that I had become more well-rounded as an individual, and was no longer a one-dimensional, full-time (i.e., 24/7) automaton. Je ne regrette rien.

So life is short, as they say (a ridiculous statement if you think about it: life is the longest thing you will ever experience. Anything longer than your own individual life is just your imagination, not direct experience - you will never know anything longer than your life). But anyway, why squander this precious life doing anything other than what you love? Or to put the question to myself more specifically, why not use this opportunity to move my career from what I've always done to what I love to do?

I see a couple of problems there. First, don't assume that I know what I would love to do. I've not been harboring an urge for all these years to, say, drive a big rig across the country or to write a book about Tuscan vegetarian recipes. And while I obviously love my Zen practice and my civic activities (I wouldn't be doing them for free if I didn't get some satisfaction from them), I'm not sure that these are things I want to do exclusively and for a living.

Also, I think that setting oneself a goal of doing what one loves can quickly become doing only what one what loves, and thereby increase one's dissatisfaction with any moment one finds oneself doing something, anything, other than that beloved activity. The Buddha said that not getting what one wants is suffering and dissociation with the pleasant is suffering. Focusing your goal on doing only what you love sets yourself up for disappointment, longing and suffering.

And finally, there's materialism. Due to my previous karma, born of my own ignorance and greed, I find myself currently in the third year of a 30-year home mortgage, the second year of a five-year note of the Lexus, and other financial obligations. Various entities expect me to live up to the financial obligations that I've made, and as a result I have certain minimum salary requirements I have to meet. As Tyler Durden pointed out, "The things you own, end up owning you."

Of course there are ways out of these obligations (I can sell the house, for example). But the easiest way I know of to satisfy these obligations is to continue on in the career path that I've initiated. And since momentum is everything in consulting (the consultant who disappears from view for an extended period of time is an ex-consultant), if I don't continue on this path, it will no longer exist.

Those of my generation might remember certain juggling acts once featured on televised variety shows like Ed Sullivan, where the juggler has several plates spinning on the ends of long poles, and needs to keep shaking one pole after another to keep all of the plates spinning. Tension is created as it always seems that at least one plate has lost all of its momentum and is about to stop spinning and crash to the floor, but at the very last possible moment, or even what appears to be one micro-second past the last possible moment, the juggler finally grabs that pole and gets the plate back to spinning again, even as another is starting to slow down. And even after he has all of his several plates up and spinning, and is quite busy jumping from one pole to the next to keep them all in motion, he incredibly, impossibly, sets up still more poles and plates.

It often seems to me that our lives are like this - we're constantly working on keeping at least one plate spinning, and then have to jump to the next just before it crashes, and then the next and then the next, all while life keeps setting up more plates on poles for us to maintain.

So while the question of whether I am doing that which I love is an interesting one, and one that everyone should ask themselves once in a while, I tend to agree with the Taoists who would advise to keep following the path you're on, and true contentment will come when you learn to accept who and what you actually are. I further agree with the Buddhist amplification of this idea, that true acceptance of who you actually are is total acceptance of everything, including acceptance of your aspirations and goals. In other words, it's okay to have aspirations and goals, just don't get too attached to them.

So what then would I love to do with the next few years of my life?

Friday, December 15, 2006

"What We Got Here Is a Failure at Unemployment"

I woke up this morning and discovered 22 weeks of salary directly deposited into my bank account (16 weeks severance and 6 weeks unused vacation). The unemployment fairy had obviously visited last night.

Concerning my still-busy schedule, predominantly at the very firm that recently let me go, Greensmile (aka the Data Doctor of Operation Democracy), noted "You are a failure at unemployment in that you have failed to actually be unemployed." Humorous point, but it has me wondering if my enthusiasm for wrapping up projects and putting my clients first has under it the psychological motive of denial of my current situation. It's been over two weeks since the axe fell, and i have yet to clean out my office, and I've only told a very small handful of people about my situation (excluding, of course, the entire world through this blog). To all outward appearances, I'm still gainfully employed as before, showing up at the same office, producing project reports, sending email, and so on and so forth, while still drawing a paycheck (on an hourly basis, albeit at 1.5 times my old salary). It could be that the contrarian in me is relishing showing management that they're wrong about my contribution to their operation, or it could also be a form of denial concerning my termination. But whatever, I'm too busy to worry about that now.

Jon Mayo, who synchronistically has found himself in the same situation as I, wonders, "Isn't Zen exactly about kicking away habits and concepts that keep us away from the true perception or reality and, in the end, of ourselves? What better for that than being kicked from a job?" Interesting thought, and as I had noted earlier, for years my profession was a large part of my sense of self identity, just as a marriage is a large part of a husband's or wife's sense, and a child is a large part of a parent's identity. Divorce or the loss of a child is so traumatic partly because it also challenges one's concept of the ego-self. The loss of my job takes me back at the essential question of who or what I actually am, when all role models, societal functions, et cetera are stripped away (pop quiz: tell me who you are without mentioning others). Zen does not offer an alternative role ("Roles give you cramps," as the Au Pairs once sang), but is a direct pointing to the emptiness of existence, which is not as bleak as the existential associations you're probably putting on that phrase right this minute.

I am not Melissa's father, although I may or may not have fathered Melissa some 19 or 20 or so years ago (an interesting post for some future date). I am not my former company's employee, especially now that I've been let go, nor am I their ex-employee. (Not to confuse the issue, but I am also not not their ex-employee, nor am I not not possibly Melissa's father.)

Anyway, today I took it easy. I got up late, and after noticing the deposit in my bank account, decided not to go to the office. I replied, remotely, to a few emails and talked with a prospective client about a new project I hope to bring to my next firm, whomever that might be (I have interviews next week). I watched some cable movies on daytime t.v. I still have a few things that need to be done in the office, but they can easily wait until Monday. Meanwhile, there's no reason I can't just sit back and be myself, or just sit (shikantaza) and be.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

So I Got Axed

Doesn't mean I'm still not busy working.

Even as I was being told that I was being let go, my mind was wondering how I was going to complete my commitments to clients. Can't write a report if I'm not there anymore.

For that reason, I accepted the offer to continue on for a "limited time" on an hourly basis to wrap up some of my current projects. The irony is that December has turned out to be one of my busiest times in the last couple of years. I had been telling management this was coming for a while now, but I guess the message didn't get through.

Anyway, my hourly, part-time appointment has led to some almost surreal moments, such as flying last week back to Pascagoula, my second home for much of the summer before last, to assist that client. Today, I had a meeting in the morning with the state environmental agency to plead a case on behalf of another client, then returned to the office to oversee production and publication of a report for a third client, and then I addressed comments on a draft report for still yet another client. Busy day. Meanwhile, I'm still opening the zendo every Monday night and representing the neighborhood on the Atlanta Beltline project.

Who knew unemployment would be such hard work?

Regarding yesterday's post, I was asked, "Has your blogging activity contributed in some way to your present situation?"

I don't believe so. At least it was never mentioned to me, and I never blogged from the office (okay, once or twice over the past three years I might have cut and pasted something I was reading during the day into Blogger for later commentary, but I was always quick and discrete). Also, I've always been careful to never be specific about work, my employer, my clients, and so on. Tony Pierce, author of How to Blog, writes, "Don't write about your work unless you don't care about getting fired." I cared so I didn't, for all the good it wound up doing me.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is I'm keeping busy, I'm still making some money, and I've got some interviews scheduled for next week. Things aren't bad. I get to sleep late, work when I feel like it, and leave when I want. I'm also getting to practice humility and tolerance, and I'm getting to show others that one can still be gracious and grateful in the face of adversity.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

“First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”
- Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross

Those of you who’ve noticed by absence from the blogosphere may have wondered where I’ve been and why I haven’t been updating Water Dissolves Water. The truth is, there’s been a lot going on, but frankly, I’ve been too timid to even talk about it, much less blog about it.

I’ve found it difficult to tell friends what’s happened. I’ve found it difficult to admit to myself what has happened. Hell, I’m even having a hard time now putting it into words, but here I go:

I've drawn third prize. I’ve lost my job.

Or, as the Termination Agreement puts it, my employer and I came to a mutual decision that it was in both of our best interests to part ways.

Not knowing who all reads this blog, I had initially decided not to talk about it here. After all, I might somehow jeopardize my chances for a new position by talking about it too publicly. I might add more grist to some imaginary rumor mill (a small part of my mind still imagines that all conversations at which I'm not present are somehow about me). But the more I looked at my motivations, the more I realized that it was just foolish pride that was keeping me from admitting what had happened.

As Tom Wolfe relates in A Man In Full:

“Let’s think about real life for a second. Let’s think about a situation in which you lose everything . . . you lose everything! You see what I’m saying? You lose everything, the house where you live, your income, your cars – everything. You’re out on the street. You don’t know where your next meal’s coming from. What good does a lot of high-sounding ideals mean then?”

The boy said, “Many of Epictetus’ disciples asked him that exact same thing, and you know what he told them?”

“No, what?”

“Have you ever seen an old beggar?” The kid’s eyes were boring right into him.

“You’re asking me?”


“Sure I have,” said Charlie, “plenty of them.”

“See? They’ve gotten by,” said the boy. “They’ve managed to get food to eat, 365 days a year, probably. They’re not starving. What makes you think they can all find food, and you wouldn’t be able to?”

“What kinda consolation is that supposed to be? I’d rather die than go around with a cup in my hand.”

The boy smiled, and his eyes brightened. “Epictetus talks about exactly that, Mr. Croker. He says, ‘You’re not afraid of starving, you’re afraid of losing face.”
And for me, that’s really what it came down to – fear of losing face. Embarrassment at admitting my unemployment. I’ve been continuously, full-time employed since September 1980, and have left every job during those years entirely of my own volition. For years, my profession was a large part of my self identity, until Zen finally got me out of that trap, but now I find myself in a new and somewhat uncomfortable position – out of work and looking for new employment.

There’s really nothing for me to worry about. I was given a most generous severance package – sixteen weeks salary plus six more weeks of unused vacation. It’s not like I’m going to starve anytime soon. In fact, if I find a new job within the next 22 weeks or so, I might even realize a financial windfall.

In addition, I’m now wrapping up some of my old projects on an hourly basis, getting paid at my old salary times 1.5. And yet my mind, conditioned to worry and unconditioned to not being in control, keeps fantasizing nightmare scenarios of the worse that could happen.

“Charlie closed his eyes and tried to imagine it. He’s out on the street. What street? Blackland Road? All he’d get there would be an occasional puff of BMW fumes or a piece of gravel dislodged from a tire tread. So where? Peachtree Street? Nobody even walks on Peachtree Street, and so who’s going to stop his Mercedes or Infiniti to give Charlie Croaker a quarter? Maybe he could take his tin cup into the parking lot at the Lenox Square mall. But they’ve probably got security personnel to chase hooples who come wandering in on foot out of there before they can hunker down on the pavement and set out their sign saying, “Please help me. Need $28 more so I can get back home to Mobile. No advice, enlightenment, or root-causes conversations, please.”
So there, I’ve said it, and I already regret the fact that over the last two weeks, when my life has finally gotten sort of interesting, I haven’t been documenting it here in my journal. Perhaps now I can change that.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It's Not Thanksgiving Without a Little Burroughs

Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986 -

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.

Thanks for a continent to be spoiled and poisoned.

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving their carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feelin' their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs.

Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind his own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the memories . . . ("Alright, let's see your arms"). . . ("You always were a headache and you always were a bore")

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Speaking of Turkey (warning: awkward segue), controversy over Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide has recently re-surfaced due to the nation's desire to join the European Union. But before President Bush and his soon-to-be ex-Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton wag too pious a finger at Istanbul, we need to remember that this country too was founded on genocide.

The natives of the eastern shore were friendly during initial encounters with the white colonists, though when one native allegedly stole a silver cup, an English captain and his men torched an entire village in retribution.

Myles Standish pretended to be a trader and beheaded an Indian man named Wituwamat - he brought his head to Plymouth where it was displayed on a wooden spike for years as a symbol of "white power." Standish had the Indian man's young brother hanged from the rafters for good measure.

Entries from Governor William Bradford's diary included:

"To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they GAVE PRAISE THEREOF TO GOD."


"It pleased God to visite these Indeans with a great sickness, and such a mortalitie that of a 1000 and a halfe of them dyed, and many of them did rott above ground for want of burial."

The early colonies waged war and succesfully eradicated the native inhabitants of the east coast, namely Powhattan's confederacy, the Narragansetts, and the Pequots. More people came from Europe, and more space was needed. The colonists forced an awful choice on the natives: migrate, or go to war with us. Through uncountable wars and skirmishes and loss of thousands and thousands of lives, the American Indian was ousted from his/her land in all corners of the continent.

Howard Zinn's "A People's History of America" documents the endless series of promises made to various Indian tribes. Of the 350 treaties made with the Indians, every one has been subsequently broken.

Thomas Jefferson told Congress that the Indians should be encouraged to farm small plots of land, to quit hunting, to trade with whites and to incur debts that they would have to pay off with huge tracts of land. He also said, "Two measures are deemed expedient. First to encourage them to abandon hunting. . . Secondly, to multiply trading houses among them. . . leading them thus to agriculture, to manufacturers, and civilization." Zinn points out that Jefferson echoes clearly the point of Karl Marx, who states, "It [capitalism, the bourgeoisie] compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production, it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst."

Andrew Jackson instructed an Army major to tell the Choctaws and Cherokees that they would be given land, outside of the state of Mississippi (their homeland) in which they could be free, and he would protect them as their white father. They could have the land "as long as Grass grows or water runs." This eloquent lie became famous for its symbolic falseness, as it epitomized the whites' ability to make grand promises that kept changing and changing to meet the needs of their growing society, while never considering the lives of the people who lived on the land first (consider the plight of the Dakota, and Crazy Horse). Forced migration and land grubbing by the whites eventually encompassed the entire continent.

Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; on the same day, he ordered troops to march against the Sioux in Minnesota. He subsequently ordered 38 Santee Sioux hung on Christmas Eve for leaving the reservation in search of food.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians; but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't inquire too closely into the case of the tenth."

So, for as long as I've been maintaining this blog, every Thanksgiving I've posted Burrough's prayer. Some have complained that it's too cynical ("Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger"). Given our dreadful history, and the selective national amnesia our country displays each Thanksgiving day, I say it's not cynical enough.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

By 10:30 yesterday morning, at a time before I've usually finished my first cup of coffee, I had a pretty blonde wash my mouth out with soap and I had paid a Pakistani man $15 to stick his finger up my ass.

Perhaps I should explain.

In an attempt to manage my time well, I booked myself with back-to-back dentist and doctor appointments for first thing in the morning. A dental hygienist, the pretty blonde, scrapped and poked at my teeth with various metal instruments before polishing them with some sort of dental buffing device, and then used baking soda in what felt like a sand blasting procedure - the washing my mouth out with soap of which I spoke.

Immediately after the dentist, I drove over to visit my urologist for a six-month check on my PSA after last year's prostate cancer scare (to those of you new to this blog, I'm fine). Anyway, after I coughed up my $15 co-pay, the doctor, a decent enough professional of Pakistani descent, performed the "digital examination" of my prostate, a procedure I'm glad doesn't need repeating more than twice a year.

But that's not what I want to blog about today. What's interesting to me was the news relayed to me yesterday morning by the hygienist, namely that my former ex-girlfriend L., also a patient of the same dentist, has moved to New York City.

She hadn't bothered to say "goodbye."

But my point here is not to cry in my beer over her departure, but to observe my changing perceptions about her, about our relationship, about life in general. When we were together, I thought she was just about perfect, or at least perfect for me. I was so happy and I loved her so much. After we broke up, I started to see things differently - her contempt for me, my constant inability to live up to her expectations and to get her to see me as her equal, how we were constantly on the verge of ending the relationship. What a fool I'd been, I would think, how could I have thought I was happy when I was so obviously miserable, how could I think she was so worthy when she was so obviously self-centered?

With all the hours I'd spent in Zen meditation, examining my mind, it astounded me that I still had such a capacity for self-deception.

But then I looked at it a little deeper, and thought that if I still had the capacity for self-deception then, might not I still have it now? After all, in which condition was a man more prone to self-deception - with a loving heart or while trying to protect a wounded ego? So which view was correct - L. the goddess or L. the bitch?

Eventually, I found the Middle Way, realizing all opinions and attitudes are provisional and subject to change - today's enemy might be tomorrow's friend, and vice versa. Therefore, we shouldn't cling to out impermanent and ever changing moods and ideas; it's all relative.

And with that attitude, I found some peace, and accepted that I should just enjoy the brief moments of pleasure as they come, and not hang on or try to preserve them. L. and I had our good times and our bad times, and now they're all in the past, but meanwhile, what's happening in the here and now?

Well, apparently, in the here and now, or rather the there and then when the hygienist told be that L. had moved out of town, the peace was shattered and a million conflicting emotions were raging in my mind. Feelings of anger and abandonment, acceptance that things with her were now forever in the past with no chance now for reconciliation, relief that I was not going to run into her around town someday, and even happiness that she got what she always had wanted - a good job offer in the Big Apple (I found a press announcement through Google from her new firm, and she does indeed seem to be far better employed now). But mostly I just felt confusion that I could be experiencing all of these different emotions at the same time.

And I still had the Pakistani Doctor to look forward to.

One day, the Buddha picked up a bell and rang it, asking his disciple, "Subhuti, can you now hear the bell?"

"Yes, Bhagvan, I can," Subhuti replied.

The Buddha stopped ringing the bell and asked, "Subhuti, can you now hear the bell?"

"No, I can't, Bhagvan," Subhuti replied.

"Subhuti, how can you keep these two conflicting views in your mind?," the Buddha asked.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The dreadful weather I encountered in Boston seems to have followed me back to Georgia. Intense downpours at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport delayed my flight Wednesday night, and I didn't wind up getting home until nearly midnight.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "The storm system that spawned damaging tornadoes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama weakened by the time it reached Georgia, but still managed to dump record rainfall in Atlanta on Wednesday. The deluge caused a few minor problems across metro Atlanta. About 50 homes in the Collier Hills neighborhood were without power just before daybreak Thursday after a tree toppled onto power lines, then crushed two cars and damaged a pickup truck.

"The storms had moved eastward into the Carolinas by Thursday morning. The National Weather Service said 2.87 inches of rain was recorded by the city's official rain gauge at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the most ever on Nov. 15. The old record for the date was 1.94 inches, set in 1914. The heavy rain also erased the city's rainfall deficit for the year. The 44.80 inches of rain so far this year is .17 inch above normal, the Weather Service said."

Fortunately, my home was not one of the 50 in Collier Hills to lose power, but my driveway was impassable due to all the wet leaves. My driveway has always been steep, but the loss of traction due to the large quantity of freshly fallen leaves caused my car to spin out and halt about halfway up the hill. I slid back down, backed up a little, gunned it and tried again. Only halfway up that time. I tried a third, and a fourth before finally making it with squealing tires on the fifth attempt.

Finally getting in the house, I found that my high-speed internet access was out Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Thursday was not quite as rainy, but still overcast and glum, and when I got home Thursday night, it took me three attempts to make it up the driveway. And the internet access was still out. Friday morning, too.

By Friday evening, I decided to call Comcast tech support, who put me through various drills ("Unplug your modem and them plug it back in. Turn off your computer and turn it back on. Simon says. . ."). When Techie Number One couldn't help me, I was connected to Techie Number Two, who walked me through various tests of my IP address before finally giving up ("I can't help you. I'm giving up. Sorry it didn't work out. You might want to try your computer's manufacturer.").

I tried everything I could think of, even removing my Norton Firewall and virus protection. Nothing. Saturday morning, the connection was still down, but when I passed by the computer a little while ago earlier this afternoon, I noticed that the Google Talk icon down in the system tray was active, and thinking that might mean that somehow I miraculously got back on line, I tried, and lo and behold, there you all were, right where you've always been.

No idea what's going on. One of those things. In the words of the now unemployed Donald Rumsfeld, stuff happens.

But excuse me now, I have some leaves on my driveway that need blowing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Last day in Boston: This morning was the closest to a "nice" weather day I've seen in Boston since Saturday, but I still took a cab back to the Convention Center rather than walk or taking the T since I had to check out of the hotel and therefore carry my luggage with me. The view above was from my hotel window at about 7:oo am.

In the cab, I saw a Silver Line bus on Washington Ave. (St.?), dispelling my illusion that the tandem buses weren't street ready. At the end of the day, I took the Silver Line to the airport, schlepping my luggage along with me, and further noticed that the buses were running on overhead electric, not diesel. I don't recall whether the bus on Washington was electric or diesel.

This is being typed on the Logan Airport wi-fi ($7.95/day). I arrived here early (4:30) for my 6:30 flight, and now the flight has been delayed to a 7:30 departure and a 10:00 pm arrival in Atlanta. Even assuming that the flight sticks to its revised schedule and is not further delayed, by the time I pick up my checked luggage, get my car out of the park-and-ride and drive home, it will be midnight. So if you work with me, don't expect to see my fat ass in the office too early.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Boston, Day Four - This morning I discovered that I didn't need to have gotten soaked in the rain last night walking from the Convention Center to South Station - there's a stop, World Trade Center, right across the street from the Convention Center on the Silver Line. I hadn't even known there was a Silver Line - there wasn't one when I lived here in Boston back in the '70s.

This morning, though, it was still raining, so I walked from the Radisson to Boylston Station and took the Red Line to Park, switched to the Green Line and rode it to South Station, and then got on the newly-discovered Silver Line to the WTC and walked over to the Massachusetts Convention and Conference Center (MCCA, although every time I see the initials, I think "Macaca").

Anyway, the Silver Line was a double revelation to me - the first was its mere existence, and second it was my first experience riding on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). BRT has been proposed for Atlanta's Beltline, much to the disappointment on most residents, who were hoping for light rail. Their complaints are two-fold: first, that roads, as opposed to rails, for the buses might mean that cars might later ride on the Beltline, which would then just devolve into yet another highway. The second concern, especially in my neighborhood where the path for the Beltline rail is not quite as apparent as elsewhere, is that the buses will run on our city streets, further congesting our already traffic-choked roads.

However, I could see from this morning's BRT ride that if the Beltline is developed anything like the Silver Line, these fears are unfounded. The roadway for the BRT was way too narrow for anything but a professional driver in the bus - the BRT path is nothing like a city street. In addition, the linked buses looked like they wouldn't be able to navigate very well on city streets, relieving the second concern.

All in all, the BRT experience felt very much like the light-rail experience - the bus pulled into the South Street Station Silver Line stop just like the streetcars do, the doors opened just like on the streetcars and the seats were arranged just like the streetcars. The bus proceeded through the subway tunnel just like a streetcar, and even after it came aboveground just at the WTC, the "road" still resembled track more than it resembled something you'd drive a car along.

None of these observations will be popular among the Beltline advocates who are dismayed by the very idea of it going BRT. However, based on my Silver Line ride this morning, I think the concept is compatible with the Beltline.

Oh, by the way, for no other reason than that the rain finally stopped and I could use the exercise after sitting at the conference all day, I chose to walk home tonight rather than take the Silver Line again. A nice night for walking, and the view out my window finally cleared up.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bush should have stayed true to form and replaced Rumsfeld with Condi, just like he replaced Powell with Rice. She looks like she could clean things up in Iraq!

But anyway, it's soggy and dreary here in Boston. I walked the 1.5 miles from the Radisson to the Convention Center this morning in the damp brisk dawn air, and spent the day listening to speakers on the subjects of Smart Growth and Brownfield Redevelopments. It was raining harder by the end of the day, so I took the T from South Station to Boylston, changing from the Red Line to the Green Line at Park, to get home (I sound so Bostonian, don't I?).

After a day of hearing the praises of Smart Growth and the New Urbanism, I was tickled to see Greensmile's comments about yesterday's post on The Big Dig, namely, "What pisses me off is that [1] they made it faster to get into a town with a car and didn't add one damn parking place and [2] with a small part of the cost overruns, they could have extened all the subways by a mile or added 5 miles to the bus routes...thus eliminating the need for all of the new road capacity except the new harbor tunnels."

Agreed, and it makes me grateful to be involved with Atlanta's Beltline development, the first major urban proposal in the South that doesn't include four lanes of new highway, that couldn't qualify for a NASCAR track if the commuters were to abandon it.

The forecast tomorrow is for continued crappy weather, with a shitty front moving in sometime tomorrow afternoon. I may have to break down and take a cab to the Convention Center.

Reporting live from Boston, I'm etc.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I'm typing in this entry while sitting at a Mac in my mother's kitchen.

I'm not a big fan of Macs - especially this one sitting in my mother's kitchen. I know they have their fans - apparently devoted ones based on their brand loyalty - but I simply think they know not what they're missing.

Anyway, I'm in Boston, having successfully navigated Delta's air transit system between Hartsfield and Logan. From the airport, I took a cab to Mom's house, which had to detour through Chinatown (the cab, not my Mom's house) because the bridge between the airport and the Mass Pike is still closed after partially collapsing last summer and killing a hapless motorist.

I don't know how much Massachusetts had to pay for the "Big Dig," but if I were them, I would be pretty upset to have to have it closed for repairs a mere few months after opening. If that had happened in Georgia, someone would be out of a job by now.

Republicans are probably wondering how we could blame this on Clinton.

Anyway, shortly after arriving at Mom's, she and I headed up to the Town of Methuen, Mass. for dinner and visiting at my sister and brother-in-law's house. A fine time was had by all.

And that's about it so far. Today, we'll watch the Patriot's game (american football), apparently a Boston ritual, and then I check into my Downtown Hotel for the rest of the week.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Kind of puts the fun back in flying, doesn't it?
As I said yesterday, I'm off to Boston. Be back in a few days.

Friday, November 10, 2006

As everyone knows, the political news just seems to be getting better and better, from Rumsfeld's resignation to George Allen's concession and the associated Democratic control of the Senate; from Ken Melman stepping down to Katharine Harris subject to a recount in Florida (karma, anyone?); from doubts about John Bolton's future career to the dawning of a new age of rational climate change and energy policy. It's easy to get giddy right now, until one starts to notice great Calvinistic clouds of self-doubt beginning to form around one's head.

No, this election wasn't about any sort of national embracement of Democratic ideals and policies - whatever they were. Hell, the Dem's barely articulated any coherent platform and when they did finally open their mouths, it managed to come out as an insult to the troops.

No, this election was a rejection of the status quo, a national turning away from the sleaze and corruption of the past few years, and dissatisfaction with a costly and an increasingly apparent pointless war. But it had nothing to do with any sort of raising of the national consciousness.

I don't mean to be a Gloomy Gus, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It's just that liberals and progressives need to keep in mind the realpolitik that they've lucked into office by being the guys not responsible for the current mess - not necessarily the guys with a better plan. Right now, John McCain has a better chance of becoming the next President than Hillary Clinton, and the nation still doesn't understand John Kerry.

On an up-note, things generally work better when the Congress and the Presidency are in the hands of different parties, and the Dems seem to have stumbled onto the formula for getting themselves elected (moderation in the south and midwest, liberalism in the west and northeast) and look like they're going to stick to that script for a while.

Anyway, that's it for now on politics. I've never been good at articulating political theory, and although I leave tomorrow morning for Boston, Massachusetts, home of Ted Kennedy and a brand-new governor, I'll let the pundits and the partisans pontificate on politics from here on in.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Political Post

I keep tellimg myself that this blog shouldn't go political, but sometimes the news just gets too good to pass up:

PIERRE, S.D. - A woman who died two months ago won a county commissioner's race in Jerauld County on Tuesday.

But no, not that news, but this - the day after the Democrats have regained control of the House after 12 years, and seem assured of having a majority in the Senate as well (barring any Katharine Harris-style highjinks), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld finally resigns!

I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A dead woman won re-election to a school board in rural Alaska after her opponent lost a coin flip meant to break an electoral tie.

HOUSTON - A slick new campaign mailer shows a smiling Republican state Rep. Glenda Dawson meeting with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. It reminds voters of Dawson's many notable achievements in education, economics and politics. What the ad doesn't say is that Dawson has been dead since September.

Ah, Texas. . . with dead Republicans running for office, you have to wonder how Kinky Friedman came in third in the Governor's race.

Not that things are much better other places. I live in Georgia, so I ought not to point a finger too much, but New York's new statewide database of registered voters contains as many as 77,000 dead people on its rolls, and as many as 2,600 of them have cast votes from the grave, according to an analysis by the Poughkeepsie Journal.

But, I'm already off-message. I didn't come here to talk about Rummy or dead Republicans. I came here to talk about the effects of yesterday's midterm election on environmental policy. See how easily I get distracted on politics?

Many enviros have cited yesterday's Democratic victories as a possible indicator of change to the country's environmental and global-warming policies. After all, eco-enemies like Richard Pombo were defeated, and green-leaning governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jennifer Granholm (Michigan) got reseated, and incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi has a long record of environmental activism, including very vocal support on getting the Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic in drinking water reduced.

However, there is very little chance the power shift will alter Bush's opposition to binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions per the Kyoto Protocol, which he rejected in 2001 incurring the wrath of environmentalists everywhere.

Delegates and observers gathered in Nairobi for a UN climate-change conference aimed at finding a replacement for Kyoto, which expires in 2012, said Republican losses should help the environment. "This is good news for climate," said World Wildlife Federation climate-change director Hans Verolme, optimistic that Democratic control of Congress could lead to pressure on the administration to boost efforts to combat climate change. "You will see a lot of pressure on the administration to work on domestic policies that will have a positive impact on the environment as a result of the US midterm elections," he said.

"The main message from the results. . . is that the U.S. is moving substantially in the right direction, and climate is very much front and center on the political agenda in the U.S.," said Steve Sawyer, a spokesman for Greenpeace. "(But) it still doesn't mean that we're going to have national binding emissions caps in the U.S."

John Coequyt, a Greenpeace energy policy advisor, agreed that the elections may have showed greater environmental awareness among U.S. voters, but warned against exuberance, noting the polls were largely a referendum on the Iraq war, scandals and the economy. "For delegates here, it's not going to have an impact on negotiations," he said, referring to the talks in Nairobi. Still, he said, some U.S. races showed promise, particularly the re-election of Schwarzenegger, a Republican who is at deep odd with the administration over global warming. "There are a number of elections that were decided by environmental issues. You can make the argument that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger won his re-election based on climate change," Coequyt said.

However, voters in California also rejected a renewable-energy oil tax endorsed by both Bill Clinton and Julia Roberts.

Also in California, seven-term Rep. Richard Pombo was defeated by a last-minute onslaught of campaigning by well-financed environmental groups supporting Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney, a left-leaning energy consultant who heads a company that manufactures wind turbines. National politicians on both sides of the aisle considered the race to be a high-stakes battle, with Bill Clinton stumping for McNerney and both the President and the First Lady rallying on Pombo's behalf in the campaign's final stretch.

Pombo, 45, chair of the House Resources Committee, was targeted by environmental groups riled over his support for offshore and Alaskan oil drilling and making the Endangered Species Act more palatable to land owners. McNerney, 55, has advocated devoting more government money to alternative energy sources.

As recently as three months ago, McNerney was an underdog not even supported by his own party. But more recent polls showed McNerney gaining as Pombo faced anger from voters over his stay-the-course stance on Iraq and links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The race was an expensive one, with campaign contributions of more than $2.5 million pouring in on both sides. McNerney, largely funded by environmentalists, received a last-minute infusion of cash from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had previously considered the district unwinnable. The GOP devoted more than $1 million to shore up Pombo's campaign.

McNerney won.

Meanwhile, Missouri passed the Stem Cell bill. The rabid, insane Christian right are screaming that the bill will allow human cloning, although it expressly forbids human cloning. My greatest fear following this election, however, was planted in my mind by idrmrsr, namely that Nancy Pelosi will take me to a camp and milk me of my semen even while I sleep to fertlize eggs and produce embryos to cure Michael J. Fox.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts - for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang

Blogger doesn't seem to be in a mood to let me post pictures this evening, so my Election Day blog had to go live.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Making Music

The weekend before last, my friend Nick came by and helped me set up some of his music software on my computer.

I'm not sure if I forgive him. Because I spent all of last Saturday playing and experimenting with the programs. I possess neither musical instruments nor musical abilities, so I just grabbed a bunch of random sound files that I found over on usenet, and after several hours, this was the best that I could come up with. I started in the mid- to late afternoon, and when I finished, I looked at the clock and it was almost 4 a.m. (at least it was Fall-Back Day, the national holiday for getting an extra hours sleep).

I listened to the piece over again the next Sunday morning (okay, afternoon, but it felt like morning after the late night before) and decided that I had to be able to do better than that. Surfing the net for inspiration, I found this web site where Brian Eno and David Byrne have put up all the tracks used for two of the songs from their groundbreaking "My Life In the Bush of Ghosts" (1981). They're encouraging the world to "edit, remix, sample and mutilate these tracks" any way one wants, so I took them up on their offer and generosity (I can't think of any other artists who've put their actual raw tracks on line like this), and went to work.

By the way, with every passing year, Brian Eno and I are starting to look more and more alike.

Anyway, armed with all of their cool multi-instrument percussion and other musical tracks, I fired up the software again, and came up with this. A small improvment, but too derivative of the original in my opinion (the more I tried to "improve" the track, the closer it got to sounding like "Help Me Somebody" from MLITBOG).

Anyway, I've started. I can see now that any free time that I might have thought I had left will now be taken up with looping, mixing, fading and syncing music tracks, and for that I can't really blame Nick (after all, I saw it coming).

For the record, the two tracks from last weekend are titled "The Cosmic Flame" and "Earth People." Yes, I know they're wierd.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It seems that my desire to do other things has become greater than my desire to blog, or to put it more accurately, it seems that my desire to maintain this blog on a more-or-less daily basis has become second to other desires.

Free will - we always do what we want, ultimately. Oh sure, sometimes we might think "I don't want to do what I'm doing now," but actually we prefer doing that thing we think we don't want to do more than we want the opposite.

Let me give you an example: Suppose you don't want to go to the Opera. No problem, I can relate to that. But on the other hand, your wife wants to go and for you to join her, and you don't want to disappoint her (to look at the half-full portion of the glass; the half-empty portion is you don't want to deal with her anger and nagging if you don't go). Further, you don't want to seem uncultured or poorly educated. If these latter desires (domestic tranquility and social status) outweigh the former (abhorrence of caterwauling), you'll go listen to the Opera that you had wanted to avoid.

There are many things like this. If a fugitive's desire not to be caught is greater than justice's desire to capture him, he will stay on the lam. Sure, talent plays a part in this - if the world's greatest tracker, say, is searching, if only half-heartedly, for a mentally defective jailbird, he'll probably find him, no matter how badly the unfortunate jailbird wants to stay free. But at some point, the two curves do cross and if the world's greatest tracker simply does not care whether or not his prey is ever caught, and meanwhile, the jailbird is making a consistent, concerted and conscientious effort to do everything he can think of, despite his handicap, to stay free, well then, he'll probably never get caught. David, on occasion, really does beat Goliath.

Actually, though, it doesn't really take that much effort to catch a fugitive. The great will to stay at large sooner or later is overcome by a desire to relax and finally live a "normal" life, and sooner or later most, except for the most exceptionally motivated fugitives, give up the great effort to remain at large and get lazy or get careless and wind up getting captured. The pursuer merely needs to expend a modicum of effort to maintain the search and wait for their two separate willpower lines to cross on the desire-vs-motivation graph.

Take Eric Rudolph. After bombing several Atlanta and Birmingham abortion clinics and the 1996 Olympics, his initial desire to stay free must have been very large, as he remained at large living off the land (and possibly the kindness of sympathetic homeowners) in the North Carolina mountains. His desire to not be caught was simply greater than that of the posses, search parties and Federal agents out hunting for him. But after a few freezing winters of breaking into abandoned cottages and eating out of dumpsters, his desire for comfort overcame his desire for freedom, and he got caught by a policeman who was not even specifically looking for him, just checking out the vagrant reported behind the Pizza Hut in Murphy, North Carolina.

Bin Laden's an example of the other extreme. If the United States and its "allies" were really committed to finding him and bringing him to justice, committed as much as they are to say, blundering in Iraq or perpetuating their own regimes, they would be able to flush him out of whichever cave in northern Pakistan he's chosen for this winter. However, Bin Laden's will to remain at large for the rest of his natural life will probably always exceed bourgeois desires for comfort, and his idea of "normal" probably doesn't include running a Visa card at a Walmart Supercenter or attending his high-school reunion, so unless a truly dramatic shift in America's political will were to occur, Bin Laden will probably never be caught alive.

But anyway, I 0nce had a desire, a will, for some unfathomable reason to maintain this blog on a daily basis. It wasn't always easy and it wasn't always practical, and sometimes the quality of the posts suffered for lack of sufficient attention and sometimes I cheated and backdated an entry, but I kept up with the daily blogging as best I could, despite my job, despite the endless after-hour meetings, despite what passes for my social life.

But at some point, 'round about late August looking at my blog dates, I began to lose interest in saying something, anything, every single day. I tried to compensate for my lack of interest by taking on the discipline of a dharma-based structure, but that approach only made things worse - without allowing myself the freedom to speak my mind, the blogging started to seem a true burden and a chore, and by late September, I seem to have stopped altogether.

But the Buddha always pointed to the Middle Way, avoiding one extreme or the other, so I'm going to make a last-gasp approach to this blog by following a middle way of sorts - something in between total freedom and strict discipline, between "what will he write about next?" and the didactic "Dharma Lesson Number 108."

I'm not saying "I'm back," but I never said "I'm out of here" either. Let's see how this new incarnation works out.