Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Don't Get Sick

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Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida is one of my newest heroes, if for no other reason than because he was allotted 5 minutes to speak, and wrapped everything up in less than 2 1/2. At least someone's having fun in Congress.

Meanwhile, Thomas L. Friedman had an interesting column in today's NY Times, drawing disturbing parallels between Israel's political climate of the mid-1990s and the current mood in America.
"I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all. And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, 'God will be on your side' — and so he did."
Like Friedman, I have no problem with anyone expressing legitimate criticism of President Obama or his policies from either the right or the left. But the criticism from the far right has recently begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. "What kind of madness is it," Friedman asks "that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, 'Should Obama be killed?' . . . Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly."

Obama is having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist,” to shouting "You lie!” in the middle of a joint session of Congress, to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face, Friedman observes. There is no more “we” in American politics, only "us" and "them."

Friedman goes on to identify the factors that have led to this dangerous situation:
  1. The wild excess of money in politics;
  2. The gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle;
  3. A 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking;
  4. A blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world; and
  5. A permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time, among our leading politicians.
We can’t change this overnight, Friedman concludes, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.

In his 2 1/2 minutes, Congressman Grayson criticizes the Republicans and mocks their lack of a tangible alternative to the health-care reforms they are fighting so hard against. He even goes so far as to say they want you to "die quickly" if you're sick. But he's not trying to scare people with ominous threats of "death panels," or suggest that since he disagrees with their ideas, it would be convenient if someone were to go out and kill someone.

And most importantly, he uses humor, even if it is a bit sarcastic and caustic. But, even in any form, we can use a little more humor in our political dialog.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meanwhile, Back On The Beltline . . .

Just as I call every Monday evening "Monday Night Zazen," I might as well just call every Tuesday "Civic Duty Tuesday." The local Neighborhood Planning Unit meets the first Tuesday of each month. My neighborhood association, when it used to meet, met on the second Tuesday of each month, although now I've been meeting with the alliance of local neighborhood associations on the second Tuesdays. Sometimes, though, the two meetings occur simultaneously. The Beltline advisory committee meetings are always on Tuesdays, although the week of the month varies between the third and the fourth Tuesday. And then there are the irregular meetings of various ad hoc committees, associations, municipal entities, and so on and so forth.

Today, the fourth Tuesday of September, after a 9:00 am appointment to have my teeth cleaned, I had an afternoon meeting scheduled with my City Councilperson to discuss the impasse that the Beltline advisory committee has come to with the Beltline planners. It's a long story and I don't want to get into it here, but suffice it to say that like a great many things it comes down to a lack of communication. Anyway, the advisory committee issued an advisory report critical of the Beltline's public outreach and community involvement, and the Beltline planners reacted by issuing a counter-report (karma, anyone?) misinterpreting our issues and responding to questions and issues that weren't what we had brought up. We also felt that they had mischaracterized our position to the City Council, so we decided to contact individual Councilpersons directly on a one-on-one basis to explain our positions, starting with me, starting today.

The meeting went well, and in the evening I had an off-cycle meeting of the alliance of neighborhood associations, many of whom are still upset with me for pointing out last July that the urban planner they had selected to prepare a Master Plan for our area had a conflict of interest, in that he had previously consulted for the development community in direct opposition to zoning changes we had proposed. I didn't get home from that meeting until nearly 10 pm.

With all of these extra-curricular meetings, I didn't have a chance to go to the office, although I did find some time to work on-line from home and deal with some things over the telephone.

Oh and by the way, despite all of this, I did find time to sit in zazen in the very early morning, before sunrise and prior to my dentist's appointment.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In an evening talk included in Zuimonki (Book 2, Chapter 4), Dogen said, "A student of the Way must abandon human sentiments." Human sentiments here refer to both thoughts and emotions based on egocentricity, discrimination, and preference. In a footnote, Shohaku Okumura points out that these thoughts and emotions are the roots of delusion.

"To abandon human sentiments," Dogen continued, "is to practice following the buddha-dharma. Most people in the world are being dragged about by the hinayana mind, discriminating good from evil, distinguishing right from wrong, seeking after what is good while discarding what is bad. This is caused by the hinayana mind."

Here, hinayana mind means the attitude of practicing only for the sake of self emancipation or of escaping from samsara by one’s own effort. As the spirit of a bodhisattva, we should vow to save all living beings. In Shobogenzo Hotsubodaishin (Arousing Bodhi-Mind), Dogen said, “To arouse bodhi-mind is to vow and work for the salvation of all living beings before saving oneself.”

"First of all, just give up worldly sentiments and enter into the Buddha-Way," Dogen taught. "To enter the Buddha-Way, refrain from making judgments based on discrimination between good and evil, don’t hold dear your physical and mental conditions; follow the verbal teachings and ways of acting without being concerned with good and evil. What you think is good or what others in the world think is good is not always good. Therefore, forget others’ views; cast aside your own mind and follow the teachings of the Buddha. Even though your body suffers and your mind is in distress, resolve to abandon body and mind, and practice what the Buddha and patriarchs, our venerable predecessors, practiced, even if it is painful or causes you distress. Even if you think something is good and accords with the Buddha-Way and want to practice it, do not carry it out if it has not been done by the buddhas and patriarchs. In doing so, you grasp the dharma-gate (teachings on dharma) perfectly.

"Cast aside both mind and thoughts based on the various teachings you have learned in the past, and gradually turn your mind into the words and deeds of the buddhas and patriarchs you are encountering right now. In doing so, your wisdom will grow and satori will open by itself. Abandon even your understanding of what you have learned from writings of the teaching-schools if there is reason to do so, and see things from the perspective I have mentioned. Studying the dharma-gate is nothing but parting from samsara (life and death) and attaining the Way.

"If deep in your heart you think what you have accomplished through studying for many years with great effort cannot be given up easily, such a mind itself is one bound by samsara."

"Consider this carefully and thoroughly," Dogen advised.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Deception

"What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising?," Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson once asked. "Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public." That quote pretty much sums up my attitude toward advertising and consumer marketing.

Over the past four years, the original Beatles studio albums were re-mastered at Abbey Road Studios and released earlier this month to coincide with the sale of the game, "The Beatles: Rock Band." EMI Group PLC says more than 2.25 million copies of the re-mastered albums were sold in just the first five days after their September 9 release.

Records were broken for most simultaneous titles in the top-selling charts by a single artist. For example, on Billboard magazine's pop catalog chart, the band had 16 titles in the top 50, including all 14 re-mastered CDs and two box sets.

Of course, now there's just two surviving Beatles to share the royalties and with the death of Michael Jackson, who had purchased the publishing rights to their catalog, there are that many fewer mouths to be fed by the profits. So we now have the re-release of the Beatle's albums, a new computer game, saturation advertising on television, and the albums displayed nationwide at Starbucks. And McCartney's even touring again, having played in Atlanta's Piedmont Park for the local big rock event of the past summer.

There's nothing unethical here - truth is being used to deceive the public.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Madness, Part 2

Today, Atlanta's Stone Mountain Park, into which one is now allowed to carry concealed handguns, hosted its Annual Chili Cook-Off. I didn't go.

To be completely honest, my decision wasn't completely due to the handgun ruling. The event is not really quite up my alley, but the prospect of encountering a paranoid redneck carrying a handgun didn't exactly add any enticement. Besides, I would have had to have chosen between the classic rock "tribute" bands at the cook-off and the very original Kate Morrissey at the Zen Center. As it turns out, the weather here in Atlanta returned to rain, although fortunately not enough for a reprise of last week's flooding, and I stayed home and didn't go to either.

But last week, considering the gun lobby's victory at Stone Mountain, I wondered whether there should be a right to be away from arms if that is one's preference?

The Second Amendment guarantees that "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The first clause of the amendment refers to the need for “a well regulated Militia” and the second states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Judicial scholar Jeffrey Toobin, writing in The New Yorker, notes that for many decades, into the nineteen-eighties, it was widely agreed among judges and scholars that the right to bear arms belonged only to militias, and thus the Second Amendment imposed no limits on the ability of states and localities to enact gun-control laws. Warren E. Burger, the former Chief Justice (and no liberal), said that any other view of the law was a “fraud,” and Robert Bork, the conservative hero, said much the same thing.

But Ronald Reagan's attorney general Ed Meese and his allies in the National Rifle Association were indefatigable in pushing an opposing interpretation, and their position became widely adopted, first in the Republican Party and then among many Democrats. The NRA pushed this interpretation to the extreme position that the Constitution prohibited any restrictions on any guns at any location. Finally, in 2008, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Antonin Scalia (who was appointed while Meese was attorney general), struck down a District of Columbia gun-control law as a violation of the Second Amendment. A fringe position—a “fraud”—two decades earlier had become the law of the land.

This is an example of what has come to be called Democratic Constitutionalism. Conservatives convinced other people that their vision of the Constitution was a better one, they won elections, and they appointed their people to the Court. This is not lawlessness. This is how the system works.

Fair enough. But now that we have a Democratic President, a Democratic Congress, and a Democratic attorney general, can we not now engage in some more Democratic Constitutionalism ourselves and go about reinterpreting this Amendment back to the earlier understanding, and get the concealed handguns out of our State Parks and away from our Chili Cook-Offs?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Night Video

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There's a whole school of new music out nowadays that I'm finding quite refreshing and interesting. Call it what you will, alternative, indie, whatever, but it's based on vocal harmony, quite unlike so much of the instrumental dissonance of the past decade (not that there's anything wrong with that). The music is typified acoustically by bands such as Grizzly Bear and more electronically by Animal Collective, and has its roots in Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and David Crosby's If Only I Could Remember My Name (a 70s recording so laid back that it actually approached ambiance).

In this genre, here's Fleet Foxes performing White Winter Hymnal, for some reason with a cool claymation video. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Madness

Last year, a new law was passed in Georgia that allowed guns in state parks and other places they had not been allowed before. However, Atlanta's Stone Mountain State Park had a separate ordinance in place that prohibited firearms inside that park. A gun-rights group filed a lawsuit in May 2008 challenging the park's rule.

The park changed the ordinance after the lawsuit was filed to allow those with carry permits to bring their guns into the park as long as they first told the park police they were armed. That didn't satisfy the plaintiffs, and today the park gave in and settled.

Under the agreement, those with carry permits can take their weapons with them anywhere in the park. Those who don’t have permits but are qualified to have one (i.e., they are not felons or have not been involuntarily committed to a mental institution) can keep a handgun in their cars.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed by gun lobbyists against several cities and towns. They lost their suit to allow guns in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport up to security check points, but they have won all others, including cases against Fulton County and several of its cities, and Cobb, Henry, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties. Lawsuits are still pending against MARTA, as well as Fulton County Probate Court’s requirement that only Georgia residents will get a carry permit.

The constitution includes the right to bear arms. Shouldn't there be a right to be away from arms if that is one's preference?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flood

Some interesting photos and comments from the U.S. Geological Survey on the recent flooding in Atlanta, with particular regard to conditions right here in my own neighborhood:

Flood conditions at Peachtree Creek on Sept. 21st — stream height (gage height) is about 20 feet, which corresponds to about 9,000 cubic feet of streamflow (cfs) and almost to the level of Northside Drive.

Normal flow conditions at Peachtree Creek. At base flow conditions, gage height is about 3 feet, which corresponds to about 100 cfs. That standpipe thing is the stream gage, where the streamflow measurements are taken.

Historic high-water flood conditions at Peachtree Creek on Sept. 21st — stream height (gage height) is about 23.7 feet, cresting over Northside Drive.

Flooded house on Woodward Way, next to Peachtree Creek at Northside Drive.

And here's a view of Woodward Way, parallel to Peachtree Creek, flooded. But we here in Atlanta actually had it pretty good compared to portions of Georgia to the west of us. Here's a collapsed bridge over Snake Creek in Whitesburg in Carroll County:

When bridges such as this one collapses during a flood, it is more often not the pressure of the rushing water against the bridge structure that causes the bridge to fail. Rather, the rushing water erodes the ground underneath and surrounding the structure that supports the bridge to erode away, and the lack of support under the bridge causes it to collapse.

Here's Sweetwater Creek in Austell in Cobb County:

For sheer devastation, it's hard to top the flooding in Powder Springs Creek near the town of Powder Springs in Cobb County.


Tragically, I learned today that the son of a former co-worker of mine was one of nine who died during this flood - he drowned when the SUV he was driving got swept away by the floodwaters. Apparently, this happened near Powder Springs. not at all far from where the pictures above were taken.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flood

What an epic storm! After getting soaked last week in Colfax, Louisiana, and having my flight back home delayed by an hour due to weather, the clouds apparently followed me back to Atlanta. It rained here all of last week and throughout the weekend, and then two weather systems -- one from the west and the other from the east -- combined in a "perfect storm" scenario to climax the event.

The persistent low-pressure system that had been centered over the lower Mississippi River valley for much of last week and that soaked me while I was in Colfax began to weaken as it lifted to the north and northeast over the weekend. However, the system provided a steady flow of deep Gulf moisture across the rest of the Southeast. A second element, a high-pressure system along the eastern seaboard, provided additional Atlantic moisture that bolstered the Gulf moisture. These two systems met early Monday morning and, aided by several upper-level impulses, woke me up with loud, dramatic thunderstorms and persistent heavy rain at about 4:00 am Monday.

And once started, it just didn't want to stop. As much as 20 inches of rain eventually fell over three days in the Atlanta area. In just an 8-day period alone, 11.23 inches were recorded at the airport.

11.97 inches of rain were measured at the Peachtree Creek gauge near my house and the creek crested yesterday at 23.89 feet. The flood stage is at 13 feet and anything above 20 feet is considered a major flood. The crest was the second-highest on record, surpassed only by the crest of 25.8 feet in 1919. The floodwaters closed Collier Road, my major route to just about anywhere, and trees had fallen across other roads, bringing down power lines and further limiting travel options. I had to snake my way through back roads and residential streets to get to the zendo last night and to work this morning.

The Chattahoochee River crested at 28.1 feet overnight near Vinings (home of Canoe Restaurant), closing the western part of I-285, Atlanta's perimeter highway, for over 24 hours (it just re-opened a short time ago). The river is expected to recede slowly and finally fall below flood stage (20 feet) on Wednesday. The crest was just short of the record, 29 feet, set in 1919.

With all of this flooding of rivers and falling of trees, 11,300 people were without power in metro Atlanta, including myself. Power was out when I got home from work yesterday and when I got back from the zendo last night. It was still out when I got up this morning and I had to shave and shower in the early morning darkness. Power was finally restored by the time I got home this evening (as well as my internet connection!), but Georgia Power Company reported a while ago that 1,200 homes were still without electricity, mostly in low-lying areas near the Chattahoochee hit hardest by the flooding. Crews can't repair damaged power lines in those neighborhoods until the floodwater recedes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In an evening talk Dogen said,

During the reign of Taiso of the To dynasty, Gicho, one of the ministers, remarked to the emperor, “Some people are slandering your Majesty.”

The emperor replied, “As a sovereign, if I have virtue, I am not afraid of being slandered by people. I’m more afraid of being praised despite the lack of it.”

Here is an example of how even a lay person had such an attitude. Monks should, first of all, maintain this attitude. If you have compassion and bodhi-mind, you need not worry about being defamed by ignorant people. You have to be very careful of being thought of as a man of the Way despite having no bodhi-mind.

There was no power at my house last night when I got home from work due to the flooding and downed trees that has affected the Atlanta area. I made my way over to the Zen Center avoiding roadblocks and flooded streets, and though the Center had electricity, only two people made it over for the evening service. Numbers, however, are unimportant and we still held the meditation service and usual dharma discussion .

The power was still out when I got home, so I just went straight to bed in the dark.

Dogen also related,

Buntei of the Zui dynasty said to himself, “I must nurture virtue secretly and wait until I have matured.”

What he meant was to practice virtue, wait until he himself had matured, and then, govern the people with benevolence. As a monk, if you have not yet aroused this spirit, you should be cautious. Only if you practice the Way inwardly, will the virtue of the Way naturally manifest itself outwardly. Without expectation or desire to be known by people, if you just follow the teachings of the Buddha or the Way of the patriarchs, people will believe in the virtue of the Way of their own accord.

There is a trap for students here; [others as well as oneself] may believe that being respected by other people and amassing a large amount of property is a manifestation of the virtue of the Way. You must realize in your heart that to believe such a thing is to be possessed by demons. Be most careful about this. In a certain scripture, this is called the ‘deeds of demons’. Considering the examples of the three countries (India, China, and Japan), I have never heard that being rich and revered by ignorant people was a manifestation of the virtue of the Way. Since ancient times, all people with bodhi-mind have been poor, endured physical pain, wasted nothing, were compassionate, and led by the Way. These people have been called true practitioners.

Manifesting virtue does not mean having an abundance of material wealth, nor being proud of receiving large offerings.

There are three steps in the manifestation of virtue. Firstly, it becomes known that the person is practicing the Way. Next, people who aspire to the Way come to that person. And lastly, people learn the Way and practice with him in the same way. This is called the manifestation of the virtue of the Way.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thief

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, a thief visited he hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. "You must have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."
Ryokan's thief visited the Chattanooga Zen Center today. While others were sitting in zazen and I was in dokusan, someone came into the yoga studio in which we meet, grabbed the cash that was sitting in the donation (dana) bowl, and bolted out. I saw him enter and leave over the shoulder of the person with whom I was conversing, but did not realize what had happened until later.

The poor fellow. In his delusion, he thinks his individual needs are more important than those of others. I wish I could give him Ryokan's moon.

Sensei tells another story: In a monastery in ancient China, the monks discovered that one of their fellow brothers was stealing from their rooms while they were in mediation services. Outraged, they banded together and marched to the abbot's office and demanded that either the thief be expelled or they will all leave.

"The poor fellow," the abbot told them. "He doesn't yet understand that he can not steal from us." The abbot refused to expel the thief, so the monks upheld their vow and moved out of the monastery. The abbot, left now with only the one monk, had no choice but to promote him to second in command, and the other monks, as they eventually returned, had to follow orders from the one they had wanted expelled.

While this story, like Ryokan's, sounds at first sounds like a too-kind master showing almost unbelievable patience and compassion for a thief, the meaning lies a little deeper. You cannot steal that which is freely given. The abbot allowed the monks to leave because they were still clinging to materialism and the dualistic concept of "mine" versus "other's." While the thief's actions were clearly a violation of the precepts, the abbot saw that he was still clouded in delusion, while his fellow monks should have known better. Better to have a thief for an assistant than a monastery full of clinging materialists.

Eisai once gave a starving man copper wire from a Buddha statue. If our thief had asked, the sangha would probably have donated more money than he could have grabbed from that bowl. What's more, we could have taught him Zen, shown him the path leading to the cessation of suffering, and helped him discover the Buddha nature within us all. In other words, we could have given him his whole life, the world, and the moon.

Well, that's all fine and good, and I can afford to be philosophical about other's money being stolen. But when I got home from Chattanooga a little after 6 today, I found that my front door was not only unlocked, but not even fully closed. While it is possible that in my rush this morning to leave, I neglected to fully shut and lock the front door behind me, that did not seem likely - it's never happened before in five years of living here. It seemed more likely that a burglar had broken in and later left in a hurry. I entered the house and quickly inventoried the objects most frequently taken by burglars - flat screens, computers, DVD players, and stereo equipment. Everything was in its place and there was no evidence of robbery, but the episode was a reminder of just how much I personally still cling to the material.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gremlin Update

New evidence was discovered today of the Refrigerator Gremlin.

Around mid-morning, Eliot, my live-in male companion (also, my pet cat), was peering underneath the refrigerator as if he were stalking something. As I've mentioned here before, he doesn't show any late-night interest in the racket coming from beneath the fridge, so I thought this was significant. I pulled the refrigerator out from its cabinet to let him pursue his prey.

He ran around to the back of the fridge and stuck his head up into the motor, where the latest leak was coming from and I suspected the dead animal smell had been coming from. Although he was clearly chasing something, he couldn't get at it so I shook and rocked the refrigerator as best I could to shake any internal critters loose without destroying my cat in the process. However, despite my best effort, nothing was released.

But that was not the disturbing part. What bothers me is the big pile of feces that I found behind the refrigerator. The turds were too big to be a mouse - at least any mouse that I've ever seen - so I'm guessing that it might be from a chipmunk but also fear that it might be the "big fat rat" my plumbers had reported. And if it shits, it must also eat, and although I've seen no evidence of raided food, it must be eating something to leave a fresh pile of droppings like I found.

I swept up and disposed of the scat, but left the refrigerator out from the wall for several hours to increase the chance of the gremlin making a run for it and of Eliot catching it as it tried to make its escape. However, this plan was as fruitless as my prior attempts to exorcise my refrigerator.

It is clear now what I have to do - place a trap behind the refrigerator and push it back in far enough so that Eliot can't get back there and injure himself but out enough to create a free space behind the fridge and the wall. I don't like trapping animals and I certainly don't like killing, but the current situation with something gnawing away at the inside of my refrigerator is unsustainable.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds . . .

Sorry to mix pop references like that, but those who know will understand.

"Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?" is a koan for our time. What is your true nature, your original face, underneath that stupid man suit?

Impermanence is swift, so answer quickly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Beltline News

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, the Board of Directors of Atlanta Beltline, Inc. named a new President and Chief Executive Officer today to replace outgoing CEO Terri Montague. Mr. Brian Leary joins the Beltline from Atlantic Station, where he is currently a Vice President. During his tenure with Atlantic Station, Mr. Leary led the marketing efforts to attract corporate residents, national retailers and international attractions to what is now one of the most visited destinations in the State of Georgia. Over the past few years, he has spoken to groups across the United States on Smart Growth, mixed-use development, and emerging trends. He has presented on Capitol Hill, the National Partners for Smart Growth, the Real Estate Roundtable, and the Urban Land Institute. I wish him all the best on the Beltline.

Closer to home, construction of the Beltline trail through Tanyard Creek Park is finally beginning. Although the neighborhoods have asked for more information on when the construction will begin and how they plan construction to progress, we have not been provided with much detail. The Parks Dept. and the PATH Foundation have verbally agreed to a significant number of modifications to the construction method and have adjusted construction entrances to minimize impact to trees.

A 10-page set of recommendations to minimize tree impacts was created by Spence Rosenfeld, the President of Arborguard, who has volunteered his time to consult as a private arborist on this project. The Parks Dept. also assigned a new arborist to the project whose job it will be to oversee that the project is having as limited an impact on the trees as possible and that the PATH Foundation and construction crew are complying with the private arborist’s recommendations. The city attorney refused to sign any documentation officially enforcing the recommendations but they have been attached to the building plans and permit. We’ll just have to wait and see what really transpires.

Currently, we have not yet been told from where they will access the section of the trail to be built under the CSX railroad trestle on the south side of the park, or even if they have permission yet from CSX to build that section of trail.

Based on what we have been told, a new construction entrance will be cut from Walthall Drive for construction of the trail through Tanyard Creek Park. This new entrance will remain after the trail is completed at the request of the Parks Dept. to allow access for large vehicles to do park maintenance. The heaviest vehicles, such as the construction crane and semi-tractor trailers for the construction of the new bridge over Tanyard Creek, will not use the Walthall Drive entrance but will instead use an existing entrance from Collier Road.

We have not been told on which side of Tanyard Creek the proposed walkway under Collier Road will be installed. Across Collier Road, at the new Howard Park, the lighter equipment to construct the trail will use an existing driveway down to the creek level. A major change to the plans was to not bring the crane and two semis into Howard Park for installation of the long bridge over Tanyard Creek, but we should expect concrete trucks and trackhoes in this section.

The crane and semis to bring in the bridge will access the area from a new construction entrance on Golfview Drive. The entrance has been shifted slightly to avoid trees. According to the Arborguard recommendations, the vehicles should be limited to a single vehicle width in accessing this site to limit impact to the area.

We have not been informed whether American Golf, operator of the nearby Bobby Jones Golf Course, has approved the plan provided by the PATH Foundation for re-aligning a section of a hole on the course, so it is unclear when the last section of the trail along Golfview Drive will be completed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Show Me The Colfax

No Monday Night Zazen tonight (my friend and Schwarzkommando guitarist Michael Goldman opened for me) as I got up early and drove to the airport, despite the late night antics of my Refrigerator Goblin, which had kept me up much of the night before. I caught the 8:45 flight to Alexandria, rented a car from National, and drove back to Colfax, Louisiana, where I had done some field work last spring.

The site had certainly grown up since then. In fact, it was damn near impassable. Honeysuckle and vines as high as my waist made covering even the shortest distances an exhausting task, which along with the Gulf Coast humidity, soon had me soaking with sweat. My task was to find no fewer that 17 surveyor stakes laid out for me the week before, so I had to cover nearly all of the 25-acre site at which I was working. By the time the rain started, I was already so soaked with sweat that the precipitation was refreshing.

Once I completed my mission and found all 17 stakes, I then had to repeat the task to show the staked locations to the field crew that arrived later and will be working at the site all week, and then again to the State environmental inspector, and finally to the bulldozer operator who was going to clear us a trail so that we could get drilling equipment to the 17 locations. After all that, I was soaking wet from head to toe, grass stained, mosquito bitten and sunburned (although nothing like last summer's disaster).

Not that I'm complaining. To be honest, a bad day in the field can be, in fact, quite a bit worse that a good day in the office, but this was not a bad day in the field. This was just a hot and steamy, sweaty and buggy, typical day in Swamp Thing country, and by the time I got back to my hotel room in Alexandria and out of my wet clothes, showered, and got a cold Abita Turbodog or two under my belt, I slept like a baby, finally away from the gremlin for a night.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kitchen Pests

It's back.

If you recall, last July when my feet were so badly sunburned that I couldn't even stand on them without excruciating pain, a leak had developed underneath my refrigerator. I called some plumbers who showed me how easy it was to pull the fridge out from its built-in cabinet and who determined that the leak was due to some sort of rodent (in their words, a "big, fat rat") gnawing through the water line feeding the ice maker. They replaced the leaking line and told Eliot the Cat to step up his rat patrol.

Well, that was that - or so I thought. Last weekend, when my tooth ached so badly that I finally had to have it yanked out, the leak had reappeared. I pulled the fridge out as the plumbers had shown me, and determined that the water line wasn't the source this time. Leaving the fridge out for a while, I realized that the leak was coming not from the water line, but from beneath the refrigerator itself, from somewhere up in the machinery where I couldn't reach. So I turned off the water line and the ice maker and the leak stopped, although now I don't have an ice maker.

No big loss. Life goes on (or so I thought). I pushed the fridge back into the cabinet and forgot about the leak.

But soon a foul smell, the distinctive odor of a dead animal, starting coming from beneath the fridge. I pulled it out again but could find no corpse - the dead critter must have been up there in the machinery as well. It probably gnawed some line and caused the latest leak while in its death throes, I reasoned, strangely satisfied that it paid with its life for inconveniencing me. It didn't seem very hygienic to have a dead animal in such close proximity to where I store much of my food, but at least whatever it was that had been vandalizing my refrigerator was no longer going to be a problem (or so I thought).

After a few days the smell faded and my home returned to normal, except, of course, for the service of the ice maker. But then last night, while I was in bed, that now familiar rattling sound from beneath the refrigerator returned.

How could this be? It's dead! Or could there be a second rodent? And if so, why was it always underneath the refrigerator? What's under there that could possibly be so interesting? There's food in the cabinets that hasn't been gnawed at, there's a big old bag of cat chow on the pantry floor that's been unmolested, and there's no sign of rodent droppings anywhere in the house. Eliot, who usually goes berserk at the sight of potential prey, shows no interest whatsoever in the sound. In fact, there's absolutely no evidence of the presence of a rodent or any other animal except for the occasional leaks from beneath the fridge.

And that sound. That sound that is clearly coming from beneath the refrigerator but that only I can hear, that only occurs late at night, and that stops when I get up and walk into the kitchen.

What kind of creature only wants to live within the mechanical confines of a refrigerator? What kind of creature knows when I am in pain, either sunburned or tooth ached, and only does its damage when I'm most vulnerable and least able to respond? What kind of creature wants others to think that I'm only imagining it? What kind of creature reeks of death, yet still lives on?

The answer, of course, is a Gremlin.

I clearly have a Refrigerator Gremlin.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Zentropy

video

The "Zen and the Art of the Arts" festival began last night with the opening of an outstanding gallery show and two sets by the improvisational band Zentropy. The art was truly amazing - we have some very talented artists here in Atlanta - and the choice of Zentropy was fitting, and not just because of the name.

Here's a podcast downloaded from the band's website of a show last winter at Atlanta's Eyedrum. The sesion is more-or-less divided into the following pieces:

1. Krampus Bells (1:50)
2. K-Funk (7:25)
3. In the Mode (10:07)
4. Blu-Motif (5:36)
5. Phuzzy (6:59)
6. Schizo Claws (6:58)

Since I don't yet know how to post MP3s to Blogger, I converted the file into a movie format, with a single still photo of the Atlanta skyline obtained from Flickr (so now I'm probably violating two artist's copyrights). Don't expect any changes to the picture, just enjoy the 38 or so minutes of music.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Night Video

video

You really have to hand it to, well, whoever it is you have to hand it to (I don't know). But anyway, it seems that 60s rock icons The Beatles are everywhere recently. There's a new Beatles Rock Band game out coincided with the release of a new remastered box set of all of their studio albums. My local Starbucks has replaced all of their usual CDs for sale with Beatle CDs (move over Norah Jones), and VH1 is rebroadcasting The Beatles Anthology from 1995. I wonder if any of this is a result of Michael Jackson's death, since he had owned all the publishing rights to The Beatles music?

In any event, and in keeping with this trend, here's John Lennon and The Beatles from 1965 for my Friday Night Video. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Important Announcement

If you live in Atlanta and have any inclination at all toward the hip, you will be at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center (1167 Zonolite Place Atlanta 30306) in September for the Zen and the Art of the Arts festival. Here's this weekend's lineup:

Friday 9/11 (7:00-9:00 pm) - Opening Party featuring artistic snacks, a wet bar, and music by Zentrophy: The band's name says it all. Sometimes the zen of the moment takes the sound into exciting directions, but often, the order and structure will break down and transform itself as entropy takes it's toll. Such is the nature of live improv, and such is the nature of Zentropy. Keyboardist Allen Welty-Green, bassist Jim Cotton and drummer Davis Petterson. It's improvised but is it jazz? It's spacey but is it jam? Listen and decide for yourself!

Saturday 9/12 (3:00-4:00 pm) - Esteban Anastasio is the director of the Childbloom Guitar Program at his own private teaching studio 'The Apollo Conservatory' (across the street from the ASZC). Esteban also is a very active performer and studio engineer. While maintain an incredibly demanding classical guitar repertoire, Esteban also enjoy playing extreme electric "stunt" guitar craziness made famous by players like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eddy Van Halen, and others. Also very well educated in Jazz, Esteban enjoys to emulate the styles of Wes Montgomery, John McLaughlin, Grant Greene, and others.

Sunday 9/13 (2:00-4:00 pm) - Halucination Sextet. Electroacoustic music and poetry featuring two live performers: Dick Robinson and Jerry Cullum; and four virtual performers. The program will include a reading by Jerry Cullum of several of his poems, a concert of three short electroacoustic pieces by Dick Robinson based on Jerry’s poems, and a Grand Finale Improvisation by the Hallucination Sextet.

But, wait, there's more! Later this month the following will also perform:

Friday 9/18 (7:00-9:00 pm) - Schwarzkommando is my friend and Monday-night backup Michael Goldman on guitar, drummer Kelly Shane, and bassist Andy Tegethoff. All three are Atlanta music scene veterans and have performed in a wide variety of contexts with a wide variety of musicians. They began to play together as Schwarzkommando 2 years ago to explore improvisational and arty rock using the texts of novelist Thomas Pynchon as lyrics and Eno's oblique strategy cards as compositional tools.

Friday 9/25 (7:00-9:00 pm) - Local singer/songwriter/ keyboardist/guitarist Heidi Pollyea and actress/singer/ percussionist Towanna Stone have recently teamed up for a new musical collaboration. Their songs are a mix of originals and originally done covers, featuring lush melodies, tight harmonies and soulful grooves. They are sure to have something for everyone so don't miss this great new act.

Saturday 9/26 (1:00-2:00 pm) - Chicken Little Duo sings folk songs like they're punk songs, and punk songs like they're folk songs. They write spirituals to be protest songs, and protest songs to be broken-hearted love ballads.

Saturday 9/26 (2:00-3:00 pm) - Kate Morrissey’s music finds its way into the honest, vulnerable parts within all of us. She is perfectly at home behind her piano, but Morrissey is best known throughout this corridor for her “strong, almost acrobatic vocal style,” the range and control of which stands on its own. Backed by Charles Harvey on upright bass and cello and John Norris on drums and guitar, the music is nothing short of delicious. Beyond their uniquely rich sound, Morrissey’s literate and playful lyrics stand up to multiple listenings. She keeps their live shows funny, laid back, and joyful. And, as an added bonus, she is a long-term Zen practitioner, which infuses her music with that influence.

Sunday 9/27 (2:00-3:00 pm) - Don Hassler and Dick Robinson will present a work of free running, self playing electronic sound work utilizing Symbolic Sound's Kyma System and a Buchla 200e modular electronic music instrument.

And finally, there will be a closing party on October 2 starting at 7:00 pm featuring Zentropy again. And on top of all that, there will be a juried art exhibit featuring works in a wide variety of media. For more information, or to just confirm that all of this is real, see the ASZC website.

So as you can clearly see, this is the place to be this month. Be there or be unenlightened, y'all!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Extraction

The dental technician couldn't believe the first x-ray she took and required me to undergo a second. But the second x-ray in fact confirmed what she saw in the first: the entire tooth had decayed and there was nothing left to salvage, nothing that could be capped. It had to come out.

I've never had a tooth pulled before, at least not since I lost my baby teeth, so I didn't know what I was in for. The dentist arrived in the room, and asked if I were sure that I was ready for this, but I didn't really have a choice in the matter - the pain had to end.

The toothache, which stated on Monday and turned particularly intense on Tuesday, had kept me up literally the entire night before. I could not ignore the pain and fall asleep. I tried the over-the-counter pain relief medicines I had available to me at home (Tylenol, Advil), I tried soaking the tooth in Listerine, I tried practicing zazen, and I tried focusing on my breath as I laid in bed. But the pain had just kept getting more and more intense. There was a temporary respite between about 3:30 and 4:00 am, where the nerve may have finally fallen asleep or just got exhausted, but by this time I was too stressed to fall asleep quickly and by the time I finally got comfortable, the pain started up again.

"Pull it," I told him, and it did not go well. He numbed me up with Novocaine so the procedure was not physically painful, but the tooth was stubborn and did not want to come out (it had been in there a long time). Although it was not painful, it was emotionally traumatic to have someone inside my mouth pulling and prying to no avail. Finally, the tooth shattered under the pressure of the tools, and the dentist had to pick out the remaining shards from the root canals and socket. Yes, there was blood.

All told, I was there for about an hour. I was given a prescription for antibiotics (penicillin again, having just finished a regime with penicillin to ward off possible infection from the burned and blistered foot) and some pain killers, which as it turns out, I don't really need. I now have what feels like a big gaping hole where the molar used to be and I've been told to try to keep my tongue from exploring it so that it can heal properly. There's a dull but tolerable ache, and I'd just as soon not anesthetize myself but instead live with the actual experience - at least this teacher, unlike the toothache before, is one I can be with.

And after last night's sleeplessness, passing out tonight will not be a problem.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Toothache

Sometime last week, before the Labor Day weekend, my tongue noticed that the back of my upper right molar felt unusual in a jagged kind of way. A bit of tooth must have fallen away from the filling, requiring dental attention.

Great, more expense. It will probably need a cap, generally close to a $1,000 procedure. Meanwhile, I have yet another tree that needs to be removed before its roots break the retaining wall behind the house and I still haven't repaired the shed after a limb fell on it, having "squandered" all of the insurance money on taking down other dangerous trees and deadwood.

So I decided to ignore the chipped tooth, at least until after the Labor Day weekend. I was busy at work and couldn't afford time off for dentistry and beside, except for intriguing my tongue, which couldn't stop exploring the strange new texture, it wasn't causing me any problems or pain.

The pain started Monday, Labor Day, but nothing that a little ibuprofen couldn't manage. But it increased in intensity overnight, and started to really hurt while I was at work today, a strange new kind of pain, not a throbbing like a headache but an electric sort of raw nerve pain.

By noon I gave in and called the dentist - the misery wasn't worth the miserly - but couldn't get an appointment until tomorrow morning. By 3 pm, the pain was so intense I had to leave work so I could just lay down at home and ride out the waves of pain, waiting for the relief the dentist will ultimately provide. By this time, the pain was beyond the comfort provided by Tylenol or Advil, and while I thought that I might have found a temporary solution by filling my mouth with Listerine and letting the alcohol numb the nerve, it didn't work after the first attempt.

I rallied and went to an evening meeting of the neighborhood Alliance, but was miserable the whole time and barely participated. Now back home, all I can do is just be with the pain until the time comes when the pain is no longer manifested.

Zen practice gives us a firm grasp on the impermanence of all phenomena. During a long sesshin, I find some consolation for the pain in my legs in the realization that as soon as the bell rings and I arise, the pain will stop. Nothing last forever, so one might as well accept whatever temporary conditions arise in the moment and just observe those conditions rise and fall. Everything's impermanent.

However, my aching tooth is teaching me how much I'm still clinging to the desire for the permanence of health and the absence of pain, and I'm going to have to be with this teacher all night.