Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Suppose you want to get the cat out of the jar, but you don't want to break the jar and you obviously don't want to hurt the cat. How would you go about it?

This may be my last post of the year. Due to various commitments over the next week or so, I probably won't have an opportunity to add anything more here, so best wishes for the New Year, everyone, and happy holidays!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Post

Merry Christmas everyone. Peace on Earth and good will toward man.

For the past five years, The Killers have released an annual Christmas song. This year, proceeds from sales of the song on Amazon go to the (RED) Global Fund, and their song and its accompanying video address many holiday and other issues, including the current financial meltdown. Fittingly, the video takes place in Las Vegas, what with its skyrocketing foreclosure and unemployment rates is a virtual Ground Zero for the financial crisis and a statement in itself on so many of America's problems. The video also tells an interesting and uplifting story of personal redemption, and if you watch all the way through and you're not at least misty-eyed at the end, then I don't understand you at all - or at the very least you need more holiday spirit (or spirits - go and get yourself some more egg nog).

I can see my mother in the kitchen.
My father on the floor,
Watching television -
It's A Wonderful Life.
Cinnamon candles burning,
Snowball fights outside,
A smile below each nose and above each chin.
Stomp my boots before I go back in.
Of course, all of this Christmas music reminds me of pop songs of Christmases past, including The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping.

Pretty impressive synchronization of holiday lights, but then there are those who feel that Christmas was just all-around better in the 80s.

Update (4:30 pm) - White Christmas: It's now snowing in Atlanta!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On Politics

Before and immediately following last November's U.S. general elections, many people on the political Left were questioning President Obama's ability to lead, to move his agenda forward, to persevere over his political rivals. The Republican Party, emboldened by the relative success of Tea Party candidates during the elections, were already talking about dismantling what progress had been made during the first two years of the Obama Administration and "taking back our country."

Following the elections, the remaining members of Congress could scarcely seem to find the will to convene for a final "lame-duck" session, and if it weren't for the need to decide on whether to allow former President Bush's tax cuts to expire or to extend them, and if so, how, Congress may have had very little motivation to act at all. Other than a much-delayed and final showdown on the tax cuts, not much was expected from this lame-duck Congress, despite Senate majority leader Harry Reid's ambitious list of legislation for consideration.

But Obama surprised - and disappointed - many by backing off of the anticipated showdown on the tax cuts. Instead, he agreed at the very start of the final congressional session to the opposition's demand that all of the tax cuts be extended for all Americans in return for certain concessions, including an extension of unemployment benefits for the millions of workers still without jobs.

The Left fumed over what appeared to them as an abandonment of core principals by the President, without fully realizing the brilliant political maneuver that Obama's agreement represented. Not only did he take away one of the opposition's potential talking points for the crucial next two years - that continued economic hardships were due to his increased taxes on the very wealthiest Americans - but the compromise took away the Republican's alibi to oppose and obstruct any other legislative item on Reid's agenda. They were suddenly stripped of their casus bellum and had nothing left to hide behind, and were forced to instead perform their constitutional duties and actually legislate.

And then suddenly and swiftly, Obama and Reid's agenda was passed. The discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was finally repealed. The new START treaty was ratified. And the health-care assistance for the 9/11 first responders was passed, an act that should have been a no-brainer, but had formerly been rejected by petulant Republicans in Congress upset that the very rich had not yet been promised protection from a return to the tax rates of the 1990s. For the past week or so, newspaper headlines, instead of being cringe-inducing, have produced nothing but joy and celebration to the Left. It's a good time to be a Democrat.

So I think some of the pundits on the Left are probably feeling a little foolish right now. Obama had not betrayed their principals and core values, but instead deftly engaged in some real politics and, to use a sports analogy, gave up a few yards in order to move the football way down the field. By his own estimate, 80% of his agenda has been accomplished in his first two years in office, and he has shown us what a skilled politician he can actually be.

I believe history will show him to be the greatest American President since John F. Kennedy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Buddha-Nature

During the first minute of his talk on Transcendental Meditation, filmmaker David Lynch refers to an "ocean of pure, vibrant consciousness" that underlies all matter. I do not practice TM myself, and the teachings of Zen Buddhism are different from those of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but this "ocean of pure, vibrant consciousness" may be analogous to what some physicists mean when they say that all matter is like light - simultaneously existing both as particles and as waves, and more specifically, waves on an ocean of consciousness.

As we discussed at last night's Monday Night Zazen, Yasatuni Roshi states in The Three Pillars of Zen that the nature of everything is such that it can become Buddha. This nature is referred to as "Buddha-nature" which is the universal and all-pervasive potential for all things to to become Buddha.

"All phenomena are the result of the law of cause and effect," Yasatuni says. "They arise when causes and conditions governing them mature. When one of these causes or conditions becomes altered, these phenomena change correspondingly. When the combination of causes and conditions completely disintegrates, the form itself disappears. All existence being the expression of the law of cause and effect, all phenomena are equally this Law, this Dharma. . . Stated differently, all phenomena are transformations of Buddha- or Dharma-nature."

The substance of this Buddha-nature, Yasatuni explains, is called shunyata, or emptiness. But more than mere nothingness, this emptiness is the living, dynamic, and unfixed matrix of all phenomena, devoid of mass and beyond individuality or personality. And this living, dynamic unfixed matrix of all phenomena is but a field of potential - the potential for transformation according to conditions, the potential to become Buddha.

According to Buddhism, what we call "life" is no more than a procession of transformations. If we do not change, we are lifeless. All things are like this - an ever-changing arising and decaying of phenomena according to causes and conditions within a matrix of potential. There is no real substantiality or permanence beyond this; that is why the substance of Buddha-nature is called "emptiness."

The Buddhist patriarch Nagarujna once said that the mind that solely sees the impermanence of this world of constant appearance and disappearance is also called bodhi- (wisdom) mind. Yasayuni explains that when one truly understands this fundamental principal, "you will not be anxious about your life or your death. You will then attain a steadfast mind and be happy in your daily life. Even though heaven and earth were turned upside down, you would have no fear."

There's more I'd like to say, but I'm afraid I've said too much already. These things don't translate into words very well. Buddha-nature cannot be grasped by the mind, it transcends all conception and imagination. Whatever one imagines it to be is, by definition, imagination and not Buddha-nature itself.

But because we ourselves are intrinsically Buddha-nature, it is possible for us to awaken to it. When we quiet the mind in meditation and cut off all discriminating thought, mind and body can drop away and we intimately realize Buddha-nature. Thus, Zen Master Dogen says that practice is enlightenment.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


And now, as it's been said, for your moment of Zen.

Up in Chattanooga today, we revisited Yasutani Roshi's commentary on the koan Mu as presented in the classic 1965 book, The Three Pillars of Zen. I was particularly moved by the passage that states, "Being attentive in the details of your daily life is also training in Zen. When your life and Zen are one you are truly living Zen. Unless it accords with your everyday activities Zen is merely an embellishment. You must be careful not to flaunt Zen but to blend it unpretentiously into your life."

Whether I consciously realized it or not, blending Zen unpretentiously into my daily life has been my goal for the past year or so. Last year may have been characterized by a letting go of inhibitions and self-consciousness, but this year the pendulum has swung a little the other way, toward a less flamboyant but more comprehensive mindfulness of everyday activity.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Captain Is Gone

LOS ANGELES, December 17, 2010 — Don Van Vliet, better known as pioneering blues and rock musician Captain Beefheart, has died in California at age 69 from complications of multiple sclerosis, a representative for the artist said on Friday. The Michael Werner Gallery in New York, which handles Vliet's paintings, made the announcement. "Don Van Vliet will be sorely missed," the gallery's statement said.
Good night, good Captain. We won't see the likes of you again for a very long time.

Post-Script: What is karma or just coincidence that many of his best albums were released on Buddha Records?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.
- Stephen Jay Gould

Monday, December 13, 2010

For those of you keeping score at home, I've been eating almost nothing but rice and fruit since the 13th of November.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Videos Worth Watching

"August 2009. Mueran Humanos go to the abandoned CIA Station at Teufeslberg (Devil’s Mountain) to use the fabulous acoustics of its higher dome. The dome was build to catch soviet radio frequences and therefore produces a natural amplification and huge reverb. Mueran Humanos use there a casiotone toy keyboard, a walkman with prepared tapes, and a hammer as instruments. No amplification and no electricity were used and no effects were added afterwards. This is the real sound there direct to the camera. This is a small extract for their performance, filmed by Mariano Báez."
Thanks, and a tip of the hat to www.20jazzfunkgreats.co.uk for posting this first.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Here We Go Magic on MBE

Oh look, our old friends Here We Go Magic are performing on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic:

KCRW had each of its dj's and other on-air personalities put together their own list of Top 10 albums of 2010. Here We Go Magic didn't make any of the 21 lists, but our old friends Broken Bells made 6 of their lists, and our old friends Massive Attack made 4. In addition to voting for both of these two bands, dj Chris Douridas also included our old friend Laura Veirs, and in addition to Broken Bells, dj Anne Litt included our old friends Local Natives, and dj Valida Carroll included our old friends Two Door Cinema Club. Eric J. Lawrence's list included our old friends The Black Angels.

Also, some magazine called Rolling Stone came out with their 30 Best Albums of 2010 which included our old friends Spoon. Rolling Stone also has a list of 50 Top Singles that includes our old friends Junip, Massive Attack, Broken Bells, and Spoon. Spoon was also included at Number 31 in Spin Magazine's list of 40 Top Albums, and our old friends Deerhunter made their No. 2 spot. FACT Magazine, having already released their list of Best Albums of 2010, are now releasing their list of the Top 100 Tracks of 2010, which so far includes our old friends jj (No. 79) and The xx (No. 77).

The Atlanta-based web site Ohm Park also released its list of the Top 20 Atlanta Albums of 2010 which featured our old friends Sealions (No. 19), our ubiquitous friends Deerhunter at No. 3, and, surprisingly, our old friends Living Rooms at No. 1.

Meanwhile, a local web site, Atlanta A-List, has included the efforts of our old friends Broken Bells, Menomena, and Deerhunter in one of their three Top 10 lists. Regarding Deerhunter, they note "Deerhunter is the best thing that ever happened to Atlanta, and the rest of indie-rock for that matter. Halcyon Digest has just the right mix of experimental, rock, pop, and lo-fi. I like every Deerhunter album a little bit more than the preceding one, which probably tells you how much I’m going to LOVE the next one!"

Monday, December 06, 2010

Plus special Monday night bonus . . . first evening of Rohatsu! (No Zuimonki, no podcasts, just 90 blissful minutes of silent meditation.)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Album Of The Year?

It was not my intention, but I can understand why some people misinterpreted my positive review of Sharon Van Etten's recent performance at The Earl as a negative review of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). I didn't mean to imply anything negative about Worden, it's just that I had gotten her confused with Van Etten. To show that there's no hard feelings, I'm posting a song below of her backing Sarah Kirkland Snider (Sarah, Shara, Sharon - how will I manage to keep them all straight?), which was also posted as Today's Top Tune over at the KCRW web site.

Speaking of Van Etten (I'll avoid first names altogether if that's alright), I was pleased to see that her new album epic was included in NPR's list of 50 Favorite Albums of 2010. Reviewing the album, Robin Hilton wrote, "While many singer-songwriters dole out painfully obvious details about their own heartache, Sharon Van Etten writes and sings about the world she inhabits with beautiful and uncertain curiosity. Her songs are heartfelt without seeming overly earnest, her poetry is plainspoken but not overt, and her voice is elegant but wrapped in enough rasp and sorrow to keep from sounding too pure or confident. I'll be reaching for epic to give my cold black heart a jolt for years to come." Other old friends who made NPR's list include Owen Pallett and Atlanta's Deerhunter.

It's that time of year, when people who like to compile lists start naming their picks for the best music of 2010. Although they're doling their list out slowly at 10 songs a day and haven't yet gotten to their top 10, so far our old Swedish friends jj have made FACT Magazine's 40 Best Albums of 2010. NME, another British magazine, included Deerhunter among their 75 Best Albums of the Year. And although their (However Many) Albums of the Year list hasn't been released yet, Pitchfork included the efforts of our old friends Massive Attack and The Morning Benders in their list of The Top Music Videos of 2010.

StereoGum hasn't released its Best Albums list yet either, but back in September they included our old friends Twin Sister in their list of 40 Best New Bands of 2010. Twin Sister also made the Albums of 2010 list along with Deerhunter at Gorilla Vs. Bear (which coincidentally also ran a feature on jj today).

Atlanta's Deerhunter appears to have made many lists, and good for them. They've had a good year (and coincidentally are appearing on Conan tonight). There's a web site called besteveralbums.com that keeps a running tally of the consensus critical picks for albums of the year for every year going back to 1938 (best album of the year? Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall Concert). Anyway, their statistics for best albums of 2010 so far include, in addition to Deerhunter, our old friends Spoon, Broken Bells (who also got nominated for a Grammy last night for Best Alternative Music Album), Shearwater, and Massive Attack.

For what it's worth, my pick for best album of 2010? The albums that have spent the most time in rotation on my iPod and CD player have been Local Natives' Gorilla Manor and Damian Jurado's Saint Bartlett, which although they didn't make anyone else's list, are among my picks for Best Albums of 2010.