Friday, November 30, 2012

"When I was young, I went to war as a Kamikaze pilot. I had firmly made up my mind to give my life because I wanted to protect my parents, my brothers and sisters and my friends. Other pilots went before me, giving their lives in that final flight. I waited my turn. My turn did not come. The war ended just when I was about to fly. I was devastated, because I could not carry out my commitment to help. I wasn’t able to serve. I felt useless. All my comrades had given their lives and here I was, still alive, to what purpose? After that, again and again, just on the brink of death, my life was miraculously spared. You too are perfectly protected. It just isn’t obvious to you. You are receiving all the care, protection and guidance and love of all the universe. You just haven’t been able to see it yet, but you will." - Harada Tangen Roshi, Abbot of Bukokuji, Dharma Heir of Daiun Sogaku Harada (1871 - 1961)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Prison Population


Can this really be true?

I don't believe everything I read on the internet, not by a long shot, so I figured this should be checked out.  According to The Sentencing Project, the State of Georgia currently has 92,599 people in prison, 479 per 100,000 persons.  Meanwhile, according to Wikipedia, the prison population of England and Wales in October 2011 was 87,673.  So, if anything, the map is an understatement.

The Sentencing Project lists 231,186 prisoners in the State of Texas, and BBC News claims there are 214,450 prisoners in Mexico.  That's close, I guess. Similarly, Louisiana has 71,311 prisoners and Japan has  79,052.  That's a random check of three random states using three different data sources.  The equivalents aren't exact, but the numbers seem legit.

The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails, a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.  Changes in sentencing law and policy, not increases in crime rates, explain most of the increase in the national prison population. These changes have significantly impacted racial disparities in sentencing, as well as increased the use of “one size fits all" mandatory minimum sentences that allow little consideration for individual characteristics.  Sentencing policies brought about by the "war on drugs" resulted in a dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. At the Federal level, prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, while the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980. Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.

It's time to stop the madness.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

David Lynch


Film maker David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, etc.) has been practicing  meditation for over 30 years and has founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace.  Lynch claims that meditation "has changed my life, my world. I am not alone. Millions of other people of all ages, religions, and walks of life practice the technique and enjoy incredible benefits."

David's particular practice is Transcendental Meditation, a mantra-focused meditation that is different from Zen's "objectless meditation."  This is not to say that it is without merit as it does have enormous benefits. As Lynch points out on his Foundation's web site, "The stresses of today’s world are taking an enormous toll on our children right now. . . In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself and experience the field of silence—bliss—the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is the way to save the coming generation."  

The David Lynch Foundation was established to ensure that any child in America who wants to learn and practice the TM technique can do so. They provide scholarships for students to learn the technique and to receive the complete follow-up program of instruction throughout their student years to ensure they receive the maximum benefits. They also provide scholarships for students who want to attend TM schools, colleges, and universities.  Meditation, whether it be TM or Zen, should be a standard part of every school’s curriculum, part of the preparation for learning and a tool for developing the creative potential of the mind. 

Back in the 1970s, when I was a geology grad student in Boston, I noticed that one of our fellow students, Dennis, seemed not to be as affected by the stresses, the competition, and the social games in which the rest of us were engaged.  He was a few years older and married, but the small difference in years and marital status didn't account for the difference in personality.  One day, several of us confronted Dennis and  asked hom, Okay, what's the deal?  Why are you the way that you are?  What is it that makes you so different?

"I practice TM," was Dennis' answer.

That made perfect sense to me.  I had heard of TM, of course, and was generally interested in such things, but I never seriously pursued it, in part because I was so busy with school and also because I had no idea where to start looking (this was decades before the advent of the internet). It seemed like an opportunity had suddenly presented itself to me.

"Can you teach me to meditate?," I asked.

He couldn't, but he offered to introduce me to his teacher.  That sounded good, but for various reasons, mostly financial, I wasn't able to attend the course.  A few of the more well-to-do among my motley crew of geology grad students did take the introductory course, but didn't pursue the practice much beyond that first course.  Personally, I was somewhat offended about the emphasis on money, and disappointed that they would withhold their teaching based on my financial hardship.

Flash forward about 22 years later:  at another critical juncture in my life - the end of a romantic relationship, the realization of my advancing years, etc - I was experiencing a great, almost existential, stress and thought back to the lesson from the 70s that meditation might offer a solution.  It now being the ago of the internet, it was fairly easy for me to find a Zen group right here there in my hometown, and in short order I was present at their Sunday morning introductory instruction.

Based on my prior experience, I expected to be lectured about the myriad benefits of meditation and to be offered to participate in an extended series of classes to teach me the technique - something I was then finally capable of affording.  But to my surprise, they jumped right in and had us meditating - for free! - within 15 minutes of the class starting.

I am now in my 12th year of practicing with that center, and am now teaching newcomers to meditate - for free - myself.

My point here is that we never can know how the karmic seeds we plant will come to sprout and blossom.  Dennis showed me through his own example how mediation can make a difference in one's life, and even though I couldn't then receive the instruction he was offering to provide at that time, decades later the lesson took root in my life.  Most of the newcomers I provide basic instruction to now don't return to the Center again, but I have no way of knowing what seeds have been planted, where they will be in 10, 20, or more years, or how the teachings will take root in their lives.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Religion


In fact, I don't necessarily agree with the Buddha's religion.

By "the Buddha's religion," I don't mean Buddhism - that certainly wasn't his religion and no one called anything "Buddhism" until many, many years after his death.  I sometimes imagine that he wouldn't have wanted his teaching to be so closely aligned with his own identity.

Gautama Buddha lived in a society that practiced an early Vedic form of Hinduism, and the Buddha often spoke of gods and deities in his sutras and lectures.  During his meditation under the Bodhi Tree, he says he was visited by the god Mara.  The Buddhist cosmology speaks of heavenly realms and of gods, and even supposes that humans might be reincarnated as gods themselves (surprisingly, not considered to be a happy rebirth, as existence as a god is so fulfilling that one has no incentive to seek nirvana and escape the wheel of samsara until an eventual rebirth back into the lower realms).

Today, we modern Westerners tend to consider gods like Mara to be psychological states, not actual deities, and we look at discussion of the supernatural realms as parts of colorful but not literal lessons.  Which is fine, but is not what the early Buddhists believed or what Gautama taught.  

It doesn't matter what metaphysical concepts he may or may not have believed in, however, or what we may or may not believe today.  What matters are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  If, while on that path, you believe in a God in heaven, or many gods in many heavens, or no gods anywhere at all, it matters no more than if Gautama believed that Mara was a state of mind, an allegory, or a god.  

It's like if you want to study and learn the music of Mozart, it doesn't matter whether you believe in astrology or not - the music of Mozart has nothing to do with whether or not astrology is true (by the way, it isn't).  The buddha-dharma as I understand it is about this life, here and now, and it doesn't matter what ideas you hold in your head about the supernatural.

Buddhism is like water, in that it can take the shape and form of whatever vessel into which it is poured.

Monday, November 26, 2012


One day Dogen instructed, 
An ancient person said, “Listen, see, attain.”  
Further, “If you haven’t attained, see. If you haven’t yet seen, listen.”  
He meant that seeing is superior to listening, attaining is superior to seeing. If you haven’t attained, you should see. If you haven’t seen, you should listen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chattanooga


For the last several months (except for the annual zazenkai), I've been fortunate to have had company on my trips up to Chattanooga.  This month, it was Jason, a young Canadian in residence at the Atlanta Center for the autumn ango.

After the Sunday service, several of the senior members of the Chattanooga sangha (and a few relative newcomers) all went out to lunch at Sluggo's, a vegan restaurant, and had a planning session for 2013.  We'll continue to hold out annual Buddhapalooza event as well as our annual zazenkai, and several new events are in the planning stages, including expanding the zazen services from the current Sunday-only schedule to an additional weeknight.  The food was great.

Driving back, Jason and I had a great conversation about Zen and music.

I look forward to another year of practice with the Chattanooga sangha.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hell


Gehenna (Greek γέεννα) is a place outside of ancient Jerusalem, one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.  Known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, the site was where apostate Israelites and followers of Ba'al and Caananite gods such as Moloch sacrificed their children by fire. 

This sacrifice by fire went against the Hebrew teachings.  In the Book of Jeremiah (the prophet, not the bullfrog), we are told that Jehovah said, "The sons of Judah have done what is bad in my eyes.  They have set their disgusting things in my house in order to defile it.  And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart" (Jeremiah 7:30-31).

"A thing that had not come up in my heart."  I learned this today from my friendly neighborhood Jehovah's Witnesses, who told me that they don't believe in the concept of hell, at least as a place where the souls of the condemned are cast into a lake of fire to burn for all of eternity.  "Such a thing had not come up in my heart," Jehovah told Jeremiah.  If he didn't want children sacrificed by fire, they explained, why would he want their souls to burn for all of eternity?

It was a coincidence that they had brought this up.  This very morning, I was reading an article in The New Yorker about Rob Bell, a megachurch pastor who challenges the traditional Christian belief in hell.  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples, "If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell."  However, the word translated as "hell" is Gehenna, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom.  Pastor Bell takes the view that by the time of Jesus, Gehenna had become the city dump: “There was a fire there, burning constantly to consume the trash.” It is a metaphor for the terrible consequences of rejecting “the good and true and beautiful.”  But in particular, Bell seems to be saying, it was a metaphor for the devastating historical consequences for Israel of straying from their calling and identity to show the world God’s love.

The Jehovah's Witnesses were very pleased that I was able to relate that passage to them.  They agree with Pastor Bell, at least on that one point, and interpreted the passage as meaning if your eye causes you to sin, it is better to pluck it out than to let your errant ways lead your life to ruination.  They maintain that when Jesus was talking to his disciples, that all knew exactly what Gehanna was and what went on there, and understood perfectly well what he meant.  It is confusing to us today, as we're now fortunately free of the practices of the Valley of the Son of Hinnom.

Or are we?  The Wisconsin folk rock band Bon Iver included a song called Hinnom, Texas on their latest, eponymous record.  It's hard to accept that songwriter Justin Vernon wasn't thinking about the Biblical meaning of Hinnom, when another song on the album is titled Calvary.  The lyrics are ambiguous as to whether Vernon thinks Texas is hell (or if it just feels that way in the summer).

What's interesting to me here is that Gehenna, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, the very symbol of a fiery hell, is considered by Pastor Rob Bell to be nothing but a metaphor for ruination, not eternal damnation, and that the Jehovah's Witnesses take it one step further, noting that upon looking at the human sacrifices by fire that once took place there, Jehovah said that such a thing never came up in his heart.

Buddhism does not have a fiery hell similar to Christianity's, but it does speak of "hell realms" where the  unfortunate are reborn due to their wicked past lives.  It is sometimes referred to as the insect realm, that nasty, short and brutal existence of constant devouring (and of being devoured).  However, unlike other religions, one does not remain in the hell realms forever, but can be reborn back into higher realms once all of the evil karma is worked off.

Do I believe that the hell realms are real?  Well, yes, I do believe in the existence of insects, having seen ample proof of them all my life.  But not having died yet, I don't know what happens after death, and remember: anybody who tells you what happens after you die who are not themselves already dead are just speculating, and have no more authority on the matter than you or anyone else.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Buddhana Sasanam


Sabba-pāpass akaranam, 
Kuselassūpasampada,
Sacitta-pariyodapanam.
Etam buddhana sasanam.

To not commit wrongs,
To practice the many kinds of right,
Naturally purifies the mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Tradition


video

So "everything" wasn't lost in the hard drive crash of 2012 - I still have my traditional Thanksgiving William S. Burroughs files left to post.

For those of you for whom one video clip of WSB is not enough, I'm posting some more at the new music blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More Bifurcation


I'm now about 90% recovered from the crash of my computer's hard drive, and have only a few more programs and components left to replace. That which does not kill us, we've been told, makes us stronger, and the recovery from the crash has actually left me with more storage space, faster computer capabilities, and greatly improved resources and systems for data backup and management.

So much so, that regular blogging will likely resume here in the very near future.

With that in mind, I would like to call your attention over to the blogroll over to the right of your screen (labeled "Other Blogs").  Notice something new?  There's a new blog added called Water Dissolves Music, which is where I will henceforth be uploading my music posts, pictures, reviews, videos, etc.  I've basically given up on the cranky user interface and limited storage capacity at Live Journal, and will use good old Blogger for the foreseeable future for my music stuff.

Just thought you might want to know.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Twinkies


As hard as it is for me to accept that I'm coming back from nearly a week of silence to discuss this of all things, I've had enough of "the unions killed the Twinkie" talk that I've got to sound off.

True, the bakers' union did declare a strike in protest of Hostess' contract, and Hostess claims that their cost of labor is forcing them to liquidate the company a year after seeking Chapter 9 protection.

But I believe in the power of the free market, and see things in a different light.  Hostess couldn't think of a way to bake, distribute, and sell a product of dubious nutritional value without having its labor force take a significant cut in wages and benefits (Hostess provided no comment on whether they considered reducing their profit).  But if there truly is still a market, besides the occasional nostalgia purchase, for the Hostess Twinkie, some other company will come up with a plan on how it can produce, distribute, and sell the "food" at a profit while treating its employees well, even offering them (gasp!) health care.  There's a lot of clever people out there, and if there's a market, some one will figure out a way to satisfy it.  It may not be called "Twinkie" for obvious patent and copyright reasons, but consumers will come to recognize it for the same thing (just like what was once "7-Up" is now "Sprite").  

Everything is marked by impermanence, and the market demand for Twinkies has changed and the way bakeries do business and treat employees has changed.  But where there's a demand, a supply will eventually appear, and when there's no more demand, companies go under.  That's how the market works.

Now, pass me the Wonder Bread.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Paper Moon


In a talk on various subjects, Zen Master Dogen instructed, 
Students of the Way, do not worry about food and clothing. Although Japan is a small country, far removed from the Buddha’s country, there are quite a few people who were famous as scholars of the Exoteric and Esoteric Teachings, and who have become known to later generations. There are also many people who devote themselves to poetry, music, literature, and the martial arts. I have never heard of even one of them who had an abundance of food and clothing. They became known because they all endured poverty and forgot about other matters, so they could devote themselves completely to their own profession.  
This is all the more true of people learning the Way in this tradition of the patriarchs. They have abandoned their occupations in society, and never seek after fame and profit. How could they become wealthy? Although this is the degenerate age, there are thousands of people in the monasteries in China who are learning the Way. There are some who came from remote districts or left their home provinces. In any case, although they never worry about their poverty, almost all of them are poor. Their only concern is that they have not yet attained the Way. Sitting either in a lofty building or under it, they practice zazen wholeheartedly as if they had lost their mother.  
I personally met a monk from Shisen who had no possessions because he had come from a remote district. All he had was a few pieces of ink stick. They cost about two or three hundred mon in China, which is about twenty or thirty mon in Japan. He sold them, bought very low quality Chinese paper, and made an upper robe and lower robe with it. Whenever he stood up or sat down, he made strange noises, though he never paid any attention to it.  
Someone said to him, “Go back home and bring some personal belongings and clothing.”  
He replied, “My home is far away. I don’t want to waste time on the road home, and lose time to practice the Way.”  
He practiced the Way all the more, without being concerned with cold weather. This is why many prominent people have appeared in China.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The More You Know. . . .


As it looks now, although 2012 has been quite an eventful year for me, the defining event of 2012, the one that I will be dealing with for quite some time, will likely be the crash of my computer. The repairs and recovery are still on-going, and this is is the first blog entry since Halloween that I've been able to post with my old PC.  

It's taken a while for the full impact to sink in, as well as a recognition of what really matters and what doesn't, what's easily repairable and what isn't.  As in the Five Stages of Grief, I've gone through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Back in the '60s, Marshall McLuhan famously said that just as cars are extensions of our legs, allowing us to travel further than we could by our prior methods, so radio is an extension of our ears, allowing us to hear distant sounds, and television is an extension of our eyes, allowing us to see the entire world from our living rooms.  In that light, computers are extensions of our minds, allowing us to store more memory, access more information, and process data faster than the organ in our skulls.  So the damage to my computer is damage to my extended mind and what I'm recovering from after the crash is the equivalent of a virtual stroke.  The Kübler-Ross analogy isn't really as far fetched as it might sound at first.  

Now, I also realize that my misfortune is trivial compared to that experienced by victims of Hurricane Sandy, who've not only lost entire computers and all of their contents, both the hardware and the software, but their homes, furnishings, appliances, and in some cases, their loved ones as well.  So, yeah, it's all relative.

The best news that's come out of the process for me is that I was able to get all of my work files copied onto a thumb drive within 24 hours of the crash, and was allowed to borrow my old laptop from my former employer for the weekend.  But as the repairs stretched into the week, I was forced to buy that old laptop from them at an exorbitant price.  They knew I was under a tight deadline to submit the report and that I didn't have any other option, and in my typical "clients first" fashion, I agreed to the purchase - outrageous as it was - rather than let the client down or miss a deadline.  

As it was, I didn't get my old PC back until late Wednesday.  The repair techs installed a new hard drive in my computer and when I started it up, I was glad to see that all of the work, music, photo, and personal files that had been stored under My Documents had been moved successfully to the new drive, but was disappointed to discover that all of my programs were gone, including Word, Excel, Outlook, and  other MS Office programs, as well as Quicken, my Norton Virus Protection, and dozens of other helpful little programs and utilities that I've purchased or picked up over the years.  The worst, though, is that the Outlook .pst files that contained all of my emails for the past 7 or 8 years and the Quicken files that contained all my financial info are gone, so that even after I installed the brand new copy of MS Office that I bought today, I no longer have any of my old emails or any of my contacts.  I was meticulous about storing all my messages into archived project directories, and in many cases, my official "project files" were the contents of those directories.  And now it's all gone.  I've returned the old hard drive to the repair techs to scan again for any surviving .pst files (classic "bargaining" phase), but if you and I have ever corresponded in the past, you might want to send me a quick email just so I can re-enter your information onto my contacts list.

The loss of the Quicken backup files is just as devastating.  I used it to not only track but also to pay my bills, and I still have no idea how I'm going to reconcile all my financial information when I prepare my tax return at the end of the year.  

So that's the half-empty glass.  The half-full glass is that the computer is now running better than ever, and the new hard drive has twice the capacity of the one it replaced.  There is also now a Zen-like lack of clutter on my desktop, and adding only those programs that I think I really actually need also provides insights into my priorities.  The old PC will run faster and cleaner, at least for a few more years (I hope), and I also now have an (overpriced) laptop that I can use both for backup and for portability.  

And at 4:25 yesterday afternoon, I got my clients' report to the State office building a full five minutes before the deadline.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Consciousness of a Conservative


Back in 2007, the MoreOn.org ad calling General David H. Patraeus "General Betray Us" caused a major uproar in the right-wing blogosphere.  The people behind the ad were condemned as cowards and traitors, and it was suggested that at a time of war, such speech amounted to nothing less than an act of treason.  Free speech is all fine and good, it was argued, but words, images, and ads that might weaken the troops morale could endanger those troops and lead to loss of American life on the battlefield.

Of course, we're still at war now, although it's hardly ever mentioned, and those very same conservatives who were so outraged at negative depictions of a General are now mercilessly attacking the actual Commander in Chief, even to the point of questioning his citizenship, his faith, his patriotism, and his loyalty. 

And on top of that, the General they were so staunchly defending ironically now has to resign his post as the head of the CIA due to an extramarital affair - a betrayal of his own wedding vows. 

My point is not to throw stones at a man during a humiliating and difficult time in his life, it's to point out the rampant hypocricy in politics, where one side feels their officials should be held above criticism and ridicule while the other side slings mud mercilessly, until power is transferred and the roles reversed - along with the attitudes about criticism and treason.  How can each side so conveniently forget its previous position and engage in the exact conduct they found so appalling when the other side was doing it?  This same question applies to the use of the fillibuster during congressional proceedings, by the way.

To put the questions a little more broadly - how can intelligent people see things so differently from one another?

I have many friends and acquaintances here in red-state Georgia who are staunch conservatives and right-wingers, yet who are also well educated, intelligent, informed, and compassionate, kind and generous in their personal lives.  And they look at me and wonder how I can be so well educated, intelligent, informed, and c., k., and g., and not see things their way.  Why, we both wonder, doesn't the other "get it?" 

I've bought this question up to some of my liberal, Democratic friends, and they usually can't even buy into the premise of the question - that some conservatives can be intelligent and compassionate.  I usually don't even get the question out to my right-wing friends before they're already objecting to the very premise of the question.  

Then, meanwhile, back at the zendo, my study of the dharma has been focused on what the Buddha called samskara, the link between ignorance and consciousness in the Chain of Dependent Origination, a term that has usually been translated as "mental formations" or "constructs," but can also mean perceptional filters, habitual attitudes, memory, and prejudices.  It's what has been referred to as "schema," a preset conception of the way of things, through which we perceive the world around us.  

The interesting thing about this, and its relevance to the discussion above, is that the Buddha placed samskara between ignorance and consciousness; this is, it arises without our knowing or realizing it, and it colors and shapes our consciousness.  It would be as impossible for the conscious mind to directly perceive our own samskara as it would be for us to see the eye through which we view the world, although we can clearly see it at work in others.  It is created in our pre-conscious mind and by the time consciousness arises, it has already been shaped and formed through the filter of samskara.  It is, in the words of Red Pine, all the things from the past that provide us with a prefabricated set of guidelines with which to perceive and deal with the world as we experience it in the present.

So the very way we perceive things - from the world immediately in front of us right now to the world brought into our living rooms by the media, from The President of the United States of America to his generals and his political party, from the needy and the so-called 47%  to the wealthy and the so-called 1%, - has nothing directly to so with our intelligence, education, compassion, etc., but with the filters we've picked up in our lives through our past experiences, what we've heard, what we've seen, even what we've dreamed.  These filters cause one person to see a homeless victim of neglect and abuse reduced to begging on the street, and another to see a lazy, unmotivated opportunist wanting others to pay for his mistakes.  It's like some of us are wearing red-tinted sunglasses and other are wearing blue-tinted sunglasses, and we can't understand why we can't agree on the color of white paper.

Liberals are not necessarily dumb and conservatives aren't necessarily smart, and vice versa, although it often appears that way to each other.  The faculty of intelligence has nothing to do with it.  One side isn't necessarily generous and the other selfish, although it often appears that way to each other.  The faculty of compassion has nothing to do with it.  But different upbringings, different life experiences, different information, and, yes, different news and media outlets fabricate the filters through which we perceive things.  And some of the people who perceive things one way are intelligent and others not, some of the people who perceive things the other way are compassionate and others not, but these attributes arise after consciousness is formed and thus can be perceived and studied and understood (or misunderstood).  Samskara, those filters, templates, and schema through which we perceive, are pre-conscious and thus outside of our knowing.

The practical lesson is this is not to look at those who see things differently and conclude, "Well, they can't help it.  Their view is irrevocably affected by their perception," but to realize that your view is also just as irrevocably affected, and that it's therefore pointless to try and argue about who is right and who is wrong.      

So what, exactly, does all this have to do with General Patraeus again?  Well, nothing directly, but as the Kiefer Sutherland character in A Few Good Men observed,  it's always entertaining when we get to cut into an officer or two.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Romney


I can honestly say without any irony or sarcasm that I was both moved and impressed on Election Night by candidate Mitt Romney's gracious and graceful concession speech.  He sounded neither bitter nor vindictive, did not try to assign any blame on anyone, and bowed off the political stage like a statesman, in stark contrast to the enigmatic persona he displayed during the campaign.  Not unlike Bob Dole after his presidential bid was over, I thought to myself, "Now, I might have voted for that guy."

Although this past presidential campaign has been analyzed to death by a thousand and one pundits and I probably don't have anything new to add that hasn't already been said, and said better than I possibly could, I still want to add a few of my observations.  

I believe Governor Romney's loss was entirely due to his own failure to articulate a coherent vision for America's future.  Instead, he kept presenting himself as "Not Obama," and relied on the very strong feelings against our President in certain sectors to carry him to victory.  As such, he allowed the campaign to be not about himself, but a referendum on President Obama, and even though anti-Obama sentiments are strongly felt by some, not everyone shares this view.  But they confused the fervent passion of their views with a universality of their views, which is why even by late on Election Night, some pundits and Romney supporters were caught in a kind of cognitive dissonance between their assurance that they were going to win and the actual election results.

Throughout the entire long campaign, Governor Romney never defined himself but just stood in contrast to the other Republican candidates during the Primary season.  His as it turned out successful strategy was to keep quiet, say the bare minimum required, and let each successive Tea Bagger, theocrat, wingnut, and doofus self destruct in the public eye ("Bagger, Theocrat, Wingnut & Doofus" sounds like the name of a law firm).  The less he said, the less he stuck his neck out, the less potential there was for a gaffe and the less ammo the "gotcha" press had to nail him with.  It worked, and although it wasn't pretty, it won him the nomination.

Unfortunately for him, in a one-on-one contest, the same strategy didn't work.  He said he had a plan, but never gave us the details of that plan.  He said his business experience would enable him to lead the country, but he never said how.  He said he could balance the budget, but never told us what he'd cut (other than Big Bird, which was just a lesson to him to keep his mouth shut).  In the last several weeks of the campaign, he quit giving interviews to the press altogether.

I can't give you a number, but my gut tells me a large portion of the 48% of the voters who cast a ballot for him were actually voting against Obama, and a much smaller portion of the 50% who voted for Obama were simply voting against Romney.  And this is Romney's fault, as he allowed the election to be a referendum on the President.

Don't take this post as some sort of morning-after remorse for having voted for the President's re-election.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But the man I saw give that concession speech was a far better candidate than the one that was seeking the office for the past seven years.         


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Four More


I stayed up until 2 am last night watching the election returns, the jubilant crowds, and the concession and acceptance speeches.  Today, I'm tired but proud to have been even the smallest of parts of the process (one blue vote in a big red state).


It's done.  Let's use the next four years to unite and face the real challenges of the modern world, and leave behind unnecessary, divisive issues.


Monday, November 05, 2012

Monday Night Zazen


Dogen instructed,
Students of the Way, you should not be greedy for food and clothing. Everyone has an allotted share of food and life. Though you might seek after more than your share, you will never be able to obtain it. Moreover, for us students of the Buddha-Way, there are offerings from donors. The food obtained from begging will not be exhausted. There will also be provisions belonging to the monastery. These are not the products of personal work. Fruits and berries, food gained from begging, and offerings from faithful believers are the three kinds of pure food. Food obtained from the four kinds of occupations, farming, commerce, soldiering, and craftmaking is all impure. This is not food permissible for monks.  
Once there was a monk who died and went to the realm of the dead. King Yama said, “This person’s allotted life has not been exhausted yet. Let him go back.”  
One of the officers of the realm of the dead said, “Although the life allotted him has not yet been exhausted, the food allotted him has already been consumed.”  
The King said, “Then, let him eat lotus leaves.” 
After the monk returned from the realm of the dead, he could not eat ordinary human food, so he maintained what remained of his life eating only lotus leaves.”  
Therefore, the food allotted to monks who have left home, because of the power of learning the Buddha-Way, will not be exhausted. Not a single White Hair of the Buddha, nor the twenty-year legacy of the Buddha’s life will be exhausted, even if they are used forever. Devote yourself only to the practice of the Way, and do not seek after food and clothing. 
In books on medicine, it is said that only if the body, blood, and flesh are well maintained, will the mind also become healthy. Even more so, in practicing the Way should you keep the precepts, make your life pure, and restrain yourself, following the activities of the buddhas and patriarchs. In doing so, your mind will also become tranquil.  
Students of the Way, when you want to say something, reflect on it three times; if it is beneficial to both yourself and others, then say it. If it is not, remain silent. However, these things are difficult to carry out. Keep them in mind and educate yourself gradually.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Gate, gate, paragate, y'all,
Parasamgate,
Bodhi, svaha.
(My computer's still in the shop and I don't know what else to say.)


Friday, November 02, 2012

Well, That Certainly Was An Interesting Experience!


Over the last several days, I've been working on a very large, very complicated, high-profile project on a very tight deadline for an important client (important, at least to me, because they pay their invoices).  Working on spreadsheets and computer models has kept me up late at night, and I've even stopped going out to see live music evenings in order to try to get done everything that needs to get accomplished.  There's a lot of data and a lot of analysis required to make sense of it all, but this is what I do to make a living and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Around 11:00 last night, as I was wrapping up one of several of those analytical spreadsheets, the unthinkable happened - my computer crashed.  Fortunately, I had just saved my work, and almost as soon as I had, the computer unexpectedly turned itself off just like that.  I wasn't sure what had just happened, so I restarted the computer.  The familiar windows start-up screen appeared, and then it suddenly just shut itself off again.  I re-started it again, and it shut itself off again.  This process was repeated several times.  

I gave the computer some time to cool off and tried starting it again with the same dismaying result.  I couldn't get to my data, I couldn't even operate the computer that had my data, and of course I had no backup.  The report was due in a week, with several conference calls and meetings between now and then to discuss the project, and I had lost everything.  

If I couldn't access the files, there was no way that I could have recreated all the work I've done over the past week (the models, the spreadsheets, the analysis), and even if I had wanted to try, the raw data, the material I was modeling, spreadsheeting and analyzing, was also in the computer and inaccessible to me.  Even if I called the client and asked them to resend all of the raw data, I still wouldn't have had a computer with which to attempt to recreate all of that work that I had done.

I was sunk.  Failure was looking into my eyes, and saying, "You're mine, bitch."

A realization of my dependency on that little box sunk in as I pondered what to do.  The computer also contained all of my business records, my outstanding invoices, my time not yet billed, and my tax records.  It contained my music, my photographs, my Zen studies, and my blogs.  It contained my life.  It was, in a McLuhanesque sense, an extension of my mind.  I had lost my mind.

Worried over what to do, I did not get a good night's sleep last night.

This morning, I got up, tried the computer again (same result), and calmly waited until my friendly, local computer repair shop opened.  Within 10 minutes of their unlocking the door, I carried the computer in and explained the situation.  They were not encouraging.

"It sounds like either a virus or a damaged hard drive," they explained. "It's doubtful we'll be able to recover anything, but we'll see if we can extract any data from your hard drive, and give you a call.  It will take a couple of hours before we know."   He wasn't even considering repair of the machine - he was doubtful that there would even be data left to transmigrate over to the next incarnation of my machine.

A couple hours passed this morning before I knew if I had to call my client and tell him that I've failed - that I wouldn't have the report he needs by the time of his deadline, effectively ending my career as a consultant.  This was, in a very real sense, an existential crisis.  My existence as I know it now would quite literally cease if I couldn't get my computer back.

Here's where the story gets happier.  As promised, the computer guy called me after a couple hours and said that so far, about 25% of the data was already recovered - he was cloning all of the data onto another hard drive before running any diagnostics to find out what was wrong with my machine - and it looked guardedly optimistic that with time, the rest of the data could be recovered as well, "unless we hit any bad sectors on the hard drive."  But once the cloning was complete, I could stop by the shop and copy the files I needed to continue my little project onto a flash drive.  

Provided, of course, I could find a computer with which to work with the recovered files.  I priced some computers at a local office-goods store, and realized that I would also have to buy several suites of software to replace what I had lost, and spend a commodity I had even less of than money, time, to load it all and get everything working.  So, humbled, I stopped by my old office, the very same firm that laid me off a year ago, and asked if I could borrow my old laptop.  I explained my dilemma and they were sympathetic, and said I could use the laptop for the weekend until my old computer is repaired or I buy a replacement.  It made me glad that I hadn't spoken my mind and burned that bridge behind me on that grim day last year when I walked out the door.  I'm using that old laptop right now to post this blog.

The data, spreadsheets, and models all appear intact, correct, and uncorrupted on the flash drive with which I left the computer shop.  The bad news is that I've lost one full day on what was already a very tight, arguably unrealistic, schedule, but I can work even later into the evenings next week and make up for the lost time, and that bad news is not nearly as bad as what appeared to possibly have been the case just a short while ago.