Thursday, March 27, 2014

My First Angle Boring

After over 30 years in the environmental sampling and drilling business, I finally got to supervise my first angle boring today.

We usually drill straight down vertically, but sometimes there are obstacles in the way of where we want to drill, such as a building or overhead utility lines.  When this happens, one can always drill from another spot at an angle and get beneath the target zone that way.

I "invented" a field protractor by cutting a carefully measured cardboard box top to make sure we were drilling at the correct angle to reach the target.  My high-school teacher always said that someday we would have to use Pythagoras' Theorem, I just had no idea then that it wouldn't be until I was nearly 60 years old.

So that happened.  Another day, another lesson learned.  But after completing my first angle boring, I wept like Alexander, as I realized there are no more "firsts" for me to accomplish (not really, new stuff happens all the time if we make the effort to notice).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kind of puts that concept of "liberal media" to rest, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fort Valley

I'm in the town of Fort Valley in south-central Georgia today, the town where school buses are built.  This one's only half-done, but workers can still drive it around the shop.  

In case you were told otherwise, there's still manufacturing going on in the USA.

This bad-ass black bus with its high-placed windows looks like it was built for transporting prisoners for a military or prison client.

I'm told this vintage school bus was featured in the movie Forest Gump.

Speaking of vintage, this one's from 1937.

It was a sunny, breezy day today with a high in the upper 50s, a good day to tour a Georgia bus factory.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Final Score: Religious Gun Nuts 1, Children and the Poor 0

The Georgia legislative session is finally over.  Slow, sarcastic clapping for the old white men on their efforts, and a sigh of relief that they can't do any more damage until next January.

The good news is the "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT and other minority groups to protect their "religious rights" stalled in the wake of a massive backlash from opposing advocates and corporations.  The legislation's Republican sponsor tried to sneak the bill through on the last day of the session as amendments to two other bills before eventually pulling back due to what he called "overwhelming" opposition against the measure, specifically a strongly worded letter from the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

On the other hand, lawmakers passed the bill to expand "gun rights" in churches, provided that houses of worship first "opt in" to allow carrying firearms inside their walls. For religious institutions that decided to prohibit firearms, people packing heat in violation of that law would only face a misdemeanor, $100 fine. The campus carry provision that would have allowed guns in schools and universities was dropped from the firearms measure, but lawmakers did make it legal to use silencers for hunting (in its original form, the bill would have allowed firearms inside bars and unsecured parts of airports).  When the final "guns and god" version finally passed the House, it received a standing ovation from a handful of lawmakers, and one of the bill's strongest backers was reportedly so giddy with excitement that he fired off a round with his finger gun as he grinned toward the press box. The bill now heads to the governor's desk for final approval. 

A controversial measure was passed that will require men and women who receive food stamps and welfare benefits to be drug tested if state employees suspect they were high on anything illegal. Opponents of the bill argued that the legislation unfairly infringed upon the rights of those living on low incomes, was unnecessarily subjective, and was nothing but a recipe for profiling. A similar 2012 bill was later deemed unconstitutional and the new law may not hold up against a legal challenge either.  Even the Republican legislator who had introduced the "religious freedom" bill noted, "If we pass this bill, all we will be doing is buying a lawsuit." Although the bill should have included an amendment requiring state lawmakers to also be drug tested, it nevertheless is headed for the governor's desk for approval.  

Not surprisingly, a medical marijuana bill failed (the surprising part is that it was even considered), as did legislation to expand autism insurance to cover children 6-years-old and younger.  Another bill that would have allowed the Atlanta Beltline to tap a public-private partnership to build its transit line also failed.

So, apparently, if you had always wanted to bring your gun with you to church, the 2014 Georgia legislative session was a good one.  On the other hand, if you're poor or sick, if you could benefit from access to medical marijuana, if you have a child with autism, or if just want to see more transit options for Atlanta, the gun-loving legislature apparently wasn't much interested in helping you.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Politics

Then there's Georgia's new proposed gun law that no longer would require those using the Stand Your Ground defense to even be in compliance with Georgia’s Criminal Code. Under this law, a felon who has illegally obtained a gun (it is by definition illegal for a felon to have one) can now fire at will at someone, say, playing rap music too loudly in their car or carrying a particularly offensive package of Skittles, as long as they claim they saw that person reach for "something."  The fact that they’re committing a crime by even having a gun will not get in the way of the Stand Your Ground defense.

Meanwhile, an abortion bill heading towards Gov. Nathan Deal's desk would require victims of rape to pay for their own treatment if they decided not to keep the gift of nature's little miracle.  The law would prohibit abortion coverage in the State Health Benefit Plan or in the federal healthcare exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act.  The only exception would be if the mother's life is in jeopardy, but victims of rape are not exempted.

But all is not lost as Gov. Deal has a plan to keep open those rural hospitals that keep closing down. No, it's not that one that makes sense where Deal expands Medicaid under the ACA.  First, Deal wants to make it so that hospitals can turn away without treatment those who are not- or under-insured.  Then, his plan involves paring back the services offered by hospitals that are facing financial hardship.  The hospitals would stay open, but would only offer the most basic emergency services if another full-service hospital is within 35 minutes, sort of like a sad, mostly vacant strip mall, but one with the ability to dump on the street those requiring emergency treatment without evidence of being able to pay.

What else?  There's a bill for $17 million in bonds to expand parking at the Georgia World Congress Center, which really means that Georgia taxpayers would pick up the tab for a parking deck for the new Falcons stadium.   A "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, " similar to the one that even Arizona found too extreme, has been re-introduced that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay and other minority groups if they felt their religious beliefs were being compromised.

The good news is that today is the last day of the legislative session, so all this madness should stop soon, but damage is already being done.    

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Third World Nation System of Medical Care in Rural Georgia

Georgia Republicans are busily setting the bar pretty low this year's legislative session, promoting a bill that would allow guns "everywhere" - bars, churches, universities, you name it - and (what else?) new restrictions on abortion rights.  But in a particularly callous blow to the poor and uninsured, there's a bill that wouldn't allow the Governor to accept the Affordable Care Act's funding for an expansion of Medicare to the needy, even in the highly unlikely event that the Governor decided to do so (he's repeatedly said that he won't).

Needless to say, this extreme legislative overreach has engendered some protests, and things have heated up to the point where even the national news is now starting to notice.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is Conservativism A Neurological Disorder?

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt tells us that conservativism results from a set of values that prizes favoring one's own in-group over an out-group, respect for heirarchy, and purity, while progressives primarily value justice and fairness with equal treatment for all, and an emphasis on compassion for others.  

I, on the other hand, often think conservativism is a neurological condition that manifests as an inability to create new mental maps and models (schema, or in the Buddhist tradition, samskara) in the light of new conditions. To be fair, my theory would then lead to a conclusion that liberalism is a neurological inability to retain useful mental models when challenged by new conditions.

A fascinating and quite friendly conversation today with a conservative colleague suggests that there is some truth to both Haidt's theories and to mine.  

In support of Haidt's theory, my friend expressed concern that his daughter has decided to accept a scholarship to study journalism at NYU.  Having a daughter leave for college is always a stressful time in any parent's life, but his concerns, in addition to the obvious concern over purity, was that she would be surrounded by liberal professors and intellectuals, and by left-leaning fellow students.  Apparently, there was talk about her taking an internship at The Huffington Post.  In short, he was as upset that she was leaving home to study among the "others" (an out-group) instead of her own kind at a more conservative, Southern school, and concerned not so much about her switching sides, but by how well those "others" would accept and treat her.  As far as respect for heirarchy goes, the reason we were even talking about this is that he was upset that his wife and daughter weren't taking his concerns seriously enough, even though he was the father and husband of the house.  This situation presents a challenge to a virtual trifecta of conservative values, and would make a good case study for Haidt's theory.

My theory (inability to create new mental models) gained support when the conversation shifted to the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine.  My friend seemed  unable to see the situation in light of anything other than old-fashioned fears of Soviet world domination, a return to the Cold War era (if it ever went away at all).  The only geo-political factors he could see were a Russian expansion of the Iron Curtain against a US-led counter-force of truth, justice, and the American way.  In this point of view, the only force that contains Russian expansionism is American military might, and the movement of Russian troops into Crimea is nothing less than a failure of American strength, or the perception of American strength.  

In other words, he could only see the situation in light of Cold War geo-politics, of Communism vs freedom, while ignoring the not insignificant fact that Russia is no longer Communist, the nature of the recent protests and counter-protests in Kiev and Crimea, the complex problem of the ethnic Russians currently living in Crimea, and so on.  Not to mention America's loss of credibility regarding invading other nations after 10 years of occupying Afghanistan and Iran. 

I'm not apologizing for Russia's behavior, but as long as the situation is viewed from an outdated world view, the apparent solutions will be likewise outdated.  What's worrisome, though, is that certain members of Congress seem to be working from the same outdated mental models themselves, and they are in a position to apply an outdated, probably counter-productive, and quite possibly dangerous "solution" to the situation.     
My colleague and I still remain friends as we long ago agreed to disagree over many issues, a necessary tolerance for maintaining harmony while living in a Red State.  His differing views and those of his fellow-travelers don't even upset me anymore (although they used to) and now I'm just fascinated by seeing how well Haidt's values model and my neurological theory seem to fit their opinions.   

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lessons From The Cook

"When this mountain monk was in great Song China, in my spare time I talked with many older monks who had years of experience working in various monastic offices.  They taught me a little of what they had learned in their work.  What they had to say must surely be the marrow of what has been handed down through the ages by previous buddhas and patriarchs settled in the Way. 
The work of the tenzo (the cook), in particular, has always been carried out by teachers who have sought to live out their lives in the most settled way, and by others who have aroused the bodhisattva spirit within themselves.  Down through the ages, many great teachers and patriarchs, such as Guishan Lingyou and Dongshan Shouchu, have served as tenzo
Although the work is just that of preparing meals, being tenzo is different in spirit from the work of an ordinary cook or kitchen helper.  The Rules for Monastic Purity advise the tenzo to 'put your awakened mind to work, making a constant effort to serve meals full of variety that are appropriate to the need and the occasion, and that will enable everyone to practice in body and mind with the least hindrance.' 
Such a job requires all of your energies.  If a person entrusted with this work lacks such a spirit and is indifferent about life, they will only endure unnecessary hardships and suffering that will have no value." 
- Zen Master Dogen, from Instructions for the Cook
Dogen's instructions aren't simply for the tenzo bodhisattva, but for all of us in our everyday chores and work.  He encourages us to put all our energies into everything that we do and make a constant effort to put our awakened mind to work, not for our own benefit or edification but to assist and sustain the practice of all others, to make our life's purpose to vigorously and mindfully be cooperative and helpful to the lives of others.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Atlanta Science Festival Presents: Discovery Dialogues: Meditation

Date: March 26, 2014, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Admission: Free
Hosted by: MASS Collective at Erikson Clock (364 Nelson St SW Atlanta, GA 30313)

The practice of meditation dates back thousands of years in the Eastern regions of the globe, and has gained popularity in the West.  Garnering particular interest have been meditation’s beneficial effects on stress and attention.  These effects have been explored from scientific, medical, and educational perspectives, while profoundly influencing art.  The Discovery Dialogue on Meditation will bring together scientific, historic, healing, and practicing perspectives to discuss what we are coming to understand about mediation in both Western and Eastern traditions, and how its development in the West may affect culture, in particular the metropolitan Atlanta community.  Accompanying art installation by Deidra Smith.

The Atlanta Science Festival is a week-long celebration (March 22 - 29, 2014) of local science and technology.  Atlanta residents of all ages will have the opportunity to explore the science and technology in our region and see how science is connected to all parts of our lives in a range of hands-on activities, facility tours, presentations, and performances.

Saturday, March 08, 2014


In his instructions on how to do zazen, the late John Daido Loori states that the practice of zazen (sitting meditaiton) is the most important teaching Zen has to offer.  "It's fundamental to Zen Buddhism," Loori explains. 

However, to those unfamiliar with Zen teaching, it may seem like it's all about pursuing some state or condition that we've conjured up in our mind, or else losing ourselves in some esoteric meditation practice. Not to take anything away from the importance of zazen, but seeking after some kind of idle escapism or self-intoxication is far from the truth of the teaching.    

Joshu earnestly asked, "What is the Way?"  Kosho Uchiyama once wrote that "the Way of the Buddha means to actually put our bodies to work, vividly living in every moment of our lives."  Zen Master Dogen called this "the whole-hearted way" (bendo-wa).

Yet, we are pulled by the tendency not to function with clear or undivided minds toward the present situation. Instead, we are constantly running around fantasizing about our dissatisfactions and irritations, which only results in the vividness of our lives being clouded over.  With our muddled minds, we encounter muddled and ambiguous situations.    

But by whole-heartedly living in every moment of our lives and throwing our full life force into whatever it is that we are doing, "every situation literally comes to life and that in turn generates clarity and vividness" (Uchiyama).  
"When the situation is full of life, we become more alive as a result.  This means, then, that our life force has breathed a vividness into the situation.  I feel very deeply that each of us must look clearly at this point for ourselves and then practice diligently with both our bodies and minds."  
The practice of zazen is our training for this whole-hearted way of living.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ordinary Mind

Joshu earnestly asked Nansen, “What is the way?” Nansen answered, “Ordinary mind is the way.” 
Joshu said, “How do I direct myself toward it?” Nansen replied, “The more you seek after it, the more it turns away.”
 Joshu then asked, “Then how can I know it is the way?” Nansen answered, “The way does not belong to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is illusion. Not knowing is blank consciousness. When you have truly reached the way beyond all doubt, it is like the vastness of space, an unfathomable void, so how can it be this or that, yes or no?” Upon hearing this, Joshu came to a sudden realization.
Ordinary (adj.): with no special or distinctive features; normal

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Places To Get Rid of a Dead Body

When and if I ever get around to writing my memoirs as an environmental consultant, I'm probably going to entitle it Places to Get Rid of a Dead Body.

Considering the places I go, the only really surprising thing is that I haven't found one yet.

The outstanding Jamaican reggae band Black Uhuru once sang, "I and I trod the maroon trod inna desolate places."  I understand.  I have trod in those desolate places, too.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Way of the Southpaw

Zen Master Jōshū once asked his teacher, Nansen, “What is the Way?”  Nansen answered, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”  

This may be true, but as Dogen explains it, to learn the Way as ordinary mind is extremely rare.  To learn the Way as ordinary mind is to realize that both the body and the mind are always completely ordinary, and that there is never the slightest taint nor any trace of design.  

Dogen wrote two separate essays titled Butsu-Kojo-No-Ji (The Matter of the Ascendant State of Buddha). One is included as Chapter 28 of the Shobogenzo anthology, but the other appears only in a shorter, "Secret Shobogenzo" collection.  To paraphrase Dogen from his second essay as it appears in the "Secret Shobogenzo," in our everyday state of mind, we do not describe yesterday as today, nor describe today as tomorrow.  We think of mind and body as separate.  The is the ordinary state of mind, but people are prone to misunderstand the ordinary state of mind and dismiss it as if it were just so many hundreds of weeds.  However, we can intuitively understand that those hundreds of weeds are themselves ordinary.  It is because the ordinary state of mind is the Way that the hundreds of weeds do not wither or rot. If the Buddhist patriarchs were not ordinary, they could never have gotten free from the world, forgotten themselves, and practiced the Way, for practice of the Way is naturally ordinary. 

However, Dogen warns us, if we think that because ordinary mind is the Way we need not practice, we misunderstand ordinariness. Practice and experience are themselves completely ordinary. There being none that is not ordinary, there can be none that is tainted.  "It is not that practice and experience is nonexistent," Nansen later taught, "but it cannot be tainted."