Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Tale of Three Puddles, or, A Christmas Carol

On Christmas morning, I was visited by three separate puddles that formed on three separate occasions on my kitchen floor.  Each puddle had its own separate message.

The holidays are famously hard on single people, especially on single introverts.  It's not that we mind spending time alone - hell, a day to sleep in late, catch up on our reading, and binge watch some television sounds like paradise to us.  The problem is that certain other people want to insist that we celebrate the holidays with friends and family, and appear bitterly disappointed that we didn't spend our time in the exact same way that they did. They even feel compelled sometimes to extend invitations to people they don't really want to have over to engage in activities we don't really want to share, creating an awkward situation for all involved.  

As a result, we single introverts are either forced to become defensive, saying "No, really, we're fine, thank you," or to outright lie about our plans ("I'm meeting with some friends later on") just to satisfy the demands and expectations of society.  The implication is that if we don't celebrate certain holidays in the exact same way that others do, our lives are somehow incomplete or lacking, and those without a strong sense of self esteem may find themselves agreeing with that social assessment, resulting in depression or anxiety.  Alternately, we might find ourselves masquerading as "normals" and then feel worse about ourselves for being phonies and for worrying about the opinion of others.

Personally, I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day home alone and I'm fine.  Really.  To be quite honest, it's exactly what I wanted to do.  The day before the holidays, I had stocked up on food and drink, stuffing my refrigerator with some frozen meals and ice cream, with fresh berries and yogurt to make parfaits, with beer for watching sports on t.v., with frozen burritos and fresh salsa, and with tortellini and marinara sauce.  Enough food to last me a week, and I was looking forward to watching the NBA, the NFL, and, most especially, college bowl games on television, as well as re-watching drama series like HBO's The Leftovers and Fox's Fargo, and continuing to work my way through Don DeLillo's massive, 800-page novel Underworld (I'm about half-way through).

After a day of indulging in much of the above on a particularly wet and rainy Christmas Eve, I got up Christmas morning and found a puddle on the kitchen floor next to the sink.  This has happened before, and I'm not completely sure why, but it seems there's some sort of periodic and very slow leak under the sink, and I've found that if I just run the garbage disposal for a long minute, the leak stops. Earlier this year, I had a plumber look for the problem, but it wasn't leaking right then and he couldn't find anything wrong.  But that morning, I ran the disposal as per my custom and sopped up the water with an old t-shirt I use as a rag for just this situation, and that, it seemed, was that.  

An hour or so later, when I went back in the kitchen to refill my coffee, I saw there was another puddle on the kitchen floor, but not in the same location as the usual one I had seen earlier.  A moment later, I noticed that the countertop was wet, too.  This was different - I wasn't sure what this leak was from, but after a minute or so, I saw the water dripping from a brand-new seam that had formed in the ceiling.  Apparently, the torrential rain of the night before had found a hole in the roof and was just now trickling through the ceiling and into my kitchen.

Great, more expenses.  Dealing with this and fixing holes in the roof were most decidedly not in my holiday plans, such as they were, and not particularly in my skill set either, and how does one get a roofer to fix a leak on Christmas Day?  Fortunately, the rain had stopped and after drying off the floor and countertop, twice, no more water came through.  Also, since I had some roof repair work done earlier this year, I was able to leave a voice-mail message with a contractor, stating that I had another job for him after the holiday.  He even called me back later in the day, and we set up an appointment for him to come by and look at the situation next Monday.  So this is something I didn't want to deal with (who does?) and an expense I didn't want to pay (what is?), but it's at least manageable and under control, at least as long as the torrential rains don't return before Monday. 

So after convincing myself that the leaking roof was at least a stable situation for the time being, I was disappointed to find a third puddle on the kitchen floor still later that morning. It was close to but not quite the same location as the prior two puddles, and there was no evidence of leakage from the ceiling or from under the sink.  This one had me perplexed, but I mopped it up, attributing it to some remnant of the first two leaks, and forgot about it. 

All of that had kind of knocked me off my rhythm for the morning, but later that day I settled in to catch up on some of those television series mentioned above.  Unfortunately, I got an error message saying the cable service, Xfinity, that lets me watch programs "On Demand" wasn't working and that I needed to call customer service.  I didn't want that headache and hassle on top of everything else, so I switched back over to the basketball game in progress and went to the refrigerator to get some of that ice cream I had bought.  That's when I found out what had caused the third puddle.    

The pint of ice cream had completely melted and was in totally liquid form.  The inside of both my freezer and the refrigerator were just slightly cooler than room temperature.  I checked the controls on the appliance and, no, I hadn't somnolently reset the temperature to 65 degrees the night before. Apparently, after living here with the refrigerator for 11 years (it came with the house when I bought it), it died on Christmas morning, and the third puddle that I saw was the condensate from the melting ice.

So, more hassle and more expenses.  Worse, all of the food I had stocked up on was going to spoil, because let's face it, I wasn't going to go out and buy a new refrigerator on Christmas and have it installed that same day.  White hair was already growing on the blackberries and strawberries that I had bought, and I don't trust dairy products like yogurt after they've been at room temperature for long periods of time.

"Oh boy," I sarcastically consoled myself, "I get to get a new refrigerator!"  I made the best of it, though, watching what I could on t.v. without the On Demand feature, and drinking the beer before it got too warm (interestingly, since heat rises and the beer is stored at the bottom of the 'fridge, the beer stayed cold the longest). The next day, I refused to go shopping with the "day after" crowds, and stayed home and watched college football and drank the remainder of the beer (still reasonably cool - thanks, physics!), but today I finally went out and bought a new and impressively upgraded refrigerator to replace the dead unit ("Oh boy, I'm getting a new refrigerator!").  I cleaned out the old 'fridge and stored what I could on ice in a cooler, and the new unit is scheduled to be delivered tomorrow, about the same time as the roofer is coming over to look at the leak.

Two problems solved, but I still don't know what I'm going to do about the sink, other than run the disposal more often.  Also, now that Christmas is over and my entertainment options aren't as limited, the Xfinity On Demand is mysteriously back to working again.  It was only down when I had wanted it the most. 

In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who teach him the true meaning of Christmas.  Were my three Christmas puddles trying to teach me something about spending Christmas home alone?             

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's flooding in Georgia.  Many roads are either inundated or washed out altogether, trees are falling and damaging homes and power lines and blocking the roads that aren't underwater or eroded away, and creeks and streams are overtopping their banks and spilling out into residential neighborhoods. 

One of the very few things that I like about this is how the flooding doesn't discriminate between wealthy and poor parts of town - everyone's getting wet and everybody's suffering.

I'm safe and unaffected so far, and fortunately I don't have any travel plans for the holidays that could be impacted by the challenges to mobility posed by these storms.

For the record, the warm temperatures across the eastern U.S. and the flooding down South have little to do with the phenomenon of climate change.  The weather in this case seems to be the result of an El Nino in the Pacific, a natural event, although one could argue that the severity of the impacts from the El Nino and the frequency of El Nino events are affected by anthropogenic climate change.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Not original photography, but a pretty impressive selection of stunt, extreme sport and parkour videos for your enjoyment.

Monday, December 21, 2015


Oh Solstice!  You always arrive when the days are most out of balance with the night, when everything's all lop-sided, leaning too far either toward the dark or toward the light.

Today is the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and each successive day inclines a little more toward the light than the one before it. Each passing day moves us a little bit closer to balance, to equanimity, toward equal measures of day and night.

The cold night air of the winter solstice is perhaps the clearest of the year, an opportunity to view the moon and the stars without the blinding glare of the sun.  Ironically, when it's darkest, we can see the most.  Go observe, before the break of day blinds you with its brightness.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

After a long, unseasonably warm stretch, we finally had a cold December evening here in Atlanta (cold by Georgia standards, meaning in the mid 30s), and of course that's the morning the batteries in my thermostat die and when I woke up this morning, there was no heat running and the whole house was frigid cold until I took some batteries out of the DVD remote (naturally, I was out of fresh batteries when I needed them the most) and put them in the thermostat, and it still took several hours before the house warmed back up into the comfortable range.

We always want things to be different than they are, and we rarely appreciate what we have when we have it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


As frequently noted herein, for about a year-and-a-half now I've been exclusively using my own, original photography to illustrate this blog.  Before that time, though, I used whatever images floated their way into my little corner of cyberspace, often posting the pictures without regard to or knowledge of their origin.

Yesterday, it was pointed out to me by the creator of one such piece that back in early 2011 I had posted his original artwork without attribution or credit, a violation of his copyright to the photograph.  He was polite enough about his request, but asked me to either list him as the copyright holder or to take the post down.  I intended to comply with his request, of course, and caption the photograph as © the artist, but as I tried, I inadvertently erased the content of the post and before I could Ctrl-Z back to undo my erasure, Blogger automatically saved the blank version of the post, and the photograph and the accompanying text were lost forever.

For the record, my intention in using other people's pictures was never to pass it off as my own, but instead to create a kind of pastiche of words and vision, my thoughts and internal monologue presented against a kind of collage of internet imagery, and to be honest, my decision to only use original artwork was not due to a sensitivity over copyright infringement as much as a realization one day that I had amassed enough digital imagery of my own to post a new pic per day of my own stuff, at least for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, sorry if I've stepped on anyone's toes or violated anyone's rights, copy- or otherwise. However, if anyone wants to use any of my pictures for whatever reason, have at it, anything I've released to the internet in my opinion belongs to the virtual cosmos and no longer to me. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Easter Island

Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.  - Annette Funicello

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A visit from my daughter Britney to brighten my holiday weekend.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Holiday Season

One of the warning signs of the approaching holidays is apparently elves on stilts appearing in your grocery store.

This, too:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Water Above, Sky Below

In the fifth hexagram of the I Ching, Xu, water is up above the sky.  Even when clouds are full of rain, we cannon make the rain fall, and this hexagram, Xu, is sometimes translated as "Waiting."

Furthermore, heaven, meaning strength, is combined with water, meaning danger.  When one is faced with danger, one carefully times one's actions and while waiting, seeks nourishment in preparation of the work ahead.  

Youth requires nourishment and time to grow, and that requires patience and waiting.  But patience is usually an asset of old age, not of youth, and it may take a lifetime to master the art of waiting.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Time travel is possible, but only in one direction (forward into the future) and only at a fixed speed of 60 seconds per minute.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

If the halftime show at this year's Superbowl doesn't feature Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was playing at Paris' Bataclan when the terrorists attacked, then the terrorists win.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Prayer For the Recently Departed

To our two great, abiding friends who died in Sacramento
To our three great, abiding friends who died in Colorado Springs
To our one great, abiding friend who died in Savannah
To our fourteen great, abiding friends who died in San Bernardino
And to all those who have passed beyond this life into the heart of Buddha: 

You have passed from this world to the next.
You have taken a great leap.
The light of this world has faded for you and
You have entered solitude with your karmic forces.
You have gone to a vast silence and
Are borne away by the great ocean of birth and death.

May they, together with all beings, realize the end of suffering
And the complete unfolding of the Buddha’s Way.

Friday, December 04, 2015

"Water, not unlike religion and ideology, has the power to move millions of people. Since the very birth of human civilization, people have moved to settle close to water. People move when there is too little of it; people move when there is too much of it. People move on it. People write and sing and dance and dream about it. People fight over it. And everybody, everywhere and every day, needs it. We need water for drinking, for cooking, for washing, for food, for industry, for energy, for transport, for rituals, for fun, for life. And it is not only we humans who need it; all life is dependent upon water for its very survival." Mikhail Gorbachev (2003)
According to the World Wildlife Fund, many of the water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. More than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others.  At the current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages, and ecosystems around the world will suffer even more.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

According to the Buddha's teaching, the self is a phenomenon that arises when several causes, or aggregates, come together, namely form, sensation, perception, "impulse" (samskara), and consciousness.  Without all five causes, there is no self and there is no person. 

A fertilized ovum has form, and it may even have sensation (feeling), but I doubt that many people believe it also has perception (awareness of the feeling) and consciousness.  At some later point in development, the fetus undoubtedly does, and can properly be called a "self" or a "person."

Applying this to the abortion controversy, it could be said that terminating a pregnancy in it's earliest stages is not "murder," as there's no "person" yet there.  There may still be "killing," as one is rendering living tissue non-living, but in the absence of all five aggregates, it's not a "person" that's being killed but just some of the underlying aggregates before a person is formed.

One needs to be careful here, though:  by the same argument, if consciousness is absent, then there is no "self" or "person" either, even if all the other aggregates are present, but I doubt many Buddhists would not consider it to be murder to kill an unconscious person. 

However, as pointed out earlier, in Buddhism it's left to the individual how to observe the precepts and how to interpret the dharma.     

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain."

Monday, November 30, 2015

The pro-choice counter-protesters, riding in cars with their handmade signs, clearly looked like they were having more fun than the pro-life protesters, grimly lined up along the street with identical, factory-printed signs.  There's an analogy on life in there somewhere, I'm sure. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

I'm sometimes asked, "What is the Buddhist position on abortion?"  I'm also occasionally asked about the Buddhist position on suicide, homosexuality, and other cultural war issues.

They're trick questions.  There is no "Buddhist" position on anything, as there is no central Buddhist authority and no single Buddhist text or doctrine from which all positions and attitudes are derived. Any Buddhist telling you the "Buddhist position" on anything is just telling you his or her personal opinion.

But a couple comments on the abortion issue.  In almost all schools of Buddhism, there is a precept against killing, and different schools address the precept differently.  All would agree that murder is a crime, but some schools practice strict pacifism while others might acknowledge the theoretical possibility of "just war" (e.g., defending the innocent, stopping tyrants from killing others, etc.).  If a Buddhist were to consider abortion to be "killing," then they might be against the practice as a violation of the precept.  After that, there's the matter of refraining as a matter of personal choice versus forbidding anyone else from the practice.

On the other hand, many anti-abortion zealots feel that at the moment of conception, a new life is created and that the new life instantly has a self independent of the parents.  In most schools of Buddhism, there is no "self" and there is no "soul" independent of others.  A zygote consisting of nothing more that a cluster of cells may be living, but is no more a "self" than any of the other living organs or tissues of the parent, and it is not a potential or future "self" as there is no separate existence apart from all the rest of the universe.  In this view, removing a zygote or a developing fetus from a uterus is no more "killing" than removing an appendix from a large intestine.

Each individual Buddhist determines where their own feelings regarding this matter lie on the spectrum between these two endpoints, and what responsibility, if any, they have to impose their feelings on others.  Many Buddhists are strict vegetarians or vegans, but very, very few insist that all consumption of meat stop immediately.  Also, some Buddhists recognize that even if they were personally opposed to it, if abortion were made illegal, the practice would still continue but under less safe circumstances and more women would die from the procedure, and that the more compassionate act, the more humane approach, might be to keep it legal as a relatively safe medical practice. 

No, there is no official Buddhist position on abortion, and the "pro-life" versus "choice" controversy seems to be unique to the Christian faith.        

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Colorado Springs

Protesters in Atlanta, 1991
Police haven't released a motive for the shooting in Colorado yet or said whether the Planned Parenthood clinic was the intended target, but the shooter was a 57-year-old white male from North Carolina, the home state of Eric Rudolph, the Olympic and abortion clinic bomber, and it's widely believed that Rudolph was aided and abetted by the people of North Carolina during his years on the lam.  The shooter was acting in Colorado Springs, one of the most politically conservative cities in Colorado and home to the US Air Force Academy and a bastion of fundamentalist Christianity. Colorado Springs has been called the Evangelical Vatican and the Christian Mecca.  Even if the gunman's target was not Planned Parenthood, an attack on that clinic in that particular town still sends a symbolic message of "war" against women's rights and reproductive freedom along well-defined political and religious lines.

But the State of Colorado also stands as a success story for government-funded contraceptive aid. Over the past six years, Colorado’s highly successful family planning program has offered teenagers and low-income women free long-lasting birth control that prevents pregnancy over several years. From 2009 to 2013, pregnancy and abortion rates plunged by about 40 percent among teenagers across the state.  As Robert Reich points out, in 2009 half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state occurred before they turned 21. But by 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that gives young women time to finish their education and obtain better jobs.

Colorado's experience shows that public investments in family planning make economic sense, because reproductive rights are also productive rights. "When women have control over their lives," Reich points out, "they can contribute even more to the economy, better break the glass ceiling, equalize the pay gap, and much more."

So it should not be surprising that far-right force and religious zealots, long opposed to women's rights and family planning, would like for us not to learn from the Colorado experience. Instead, the opponents released deliberately misleading videos, some of which were filmed in Colorado, implying that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue from abortions, and even after the videos were discredited as fraudulent, they were still discussed as fact in Congressional hearings and Presidential debates. And in yesterday's development, a Colorado clinic was attacked and at least three people killed.

As a nation, we cannot let this escalate into a full-on war against freedom of choice with attacks and counter-attacks.  The hypocrisy of those who kill for the "pro-life" cause is a testament to their extremism and will be the ultimate undoing of their movement as it slides toward hatred, violence, and isolation. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Protesters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1993
Eleven people, including at least four policemen, were injured by a gunman inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs today.

A suspect has been taken into custody, and while we do not yet know his motivations, the incident is still a stark reminder of the very real threat we face from home-grown, domestic terrorists.  With so much attention focused on the statistically remote risk from refugees of overseas violence and terror, we forget about the very real danger in our own homes.

Politicians and the media are quick to exploit our fear of "others," even when there's no known threat, and while the United States is the only developed country to suffer from gun violence of epidemic proportions, we seem at a loss on how to deal with the very real threat we present to ourselves.

UPDATE:  It's now been reported that one police officer and two civilians have been killed in the attack.  We grieve with the survivors and the families and loved ones of the victims.

Four Planned Parenthood clinics have been the targets of attacks in the past four months, including a fire at a Washington state clinic and another in California that was fire bombed.  Those of us who were here in Atlanta in the 1990s recall Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph's previous bombings of clinics.

A shooting rampage occurred in this same Colorado town less than a month ago and left three people dead.

The "motives," if any, of the shooter are not yet known, despite the similarities to attacks on other Planned Parenthood clinics.  A statement by Planned Parenthood reads, in part, "We don't yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don't yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of the attack.  We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country." 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Thanksgiving Tradition

We observe very few traditions here at WDW, but one of those few are the annual posting of American treasure William S. Burroughs' A Thanksgiving Prayer.  

Shanti . . . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Windows Are The Windows of the Walls

Listening well is an act of generosity.  George Bernard Shaw once said, “One way to be popular is to listen attentively to a lot of things you already know.” 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, footage aired on American television of a group of Palestinians in Jerusalem celebrating in the street.  Fox News reported that in Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, revelers fired weapons in the air, with similar celebratory gunfire heard at other camps as well. 

However, the jubilation of the Palestinians was apparently not due to pleasure over the attack. Footage not included in the film reportedly showed that the streets surrounding the celebration were quiet. People were reportedly gathered together specifically for the shot and children were incited to celebrate.  A woman seen cheering stated afterwards that she was offered cake if she celebrated on camera, and was frightened when she later saw the pictures on television.

It shows us how prone we are to reacting to direct threats from specific persons that an image of people celebrating our tragedy resonates so strongly in our mind.  The attacks were bad enough, but it's the thought that others were celebrating the attacks that enrages some people.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been claiming that he personally saw a crowd of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City following the attacks, raising the question of what Trump was doing in a Muslim section of Jersey City on 9/11.  But I wonder if what he saw was actually the discredited footage, and if his mind may have conflated it with memory of something he actually witnessed first hand.  

If he can't tell fourteen-year-old memories of Fox News footage from actual experience, how fit is he to be President of the United States, Commander in Chief, and leader of the Free World?    

Monday, November 23, 2015

Where Is Our Compassion?

I've been trying for some time now to avoid blogging about politics and current events, but I find it hard to remain silent over one particular recent development.

Imagine for a moment if during the November 13 massacre at the Bataclan in Paris the police decided not to storm the theater while the terrorists were inside systematically killing the concert-goers, but instead waited outside for the shooting to cease. "How will we be able to tell the terrorists from the audience?" they wonder.  "What if a terrorist were to drop his gun and act like a victim, and we were to accidentally lead him to safety and freedom along with the victims? We don't know these people - how can we choose who to rescue and who to fight?"  The surest and safest bet, they decide, is to not rescue anybody at all but instead wait until the shooting inside stops before going in and trying to sort things out, so instead of storming the doors they bundle off to a cafe for, oh, I don't know, a glass of cabernet and a croissant.

The world, of course, would have been justifiably outraged were this to have happened (it didn't). But recently, a majority of the American Congress, possibly a veto-proof majority, passed legislation that would make it so difficult for Syrian refugees to escape the horrific war being waged in their homeland by the very same persons that attacked the Bataclan that, in effect, none will be able to emigrate to the United States.  Rather than face that one-in-a-million (or less) chance that one of the refugees might be a terrorist in disguise, our cowardly Congress chose to let the Islamic State continue to slaughter and rape innocent men, women, and children, and maybe, just maybe, let refugees over here only after the Islamic State has finally been eradicated.  Do you not see how this legislation is the moral equivalent to the hypothetical case of the French police allowing the killing to continue at the Bataclan?

I can't vouch for the accuracy of the statistics, but I've seen a Facebook meme that states our odds of dying from cancer are 1:7 and our odds of dying in an automobile accident are 1:77.  According to the post, our odds of dying from a firearm assault are 1:25,000.  However, the chances that we will die from a terrorist attack are 1:20,000,000, lower even than the odds of being killed by a dog (1:11,000,000).  Yet even the remotest possibility of a terrorist attack drives this country into a frenzy of fear, and rather than face a statistical increase so incrementally small as to be negligible, we instead choose to let hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians languish in harm's way, if not die at the hands of the very same forces that terrify us so much.

Why do we spend trillions of dollars fighting a war on terror when the chances of harm are so very, very remote, yet refuse to pass even common-sense gun legislation to reduce the 1,000 times more likely possibility of death by firearms?   Why do we accept a 1:77 chance of death behind the wheel but lose all of our compassion and throw others to almost certain death over the 1:20,000,000 chance of death from terrorism?

As blogged at length here a while ago, we humans have evolved in such a way as to react readily to perceived direct threats from others and to avoid indirect threats not from a specific person or persons.  So while it's not likely that they can do much of anything to us, we freak out over images of crowds chanting "Death to America" half a world away.  One particular presidential candidate justifies his Islamophobia over claims that he personally witnessed crowds of Arab-Americans cheering in Jersey City during the 9/11 attacks, even though the police claim that no such demonstrations took place.  

But we have no problem accepting the notion that many of our loved ones, as well as us ourselves, may suffer a fatal accident on the highway.  Since nobody's threatening to kill us by automotive homicide, we accept those astonishingly high death rates, but since there is in fact people threatening us with terrorism, we choose to turn our backs on our Syrian brothers and sister while spending economically crippling quantities of cash trying to eliminate those making the threats, despite the four-orders-of-magnitude lower odds of death.

Of course, the ultimate irony here is that by turning our backs on the innocent Syrians, we make them more susceptible to radicalization and make it more likely that at least some of them may eventually become terrorists themselves, while simultaneously ostracizing and alienating Muslims and Syrians already here, and instead of lowering the probability of a terrorist attack, we actually increase it.  

But that's using logic, not our caveman, visceral gut-reactions.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Throw away all opinions, all likes and dislikes, and keep only the mind that doesn't know.  The mind that doesn't know is the mind that cuts off all thinking. When all thinking has been cut off, you become empty mind.  This is the mind before thinking.  Your mind before thinking, my mind before thinking, all people's minds before thinking are the same.  This is our substance.   Your substance, my substance, and the substance of the whole universe are one.  So the tree, the mountain, the cloud and you become one (restated from Seung Sahn, Dropping Ashes On The Buddha),

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's natural for a violet to blossom like a violet and for a rose to blossom like a rose.  There is no need for violets to produce rose blossoms.  We are all like violets or like roses, but we defeat ourselves by thinking, "I'm like a violet but I'm not satisfied with producing violet blossoms.  I want to produce rose blossoms." If a violet can't produce a violet blossom, its life is defeated and it's of no use. But you don't need to decide if you're a violet or a rose. Your life is yours and it is limitless in its potential. 

 - Adapted from Uchiyama's The Zen Teachings of "Homeless" Kodo   

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We all prefer happiness to misery, paradise to hell, survival to imminent death.  We are thus ever bifurcating reality, dividing it into something good and something bad, something we like and something we don't.  We discriminate between satori and delusion and strive to attain satori.  But the reality of the universe is far beyond aversion and attraction.  When our attitude is "whichever, whatever, wherever," then we manifest the whole universe.  In the attitude of attempting to gain something we are unstable.  When you strive to gain satori you are most definitely deluded because of your desire to escape your present condition. - Kosho Uchiyama, from The Zen Teachings of "Homeless" Kodo


Monday, November 16, 2015

Irish Whiskey and Soda

Success breeds conservatism.

After some mild success baking various quick breads (carrot bread, chocolate bread, zucchini bread, cranberry-walnut bread, etc.) and some muffins (blueberry muffins, banana-nut muffins, etc.), I found that I was reluctant to break away from the tried-and-true and started baking the same things over and over.  While initially I had no experience at all and everything was a new adventure to me, after gaining even the tiniest bit of expertise I didn't want to try anything outside of my newly acquired comfort zone.  Apparently, once my mind decided "I can do that" it also decided that "I can't do that other thing." 

Realizing this, yesterday I forced myself out of my comfort zone and made a batch of Irish soda biscuits, baked on a flat pan with a Silpan liner (never heard of that before) and no (gasp!) 5x9 pan or muffin tray. The dough actually required kneading, another new (to me) experience.  

They came out looking a little funny - all different sizes and irregular, asymmetrical shapes, but they tasted good - the raisins soaked overnight in Irish whiskey didn't hurt the flavor, either.

Also, new wire cooling rack.  Success also apparently breeds consumerism.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Webster

It is not that I don't care about the tragedy in Paris (far from it), and it's not that I don't have opinions and thoughts about it, it's just that there's really nothing that can be said that could possibly speak to the profound sorrow that we all feel.

If it's alright with everyone, I'll take a pass on talking about this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lessons From An Alaskan Pond

Twenty years ago, while solo backpacking among Alaska's Peters Hills, I learned a neat little lesson from this enigmatic backcountry pond about perception and how our minds work. 

It seems unbelievable that it was twenty years ago, but that's the way time flies.  Peter's Hills, it should be noted, would be considered mountains almost anywhere else, but they sit near the base of Denali, North America's highest point, in Denali State Park (not Denali National Park, a separate but nearby preserve, although Denali State Park would be a National Park almost anywhere else but at the foothills of Denali).

I knew I was somewhere near the mountain, but I wasn't sure if it would be visible from where I was hiking and the persistent cloud cover kept blocking my view of the sky.   But every now and then, the clouds would break up a little, and although the jagged teeth of the Alaska Range were monumentally huge, I'd get brief glimpses of an even higher, even larger peak, somewhere out beyond the closer range.

The snow-covered peak of Denali, I thought, dwarfing the "hills" near me.  It felt like true wilderness and profoundly affected my sense of scale, reminding me of how small we really are.  But as the long Arctic summer day passed, the clouds would open at other places in the sky, teasing me with glimpses of parts of another mountain, a peak even higher than the first, a mountain so inconceivably large I couldn't even see the top of it, and could only guess at its full size based on the shape of its slopes.  

The best view of the mountain all day, near sunset (around 11:00 pm at that latitude):

Even before Denali revealed itself to me at sunset, it was hard for my mind to grasp how inconceivably huge the mountain was.  I could almost feel its gravitational force dragging me across the landscape - it felt as if I were to trip, I wouldn't fall down but instead hurtle sideways toward the monumental mass of the mountain.

I spotted a pond and decided to hike over toward it to filter some drinking water.  But walking toward the pond, I lost all sense of scale, and couldn't tell how far or near to me the pond actually was.  All the usual indicators of relative size my mind was accustomed to use to gauge size and distance - trees, buildings, roads, etc. - were all absent, and the immensity of Denali threw my sense of proportion all out of whack.  The ground was covered by an unfamiliar tundra of strange lichens and moss that looked almost like miniature little shrubs and trees, making me feel like some sort of giant as I stepped over them.  Contrasting with the immensity of the gargantuan mountains around me, which made me feel smaller than small, it was hard to estimate the size of anything, and my mind even struggled with the relative proportions of the glacial landscape of rounded hills and U-shaped valleys. Walking toward the pond, I literally could not tell if it was still a ten-minute walk away or if my very next step was going to splash into water. 

What was near and what was far?  What was big and what was small?  Were those mountains, hills, or mere bumps around the water?  The only relative scale I had was my own body, and obviously, I couldn't see myself from a third-person perspective.  All I could do was keep walking and snapping pictures as I hiked.  I was lost in plain sight of everything and it wasn't until my toe finally did touch water that everything snapped back into perspective and I was suddenly reoriented.

It was an odd and strangely disorienting experience, but it showed me how the human mind uses familiar features and objects to gauge size and relative perspective, and how strange the world can appear when those landmarks and scales are suddenly gone.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Impermanence Is Swift

It rained hard all night last night but I managed to sleep through it, and it rained all day today but no trees came down yet on my house.  However, a tree did fall in nearby Buckhead and killed an 81-year-old man in his car; apparently a victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Impermanence is swift; life and death is the great matter. 
"The tree was one of many felled across metro Atlanta by the combination of the 20 mph wind gusts and the ground that was saturated by more than an inch of weekend rain."
The forecast is for a few days of respite before the rains come back again on Thursday.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Carrot Bread

The rain from last week continued through the weekend, including downpours for some reason around 4:30 am both Saturday and Sunday morning.  The acorns bouncing off the roof during those downpours woke me up both times, and I couldn't get back to sleep for all the racket (and worries that something larger was going to come falling down).  The combination of insomnia and dreary weather outside has made me particularly lethargic this weekend.

I took an easy route in my baking practice today and fell back to making the carrot bread I prepared last month - an easy task to go with my lethargy and comfort food for the week ahead.  Between the cinnamon and raisins in the recipe and the orange of the carrots, it can actually pass for one of those pumpkin spice dishes so popular this time of year, which makes me wonder how much of the "pumpkin" being served right now is in fact actually carrot.    

The rain's supposed to continue through tomorrow, and who doesn't love to wake up to dark, brooding weather on Monday mornings?  I just hope the acorns let me sleep through the night tonight - I might bake them into a cake if they wake me one more time!