Thursday, March 30, 2017

American Motor Over Smoldered Field

Apocalyptic scene from the evening commute - a pillar of black smoke emerging from beneath an underpass.  Sounds of howling belldogs and screaming sirens in the background, the traffic inches by the fire.  Even with my windows rolled up, I could feel the intense heat from the flames as I drove by.

Home, I went on line to see what was burning.  "Downtown streets closed amid ‘red mercury’ investigation," read the Atlanta Constitution Journal headline.  "A man claiming to have red mercury from Africa walked into the Region 2 location of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," according to police.  Homeland Security was called, and parts of Peachtree Street, Peachtree Center Avenue, and Courtland Street have been closed.  A hazmat team, bomb squad and fire trucks were seen near the investigation.  Sounds serious, but that's downtown, nowhere near this fire.

Maybe this is it?  "A car caught fire off U.S. 78 in DeKalb County after someone was shot," the next headline reads.   "One person was in critical condition after being shot in a car on U.S. 78 in DeKalb County," an incident confirmed by police to be related to road rage.  Well, this involved a burning car, but that incident was happening over near Stone Mountain, miles from the fire I saw.   

No answers to be found in the AJC, but fortunately for us the website for local television channel WSB has the story. "Massive fire shuts down I-85 N," their headline reads.   Traffic is now being diverted from the stretch of road above - I was apparently lucky enough to have made it past before the highway was shut. No details about what was burning, though, or why, but from the look of the "coverage" (actually, just a collection of tweets) it appears to have been a car fire.

I see a Facebook post report a "major fire disaster at I-85 and Armour Drive."  An entire section of the freeway I was just driving on has collapsed to the ground below.  "There was a great deal of PVC pipe being stored there," the post says, "which will cause enormous air pollution. Stay away if you live here.  This will take months to repair."

Okay, now the AJC has finally picked up the story.  They confirmed that the highway collapsed about a half hour after I had passed it.  The interstate will be closed in both directions "for the foreseeable future," they say.

Rush hour in Atlanta is turning into Armageddon.  News at 11.

Here's Montreal's Silver Mt.Zion Band to help us make sense of it all:

Monday, March 27, 2017

One afternoon back in the late '70s (or was it the very early '80s?), I took a nap on the living room sofa.  While I was asleep, in another room Mary Ellen put on the album After the Heat by Brian Eno and members of the German band Cluster. As the sounds of Side 2 began to intermingle with my sleep, they manifested themselves into lucid dreams. I became aware that I was listening to a record during The Belldog some time around the point where the vocals start - it might have been the sound of a human voice for the first time on an otherwise instrumental album that startled me out of deep sleep.  But it was as if the music was being channeled directly into my subconscious and I laid there a while longer in a state somewhere between sleep and consciousness, drifting along on the stream of music until I finally awoke fully, energized and strangely inspired, and I was forever changed.

Thirty-five years later and for the first time, I'm off to see Hans-Joachim Roedelius, the surviving member of Cluster, who will be performing at downtown Atlanta's Mammal Gallery tonight.  

Regarding the title of the song, Eno wrote, 
"I was walking through Washington Square Park, towards the 'Arc de Triomphe' style monument there. There was a little group of people under the arch, and the full moon stood low on the horizon, visible through the top of the arch. As I got closer I saw what it was that had attracted their attention. A very grubby man of indeterminate age was playing an out-of-tune upright piano on wheels: his touch was that of a plummy night club pianist, but the chords he used were completely strange. Over this sequence of soft discords he sang, again and again, in a trembling voice: "The belldog, where are you?" I have no idea what he meant by the belldog. For me it was (and is) an unidentified mythical character from some unfamiliar mythology...So the vague feeling I have about the belldog is that he is a herald; of what is not clear. Whatever it is, in the song he has either not yet appeared or has gone away..."

Monday, March 20, 2017

I distrust people who take one passage from the Christian Bible and then try and make an argument that the whole rest of the book should be understood through their interpretation of that one passage, so I won't do it.  But I do want to single out the opening lines of the Gospel of John for more discussion, not to try to reinterpret Christian thought but, like the devil himself, to use it for my own purposes.
John 1:1 - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God."
I understand that the term "Word" was a translation of the Greek logos (Λόγος).  Whatever logos meant to John, to the Greek Stoics before him, logos was the active reason pervading and animating the entirety of the universe. It was usually identified with the divine and Nature, but to the Stoics, logos was the force behind all animate and inanimate matter, and every human possessed a portion of the divine logos.  Whatever might become of a person, nothing or no one could take away that divine spark, that logos, than animated one's existence. 

If we assume that John was familiar with Greek philosophy, particularly Stoic philosophy, then his opening passage takes on new light.  Logos was with God in the beginning and God himself was logos, and as logos now pervades the whole of space, nothing in the universe is separate from anything else in the universe, and both God and man are logos, and the sacred and the profane are both part of one continuum.

John wrote his text some 300 years after Zeno started the Stoic school of philosophy, and sometime between Zeno and John, Buddhism began to embrace the notion that all things were of one nature, which they respectfully referred to as "buddha-nature".  All things not only had buddha-nature, they taught, but all things in the universe, both divine and mortal, were nothing but buddha-nature manifesting itself in the myriad forms found through the cosmos.

There are certainly differences in aspects of Stoicism and Buddhism, and clearly Christianity, even Gnostic Christianity, is different than these two, but all seem to be pointing at an enlightened understanding that all things are cut from the same cloth.  I sometimes think of it as cookie dough - like animal crackers, things can take on several different shapes and forms, but deep down, they're all cookie dough.  Taking a modern, scientific view, we can say that deep down all things are nothing but atoms and looking deeper, atoms are made up of neutrons and protons and electrons, and those are made of, I don't know, quarks or something, and quarks or whatever are composed of strings or string-like matter.  It's turtles all the way down, but through whichever lens we choose, we see that when examined closely enough, the difference between things, the separation between this and that, between self and other, object and observer, begins to break down.  

To avoid confusion with Buddhism or Stoicism or Christian mysticism or quantum physics, I refer to the base material of all matter, the substrate of existence, as potential, italicized to distinguish it from more mundane interpretations of the term.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Can Meditation Change Your Appearance?


Nothing in the whole entire universe has any real substance.  Everything consists of potential.

Potential is what I believe the Buddhists meant as buddha-nature, and what the Stoics called logos.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Video footage of spontaneous, anti-Trump demonstration at Atlanta's Hartsfield airport. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Can Meditation Change Your Appearance?

On a related note, for the past few weeks, they've been demoing a building near me at the corner of Peachtree and Collier Road.

As I write tonight, about a third of the building is still standing, and in the open, exposed scar where the building's been torn down one can see pipes and wires hanging out.  Jumbled-up slabs of concrete, flooring and ceiling materials.   The guts of the building spilling out for all to see.

Some may consider the demolition an eye-sore but I find it beautiful.  It shows us the building as it really is, not a polished monument to architecture, but just a big pile of steel and wires and pipes and conduits and tiles, once barely organized and holding it together, but easily reduced to rubble and chaos.  It shows us the building as it really is, but in a way we're not used to seeing it.  The unfamiliar view.

Zen teaches us to see things as they actually are - the thing itself - not perceiving things by the role they play or by the values we imbue them with.  It teaches us to look at the self the same way.  

As I'm coming to understand it, Stoicism encourages the same, unromantic view of things. 

Friday, March 03, 2017

Friday Night Video

This is the song that was playing when the gas pump, the heart of the engine, went out in my car. This is the song that broke my car's heart.


Thursday, March 02, 2017

I got to visit my car today.  Last night, after it appeared to die from a broken heart while I was driving home listening to that sad, sad Julien Baker CD, it got towed over to Lexus.  Today, I took an Uber over to the dealer to discuss the repairs and pick up a loaner car while they repair mine.

It turns out the gas pump went out.  Considering the pump is the virtual heart of the engine, pumping gasoline to the cylinders just like the heart pumps blood through the body, it's not much of a stretch to say the car died of a broken heart.

So the adversity was not really as bad as my imagination feared.  Yes, the cost to install a new fuel pump in a Lexus is staggeringly expensive, but not as much as the transmission overhaul that I feared.  I was able to work today comfortably from my own home, a friend offered me a ride but I chose not to be a burden and took Uber to the dealer, and they lent me (free) a brand new Lexus with less than 200 miles on it to drive around in while the parts arrive and they fix mine.  So other than the cost, it's really no big deal. 

I've lived through worse.

Zen teaches that things are only as bad or as good as your mind imagines them to be.  Stoicism holds that you choose whether to suffer or to revel in the circumstances that arise.  The same thing, basically.

But really, I'm fine.  I'll drive the loaner to work tomorrow and show off my "new"car to what I imagine will be my envious co-workers.    

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


I love adversity.

No, that's not really true.  That's bullshit.  No one loves adversity.  Adversity, by its very definition, is exactly what one doesn't want.

However, I can say that I respect adversity and admire it and can appreciate the lessons it teaches us about ourselves.

Case in point: driving home from work today, my car broke down.  Literally just stopped running about a mile from my home and would not go into drive.  Or reverse.  Or anything. Couldn't be driven.  I coasted to the side of the road, then rolled backwards until I wasn't blocking anyone's driveway.

Of course, right at that moment, after a month of drought, a thunderstorm hits as I walked the rest of the way home.   I was soaked to the bone by the time I got home.

I called a wrecker and waited at the car (after another walk back in the rain) for 90 minutes for it to finally show.  He took it away and where once I had a car, I now have a yellow receipt.

I'm safe at home now, but with no car and facing the prospect of an expensive repair, or worse.  I thought I had a busy day planned for tomorrow, and none of my obligations have gone away - I'm just going to have to figure out how to accomplish everything remotely from home (frankly, the least challenging of the hurdles in front of me).  I also have to figure out how to get some groceries and how to get to an ATM (of course, all this happens when I'm low on cash and low on groceries).  But even as I write this, I can think of half a dozen ways to do both - I'm healthy enough to walk several miles and I live in the city where nothing's ever too far away.  I do have to figure out how to get to travel the 10 or 15 miles or so to the dealer that (hopefully) now has my car.  

Now, adversity is teaching me that complaining - like I sorta, kinda was doing above - won't accomplish anything, but I just need to face and solve each problem as it arises. We can't control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it and what we do about it.    

I know I haven't posted much recently, and haven't posted anything meaningful in quite a while, but see what adversity does for us?  It got me blogging again.  But my point is that since the tragic election of last year, I've been taking comfort in the words and writings of the Stoic philosophers, and have been finding more and more that Stoicism is a more practical aid in real day-to-day life then Zen Buddhism ever was.  But the real gift I've discovered is Stoicism as seen from the perspective of Zen, or a Zen-Stoicism cocktail, if you will.  Zen Stoicism, perhaps, or Stoic Buddhism.

If you'll indulge me, I hope to post more about this in the future, but tonight, still drying out from my walks to and from my broke-ass car, I'm going to settle down for a bit with an Old Pal.  

I deserve it.