This will be pretty short, and very few of the words will be my own. I recently had the misfortune of getting in a petty argument over the merits of a good friend's musical preference over at my blog and am afraid it may have caused some significant damage to our relationship (short term I hope). I miss his contributions and hope he returns soon. While reflecting on this, I ran into a great thread at one of my favorite blogs, Rationally Speaking, in which the host reflected on a nasty pie fight he'd inadvertantly started on the subject of abortion. A commenter posted Sydney Hook's The Ethics of Controversy and it struck me as something this community might find of value. Posted in its entirety over the orange scrunchy.
In whitewater streams and rivers, when the water flows with a steady force over a particular geometry it forms what is called a standing wave. This wave is stationary in the stream and maintains its form as long as the river flows with sufficient force. I think the mind, in combination with its environmental context creates a similar phenomenon which we know as self. Just as the standing wave in a stream is always changing, the water droplets are constantly being replaced, so too our sense of self is constantly in flux. The sensory input is always changing, as is the chemical balance that forms the ground for the neurons and synapses that constitute thought. Though there is constant change, there are patterns that repeat over and over again with perhaps very subtle variations. The patterns are taken to be real and substantial, though they are really as impermanent as the sensory input that activates them. For most creatures, the patterns can’t be modified consciously. Even for humans this is a big challenge, but our self-reflecting nature does make it possible. To me, this is really the essence of the insight of the man known as The Buddha which is that we are processes and have the capability of altering ourselves for our greater happiness and that of others. All we need to do is wake up.
Standing waves are great for kayakers and canoeists because they can be played with. A good kayaker can hold his position relative to a standing wave for quite some time. Standing waves aren’t perfect though. There is a natural component of chaos in the system that makes it particularly challenging for the kayaker as they have to make minute adjustments to stay with it. This is where the danger is, but it’s also what makes it fun. Sometimes standing waves intersect with others and the junction between them produces more chaos, but sometimes also a whole new wave when the forces are in harmony.
Selves are like this too.
It was the Wednesday night dharma talk at the lighthouse. The teacher was a guy who has talked there countless times. He's a wonderful human being who counsels the dying and exudes compassion. He was the first teacher I met and has often brought me peace of mind in trying times. Last night, however, I just wasn't buying it.
Things started going off the rails early when he discussed the constant struggle we have with suffering by using the example of opening the refrigerator to get the cream for your coffee, but there is no cream. This causes a mild form of suffering that we need to be aware of because it's the seed of a constant stream of suffering we must endure throughout our day and on and on to the end of our days.
More on why this rankled me so below the warped mandala.
I just saw The Hobbit on Christmas Day and thoroughly enjoyed it. For the most part I felt it was a glorious adventure story that was fabulously entertaining. The two major criticisms I've heard were not problems for me at all. First is that it is too slow and "padded". As a fan of opera and especially Wagner I am used to slo-o-o-w and drawn out storytelling. When I listen to Wagner I appreciate the full immersion and the total lack of any rush in getting through it. I think Jackson's treatment of The Hobbit was similar. It's a great story and deserves to be told and enjoyed at leisure. I felt the slow pacing built the suspense nicely for the action sequences, which were brilliant. As for padding, Jackson inserted a comment in Gandalf's dialog early on that beautifully excused any such tendencies, "A good story deserves embellishment."
The other criticism is the double frame rate 3D and it's hyper-real look that supposedly exposes the details too much and ruins the movie magic (props are too obviously probs and makeup is makeup, etc.). I was forewarned and saw the 2D 24fps version which was gloriously immersive enough for me.
For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, I don't want to reveal any spoilers, but I'd like to share an insight from another of Gandalf's lines later in the movie that shouldn't be a betrayal of any surprise plot points. Still don't jump over the orange curliques if you are highly spoiler sensitive.
Planet my love
I know that we’re dying
your rivers run empty
my air fades away
our children retreat
into your deepest havens
your surface lies barren
’neath the sun’s deadly rays
Last night I was so delighted by the animation diaried by tunesmith breaking the health care reform issue down to stick figure simplicity that I immediately posted it to my blog with the simple statement preceding:
"I’d like to see every right wing nutjob rebut this video:"
Within an hour I had my wish.
Yesterday I attended a Town Hall held by my congresswoman, Jackie Speier, conveniently located about a five minute walk from my house in Montara, California. There were few signs of opposition to health care reform until the first couple of questions. It seems the astroturfers have recalibrated their strategies to look less crazy, but their talking points were essentially the same. There were the arguments of "it costs too much", "what’s the rush?", "how can we expect the government to do something competently", and of course "death panels" and "socialism."
Last winter a crazy thought came into my head. At 52 years of age I felt I hadn't done anything artistically significant in life, anything I could feel content with as I lay dying. So I thought it's time to write an opera. Then I thought, "yeah right." I'd written a few songs much earlier in life, well not even full songs. A few bass lines that band members had fleshed out into full songs. Lyrics? Almost never. Just had very little confidence that I could produce anything decent on my own. So the thought passed...
As a major Obama supporter who's been dwelling on the subject of the questionable value of religion, recent events regarding his relationship with Jeremiah Wright have me a little shaken. One question I ask myself is, how religious is Obama really? Did he choose to join this church as a typically political antidote to the taboo against being irreligious? Did he do it just for street cred in the black community? Maybe the guy is really, deeply religious as he claims? I've never been sure I wanted to believe this last possibility, but on the other hand, he's always struck me as being authentic, so to be a true believer would be in line with that.
The shocking Christmas Day incident at the San Francisco Zoo in which a Siberian Tiger escaped its enclosure and attacked and killed one zoo visitor and severely wounded two others has had a powerful effect on me emotionally. I have suffered over the years from chronic nightmares involving attacks by various big cats and have felt drawn to all stories involving incidents of this nature at zoos and in the wild.
I feel further attachment to this story because I have come to know this zoo pretty well and feel especially connected with the big cats there.
President Bush has said Iraq is "the central front in the War on Terrorism." He is wrong. The central, decisive front is America's fight for energy independence.
The world economy is currently running on a resource that is controlled by our enemies. This threatens to leave us prostrate. It must change—and the good news is that it can change, quickly.
I plan to do a chapter-by-chapter review of Robert Zubrin's Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil at my blog, New Worlds, and will cross post here because I think the subject is of great interest to the progressive community. I also hope to get feedback from some of the excellent thinkers on energy and environment who post here regularly.
First a few words on the author. I first encountered Dr. Zubrin through his leadership of the Mars Society and his outstanding book The Case for Mars. Zubrin is a brilliant engineer, holding advanced degrees in aeronautics, astronautics and nuclear engineering. He is also blessed with a wide ranging visionary mind, has studied and written extensively on history and even has a couple of sci-fi novels to his credit. I have enormous respect for him personally.
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