Saturday, July 12, 2008

Marc Gafni Update & A Confession/Apology

For those of you who may have come here looking for my recent post on the current situation with Marc Gafni, which I had found at another blog, it is temporarily pulled from public viewing.

I received a phone call from Gafni today, asking for the opportunity to speak with me about the allegations so that I might willingly pull that post, in which I labeled him an abusive guru, and feel that I have done so with integrity.

I am more than willing to grant his request. However, I asked to do it via email so that there is a written record of the conversation (I lack the know-how or the tools to do it via phone even I wanted to). I am awaiting his reply.

Since receiving the phone call, I have read the recent material in his defense -- Trial by Internet -- posted at The Catalyst. I have also read the newest public statement at his blog. Let's just say that I remain skeptical.

However, I was talking with my closest friend about this situation. What I have realized is that based on some things that happened to my sister when she was young, and to some friends in college, I ALWAYS side with the victim in sexual misconduct/abuse cases. I have little sympathy for the accused, and barring obvious evidence to the contrary, am often all too ready to condemn.

In this case, Gafni confessed at the time. Adding credence to the confession was Ken Wilber's statement at the time (which I believe has been pulled from Wilber's blog). Gafni now says he confessed while in a state of shock:

My initial response emerged from a place of radical shock, confusion, trauma, and fear. All products of the mind’s illusion, yet painfully real at the time.

Though at the time I was not thinking clearly about this, in retrospect I realize that the decision to write the letter was driven by several factors.

I felt that as “Captain of the Ship” I needed to take responsibility for any sickness that appeared in a system that I had created. I also recognized that my bohemian personal life had made me vulnerable to attack. Though I had sincerely believed that I had a right to a private life, it seemed clear that the unconventional nature of my personal relationships could not be held ’safely’ even in the alternative spiritual culture of the movement I headed, and that they had put my work at risk.

I also found the notion of engaging in a sensationalist conflict in the public realm so abhorrent and defiling to my spirit, and the experience of personal betrayal so painful and devastating, that I preferred to fall on my own sword. I believed that writing the letter would, in some measure, end the attacks, and give me time to heal and think things through.

Finally, I had simply been blind-sided by the speed and incomprehensibility of these events.

Sounds reasonable, but this also comes two years after the fact. After fleeing Israel and keeping a very low profile.

I want to give this man a chance to defend himself, but my bullshit detector is going off.

Anyway, so yes, I assumed him guilty as charged based on the confession and other information at the time.

However, I am a pretty damned flawed human being -- what right do I have to pass judgment? And by repeating those allegations here I am indeed passing judgment. Gafni (in his phone message) said that my post was coming up second on Google searches for his name, ahead of his own blog, and that this was causing him and his family considerable hardship and grief.

Part of me wants to say, "Damn right asshole."

But where is the compassion in that? As a Buddhist, I sometimes think, WWBD? (What Would Buddha Do?) For that matter what would Jesus do? Neither man would condemn another person, but neither man would tolerate self-deception nor passing off sexual abuse as the "unconventional nature of my personal relationships," or a "bohemian personal life."

I currently don't know what the truth is. If Gafni agrees to an on-the-record exchange with me, and in doing so I will be as fair as humanly possible, then I will report it here.

Death by Gonzo

A nice review of several new books about Hunter S. Thompson. I was a huge fan of Thompson when I was in my 20's. I'm loooking forward to reading a couple of these books.

Death by Gonzo

No one was more ambivalent about his own legend than Hunter Thompson.

(Photo: Ernie Leyba)

Hunter Thompson, whom I knew off and on for 33 years and introduced to Rolling Stone, would have laughed that summer ’08 is turning out to be his season. There’s Bill McKeen’s new biography, Outlaw Journalist, which benignly covers his rise and fall in the sixties and seventies and then his slow crash, beginning in the eighties. There’s Jann Wenner’s Gonzo, an “oral biography” without narrative, which dumps a surprising amount of shmutz on his old star, despite its professions of brotherly love. And there’s Alex Gibney’s Gonzo, a documentary with narrative by Johnny Depp, which restricts itself to the nascent legend, before Thompson found, then lost himself.

When I first met him, there hadn’t yet been much “gonzo”—mad, self-referential spontaneity—about him. He’d had a best seller in 1966, Hell’s Angels—a group he’d followed around for a year in his old Volvo, just like a regular reporter. The book was controlled, even “sociological.” He’d been working for Dow Jones as a stringer in South America, was married, had a son, and, for financial reasons, needed a magazine base between books.

The gonzo stuff started partly out of frustration—at Warren Hinckle’s Scanlan’s magazine the year before he came to Rolling Stone. There was a piece called “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy,” about the French ski champ being groomed as a TV pitchman. It had originally been done for Playboy but was rejected—Killy was so boring Thompson said he’d had to mock him “to get the story up on its legs.” The full flowering, though, came with “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent & Depraved,” in which Hunter ignored the race entirely to concentrate on those in the box seats, his old class enemies from Louisville, where he’d grown up. In an admittedly drunken and speed-driven screed, he excoriated them.

He didn’t think much of either piece. He hadn’t even wanted to turn the second one in: “It’s just gibberish,” he’d told the wicked, one-eyed Hinckle. “When gonzo first happened, Hunter’s reaction was terrible guilt,” Sandy Conklin, his first, long-suffering wife, says in Wenner’s Gonzo. “They didn’t get it. They said it was great, but Hunter knew it wasn’t.” But later, she told McKeen, he’d perceived that an “avenue” had opened up for him, that he’d found something people liked, and would pay for.

Read the whole review.

Tsering Shakya - Tibetan Questions

Tibetan Questions is the title of an interview with Tsering Shakya over New Left Review. He offers a rather different view of Tibet, more influenced by history and politics, than we normally get in the West. I found this to be a very interesting interview.

Tsering Shakya was born in Lhasa in 1959. His father, the headmaster of a small Tibetan-language private school, died while he was still a child. The family was divided by the onset of the Cultural Revolution: an older brother and sister were strongly committed leftists, while another brother was imprisoned for opposition to it. In 1967, his mother left for Nepal with Shakya—her youngest child—and her other daughter. Shakya attended a Tibetan school in the northern Indian town of Mussoorie for several years; in 1973, he won a scholarship to a boarding school in Hampshire, and then continued his studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Between 1983 and 1990 he worked on anti-racist campaigns with Labour-run municipal councils in London. During the 1990s Shakya produced his outstanding history of Tibet since 1947, The Dragon in the Land of Snows, published in 1999. He also translated the autobiography of Buddhist monk Palden Gyatso (Fire Under the Snow, 1997), and co-edited the first anthology of modern Tibetan short stories and poems (Song of the Snow Lion, 2000). He now teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and is currently working on a study of modern Tibetan literature.

In 2002 NLR published an exchange between Shakya and the Chinese dissident writer Wang Lixiong—a discussion that broke taboos on both sides. In ‘Reflections on Tibet’ (NLR 14), Wang emphasized Tibetan participation in the Cultural Revolution, and sought to explore the paradoxes of PRC rule in the region. Shakya’s response (‘Blood on the Snows’, NLR 15), by contrast, foregrounded recurrent Tibetan resistance to Beijing, and the colonial nature of the latter’s dominion over the Plateau.




Your landmark history of modern Tibet, The Dragon in the Land of Snows, suggests a broad four-part periodization for developments since 1951. During the first period, 1951–59, the Chinese Communist Party sought to work in alliance with Tibet’s traditional ruling class under the Seventeen-Point Agreement: a ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement, with autonomous rule by the Dalai Lama’s government. After the flight of the Dalai Lama and the crushing of the 1959 rebellion, the second stage, 1960–78, saw the extension of Communist reforms on the Plateau and the redistribution of monastic and aristocratic lands, accelerating with the collectivizations and mass mobilizations of the Cultural Revolution. Following 1980, there was an era of much greater liberalization and ‘Tibetanization’ under Hu Yaobang, accompanied by open-door trade and migration policies—followed by a clampdown after 1989. Looking back, how would you characterize the situation in Tibet in the 1980s, under Hu Yaobang?

The 1980s reforms were welcomed by Tibetans, who saw them as a major transition, and still regard Hu as one of China’s best leaders. At the time, many said that things had never been so good. It marked the start of a period which people thought would bring a certain cultural and economic autonomy for themselves as individuals, and for the Tibetan region as a whole. It was seen as an opportunity to revitalize traditional cultures—the first noticeable sign of this being when people reverted to wearing traditional Tibetan clothes, instead of the blue overalls. Economically, the region also now emerged from a period of real deterioration, running from 1960 to 1980, which was even worse than the years leading up to 1959. The slump was partly due to a total mismanagement of the region’s production, which had been drastically altered by the imposition of communes and co-operatives; these were disastrous for the indigenous economy. They were disbanded under Hu’s reforms, and traditional systems were revived. Living standards returned to what they had been before 1960, a change that was naturally welcomed by the Tibetan Plateau’s overwhelmingly rural population: at this time, 95 per cent were engaged either in herding or in agricultural production.

Click here to open a larger version of this picture in a new window

So what accounts for the protests in the late 80s?

The immediate trigger was the growing tension between the monasteries and the Communist Party. The government had expected the reforms to bring increased consumer spending, but in many cases people simply put the extra money they had towards rebuilding the monasteries. There was a big expansion in the number of monks, and in some rural areas there were more people going to monasteries than to local schools. The government was concerned at this growth, and also about the monasteries’ funding: they received large quantities of donations which they did not have to account for. By the mid-80s, leftists in the cp were pointing to these developments as an example of Hu’s liberal policies going wrong, and the government moved to restrict the number of monks and gain control of monastic finances. This created opposition, and it was the monasteries and conservative elements that were the main groups leading the protests in the late 1980s.

At the time, people were turning strongly to religion—something they were denied during the Cultural Revolution, but that they now had access to. There was a powerful impulse to fight for greater tolerance of religious practices. But the protests were also responding to changes taking place in Tibetan society under the reforms. There was a major debate at the time about the directions Tibet could take in the future—traditionalists believing that we must revert to time-honoured ways in order to preserve Tibet; younger, college-educated people feeling that it will only survive if we abandon such traditions, and seek a modernized Tibetan culture, creating new identities, new literature and art. In this view, it was Tibetan Buddhism and its traditions that had hampered the creation of a Tibetan identity that might have better resisted conquest and subjugation; and it was a new, stronger identity that was needed to overcome Tibet’s current condition. This indigenous critique of the Tibetan past—a self-examination mainly proposed by the younger, educated elite and writers—was seen by the conservatives as somehow a disguised attack by the Chinese on Buddhism. The two groups were not just divided by age, though: there were many young people who shared the conservative view. In general, those educated in the monastic community or through the traditional system were much more conservative than those who went to universities and colleges. These students did not join in the protests at all. Even now, many college-educated people tend to think the 80s protests were unnecessary—that the reforms were taking Tibet in the right direction, and the demonstrations did great damage in altering that course.

To what extent were the protests of the late 1980s stimulated from outside—by the Dalai Lama’s addresses to the us Congress and European Parliament?

The 1980s were a sort of opening for Tibetans—those inside Tibet were allowed to travel to India and go on pilgrimages to see the Dalai Lama. They established new links with the Tibetan diaspora and political leadership, and became much more aware of the organized politics of the Tibetan question. At the same time, the Dalai Lama’s speeches to the European Parliament and the us Congress gave them a sense that there was more support for the Tibetan issue in the international community than really existed. Western countries would make statements about some social issues, but their desire to engage China as it emerged from isolation in the 1980s meant that Tibet was never going to be a major obstacle for Beijing.

How would you characterize Chinese policy following the imposition of martial law in 1989–90?

There had been concerns within the Chinese leadership about the direction of the reforms: some felt Hu Yaobang’s policies were too extreme and were undermining China’s position in Tibet. When the monks’ demonstrations began in the late 80s, the hardliners saw it as proof that more liberal policies had led to heightened Tibetan nationalism, encouraging demands for independence. The period from the imposition of martial law to the present has seen a dramatic change in how Beijing deals with Tibet. There were to be no more compromises; Tibet was to be brought under tighter administrative control, and its infrastructure integrated more closely with the rest of China. The Plateau had been isolated from China by poor roads and communications, and the prc leadership believed that the separate provisions made for Tibet in the 1980s accentuated its difference from the rest of the country. So the first policies adopted under Hu Jintao, Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region from 1988 to 92, were aimed at economic integration—establishing infrastructural links by building roads, opening the Qinghai–Tibet railway, improving telecommunications and so on. Billions of dollars have been spent on the development of the region since 1990.

This means that the Chinese government is to some extent justified when it says that the Tibet Autonomous Region can only survive through government subsidies. The Regional government cannot even raise enough money to pay salaries to its own employees; its ability to levy taxes is very weak at present. All the major infrastructural initiatives—railways, roads, power systems—have been dependent on injections of funds from the central government. This chronic dependence on the centre is one of Tibet’s biggest problems—the region has no economic clout to negotiate with Beijing and has to follow its directives, because it is essentially the Central government’s money that is paying for the Region’s development.

Read the rest of the interview.

Psychology Today Interview - Alanis Morrissette

Alanis Morrissette is an easy target for people to dislike, but I kind of enjoy much of her music, even the angry man-hating stuff. Psychology Today talked with her about fame, being a princess, and disillusionment.
Eccentric's Corner: Rock Star Next Door
Alanis Morrissette is a multiplatinum artist with chops on the silver screen.

Name: Alanis Morissette

Profession: Musician

Claim to Eccentricity: Combines wisdom and whimsy in life and art.

Alanis Morissette describes herself as very girl-next-door. Sure, if your neighbor has sold 40 million records and won seven Grammy Awards. After becoming a child star in Canada, Morissette hit it big worldwide with Jagged Little Pill in 1995, then ran from the fame. Hearing her reflect is like listening to a sportscaster calling a game between humility and ego. She obviously roots for the former without underestimating its opponent. Now, after four years away from the studio, she has a new album, Flavors of Entanglement, and stars in the upcoming film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Radio Free Albemuth.

When did you decide to become a rock star?

I saw Grease when I was 3 and I fell in love with this whole concept of performing and telling stories through music. I started dancing when I was 7, and then I was on a TV show called You Can't Do That On Television. I started writing songs when I was 9, and I sent a tape of a couple of songs to a friend of my parents in Toronto and we immediately went into the studio. I never felt pushed, but I think being in the public eye at a really young age is a form of child abuse.

At 9 you wrote "Find the Right Man." What were you thinking?

I was a love addict from a very young age, so I had that whole princess thing going on, and I'm still trying to work it out.

What drove you to India in 1997?

That was right after the whole Jagged Little Pill mayhem. I wanted to disappear off the face of the planet and just be of service somewhere.

Since you wanted fame for so long, was achieving it a letdown?

I called it a fantastic disillusionment. I was conditioned by the Western credo of money and fame above all. Certainly I accrued a lot of wealth and got about as famous as a person can possibly get, breaking records and winning awards. I also realized that I was left with the same demons, only now they were more pronounced and certainly more public and easily misinterpreted, so it didn't solve anything. No solving, just complicating.

What's your relationship with fame like now?

Every once in a while my ego is like, "Woo hoo! I'm important!" [Laughs] But now I use it as a tool. There are certain experiences I've had that people can use as a comfort, and maybe as a lift. And this is the less explainable part: I really feel like it's part of my vocation to be in the public eye. I don't think that's ego, although there's probably ego in it. I'm just supposed to share my journey.

Because your journey is special, or because you're good at plucking insights from it?

I can distill things. That's a talent that serves me well when I have three minutes to say something in a song. And all of this is B.S. by the way. [Laughs] Maybe I'm supposed to garden. I have no idea.

Since you've been performing for most of your life, are there parts of you that you can only get in touch with on stage?

Yeah, definitely. It's like everything in my mind gets really silent, and I let the spirit or whatever word you want to use for God come through me and I offer it up to the audience. I was just watching footage tonight and I seemed to myself like an 80-year-old crone and at the same time a 13-year-old kid running around.

You played God in Kevin Smith's movie Dogma. Smith once said, "She's the closest thing to the divine here on earth."

He might have changed his mind after working with me. [Laughs] I think he projected a lot onto me. There was a period when I was one-dimensionalized as singularly angry, and then I went through an era after the song "Thank U" when everyone saw me as singularly spiritual. And I'm assuming now they're going to say I'm singularly funny or singularly a party girl.

Your popular parody video of The Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" helped.

A lot of my friends in L.A. are comedians so we were just self-entertaining. And also I was writing this record when I said, "God, it would be so good for me to do a song that's super straight-ahead like 'My Humps.' " It's basically about a guy having to work—"make you work, work, make you work." And I said, "Well I can't write it but I can sing it." A couple weeks later we were shooting a video in my garage.

Could you write a humorous song?

If I could bust my own chops in a song—without turning it into a novelty song—I would, but I can't. I go into the studio giggling and food's coming out of my mouth, and then we start writing and it gets instantly serious.

What's your ideal acting role?

To play a TV character who comes on every 10 episodes and has, like, a 10-year story arc. And the character would span every trait in the human condition.

Would this be a sitcom, or...

It would combine Six Feet Under, Three's Company, and South Park. And it would be claymation! Then I wouldn't have to worry about how I looked.

In Dogma, your only line was "Boop!"

Yeah, that's so great because what the f*** would God really say? My idea was to do handstands and pick flowers and be kind of entertained by it all, and neutral. Actually, I'd compare the life force to a loving grandparent in a rocking chair watching people date and break up and fight and kill, and saying, "Oh you sweet little things, you'll figure it out."

This is the video for "Underneath," from the new album, Flavors of Entanglement:

Neal Stephenson - Bending Genres, Ending Genre

A nice lecture from Neal Stephenson on Bending Genres, Ending Genre, as posted at Good Magazine.
Neal Stephenson tells an audience at Gresham College how and why genres don't exist as they did, say, 50 years ago. If you have time for it (or even if you don't), it's a great lecture about the relationship between romance and violence, how science fiction became speculative fiction, and the bifurcation of mainstream and marginalized story-telling.

Friday, July 11, 2008

PROFILE: Karmapa Lama

From the PBS show:

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly -- An online companion to the weekly television news program

A profile of the Karmapa Lama.
BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: The Dalai Lama is now here in the U.S. for nearly a month of teaching across the country. He is the world's best-known representative of Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps of all Buddhism. But now another potential Buddhist leader is emerging.

The Dalai Lama, who turned 73 last Sunday, leads one of the four schools, or denominations within Tibetan Buddhism. The 23-year-old Karmapa Lama, leads another. His supporters believe he may one day succeed the older man as Buddhism's leading international voice. Recently the Karmapa visited the U.S. for the first time, and Kim Lawton talked with him.

KIM LAWTON: They call him "a reincarnation of the living Buddha," and this young spiritual leader is already on his way to international superstar status. His name is Ogyen Trinley Dorje. His title is the 17th Karmapa Lama, and after the Dalai Lama, he's now Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest ranking spiritual leader. During a recent visit to the U.S. -- his first introduction to the West -- thousands came out to venues from New York to Seattle to see the 23-year-old Buddhist master.

DZOCHEN PONLOP RINPOCHE (Narlanda West Buddhist Center): The young Kamarpa is the most powerful Buddhist meditation teacher. His scholarship is excellent, and also his youth and his presence makes a profound impact.

Dalai Lama and Karmapa Lama
Dalai Lama and Karmapa Lama

LAWTON: The term karmapa literally means "the embodiment of all the activities of the Buddhas." For the last nearly 1,000 years, a karmapa lama has led the Kagyu tradition within Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhists believe enlightened spiritual masters can choose to be reincarnated in order to come back and help others achieve enlightenment.

This karmapa's followers see him as part of an unbroken line of Buddhist wisdom.

LAMA SURYA DAS (Western Buddhist Teachers Network): He feels very close to us from the last life and through all of our good aspirations and good things that we have been trying to do together to help bring peace and sanity and wisdom and love into this very volatile modern world.

LAWTON: In an exclusive American television interview, the Karmapa told me he's pleased with how Buddhism has taken hold in the U.S.

GYALWANG KARMAPA (through translator): Americans have taken a great interest in Buddhism and many Americans have put forth a lot of energy in order to propagate the teachings of Buddhism. And I think they have achieved excellent results within this short period of time.

Lama Surya Das
Lama Surya Das

LAWTON: The Karmapa's international acclaim is enhanced by the dramatic story that surrounds him. He was born in 1985 to a family of nomads in eastern Tibet. When he was eight years old, he was identified as fulfilling the prophecy left by the previous karmapa who had died in 1981. The Dalai Lama had a dream which confirmed the recognition of the new karmapa and Dorje was taken to live in a monastery. Although some rivals support a different karmapa, Dorje is the only high lama to have been officially recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.

But China keeps a tight reign on Buddhism in Tibet, and when he was 14, Dorje snuck out of his monastery and made a secret escape across the Himalayas by foot, horseback, taxi and train. Eight days later, he arrived in Dharamsala, India, headquarters of the Dalai Lama, where he has spent the past several years in study and meditation.

As the heads of two different streams within Tibetan Buddhism, karmapas and dalai lamas have historically been rivals. That has now changed.

SURYA DAS: This Kamarpa 17th is very close to the Dalai Lama and lives in Dharamsala and they're like this. So there is no sectarian rivalry or anything. They're very much close together.

LAWTON: That closeness has led many to suggest that the Dalai Lama, now 73, is grooming the Karmapa as his spiritual heir and the next international voice of Buddhism. It's a suggestion the Karmapa doesn't shy away from.

A young Karmapa Lama
A young Karmapa Lama

GYALWANG KARMAPA (through translator): I have no special plans to take over any specific role after whenever it is that His Holiness, the Dali Lama, passes away. However, I would be delighted to serve in accordance with the level of confidence and trust the people had in me. It does seem to be the case that I am receiving more and more recognition in the world. And my main aspiration is that I use this recognition for a beneficial purpose.

LAWTON: Because the Dalai Lama heads the Tibetan-government-in exile, there is much speculation about the Karmapa's potential role in China-Tibet politics as well. He avoided such sensitive topics during his visit to the U.S., and steered questions about politics back to the practice of Buddhism in Tibet.

GYALWANG KARMAPA (teaching, through translator): It's important to understand that cherishing sentient beings, loving sentient beings, is the root of compassion.

LAWTON: As his public role now expands, expectations about his future leadership are high. With his trip to the U.S., the teachings he once gave to private audiences at his monastery are being sold on DVDs and posted on the Internet.

PONLOP RINPOCHE: I'm not talking politics but from spiritual point of view. You know, he is like a spiritual king. Naturally he has that presence, he has that command.

A Seattle audience
A Seattle audience

LAWTON: The Karmapa is learning English, although not yet confident enough to teach or give an interview in the language. But a few words trickle through.

GYALWANG KARMAPA (speaking English): I need a dictionary.

LAWTON: He can come across as uncomfortable, reserved, even stern. Yet there are flashes of humor, too.

GYALWANG KARMAPA (speaking English): I forget the translator.

LAWTON: It's easy to forget he's only 23. During one Seattle appearance, he mentioned that he used to like reading "X-Men" comic books, but then people stopped giving them to him. So we got him one. In many ways, he's been isolated, his responsibilities pressed upon him since he was a small child.

GYALWANG KARMAPA (teaching, through a translator): And I would think thoughts like, why are my attendants who are disciples of the Karmapa making my life so miserable? Why are they locking me in a box and putting on the lid?

LAWTON: Followers say this karmapa is well aware that technology has made the world a smaller place, and that Buddhism must stay relevant.

Karmapa Lama
Karmapa Lama

GYALWANG KARMAPA (through translator): Because of the Internet, we live in an age in which information can travel very rapidly to different places. Before, it used to be the case that just having a karmapa alive was good enough for everyone. People didn't need a lot of information about who the karmapa was or what the karmapa was doing.

SURYA DAS: He has continuously talked about not holding on to things just because they're old, but to adapt, and keep the essence, but to adapt to new times and places.

LAWTON: This karmapa believes that Eastern Buddhists and Western Buddhists can learn from one another.

GYALWANG KARMAPA (through translator): The essential points of Buddhism are beyond culture and beyond traditions.

LAWTON: Given the level of devotion he's already cultivating in the West, his followers say this karmapa lama may well be the future face of Buddhism around the world.

I'm Kim Lawton in Seattle.
Watch the video.

Dr. Thomas Szasz, ADHD Is Not a Disease

Dr. Thomas Szasz has been quite the critic of modern psychology, especially the labeling of children with mental illnesses. Here's the video, then I have some thoughts below.

He has a point -- to an extent. We tend to pathologize a lot of fairly normal behaviors. This is especially problematic in children, where a label can shape identity for a lifetime.

However, as cognitive neuroscience continues to grow, we are learning that some things, such as ADHD, are actually brain chemistry dysfunctions, which fits even his definition of a disease.

The question then becomes -- and I think no one is really looking at this -- what is normal? Boys are diagnosed with ADHD at much higher levels than girls. But maybe boys just have less focused attention in general, and maybe this is a normal part of development.

There are some tough questions we need to be looking at as neuroscience begins to take over the field of psychology. We need to tease out in more detail what is adaptive and normal, even if it doesn't fit what we want to see, from what it truly not healthy in terms of who we are as human beings.

The failure to do this will result in a chemical version of Harrison Bergeron, where "everyone is finally equal."

Karen Armstrong - The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions

Karen Armstrong speaks about the beginnings of our religious traditions, an overview of her recent book.
Meet Karen Armstrong, one of the world's leading writers on religion and the highly acclaimed author of the bestselling "A History of God" introducing a major new work: The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions.

Life Optimizer - 50 Simple Happiness Boosters

A nice post from Life Optimizer how to boost our happiness levels with some fairly simple techniques.

50 Simple Happiness Boosters

By Donald Latumahina, July 10, 2008

Note: This is a guest post by Anand Dhillon from Self-Help for Self-Mastery.

Here’s a list of 50 different things you can do when you’re not in a good mood and need a quick boost to improve your emotional state.

1. Read a book – Gaining more knowledge will make you better prepared to accomplish what you desire.

2. Volunteer – Helping others is a great way to boost how you feel about yourself.

Happiness 3. Give someone a compliment – Brightening someone else’s day also brightens your own.

4. Dress well – Making yourself look great demonstrates to yourself how valuable you think you are.

5. Say please and thank you – Holding your behaviour to a higher standard makes you feel better about yourself.

6. Look for the best in others – When you see the best in others, the natural tendency is to start to see the best in yourself.

7. Keep a gratitude journal – Write down everything you are grateful for and refer to it any time you need a quick pick-me-up.

8. Eat well – What you consume affects your biochemistry. Eat well to make sure your body is happy.

9. Exercise – Physical exercise releases chemicals in your brain that give you a natural high.

10. Smile – Your physiology and your mental state form a positive feedback loop. Everyone knows that when you are happy, you smile but it`s also true that when you smile, you are happy.

Go read the other 4o!

Daily Om: The Effect of Not Doing

This was Wednesday's Daily Om. It reminds me of something a college professor used to say: not making a decision is making a decision.
The Effect of Not Doing
When We Don’t Take Action

Life is sculpted on a moment-to-moment basis. Every one of the thoughts we think, the words we speak, and the actions we take contributes to the complex quality and character of the universe’s unfolding. It simply is not possible to be alive without making an impact on the world that surrounds us. Every action taken affects the whole as greatly as every action not taken. And when it comes to making the world a better place, what we choose not to do can be just as important as what we choose to do.

For example, when we neglect to recycle, speak up, vote, or help somebody in immediate need, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to be an agent for positive change. Instead, we are enabling a particular course to continue unchallenged, picking up speed even at it goes along. By holding the belief that our actions don’t make much of a difference, we may find that we often tend to forego opportunities for involvement. Alternatively, if we see ourselves as important participants in an ever-evolving world, we may feel more inspired to contribute our unique perspective and gifts to a situation.

It is wise to be somewhat selective about how and where we are using our energy in order to keep ourselves from becoming scattered. Not every cause or action is appropriate for every person. When a situation catches our attention, however, and speaks to our heart, it is important that we honor our impulse to help and take the action that feels right for us. It may be offering a kind word to a friend, giving resources to people in need, or just taking responsibility for our own behavior. By doing what we can, when we can, we add positive energy to our world. And sometimes, it may be our one contribution that makes all the difference.

Satire - U.S. Intelligence: Burundi May Be Developing Telephone

International news from The Onion.

U.S. Intelligence: Burundi May Be Developing Telephone

July 10, 2008 | Issue 44•28

WASHINGTON—According to a report released by the Pentagon, evidence suggests that the small Central African nation of Burundi may be developing a telephone, and experts warn the country could be just 10 years away from achieving a dial tone. "If Burundi's telephone has long-distance capabilities, it will be possible for them to reach the continental United States and parts of Canada with just the push of several buttons," CIA spokesman Richard Caburn said. "Thankfully, we possess advanced caller ID technology, so if they ever decide to call, we will be prepared." The Pentagon has mailed Burundi a letter asking them to end their communications program immediately, and has not ruled out the option of a preemptive nuclear strike on the nation.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dark Chocolate Sales Double in Two Years

Saw this at That's Fit:

Dark chocolate sales double in two years

Posted: Jul 10th 2008 7:00AM by Jacki Donaldson
Filed under: Food and Nutrition, Health in the Media

Dark chocolate has been enjoying an improved image lately, with all the good press regarding its health benefits.

It may still be high in sugar but it's rich in antioxidants, contains less fat than milk chocolate, and in some circles is considered a Super Food. No wonder dark chocolate sales are soaring.

Dark chocolate sales in Britain have doubled over the past two years, a new report reveals. By the end of the year, the British chocolate market is expected to grow even further. Predictions have sales growing 17 percent by 2013.
So that was in Britain, but I'd guess the same is true here in the States.

I've become a fan of Green & Black's 85% Dark Organic Chocolate [pictured above]. Mmmm . . . tasty, and I never even used to like chocolate very much. Low in sugar and high in fats, much of them saturated, so MODERATION is the key if you don't want to be large.

Lots of good antioxidants in this stuff, though a little bitter compared to regular chocolate -- goes well with Merlot after dinner.

My Life in Records

Via The Onion A.V. Club Blog: There's a new survey circulating in the blogosphere, which asks you to pick a favorite album for each year you've been alive.

Danny Fisher tagged me to make my list, and since I am a bit of a music fan I thought this might be fun -- then I remembered how much older I am than some of my blogging peers (much longer list).

Anyway, here ya go -- a little of the expected, some not so much. Caution: I'm revealing my metal-head and punk roots here. There are quite a few ties (some three way ties), because I couldn't choose just one. And I reserved the right to say a given year just sucked.

1967: Strange Days - The Doors
1968: White Light/White Heat - The Velvet Underground
1969: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin tied with At San Quentin - Johnny Cash
1970: Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
1971: Led Zeppelin IV (officially untitled fourth album) - Led Zeppelin
1972: Transformer - Lou Reed
1973: The Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
1974: no winner
1975: Metal Machine Music - Lou Reed tied with Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
1976: 2112 - Rush
1977: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols tied with Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel
1978: The Scream - Siouxsie and the Banshees
1979: Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division tied with The Wall - Pink Floyd
1980: Seventeen Seconds - The Cure tied with Closer - Joy Division
1981: Rage in Eden - Ultravox
1982: PornographyThe Cure tied with Under the Big Black SunX
1983: War - U2 tied with The Final Cut - Pink Floyd
1984: The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking - Roger Waters
1985: Misplaced Childhood - Marillion tied with Rain Dogs - Tom Waits
1986: Rage for Order - Queensrÿche
1987: The Joshua Tree - U2 tied with Appetite for Destruction - Guns N' Roses
1988: ...And Justice for All - Metallica
1989: Disintegration - The Cure tied with Pretty Hate Machine - Nine Inch Nails
1990: The Winding Sheet - Mark Lanegan
1991: Nevermind - Nirvana tied with Ten - Pearl Jam
1992: Us - Peter Gabriel tied with The Future - Leonard Cohen tied with The World Inside - Human Drama
1993: In Utero - Nirvana
1994: MTV Unplugged in New York - Nirvana tied with Whiskey for the Holy Ghost - Mark Lanegan tied with Hips and Makers - Kristen Hersh
1995: To Bring You My Love - PJ Harvey
1996: New Adventures in Hi-Fi - R.E.M. tied with Ænima - Tool
1997: Either/Or - Elliott Smith
1998: The Devil You Know - Econoline Crush
1999: The Distance to Here - Live
2000: Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - PJ Harvey
2001: Amnesiac - Radiohead
2002: Momento's En El Tiempo - Human Drama
2003: Final Straw - Snow Patrol tied with History for Sale - Blue October
2004: Live at Benaroya Hall - Pearl Jam
2005: Plans - Death Cab for Cutie
2006: Foiled - Blue October tied with Eyes Open - Snow Patrol
2007: The Shade of Poison Trees - Dashboard Confessional
2008 (so far): Narrow Stairs - Death Cab for Cutie

Wow, that took a while -- and was kind of fun.

I tag John Craig, ~C4Chaos, and Matthew Dallman. Hopefully all three will play along.

Daily Om: Bringing Out The Best

This was Tuesday's Daily Om, a good post on doing on-the-spot shadow work to reclaim our projections.
Bringing Out The Best
Checks And Balances

Most of us have probably come across the universal wisdom that the people who irritate us the most are expressing qualities that we ourselves have. This is why family members can be so vexing for so many of us—we see ourselves in them, and vice versa. This isn’t always true, of course, but when it is, it’s a real opportunity for growth if we can acknowledge it, because it is infinitely easier to change ourselves than it is to try to change another person, which is never a good idea. For example, if we have a coworker who engages in some kind of negative behavior, like complaining or trying to control everything, we can look and see if we ourselves carry those traits.

We may have to look to other situations in our lives to see it, because we behave differently in different environments. Perhaps we don’t complain at work, because our coworker overdoes it, but maybe we do it with our friends. Maybe we aren’t controlling at the office, but we’re used to being in control at home, and this is why we feel so irritated not to be in control at work. Even if we look and find that we are not engaging in the same behavior that we see as negative in others, we can still learn from what we are seeing in this person. The truth is, human nature is universal, and we share many of the same tendencies. What we see in others can always help us to understand ourselves more deeply.

Having the ability to see something in another person, and automatically bring this observation back to ourselves, is like having a built-in system of checks and balances that enables us to be continually engaged in self-exploration and behavior change. When we see behavior we don’t like, we can make a concerted effort to weed it out of ourselves, and when we see behavior we do like, we can let it inspire us to engage in imitation. Through this process, we read our environment and let it influence us to bring out the best in ourselves.

7 Troubling Questions About Science’s Pursuit of Robot Sex

Only 7?

This is an entertaining post from Cracked, riffing on David Levy's contention that we'll be getting a groove on with robots in the not too distant future. Uh, yeah, why exactly would you want to do that?

7 Troubling Questions About Science’s Pursuit of Robot Sex

by Chris Bucholz

An artificial intelligence expert by the name of David Levy has recently predicted that within the next 40 years, robots will have advanced to the point where they’ll be so similar to humans in appearance and mannerisms that people will have sex with them freely. None of the articles I’ve read state whether Mr. Levy grows agitated and sweaty when discussing this, but I’m going to go ahead and say that yes, he does become agitated, and sweatily aroused when discussing fucking robots, the loose linen pants he prefers doing nothing to conceal his desires. That’s just the kind of reporter I am.

With my baseless slander set aside for the week, I can turn to the hard, turgid issues raised by this concept. This is more than just the sexual equivalent of a batting cage we’re talking about here. Pleasuring spouses is one of the last great American industries to resist out-sourcing, so the concept of robotic labor making inroads into the sector is a grim portent indeed. As it happens, the topic of love making robots came up several times in a series of short, uhh, stories I once wrote on a newsgroup for a popular space travel themed show set where no man has gone before. So I’d already compiled several notes on the subject, which I present below in an exciting enumerated format:

1) Virginity. Right off the bat, here’s a question that needs to be answered: are you still a virgin if you do it with a robot? I never seriously counted my first clumsy experiences with R.O.B. but will future-lads feel the same?

2) Error messages. Unless there’s similar advances in the fields of sugar-coating, the error messages presented by a sexbot are a potential minefield for user relations. You thought you hated the paperclip before?

3) Viruses. At least we’d be safe from old fashioned diseases of the sort typically communicated by Thai-lady-boys. With proper maintenance, (which I don’t encourage you to think about too closely) your chances of catching VD from a sexbot will be fairly minimal. But keeping your robotic lover protected from electronic diseases could be a major headache. Left unguarded, malicious code could be uploaded to your efficient bedtime pal, compromising your personal data. Sure you don’t tattoo your bank PIN number on your dick now, but who knows how banks will work in the future? And how awkward would it be if your robotic paramour clamped down and held your genitals hostage until a ransom was paid? Imagine that happening the day before an important social event. 21st century Jane Austin-esque novelists will have more to say on the subject I’m sure.

Go read the rest of the post.

Do You Have Healthy Relationships?

Well, do I?

You Have Very Healthy Relationships

You are an amazing friend, partner, and family member.

You always take other people's feelings into account, and you're never selfish.

Your relationships are based on mutual respect.

You respect the people you love, and you only love people who respect you in return.

OK, I do pretty well, but I'm not that good.

Who Needs the Humanities?

Steve Fuller, writing at Project Syndicate, offers up Who Needs the Humanities? Really, this is a rhetorical question, since he thinks we all do -- and I wholeheartedly agree.

Who Needs the Humanities?
by Steve Fuller

WARWICK, UK – Nowadays, in country after country, policymakers have become obsessed with the need to strengthen science education. But what about the humanities – all those disciplines (literature, history, languages, and so forth) whose relevance to economic competitiveness is not so obvious?

We need the humanities only if we are committed to the idea of humanity. If the humanities have become obsolete, then it may be that humanity is losing its salience.

I do not mean that we are becoming “less human” in the sense of “inhumane.” If anything, we live in a time when traditionally human-centered concerns like “rights” have been extended to animals, if not nature as a whole. Rather, the problem is whether there is anything distinctive about being human that makes special demands of higher education. I believe that the answer continues to be yes.

Today, it sounds old-fashioned to describe the university’s purpose as being to “cultivate” people, as if it were a glorified finishing school. However, once we set aside its elitist history, there remains a strong element of truth to this idea, especially when applied to the humanities. Although we now think of academic disciplines, including the humanities, as being “research-led,” this understates the university’s historic role in converting the primate Homo sapiens into a creature whose interests, aspirations, and achievements extend beyond successful sexual reproduction.

What was originally called the “liberal arts” provided the skills necessary for this transformation.

Read the whole article.

Tiny Vipers - On This Side

Raw music from my former home, Seattle.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Daily Dharma - The Fieriness of Fire, The Wildness of Wind

A very good Daily Dharma today from Pema Chodron.

The Fieriness of Fire, The Wildness of Wind

The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort. We don't even have to call it suffering anymore; we don't even have to call it discomfort. It's simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. The four elements take on different qualities; they're like magicians. Sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. . . .The first noble truth recognizes that we also change like the weather, we ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon.

~ Pema Chodron in Awakening Loving-Kindness; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

BIOTEST - Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea has gotten some good press over the years (here's one) as an adaptogen, but most of the products on the market have been fairly uneven in their quality. Having read some good studies on standardized extracts, I decided to try this promising herbal a couple of years ago. It was nearly impossible at the time to find an extract of more than 3%, and I didn't notice any benefit from taking it.

Fast forward 2 years.

Leave it to Biotest, one of the very few supplement companies I trust, to introduce a powerful standardized extract, labeled at 15% rosavins, the active constituent.

Here is their product introduction/advertisement:

Adaptogens, as the name might suggest, are compounds that literally help the body adapt to — and resist — physical, chemical, and environmental stress.

This article will describe exactly how valuable that property is, but you can probably imagine for yourself how useful an adaptogen might be in a variety of situations.

One adaptogen in particular has been the focus of a lot of our research over the years and the cause of a lot of torn-out hair.

This particular herb, Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola), truly warrants the label of "super herb." In fact, it's been on the short list of "must have" supplements kept by our smartest guys.

Unfortunately, there were problems. We'd recommend Rhodiola to competitive cyclists and intense gym rats, and the results were hit and miss; some athletes would rave about Rhodiola and some would report no perceived benefits. To make matters worse, regardless of the brand, there was a huge inconsistency between bottles. In other words, just because brand X worked once didn't mean that it'd work again. We simply couldn't find a brand to recommend that produced consistent results.

This inconsistency in the field was matched with inconsistency in the lab. While the scientific community's studied the herb for years, they couldn't come up with consistent results, either. As such, much of the published literature on Rhodiola was noncommittal; they didn't know if it worked or it didn't!

The conclusion was that one batch often varied enormously (in terms of potency) from the next.

But all that's changed. We know where in the plant the highest concentrations of rosavins exist, and the process of extraction has gotten better and better, thus ensuring consistency and enabling us, finally, to come out with a product that matches Biotest's incredibly high standards.

Yes, I know, Rhodiola isn't a new supplement by any means; even the Vikings were drawn to Rhodiola to enhance their legendary physical strength and endurance.

And no, Biotest hasn't just "run out of ideas" and been forced to dredge through the relics of pharmaceutical history to come up with a new product.

Rather, this version of Rhodiola is so pure, so potent, so desirable in comparison to any previous version or extraction that we might very easily make a case for it being a new creation on God's earth.

Bold words? Maybe, but let's take a look at this "new" adaptogen.

What is Rhodiola?

Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola) thrives in extremely cold environments with intense sunlight, which explains why those Northern-dwelling Vikings were so familiar with it.

Rhodiola is one of those high-performance herbs that, in addition to having loads of "street cred," also has some pretty interesting science behind it.

Studies have shown that users can train longer, at higher levels, without overtraining. And it does this in a way that's different than conventional recovery models.

In 1968, Soviet pharmacologists determined that Rhodiola met all of the necessary criteria for classification as an adaptogen, which, as mentioned earlier, literally means that it helps the body adapt to — and resist — physical, chemical, and environmental stress.

Forty years and over 180 research studies later, a growing body of Western scientists and physicians are beginning to study and consequently prescribe this "super herb."

Traditional uses of the plant include stimulating the nervous system, improving depression, enhancing work performance, improving sleep, eliminating fatigue, and preventing high-altitude sickness.

Although more research is necessary to refine these findings, recent clinical trials on standardized extracts of Rhodiola rosea have reported impressive improvements in performance, immune function, cognitive function, and most commonly, a pronounced improvement in mood and a reduction in mental fatigue.

How Does Rhodiola Affect Humans?

Rhodiola boosts physical and mental performance, along with enhancing recovery from intense-resistance exercise. Broadly speaking, these beneficial effects result from the interplay of several physiological mechanisms.

Rhodiola rosea...

How is BIOTEST® Rhodiola rosea Extract Different?

Rhodiola extracts vary substantially in potency and purity. Most common are extracts that contain 1% to 3% total rosavins. Occasionally, you might find 9% or even 10%.

However, as mentioned earlier, this inconsistency has historically been the problem with Rhodiola, the problem that prevented it from becoming the supplement superstar it really is.

BIOTEST® Rhodiola rosea, on the other hand, contains on average 16% total rosavins (label claim is 15%), making it the most potent and most-pure Rhodiola extract available anywhere.

How Do I Use Rhodiola?

Clinical doses are based upon receiving 6 mg to 12 mg of total rosavins per day (which would contain 3-6 mg of rosavin), taken on an empty stomach.

Recent studies suggest moderate daily doses to be more effective than higher doses, at least in healthy humans. And doses exceeding 60 mg of total rosavins are not recommended as they're associated with irritability and insomnia.

As with other adaptogens, administration of Rhodiola rosea should coincide with stressful situations only — athletic or otherwise — and periodic intervals of non-use should be observed.

In other words, Rhodiola should be treated like a medicine. Simply, when the "patient" is cured, he stops taking the medicine.

Put it this way: once Rhodiola has enabled you to adapt to physical or environmental stress (training, dieting, etc.), you can't adapt any further. That's when you cycle off Rhodiola.

How Do I Cycle Rhodiola?

Following an on/off-cycling protocol of 3:1 seems to work best.

How Should an Athlete Use Rhodiola?

Rhodiola is an excellent supplement for athletes to use during times of increased physical demands to manage fatigue and enhance the body's ability to recover from training. Here are some specific examples of how an athlete would use Rhodiola:

Or, in the case of the Vikings, when you're getting set to raid, plunder, or conquer.

You can view the references for this article here (scroll down and click on "references").

All in all, this looks like it might be a good supplement. I'm planning a 30-day fat loss program for August, so I think I'll add this to the mix and see if it helps with the stress of training hard and hardly eating.