Saturday, December 22, 2007

Short Fiction: Things Past

Things Past

The yearly cycle comes to an end. The slow, steady decline reverses, days no longer growing darker, shorter, collapsing beneath the weight of what has passed.

J stares at the stubble on his face, the shadowy reflection in his mirror. Wrinkles around his eyes, his mouth, reveal the age that seems so unreal.

He picks up the razor, sets it down again, then picks it up one more time. Three days growth. Until today he has not looked in a mirror. Three days feels like forever.

Forever begins again this day. The ancient renewal of the first day. But not for J. Three days ago time stopped and may never again restart.

He tries to remember anything from the last three days, but all he sees is the inside of a cave. Dark. Cold. Maybe a bad dream. But he cannot make himself wake up.

Today is the first day. Reborn. From what to what he cannot recall. Everything from his past is lost in the desert. Covered in sand.

A lizard suns itself on granite. Cactus wrens squawk their alert that a stranger has entered their domain.

J stands before the mirror, wandering and lost in a vast, arid desert. His voice cannot escape his lips, sun-parched, cracked, mouthing the words of seemingly meaningless prayers.

His hand reaches to touch the mirror, but the surface is liquid, violable, lacking solidity. Like him.

The face in the mirror smiles. It bears no resemblance to the man J thought he was. Once was. No more.

All around him the year swallows its tail. The ancient, archaic, always-present serpent. Trickster and tempter.

J reaches to touch his face, the wrinkled corners of his mouth, upturned. Against his volition. All sense of time and space misplaced, swimming in the dark depths behind his eyes.

Three days ago something happened. Feels like death, but still his lungs expand and contract, the heart beats. He is sweating and chilled, standing before the mirror, the razor beside the sink.

A brief flash of illumination, then nothing. Recent wounds, now scars. Surrender. Acceptance.

December 25th. Three days ago he was raised from oblivion. Reconstituted. Given new form, but the loss of any sense of self.

J breaks the plastic razor against the ceramic sink, removes the blades. Three sharp blades, one for each day he cannot recall.

Solstice night. The darkest day and longest night. Three days ago. But what happened to bring him to this moment? Three days ago. What myth is embodied in his flesh?

Early morning, day of the Nativity. It's time. J walks into the bathroom, places a small plastic plug into the drain, and fills the bathtub with hot water. He collects the blades and removes his t-shirt, Levis jeans, and boxer shorts.

The water is too hot, but he slowly lowers his body into the tub. With a precise hand, he makes the cuts, three incisions in his left arm. The water reddens.

There is no pain. Only the desert, searing sunlight, vultures circling, a cacophony of distant voices. And the snake, always the snake, tail in its mouth.

The water slowly drains, the plug slightly loose. A red wring around the rim of the tub, but in its ceramic depths, an infant. Crying. Naked. Alone.

On this day, the word made flesh.

Pete Abel's Perfect Candidate (and Mine)

Weird, I was just thinking about how I might create a Franken-candidate, composed of the best qualities of the leaders in each party. Pete Abel, writing over at The Moderate Voice, beat me to it. [Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for linking to this.]

Among the current candidates for President, who is (or is closest to) my vision of a perfect candidate?

Easy. His name is Ron Obamacain.

He has the eagle eyes of Ron Paul: a crystal-clear vision of pervasive liberty. He has the wide-open heart of Barack Obama: the requisite character to diffuse the boiling rage that now infects our public dialogue, domestically and internationally. And backing up all of this, he has the unflinching spine of John McCain: the strength and chutzpah to stand up and fight when necessary.

Yes, I know: I cheated. I stole DNA from three candidates to create one. So be it. If the question is unanswerable, then I’m compelled to give an unrealistic answer. On the other hand, I recognize that I (probably) won’t be able to complete this Dr. Frankenstein act before election day, so how do I actually vote?

Congressman Paul definitely intrigues me. I find in his candidacy an inspiration similar to what Andrew Sullivan found, when he penned his endorsement for the good doctor from Texas. But there are limits to my Paul fealty, for reasons of perceived insanity; reasons similar to those articulated by Andrew’s co-blogger at The, Megan McArdle, and also by Sean Aqui at Midtopia.

With respect to Obama, I’ll return to Sullivan for the defining word. I disagree with much of the Senator’s politics. But he thoroughly embodies the audacious hope expressed in the title of his second book. He effectively works across the aisle. He naturally snuffs out the flames of dissent. And for all of those reasons, he seems the best answer to these days of fury in which we now live; these days when restoring our international standing is as important (if not more so) than resolving our domestic squabbles.

On the other hand, I doubt a peacemakers’ disposition and talent are enough to succeed in these dangerous times. We also need a candidate with tested and vetted strength … which brings me to McCain. The fighter. The survivor. The straight-shooter. Those recent (and apparently unfounded) rumors of impropriety notwithstanding, McCain has a track record that’s impossible to ignore. (Even Sullivan flinched for McCain before endorsing Paul, as did one of his readers.) But I also worry that McCain’s temper and/or age may get the best of him before his most redeeming qualities can produce results.

I like some of what Ron Paul stands for (anti-interventionist, controlled spending), but his social views (anti-choice, anti-gay) scare the hell out of me (same with most GOP candidates -- even Giuliani has recanted on abortion and gay rights). Paul has big cajones, and that generates a lot of interest from those who dislike the trend toward basing all positions on poll results.

Obama is probably my favorite candidate, exactly for the reasons Abel mentions (via Sullivan). I like his optimism, his big-heartedness. But I fear his inexperience and his apparent proclivity to seek compromise even when he is right. Admittedly, it is this ability to compromise that makes him effective -- and a potentially great leader on the world stage. He's moderate enough -- and dislikes pointless bickering enough -- to get things done.

But Obama needs McCain's toughness (but not his pandering to the "powers that be" in order to be a contender -- the fundamentalist right will never trust a man who was once pro-choice). McCain, as mentioned above, is a surviver. And here in AZ, he is widely loved by both parties (although the hard-core liberals hate him on principle). I was a big fan of McCain until he began sucking up to Bush in 2004, apparently in an effort to be "next in line." Didn't work out so well -- he should have stood by his beliefs.

What's missing in this mixture is a bit of Fred Thompson's big ideas. He and Ron Paul are both strict Constitutional adherents, but Thompson doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell because he thinks abstractly, and he hasn't yet mastered the technique of making big ideas into little sound bites. It's too bad that he even has to learn to do that, but with the 15 second attention span of most Americans, it's crucial.

So, my perfect candidate would be Barack Thompcainpaul. Boy, that's a mouthful.

Daily Dharma: Dukkha is Our Best Teacher

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

Dukkha is Our Best Teacher

Dukkha is our best teacher. It will not be persuaded by any pleading of misery to let go of us. If we may say to a human teacher, “I don't feel well....,” the teacher may reply, "I am very sorry, but if you want to go home, then you must go. If we say to dukkha, "Look, I don't feel well.... I want to go home," dukkha says, "That's fine, but I am coming along." There is no way to say goodbye to it unless and until we have transcended our reactions. This means that we have looked dukkha squarely in the eye and see it for what it is: a universal characteristic of existence and nothing else. The reason we are fooled is that because this life contains so many pleasant occasions and sense contacts, we think if we could just keep this pleasantness going dukkha would never come again. We try over and over again to make this happen, until in the end we finally see that the pleasantness cannot continue because the law of impermanence intervenes.... So we continue our search for something new, because everybody else is doing it too.

~ Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies; from Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith.

For many, Dukkha is a rather challenging concept that is generally translated as suffering, but that translation fails to convey the full impact of the Buddha's teachings on the nature of Dukkha. This bit from the Wikipedia entry helps flesh out the full meaning of this central term in Buddhist psychology.

Dukkha is the focus of the Four Noble Truths, which state its nature, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. This way is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. Ancient texts, like Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta and Anuradha Sutta, show Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, as insisting that the truths about dukkha are the only ones he is teaching as far as attaining the ultimate goal of nirvana is concerned.

The Buddha discussed three kinds of dukkha.

  • Dukkha-dukkha (pain of pain) is the obvious sufferings of :
  1. physical pain
  2. illness
  3. old age
  4. death
  5. bereavement
  • Viparinama-dukkha (pain of alteration) is suffering caused by change:
  1. violated expectations
  2. the failure of happy moments to last
  • Sankhara-dukkha (pain of formation) is a subtle form of suffering inherent in the nature of conditioned things, including the
  1. skandhas
  2. the factors constituting the human mind

It denotes the experience that all formations (sankhara) are impermanent (anicca) - thus it explains the qualities which make the mind as fluctuating and impermanent entities. It is therefore also a gateway to anatta, selflessness (no-self). Insofar as it is dynamic, ever-changing, uncontrollable and not finally satisfactory, experience is itself precisely dukkha.[5] The question which underlay the Buddha's quest was "in what may I place lasting relevance?" He did not deny that there are satisfactions in experience: the exercise of vipassana assumes that the meditator sees instances of happiness clearly. Pain is to be seen as pain, and pleasure as pleasure. It is denied that such happiness will be secure and lasting.[6]

All of the Buddha's teachings were aimed at understanding the nature of Dukkha and how we can use this as the vehicle to transcend this basic reality of our lives.

Even in Western psychology, we realize that, for most people, no change will ever occur until we recognize the reality of Dukkha, though that term will seldom be used. It takes some form of suffering to generate in most of us the need or desire to understand why and how we are suffering. Only then do we begin to look at our lives and begin the quest for self-transformation.

This may all seem rather pessimistic and depressing, but while Buddhism sees life as inherently comprised of Dukkha, Buddhism also teaches that this is not our true state. We all possess Buddha Nature, the "truly real, but internally hidden, eternal potency or immortal element within the purest depths of the mind, present in all sentient beings, for awakening and becoming a Buddha."

Until we embrace Dukkha as our teacher, we will never be able to access the Buddha Nature within all of us.

Daily Om: Obligations

This was yesterday's Daily Om -- a good reminder for this holiday season, when we have so many obligations, that self care needs to be our first obligation. If it isn't, we will not be able to enjoy the gifts of the season.

To Others And To Ourselves

We all encounter obligations in life, from spending time with family and friends to being present at important functions in the lives of the people who form our community. Many times, the obligations are actually fun and fulfilling, and we want to be there. At the same time, we all sometimes experience resistance to meeting these obligations, especially when they pile up all at once and we begin to feel exhausted, longing for nothing so much as a quiet evening at home. At times like these, we may want to say no but feel too guilty at the idea of not being there. Still, our primary obligation is to take care of ourselves, and if saying no to someone else is what we have to do, then we do not need to feel bad about it.

There is a skill to balancing our obligations, and it starts with simply becoming aware of our schedule. We may notice that three invitations have arisen in one weekend, and we know that we will pay energetically if we attempt to fulfill all three. At this point, we can take the time to weigh the repercussions of not going to each event, considering how we will feel if we miss it and how our absence might affect other people. Most of the time, it will be clear which obligation we can most easily let go and which one we simply can’t miss. Sometimes we have to miss something really important to us, and that can be painful for everyone concerned. At times like this, reaching out with a phone call, a thoughtful card, or a gift lets people know that you are there in spirit and that your absence is by no means a result of you not caring.

Meeting our obligations to others is an important part of being human and not one to take lightly. At the same time, we cannot meet every obligation without neglecting our primary duty to take care of ourselves. We can navigate this quandary by being conscious of what we choose to do and not do and by finding concrete ways to extend our caring when we are not able to be there in person.

Brahms - Scherzo in C minor for violin & piano

Nice piece. Here's the video blurb:

David Oistrakh and Frida Bauer play the scherzo from the F-A-E Sonata.

"The ‘F.A.E' Sonata, a four-movement work for violin and piano, is an interesting example of a collaborative effort by three composers.Robert Schumann, the young Johannes Brahms and Schumann’s pupil Albert Dietrich.


Friday, December 21, 2007

New Poem: Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

The year devours itself, eternal
collapse, the long darkness,
negation of light, a cold clear
December night -- all is quiet

all is calm -- awaiting the morning
sunlight to melt away the frost,
offer its gift of warmth, the signal
of a new year rising from the old.

But right now, still is the darkness,
so I burn candles, wear warm sweats
and write these words on the page,
hoping to summon some awareness,

a connection to cycles within cycles,
a solstice, a time when everything
is new, reborn in the purification
of the past's murky mistakes.

I offer wine and incense, soft
prayers of renewal, but my efforts,
alone, cannot redeem the darkness
in which we live, and slowly die.

Meditation: In illo tempore

At around 11 pm tonight (West coast time), this year will come to an end with the arrival of the Winter Solstice. Tomorrow morning the year will be reborn anew, fresh, sacred, as it was the first time, in illo tempore (as it was in the past, at an indeterminate time). This is an archaic designation for the beginning of the New Year, but in primal cultures it existed for millenniums.

I thought this would be a good time for a meditation on the meaning of the New Year, taking recourse in religious anthropology. If I gloss over some steps of logic, it's because I taught this material for a semester in college, so it all feels like common sense to me.

From Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane:

The cosmos is conceived as a living unity that is born, develops, and dies on the last day of the year, to be reborn on New Year's Day. We shall see that this rebirth is a birth, that the cosmos is reborn each year because, at every New Year, time begins ab initio.

The intimate connection between the cosmos and time is religious in nature: the cosmos is homologizable to cosmic time (= the Year) because they are both sacred realities, divine creations. [Pg. 73]

This is a profound insight for those we consider primitive peoples. While it's easy for those of us who are rationalists (or integralists) to look down on ancient, primal cultures as engaging in magical thinking, there are still some profound truths that they lived and celebrated.

Ancient peoples celebrated the cosmogony each year as a "new" event. While we understand that the world is not born anew each year, literally, we can attain state experiences where all time is one time, where we can see the post-logical truth to these ideas. We know this experience as a transpersonal state, while the ancients knew it as reality -- which we now see as a pre-personal and pre-rational stage.

More from Eliade:

[J]ust as the cosmogony is the archetype of all creation, cosmic time, which the cosmogony brings forth, is the paradigmatic model for all other times -- that is, for the times specifically belonging to the various categories of existing things. [Pg. 76]

And this:

Since the New Year is a reactualization of the cosmogony, it implies starting over again at its beginning, that is restoration of the primordial time, the "pure" time, that existed at the moment of Creation. This is why the New Year is the occasion for "purifications," for the expulsion of sins, of demons, or merely of a scapegoat. For it is not a matter merely of a certain temporal interval coming to its end and the beginning of another (as a modern man, for example, thinks); it is also a matter of abolishing the past year and past time. [Pg. 77-8]

Many of us still honor this old "purification" tradition for the New Year. We review the past year, taking stock of our successes and failures, cleaning out old files, making resolutions for the coming year, and so on. These are archaic rites that still hold significant meaning for many of us.

We no longer celebrate the more esoteric rites of the holiday, but if we look at these traditions, we can see some semblance of them in our own lives. We still seek to abolish the past year through acts of "stepping out of time."

The abolition of profane past time was accomplished by rituals that signified a sort of "end of the world." The extinction of fires, the return of the souls of the dead, social confusion of the type exemplified by the Saturnalia, erotic license, orgies, and so on, symbolized by the retrogression of the cosmos into chaos. On the last day of the year the universe was dissolved in the primordial waters. [Pg. 78-9]

For those of us who have attended wild holiday parties -- or better, New Year's parties -- we have seen the truth of this observation acted out, even though we have lost any of the sacred awareness of the motivations behind such celebrations. We have some drinks, dance, listen to loud music, and if we are single we often pair off. What happens the next morning is another story, but for that night, we become intoxicated and step out of our normal conceptions of time.

Imagine how much more meaningful our year-end celebrations would be if we could reconnect with the sacred nature of our New Year's festivals.

Strangely, it is generally among pagans and pantheists that we see more meaningful New Year's rituals, in whatever forms they may take. These may not be higher state experiences, but it doesn't matter. Those of us who make note of the Solstice and the ensuing New Year are reconnecting with deeper levels of our cultural and psychological history.

Whether we believe it or not, we still have those magical stages of thinking in our psyche. If we can learn to acknowledge and celebrate these connections, we need not abandon our rational thought processes, but we can add depth to them through some form of ritual and festivity.

Image Sources:
1. Winter Solstice
2. Mystical Cosmogony
3. Saturnalia

Happy Solstice!

Depending on where you are, either tonight (West Coast) or early tomorrow (East Coast) is the Winter Solstice.

Happy Solstice!

Speedlinking 12/21/07

Quote of the day:

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"
~ Henry Ward Beecher

Image of the day (S.R.):

~ Exercise of the Week: The Luke Sauder Calf Routine -- "This is probably the most blistering, pain-inducing calf routine you'll ever try. Make sure you first line up some Boy Scouts working on their merit badges to help you walk from your bed to the bathroom."
~ Treadmill vs. Pavement: The Running Debate -- "With the low temperatures and adverse weather, it’s no wonder that many exercisers choose to hibernate and sweat in the gym instead of going out in the elements. But a great debate among all those fit is one of determining which is better: the treadmill or the pavement. When it comes to the winter season, research points positives and negatives in both directions."
~ Strength Training over Christmas & New Year -- "I wrote strength training over Thanksgiving last month. With Christmas Eve next Tuesday & New Year’s Eve the week after, you’ve probably been thinking at how to make your workout & diet fit in the holidays. Here are some tips."
~ Is fat the new normal? -- "Is fat the new normal? A study published in the July issue of Economic Inquiry raises that question. With roughly two-thirds of the American population overweight or obese, have our cultural ideals of what we consider “normal weight” changed?"
~ Diabetes risk is more nurture than nature: study -- "In adults, the development of insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, is influenced more by current body weight than by birth weight, results of a study in twins suggests."
~ 7 great medical myths revealed -- "Reading in dim light won’t damage your eyes, you don’t need eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy and other medical myths are revealed by U.S. researchers."
~ Science's 'Breakthrough Of The Year' - Human Genetic Variation -- "In 2007, researchers were dazzled by the degree to which genomes differ from one human to another and began to understand the role of these variations in disease and personal traits."
~ Treating Epilepsy With An Atkins-Like Diet: Leptin Attenuates Rodent Seizure Severity -- "Not all individuals who have epilepsy respond to traditional treatments and these individuals are said to have medically refractory epilepsy. Strict use of a ketogenic diet high in fats and extremely low in carbohydrates is sometimes used for treatment of refractory epilepsy, and is effective about half of the time. However, the mechanisms whereby ketogenic diets suppress epileptic symptoms have long been a mystery." This diet works with autism too.
~ Swedish Rhodiola Rosea Extract Effective In Treating Mild To Moderate Depression In New Clinical Trial -- "A new clinical trial has found that an extract of Rhodiola rosea roots and rhizomes demonstrated anti-depressive activity in patients with mild to moderate depression. This is the first double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of Rhodiola rosea in patients diagnosed with depression. Patients given the Swedish-made Rhodiola rosea extract showed significant improvements in depression compared to those given placebo."

~ Mental Health Year in Review: 2007 -- "2007 was a busy year for people reporting on mental health and psychology stories, with a heavy emphasis on pharmaceutical news and research. No significant breakthroughs in our understanding of any particular mental disorder occurred in 2007, although new techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and genetic studies continue to be at the forefront of causative research."
~ Packing Up Your Life -- "While packing and in life, the question "what do I really need?" is such a fruitful one."
~ Scientists Identify Brain Abnormalities Underlying Key Element Of Borderline Personality Disorder -- "Using new approaches, an interdisciplinary team of scientists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City has gained a view of activity in key brain areas associated with a core difficulty in patients with borderline personality disorder -- shedding new light on this serious psychiatric condition."
~ Jean Piaget Biography -- "Jean Piaget's work had a profound influence on psychology, especially our understanding children's intellectual development. His research contributed to the growth of developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, genetic epistemology, and...."
~ A Sense of Scarcity -- "The connection between value and scarcity is something we all know. Gold is precious because there is not much of it to go around, not because you can use it to build skyscrapers. The psychologists reasoned that this link has become deep-wired into our neurons, so that we unconsciously call on it—and its inverse—for life decisions."
~ Introspective Infallibility, Causation, and Containment -- "In his second Meditation, Descartes gives the impression that he thinks self-knowledge of current conscious experience is indubitably certain, immune to error, infallible. (Whether he consistently espouses this view throughout his corpus is another question.) Ever since, infallibilism about introspection has been a mainstream position in philosophy of mind -- sometimes dominant, sometimes (as now) out of favor but nonetheless with prominent proponents."
~ 6 Simple Strategies to Stay Happy -- "It is a fact that if you want something too badly, it is likely to evade you. And this is truer for happiness than anything else. The reason why happiness seems to evade the millions of people searching for it is because they are looking in the wrong place."
~ Using Questions To Control Communication -- "Through reading numerous books on communication and field testing hundreds of techniques, a few fundamental patterns have become very apparent to me. If you’ve ever been on a date, an interview, or a networking event, you may have noticed some of these social patterns as well."
~ The Roots of Fear -- "The evolutionary primacy of the brain's fear circuitry makes it more powerful than reasoning circuits."
~ Deepak Chopra: How Your Story Changes the World (Part 2) -- "The only realistic way to think about the world is to see it as an unfolding process that encompasses billions of smaller processes. Our minds don't like to work that way. We prefer snap judgments and simplistic labels. We defend our story and defend against those that disagree with it."

~ Junk Food County -- "Why many rural Americans can't get nutritious foods. The unhealthy truth about country living."
~ David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music -- "Wired asked David Byrne — a legendary innovator himself and the man who wrote the Talking Heads song "Radio Head" from which the group takes its name — to talk with Yorke about the In Rainbows distribution strategy and what others can learn from the experience."
~ Christian 'Ex-Gays' Brainwash Thousands -- " Can the anti-gay Christian Right's "sexual reorientation therapy" be stopped?"
~ Rights and Liberties: 'War on Christmas' Nonsense is a War on Secularists -- "Beneath the laughable charge is a poisonous suggestion that 'our way of life' is threatened by foreigners."
~ MediaCulture: Fear, Loathing & the Crisis of Confidence -- "The 'paranoid style' in American politics is grounded in a profound disconnect between ordinary Americans and their political class."
~ White House Faces CIA Tapes Hearing -- "The Bush administration has made its position clear in legal filings and now gets a chance to say it to a judge in open court."
~ Well Built -- "Our critic chooses her favorite buildings that were unveiled in 2007—and one that wasn't."
~ Stunningly Silent -- "Slogans urging us to “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “recall the reason for the season,” sound about as hollow as the Christmas jingles that reverberate in our ears every time we enter a store. Those in search of an antidote might consider watching the newly released DVD Into Great Silence, Philip Groening’s movingly observed study of the daily lives of Carthusian monks at La Grande Chartreuse, founded in the French Alps in 1084."
~ The new church nomenclature -- "The corporate world has gone granola. Business executives prefer the term community to customer base, and companies extol their "holistic" products. In the current commercial zeitgeist, where millions of consumers are flocking to Facebook and paying higher prices at Whole Foods for farm-fresh cheese, buzzwords like organic, communal, relational, and viral are part of the everyday lexicon."

~ A Solar Grand Plan -- "By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions."
~ The Year's 10 Craziest Ways to Hack the Earth -- "Scientists have come up with extreme -- some might say crazy -- schemes to counteract global warming. This year saw the most radical geo-engineering ideas yet: man-made volcanoes, orbiting mirror fleets and ocean re-engineering to cool the planet and absorb carbon dioxide."
~ The Majesty and Misery of String Theory -- "Adopting a perhaps excessively critical attitude it is still by no means unfair to say that string theory is a theory en route to nowhere. It is a theory which, at its best, could conceivably capture the essence of material reality at its deepest level; or, at its worst, might be nothing more than an overblown tale with an overly complicated mathematical storyline."
~ Best of 2007: Genes, Exoplanets, and a Cardboard Bridge -- "Each December, many magazines deliver their obligatory summing-up issues of the highs and lows of the past twelve months. Time names its person of the year, Rolling Stone names the best songs of the year, et cetera, et cetera. It's also an occasion that allows science, which often takes a back seat to politics and business, to shine."
~ Odds Good That Asteroid Will Hit Mars Next Month -- "75-1 may be incredibly long odds at the race track, but that's a prohibitive favorite in astronomy. And astronomers say a newly discovered asteroid has one chance in 75 of hitting the red planet at the end of January."
~ Meteorites May Have Fostered Life on Earth -- "While meteorites are often associated with the extinction of dinosaurs, new evidence suggests the impacts may actually engender new life. Commentary by Carl Zimmer."
~ Ancient Egyptian Glassmaking Recreated -- "Archaeologist have reconstructed a 3,000-year-old glassmaking furnace, suggesting that Ancient Egyptian technology was more advanced than previously thought. It was previously thought that the Ancient Egyptians may have imported their glass from the Near East at around this time. However, the excavation team believes the evidence from Amarna shows they were making it themselves, possibly in a single stage operation."
~ Mars rovers find new evidence of 'habitable niche' -- "Inch by power-conserving inch, drivers on Earth have moved the Mars rover Spirit to a spot where it has its best chance at surviving a third Martian winter -- and where it will celebrate its fourth anniversary (in Earth years) since bouncing down on Mars for a projected 90-day mission in January 2004."
~ Japan to Drop Humpback Hunt -- "Japan is dropping its plan to kill humpback whales in the seas off Antarctica, the country's top government spokesman said Friday." It's about time.

~ Best of 07 -- "Not all are lists of ten, but here are my entirely biased votes for 2007's best."
~ Holiday wishes - light, peace, and love -- "The history of the intertwining, culling, and refitting religious and cultural traditions is a fascinating and complex topic which is often reduced around this time of year to something like "Christian rulers co-opted Pagan festivals and symbols and affiliated them with Christian holy days." But symbols represent a lived, shared meaning as much as cultural history, so what symbols and what meaning do we wish to share this year as Bodhi Day has passed, Chanukah is complete, Eid-ul-Adha is over and Christmas and Kwanzaa are approaching?"
~ A little more on sitting as surrender -- "Seated meditation is very prominent in Western Buddhism as a practice and as an iconic image. The prominence of (seated) meditation has been discussed and debated recently on Jeff Wilson’s blog as referenced in my last writing on this topic, which also included the perspective of sitting as surrender. The description of how and why it makes sense to see sitting this way, and what is meant by surrender, was also covered. Why this attitude may be helpful or even interesting, however, was not addressed. Because I spent so much time on the “set up” and background material, I felt more should be said about other views of seated meditation and how seeing seated meditation as surrender is significant."
~ Meaning -- "I watched a conversation on meaning on a talk show on Swedish TV last night, including philosophers and others. (Which in itself says something about why it is more meaningful for me to be here in Scandinavia than in the US, at least in terms of the general culture!) The conversation mostly stayed at the conventional level, but it made me curios about meaning. Specifically, what is meaning? (Strangely, not addressed in the program.)"
~ Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form -- "This little gem comes to us from the famous Heart Sutra, and in many ways, I feel it’s one of the most important statements in Buddhism. This post is partly inspired by comments from my good friend Kyoushin, as well as a continuation of my last post."
~ Integral Theory into Integral Action: Mark Edwards & Russ Volckmann in Dialogue -- "In a series of ongoing, in-depth dialogues Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann attempt to rethink the potential of integral theories, maps, models and their applications. Their dialogues are guided by the hope of making two important contributions: first, to increase the clarity and level of critical analysis of integral theory - particularly as it applies to the subject of leadership; and second, in comprehending how to use integral theory as an integrating device for the many innovative concepts and ideas coming from a variety of mainstream disciplines."
~ Too many parties (and a freaked out brain) -- "This is a story about obsessional thought. Papancha. Differentiated from skillful thinking, contemplation, or miscellaneous monkey mind by the presence of suffering. Papancha sucks."
~ Spread the Love NOW! Group Writing Project -- "All you have to do is to write something on compassion. It could be anything you want,for example your definition of compassion. Still, in the spirit of Christmas, extra points will be awarded if there is a personal touch – because we want to connect in compassion."
~ The Buddha Within -- "I’ve been reading Hakeda’s excellent book on Shingon Buddhism, “Kūkai: Major Works“, which is the only book I have found so far that can give an excellent explanation into Kūkai’s theories behind Shingon Buddhism. Interestingly, I found that a lot of what’s discussed here also helps clarify some of the deeper truths behind Jodo Shinshu as well, particularly the nature of Amida Buddha."

Daily Dharma: Our Worst Enemy is Delusion

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

Our Worst Enemy is Delusion

Shantideva characterizes the hold our delusions have over us as follows:

"Although my enemies of hatred, attachment and so forth have neither weapons, legs nor arms, still they harm and torture me and treat me like a slave."

According to the dharma our worst enemy is delusion. This refers to any mental factor that disturbs and harms our peaceful mind. If we wish to be free of all suffering we must be able to identify the various delusions and understand how they harm us. Generally we all try to be aware of our external enemies but we pay scant heed to the inner enemies infecting our own mind. If we do not recognize the delusions and see how they harm us, how can we overcome our suffering? Buddha identified the six root delusions that poison our mind as following: (1) attachment, (2) anger, (3) pride, (4) ignorance, (5) deluded doubt and (6) wrong views.

~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Meaningful to Behold; from Everyday Mind, a Tricycle booked edited by Jean Smith.

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

A Dalai Lama quote, courtesy of Snow Lion Publications.

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

...for the Christian practitioner, the Creator and the acceptance of the Creator as almighty, is a very important factor within that tradition in order to develop self-discipline, compassion, or forgiveness and to increase them in one's intimate relationship with God. That's something very essential. In addition, when God is seen as absolute and almighty, the concept that everything is relative becomes a little bit difficult. However, if one's understanding of God is in terms of an ultimate nature of reality or ultimate truth, then it is possible to have a kind of unified approach.

...As to one's personal religion, I think this must be based on one's own mental disposition.... Generally speaking, I think it is better to practice according to your own traditional background, and certainly you can use some of the Buddhist techniques. Without accepting rebirth theory or the complicated philosophy, simply use certain techniques to increase your power of patience and compassion, forgiveness, and things like that.

~ From Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated by Thupten Jinpa, published by Snow Lion Publications.

The Old Mill - Groundbreaking Disney Cartoon

I had never seen this. At the time (1937), it was a huge breakthrough in animation.

This cartoon was groundbreaking as it was the first use of Disney's multiplane camera. It featured realistic depiction of animals, complex color and lighting, 3D effects, and detailed weather effects.

The techniques learned in the making of this short were used in subsequent Disney productions, especially Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Bambi.


List of Nominees for SAG Awards

Nominees for the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild awards:


Actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"; Ryan Gosling, "Lars and the Real Girl"; Emile Hirsch, "Into the Wild"; Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises."

Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie, "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose"; Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart"; Ellen Page, "Juno."

Supporting actor: Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Tommy Lee Jones, "No Country for Old Men"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."

Supporting actress: Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"; Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"; Catherine Keener, "Into the Wild"; Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."

Cast: "3:10 to Yuma," "American Gangster," "Hairspray," "Into the Wild," "No Country for Old Men."



Actor in a movie or miniseries: Michael Keaton, "The Company"; Kevin Kline, "As You Like It"; Oliver Platt, "The Bronx Is Burning"; Sam Shepard, "Ruffian"; John Turturro, "The Bronx Is Burning."

Actress in a movie or miniseries: Ellen Burstyn, "Mitch Albom's for One More Day"; Debra Messing, "The Starter Wife"; Anna Paquin, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"; Queen Latifah, "Life Support"; Vanessa Redgrave, "The Fever"; Gena Rowlands, "What if God Were the Sun?"

Actor in a drama series: James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos"; Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"; Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"; Hugh Laurie, "House"; James Spader, "Boston Legal."

Actress in a drama series: Glenn Close, "Damages"; Edie Falco, "The Sopranos"; Sally Field," "Brothers & Sisters"; Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"; Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer."

Actor in a comedy series: Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"; Steve Carell, "The Office"; Ricky Gervais, "Extras"; Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"; Tony Shalhoub, "Monk."

Actress in a comedy series: Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"; America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"; Tina Fey, "30 Rock"; Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"; Vanessa Williams, "Ugly Betty."

Drama series cast: "Boston Legal," "The Closer," "Grey's Anatomy," "Mad Men," "The Sopranos."

Comedy series cast: "30 Rock," "Desperate Housewives," "Entourage," "The Office," "Ugly Betty."

In TV land, cable is kicking the collective asses of the networks. maybe they'll take the hint and start making better shows.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Winter III, 3 Guitars & 2 Basses

This kid is pretty good.

Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, Winter III, 3 Guitars & 2 Basses. - Watch more amazing videos here

Speedlinking 12/20/07

Quote of the day:

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."
~ Arthur Shopenhauer

Image of the day:


~ When Gourmet Meets Nutrition -- "John Berardi's made a living from coming up with great tasting recipes that are incredibly delicious but these latest selections are downright inspired. Throw away the Christmas goodies and try some of these instead."
~ Skiing: The Ultimate Winter Workout -- "There are many benefits in participating in cross-country skiing. Because skiing requires the use of muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, it builds strength in the entire body and keeps you in shape. It gives you an aerobic workout that allows you to burn up to 950 kilocalories an hour, compared to about 77 kilocalories an hour with running."
~ Understanding Food Labels & Knowing What To Look For! -- "The ability to read and evaluate food labels is not just a matter of choosing to eat healthy. To those of us trying to gain muscle mass choosing the right mix of foods can be critical. Learn how to decipher those labels and more!"
~ Antagonistic Superset Workout: Up For The Challenge? -- "Supersetting is an extremely effective workout style where you perform two exercises back to back with no rest. Discover what the antagonistic superset workout is and how effective it can be." ALL of my clients do supersets in their workouts.
~ Introducing Fit's Downloadable Fitness and Food Journals -- "Have you been looking for a printable fitness journal? Do you want to keep track of all those healthy veggies you are eating? Well, I have some very helpful journals for you. Our fabulous designer has created a fitness journal and food journal, just in time to help you stick to your healthy New Year's Resolutions."
~ 5 of the Best Fitness Gifts for Starting the New Year Right -- "Has someone you know made a New Year's resolution to finally lose weight and get fit? Are you looking for the perfect gift for that special someone (or maybe yourself??) that can help them "get the edge" in their quest for a leaner, tighter, better-looking body? The best fitness gifts are unique, interesting and make working out and getting fit fun."
~ Fitness Tips for Exercise Phobic Shoppers -- "If even the thought of going to the gym makes you break out in hives, fear not. You can get just as good a workout by heading for the nearest shopping mall."
~ Stop Sabotaging Your Diet -- "When you’re getting ready to start a new diet do you already feel doomed to fail? Are you saying to yourself, “Okay, I’ll give this diet a shot, but it probably won’t work either”? There are many reasons that a lot of diets don’t work, or work for awhile and then you start putting the weight back
on. Here are some things you can do about it."
~ Low-Calorie Cocktails -- "A little planning can help keep happy hour from turning into a diet disaster."

~ Making Sense Of Speech In The Brain -- "Researchers have identified regions of the brain where speech sounds are perceived as having abstract meaning, rather than as just a stream of sensory input. They said their identification of the regions demonstrates that the understanding of speech does not just emerge from lower-level processing of speech sounds, but involves a specialized perceptual region."
~ Researchers Investigate Teen Risk-Taking -- "Adolescence has come to be associated with risky behavior, and it's not surprising that researchers have long questioned why many problem behaviors, such as drinking, drug use, and unprotected sex, often begin during adolescence. This week, the New York Times looked at some past studies that have investigated the factors involved in teenaged decision making."
~ News: Signaling Neurons Make Neighbor Cells "Want In" -- "A new discovery about the function of neurons could help scientists understand how the brain assembles information during learning and memory formation."
~ Act Now, Regret Later? -- "Many carry out the pretty irrational act of buying Lottery tickets out of "anticipatory regret": those who choose the same set of numbers simply cannot bear the thought of them coming up one day when they hadn't bought a ticket. Anyone out there carrying on doing the best they can in a dysfunctional relationship with a similar mindset?"
~ 12 Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Free Time -- "Are you happier at your job, or during your free time? Unless you’ve followed the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi you would probably be surprised at the actual answer. He conducted studies which recorded peoples current levels of happiness at random points both during work and off-hours. The surprising conclusion? People felt happier on the job, even though they said they would rather be at home."
~ Why Self Actualization Requires Exercise -- "Abraham Maslow was wise beyond his time. He created a simple hierarchy that categorizes the needs of every human being. The hierarchy indicates that the highest level of achievement is self-actualization. But it also reminds us of the necessity of maintaining our most vital physical needs."
~ Evidence Doesn't Support CYP450 Gene Testing Before Antidepressant Treatment -- "Cytochrome P450 (CYP450) gene testing is currently not recommended to guide treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs for patients with depression, concludes an expert panel report in the December issue of Genetics in Medicine, published by the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG)...." Interesting -- it seemed that gene testing was going to become standard practice.
~ Judging Others ... Judging Yourself -- "Judging other people for any of the above and many other things, is a curious phenomenon. As we judge others we are actually judging ourselves. What I mean by that is that if we feel we must judge, we automatically place ourselves in a position of "better" in some way than the other person. Examine that for a moment. Better? Better?"
~ The Key To True Happiness -- "It is a sad and true fact that the vast majority of people are not really happy."

~ Peter Travers' Best and Worst Movies of 2007 -- Rolling Stone's film critic offers his best and worst of 2007.
~ It's Time to Legalize Drugs -- " Rhetoric should not be driving drug policy. Legalization would strip addiction down to what it really is: a health issue."
~ A dismal year for books? -- "Publishing has become a high-stakes game amid store closings, declines in sales, profits, book review sections -- even literacy."
~ To advance religious freedom, teach about religion -- "Titled the Toledo Guiding Principles, after the Spanish city where the initial drafting took place, the report urges nations to take religion seriously in education and provides a human rights framework for including fair, accurate study about religions and beliefs in the classroom."
~ Robinson Jeffers: Peace Poet -- " Known for his violent, searing imagery, which was usually the instrument of a merciless insight into the tragedy of the human persona—its narcissism, its narrowness, its primordial viciousness—Jeffers’s gaze, as war approached, was turned on the follies of the “radio parrots,” “the crackpot dreams of Jeanne d’Arc and Hitler,” and “the paralytic Roosevelt”—all phrases cut by the editors of Random House. Delving into Jeffers’s molten rush of imagery, we see the world through the eyes of an intransigent “isolationist” in the midst of the post-war triumphalism."
Doctors Without Borders Releases Tenth Annual "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories Of 2007 -- "People struggling to survive violence, forced displacement, and disease in the Central African Republic (CAR), Somalia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere often went underreported in the news this year and much of the past decade, according to the 10th annual list of the "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2007."
~ Parmenides -- "The pre-Socratic philosopher sparked an intellectual revolution that still echoes today. Yet for philosophy and science to continue to progress in the 21st century, we may need to embark on an entirely new cognitive journey."
~ Huckabee's Christmas Cross -- "John Nichols | Mike Huckabee goes all aw-shucks when criticized for his Christmas campaign ad. But that's just the public face of one cynical political player."
~ Howard Dean: Economy to Be a Big Issue -- "The Iraq war will remain a big issue across the country, but the economy will overtake it over the next few months as the voters' top concern, says Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee."
~ Lakota Indians Secede from the U.S. -- "News Bloggers: The Lakota Indians, descendants of Crazy Horse and and Sitting Bull, have officially withdrawn from the treaties they had with the United States, the AFP is reporting, meaning they have declared themselves a new nation formally separate from America...." One sixteenth of me is no longer an American, apparently.

~ Cloning Companies Promise to Track Their Animals -- "The nation's two largest animal cloning companies are teaming up to voluntarily create a system to create a registry of their animals. The system would also require that cloned meat be identified to consumers."
~ Whales' Ancestor May Have Been an Odd-Looking Landlubber -- "Our ocean-going friends may have evolved from the Indohyus, sort of a cross between a long-tailed, antler-less deer and a long-legged rat."
~ Monkeys Can Perform Mental Addition -- "Monkeys have the ability to perform mental addition. In fact, monkeys performed about as well as college students given the same test. The findings shed light on the shared evolutionary origins of arithmetic ability in humans and non-human animals."
~ How Cagey Electrons Keep Hydrated -- "Water, despite its essential role in nature, remains a deeply mysterious substance. A long list of water's unusual properties tantalizes researchers even today, and scientists at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) and around the world are using x-rays to help address these questions. Working with SSRL scientist Anders Nilsson, researcher Dennis Nordlund and colleagues are turning up new clues, and their latest results are published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters."
~ Team develops solar-powered laptop for Tanzanian students -- "For a team of Penn State engineering students, the challenge wasn't getting laptops to Tanzanian students, but how to power those machines."
~ Nanovideo captures motion of RNA molecules in 3-D -- "You may not find it on YouTube, but Hashim Al-Hashimi's video could create quite a stir in scientific circles."
~ Why have a real fire when you can download one? -- "Oh, the trials we face at holiday-time: A merrily burning Yule log is just so festive, but we can't even enjoy the warmth for our guilt over the pollution it causes. Enter iYule, a half-hour-long downloadable video of a crackling hearth. Which kind of makes us happy and sad all at the same time."

~ This blog "blacklisted"... for demanding we respect the professionals... -- David Brin -- "Mea culpa... I have called upon the professionals of the civil service, the intelligence services, the many agencies of law and accountability, the scientific community and the U.S. military officer corps, to remember their oaths -- to protect the people from all enemies, foreign and domestic."
~ Skinheads -- "Interesting, too, that the shaved head should find practitioners at both ends of the social spectrum, the saints and the reprobates, the monks and the skinheads. Which begs the question as to whether its popularity is any way associated with the popularization of Buddhism. Clearly, in both cases, cutting off one's hair is an act of renunciation of material and social values, as well as a powerful visual statement about identity. For a monk, I suppose, it's a positive act of liberation; for skinheads, we tend to read the same statement as angry and aggressive."
~ Ken Wilber on Oprah and Friends XM Radio Show -- "An interview with Ken Wilber has been made available on Oprah and Friends XM Radio Show! Conducted by "America's Doctor" De. Mehmet Oz, this interview represents a real milestone in terms of getting Integral thought out to the mainstream audience, bringing the most depth to the most span.... Check it out!"
~ Red ~C Diary: Why Do I Blog Thee? -- "I was looking at the stats of my Typepad blog this morning to see what's new. I usually do this to check who's linking to my blog posts so I could follow the conversations. I don't get much links. Most of the hits are coming from search engines (Google)--from people searching for random things. A good portion of my traffic comes from a four-year-old blog post about the End of the World. When I looked at the total lifetime page views of my blog, it says 374,224."
~ Stability practice -- "Stability practice (shamata) is a basic and ongoing companion practice to almost any other practice, whether it is prayer, allowing, inquiry, yoga, or something else."