log (2005/01/07 to 2005/01/13)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

Yesterday I was feeling a little bleak for no good reason, and I thought I might write something here in the log like "Could the three dozen people in the world who actually get yesterday's entry please write me? I mean, I know you're out there and all, but sometimes I get lonely."

(A foolish elitist and self-indulgent thing to think, I know, but I give you the bad with the good.)

But then before I could do anything silly like that, readers wrote:

That (Jan. 11)'s is incredibly funny and, I suspect, exactly right. Oh!

The suspense of whether the student of Roshi would attain enlightenment or not lasted right up until the last sentence.

So now I'm all happy.

(Of course if any of the other thirty-four of you would like to write in also, don't hesitate! Bearing in mind that my publishing turnaround on reader responses has a really high variance.)

A spammer wrote:

Subject: a bargain palindrome

Ooh how sorry I amShe won't talk to me no how
Western Union oh yeahSend my lovin' baby back to me She won't answer the phoneWhen I'm a-ringin' her doorbell
The Gargoyles seemed to realize this, for they sent a few of their band time after time to attack the strangers and draw the fire from the little man's revolvers vest admonishers sz01 gunnlod It's your lucky nightI'm getting buck tonight

which is all very well, but not strictly speaking a palindrome.

In the time it takes to download, you could have gone down the street, dropped some dough on a lady of the evening and 'rang the Liberty Bell' for real. Instead we've got a nation of functional young men wasting their time with 'Live Locker Room Cams' when they should be out getting the clap from strange, foreign women who can't hold their liquor (see 9/10/88 column, "I HATE ART OPENINGS").

I know, I know. Questionable taste.

First the New York Times (the dead-trees edition) and then two completely unrelated pieces of email that I received like five minutes apart all brought this to my attention, so obviously I was meant to pass it along. They ("they") asked a bunch of bigwigs "what do you believe that you cannot prove?". When I read the excerpts in the Times I was disappointed that no one had said "whaddya mean? everything that I believe I cannot prove!". But at least two of the people in the full thing did say roughly that, which was nice; the Times just didn't want to confuse their readers by printing them.

"Folksonomies - Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata" talks about flickr and del.icio.us in relatively clued and interesting ways, and also talks a bit about serendipitous navigation (if not under quite that name), which I always like.

I'm not sure exactly what this is, but it appeals for some reason.

And speaking of Jerry Springer the Opera, does anyone know just where the expression "dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians" originated? (Sometimes it's honey rather than chocolate.)

I finished yet another book.

Already logged everywhere but here: using Google to find unsecured webcams. I found one here for instance, showing the corner of a colo center somewhere; last night there were these two guys in white shirts trying to get the computers working better. They didn't do anything (else) funny, though. The Reg reported this as Google exposes web surveillance cams. But that's because it was someone other than Andrew Orlowsky; he would have headlined it "Google Security Flaw Exposes Private Webcam Data".   *8)

And that's pretty much it. I got my sinuses CAT scanned today, and not unexpectedly it turns out they're all stuffed up (which is why I can't smell), and the doctor prescribed some spiffier decongestants. I also fixed a couple of toilets, made eye and dentist appointments, and started reading Tich Nhat Hahn's "Being Peace" (having picked it up at the bookstore between buying toilet parts and fetching little daughters from dance class); I finally realized that not reading a book because I can't remember where the "h"s go in its author's name really isn't very sensible...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

One afternoon a student said "Roshi, I don't really understand what's going on. I mean, we sit in zazen and we gassho to each other and everything, and Felicia got enlightened when the bottom fell out of her water-bucket, and Todd got enlightened when you popped him one with your staff, and people work on koans and get enlightened, but I've been doing this for two years now, and the koans don't make any sense, and I don't feel enlightened at all! Can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well you see," Roshi replied, "for most people, and especially for most educated people like you and I, what we perceive and experience is heavily mediated, through language and concepts that are deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking and feeling. Our objective here is to induce in ourselves and in each other a psychological state that involves the unmediated experience of the world, because we believe that that state has certain desirable properties. It's impossible in general to reach that state through any particular form or method, since forms and methods are themselves examples of the mediators that we are trying to avoid. So we employ a variety of ad hoc means, some linguistic like koans and some non-linguistic like zazen, in hopes that for any given student one or more of our methods will, in whatever way, engender the condition of non-mediated experience that is our goal. And since even thinking in terms of mediators and goals tends to reinforce our undesirable dependency on concepts, we actively discourage exactly this kind of analytical discourse."

And the student was enlightened.

Sunday, January 9, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

So I went over to alt.zen and posted a question (which hasn't been answered), and while I was there browsed around and said random things. Now I'm casually following it. It's about what you'd expect, really, given the context. Of course it's impossible pretty much by definition to tell playful Dharma shows put on by a bunch of Bodhisattvas from the inevitable Usenet sniping and petty politics, but y'know... *8)

Today there was a huge multi-part posting of a typical Usenet-flavor rant by a member of one in-group attacking another in-group for being the cause of all the evils of the world, including for instance the 2003 heat-wave deaths in France. Trying to figure out just what was going on there I poked around a bit and discovered two feuding sects of Japanese Buddhism, complete with various pages explaining why one or the other is a Great Evil. Apparently politics is involved as well. Organized religion is, we are reminded, no better an idea in the East than it is in the West.

I had some (quite likely obvious) insights into feminism and human freedom at the grocery today, while listening to Alan Watts' Zen Clues on Audible. It was a recording of more or less this talk, and among other things he said:

She, that is to say, the feminine, represents what is philosophically called the negative principle. Of course people in our culture today who support women's liberation do not like to hear the feminine associated with the negative, because the negative has acquired very bad connotations. We say that we should accent the positive; that is a purely male chauvinistic attitude. How would you know if you were outstanding unless by contrast there was something instanding?

You cannot appreciate the convex without the concave. You cannot appreciate the firm without the yielding. Therefore the so-called negativity of the feminine principle is obviously life-giving and very important.

But we live in a culture that does not notice it. For example, our attention fixes itself upon figures and ignores backgrounds. We see a painting, a representation of a bird, and do not notice the white paper underneath it. We see a printed book and assume what is important is the printing and that the page doesn't matter. But if you reconsider the whole thing, how could there be visible printing without the page underlying it?

We somehow consider an underlying position, like the missionary position, to be inferior. But to be underlying is to be fundamental.

The word substance refers to that which stands underneath (sub - underneath and stance - stands). To be substantial is to be underlying, to be the support, the foundation of the world.

This is the great function of the feminine, to be the substance.

Now at one level this is profound and important, and at another level it's total bullshit.

The profound and important part is that the negative has value; that ground is as important as figure, that concave is as vital as convex, that yielding isn't inferior to firm, and all like that. That's really important, valuing yin as well as yang and dark as well as bright and all that.

The bullshit part is the part that forcibly identifies a certain half of the world's population, a few billion real live people, with the purely conceptual category of yin, yielding, ground, darkness, underlyingness, and so on. It's a fatal confusion between the metaphorical notions of "the feminine" and "the masculine" on the one hand, and real live people who have certain sexual organs on the other.

It's great to recognize that dark and yielding is good. But it's wrong to then say to every woman in the world "therefore you shouldn't object to being put in the 'dark and yielding' bucket."

And in just the same way it's great to recognize that bright and firm, loud and forceful, are good. But it's wrong to then say to every man in the world "therefore you shouldn't object to being put in the 'bright and firm' bucket."

The dark and yielding men, and the bright and firm women, have every right to object.

All this is probably blindingly obvious; but it felt like an insight. It's why there's no harm in saying that we ought to value home-life and child-rearing, but that there's certain danger in thinking of those activities as "women's" in anything but a purely historical sense.

Phht, well, something like that anyway.

I finished another book. Lessing's some writer.

And to close with the Meme o' the Day, I give you Figwit and the associated fan domain and FAQ.

People ask whether his reappearance in ROTK is just a happy coincidence. It's not. Peter Jackson called him back for pickups and he was given a line. The are also two official TOPPS cards (#1 #2) bearing his "name".

Fear the power of the Figwit!

Happy Sunday to all! I'm off to make fish and kasha. With cauliflower today, I think, rather than broccoli.

Friday, January 7, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

And he said: History is an angel
being blown backwards into the future
He said: History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel backwards
into the fuure.
And this storm, this storm is called

That's from Laurie Anderson's "The Dream Before". I'd always assumed it was original, or actually never really thought about it at all (no footnotes in audio). But then today listening to "Terror of History" from the Teaching Company (my other big Christmas present) while pretending to cross-country ski, I heard the Prof cite something that sounded very much like it, but not by Laurie Anderson.

A Klee painting named "Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

That's from Walter Benjamin's "On the Concept of History". Well-read person, Ms. Anderson.

A reader writes:

When I see you write 'memes', as I read the word it immediately becomes 'ideas' in my mind. I think this is because I don't see the point in it being a 'new word'. Ideas have always been passed around, exchanged parts with others in the form of folklore, word of mouth, commentaries on works and other things... is there any need for a new word to describe one of the most ancient of communications ? Or have I perhaps missed some subtlety that renders this newspeak particularly valid in the modern age ? Discuss.

*8) Discuss, e says. Like we do anything else?

Brief discussion, though. At the moment at least I see it as pretty simple: "idea" and "meme" have the same denotation (they refer to the same set of things ("things")), but different connotations: they suggest or stress or call attention to different aspects of those things.

"Ideas" is relatively neutral, and refers to ideas doing any sort of thing at all, sitting in someone's mind, being born or forgotten, being clever or less clever, u.s.w.. But "memes" refers to ideas specifically in the context of replication. All ideas potentially spread, and all memes are ideas and all ideas are memes; but memes are ideas thought about with an emphasis on the nature of their spreading.

Something like that.

From Bruce Schneier, to some privacy tips, to http://www.optoutprescreen.com/ (which you may or may not have to copy into your browser directly), which seems like maybe a good idea to prevent all those annoying "pre-approved" credit card offers in the mail that we have to shred, but on the other hand wants you to enter all sorts of personal information to do it.

From somewhere like that also, MD5 to be Considered Harmful Someday, an interesting techy article about cryptographic hashes and stuff. The main takeaway ("takeaway") for me being that given the limited extent to which MD5 has currently been broken and the large extent to which it's still being used, it might be possible to create (for instance) lots of different mp3 files, all of which sounded the same when played and all of which had the same lengths and MD5 hashes and therefore looked identical to lots of programs, but each of which had a different serial number embedded in it. Which is kind of cool.

Did you know Six Apart bought LiveJournal? That's pretty strange. Since when did all this "web" stuff involve real companies, with budgets and venture capitalists and acquisitions and stuff? Sheesh!

From the Dynamist weblog, the notable "Democracy in Iraq (is coming): A blog by an Iraqi on the future of Iraq, an Iraqi who is excited about a new democratic Iraq".

And also from around there, a Michael Chabon essay on the state of the modern short story:

Imagine that, sometime about 1950, it had been decided, collectively, informally, a little at a time, but with finality, to proscribe every kind of novel from the canon of the future but the nurse romance.

On my worries about the Google Desktop, I am comforted by this: "The Google Desktop software provides a web server which binds to your PC's TCP/IP loopback interface and can only be accessed by requests originating from your PC." A tiny amount of testing suggests that it's in fact true. Still makes me nervous, though. But not nervous enough to turn it off. *8)

Support our troops; bring 'em home!

In the grocery parking lot the other day I noticed all them ribbon-shaped yellow or red-white-and-blue "Support our troops" magnets attached to the backs of cars. I thought "Somebody should make one that looks just like that, but says 'bring them home'". And, duh, someone does (roughly). Shall I order a couple dozen?

(The ideal one would be exactly like the usual "Support our troops" ones, but with "Bring 'em home" on the cross-ribbon. I suppose that might violate someone's copyright.)


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