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Thursday, February 24, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

I finished and wrote up another book. Writeup follows inline as eagle-food.

(Amusing coincidence: the other day I emailed someone I'd seen on some random Buddhist newsgroup a question, and she responded by sending me some old newsgroup postings which turned out to have been posted by the author of this very book that I had been reading just hours before.)

Land of No Buddha, by Richard P. Hayes
Idiosyncratic essays by a Western Buddhist; ranting but redeemed

At one level this is a nice collection of essays on various Buddhist topics by a Westerner, an American, writing in the mid to late 1980s. It's especially nice for me, in that the author shows various habits of mind and style that I can identify with, having been there myself.

At another level, that last part is a problem. These particular habits of mind and style include a very self-conscious hyper-rationality, a determination to face the hard cold facts of reality, to put aside mere convention, to be undeterred by irrational social norms, to be willing to speak the truth even when it hurts, etc, etc. And, despite an official humility, a great confidence in the correctness of one's own reasoning and conclusions coupled with what are in fact wild overgeneralizations and whopping non sequiturs, and conclusions seized upon (one cannot help but feel) partly because they're feel brave and controversial.

Prostitution is the only honest form of sexual relationship. Most Westerners who become Buddhists do so because they are losers who can't succeed at anything else. The only function of a true friend is to point out where one is mistaken or lazy. The only possible reason for religious ritual is to instill in those practicing it a blind and quasi-military obedience to the teacher. One should minimize social relationships in order to reduce the amount of travelling one does, because travelling uses energy and is bad for the environment. And so on and so on.

The rants surrounding these claims can be fun to read, but they do get old. And when they're mixed with commentaries on various aspects of Buddhism, they detract from whatever less idiosyncratic truth might be in those commentaries.

But even this flaw is pretty much redeemed by the last essay in the book, written at least a decade after the rest. In that essay, the author looks back at his younger self with considerable insight, humor, and fondness. It's not clear that he's abandoned all of his sillier earlier opinions, but at least he's realized that there's no point in being so dogmatic about them. He describes his attempts to actually put some of these fanatical rationalisms into practice, how those attempts failed, and what he learned from the experience. From this we get some interesting insights into the function of community and ritual, and into the life and mind of the author and of people in general.

So this isn't a book to come to primarily for information about or objective insight into Buddhism. But as a character study, and an interesting picture of a certain stage in a certain kind of development (one that, in this case, does include Buddhism in significant ways), it's a keeper.

(A side-note: the author was also for awhile a regular poster to various related Usenet newsgroups; look for postings by rhayes at wilson.lan.mcgill.ca in your favorite Usenet archive. In the postings that I've read, his tendency to rant and his insights into both scholarly and practical Buddhism make a noteworthy mix.)

It's funny how different my voice in book reviews, say, is from my voice in, say, this weblog. Why is that?

From SANS Newsbites, various uplifting stories under "Arrests, Convictions and Sentences", including this one, in which some youngster attempting to extort money from a dotcom by threatening them with spam was lured into the arms of the law by good old greed.

In a further twist upon the scam, Greco had allegedly threatened to share his methods for spamming members of the group if MySpace.com didn't sign an exclusive marketing deal which would have legitimised the messages he was sending via the service.

Greco believed he was flying to Los Angeles to cement that agreement with MySpace president Tom Anderson.

Oh, and in order to stay alert in a long meeting the other day I made a couple of desktop backgrounds that I am now generously making available to you! The general theme should be obvious: Buddha and Natalie Portman. And here's an arcane symbol that I did awhile back while we're here. (Available in 1024 by 768 only, because that's what I run. The management attempts to respond with alacrity to all intellectual property complaints.)

And in case anyone's worried, all these Buddhist references lately are just one of my dilletantish enthusiasms; I still identify solid Ariadnite.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

From Dynamist, a chilling story on why Iran is a bad place to live:

"Why don't you write an e-mail directly to the supreme leader's office?" he asked. "The supreme leader considers all criticisms and takes corrective actions."

"I hadn't thought about that," I said. This was nonsense, of course, but I saw an opening. "From now on, I will write directly to the supreme leader and stop writing in my Web log."

"It is too late for that," he said.

And relatedly "The global web blog community is being called into action to lend support to two imprisoned Iranian bloggers". For what it's worth...

And speaking of totalitarian regimes, fafblog of all places points to an example closer to home. Here we find some of the very noteworthy actual words:

(1) In general. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

(2) No judicial review. Notwithstanding any other provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court shall have jurisdiction:

(A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or

(B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise from any such action or decision.

Truly we're governed by morons.

Although it could be worse; Steve directs our attention to My Little Golden Book about ZOGG.

At least I think that'd be worse.

To wrap up the political news, MeFi suggests that the Usual Right Wing Conspiracy is now taking on old people who oppose the Reform of Social Security. (link) The AARP, it seems, are a bunch of anti-American lefties; who'd've thought?

I'm pretty much convinced that this whole Social Security Crisis is fictional. I heard Paul Krugman talking on the subject on NPR the other day, and he seemed quite clued.

SYNOPSIS: Social security, whose increasing cost is driven by demography, by itself can be saved for at least the next 75 years with modest injections of money equal to only part of the Bush tax cuts.

And (although Z Magazine is a bit strident for my taste)

Privatizing Social Security - replacing the current system, in whole or in part, with personal investment accounts - won't do anything to strengthen the system's finances. If anything, it will make things worse.

The main points that struck me as telling were [] that at the bottom of the Social Security "Crisis" is the fact that in a few decades Social Security might be as badly off financially as the rest of the government is today, [] that that's only under the more pessimistic models (under a different model that has been more accurate in the past, it doesn't go into the red any time in the foreseeable future), [] that even under the pessimistic model the money needed to avert the crisis is a fraction of the Bush tax cuts that are scheduled to sunset soon anyway, and finally [] that in any case the proposed privatization of the system wouldn't help at all with the "going into the red" thing.

If people think it'd be good to replace the current system with private accounts as a matter of principle, I'd be glad to talk about that; I might even agree. But manufacturing a counterfactual "crisis", and then giving the false impression that private accounts will fix it, is not something that I can admire.

From MeFi, "A huge, frozen sea lies just below the surface of Mars".

From Marginal Revolution, a set of Maoist video game reviews. And they're not even kidding!

Ed Felten has set up a weblog for a class, which seems like a cool thing:

This semester, I'm teaching "Information Technology and the Law". We're reading a series of articles and court decisions on important techno-legal issues.

I've created a student writing blog, on which students will post weekly essays on topics related to the course.

What's on top?

of me? Ahh! its you!

Good Night!

Log -- David Chess - Mozilla Firefox

Isn't it spelt 'Pyjama' ?


It may be spelt "Pyjama", but it's spelled "Pajama". *8)

What's on top?

a layer of grime

They do change! Shit!@!

that depends, is it your turn this evening?

上 (ue) {Well, that's what I should say, considering my previous answer, but my first impulse was to put GOD Over Djinn.}

The aggressive, them with elbows sharp and keen eyesight uncaring of the consequences. The competent, though, in my experience, less so every day. The devious. The small, finger-nosed moles (which still occupy the unpleasant dreams of one Edgar Pleasant). Three egg yolks, arranged by the side of a disused road in a pattern that might portend an impossible event. Why do you ask?

Helen naked pitures

Helen naked pitures

Helen naked pitures

Helen naked pitures

Helen naked pitures

Helen naked pitures

Helen naked pitures

On top? On top of pop? On top of the clown pop? Pop, pop, pop. Patent the pop. Pop, pop, pop. Stick it into Pop. Into the pop. The clown pop. Plop.

Odd, isn't it? That the clown looks so British, so Mel Gibsonesque (to the extent that a lollipop, to the extent that a patent application, can)? What is it, then - the broad cookie-ish smile? The round eyes? The bizarre icing facial hair? It was, or so we are led to believe, a dark and stormy night.

The pile of papers on the desk had been threatening to fall (or slip, or cascade) over onto the floor, onto the chair, or perhaps into the wicker basket, for weeks now, and was made even more unstable by the inclusion of several half-read paperback books, some bent over backwards to mark their places with broken spines, somewhere in the hidden middle of the pile. Dust had accumulated on the bent edges of some of the papers, so long had it been since they received attention, and on the top of the pile, stuck to an unread financial report, was a small, yellow Post-It Note that read, simply, "Call Mia."

Call Mia.

Monday, February 21, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

Oh, and while I'm complaining about things: I rented this here rental car, and it has an extremely mushy gas pedal which does nothing to speak of unless you push it all the way down, at which point it does embarassingly squeally things with the tires; and it has an extremely stiff brake pedal which does nothing to speak of unless you really lean on it, at which point it throws you at the front windshield.

And I also got a reminder tonight that the obverse of the wonderful quirky discoveries that you sometimes make when eating at little non-chain local places when travelling is that some other times the food is absolutely vile. Ooog!

A reader writes "This one was my favorite by far!" For obvious reasons. (Steve who used to have a weblog was figuratively rolling about on the floor laughing; he also discovered the corresponding merchandise.)

I think I'm going to get into bed now and read for awhile, and hope my stomach forgives me for dinner before sleeping time...

Sunday, February 20, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

So I'm off in Airport and Hotel Land for a bit, and updates may be sporadic. (As if they weren't always sporadic these days.) Today's entry will probably also be quite pedestrian, at least judging by the thoughts that seem to be circling closest to the drain (so to speak) at the moment.

I'm staying at a Wyndham Garden hotel. They've got a pretty wizard little system, where you sign up with them (by "joining" "Wyndham By Request"), and tell them what little things you'd like waiting in the room when you arrive (from a list), and what Frequent Flyer Program you'd like them to apply miles ("miles") to, and what kind of bed you like and whether you'd like stale leftover tobacco stench from previous guests in the air, and they record all that in the computer.

So now whenever I stay at a hotel in this chain (and I think "whenever" is like twice now, although for lots of people I know it's way more often) when I get into the room all tired and sweaty there's always a little ice-bucket with some cranberry juice sitting on the coffee table, and next to it there's cheese and crackers in one form or another, and no leftover smoke, and a big bed, and the clock-radio is tuned to the local classical station, and it's very nice.

It must cost them effectively nothing, and at least in my case it does increase the chances that I'll remember the name of the chain, and at least vaguely look for one when I'm going somewhere. I won't go wildly out of my way or anything, but if the IBM Travel Website Thingie shows me a list of approved hotels for some trip, if there's a Wyndham on it it's likely to catch my eye.

Maybe all hotel chains do this now; I dunno.

Code-sharing is funny. I flew here on American Airlines flight something something (operated by American Eagle), but the sign over the gate not only said that in big letters, but also said in smaller letters that it was Turkish Airlines flight something else, and Cathay Pacific something else, and British Airways something else, and LX something yet else. (I looked up LX, and it's apparently Swiss International Airlines; they must have shown up after all the good two-letter codes were taken.)

I dunno why Cathay Pacific Airlines wants to have a flight between two cities an hour apart on the East coast of the US. Presumably the price is right.

What else? This computer seems to have a sick memory slot, so that most of the time it only has half the memory it's supposed to, which makes things run real real slow when I have my usual jillion things open at once. That CAT scan that I had the other week for my not being able to smell turns out to have been horribly expensive (my GP said he thought it would be "two or three hundred dollars" and of course the people at the hospital didn't say anything about prices (that would have been so gauche); but they had no qualms about charging me like nine hundred bucks once machine time and hospital time and whatever else is added up; sheesh!).

And due to the annoying Alternative Minimum Tax we seem to owe Uncle Sugar significant money this year for the first time in a long time (I don't mind, in some sense, paying taxes, but the AMT's snarky implication that I'm trying to get away with something on the plain old 1040 is just irritating).

But of course it's all just pretty sparkly samsara anyway. *8)

Speaking of which, here's a long analysis of the Diamond (Cutter) Sutra that I hope someday to have the time to read. And here's a Unitarian Buddhist Fellowship (inevitable in retrospect).

And that's about all I have right now in the way of typing things into the computer to be posted in my weblog. I wonder if the hotel's 'net connection will let me post it? We'll see...


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