February 25, 2009

The Year of Living Dangerously

One of my favorite movies, way back when Sigourney Weaver was stunningly beautiful and Mel Gibson wasn't antisemitic [or, at least *publicly* antisemitic], was The Year of Living Dangerously. At the time the movie was top of the box office, I was beginning a winter-session screenwriting class taught by Lester Cole, one of The Hollywood Ten and a founder of the Screen Writers Guild. The class was in San Francisco, a UC Berkeley extention course. Cole was very old at the time, and was more than a little out of it.

Cole had been a screenwriter at the time he was blacklisted for being Communist. At the time, I came to believe his most famous film was "Objective, Burma," but the faultless Internet tells me his final film, "Born Free" is it -- and I suppose that's so.

Anyway, back in 1983, Cole didn't like TYOLD, instead telling us that the 1976 movie The Big Bus was his idea of a very well-written film. Go figure.

All of what I've written is a bit of an excuse to post a YouTubing of the theme music to The Year of Living Dangerously, which I think is splendid, and appropriate to the tense nature of the movie.

February 21, 2009

John Cage's "4 minutes, 33 Seconds" (1952)

John Cage's piece "4 Minutes, 33 Seconds," For Full Orchestra

February 20, 2009

I'll Fly Away

One song, far my favorite, that I hear on rather rare occassions at the mission is "I'll Fly Away." It's not in the mission hymnal; I hear it when the church or organization that comes to preach to us features a solo singer who loves it and offers her rendition of it to us.

Here, the Alison Krauss - Gillian Welch version with scenes from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Lyrics | Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch - I’ll Fly Away lyrics

February 19, 2009

The Earth Does Not Orbit the Sun [Oh, yeah!?]

In this blog I have said quite a bit about my experience, from 6:30PM to 6:30AM, at Union Gospel Mission. My evaluation of what the mission takes me through is mixed. I truly am grateful that this very conservative, literalist Christian ministry keeps me alive and that there I come in contact with sterling people that pass through its gates as guests [the sixty homeless men, inc. me, who use the dorm and are beneficiaries of other services]; as other users of the mission's services [men and women who stay just for the sermon and evening meal]; as members of The Rehab Program [residents of the mission who are enrolled in a nine-month Christianity intensive for men recovering from drug or alcohol problems]; and staff.

Woe to Buddhism in America which fails to create programs and services to attend to the neediest among us. Woe and for shame that Buddhism offers no such thing as a Union Sangha Mission! [Note: The closest equivalent to "Union Gospel Mission," for a Buddhist enterprise, would be "Union Dharma Mission," but we Buddhists are non-proselytizing and non-dogmatic, so any enterprise to aid the homeless would come as a fount of compassion and community, not in an effort to, in some way, spiritually save or convert people.]

At the same time that I am grateful for the Union Gospel Mission, I am also critical. There are many, many preachers there who deliver sermons that are loony tunes, by my estimation -- and perhaps, as well, by the estimation of the psychiatric community.

Last night, the preacher from Foothill Bible Church spent his time making the case that the sun orbits the earth, and not vice versa as we are taught in third grade.

Here, as best I recall it, was the pathway of the preacher's presentation:

He began with a long-winded tangential discussion of the idea of what would happen if an object was dropped in a tunnel that was drilled through the diameter of the earth. Would the object pass through the earth to the other side? Would it stop in the middle of the earth? or Would it move back and forth, up and down the long tunnel, much like a pendulum?

The preacher never offered an answer to the concept, because determining what might happen was not really his point. His point was that such an idea cannot be tested in real life. There is no way to drill a tunnel through the diameter of the earth, because we don't have tools to complete such a massive endeavor and because water [and magma, which he didn't mention] would quickly fill the tunnel long before its completion.

Thus, said the preacher, the outcome of such a project is unknowable -- except in conception as a "thought experiment."

Much of what science engages in are thought experiments, said the preacher. Until such flights of whimsy are proved in real life, we should be skeptical of results that take place wholly in one man's mind.

From here, the preacher explained that science is an effort to explain phenomena in terms of mathematical formulae that seem to work. If a scientist's equation doesn't contradict what is observed, then it is accepted as valid.

But, the preacher warned, many experiments are funded by organizations seeking certain results, so we must be leery of scientific research.

He also made the case that something was skanky about science based on his claim that human remains have been found with many of the dinosaurs that have been unearthed, and other creatures that science tells us are hundreds of thousands of years old.

He also said that the dating of soil and fossils is corrupted by "circular reasoning." Fossils are dated based on a supposed age of the soil it is found in, and soil is dated by a supposed age of the fossils.

And this brings us to the earth/sun orbit problem: According to the preacher, the idea that the earth orbits the sun is based on scientists' thought experiments -- not on anything observed in reality. The mathematics 'works' under the assumption that the earth circles the sun, so scientists are fixated on this wholly false idea.

The Bible tells us that the sun circles the earth, so the preacher said he is in possession of the truth of the situation. He cited Joshua 10:12, which in the King James translation reads "Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon." Proof positive that the sun circles the earth.


We learn after third grade that, in truth, the earth and sun move around each other. But, since the sun is 320,000 times the earth's mass, effectively it is the sun that is the center of our solar system and all the planets and objects orbit about it.

We know this, not because we are fooled from the impossibly lucky happenstance of some mathematical equations, but from rigorous investigation over centuries. And, the circumstance is confirmed by satellites that have been sent all over the solar system, including orbits around and into the sun. How the solar system "works" has very much been "tested" and there is not a bit of doubt that the sun is relatively stationary with the planets orbiting around it.


Troubling to me [and my friend James] was that conversation at dinner after the sermon informed us that many of our dorm brothers bought the crappola nonsense the preacher spewed that evening. One man said the preacher must surely be a college professor who made "fifteen or twenty dollars an hour." Others were impressed by the preacher's verbosity and command of 'facts.'

The men at dinner did not agree with my assessment that the preacher was an idiot. "He has a job and a family; that's more than you can say," said a man seated across from me. Yep, but he's still an idiot.

February 11, 2009

~C4Chaos's Kind of Kick-Ass Dharma Teacher

~C4Chaos meditating in an exotic spot in Washington state.
I love ~C4Chaos because he jumps into life with extreme passion and extreme compassion. And since he is also extremely brilliant, extremely productive and extremely exuberant [as well as being a hyperWilberian], all the lights in the room I'm in double their brightness when his webpages glow on my monitor.

In his latest blogblast, "The Science of Enlightenment is Paving the Way for the Enlightenment of Science," C4 sings the praises of "The Science of Enlightenment" a 14-disc CD package written by Shinzen Young.

Shinzen Young is a Vipassana meditation teacher, but also a lot else, having emersed himself in Buddhism diciplines other than Theravada, including Shingon and Zen. We also learn from wikipedia, that he has extensively studied and practiced Lakota Sioux Shamanism. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL, FOLKS ... he also is a geeky science-interested fellow, "integrating meditation with scientific paradigms." It says that Shinzen "frequently uses concepts from mathematics as a metaphor to illustrate the abstract concepts of meditation." Hmmm. I'd surely be interested in THAT leap; math to meditation. The calculus of deep non-thought.

Shinzen Young, as pictured at his webspace Meditation in Action.
Anyway, between C4's post and Shinzen Young's main webspace, Meditation in Action, there is lots to be found about the idea of the integration of science and meditation, of the synergy of the Post-modern Age and True Enlightenment. C4 and Shinzen believe, as I must, that only a major uptick in our leaders' thinking and actions [and, thus, necessarily, in the general population, as well] will we be able to thread our way through the dangers and challenges that the testy future holds for us all. And, thus, "tread our way to liberation" using an alloy of ancient and modern wisdom.

Writes C4 in his post,
Shinzen Young's is one the most-sane voices paving the way for the enlightenment of science. Since the publication of The Science of Enlightenment ten years ago [Yep, TSoE was originally issued as a bunch of cassettes 10+ years ago, but was reissued and modestly updated in CD format in 2005.] , there already are promising signs that the cross-fertilization of Western science and Eastern meditative technology have been gathering momentum. One of the leading voices in the field is B. Alan Wallace (a Buddhist practitioner and scientist). See Wallace’s talk at Google: “Towards the First Revolution in the Mind Sciences.” On the more mainstream end, Sam Harris (a neuroscience researcher) is making noises about such integration. See Harris’s essays on the Huffington Post: “A Contemplative Science” and Shambhala Sun: “Killing the Buddha.”
Let me end things by kiping a poem, written by Shinzen, that is currently on the homepage of Meditation in Action. I have to say that the poem is controversial, even to me. Can the Path be so all-encompassing? But, mustn't it be!?:

The Path

If anybody asks you what the Path is about,
It's about generosity.
It's about morality.
It's about concentration.
It's about gaining insight through focused self-observation.
It's about the cultivation of subjective states of compassion
   and love based on insight.
And it's about translating that compassion and love into
   actions in the real world.

UPDATE: In C4's prior post, he has a couple Shinzen viddies and a link to a three-part audio talk with Shinzen at Buddhist Geeks, and MORE.