December 27, 2010

The Wild Geese

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

~ Wendell Berry

(Collected Poems 1957-1982)

December 9, 2010

Blogisattva Finalists have been announced

The Blogisattva Award Finalists (with “honorable mentions” in most categories included) were announced by co- administrator Kyle Lovett at The Blogisattva Awards website yesterday to some fanfare.

As founder of the awards, and administrator during its beginning spell of three years honoring English-language Buddhism blogging, I, of course, have a keen interest in the splendid resurrection of the awards, done by administrators Kyle Lovett and Nate deMontigny. [AND with spiffy new design features contributed by Anoki Casey.]

The first thing I noticed as I read through the list of finalists was the women! Wooho! In the first three years of the awards the noticeable absence of woman’s voices [texty key tapping?] in the ‘competition,’ and, perhaps, in the Buddhoblogosphere, generally, was a point of controversy. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 [honoring blogs, bloggers and posts of the prior year], woman were little represented.

I can’t pull together data to prove it, but I think that it was both a fault of the Awards in the ought-years, and that there was, genuinely, a paucity of women dedicated to blogging at that time. I think it is known that guys had been overwhelming dominant in the Internet and that this situation is much more level, with, well, nowadays, everybody, pretty much, hooked on the web.

Many of the stalwart blogs of the awards in the ought-years have passed from the scene, changed the focus of their blog, or just aren't contenders this year. A notable exception is The Buddhist Blog -- which continues to be to the Buddhoblogosphere what Kellogg’s is to cereal [nope, that’s not it]. General Motors is to vehicles [nope, not right]. I’ve got it!: The Buddhist Blog is to the Buddhoblogosphere what Buddha is to Buddhism!

James Ure’s TBB is a finalist in three categories and the recipient of three honorable mentions, which, with a total of six, makes him/his blog tops on the Kudos Count, both this year and, probably, all time [I'll have to run the numbers].

The reason the awards lapsed after 2008 was difficulties I was having, and am having, including easy access to the Internet.  I haven't yet had time for the delight of going through the Finalists List and reading the posts and blogs that have been honored.  But I do see that the quality is there, and for that the administrators and judges should be congratulated.

I am delighted to see nominations for Smiling Buddha Cabaret, one blog I have followed somewhat in the past few years.  And, ditto, for cheerio road and — long-time blogs that I follow on my RSS reader.

Congratulations to all the worthies and their nominations.

BUT, it would be no fun if I didn't share at least one disappointment.  Awards are like that; controversies are a part of the thought process that makes us think about what is good.  I confess to being disappointed that Marnie Louise Froberg's "A Comment on Dharma Wars: Ignoble Silence, Transcendental Egotism and Getting Straight with the Truth" wasn't nominated for Best Post.

Awards!  Are they a Barrel of Joy, or what!!? 

December 6, 2010

Blogisattva announcements on Dec 8 & Dec 12

The Octobuddha, preparing the awards.
A post at The Blogisattva Awards website tells us that the finalists for the 2010 Awards will be announced in a post on December 8 and that winners will be announced on December 12.

The post also thanks us for our patience. [What patience?]


Categories for the 2010 Awards are…
  • Blog of the year, Svaha!
  • Best Post of the Year
  • Best Achievement in Skilled Writing
  • Best Achievement Blogging on Buddhist Practice or Dharma
  • Best Buddhist Practice Blog
  • Best "Life" Blog
  • Best Blogging on Matters Philosophical, Psychological or Scientific
  • Best Achievement in Kind and Compassionate Blogging
  • Best Achievement Blogging Opinion Pieces or about Political Issues
  • Best Engage-the-World Blog
  • Best Achievement in Design
  • Best Achievement in Wide Range of Topic Interests Blogging
  • Best Achievement with Humor in a Blog Post

November 4, 2010

What does it mean to be human?

What does it mean to be human?

An essay in the Arts section of the Unte Reader blog, titled “A New Way to Act,” by David Doody, tells us that acting/performing has moved beyond the Method method to something new because what it means to be human isn’t now what it was.

It’s a weird essay on the face of it: A declaration that being human has changed, yet that provocative statement is sublimated to the idea that acting must now be done differently.

Acting as it is, and shouldn’t be, declares Doody, is one of mimicry. A performance like that of Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire is [quoting Sheila Heti],
… a version of the human as a deeply individual, emotionally rooted being, with psychological depth, continuity of self, and a past that profoundly affects present behaviour and relationships
Doody tells us, citing Heti, that humans today
… have moved from the Freudian era toward cognitive behavioral therapy, meaning that “we are not determined by our past experiences….We are now in an age in which to be human means, in part, to be able to choose what sort of human one wants to be.” As Heti sees it, our actors have not followed the trend, but rather are still attempting to act the way Brando did. Even the best of this acting, Heti sees as bad, as it is only “high mimicry.”
So, is Doody [really, Heti] right? Has the nature of being human changed because of the new trend? Was the old Army ad perhaps wrong then, but right, now? We can “be all you we want to be?” Or do we still drag the ball-and-chain of our prior conditioning in a continuity of self?

At the end of his essay, Doody fully bails on Heti, who is inspired by sight of the next leap in how acting should be.
So what, exactly, would Heti want to see replace the form of acting so commonly used today? She gives one example: the artist Ryan Trecartin’s videos. The characters in these videos have “no personality at the core” and “[t]here is no sense that [they] have what we consider an emotional history, or have lived days and years prior to the moment they are currently living on screen before us.” Other than that, she pretty much offers only a call to duty for screenwriters and actors to discover what the next stage of acting will be.
It’s all very odd, but surely there is some truth to the idea that human society/relationships/'senses or self' go through radical changes over the course of ages [and maybe, now, decades] that we find hard to fathom.

The acting in the 20s and 30s seems wholly artificial to us. While it can be pleasurable to watch an old Bette Davis movie, her performance doesn’t fell like it is representative of a real person. Ditto Marlon Brando; he’s archly theatrical and emotionally unstable. His performance seems like “acting,” not being real.

I know from reading books about how people used to think in ages past that the sense of ‘what being human is’ changes. Living in a “world” that is really only just within a few miles of where you were born is profoundly different than knowing the news of what goes on everywhere on the planet. Reading the newspapers or going online makes us different, and that difference isn’t necessarily better or ‘more knowing.’

Before the Renaissance period [say, befor 1450AD], people had no real conception of history. Things changed so slowly that people didn’t think in terms of change. They thought everything was very much like it had always been. History was recorded in a jumble; there was no timeline. There was no sequence of events to tell a story of advancement or change or 'reason why/how things changed or could change.'

What meaning life had was necessarily found in religion, since there was little else. Whereas today we can see the planet being in a world of dangers [global warming; terrorism] and adventures [longer lifespans; new technological gizmos; constant profound and surprising scientific discoveries], in the past, life was almost wholly one of duty.

But how are we today? WHO are we today?

Maybe we’re journeying to a place where living vicariously in the movies is feeling phony. Maybe we’re benumbed by not knowing who we are or what we’re supposed to be.

Maybe the prior paragraph in this blogpost is phony. Maybe I don’t know what to think or write to conclude things, here. Maybe it’s annoying that I’m getting all postmodern about now, losing my seriousness and thinking more about what I want for lunch rather than being respectful of all you blog readers. [Hmmm. Hannah’s Deli!? Mmmmm.]

October 25, 2010

Affirming the intrinsic worth of all conscious beings

There are certain kinds of events that take us out of ourselves, that allow us to transcend or break out of the egocentric circle of concerns that all too often binds our thinking life. A possible beginning is a romantic episode in which another conscious being becomes a passionate object of interest. The being of the other assumes an intense importance that, if it lasts long enough, can mature into an appreciation of the other as a kind of hero, struggling against existential limitations to which they are ultimately destined to lose. This mature appreciation of the other would be an ugly narcissism if focused on the self; but focused on the other, it can be a model for, eventually and personally, affirming the intrinsic worth of all conscious beings.

Written by Joe Frank Jones, III, from "Introduction to The Pluralist symposium on Ralph D. Ellis's 'Spiritual Partnership and the Affirmation of the Value of Being'.(Critical essay)." in the Fall 2006 issue of The Pluralist, preceding Ellis's long essay "Spiritual Partnership and the Affirmation of the Value of Being"
Update 10/26/10:  I note that today the splendid William Harryman posted sentiment that one should be compassionate with oneself in his Integral Options Cafe blog:  "Om - Create Time for Self-Compassion."

The issue rages on, for me.  Are there times, or people, for whom being compassionate with oneself is appropriate? Are there others of us that are better 'served' by always batting our ego down in whack-a-mole style!?  I guess we each need to choose for ourself, BUT the choice we are inclined to make is, perhaps, not the best for us. 

October 18, 2010

Unselfishness is at the core of solving world problems

The big evolutionary idea that I think is going to transform our thinking in the social sciences in the next 10 years is group selection. What this means is that we actually have all kinds of mental equipment for suppressing self-interest, for working for the common good, but only when we are basically at war with another team. We can be unselfish, we can be cooperative, but that is activated by intergroup conflict.

If we are attacked by space aliens, I think we humans will unite pretty well. But until then, it’s just very, very difficult for us to solve any sort of dilemma that requires people to sacrifice for the greater good—unless it’s the greater good of their team versus another’s.

So it’s really a shame that global warming has become so politicized. We are capable of solving some things, like taking lead out of gasoline. There are some regulatory changes that have been made that weren’t so politicized. But once it becomes politicized, it’s very difficult to achieve global cooperation.
Quoting Jonathan Haidt, from a recent discussion with Michael Bergeisen, posted at the Greater Good website.  Haidt is best known for his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis.   "His [forthcoming] book focuses on the psychological foundations of our moral and political views, exploring how recent discoveries in moral psychology might help us get past the culture wars and create more civil forms of politics."

October 15, 2010

Steiner is dead

This is the third quote I've posted from Sebastian Junger's amazing new book, War.  The first quote is found here; the second here.

The story here is about how close Steiner came to death.  Writes Junger:
The book's back cover.
Steiner lay there unable to see or move, wondering whether the things he was hearing were true. Had he been hit in the head? Was he dead? How would he know? The fact that he could hear the men around him should count for something. After a while he could see a little bit and he sat up and looked around. The bullet had penetrated his helmet to the innermost layer and then gone tumbling off in another direction, looking for someone else to kill. (The blood on his face turned out to be lacerations from stone fragments that had hit him.) The other men glanced at Steiner in shock — most of them thought he was dead — but kept shooting because they were still getting hammered and firepower was the only way out of there. Steiner was in a daze and he just sat there with a bullet hole in his helmet, grinning. After a while he got up and started laughing. He should be dead but he wasn’t and it was the funniest thing in the world. “Get the fuck down and start returning fire!” someone yelled at him. Steiner laughed on. Others started laughing as well. Soon everyman in the platoon was howling behind their rock wall, pouring unholy amounts of firepower into the mountainsides around them

“It was to cover up how everyone was really feeling,” Mac admitted to me later.

Three Humvees drove down from the KOP to pick up Steiner, but he refused to go with them — he wanted to stay with his squad. When the platoon finally started running up the road toward Phoenix [the name of an outpost; not the Arizona city], Steiner found himself floating effortlessly ahead of the group despite carrying sixty pounds of ammo and a twenty-pound SAW [stands for Squad Automatic Weapon, a light machine gun]. It was one of the best highs he’d ever had. It lasted a day or two and then he sank like a stone.

You start getting these flashes of what could’ve been,” Steiner said. “I was lying in bed like, ‘Fuck, I almost died.’ What would my funeral have been like? What would the guys have said? Who’d have dragged me out from behind that wall?” Steiner was doing something known to military psychologists as “anxious rumination.” Some poeple are ruminators and some aren’t, and the ones who are can turn one bad incident into a lifetime of trauma.

“You can’t let yourself think about how close this shit is,” O’Byrne explained to me later. “Inches. Everything is that close. There’s just places I don’t allow my mind to go. Steiner was saying to me, ‘What if the bullet —' and I just stopped him right there, I didn’t even let him finish. I said, ‘Bit it didn’t. It didn’t.’”

October 14, 2010

Combat brings consequences

This is the second quote I've posted from Sebastian Junger's amazing new book, War.  The first quote is found here.

The sentiment here is in ways similar to the prior quote, but says some important things about what we impose on the brave soldiers we send into tough situations to fight for us.  Writes Junger:

The book's back cover.
Combat was a game that the United States had asked Second Platoon to become very good at, and once they had, the United States had put them on a hilltop without women, hot food, running water, communications with the outside world, or any kind of entertainment for over a year. Not that the men were complaining, but that sort of thing has consequences. Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. In a very crude sense the job of young men is to undertake the work that their fathers are too old for, and the current generation of American fathers has decided that a certain six-mile-long valley in Kunar Province needs to be brought under military control. Nearly fifty American soldiers have died carrying out those orders. I’m not saying that’s a lot or a little, but the cost does need to be acknowledged. Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war (for some reason, the closer you are to combat the less inclined you are to question it), but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.

There are other costs to war as well — vaguer ones that don’t lend themselves to conventional math. One American soldier has died for every hundred yards of forward progress in the valley, but what about the survivors? … Ultimately, the problem is that they’re normal young men with normal emotional needs that have to be met within the very narrow options available on that hilltop. Young men need mentors and mentors are usually a generation or so older. That isn’t possible at Restrepo [an outpost in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan abutting Pakistan], so a twenty-two-year-old team leader effectively becomes a father figure for a nineteen-year-old private. Up at Restrepo a twenty-seven-year-old is considered an old man, an effeminate Afghan soldier is seen as a woman, and new privates are called “cherries” and virtually thought of as children. Men form friendships that are not at all sexual but contain much of the devotion and intensity of a romance. Almost every relationship that occurs in open society exists in some compressed form at Restrepo, and almost every human need from back home gets fulfilled in some truncated, jury-rigged way. The men are good at constructing what they need from what they have. They are experts at making do.

As for a sense of purpose, combat is it — the only game in town. Almost none of the things that make life feel worth living back home are present at Restrepo, so the entire range of a young man’s self-worth has to be found within the ragged choreography of a firefight. The men talk about it and dream about it and rehearse for it and analyze it afterward but never plumb its depths enough to lose interest. It’s the ultimate test, and some of the men worry they’ll never again be satisfied with a “normal life” — whatever that is — after the amount of combat they’ve been in. They worry that they may have been ruined for anything else.

October 10, 2010

War is Exciting

I'm going to post a few quotes from Sebastian Junger's amazing new book, War.  The book is highly informative and brilliantly written.  War, like the condition of being homeless, is something the public should know a lot more about.  Writes Junger:
War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them. It's insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know. Soldiers discuss that fact with each other and eventually with their chaplains and their shrinks and maybe even their spouses, but the public will never hear about it. It's just not something that many people want acknowledged. War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a nineteen-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everryone comes out of okay, war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of. In some ways twenty minutes of combat is more life than you could scrape together in a lifetime of doing something else. Combat isn't where you might die — though that does happen — it's where you find out whether you get to keep on living. Don't underestimate the power of that revelation. Don't underestimate the things young men will wager in order to play that game one more time.

August 4, 2010

The banality of evil

Someone who sees no resemblance between himself and his enemy, who believes that all the evil is in the other and none in himself, is tragically destined to resemble his enemy. But someone who, recognising evil in himself, discovers that he is like his enemy is truly different. By refusing to see the resemblance, we reinforce it; by admitting it we diminish it. The more I think I’m different, the more I am the same; the more I think I’m the same, the more I’m different … .
From Facing the Extreme: Moral life in the concentration camps, by Tzvetan Todorov

June 14, 2010

Move afoot to fire-up the Blogisattva Awards

An interesting development this morning: Buddhobloggers Kyle Lovett [of The Reformed Buddhist and Progressive Buddhism fame] and Nate DeMontigny [of Precious Metal: the blog fame] expressed an interest in getting the Blogisattva Awards going again.

I said Hooray!, of course.  And already things are churning.

Nate has put up a post at the Blogisattva blogsite, "Blogisattva is making a comeback!" And has updated the top-of-the-sidebar scrolling marquee to read: 
The Blogisattva Awards are on
the way back.

We are in the process of
selecting an independent
committee to judge and award
the submissions.

Categories will be announced
soon and then the nomination
process will begin!
The Blogisattvas had been awarded early in the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 to honor Buddhism blogging for the prior calendar years.

Top winners from the past:

Blog of the Year, Svaha!
Blogpost of the Year
The Wordsmithing Award
It will be great to see the awards revived, with new blood and new ideas brought forward. You go, guys!

BTW, a discussion is going on about reviving the awards in a Tricycle group, "Resurrect the Blogisattvas?"

May 15, 2010

Two civil lawsuits

An article in the Bee today is of some interest to me, since there are two civil suits that I am aware of that have many identical elements.

The alike elements are these:

  • A civil suit was filed for wrongful death, filed by the decedent's daughter.
  • The plaintiff attorney is Ed Dudensing.
  • The defendent is Horizon West Healthcare.
  • The decedent is an old woman with dementia who cracked a bone and died from an infection she incurred while staying at a facility run by the defendent.
Differences in the two suits include these:

 Suit #1 went to trial and a jury awarded the daughter $28 million, which, according to the Bee article, is "the largest personal injury award in [Sacramento] County history."
 Suit #2 is in litigation.

 Suit #1 The deceased woman is Frances Tanner and the daughter is Elizabeth Pao. (Two people I'd never heard of.)
 Suit #2 The deceased woman is my mother Mary Criner and the daughter is my sociopathic sister Carol Armstrong. (Two people I know best in the world.)

January 20, 2010