30 September 2007

Really Real Reality

Disclaimer: This is not a rant, nor is it an attack. It is a statement of my own, very personal, views of religions and gods in general. I've shared some of these ideas before, but never fully fleshed out as they are here. I'm a bit hesitant about posting it, but it may help people understand why I react the way I do to some things. I will honestly be surprised if a single reader agrees with me, here, which is why I hesitate to post it, but at the same time I can't think of a good reason not to post it, so here goes:

Neither theist nor not...

There. That's a properly Zen subtitle. It refers to an idea common to atheists, that people are all atheists to every religion but their own, and that atheists just take it one god further. Maybe this is true for a majority of religious adherents; I don't know. It's not true for me. I consider every god ever conceived of by humans to be equally real. This does not mean that I "believe in them" any more than I believe in the couch I'm sitting on, or the wind outside. Asking whether I believe in a god is sort of like asking whether the moon commutes with happiness. It's irrelevant and very nearly meaningless.

Profound Triviality

So what do I mean when I say that all the gods are equally real? They are facets of human experience, personifications of human ideas and ideals, and fears. They are as real to each person as that person allows. They are as meaningful to each person as each person allows, or needs. Criticizing a person's choice of god (or lack thereof) is rather like criticizing the color of someone's living room. Getting upset about it is even sillier. Insisting that all people with unpainted living rooms are damned to hell, uh, sure THAT makes sense. It's even more bizarre to insist that all people who haven't painted their living room exactly the right shade of institutional green are damned to hell.

Truth and Fiction

I don't think that any one god is either right for everyone or the overarching reality behind the universe. I do think that we can learn things from the stories people tell about their gods. Taking those stories too literally, though, robs them of meaning. So does paying attention to only one particular set of stories. And so does ignoring the stories altogether, or belittling them for not being literally true. All stories are true, for a given value of 'true.' The truth one person finds in them may not be the truth found by another.

This is what makes stories, and gods, different from science and scientific fact. Facts do not change depending on the observer. Gods do. Experiments run by different scientists yield the same results under the same conditions. Stories do not. The same story can have many different endings and many different interpretations. In science, those interpretations are meaningless unless there is a way to test them against one another. In a story, there is no way to test for which interpretation is "correct," and even contradictory ones may be correct at the same time.

This, I suppose, is why so many latch onto quantum mechanics to try and validate their spiritual stories. Observer dependent! Wave-particle duality is true and contradictory! But these are still testable ideas. How do you test a story? A story relevant to one time, culture or person may be meaningless to another. The test of a story is not whether it "really happened" or whether it's "literally true." The test of a story is whether it has meaning for you, whether it tells you how to live in this moment, and the next, whether it has an impact on your view of the world. As soon as you start analyzing the story in terms of "fact" and "science," you kill its meaning. If it's a story about a god, you kill the god, too.


What I call the Divine is the sum total of all that is. Every god. Every person. Every story. Every molecule, atom and quark. Every death. Every life. Everything. To set up one part against another is a sickness. To say "this is divine; that is not" is a contradiction. If it exists, it is part of the Divine, even if it exists only in the human mind. Not one thing is separate from the Divine, nor can it be made separate. A savior is a useful image for those who feel entirely lost, but it becomes a liability after a certain point. It encourages feelings of isolation and separation. But how can you be separate when the Divine is everywhere? It is not only out there; it is also in here. The very idea of worship becomes heretical when you feel this. What are you worshiping? Yourself? The table in front of you? An ant hill in the yard? A bone buried in the earth for a thousand years? All are equally divine and worthy of worship.

Ending at the Beginning

The thing that I liked about paganism was the idea that there was a single Deity. Because we are male and female, we perceive it as God and Goddess, and God and Goddess each have thousands upon thousands of faces. But I found it rather silly to pick one, or several, of those faces and devote rituals to them. Why bother? There's a deeper reality. My sense is that those faces are stepping stones, somewhat familiar and humanlike. The trick is to move beyond them. Getting hung up on the faces is like getting hung up on the color of paint in the living room. It's missing the point entirely. So, yes, all the gods are equally real. But they're not the "really real reality."

Since as a human, I like to have a name for things, I reluctantly name the really real reality...Tao.

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29 September 2007

Yang Long Form (Week 5)

Yes, I forgot to post a week 4, but we didn't get to anything new last week; we just consolidated the first "third" that we did know. And this week I was the only one up there, and I swear that Don would have tried to get me through the entire NEXT third if I hadn't stopped him. I don't guarantee that I can remember everything he DID get through, at least not in the proper style. Up to the place I stopped him, it was still following the same sequence as the Cheng Manch'ing form, but then it was going to go into another series of step-ups and brush-knees.

So from apparent closure, the move is described as grabbing a tiger's head and throwing it. I can't remember the long-form name, but it's a bit milder in the CMC form, and called "Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain" or, sometimes, "Carry Tiger to the Mountain." This seems to be "Carry Tiger's Head to the Mountain." It actually has a waist turn that the CMC form lacks, which is unusual; it's more often the other way around. After that, it's a sequence of grasp sparrow's tail to the corners. "Great Roc Spreads Wings" is different. The arms start facing the same way and spread during the foot placement. I'm not sure how exactly the arms are supposed to get to "Lotus Under Leaf" aka "Fist Under Elbow" in this form, but Don didn't seem interested in fixing that today.

"Step Back to Repel Monkey" is very similar to CMC, except that you step back with the feet at forty-five degrees, instead of parallel, cock the pushing wrist, and pull the down hand up to the waist. Diagonal Flying is, frankly, insane. If you've ever seen a yoga balance posture called "Proud Warrior", well, this thing is only slightly more stable. You come into it mostly the same way as in the CMC form, but it's to the front of the room rather than the corner, and you float and stand up as you shift the weight, lifting the back foot like a ruddy ballerina. Seriously, to use this in any sort of combat situation would be very nearly insane. Timed just right, it could be effective, but you're so off-balance and vulnerable that you may as well have a target painted on you. More than one opponent? Forget about long-form-slant-flying. On the other hand, the name actually makes sense in this form, which it never really did in the CMC form.

And after that, there's another raise-hands-step-up, and probably the whole brush-knee sequence repeats, but I had enough stuff filling my head right then and asked Don to stop.

On the bright side, Don actually complimented me on the Chauncer Chin today (sp? No clue; it's transliterated from Chinese, anyway, and that's roughly how Don pronounces it). It's a qigong where you trace the shape of a yin-yang by a series of weight-shifts and waist-turns. Naturally since he was finally happy with it, he added a new wrinkle: both hands at once. Maybe in another seven years I'll have THAT down.

I also surprised Don a few times in push-hands, meaning that I pushed him out without him deliberately setting up for me to push him out. There were a couple of awesome ones there. My favorite was one where I had my hand up and suddenly knew that there was a vulnerability. Normally Don is solid there (my hand was up near his shoulder), but I just knew there was a vulnerability, turned my waist, and there he went. He said that he'd been shifting his feet at that moment, adjusting his stance, and what I had felt was that he was slightly off-balance. Keep in mind that my eyes were closed, and that Don's body did not move while he was adjusting his stance. I could just feel that he was vulnerable. Don's favorite was at the very end of our practice. What I felt was one attempt to push, a realization that I didn't have his center, and a shift down to where his center was. Don said that I had readjusted several times, without tensing up, and that he'd found it impressive. Oh, and there were many MANY more instances where I tensed something up and Don pushed me out with no effort whatsoever, but those are pretty commonplace. ^/^

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28 September 2007


If it hasn't become obvious already, I've been shopping around for a new show to get into. And I think I just hit the jackpot, assuming the show lasts. According to IMDB, six TWELVE* episodes have been shot so far. By comparison, 14 have been shot for Bionic Woman. The show is about a vampire detective, and, yes, that's been done many times before, but I really like the feel so far.

Partial list of predecessors: Angel, Forever Knight, P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files, and I feel like I'm missing an obvious one... Anita Blake almost counts. I've been into vampire stories since I was pretty little and saw "Love At First Bite." I was too little to realize it was a comedy, btw. Not kidding. When I saw it again years later I was a bit, um, shocked. On the other hand, it gave me a direct comparison between the way I saw things as a kid (probably 6 or so) and as an adult.

But this series held its own. One of the IMDB comments is that it's a Forever Knight rip-off, but I don't see it. Nick was a cop, and he was looking for a cure for his vampirism. That was established right off the bat in the pilot. This vampire, while not exactly happy about what he is, has shown no desire for a cure. His 'partner' is a reporter, not a doctor. The biggest similarity is that the pilot involves a wanna-be vampire murdering people, and, of course, leaving obvious fang marks in the neck. That was also the plot of the FK pilot, insofar as the murders, but the killer and the motive are entirely different. And it feels nothing like the Buffyverse. Honestly, it reminded me more of P.N. Elrod's books than of any of the similarly themed tv shows, but her books are set in 1930's Chicago. Moonlight is clearly set in modern times.

Okay, there was one similarity to Forever Knight that I thought was a bit glaringly obvious: the contacts used when Mick vamps out. Someone explain to me WHY, other than entertainment convention, the eyes would change appearance? They did it in Lost Boys, in most horror vamp movies I've seen... P.N. Elrod does a version of it, but in her case it's after feeding: the eyes turn blood red. No clue if there's any real physiological basis for that, but it makes more sense than "fangs come out; eyes go all glowy". But that's a minor nitpick. I really want this show to make it. I'd call myself a vampire junkie, but that has really bad connotations in the Anitaverse... Let's just say that I've been feeling deprived since Buffy and Angel went off the air.

So this one's a keeper. If it lasts.

*Just read further at IMDB and 12 episodes have been produced. Strangely, apparently only 6 of them star the main character. That or something didn't get updated properly `/^ So, worst case scenario, the show is cancelled tonight and in six months or so, all the eps are released on DVD. Sorry if I sound pessismistic; the shows I like the best nearly always wind up under the axe, so I tend to expect the worst.

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Philosophy Class (Week 5)

We've spent most of this week talking about the Bhagavad Gita. Interestingly, the subject of caste didn't come up at all, so I may mention it on Monday (we've been instructed to prepare questions/topics for discussion).

The over-riding theme is the "Yoga of Action." Mostly in the west we think of exercise, and maybe meditation in connection with yoga, but it has the same root as "yoke" and is often translated as "union." As an exercise, it's often described as the union of body and breath, or body and mind, or mind and breath... It can also be translated as "Discipline" or "Art." The Gita proclaims that the way to happiness and fulfillment is not to give up action itself, but to renounce its 'fruit.'

The idea is to commit all acts to heaven/Krishna/god, and have no particular attachment to the outcome. As one of the more vocal students pointed out (I think there are five of us who speak up regularly; yes, I'm one of them), this could be taken as justification for being a sociopath, or an instruction to be autistic. My own sense is that this is trying to get at the same idea as the Tao te Ching, of letting go, but from a different angle. I much prefer that description.

The problem with describing it as 'detachment' may be one of translation. In the West, we have some very bad associations with 'detachment.' Mass murderers are described as detached. Fascist dictators are described as 'detached.' Scientists are also described as 'detached,' with various connotations depending on who's doing the labeling. As described in the Gita, it's not intended as a negative label, nor an indifferent one. The final stanza of Chapter 11 reads:

He who acts for my sake,
loving me, free of attachment,
with benevolence toward all beings,
will come to me in the end

Note the implicit irony. The right kind of detachment involves an attachment to Krishna. It also involves benevolence, but that is less problematic. The natural state of humans is towards generosity and benevolence, in my experience. It takes outside pressures to make us otherwise. To be hostile towards someone requires an attachment to that hostility, to something to be gained from that hostility. I know that many would argue the same for benevolence, but benevolence doesn't require effort. Hostility has to be maintained; it's like a tension in the mind. Relax the mind, and the hostility vanishes. At least, it does for me, and I suspect it's similar for most people. This is why I prefer the description of "letting go." There's less room for misinterpretation.

On a tangent discussion, a few biblical issues came up. I found Dr. Levenson's take on the Old Testament to be rather interesting. At the highest level of awareness, God is perfect, etc, but at lower levels he comes across as 'having some problems.' This would imply that the Old Testament was mostly written by people at the lower levels of awareness, who possibly had glimpses of the higher levels. So why not take Jefferson's approach and cut out all the problematic bits, hmmm? Works for me.

Dr. Levenson also made a very thought-provoking comment about Christianity. He pointed out that the Christ figure is one of the most positive religious images, powerfully positive, almost entirely a force for good, and that Christianity also had the most vivid, negative and nasty depictions of hell of any of the world religions. In other words, there always has to be a balance. The stronger the positive images in a religion, the stronger the negative images. It all goes back to yin and yang. It also goes back to the essential neutrality of the world itself. People realize this on some level. So if there's some all-powerful force for good saving people, there also has to be an equally powerful nasty enemy to save them from. A world of superheroes is automatically a world of supervillains.

Note also that the more liberal forms of Christianity, where hellfire and brimstone aren't part of the weekly poison, also tend to come across as rather insipid. Tepid. Bland. They have to. Getting rid of the horrible villain weakens the hero, too. So why not go for a philosophy of balance? Seems to me that it saves a lot of trouble and cuts out a lot of the nonsense.

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27 September 2007

Inchoate Thursday

Inchoate: "only partly in existence; imperfectly formed." Meaning that I'm going to ramble, or possibly maunder, a bit tonight. Long day. Every Thursday is a long day, but this one was a bit longer. Annik has laryngitis, so I wound up giving the lecture for her 11:00 Math108 section. She could talk enough to help people one-on-one, but couldn't project. So I had one extra lecture to give in an already full day. *sighs I once had to give a lecture with a voice like hers sounded today... I used the ELMO and wrote out a bunch of stuff so that I could mostly point to things and avoid talking very much.

Anyway, I found a few things to share and carefully placed them below the fold. Make that inchoately placed them below the fold, as I don't feel that I am currently in complete existence. Incomplete existence? Uh... Never mind.

I found a poem excerpt over at Daylight Atheism, and decided to track down the whole thing. It's called "Sunday Morning" and was written by Wallace Stevens. I'll put one stanza here for your edification:

She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

Very nice poem. Read the whole thing. There are 8 stanzas, all about the same length as this one.

Also, one of the commenters at Debunking Christianity mentioned John Shelby Spong as his vision of how Christianity should be seen. I'd never heard of him, hence the Wikipedia linkage. His 12 points are rather...interesting. Completely heretical to 99% of Christianity, but interesting. As reported at Wikipedia, here they are (my comments in red):

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found. (If there is a god, how is any belief in god not theist? Me confused. Best guess: his alternative is a mystical god, rather than a personal one.)

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt. (Still presuming some form of mysticism.)

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense. (Uh, obvious much?)

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible. (No clue what this means.)

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
(Uh, obvious much^2?)

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
(Uh, obvious much^3?)

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
(No clue what this means.)

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age. (Presumably he means that ascending into the Christian Heaven by going up into the sky is nonsense, since beyond the sky is empty space, etc.)

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
(Uh, obvious much^4?)

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way. (Cannot be? Maybe should not be. So a redefinition, here.)

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
(Uh, obvious much^5?)

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination. (Very nice, overall. Without a definition of God's image, I can't say much more than that.)

I'm curious to know how much of this is his own wording. I'd also be curious to read some expansions on these ideas. Some of this reads like inchoate babbling to me, while other parts are beautifully lucid. Anyway, before my own lucidity runs out, I'll stop writing.

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26 September 2007

Bionic Woman

Well, I didn't hate it. That's about the best I can say about it. It could have been better, but it could also have been a lot worse. They're going for a dark, my-god-what-have-you-done-to-me feel, at least in the pilot. It looks like they plan to keep it dark, but pilots are notoriously useless at predicting future trends.

Biggest problem: wooden acting. I think the "other" bionic woman was supposed to come across as less than human, but in some ways she seemed more human, since she could actually act. Also, the fight scenes bored me. It was the "blare-loud-music-and-do-funky-things-with-the-camera" style of fight scene, which generally means that they don't have a decent fight choreographer.

I recognized one of the actors from the Witchblade TV series, and there's a similar flavor to Bionic Woman, but Witchblade was interesting and well-acted. I was rather annoyed when it didn't get renewed for a third season. Similarities? Consistently dark venues, loud music vignettes, and a sense of resisting her "fate." But, really, this felt like a pale imitation. Witchblade was engaging right from the get-go. Also, the music had understandable lyrics that generally enhanced or went with the storyline. The ones in Bionic Woman just seemed random, like, "Hey! No dialogue! Toss me a CD!"

Yikes. The more I think about it, the more it feels like a bad Witchblade rip-off. You've got a random event choosing the woman who is to become the 'savior,' a manipulative group/corporation trying to control her afterward, a false 'savior' trying to muscle in on the action... All that in addition to the imitative shooting style. *sighs* I really wish they'd kept making Witchblade. Anyway, I'm not sure if I'll watch this again or not. But I can't honestly recommend it.

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It never helps...

Brief dream snippet from last night. It was a sort of...game, I think. Where people took turns in various roles. A guy who teaches in the math department with me, Russ, had wound up with the role of evil, demonic villain for that, er, round. The amusing thing is that Russ is one of the most soft-spoken and polite people I've ever met, so casting him in that role is a trifle...disconcerting. Anyway, buildings were blowing up all over the place, monsters were attacking, and at some point Russ turned into a giant cobra, which was sort of a relief since THAT was an obvious menace. There was a slightly smaller giant cobra with it; I have no clue where it came from.

Anyway, all through this, I'm trying to find a functioning restroom. It's rather irritating when the buildings that I know have restrooms in them keep blowing up. When I do finally find an intact restroom, I wake up. I think that this would have been a nightmare, except that I was too focused on finding a restroom to be overly concerned with the scary stuff going on. Also, there was that sense it was a game...

My title comes from the evil overlord list, btw. As best I remember, one of the bits of advice was "Don't turn into a giant snake. It never helps."

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24 September 2007


Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Putting your appointed path ahead of any inner conflicts, you make your own rules for the benefit of all.

If by my life or death I can protect you, I will.

I have no idea why I so often wind up with leader-types on these things. Really don't. I'm not a leader. I am someone who would take charge if no one else did, but that's about it.

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Reluctantly Impressed

Not to mention shocked that I managed to hit a night of Season Premieres. The last new show I liked was My Name Is Earl, which I won't get to see this semester due to teaching on Thursday nights. But tonight I found two that I liked.

Chuck: computer geek absorbs top-secret info and gets sucked into the world of espionage. Bizarre, but nicely done. This was the pilot episode, so there's no telling if the quality will hold up, but it looks promising.

Also, I'm finally trying to watch Heroes, about which I've heard so many good things. I tried once before, but it was the middle of an extant season and I felt lost. I still feel slightly lost, but coming in at the beginning of the episode and the season ought to help. So we'll see if it holds my interest. It seems to be nicely done.

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23 September 2007

Catch All

Fair warning: this is going to be a random compilation with no common thread running through it except that it's stuff I keep meaning to mention and haven't gotten around to.

Item the first: My mom's Camry is quite nice. So far, I've been impressed with all the Toyotas I've ridden in. Admittedly, there are only two: My Echo and my mom's new Camry. But they have a lot of cubby-holes for storage and a very nice overall design. The Camry is quite a bit nicer than the Echo in many respects but Jean Luc fits into smaller parking spaces and gets better gas mileage! For me, those are more important.

Item the second: I seem to be getting better on the Halloween front. Today Winco's Halloween display actually interested me somewhat, though overall I felt mostly indifference. This is a marked improvement over extreme rage.

Item the third: Today I happened upon a rather interesting Buddhist response to Christianity. It's interesting to read another tradition's take on the matter. Naturally, the site presents Buddhism as a superior alternative, and I don't agree with all their stances there, but there are some good thoughts. I take issue with one part. They are examining the more liberal Christian idea that "Buddhism is just a different expression of man's understanding of God," and interpret it as another expression of Christian arrogance. And, yes, it can be said that way. But I'm pretty sure that the expression, "All roads lead to the same place in the end" originated in Buddhism. It's the idea that there is a single "thing" called the Divine and that it's at the heart of every religion. An honest expression of this idea would not involve trying to convert someone from their chosen path unless there were some specific reason, like it was a path that made said person unhappy.

Hmmm... now I'm wondering where atheists fall in that scheme of things. First thought: science and rationality are their vision of the Divine. As far as I'm concerned, any honest attempt to understand the universe is a pursuit of the Divine. This puts science at or on the pinnacle of the sacred. The problem with that conception is that, taken too far, it will restrict scientific inquiry. Taken in context, all discoveries become sacred, whether they uphold or overturn prior ideas. Heresy is overriding those discoveries with outdated dogma.

Item the Fourth: Chapter 5 is up. Otherwise, I think I'm done for the night. Sleep well.

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Sometime this week, I bought a new mug. One with a lid that would fit in the cup-holders in my car. I'm somewhat picky about these things. I will not buy travel mugs with plastic-lined interiors, for instance. So when I found a good deal on a mug like I prefer, I snatched it up. But there was a somewhat odd sticker on it...

Keeps beverages hot or cold
Non-slip base
Can be used for travel or in home/office
18 ounce capacity

The first one is a trifle redundant, but pretty standard for such cups. The second one is also reasonable, while the fourth one is nice to know. The third one strikes me as...weird. I mean, any mug or cup "can be used for travel or in home/office." Now, this one is particularly suited to travel, as it has a lid and is of a size that will fit in most car cup-holders. The lid, however, also makes it a good choice in any situation where you want to minimize the risk of spilling things. If they'd worded it differently, say "Perfect for travel! Great for home use, too!" it wouldn't be so odd. It's the "can be," I think, that bugs me. I mean, a book can be used for kindling, and a television set can be used to start a fire. That doesn't mean that those are particularly good uses of those things, however.

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22 September 2007

Pay No Attention to the Gal behind the Keyboard...

Sorry. I'm playing around with the appearance of my other blog, and just need to upload some images to see if they'll work. Oh, and this one's public domain according to Wikipedia. So you can click below the fold to see what deviltry I'm wreaking over there, or you can completely ignore this.

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21 September 2007

Weird Me Interactions

In years past, I've always been happy to see the Halloween displays. Halloween is one of the few major holidays to be openly pagan. This year, though, I noticed that I was avoiding the Halloween displays. If possible, I'd avoid going anywhere near them. If I had to walk by them, I did my best to ignore them. I just might have figured out why tonight. Or part of why.

Normally, I practice ten minutes of empty-mind meditation as part of my daily routine. Since the Halloween thing was bothering me, I used that as a specific focus instead. I cast my mind back to last year and didn't find much, except that maybe my holiday depression started right around Halloween. I also remember looking at the displays and seeing things that Grandma would have liked, and feeling the loss all over again. That wasn't really it, though.

I cast my mind back to the year before. Grandma's birthday is in October, not too long before Halloween. Worse, it was in October that she first went into the hospital. I think seeing the Halloween displays is just too strong a reminder of that. I seem to react most negatively to Halloween style faces, so rows full of masks are...problematic. And pretty much any representation of "Death" results in an immediate, "Bastard!" from somewhere deep inside my mind. Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out. Black cats I'm okay with; faceless pumpkins are fine; autumn leaves, etc, don't bother me at all; coffins I want to smash; costumes result in anger (maybe because they represent hiding of a sort and I'm sick of hiding); animatronic anything makes me feel ill; the whole orange-black-purple color scheme has me seeing red.

I haven't decided if this means I should avoid Halloween displays altogether or keep pushing myself to look at them in an effort to get over the whole thing. The last part sounds eminently sensible, but with my track record over the past year, I doubt I'll go that route. I started confronting emotions head-on after I got sick of hiding from them. Unfortunately, it was often like standing on the railroad tracks and daring the train to hit me. Things aren't as sharp this year, so maybe it won't be so bad, but I'd rather head this off at the pass. I do not want another case of holiday blues.

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Weird Drug Interactions

I made an odd discovery after my brush with ibuprofen backlash. For a while, I'd been noticing that when I got sick there would be an acrid, metallic scent to my sweat. I thought it was rather annoying, but as it only occurred when I got sick, I didn't think much of it. Then this summer the acrid metallic scent was constant. Whenever I sweated very much, I would smell like I'd been working in a metal-shop. I had no idea why. At least, not until I quit the ibuprofen cold turkey. The smell went away within the next couple of days. However, there was a complication, because I'd also stopped using a decongestant at about the same time, and for the same reason. Decongestants also cause backlash sometimes.

So I had no clue which of the two had been causing the scent, but I was reasonably certain that it was not a good thing. Some time after the withdrawal symptoms went away, I took ibuprofen again, with no metallic side effect. Then the next day I needed some decongestant, and the smell came back. I stopped both for a while again, but eventually took some decongestant. No metallic scent. So, as far as I can tell, it's some sort of freak interaction between the two. I haven't been able to find any remotely useful information about it. The closest I've come is that some schizophrenics give off a metallic scent. Pleasant thought, that. Just what I need: another risk factor.

Incidentally, the fact that it took a combo of the two explains why, prior to this summer, it would only happen when I was sick. That was the time I was most likely to take both ibuprofen (for fever) and decongestant (for sinus problems). This summer, due to my knee injury, I was taking ibuprofen every day for a while, and taking decongestants for allergy problems. And it all added up. For now, I'm trying a switchover to aspirin, and hoping that aspirin won't interact with decongestant in the same way for me. I don't know as of yet, as I only bought the aspirin today.

Incidentally, weird reactions run in my family. One time my mom got a rare side effect of a rare side effect of one of her medications. It took her doctor forever to figure out what was going on.

PS: Chapter 4 is up.

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19 September 2007

Philosophy Class, Week 4

No class on Friday this week. Dr. Levenson didn't specify why, merely that he would not be there, though we could, if we wished, still come. We haven't gotten to the Bhagavad Gita yet. Instead, Dr. Levenson gave us a copy of his favorite passage out of the Upanishads. This is a different translation of the same selection. I like the translation we were given in class better, but I don't really want to type the whole thing in.

One note before I put the rest below the fold: Chapter 3 is up.

The refrain that runs through this Upanishad is "That Art Thou." 'That' refers to Brahman, to the Ultimate Source of Reality, to All That Is. Some might call it God, but, for me, that label is a step down, part of the illusion of separation. Maybe part of the effort to recapture the unity.

Interestingly, there are strong parallels with the Tao te Ching here. Milder ones, perhaps, with Genesis, but with an incredibly different emphasis. From the in-class translation: "In the beginning, there was Existence alone--One only, without a second. He, the One, thought to himself: Let me be many, let me grow forth. Thus out of himself he projected the universe; and having projected out of himself the universe, he entered into every being." Compare to Chapter 42 of the Tao te Ching (Pine): The Tao gives birth to one one gives birth to two two gives birth to three three gives birth to ten thousand things.

The primary difference is that "the One" is thought of as a Being, while the Tao is more a process, or a path. Tam Gibbs' translation is interesting: Tao gives birth to unity, unity gives birth to duality, duality gives birth to trinity, and trinity gives birth to all things. Tao starts off as one, but with the idea of oneness, of unity, comes the idea of two-ness, or duality. But then you can combine duality with unity and wind up with three-ness, or trinity. And ultimately generate the entire universe that way.

There's also a difference in language used to describe mystical experiences and goals. In the Upanishads, everyone is a manifestation of the One, the Self, and just needs to learn to "remember" that. In the Tao, one can fall away from the path and must be taught how to find it again, but there's a sense that... you have to work to keep from the path, hold yourself off, and that once you realize that, you find that you have always been on the path. Well, that's my understanding of it.

We also compared the creation account of Genesis. In it, there is a strong sense of separation between God and his creation. There's no sense of unity in that account whatsoever. Especially not in the Christian version, which uses the story to infer an artificial gap between Creator and Created and then must build a bridge between the two. Dr. Levenson's take seems to be that the Garden of Eden story is symbolic of losing the initial unity with the Divine...except that I don't see any implied unity in the creation account there. *shrugs*

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It be talk like a pirate day, Mateys! Show off yer pirate spirit, ahoy!

Arrr. Not piratey enough? Then feast yer eyes on this beauty:

It do be from an odd comic that all ye landlubbers be needin' t'read.

Note: Pirates be hijackin' thee original link, mateys, but here be a back way in.

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17 September 2007

One Down...

Stats tests are graded. I don't think anyone got below a 70% on this one. I usually have at least one total bomb. Yup, low score was 70%, median 89% average 87%, std. dev 8%. One person even got a perfect score, even though I forgot to put a bonus question on. I don't think this was any easier than previous tests I've given, but maybe it was. *shrugs*

I've still got Math015 tests to grade, but those won't take as long, and not just because there are fewer students in that class. Oh, the Math108 center wasn't slammed while I was there, but it was a bit busier. I actually answered quite a few math questions, rather than the two or three of the two prior weeks. Deadline this Friday, too, so it may be similar.

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maple leaf: fallen,
forlorn there on the path,
autumn gift

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16 September 2007


Robert Jordan has been called back into the Pattern. The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills. Perhaps his thread will be spun out again... but probably not in my lifetime. He managed to survive much longer than the doctors expected. I'd never heard of amyloidosis before running across his blog.

I can't think of a single author who has influenced me more. Both the books themselves and the directions in which they sent me. Wheel of Time was also the first fantasy series to truly engage my attention. And, no, he hadn't finished the final WoT book. There's a hint that, perhaps, someone else will finish it using his notes, and the telling that he gave to some close friends and family. But the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. Goodbye, Robert Jordan. You are already missed.

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Riddle Me This...

Okay, I just find the Carnival of the Godless enormously entertaining. Once in a while, I even agree with some of the entries.

The first one just amuses the hell out of me. From Principles of Parsimony: "Because unless you fancy having a god who doesn't have one attribute that couldn't be replicated in a cheese sandwich, science will be able to have a say on whether that god is real. And you probably won't like the answer."

To which I just want to say, "YES! You Understand!" Okay, so I object to the use of a cheese sandwich, due to gluten issues, but let's just say a slice of cheese. Seriously. This guy gets it, but he probably doesn't know he gets it, and more than likely would have no clue what it is that he gets, and might even be upset that I think he gets it. But still, Bravo!. Sadly, he actually considers the cheese-comparison to be an insult. So he doesn't quite get it. `/^

At this point, there are probably a few readers grinning and laughing along with me. There are probably many more staring at the screen in puzzlement, muttering to themselves. There might even be a few getting angry with me, though I find it interesting that you would grant me that much power over your emotional state. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, pick up a spoon or a pillow or anything not particularly breakable. Now, hold it several feet off the ground and let go. SEE! Gravity! They even leave it on on weekends! Eh, I've probably said too much now.

And one more: From hell's handmaiden, we have this rather revealing question:

Now let’s talk about Homer– the one that wrote the Iliad, not the one that likes donuts. If we found in Homer a passage where the soul is described as dissipating into the wind at death, and another where it is described as descending to the shadowy underworld, would we go out of our way to reconcile the two concepts? If we noticed that two ancient authors give conflicting reports about the parentage of some god or goddess, would we spend our days reasoning the discrepancies into agreement? If we noticed that the time line in some tale could not possibly be accurate, would we spend generations constructing elaborate corrections? If we found a passage that tells us that Zeus is slow to anger and just, and another that tells us he is short-tempered and vengeful, how many minds would we put to work building a bridge between the ideas that we can somehow argue that the two are not contradictory? How much effort would we waste reconciling peculiarities in the Enuma Elish? How much energy would we expend arguing that when the Egyptians talked about the four corners of the Earth they were really talking about a sphere, and when the Babylonians talked about the ‘dome’ of the heavens they were really describing the solar system as scientists now understand it? How large an edifice of definition, association, and inference would we build to prove that the Egyptian hierarchy of gods, which comes almost in almost as many varieties as there were temples, is in fact utterly self consistent? How much time would it be before we concluded the obvious– that the accounts are just not consistent?

Incidentally, if there is a discrepancy so obvious and noticeable that it requires explanation, that in itself is proof of the non-inerrancy of the text. Period. Otherwise inerrancy itself becomes meaningless.

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15 September 2007

Yang Long Form (Week 3)

We actually did go further in the form this week, somewhat to my surprise. The sequence to the end of the first section is similar to CMC, but with several extra brush-knee-twist-steps, or brush-EAR-twist-steps in the long form. Instead of just going brush-knee, play-guitar, brush-knee, the long form goes: brush-knee, play-guitar, brush-knee, brush-knee-left, brush-knee, play-guitar, brush-knee, and THEN proceeds into step-up-parry-and-punch, and apparent-close. All done long-form style rather than CMC style, but I'm getting more used to that. And either I'm doing better on my steps, or having two other students didn't give Don as much time to complain about them.

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14 September 2007

Philosophy Class (Week 3)

We've been discussing the Tao te Ching all this week. Bits and pieces of the discussion have made it into my Tao te Ching project at my other blog, but I'll still post an overall summary here.

Mainly I find it interesting how people react when presented with these ideas for the first time. My first real exposure was in Th e Way of the Peaceful Warrior, probably somewhere back around high school. It took some searching, but I discovered that I still have the book. I never finished it. It was my first exposure to the idea of "no-mind" and the problems with identifying too strongly with the ego. I stopped reading because it creeped me out. Much, much later I came across similar ideas when I was more ready to hear them. The book is a work of fiction, but it is trying to convey spiritual insights. I'm not entirely sure how well it does. Based on my dim recollection of the parts I did read, this review at Amazon sounds about right: "Feel more and think less" becomes a key insight, even though it confuses innocence with primitivism and falsely implies that thought is always an obstacle to enlightenment (Thomas Aquinas could have disabused Millman and his mentor of that hilarious notion all by himself). Death to self loses most of its sacrificial character and becomes just another check off item on the list of things necessary for self-fulfillment through 'unreasonable happiness.' (Note: If I reread it, I will post a more definitive verdict)

But poorly presented or not, the idea of no-mind does tend to turn people off at first. We're so used to identifying with our minds, with our sense of 'I', that we sometimes forget that there is a body that goes along with the mind. The western delusion of isolation and despair comes mainly from this mis-identification of the self. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Kayo Robertson described a very similar idea, relating to tension and relaxation. Most people come into taiji with a lot of ingrained tension, and they are often afraid to let it go. They're tensing up, activating all their muscles and effort, as if to scream to the world "THIS IS ME! I AM HERE!" They're terrified that if they let go of that tension that there will be nothing left of themselves, when quite the opposite is true. Letting go of the tension makes you more aware, and in a very real sense makes you 'larger,' as you can identify with more of the world around you. And I can say this, and describe it, but unless you go on to experience it, it probably doesn't mean much to you. *shrugs*

And maybe that's why many people have such a hard time with even the basics of Taoism. They have no experience with awareness that does not revolve around "I, I, I." It sounds as if you have to "lose your mind," yet no-mind is also ever-present-mind, aware even of the surface ripples screaming "I! Me! Mine!" Those are like minor disturbances of the surface. Below that is what I've sometimes heard called "The Observer," watching those thoughts without identifying with them. Not in conflict, as Freud's Superego would be, but just aware.

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There You Are

I actually posted a partial review of this already, but I hadn't finished the book at that point. I have now finished Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are. And I still recommend it highly to anyone, at any level, with any interest at all in mindfulness.

I will say that my favorite part of the book is the first section, which Kabat-Zinn titles The Bloom of the Present Moment. Primarily it's about learning to pay attention to the stuff going on around you. It's far too easy to get lost in our thoughts and miss most of our actual life. Sometimes we need to get lost and not see what's going on, but most of the time it's better if we're aware, if we're actually participating and contributing with full awareness. This section of the book gives some specific ideas to try and cultivate mindfulness, and some exercises to think about.

The next section is titled The Heart of Practice. It is more specifically about mindfulness meditation, with suggestions for ways to practice deliberately. I like his imagery, though I actually prefer the Vipassana meditation that Bataan uses at his camps. I find that images tend to get in the way. Though I suspect that for a complete beginner, they might be more helpful. They give the mind something to 'do' so that it doesn't get distracted as quickly or as easily.

The last section is In the Spirit of Mindfulness, and is primarily about bringing mindfulness into your everyday life, with specific examples from Kabat-Zinn's experiences. Some of the segments I enjoyed immensely; others didn't really resonate with me. I expect that other readers would feel the same, relating to some of the segments and not others. But I do think there should be something there for everyone.

My overall impression matches my impression based on the first section alone: a valuable book for experienced practitioners, for beginners, and even for the just-plain-curious. There's no insistence, no right way or wrong way: just some suggestions for exploring your own mind/self/being. Kabat-Zinn does specifically mention a few Buddhist ideas, and a Hindu one (ahimsa: nonharming), but in a 'think about this for a minute' manner. Food for thought, as it were. Highly recommended.

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13 September 2007

Easier Thursday

I only gave two lectures today, as the other two classes were taking their first exam. I actually had both tests written and printed yesterday. That's almost unheard of for me. No clue how they've done yet, and it may be busy in the Math 108 lab tomorrow so I don't know if I'll get any graded there or not. The past two Fridays have been very slow; no more than five people in at a time while I was there. Tomorrow, though, is the deadline for the first Quiz. Linda tells me that it's not as crazy as it used to be, since Luther changed the "certification" (computer homework) requirements. It used to be that they had to get all but one done before the quiz, then get that one done before the exam that went with that quiz, to get the "bonus." Now, they have to get them all done by the quiz. Still, with this being the very first deadline, it may still be slammed. We shall see.

Chapter 2 is up.

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12 September 2007

Good Tea

I finally made it out to coffee with Matt, or rather tea. We passed a rather pleasant afternoon. One interesting tip that would be more useful if I knew where to find any: black widows living near the foundation or door of a house will keep out hobo spiders. He (Matt, not the spider) also takes pictures of interesting critters.

As for the tea, I'd heard of Gunpowder Green Tea before, but never tried it. Incidentally, they know how to make tea at the College Market. Loose leaf in a single-serve teapot. Gunpowder Tea has a stronger taste, closer to black, than most of the green teas I've tried.

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11 September 2007


I can't think of anything to say that hasn't been said before. Here are links that I find meaningful. At the second link, Orac asks people what they were doing when they heard the news. My first clue that something was wrong was on the weather channel, which I had muted. There was a notice that all flights had been grounded until further notice. I just thought, "That's weird," and headed to class. Then a student in my numerical analysis class said something about planes crashing into buildings. We were in a computer classroom, so I immediately found a news web-site and read the article in shock. It didn't seem real. Pity that it was.

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10 September 2007

Heads Up

I'm going to try and post on each chapter of the Tao te Ching over at my other blog. If you're interested, here is the link to the first installment. I'm by no means an expert; just someone who finds it to be a beautiful, thought-provoking work that I feel everyone should read. Though I disagree with Dr. Levenson on one point. He keeps commenting on how it's so short that you could read it in an afternoon. Well, okay, you could, but it's also rather dense with ideas. You'd be better off reading one or two chapters a day. Or a week, if I go at the pace I expect.

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09 September 2007

Bhagavad Gita

I just finished reading the translation of the Bhagavad Gita that we are using in my philosophy class. Apparently, it's more a rendering than a translation, as Mitchell admits that his Sanskrit is "rudimentary." Sifting through the reviews at Amazon was interesting. There are the "it's wonderful" reviews, the "it's pretty good, but..." reviews and the "this is a horrible translation" reviews. I can't judge the translation. I can say that, in this rendering, there is a great deal of overlap with Zen and Taoist thought, and Mitchell admits that he finds the Tao te Ching a superior text to the Gita. Now, in my own studies, I have found certain similarities between many of the Asian traditions, but I suspect that Mitchell may have overemphasized them in this book. At some point, I should compare it with my other translation of the Gita.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading the book. Like Mitchell, my bias is towards the Tao te Ching, but I think there is a lot of good material in the Gita as well. It's ostensibly about Arjuna, a warrior about to lead his people into battle. He's having second thoughts. He knows many of the people on the enemy-side. Krishna, an incarnation of the All, appears to give him a pep-talk. But the pep-talk is a philosophical discourse, with a discussion of Krishna's true nature and the destiny of all humans. The primary problem I have is the assumption of caste. Arjuna is a warrior, therefore he must go to war: it is his duty. My least favorite statement is, "It is better to do your own duty badly than to perfectly do another's." [18.47]

For those who don't know, castes are a big deal in India. People are born into their professions, their duties. "Officially," the system was abolished (I think that was under British rule; I could be wrong), but unofficially it still holds a great deal of power over people. Richard was telling me about some Indian students in the engineering department. One of them was a hereditary Brahmin (priestly class). The others were not. They were all offered a room to use (as an office), if they would clean it up. The Brahmin would not stoop to such menial work, so the others did all the cleaning. They were awarded keys to the room; the Brahmin was not. But pretty soon he, too, had a copy; the others had given it to him. For a broader example, just this year, most (maybe all) of the "untouchables" (non-caste Indians) converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, to escape from their low-rank status.

At any rate, I don't care for the idea of fixed castes. There are other ideas in the Gita that are admirable, even beautiful, but the idea that you are born to a certain duty and must carry that duty out is too...fatalistic for me.

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That's No Moon...

Does this look familiar to anyone besides me...?

APOD for 9 September.

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08 September 2007

Yang Long Form (Week 2)

Frustrating day today. It was just me and Don, and mostly we worked on cementing the bits of the long form that I learned last time. We did add on two more moves: raise-hands-step-up and white-crane-spreads-wings. In the CMC form, there's a move in-between those two, sometimes called shoulder-stroke, though Don generally calls it Kao. I presume that's the Chinese name. That move is only implied in the long form.

Anyway, I was apparently putting too much of my fencing habits into the steps for the long form. See, it's been so long since I've taken steps by collapsing the weight onto the foot that I'd forgotten how to do it. I was starting to re-figure it out by the end today, but it was annoying. I like fencing lunges! At least then I see a point to the lack of separation.

Don tried a new push hands exercise with me today. As far as I know, I'd never seen it before. It was a following exercise. You have your palm touching your "oppenent's" palm, and try to follow as the opponent moves his hand around (without losing contact or tensing up). Don actually seemed impressed with me on this. My right shoulder tightened up a few times and made me lose contact, but overall I did pretty well.

Back to long form stuff... Next week I doubt I'll get anything new, since Mark and Melissa weren't there today. But after that there aren't that many moves to the end of "the first third." Though from the sounds of things, in the Yang long form, it's more like the first sixth. But from white-crane, it should go brush-knee, play-guitar, brush-knee, parry-punch, wipe-off, apparent-close. There may be extra and/or skipped stuff, but that's the broad outline.

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07 September 2007

Philosophy Class (Week 2)

We spent the first part of the week talking about the earth's role in ancient religions, reading an excerpt from The Great Cosmic Mother. The premise of the book is to explore prehistoric religions, i.e. those that predate writing. The problem, as Dr. Levenson acknowledged, is that it's all inference and speculation. While reading the excerpt, I realized that I've spent far too much time at Wikipedia: "citation needed" kept flashing through my brain. But there isn't much to cite, really. All we've got are artifacts.

It is true that most of those artifacts are depictions of overly endowed females. Breasts tend to be exaggerated. They're often pregnant. Sometimes buttocks are also exaggerated. As statuettes, they generally have disproportionately small legs that are made so that the statuette can be stuck in the ground easily. One example is the Venus of Willendorf. There are also cave paintings of females with similar emphasis.

The leap is to assume that these must serve a sacred function. They might. Sjoo (which Dr. Levenson pronounces "shoo") takes this for granted. She also infers a matriarchal, peaceful, egalitarian society lasting for 200,000 years, until the evil northern patriarchal religions invaded and ruined everything. There is next to no evidence for this. A few unwalled cities have been found, implying peaceful times. A lot of female figurines have been found. The leap to a utopian society is a bit extreme. I would have more respect for the book has Sjoo indicated that her work was speculation rather than presenting it as fact.

But the earth as nurturer is a powerful image. The earth provides food and shelter, and, before the advent of man-made buildings, is always within reach, in contrast to the distant sky. The earth makes up the bulk of what we deal with in everyday life. It can be felt and touched. It supports our weight. Earthly deities tend to be more concerned with everyday matters. They are closer to us than the sky god(s).

We didn't discuss it in class, but perhaps that's why it's the sky god who is called upon in times of dire need. It's not an everyday threat: it's a major, life-altering crisis. The earth deities are too familiar to deal with such an exotic threat. Maybe. That's my bit of speculation. We did discuss that earth and sky always seem to form a couple in ancient mythologies. More often the sky is seen as male and the earth as female, with some exceptions, but I don't know of any example where they didn't form a couple. To me, this suggests a major problem with Sjoo's reconstructed mythology. Without having read the entire book, I can't be certain, but it seems that she emphasizes only the earth and ignores the sky.


And then today we started in on the Tao. We've got Stephen Mitchell's translation, which seems to be pretty good. The language is not as beautiful as in Ursula K. Leguin's transliteration, but it's still a good translation, and is available on the web. We discussed some of the first chapter today.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

There are lots of ways to interpret this, but there are a few things that stand out. First, the dichotomy between perception and trying to translate that perception into words. Reading the words is not the same as having the experience for yourself. A guest that Dr. Levenson invited to sit in on the class got hung up on the word "eternal," and started in on a rant about how most Christians (but not her, despite her oft-mentioned Christian background) get too hung up on the eternal and forget about the finite. She seems to be in constant attack mode, as when I tried to clarify about words vs. experience she countered with "but you don't see/experience the whole thing either" which was rather irrelevant. Admittedly, English was not her first language. Still, since "eternal" doesn't have that much to do with the passage in question, here are some alternate renderings of the first four lines:

Red Pine:
The way that becomes a way is not the Immortal Way
the name that becomes a name is not the Immortal Name

Thomas Cleary:
"A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path; names can be given, but not permanent labels."

Tam Gibbs:
The tao that can be talked about is not the Absolute Tao.
If it can be named, it is not an Absolute name.

Lots of others available here. Not LeGuin's, sadly. Presumably she's held onto the copyright and doesn't want it freely distributed.

Anyway, another theme that is repeated throughout the Tao te Ching is the idea of the union of opposites, or the dependence of opposites, symbolized in the yin-yang symbol. Here the apparent dichotomy is "mystery vs. manifest," which fits well with "words vs. experience". See, as soon as you create a label, you have automatically created its opposite. The notion of "goodness" leads automatically to a notion of "not-goodness" aka "badness." The notion of "bright" leads to the notion of "not-bright" aka "dark." You cannot have one without the other. If everything were bright, there would be no need to comment on it or even give it a label. It's not so much that everything's relative, as that it's all dependent, intertwined, unable to be separated.

But I'm already ahead of where we got in class today, so I'll stop there for this week.

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Operation Freedom, My Foot

You want to know what it's like in Iraq? Baghdad Burning is a blog written by an Iraqi. She's just come out of Iraq into Syria. This is a description of the final departure, and even there you can see how bad things really are.

Let me state this for anyone still unclear on the concept. War is about pain and death and destruction. It is not about winning or losing. It is not about goals. It is about misery. Period. Anything else is ancillary. Anyone who chooses war when there is any other option is at best deluded. Most likely, such a person is also insane.

After 9/11, I approved of the manhunt for Bin Laden. Sometimes I thought it went too far, but I agreed that he should be hunted down if possible. Then Bush just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. He wanted his war. He knew full well that there were no WMD's in Iraq. He actually wanted a war. The demented halfwit actually chose a useless, pointless, idiotic war. There is no excuse for being the one to start a war. None. Ever. All this "pre-emptive strike" garbage is just that: garbage. Anyone who says otherwise has a fundamental disregard for human life.

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06 September 2007

Goodbye, Mythos

Mom's car has been pronounced totaled, which is too bad considering that it is perfectly driveable. At any rate, she went car shopping today. The Accords were too small, something else hurt her back, and she wound up with a silver Camry. I haven't seen it yet, but I expect that it will have some similarities to my Echo, as both are Toyotas. I'm a trifle irritated that she couldn't wait to go to the Toyota lot until tomorrow, as I wanted to help her test drive a Prius. She thought that the Prius would be too small, but I wanted to see how one handles. Oh well. Maybe when Jean Luc is ready to be put out to pasture.

It's vaguely amusing that we traded vehicles last night, and she wound up not needing my Echo after all. Her church choir practice started tonight, and she had two people to pick up. The pickup is rather cramped with three adults in it, so she wanted to have my car tonight, only we didn't think either of us would have time for a trade before the practice started. So we traded last night. She bought the new car sometime before two o'clock this afternoon. Oh well. Now I shall have to come up with a name for it. It doesn't much matter what name I give it; Mom will instantly hate it and refuse to acknowledge it as the car's name.

But I will miss Mythos. He was another link to Grandma. Admittedly, she didn't like the car as well as the older Buick LeSabre that she traded in on it, but it was still hers. *salutes*

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Random Rant

While perusing a list of biblical atrocities, I came across a verse that makes even less sense than most. Exodus 22:20: He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed. At least, it makes no sense under the assumption that there is only one god, that of the bible.

Possibilities: the sacrifices are aimed at a god that doesn't exist; the sacrifices are aimed at something that does exist, and was therefore created by the god of the bible. Now, if they're sacrificing to something that doesn't exist, it would make a lot more sense to just, say, show them that it doesn't exist? Destroying them seems more than a trifle severe. If they're sacrificing to something that god created, well, in the first place why's he getting so upset? In the second place, god presumably has the power to manifest through it.

I can only think of two ways that this verse makes any sense whatsoever. The first is that it's an admission that there is more than one god, so you better choose the "right" one. The second is that it's a social control and has no real relation to any sort of god. That is, it's really about a cultural norm and maintaining the status quo. Most likely, it's just a way of dividing "self" from "other," and indicating to all members of the culture that "otherness" will not be tolerated.

But taken literally, the verse only makes sense if the god of the bible is insane or if there actually are other gods beside the one of the bible.

AM Addendum: Also note that for anyone to be destroyed using this verse as justification is a tacit acknowledgment that there are other gods.

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05 September 2007

A few changes

I've added a few things to the sidebar. First, I found a blog posting entries from Thoreau's journals called "The Blog of Henry David Thoreau." Unfortunately, I already had a B, H, D, and T, so I called it "Of Henry Thoreau," as I didn't yet have an 'O'. Yes, this is a mildly insane way to list things, but so long as I know that, I figure it's okay. In addition, there are now a bunch of Thoreau quotes in the Random Quote database.

I can also now say that my comics go from A to Z! From Arthur: King of Time and Space to Zortic. Yeah, a few letters are still skipped. If I can work out an alternate name for it, I may link to f8ed. Nothing's coming to mind at the moment, though.

I'm not really sure why it bugs me to have duplicate entries starting with the same letter of the alphabet when not all letters are represented, but it does. If I ever hit 26, I swear that I will try not to keep them all balanced once duplicates do show up. Of course, then I might opt for blogger's "hide" feature, so that they don't all show up at once anyway. Actually, if I did that NOW, I might be able to tolerate having duplicate letters... But it's more fun to figure out reasonable renames!


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03 September 2007

Quizzical Quorum

For the holiday (I get out of a whole TWO HOURS), I thought I'd go a-quiz hunting. Results below the fold.

You scored as Nature, You're the
NatureGoddess. You protect the
woods and care about all of its
creatures. Besides having a green
thumb you also can control plants
and somewhat of the earth below
them. Hunters don't come near
your woods because otherwise
they'll get struck withan arrow.













What type of anime goddess are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

I like this result. I'm a bit surprised I didn't score higher on "Dark," though.


You scored as Epicurean, Epicureanism is named for Epicurus, its founder.
While its ends are similar, Epicureanism differs from Stoicism in its methods
andits beliefs in the afterlife. Epicureans believe the soul (if it even exists)
dies with the body and that no afterlife exists; therefore, one's life on earth is
of the utmost importance.











What's your ancient philosophy?
created with QuizFarm.com
Hmmm.... My opinion on the afterlife tends to shift, honestly. The one constancy is that I do NOT see death as "the end," at least as that phrase is generally used. I subscribe to a somewhat Buddhist notion, that consciousness can be neither created nor destroyed. Whether that is simple "awareness" or "awareness with some memories" I don't really have an opinion on. But as a lot of who we are is carried in the body, the traditional notion of an immutable soul doesn't make much sense to me. But here is Wikipedia's article on Epicureanism. Kewl. The Epicurean Paradox is a variety of the objection that led me to reject Christianity. Hmmm... I think I scored as Epicurean by agreeing with most of the "avoid excess" questions...


You scored as Daoism, You
are daoism. You don't like
rules and believe that people
should not be told what to do.
The only punishment for
talking in class is you'll miss
out on the information and
you'll fail the test. You hate
being told what yo do and
you know you can make
your own desisions.







Which Chinese Philosophy Should You Follow?
created with QuizFarm.com

'Kay, someone's going to have to explain that picture to me, 'cause I don't get it. I should mention that this was a very short quiz (15 questions), and showed a very shallow understanding of the philosophies involved. Still, I would consider myself a Taoist (Daoist is another way of transliterating the Chinese alphabet, and is closer to the Chinese pronunciation). Reading Useless Tree has given me a greater appreciation of the Confucian point of view, however. Oversimplified: Taoism is at the level of the individual and Confucianism as at the level of the individual's relationships with others.


You scored as Neo-Paganism,
Neopaganism or Neo-Paganism
is an umbrella term used to
identify a wide variety of new
religious movements, particularly
those influenced by ancient
and pre-Abrahamic Pagan religions.

These movements are extremely
diverse. The beliefs of adherents
of Neopaganism range widely from
duotheism to polytheism, and even
monotheistic and other paradigms.

Many Neopagans practice a
spirituality that is entirely modern
in origin, while others attempt to
reconstruct or revive culturally
historic Pagan and indigenous
belief systems.





















Western Religious Philosophy
created with QuizFarm.com

This one just makes me laugh. I have explored paganism. The whole Magick Ritual thing wasn't to my taste. But since I see all gods as equally real, I suppose 'pagan' is as good a label as any. I think "pantheist" might actually be more accurate, but that wasn't one of their options. I'm not really sure why "Satanism" wound up so high. As a matter of trivia, Wicca uses a five-pointed star, as in the graphic*. The upper-most point symbolizes "spirit" while the other four symbolize the four physical elements. So it's symbolic of spirit taking precedence over the physical world. The Satanic pentacle is inverted, point down, to symbolize that the physical world should take precedence over spirit. My response to these is to lay the pentacle flat and draw a circle around it, indicating equal importance. That or just use a yin-yang/taiji symbol.

*The pentacle in the graphic has nothing to do with western paganism, strangely enough. It symbolizes Chinese 5-Element theory. Around the outside is the "creation" cycle. Wood creates fire, fire creates earth, earth creates metal, metal creates water, water creates wood. The star is the destruction cycle. I think. It's been a while.

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02 September 2007

Sunday Antisermon

I found a few interesting links at the Godless and Humanist carnivals. The first one discusses problems with the idea of heaven, and goes well with my thought that distance is a problem. Next we have an analysis of the "good ol' days", when bigots could get away with damn near anything. The comparison to racism is apt. But since no matter what happens, "god is responsible", then didn't god destroy those same good ol' days? Contrary to all experience, I actually expect consistency from such arguments. And on the topic of bigots, there's a good analysis of the role of women in various cultures. In essence, as soon as property becomes a big deal in a culture, women tend to lose most of their rights. Marriage laws were less about sexual propriety and more about making sure that property stayed in the male's line.

And while I don't consider myself an atheist, by this definition I am: "One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is properly designated as an atheist." ~George Smith (from one of Pharyngula's random quotes). Whatever deity exists is necessarily part of nature. Otherwise it would not exist. It is disingenuous to call something "supernatural." Whatever happens does so as part of nature. Maybe there are parts of nature we don't understand yet. So what? Calling a poorly understood phenomenon "supernatural" is begging the question; it's saying that there's no way to understand or predict it. It's a (barely) more sophisticated version of "Goddidit. Endofstory." It doesn't lead to anything new.

Closing thought: If intelligent design were really science, they'd be spending lots and lots of lab time trying to "divine" the nature of the designer. That they are not speaks volumes.

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A few more searches

1. attend the tale of sweeney todd: Hopefully the movie with Johnny Depp will be good. Hmmm... I haven't checked on it in a while. Ah, due to be released on December 21. Details here.
2. csssssss: Yessssss my prrrecioussssss???
3. kabatt family coat of arms: Sorry, wrong blog. I'm not sure where "kabatt" is in my blog, in point of fact. Oh... Middle name of an author. That explains it.
4. les mis quiz: See! I'm not the only one who goes looking for these things!
5. light bulb golden retriever yellow lab philosophy jack russell: Ummmm... My best guess is that this person was looking for a piece of artwork and couldn't remember the artist's name. Apparently it was a picture of a bunch of dogs with a light bulb over their head, reading philosophy texts. Hey, there's "Dogs playing poker" so why not "Dogs reading philosophy"?

Ummm... this is getting to be a bit addicting... I'll try to save any more until the end of the month. ^/^

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01 September 2007

Yang Long Form (Week 1)

We started learning the Yang Long Form this morning. It's...different. So far, the moves are just different versions of those in the Cheng Manch'ing form. They're done differently, but they have the same names, and similar ending postures, just using the principles of the Long form rather than the short. We made it up to single whip, which is generally counted as "13 moves" into the form. I have no clue how those '13' are enumerated. Let's see... (1) preparation; (2) Ward-off left; (3) Double bung; (4) Take-down (rollback in the CMC form); (5) press; (6) withdraw; (7) push; (8) withdraw leaving fingertips; (9) roll up sleeve (fishes in eight in CMC form); (10) single whip. Okay, so there are three other things that ought to be enumerated in that sequence, but I got closer to 13 than I expected.

The short version of the differences between the forms is that the Cheng Manch'ing form is...smaller, more refined, more relaxed. In the yang form, they say "distinguish full and empty", whereas in CMC we say "separate full and empty". For non-players, this primarily refers to weighting. The leg supporting the weight is "full" and the leg with less (or no) weight is "empty." In the CMC form, we make a point of getting ALL the weight onto one foot in most moves, to separate full and empty. In the long form, the emphasis is just on being aware of which leg is bearing most of the weight. Also, in the CMC form, we never lunge onto a foot; we always place the foot, no weight, and then shift the weight onto it. In the long form, you pretty much have to lunge to get into the correct stance.

Those differences might not be obvious to an untrained observer, but other differences would be. In the CMC form, we maintain an erect, vertical back, except on two moves that I can think of (low-punch, squatting single whip), and neither of those deviates all that much from vertical. In the yang long form, there are lots of places where you lean from the hips, getting the body in line with the (straight) back leg. Perhaps the most distinctive difference, however, is the use/lack of "fair maiden's wrist." That means keeping the wrist and fingers straight but not stiff. In the yang long form, they deliberately pull the hand to ninety degrees with the forearm, "breaking the wrist" in CMC terminology.

Still, I'm enjoying the new form. It's more physically challenging. Don doesn't think much of it in terms of push-hands, but it will build up our leg strength quite a bit more. That's a good thing. As for push-hands... Don's experience has been that the long-form-players have very good pushes, but very poor roots, so if you can deflect the initial rush, you can probably get them to push themselves out. I've never pushed against a long-form-player, so I have no direct experience. The powerful pushes, though, seem to come from the lean-aligned-with-the-back-leg. The power comes straight up. But leaning can very easily become overcommitment. Additionally, the longer stances make for less side-to-side stability. Anyway, more next week.

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