Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Sounds kinda mean-spirited, huh?
But that's the point. What is the Y, anyway? Is it a health club? Is it a religious organization? Is it a charity? Or is it a business, or all of the above? The answer is yes, yes, yes, and yes, it's the kind of American hydra that eats us up in our daily lives.
Case in point: Most of the places I have lived in this country, or maybe it was the time period that's changed, the Y was where homeless people went to get a shower. I was a member of Gold's Gym in Albuquerque for years. Then when I came back to Tennessee in 1993, I discovered that the dominant health club was... the YMCA?
There was a lawsuit a few years ago whereby someone (the state? the other health clubs?) challenged the Y's non-profit status. The suit should have prevailed, but was either settled out or dismissed, so that the Y, as an allegedly religious or charitable organization, continues to operate tax-free. Meanwhile, it's chief executive continues to draw a salary in the $750,000.00 range. Your tax dollars at work.
What's happened is, in Nashville, by operating tax-free, the Y has driven out what competition it had and prevented any other club from getting a foothold. Now I've never seen the Y's charter, but a non-profit can incorporate as either a charitable or religious organization to avoid paying taxes. I don't know which path the Y chose. I do know that promulgating the word of Jesus is part of its mission statement.
The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that separation of church and state is mandated by the First Amendment, among other things. What I've never understood is how this leads to tax-exempt status for religious organizations. If my private business is taxed and your "religious" business is not, you have just benefited from the state for being religious. In other words, preferring religious organizations over secular ones is an establishment of religion. A state which was truly distinct from the disease of religion would not only not prefer one religion over another (see the book tax laws in Georgia), it would not prefer religious organizations over secular ones.
It is impossible for a rational man to explain why Gold's Gym should be taxed and the Y should not. When a private organization does not pay taxes, it is supported by the taxes paid by the other organizations and by the private citizens. So you support the Y, whether you are a member or not, and whether or not you intentionally donate. In effect, by being tax-exempt, the Y becomes a publicly supported, or effectively governmental entity.
Understanding that the Y is really a government entity explains a lot. It operates like one; it is run by bureaucrats who don't care about you. For example, before I joined the Y I used to go an aerobics studio called Exercise Plus. Exercise Plus had the best instructors in town, but ultimately business pressures forced its closure. Most health clubs eventually succumb to financial disease. So all those great instructors went - where? the Y, of course.
Exercise Plus had to compete for your dollar. So if one of those excellent instructors couldn't show up for class, they had to supply another excellent instructor. If they couldn't, they didn't get paid. At the Y, everyone gets paid, anyway. After all, what is quality of instruction when the word of God is the issue? Exercise Plus, which stood for quality, went out of business because the Y was not only stealing its clientele, but it and its client were being taxed to effectively support the Y.
And if you go to the Y, you will eventually feel that you are involved with just another government bureaucracy. They have a website which finally, after years of complaints, lists the group fitness schedules for the various Y' s in the system. Previously, the site was devoted to trying to bilk you of even more dollars, in the form of donations. But even now, the site has no provision for informing you of the bane of any group fitness class, bad substitute instructors. If you call the front desk and ask, they have no idea. The downtown Y now has a substitution board, which is usually not up to date, and you have to sign in to the Y to see it. If you call, sometimes they refuse to go check. It's all a lot like the Department of Safety.
I quit the Y last month, but I went back because there was nowhere else to go that can compete, either in variety of services and locations, or in price. If the Y were taxed, there would be competition, and I would go there.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I think I may have read On the Road first as a teenager, but if so I wasn't ready to work that hard to understand a work of art. I was introduced, or re-introduced to Kerouac by a friend who was artistically inclined and intelligent but self-destructive in a way Jack, ironically, would never have approved. I remember Jimmy touting the Ann Charters book on Kerouac, I believe his first biography. I read the book and was drawn in, not by Jack's work with which I was mostly unfamilar, but by his life. Jack was born of French Canadian parents in Lowell, Massachussetts in 1922, the same year my father was born, hundreds of miles south. He played football in school, went to Horace Mann and Columbia, where he dropped out after meeting up with Allen Ginsberg, among others, and dedicated his life to his art. His first book, a Thomas Wolfe-style novel, was published in 1950, after which he spent years writing numerous novels and works, until On the Road was published in 1959. Please forgive me if my dates are slightly off; in Jack's honor I am trying to get closer to the spirit of spontaneous blogging. If you want to read all about Kerouac, go here: http://www.culturewars.com/CultureWars/1999/kerouac.html.
On the Road received some rave reviews, but after the intial applause, the critical response to Kerouac consisted of attacks on the man he was perceived to be. Who he was, as I observe him now, was the most honest human being I have ever seen. Honest in the existential(?) sense of admitting that he did not know more than he knew. He was by all accounts awkward except through his art. He adopted Neal Casady as his brother and alter ego, in more than just his art. In truth, Jack was honestly fascinated by the music and lifestyles he extolled in the books he wrote in between On the Road and its publication. He was a true artist; he honestly did not write for money or fame, but because he was born a writer and he had to write to live. Fame and misunderstanding destroyed him. The alcohol and drugs he took to get "high" in the sense of "exalted" turned into the alcoholic defensive shield that ultimately ate his body and mind. He was mistaken for Dean Moriarty, the persona of Casady who was the protagonist of On the Road." He was the unwilling father of the beatnik movement, which morphed into the hippie movement. He was one of the first Buddhists in modern America, yet he was also a livelong Catholic who claimed to vote Republican and hate Communists and Jews, and who was famous for sending a generation on the road while he himself, in between the trips he wrote about, lived with his mother until he died. He was acutely self-aware and was paralyzed by it, but he never pretended to be anything other than what he was, even when that perpetual assertion of his own truth through living seemed to others to result in contradictions. He was a loving man who was afraid of people and fascinated by them. He was Christlike in a way that no standard Christian because he followed the truth of his own heart, unfailingly throughout his life until he was crucified for it by the mortification of his flesh and the crown of thorns imposed by false publicity. I wish I had one tenth of his integrity.
I came upon this clearer perception of Kerouac at a time when I have need of his unfailing devotion to who he was and to those he loved. In the film, Gary Snyder, the West Coast poet who went on to a lifetime of Buddhism, talks about how Kerouac was able to incorporate all the comprehension of the true teaching of the Buddha at a time when there were almost no Buddhist teachers or even translated texts in America. He talks about how Kerouac's Buddhism was big enough to embrace and include his Catholicism. Mexico City Blues, his most famous long poem, is as Buddhist as it is Catholic. I come across this at a time when I am again troubled by the constrictions of the Buddhist practice I have adopted, for which I am truely grateful.
My mission in this blog is not to lecture you on Kerouac, although yeah I would love it if you came to know him. First, if you consider yourself an informed person about modern America, and you don't know Kerouac, you don't know Jack. But more importantly I want to tell you that I, who don't believe in saints, have again seen a saint in Kerouac. No, we all don't have to die of alcoholism of our mother's homes, hemorraging to death on the toilet. I personally would prefer not. I just turned 48; I've just outlived Jack Kerouac, who died at 47 in 1969. But we all have to live own lives, and in fact have no choice. But paradoxically it's the attempt to do so that makes us perfect. This is the truth about Buddhism, at least in my life, and it is the truth about Jack Kerouac.
So unless I change my mind, my New Years resolution to this year is to be who I am and to do best not to care what other people think. Which doesn't mean I won't try not to hurt the people I love. There is a difference in withholding behaviors and speech to avoid hurting people, and lying to make people like you. Try to figure this out for yourself.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Kinda nasty looking, huh? Just like the kind of evil uncle who would tell you there is not such thing as the soul, or the mind, for that matter. Gilbert Ryle was the father of the school of philosophy of mind called Logical Behaviorism, which was all the rage for a while, which pointed out the rather obvious error made by Descartes that the act of perception necessitated the concept of a perceiver. Actually, that was Wittgenstein, I'm told. What Ryle pointed out was that the concept of the mind was a catergory error, which means (if I can distill the philosophical jargon) that language, which is a tool and perhaps the existence of the rational mind, uses concrete things and actions (nouns and verbs) to create poetic images, then treats the images as real things to explain concrete events. Role's theories seem to me basically to be a polemic against abuse of language.
Now as a Zen student I believe that there is no soul and no mind. This is after all the teaching of the Heart Sutra. Just kidding, although it's true. Of course there is a soul, and there is a mind. It's all a matter of perspective. If you want to see the best expression of relativity in spiritual matters, look at the Nishijima/Cross translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo (stick to Vol. 1). Dogen says what there is and is not, then blatantly contradicts it. A little clarity reveals that Dogen is not contradicting himself, but rather pointing out the limits of the rational mind as expressed by language. In fact, my perception is that the mind is rational thought, which is language, which is that nasty internal monologue that keeps you up all night.
But the problem is that it seems to us that there is a mind, that there is a soul, when we think about it in language. Because what has thoughts? What is born and dies? Nevertheless when we contemplate and search for the mind, there is nothing there. We cannot get thru the smokescreen of the internal monologue to see the self. Why?
Isaac Asimov posited as one of his laws of robotics that no system can understand itself. It is obvious that this is true of human beings, or the human mind. Although it might be useful for us in limited contexts to posit the existence of a mind, we cannot understand ourselves with the mind any more than Asimov's robots could program themselves (I know, I know, today's computers can program themselves but only to a limited extent, and there still is no true AI. Would one defeat this argument? I'll pass on that until it happens).
I always thought that the idea that man could understand God was the ultimate insult to God. If there were such a necessary first mover, could the limited mind of man, which evolved to build pyramids and arks, understand Him? The concept of God is an insult to Him. And if man cannot conceive God, why talk about Him or pretend we know what His rules are? The purpose of the conception of God was the creation of a Priesthood, and his continued existence is due to our reluctance to take responsibility for our own existence.
Someone asked the historical Buddha if there was life after death, and he said, to of course paraphrase, that's a red herring, search right now for your own enlightenment. Someone asked Dogen the same question, and he said, " I don't know." They said, "What do you mean you don't know, aren't' you a Zen priest?" He said, "Yes, but I'm not a dead Zen priest."
So, I'm sorry, Dalai Lama, reincarnation justifies your position and therefore you have to believe in it. But I don't believe it's a necessary or even a valid part of Buddhism. And you are a courageous man as we know fro your life history, but you need to take the one further courageous step that Krishnamurti took, and realize that the laws of the universe are unknowable. The best you can do is to know yourself, and that is the work of a lifetime. Or of the present moment.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
so you can read it for yourself.
Of course I'm amused that there was some opposition to a religious leader addressing a body of scientists. God forbid, we know that these days the teaching and conduct of science is endangered by the constant and oppressive encroachment of Tibetan Buddhists. But that's not my whole point.
Also of course I am extremely encouraged by most of what the Dalai Lama appears to be saying. He has a new book, The Universe in a Single Atom : The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, which apparently points out the similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and the findings of modern science. Let me admit right away that I have not read the book (and I am not going to review a book I haven’t read, even though I suspect that is done quite a lot), but if it is being represented correctly, the book seems to be in accordance with classics like The Dancing Wu Li Masters and Capra's The Tao of Physics, in that it points out the similarities in post-Newtonian physics, especially relativity theory and quantum mechanics, and the teachings of Buddhism in particular (and Eastern thought in particular). I understand that the DL has been quite a student of physics, and I loved the fact that according to NPR he lost the interpreter in the Q & A. My favorite part of his contention is that he urges his readers who are Buddhist, that if science proves the precepts of Buddhism to be false, follow science.
Now if you're not a Buddhist, that admonition is probably more shocking to you than it was to me. As a lifelong Buddhist, I would suspect any teacher who would tell me otherwise, although many do. In fact there was a psychotherapist in the '70's, Sheldon Kopp, who wrote a book called If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!. I haven't done the research to tell you what this quote is from, but to simplify, it means that Buddhism teaches you a set of tools to search "within", and if you use the tools properly, you should go where the practice leads you; and if you are lead in a direction so as to discover truths that are contrary to what you were told to encourage you to conduct the search initially, then you should believe what you see, and not what you were told. Basically, once you abandon pretense and stop lying to yourself, you will know what is true, without being told by gods or leaders.
If this shocks you, realize that Buddhism is the one "religion" (and I shudder to use the word, as the practice applies to me) that doesn't care if its basis texts are in fact attributable to their alleged author, Gautama Siddhartha. Zen, as the quotes goes, is a finger pointing at the moon. I am a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. I sit in zazen practice almost every Saturday morning and find myself in basis disagreement with the reading from a standard text rendered by another practitioner. But I don't care and I don't quit sitting, because the real truth comes to me as I sit, and usually I doubt I can express it any better than the Zen masters have, although their expressions are by definition inadequate. I was so thrilled, listening to this article read on NPR. But then I heard the but... although Buddhism is thoroughly compatible with modern science, that compatibility stops where it comes to the definition by modern science of conscience as a function of electrical activity in the brain. According to the DL, that cannot of course be true because Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and if consciousnessness ends when the electrical activity of the brain stops, which it demonstrably does, then there would be nothing to reincarnate, would there?
Of course this is a no-brainer for me as a Zen Buddhist, as it would be for Theravada Buddhists. The truth is that original Buddhism and Zen take no position on reincarnation. When asked about reincarnation, Buddha said, and I paraphrase, "That's not the immediate problem. Concentrate on your existence now." But the DL's position depends on reincarnation. After all, each Dalai Lama is supposed to be the reincarnation of the previous one. According to their school, there has only ever been one Dalai Lama. Now personally I don't believe in reincarnation. Or in Sudden Enlightenment (kensho) for that matter. I don’t imagine what there would be to reincarnate, since I don't believe in the soul. So... Of course, you can believe what you want, as long as you don' t force it on me. But... There was a philosopher named Gilbert Ryle, who died in 1976 I believe at about the same time I felt compelled to subject myself to his very dry readings in what was termed philosophy of mind. Prof. Ryle originated the term "category mistake" in philosophy. Again to paraphrase, since I have no intention of re-reading that stuff, he accused Descartes of error in Rene's origination of what is called the mind/body problem. Ryle's take on the matter was that the notion of consciousness originated in misleading language. But I would take Ryle one step further.
Which I'll do in the next post. See ya!
Monday, November 07, 2005
Sunday, November 06, 2005
After all, I like dark movies, and this one sure looks dark. It's not nearly as surreal as Tim Burton's Batman, but the moviemakers haven't flinched from the subject matter; there's some blood and guts, we see the execution of Bruce Wayne's parents, and even a whole new scenario where Bruce goes to prison for a while before being enrolled in a killer cult (surely it's too late for spoilers).
First, let me tell what I don't like about most of today's fiction. I think the main attractions of anime to me are that no one expects it to be realistic, and that most of it comes from Japan, a country whose culture is just about as different from ours as you can get, among highly evolved cultures. So you might guess that the last thing I want to watch is what passes for "realistic" drama -- doctor and lawyer and cops shows. Because I think the people who watch the shows, even though they know the shows aren't literally true, think that's how their society works. Just watch any doctor if ER was credible, or ask me if any of those law or crime shows are remotely real. Did any of you ever sit through a real trial?
So what's wrong with that? Well first, if you believe that's how the world works, that the noble heroes on those shows are going to save you from the problems you have day-to -day, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. These shows will give you new heroes, but at the bottom they're the society propagandizing itself. They are telling you that the culture is right, that your existence is right and justified as long as you adhere to the cultural norm. Whereas no one expects Inu-yasha to be realistic, and as long as you're not expecting it to tell you how to live, maybe that moment of relief will help you to decide for yourself. What we need fantasy for is to help us step back for a moment from ourselves and the world we construct for ourselves in our minds moment by moment, to maybe see clear of the propaganda and make our own decisions. You might say, isn't Japanese society authoritarian and much more culturally homogeneous that American society? Maybe so, but it's not the same mindset we're bombarded with and locked into everyday, so that anime, or anything that gets you out of your lockstep thought process for a minute will help clear your mind. You hope.
Some anime will blow your mind entirely, by the way. Can anyone tell me what Gantz is about, really? But I wouldn't miss an episode.
The problem with Batman begins is that it's just a standard bang! bang! Hollywood movie trying to look like a dark new reinterpretation of a modern myth, whereas really it' s just Superman XXXVII or worse. For a while as we watch this thing we think Batman is going to go the way of The Punisher or any of those vigilante movies, which even though they're warped in a way Donald Rumsfeld would probably like if he could see his way out of his own fantasies to watch the ones on the big screen, but by the end he's just another good cop. And if there's anything that turns me off it's a movie that devolved into a big chase scene at the end, and that's this thing in spades. By the way, has anyone noticed that's also the trend in modern novels? Does anyone think maybe it's either because these hacks can't write endings, or because if there's enough flash and action that no one will realize that the turd they just passed has no interesting characters, conflicts, or (gasp!) meaning?
So Franks Miller's nihilism is a lot more interesting, because if you're going to annihilate evil, you have to start by annihilating the fake good that's been pounded into your head and keeps you from deciding for yourself what you think is right. And then maybe you'll realize that there is no evil except ignorance, and in the case of popular culture, a boring and mindless movie. And Frank Miller, by the way, is the author of the Sin City graphic novels as well as of the movie, with Robert Rodriguez, and also the author of the Dark Knight Batman graphic novel, so there is a very valid basis for comparison here. Needless to say he had nothing to do with Batman Begins.
Addendum: Did it not bother anyone but me that the movie is obviously set in modern times, but that Bruce Wayne's parents were killed in the Great Depression, which ended in the late '30's? This means Bruce/Batman would have to be at least 65. Well-preserved, I'd say! This bugged the crap out of me all through the movie. It seemed like an insult to the intelligence of the audience, but if no one noticed it I guess it's not an insult after all.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
This is definitely the most thought-provoking item I've run into on the internet in the last few days. Apparently very recently ABC Primetime broadcast a story on Prussian Blue, a couple of thirteen-year old girls from California. I didn't see the broadcast though I was able to download it and watch it on the internet, so I'm not sure when it aired, and frankly I don't care, because this comment is not that timely. Thank goodness.
I've been a little disappointed with my last two blog entries, because frankly they seemed too timely when written and too soon obsolete. Plus, taking pot shots at the Bush administration at this point seems too much like shooting fish in a barrel, as they say. So what could be less timely than the American Neo-Nazi movement?
But it's not the Neo-Nazi movement that fascinates me, it's these two girls and my frank impression that all the reactions to them, and impressions I've seen of them seem, well, wrong. I'm not promoting the band (they're not really very good) or the Neo-Nazi's (who are pretty much idiots as far as I can tell). But it seems to me that the hatred directed against them is just as negative and misguided as anything they espouse, on behalf of themselves or their sponsors.
OK, I gotta give you some background, as gleamed from the media. The girls are Lynx and Lamb, twins, home-schooled by the mother. The mother's family apparently has a strong White Supremacist background, and the girls are certainly being indoctrinated. The songs are not just pro-White, they are actively pro-Nazi; in the TV interview, the girls opine that Hitler was a great man and they are victims of the curious cultural revisionism that claims the Holocaust was a myth. They romanticize Rudolph Hess as a man of peace. Of course since Lamb, the guitar player and songwriter is thirteen, most of the songs are written not by them but by some other Nazi. The girls are not likely to be pop stars, and in fact unless you attend Nazi events, they are probably about to go back off the map entirely. At last report their gig at the Kern County Fair was cancelled due to protest, and their mother is moving them from California to some unknown spot in the Pacific Northwest, as apparently Bakersfield is not White enough.
But what has fascinated me is the storm of vitriol directed against them. Everyone on the newscast just assumed that because they were advocating racial separatism, decrying what used to be called miscegenation, that they were urging every Caucasian in the United States to start slaughtering Blacks and Jews, and that's not what they say at all. In fact, in the interview these little girls made what I have always thought was the most valid claim of the White separatists and supremacists, that they had as much right to be proud to be White as Martin Luther King had to encourage Blacks to be proud to be Black. I'm sorry but I have to agree that if it is OK for Blacks to have pride in their heritage, as well as Latinos and every other racial or ethnic group in American, it's also OK for European Whites. I think that in previous decades, it became politically correct for minorities to assert their pride but not Whites, just because the fact is that the Whites were more powerful and could afford to withhold these assertions; it's almost a form of noblesse oblige. There is no doubt that every minority group in America has made great strides forward in the last fifty years in terms of equality, and the more equal and socially powerful these groups become, the more they need to understand that Whites, too, can be made to be feel inferior, to feel oppressed, to feel outnumbered. And any poor man has the right to sing the blues.
I don't want to argue here about exactly how equal things are or are not. That's not the point. It's just that these people, mostly poor Whites with poor educations or repressive or negligent family backgrounds, have feelings too, and a right to vent them. Now it's a long way from saying that if Black people can be proud of being Black, that White people can be proud of being White, to supporting Hitler and the Nazis. The latter is, to an educated man, idiocy, but these people are not educated. I repeat my contention that neither Lynx and Lamb nor the people who taught them their beliefs are evil, just ignorant. One older Aryan rocker in the piece, oddly sensitive to the fact of the girls' age and the fact they have obviously been indoctrinated, states that when they are older they will have to decide for themselves what to believe. What an ironic and thoughtful stateful for a fascist! What an odd culture we have, where totalitarianism becomes a form of rebellion? Oops, that sounds like Germany in the 30's, and I know that comparing Hitler to Bush has been overblown. But our society is much like the one that produced Hitler, and we are lucky that George W. is not Adolph. Because when that spot becomes open someone will rise to fill it.
The mother also makes a valid point in the interview, one that goes to the debate about home-schooling and public education. She says, and I paraphrase, "Of course I taught them my beliefs. Don't Christians who home-school their children teach them their beliefs?" If that doesn't give you a chill, you're not listening. She goes on to point out that in one of those families, her children might have been Christian pop artists, instead of what they are.
Nazis are not Christians, and Christians are not Nazis. If Hitler had a religion, he was a pagan, a fan of the Norse gods. In fact, he was a megalomaniac; the beliefs he allegedly held were just ways of expressing his own hatred and insecurity. If he had in fact been a man of ideals and integrity, however misplaced, he would not have turned on the German people in the final days of the WWII when he attempted to reduce the nation to scorched earth.
But this is not an editorial against Hitler; I don't think we need that. It is another blog about my revulsion against people who cannot see reality or other people, but only stereotypes. I thought Political Correctness had vanished with the end of the Clinton era, but it's back, at least in the limited context of race relations. I don't think the Nazis are any scarier than the thought police. The absolute tone of the piece in question was that the girls are sadly but probably hopelessly lost, and that the mom and all of the people who participate in the culture of which this family is a part are evil. The only two reactions I've seen are (1) stupid and incoherent support from the Nazis, or (2) PC condemnation. I really don't know which is worse; the educated should know better. We live in an era when it's no longer permissible to judge a man by his race, but it is permissible to judge him by his belief system. People aren't categories, the map is not the territory. The pointing finger is not the moon. Reductionist thinking is the heart of your problem. I can say this with confidence because is the heart of all of our problems. It is the persistent and fatal limitation of the rational mind.
So the next time you see a Black man in a rap video, it's not H. Rap Brown with a knife at your throat. The next time you see two little girls dressed as frauleins singing folk songs about Valhalla or even Rudolph Hess, they're not Hitler. They're just two little girls. Really.