See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Morning

About 5:30 a.m., I realize it's time to get out of bed. I have my Human rogue over in Night Elf territory now, and I have time to check out a quest I didn't run across with the Night Elf warrior (who's been resting now for a couple of weeks), down in the Barrens, then it's off back to Stormwind and Ironforge. The game is calling me; it waits patiently, taking up 10.7 gigs on my C drive...

But damn, it's Tuesday. All realms are down for maintenance, like every other Tuesday, during these morning hours. No satisfaction for my addiction. What to do now?

I could sit extra zazen, but the NZC's Tuesday night meeting is tonight, and there's an hour of it there waiting for me. Zen is tricky around these holidays. Most of the Buddhists I know are really closet Christians, just waiting to turn the life of Buddha into the story of the Sweet Baby Jesus. They go softer and fuzzier now, even more than usual. I usually don't like to lead these meetings; all the talk seems cheap and just somehow wrong after I sit, it cranks the argumentative mind up, and there's never anything even close to the mark. But now I'm starting to see I need to, occasionally, if for nothing else other than provide a little beans, rice and hot sauce to counter all the sugar they'll get otherwise.

There are practices, you know, that can help you deal with life better. Zazen can give you whole new levels of awareness, if you let it. As strange as it seems to say, embedded as it is in a religion, Buddhism, which teaches the doctrine of no-self, it empowers you. Or just gives you access to a bigger you, which is more powerful. Zen, truly practiced, is not, as some say, the giving up of preferences. That just makes you a dweeb. It is the ability to truly choose among preferences. To realize they are preferences, and to embrace them as you will. To become a true individual, because the substrate truly is the one you make. Am I clear? No? See how words fail.

Because there are practices, you know, that are good for you. But religions, religions suck.

Religions are for people who need to be told a story because they are afraid to write their own. They need to think someone is in control. They need to be reassured. Whereas, in this day and age, that's the last thing you need, until and unless you're about to die and hell then, why not? But if you truly want to be able to have a life, to bear with its horrors in the coming, truly Apocalyptic age (see?), you really just need to be able to see the truth. Then you choose.

And of course these next few days, it's Christmas. Actually, I like Christmas. It's a holiday everywhere, in every culture; the fact that the various followers of the Desert God, like all other godlings, have named it after their own obsession, means nothing. The Solstice is the Solstice -- the darkness before the dawn. Even when the dawn comes bleary-eyed, tired and dying. Hell, it's still morning.

So have a good holiday. Forget about the coming madness for a few days; don't worry if there's no presents this year. If you're old enough to read this, you remember when mankind reached its peak. Take solace in your loved ones, if you have them. They'll be more important to you when all your shit is gone. Someday they'll be gone, too. And someday you come down to the raw bone of existence.

But take my advice; try not to do it today. It's Christmas. Read something good. Listen to your favorite music. Then get ready to tuck in your shirttails; the shit is about to hit the fan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adoration of the Rufi

Everybody had a good year.
Everybody had a hard time.
Everybody had a wet dream.
Everybody saw the sun shine.

Everybody had a good year.
Everybody let their hair down.
Everybody pulled their socks up.
Everybody put their foot down.

- John Lennon, from "I've Got a Feeling"

Ms. Johnson, we will always remember.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Between Worlds: The Waking Dream

Sometimes a dream is just a dream. Sometimes, as when I fought for sleep with a brain desperately trying to clear of toxins, just a couple of weeks ago, a dream is a bridge between worlds. On that night, I looked at a door in the wall above me, where my window should have been; I opened that door and stepped into a world more real than the one where I lay, conscious the whole time that I travelled between existences in the guise, the vehicle of a dream. In that place, the laws of physics were different, even the animals and the landscapes were different, but the people just as real, and they knew me better than anyone in the place I had left. On that night, I stepped back and forth through the door several times, and to this day I envy my other self who resides there even now.

Perhaps, as Neal Stephenson's characters in his latest and possibly best novel Anathem speculate, all philosophies are true and every existence which can or cannot be conceived is just as real and existent as the next; or perhaps each realm is the noumenon of the next, in an endless egg puzzle. Soldiers inside of soldiers inside of soldiers. Having seen the real nature of dreams and of the self, one sees that each mind flows into the next, and that with the barriers relaxed -- the limitations which designate and create our existence -- one mind becomes another, and all things do indeed become not only possible, but necessary and true.

And the problem of other beings is inherently solved; all beings exist because I think they do -- not in the delusion of solipsism, but in the arbitrary constructionism of the limiting mind, empowered by the disease of Logos. Did my mother indeed speak fluent German, or was that just a bleed-through from my father's separate reality? My own past speculations about the differences between the animals we eat and our pets, led me to the realization that all personalities, including the human ones, of ourselves and others, are ones we create for use in the moment. They need have no independent existence.

The next time you have that sense of unreality, relax into the realization that the present moment is indeed unreal -- a bubble in the stream, as the Lotus Sutra tell us. Yet that unreality is just as real as any other possibility.

So it is that in a better world, though not in the one in which I write, I attended last week's Rohatsu sesshin in Atlanta, where all my favorite Zen people were. And perhaps my friends travelled between worlds in their icy zendo, as I did earlier in my bed of fever, and I was with them and also touched all things. And the Rufi with whom I spent my evenings typing, are just as real as those friends, and Ms. Johnson still critiques my writings after Gnu reads to her from The Cat Who Loved Christmas. And those two beautiful women in whose company I killed monsters play their own MMPORG in which the characters are accountants and bill collectors and mindless drones who fail to appreciate their own existence, and thus mine.

And in the endless zazen which is my job in Hell for now, I wait to re-enter the stream. And re-enter we must, for that, if nothing else, is the essential ground of existence: that all things are true, and real, and permeable, and to move between them without effort is to become God. And when one breathes, he is released.

Top to bottom: Kwanyin, level 25 Night Elf Warrior; Michael Elliston, Jonathon Sodos, Tim Goodson, Gareth Young; Gnu Rufus, Deuce Rufus and HR1, with pets; Hallgerd, level 12 Human Rogue, with baby blizzard bear.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Jim Lydecker Guest Blog: Recession and the Lessons of History

I'm gonna put up another of Jim's pieces this morning, since mine are serving mostly to draw fire from the Politically Correct, the humorless and the over-sensitive. This post is pretty calm and mainstream for Jim.

I have to start with an addendum. His opening quote is a variation of Santayana's "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I like Santayana. On a Buddhist (?)note, he also said "There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval." Oh, and "Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."

But I'll shut up now. Enjoy the piece.

“If we do not remember history, then we are destined to repeat it.”

Everyone has heard this oft-repeated quote and it fits in perfectly with today’s state of the economy and the choice of our next president.

Let me explain.

Recently I’ve finished a book by Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson (“The Bobbed Hair bandit”) about the 1920s from the post-war recession in 1920 to the 1929 collapse. Remembering we had a severe recession beginning in 1990 that began to turn around in 1993, you can interchange the ‘20s with ‘90s below:

“By the end of 1923, things were looking a bit better in the working-class neighborhood areas. Production increased which meant more jobs and products to spend wages on.Outstripping the advances of workers’ wages was the striking increase in their material aspirations. Americans were buying into ‘the good life.’ The creation of this market was helped by the expansion of easy credit allowing the working class to live like the middle class, the middle class to ape the upper, and the upper class to inhabit the stratosphere.”

Duncombe and Mattson then say:

“‘Just Charge It!’ advised advertisements as credit was available for the smallest to largest consumer items … ‘Has our country gone installment mad?’ wondered the New York Herald in 1924, arguing that ‘buying on credit has gripped every class in proportion to income.’ With easy credit, American consumers, corporations and financial institutions were building fantastic lives on mountains of debt.”

Of course, we know what happened as the Roaring Twenties became the Great Depression. The ease for people to live beyond their means with easy credit was a significant cause.

Sound familiar?

FDR swept into office with a mandate. He called for change and beat Herbert Hoover who represented more of the same. In this sense 1932 was a blueprint for 2008. The biggest issue in both elections was the economy.

In the ‘20s, both the stock markets and finance industries were unregulated. This is the reason most economists attribute to the collapse. In his first cabinet meeting, Roosevelt spoke of placing regulations on the very businesses that ran amok under greed without control. Such regulatory agencies as Securities and Exchange Commission were born, which made FDR the scourge of businesses, banks and corporations.

However, since Reagan those very regulations put in place to prevent another depression have been under assault and removed from one administration to the next. “Let the buyer/consumer beware!” has been the mantra as markets have been allowed to police themselves. This was like getting rid of the watchdog and allowing the foxes into the hen house.

Another similarity from then is the huge disparity of wealth. The only time more wealth was concentrated in the hands of the upper class as it was during the ‘20s has been from 1996 on. We know what happened in the 20s with the massive transference of wealth to the upper class. The middle class was wiped out and America walked off an economic cliff.

History tells us how we got back on track.FDR insisted, was getting money back into the hands of the middle class by transferring it from the upper class. This was done through taxes that ran as high as 90 percent on those who made more than $1.5 million annually. The result of this made FDR the enemy of the Mellons, Carnegies, Rockefellers and other old-wealth families who felt this taxation was nothing more than the theft of their money.

And this brings us back to the presidential election of 2008.

Barack Obama made it an issue to bring back the regulatory agencies and the necessary regulations that were removed over the past 28 years. Obama will put teeth back in the watchdog. And while Obama campaigned promising to redistribute the wealth, John McCain promised to “not be that guy who is going to spread the wealth around.” My answer to McCain was always, who do you want to be? The guy who takes the remaining 20 percent controlled by the lower 90 percent of the population and transfers it to the upper 10 percent who now control 80 percent of the nation’s wealth? Do you want be the guy who continues to believe in trickle-down economics, a theory that most proponents now reject? The theory was first used in the ‘20s under Hoover and raised its head again under Reagan.

Our nation has always had a progressive tax structure and the rich need to pay more to help level the playing field. There are those who say the rich already pay over 50 percent of the taxes.

They should: They own much more than that of the nation’s wealth.

The wealthy will pay more taxes under Obama. This is definitely not the change they hoped for. What no one hopes for, however, is history to give us another Great Depression.