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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Allt är Slut

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The founder of a U.S. Muslim television network has been arrested and charged with murdering his wife by beheading her, the network's Web site and local media reported.

Muzzammil Hassan, founder and CEO of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Bridges TV which launched in 2004 with a mission to show Muslims in a more positive light, was charged after reporting the death of his wife, Aasiya Hassan, 37, on Thursday night.

After Hassan, 44, told police his wife was at the Bridges TV offices, in the village of Orchard Park, they found her body there, beheaded, The Buffalo News reported.

Authorities said Aasiya Hassan, with whom Hassan had two children, had recently filed for divorce and had an order of protection mandating that he leave their home as of February 6.

He was being held in a county detention center charged with second-degree murder.

"Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to the families of the victim," a statement on the network's Web site said on Monday. "We request that their right to privacy be respected."

"There had been problems before and there had been prior incidents of physical abuse," Corey Hogan, whose law firm Hogan Willig represented Aasiya Hassan in the divorce proceeding, told the newspaper.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Name of the Game" by Badfinger (song by Pete Ham)

If you were a Badfinger fan, or if you missed them and want to be, you should watch the slideshow. If not, just give yourself a chance, lie down in bed in the dark and listen to this, over and over like I did when I was 15. Pete Ham was another great lost soul; I won't be beleaguered if you won't find out about him.

I have nothing else to say to you about this. Lie down in bed, listen to this, over and over. If you don't cry, I won't bother.

Or if you want a more straighforward love song, the following is the best power pop rock riff ever written (Hans?):

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The End

If some strange, theoretical alien historians were to write the history of planet Earth, they would say that it all peaked out by 1970.

The generation that produced Jim Morrison made the final decision to destroy the Earth, by omission. Go figure.

I was a child in 1970. I would've been 11 at Woodstock. I didn't know what was going on. But I did.

Hunter Thompson was there. He saw it all. He knew. He put a bullet in his brain in 2005.

It could have all changed, but it didn't. It could have all been avoided, but it wasn't. We're living in the Aftermath.

Jim Morrison died in a hotel room in Paris in 1970 of a heroin overdose. Jim wasn't a junkie; he was a drunk. There's a big difference, no matter what the 12-step zombies tell you. Pamela Morrison fought a legal battle for five years for his estate; she won. She was dead within two weeks.

I'm not telling you to follow Jim's path, or Hunter's. It would mean nothing. You're too late.

If you're alive in 2009, and you're old enough to remember the Real Times, you know you're living in the Endgame. Unless you're seriously deluded enough that you're still part of the problem.

If you're under 40, you were born into a meaningless world. I'm sorry; I didn't do it. This is the Aftermath. I can tell you how to address it. I can't change it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Taking It Personally: A Bit More About Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate

Sunday's blog rambled all over the place, as a result of which, while discussing Brad's book, I omitted a pattern or collection of coincidences that really brought it all home to me. I doubt that these trivia will add to anyone's understanding of the book (though they might tell you more about me, upon which subject, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you are unfortunately becoming an expert, against your will). Maybe it's an explanation of how, when something comes home to you, it comes home in a big way. Maybe it's just a rare (again, for me) illustration of how having had some connection to events in a published work, however minimal, gives a bit of insight. Maybe it's because I become so obsessed about my own issues that I see them everywhere.

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma does clear up a couple of factual questions I (we?) had. When we'd met Brad the first time here in Nashville, chronicled herein, Brad's wife Yuka was one of the unexpected joys of our retreat; she helped our fledgling retreat cook get through three days' worth of overly complex vegetarian, Japanese and Thai recipes, sent us gifts afterward (and Nat, where are all those chopsticks? I'm sure the food has gone bad), and generally was a ray of sunshine at that odd and pivotal event. I'd noticed she wasn't mentioned much in his blog anymore, or at the 2008 ASZC retreat he led [and that link has a version of last blog's pic with me in it; see I was there]; I hated to see it confirmed that she was really gone. Hope things are going well for her.

Then there were some weird little geographical links to Brad's life that I found both just odd and insightful. Of course anyone who read Hardcore Zen knows Brad's basically from the Cleveland area, and I'm from Nashville. My mother was from Ohio, and grew up there and in Texas. So it was interesting to me to discover that Brad has family in Knoxville, TN, whom he regularly visits (which we knew from trying to match schedules with him, but he talks about it in the book so I can mention it here). I went to UT Knoxville from 1975 - 1979, so I know that turf, or did. What got me about his one geographically is that his parents, prior to the events of the book, had been living in the suburbs north of Dallas. Now, a lot of people have relatives in Dallas, but my mother's sister's family had all grown up in a suburb of Dallas which used to be called Lewisville, though I think their little segment has now been split off as Highland Village. Another little split-off part of the same incredibly overdeveloped suburb is what used to be a little country junction that had no name when I used to visit here, but which is now known as Flower Mound, which is apparently the location of the Funeral Home which had Brad's mom cremated. Another weird turf I know.

The final geographical coincidence (I won't count L.A., where lots of people live for a while. I lived there for about three months and didn't like it much either, except for the beach and Hollywood) was Mansfield, Ohio. It shouldn't have surprised me to read about Zero Defex playing a show there, since it's just up north of Cleveland on Lake Erie, but still, it's where my mom grew up before her mother remarried and moved them to Texas. Of my mother's Ohio relatives, I remember mostly a bunch of retarded-acting guys in white wife-beaters pulling up in campers to occupy our lawn in Manchester, and this one real pervert. But I do remember Mansfield.

But the one real factual-world resonance of this book for me was the job situation. Now, in this dying economy, as the U.S. moves into the sunset, it probably seems like anyone with a job shouldn't complain about it. And I shouldn't be either, as when it's gone I don't know how I'll ever find another. But still.

Of course, Brad was luckier than me. His job situation in the period covered by the book was indeed deeply strange; as the lone US employee of an overseas corporation that shifted management as soon as it sent him here, he had a position with no real duties or direction, no input or power to get things done, but a continuing duty to report. This was already his situation, apparently, when I met him in early 2006, though I didn't realize the scope of it til I read this book. Actually, his situation, though it must have been frustrating since he really did want to help promote Godzilla and Ultraman in America (and note that the names of his employer and the trademarked entities are disguised in the current book, though not in the previous ones or his blog; legal advice from the publisher, NAL?), sounds really sweet in some ways. He was being paid by the Japanese company to live in L.A., write his books, set up his Zen teaching operation, and then he was free (and somewhat funded) to travel all over the country promoting his books and trying to help shitty little Zen operations like we were in 2006. I'd kill for this kind of funding with freedom.

I, on the other hand, also have a job that makes no sense. I quit my previous job last fall,, in despair at falling commissions and the ridiculous situation of trying to work in a department headed by the managing attorney's mother. I was just about ready to start looking for another one, about a month later, when I got a call out of the blue, from the HR person of the company for whom I now work(?), based on a resume I'd forgotten I had online. So yes, those things actually do work, randomly. They wanted to hire me to start a new commercial department specifically for a new client. It paid enough at the base to minimally pay my bills. As the job market had already deteriorated, though not to its present level, I thought I'd better accept.

However, the new client fell apart within weeks after I started the job. They've never really been able to find anything for me to do since -- I keep getting minor projects assigned, which get yanked away about the time I get them organized and running. Most of the time I have nothing to do at all, and as of this week I don't even know where the last set of files I was working, have gone. I'm supposed to get some work which had been brought in for me but foolishly placed somewhere else, soon. I guess. Yesterday, with my old files gone, I had nothing to do at all until I jumped in on the project with the busy people amongst whom I sit.

Otherwise, mostly I've been surfing the internet. Repeatedly, and compulsively. Which, if you work with internet disabled like a lot of people do, sound great. But not for eight hours a day. As that old commercial hinted, you really do get to the end of the internet. Plus, the situation is not such that I can concentrate on doing anything like writing this blog. I tried it once, and it didn't turn out too well.

But now, I'm getting reassigned, and they're going to move me. And where they're putting me, I might not have the internet. And if that happens and they don't give me a full workload, I'm going to go stark raving bonkers.

See, unlike Brad, I'm not free to roam all over the US. Or even all over Nashville. I just have to sit there. It ain't zazen.

I can't complain, really. I'm sure that everyone in management knows I've cost a lot more than I've brought in, which is essentially nothing, ever since I've been there. And they still keep me; it's like they don't know what to do with me but don't want to let me go. Which is a good sign, of course, and speaks well of them as humans. And I still get a paycheck, which is a lot better than a lot of my friends, these days, although I don't know how long my employer will see fit to keep it that way if I can't make them some money, which is what I'm used to being very good at doing.

But enough about me....

At this point, Brad Warner is still scheduled to be one of the leaders of our Easter Weekend Zen retreat, so if you're interested, watch this blog.......

No, the silly little click inside arrow on the pic of the book above doesn't work. Believe it or not, the only picture of that book cover I could find on the internet is that little one from Amazon. Sorry. But you can go to the real link in the text and buy the book.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Imbalance in Balance

Having developed the habit of writing these little articles, when I don't, stuff just builds up. Which is alright, because if I don't write it out and pay attention to it, it goes away. It does leave me with all sorts of mixed messages about what to write when I do write, though.

Yesterday morning I had one of the crashing sinus headaches I still have, although very occasionally, now. When I was in my teens, the things would come one occasionally, and be relentless -- made me want to pound my head into the dirt. They peaked out the winter I spent in Vermont in 1979 - 80; I had one that went on for days at a time. I'd get drunk to make it go away, and then of course I'd have the hangover plus the sinus problem -- I finally went to a emergency room, got shot up with some goofy drug that made me puke but made the headache go away. They finally stopped when I moved to California that next fall; lower humidity? Different allergens? Dunno. But although they come back occasionally, they've never been like they were then.

Anyway, I missed what must have been a kick-ass day at the NZC. The monthly 5 a.m. sit used to be one or two people at the most, maybe 2 1/2; I understand there were seven people yesterday who came and stayed for the whole thing. And there was a book study afterward! Sometimes it feels good when your effort pays off, even when you're not around to reap the rewards in person.

Which is in a way, good. When I started going to Atlanta in early 2006, I went because I needed something real in Zen that was lacking in Nashville. When I saw what was there, I wanted to bring it back both for the benefit of those who prior exposures to Zen were somewhat less than, and for myself, so I'd have a good context to sit in. I never wanted to be any kind of a leader, much less the public face of anything. But such things happen. And now I can step back from it; except that I still need to rebuild the website, and promote the new MySpace page I just set up for the NZC (and you should all befriend it!).... but the efforts of others are coming into it now. Nat was always there, and he's a much better front man for the thing than I could ever be. Too many skeletons in my closet.

Coming out of one of those headaches is kind of like a hangover. No energy. I went to my dad's house in Manchester, ate fried catfish, and read most of Brad Warner's new book. I'd bought ten copies for the NZC, and I probably should have checked it out myself, but no fear: Brad's stuff just gets better and better.

I've written about Brad's stuff before (I think you can search for it in here?), so I won't reiterate, but his first book caught me right when I was trying to come back to some form of Buddhism in later 2004, when I think I was finally coming to terms with the death of my mother, eighteen months earlier. The main criteria I have for "Truth" from a teacher is when the teacher says something that I've come up with earlier, myself, and thought it was original to me. At least that way I know it's true, for me. And if I'm not the only one to see it exactly that way, maybe there's something to it. Brad's not the only one with whom I've had that experience; often I've heard my teacher Michael Elliston voice thoughts that I've had. But Brad's the only one to do it in writing. Repeatedly.

Brad's first book, Hardcore Zen, for which he is known, was basically a compilation of blog articles edited together, with some filler articles written at the behest of the publisher. Not that it wasn't a brilliant book, filled with exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. His second book, Sit Down and Shut Up, is a more conscientious attempt to integrate views into Brad's own life with his observations of some of the Shobogenzo, Dogen's life's work. The book is again, excellent, but a little labored in the application of the Shobogenzo to the Zero Defects reunion.

But in Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma (don't make me say it again), Brad has finally come into his own as a teacher, I think. His resolve by the end of the book -- as he puts it, to be an asshole for life -- is perhaps better phrased as a determination not to be dissuaded from expressing what he perceives to be clear truth, by the expectations of others. Brad came under attack last year, and the year before, from that microcosm which is the Buddhist blogsphere, for his articles on Suicide Girls, as well as his unexpected appointment as Nishijima's dharma heir. He's making it clear, that after a year in which he witnessed the death of his mother and grandmother, the end of his job and his marriage (and we'll miss you, Yuka!), he's going to express what he sees. And that certainly is an attitude which a self-labelled punk-rock guy needs to come back to.

It's really reassuring to know that I'm not the only one turned off by flowery New Age Buddhism (Brad's parody of the "Zen" practice in which one intones, "Breathing in, I breathe flowers; breathing out, I breathe kittens" remind me of why I no longer participate in the Nashville Buddhist Festival). It's nice to know that someone else whose opinion I respect feels a need to address imbalance, not by neutrality, but by supplying an opposing force.

Weekend before last, I went back to Atlanta to the ASZC for one of the zazenkai events I love most. The winter zazenkai's are small events. It's usually cold and miserable, and not many attend, but those who do are the ones who've become my friends. This month's retreat was led by my friend Gareth, who after many years of practice has finally gone through the ceremony it takes to become a novice priest in Zen. Four of us went down from Nashville - a record!

Gareth's theme for the retreat was balance. Honestly, I couldn't see how he was going to make this theme work. I can certainly see the concept of balance as in sitting erect, as in zazen -- when one becomes erect, one maintains equilibrium. But it seems to me that things that most people are trying to make balance -- their outer lives, their various roles, etc. -- are illusory, conceptual and self-defined. One should be able to balance them by saying "Presto! Yer balanced!" Since even the concept of the self is fluid, what is there to balance?

I'm really not sure I understand, to this day. But I do know that as long as there is a Brad Warner to counterbalance every Thich Nhat Hanh aficionado, there is balance in my world.

Despite the caption, the picture at the top was actually taken at a retreat in Atlanta in March, 2008. I should know, I took it. The label is Brad's, from his website. There were actually three of us from Nashville at that retreat: Nat, Ana and myself. Nat had told Ana to guard the car, and then disappeared himself. Hence, none of us are in the pic. But we were there. Honest.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Guest Blog by Jim Lydecker: Obama's Two Largest Problems

I really have to agree with this one, for the most part, and the last paragraph is the real kicker. The question then, is, "How?" A real cliffhanger, this one. I'll come back and comment later, so check back...

Obama’s two largest problems to face
By Jim Lydecker
Napa, California

January 30, 2009

The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president is considered by many to be historic as Obama is the first non-white to hold office. I, for one, never saw race as the issue – I was brought up in New Jersey, perhaps the most multi-racial/cultural place in the world. And my parents never tolerated any racism/sexism/ageism.

This election was historic in another way: Never has a president taken over under so many converging crises’ of unprecedented proportions. If Obama gets us heading in the right direction, he’ll go down in history as great a president as FDR or Lincoln. But if Obama’s unable to change course, then there’ll be those who’ll vilify him and this is wrong.

If America fails we have no one to blame but ourselves. Since the 80s, we have elected officials on all levels, national, state and local, who pursued unsustainable growth economies. Starting with the S&L scandals and continuing through artificial bubbles of the past 15 years, our leaders looked the other way when paper wealth created artificial wealth which was bound to collapse.

While unemployment marches toward Great Depression levels and wages plummet and businesses fail, never has so much of a nation’s wealth been in the hands of so few. The collapse of the housing bubble wiped out a disproportionate amount of what’s left of the middle class’ wealth. And when there is less to spread around, the result is the standard of living has to be proportionately lowered. Don’t expect the wealthy to live any less a standard of living than what they are used to: Recessions and depressions always transfers money into their pockets.

In a growth economy, most people think the way out of this mess is doing what got us here in the first place: Grow. In an essay in the Register about a year ago I said, “A growth economy is known as an economic oxymoron. It hastens the inevitable demise when a draconian contractual economy will take place regardless of what we do.” Well, the draconian contraction is upon us and our shrinking planet and its dwindling resources makes growth not an option.

Throw an exploding world population in the mix and do we have problems.

Our leaders need to take us down paths, no matter how painful, when circumstances demand. For any semblance of our economy and civilization to survive, we’ll need leaders of extraordinary courage, intelligence and forethought to pull this off. If Obama is going to do this, he has two hugely unpopular problems to deal with on the path to survival.

First, Obama will have to redistribute the wealth. From the beginning, all civilizations failed when the majority of wealth was concentrated at the top. This nearly happened twice in the past hundred years when huge disparities caused revolutions, and these disparities were not of the magnitude of America 2009.

The Bolshevik Revolution took place in the Soviet Union leading to the hideous regimes under communism. The Great Depression swept FDR into office and with it his socialistic agenda. Two differences to remember is that FDR was elected while the Bolsheviks took over in a violent uprising but both effectively redistributed each nation’s wealth creating a more even playing field.

Obama is now taking the New Deal approach and this in itself is frightening: The stimulus program seems to be another way of saying “pork barrel.” Spending money we don’t have is what got us here in the first place. Bandaging a wound is pointless if unable to stop the hemorrhage.

The second, and biggest, problem Obama has to deal with is overpopulation.

We live on a planet of finite resources. Once the carrying capacity is passed, the standard of living and quality of life will decrease. Even if we were able to prime the engines of growth back to their previous levels, the high prices of things like crude, copper and steel will return and shortages reappear. Permanent/unemployed homeless, mass migrations, starvations, disease, war and social strife will become the norm. This does not have to be if the population contracts accordingly to contracting resources and capital.

We need to aggressively begin a negative-growth population policy immediately.

Looking at these two problems, Obama first must redistribute the nation’s wealth through a heavily progressive tax code on incomes above $1 million a year like FDR did. Tax breaks should be given to the middle class and virtually eliminated for those at the bottom. Otherwise America will face a revolution of such magnitude it will make Russia in 1917 look like a field of daisies.

And then Obama must take the lead in reducing the number of humans on the planet so the world has a manageable population. This is the intelligent, humane thing to do instead of allowing us to breed toward extinction.