Friday, December 31, 2010

The Speechwriter: A Sestina

Horses, Riders, Girls

Weary toilers labor in the mine.
Their nights 'neath murky skies, bereft of cover
To shield them from the cold bite of the dawn.
To dark accustomed, by daylight blind,
With lives short, meaningless, and cold
Ripe to fall like fruit into my weave.

I work in shadow. Soft webs there I weave
of lies dyed with truth. Fears and hopes I bind to mine.
So they gather: to find respite from the cold
they grasp at scraps of fellowship I offer. No cover
do they give. 'Tis but yet another blind
that steals from them the light of dawn.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Competition and Cooperation

Hands Off Newtown
Hands Off Newtown, Sydney, 2010


Marnie Louise Froberg of Enlightenment Ward raised a pretty good question the other day. It concerns one of those cultural assumptions that are so fundamental that most of the time it never even occurs to anyone that they're there.
Is there such a thing as healthy competition? I don’t really think so. I have yet to see one example of competition where all, or even the majority of the participants feel satisfied with the outcome. If someone can name one such situation I’ll be happy to reconsider that position.
Pretty much everything in the societies I've lived in is built on comparison and competition. At school, we're graded on a curve. Hobbies come with awards and rewards and rankings and goals built in. Sports are usually competitive, and if not, at least you're expected to keep track of how much you bench press, how many steps you take a day, or how far you can run in the Cooper test, or if you've done the double century yet. If you take up photography and join a camera club, pretty soon there'll be club competition where you'll see your photo being judged by a jury and then maybe get a little ribbon, or not. If you don't, nowadays you'll probably wind up putting your photos in some kind of social networking thing that has thumbs-up or stars or view counts.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Between Seeing and Making

Excited Photographer
Excited Photographer, Hong Kong, 2010


I've been taking pictures since I was very small. My first recollection of doing that was when I went to scout camp around the age of eight, and had a little plastic camera around for that. Some years later, my dad set up a darkroom in our bathroom and we developed some photos he had taken in San Diego Marine World. Seeing those bold shapes of orcas fade in on the photographic paper was magical. Soon after that, around the age of 11 or 12, I was making my own prints.

I've never studied photography formally, and the only art training I've had is a few years in after-school art classes as a teenager. Like with most things I do, I'm a dabbler.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Well that was surreal

Between December 24 and 25, 2010, Kyle Lovett of www.blogisattva.org made some rather serious allegations about me on his blog. He has since retracted the posts making those claims, so I am doing the same for my response to them.

The full set of materials around this drama, including the previous version of this post, is available upon request.

Redacted on Dec 25, 2010, 22:15 EET.

Buddhadrama

The Year of our Lord 2010 looks all set for a rockin' finish, on the Buddhadrama front anyway. Not that there's been any serious shortage of it earlier on, between the Bill Schwartz-Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo/Alyce Zeoli-Waylon Lewis battle of the titan(ic ego)s,1 Wilborg2 popping up with their Green Memes and Lower Quadrants organizing webinars involving a broad range of highly-paid gurus left and right but mostly right, and any amount of fragile egos trading bitchslaps couched in ever-so-polite covert-aggressive language (usually) or bacon-flavored macho chest-beating (sometimes).

Oh, and there was that little affair of Eido Tai Shimano handing out kensho for handjobs. For forty years or thereabouts. Still roshi-ing along, I hear.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Retrospecting

Solstice
Solstice, Haikko, 2010


It's that time of the year again. The days will start to get longer, and 2011 will roll along presently. A little navel-gazing can't do much harm, and this being a blog, here's to looking back on the year from the point of view of PrimeJunta, my net.persona.

My main net.activity has been this. Blogging. This blog is now over a year old, which is a good deal longer than my last attempt. I think it's because I left the name and intention of the blog deliberately vague. In the first attempt, I wanted to restrict my blogging to politics, under the assumption that there are people who are interested what I have to say about that, and it'd be polite to them to blog about stuff that interests them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The breaking of the ancient Western code

Mauer

Mauer, Berlin, 2010

We love to look for stability. There's always some ideal past state when things stayed where they were put. Perhaps it's the Roman Empire, or the 1950's, or the Victorian era, or China, depending on your inclinations. Utopias are imaginary futures where things stay where they're put too. Dystopias, also. The world order George Orwell imagined in 1984 was nothing if not unshakably stable, as is The Brave New World, Iain M. Banks's Culture or Plato's Republic.
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I've seen the future, brother:
it is murder.
The funny thing about those stable states is that when you look for them, they go away. At one time, I studied history fairly seriously, and I still do some occasional reading into it. I was struck by the way those stable orders turned out to be anything but, when you zoomed in and looked at what was actually happening.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things I Find Disturbing

Earthenware

Earthenware, Hong Kong, 2010

People who try too hard to impress
People who try too hard to entertain
People who try too hard to be liked
People who try too hard to get laughs
People who play to the crowd
Mannerisms
Affected words
Insincerity
Using the paramitas as punctuation
Using names of foreign gestures as punctuation
Bragging about your practice
Showing off your tattoos
Using your Dharma name as a handle unless you're a monk or a teacher
Constantly praising your teacher
Bringing up chopping wood
Bringing up carrying water
Bringing up washing your bowl
Bringing up the laundry
When you want to meditate, just meditate
Repression
Not saying what you think
Too many disclaimers
Apologizing for your opinions
Self-importance
Self-pity
Grandiosity
Belittling yourself
Conspiracy theories
Bitterness
Always banging on the same drum
Gratuitous appeals to freedom of speech
Gratuitous appeals to lineage
Defensiveness
Too much tweeting

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Praise of Big Government

Architecture of Power
Architecture of Power, Hong Kong, 2010


Government isn't looking too spiffy lately.

The cleanup of the great financial crisis of 2008 has people rioting in the streets in Greece and Italy, with Spaniards and Irish not much more cheerful. Germans are bitter about footing the bill. The USA appears unable to pull out of its imperial death spiral. Ethnic riots are simmering in Moscow. And, of course, the documents released to and by Wikileaks are making the whole exercise look rather ridiculous—with the thuggish overreaction of supposedly democratic and law-based governments around the world not exactly helping.

It's tempting to give an ear to your inner Reagan, and decide that government itself is the problem. This would be a grave mistake. Small government almost invariably means bad government, and bad government is bad for everybody.

Rule of law is an expensive, cumbersome, and tedious undertaking. You need a body of law that's coherent and understandable enough to be workable. You need a legislative process that's transparent and participatory enough to make the laws adaptable to a changing world while keeping them in touch with generally accepted ideas of right and wrong. You need a multi-tiered court system with due process and right of appeal. You need a civil service that's big enough and capable enough to apply political decisions. You need oversight for that civil service. You need a police force that's big enough and capable enough to enforce laws and keep order. And you need the whole shebang to function at a level of corruption that's low enough not to completely subvert the process.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Zen Master Ryōkan

Yin/Yang
Yin/Yang, Hong Kong, 2010

Zen Master Ryōkan is a wildly popular character in Japan, but, I think, less well-known in my neck of the woods. I first came across him in a somewhat animated Net discussion, where someone quoted his note-to-self about how (not) to comport yourself in conversation. It seemed so fresh, wise, and to the point that it stuck with me.
Some things I find disturbing:
People who talk too much
People who talk too fast
Boisterous speech
People who talk to themselves
Gratuitous remarks
Flowery speech
People who never learn
People who are two-faced
People who start to speak before others have finished
Inappropriate remarks
Lecturing others about losing their tempers
Lecturing others when you lose your temper
People who make a fuss over nothing
Exposing things people wish to conceal
Playing the fool
Toadyism
Answering people without understanding what they've told you
Words spoken in passing
Fight stories
Political scuttlebutt
People who swindle children
People who make children worldly-wise
Drivel
People who like to use words they don't understand
Miracle stories
Bewailing things that can't be helped
Treachery
If something trivial is said, just ignore it
It's not easy to be a good listener

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quick on the Draw: Impressions of µ4/3

They Also Chimp In Hong Kong
They Also Chimp In Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2010 (Panasonic GF1 with 20/1.7)

I recently sold my Canon EOS system. I had gotten lazier and pocket cameras had gotten better to the point that the balance had tipped, and I was no longer carrying it where the pictures are. The pocket camera—a Canon S90—got the picture in the box just about as well as the big camera.

The picture quality was a pretty big step down. The tiny zoom on the S90 is no match for a prime on the 5D, and the tiny sensor doesn't have the snap of a big one either. I also missed the lack of control over depth of field. I never was a bokeh freak, but I do like a bit of separation between the subject and the background from time to time.

I've been shooting with a Panasonic GF1 and the 20/1.7 pancake for a few weeks now, during my trip to Hong Kong and Australia. I also bought a Leica M adapter so I can use the Summicron 40/2.0 from my CL on it for the relatively infrequent occasions I want a short tele. While the combination isn't perfect (what is?), it has exceeded my expectations in most ways.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Zen of Jet Lag

The Girl and the City
The Girl and the City, Hong Kong, 2010

Home again, 36 hours late, and with a couple of airlines and airports I didn't intend to visit on my itinerary.

This blog has been a bit quiet lately. That's because I've been traveling. My wife was invited to a couple of conferences in Brisbane and Sydney, and I went along as prince consort. I also happen to have a friend and colleague who telecommutes from Sydney, so I fit in a week of work there too, which made the costs a bit more bearable. I think my boss got a pretty good deal out of it too; we got a fair bit of stuff done that would've been hard to do over the phone or chat.

We also fit in a couple of days in Hong Kong on the way.

I didn't do much sitting Zen practice while on the road. I did do a quite a bit of other kinds of practice, though, and I find that Zen has pretty radically transformed my experience of intercontinental travel—especially the occasional unexpected annoyances that come with it.