Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Defense of Reactionaries

Fresh Fish
Fresh Fish, Helsinki, 2003

Political ferment isn't just restricted to the Arab world. There's a great malaise in the air, and it's manifesting in all kinds of ways, all over the place. In Finland, it's taken the form of a populist reactionary party. They call themselves Perussuomalaiset, which could be translated to Ordinary Finns, or Regular Finns, or Basic Finns.

The PerSut are led by a guy called Timo Soini. He's rotund, cheerful, a great talker, and quite sharp. The latest polls have pushed it into the top four parties in the country, each with around 20% support. Traditionally, our politics have been dominated by the Social Democrats, the Centrists (sort of like the German Christian Democrats), and the Conservatives. Now there are four, and it's even possible that Timo Soini might be our next prime minister.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Libya's new flag
Libya's New Flag, by Khalid Albaih. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Revolutions come in clusters, and boy howdy are we in the middle of a good one. Who'd have thought a poor fruitseller setting himself on fire in some backwoods town in Tunisia would trigger this kind of cascade? I can't keep up with this anymore. And I had to look up Djibouti.

Libya, though. I wouldn't have thought it possible to find someone who could make Hosni Mubarak look like a statesman, but Colonel Qaddafi just seems to have managed that. The media blackout is pretty dense, and it's hard to get a really good idea of what's going on, but here's what I've managed to put together at this point.

First, some background.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Zazenkai Notes: Cold Snap

Frozen Branches

Sit. Sit. Clean. Sit. Coffee. Sit. Sit-daisan-sit. Sit. Coffee and figs. Sit. Listen. Sit. Recite.

Olli's Dharma talk was about a poem, and almost like a poem itself. I felt sad for the bunny, though.

Then I went home and we watched an episode of Hercule Poirot.

Thank you again, everyone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Collective Neurosis about Mysticism

Dude, Ganesh!
Dude, Ganesh! Sydney, 2010

Wikipedia defines mysticism as
...the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.
Zen is a mystical practice, even if most Zennies would probably not phrase it exactly like Wikipedia above. I find it kinda uncomfortable to admit that, and I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in this. The huge public interest in the health aspects of meditation, the medical research about it, and the general movement towards medicalizing it, using it in the context of therapy is, I believe, largely driven by this discomfort with mysticism.

The very word conjures up pretty funky connotations. When I hear someone described as a "mystic," the images that come up are of a naked bearded anchorite sitting on a pillar in a desert, or perhaps some charlatan in a tent with beads and joss sticks and crystal balls. When I hear about mystical insight, the images that come up are of Mohammed reciting the Qur'an, or the Buddha becoming enlightened, or Jesus going into the desert to wrestle with Satan. It all seems very remote and otherworldly and just plain weird.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When you meet the Buddha...

Chapel Window
Bengtskär, 2008.
One freezing winter day, Tan-hsia took the wooden Buddha statue from the altar in the temple in which he was staying, and used it to make a fire. The resident priest came by and saw him doing it. "How can you burn up my Buddha?" he asked. "To get at the sacred remains," Tan-hsia answered and poked at the coals with a stick. "How could there be any sacred remains in my wooden Buddha?" the resident priest asked. "Then let's burn the two others too," said Tan-hsia.
Zen folklore has lots of iconoclastic stories like that one about Tan-hsia. "When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha" is almost a catchphrase nowadays. This apparent irreverence attracts many of us secularized, often downright antireligious Westerners to Zen. It certainly attracted me.

Yet I think that may be completely missing the point.

Friday, February 11, 2011

They did it!

People of Egypt Celebrating the Victory in Tahrir Square
Photo by RamyRaoof. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Talk about a grand finale. I have been in awe of the Egyptian people through this whole process—their courage, dignity, and perseverance in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds. For as long as I've lived, "Middle East" has been a byword for bad news. First Tunisia, now this: who knows what the future will bring?

It won't be all easy from here on out, of course. However, I can't worry too much for a people that can accomplish what they accomplished over the past 18 days—a revolution to make a Gandhi sit up and take notes. Egypt has taught the world a lesson; many lessons. If this hasn't shattered the stereotype of the rock-throwing Arab rioting in the streets at the slightest provocation, there truly is no justice in the world.

The real work starts tomorrow. In the meantime, there's time for a little celebration, I think.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Crappy Analysis about Egypt

sidi gaber, alexandria
Photo by Al Jazeera English. Used under a Creative Commons license.

I'm getting increasingly irritated by the analysis I come across that's being written about the revolution in Egypt. It's mostly worthless, tendentious crap. So I figured I might as well add a turd to that pile. Seriously, the only two genuinely cool-headed and insightful analytic pieces I've read so far are from A Fistful of Euros and that cold-hearted misanthrope, The War Nerd, and The War Nerd only really cares about the fighting. The others—however smart and knowledgeable they may be, and not all of them are—tend to be swept up in the moment too much to be able to keep a cool head about it. This very much includes yours truly.

Now, about that good piece. Alex Harrowell at A Fistful of Euros. He makes a couple of really sharp observations, totally obvious once pointed out, but that most people seems to have missed and continues to miss.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Zazenkai Notes: Drawing Breath

Snowbound Duck
Snowbound Duck, Helsinki, 2007. Just... because.

It's been a pretty intense couple of weeks, what with that business down in Egypt and such. Work, too. Just shifting from development mode to stabilize-and-release mode on a major product upgrade, which means changing gears from being deeply immersed in design and coding to being involved in every direction. I really needed this weekend's zazenkai.

We're being pampered. Sante Sensei came over again, so we had two days back to back. It really makes all the difference to be able to take dokusan from time to time, and as much as I like them, recorded teishos aren't quite the same thing as a live one. So if you're reading, Sante Sensei, thank you very much for doing this, it makes a real difference and I truly appreciate it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Revolution and the Need for a Narrative

Photo by Al Jazeera. Used under a Creative Commons license.

One of the core teachings of Buddhism is that the world we think of as 'real' is, in Vasubandhu's words, 'construction of that which was not.' Or, as a koan that came up in yesterday's teisho puts it, 'people today perceive that flower as if in a dream.' The flower only exists as a flower because we decide to agree that 'it' is a 'flower.'

In everyday life, this isn't a huge problem, much of the time. It's pretty easy to come to an agreement about things like flowers or rocks or the sun or the moon, at least to an extent where we can talk meaningfully about them without constantly getting lost in metaphysics.

Sometimes it's tough, though.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sandmonkey's Blog Post

The following text is from a blogger I've been following on Twitter. He was arrested and beaten by Hosni Mubarak's thugs, and his blog was censored. He has requested that everyone who's able disseminates the posting in some way.

Edit: Sandmonkey's back. His new blog is here. You go!

This last article of Sandmonkey blog, before arrestation and censure !



Thursday, 3 Feb 2011

Egypt, right now!

I don't know how to start writing this. I have been battling fatigue for not sleeping properly for the past 10 days, moving from one's friend house to another friend's house, almost never spending a night in my home, facing a very well funded and well organized ruthless regime that views me as nothing but an annoying bug that its time to squash will come. The situation here is bleak to say the least.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Crackdown

Photo by Al Jazeera English. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Looks like Mubarak doesn't want to go with dignity. Things have gotten very ugly indeed today in Cairo. As usual, it's hard to be 100% certain about the information coming in, but a fairly clear picture seems to have emerged nevertheless. Here's the story as I see it. I'm dropping the "I believe" and "probably" and other disclaimers for readability; keep in mind that what follows is something I've put together from a stream of data from a variety of source ranging from professional reporters tweeting from on location to news reports to random but possibly credible Net chatter.

First, the main players.