Sunday, January 29, 2012


Girl Making Espresso
Girl Making Espresso, Helsinki, 2005

I really like coffee. At the office, it's the usual barely-drinkable drip stuff, although because of the sheer volume being consumed, from freshly-opened packages, so it's not actually rank unless it happens to be the dregs in the pot.

At home, however, I brew my coffee with a moka pot. There are a number of reasons for this choice. My wife doesn't drink coffee, and usually I only make one cup a day, in the mornings, sometimes two on weekends. That rules out devices that need to be used more or less continuously to work. Our kitchen isn't huge, which means that an espresso machine would take up rather a lot of space for little utility.

Real coffee snobs seem to look down on moka pots. I say they're deeply if understandably misguided.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blue Remembered Earth: A Book Review

Martian Landscape

I've been reading a good deal of new sci-fi lately, thanks to the efforts of the generation of authors writing stuff sometimes lumped under the New Weird and New Space Opera headlines. These include Iain M. Banks, China Miéville, Ken MacLeod, Hal Duncan, Hannu Rajaniemi, and a relatively recent acquaintance, Alastair Reynolds. I'm having just as much fun as when I first started reading sci-fi. Like, when I was eight, or thereabouts.

Alastair Reynolds's latest novel is titled Blue Remembered Earth, and it's something of a departure from his previous work. Reynolds is known for sweeping, epic, galaxy-wide (and occasionally even intergalactic) space opera. An additional twist comes from his professional background as a physicist: while the science is often wildly speculative, it manages to stay within the bounds of the barely possible better than most space opera, classic or New. In particular, he sticks to c as the cosmic speed limit. So no faster-than-light travel and no causality violations. Yet somehow he still manages to write up galaxy-wide ancient precursor civilizations, wars that span light-years and aeons, space battles that destroy entire solar systems, and the usual good, clean, space opera fun.

Blue Remembered Earth is painted on a smaller canvas. It is set only about a century and a half in our future, within the Solar System. Perhaps he finally ran out of epic in House of Suns. The more familiar locations, scope, cultures, and characters of the relatively near future are a welcome change of direction.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Socially Engaged Buddhism, Again

Thin ice

Uku of Kajo Zendo recently wondered why there's so little discussion among Buddhists about concrete ways to alleviate suffering in society, exhorting Buddhist groups in Finland to get off their incense-perfumed asses and do something about it. Some discussion followed, and his polemic was even cited in Kotimaa, the Christian news site. All kinds of ideas came up, including a rather endearing one of getting together to knit wrist-warmers for the homeless. (Maybe they could knit some homilies on them. "Form is emptiness" on the left one, "Emptiness is form" on the right. That oughta cheer 'em right up.)

In other words, he discovered Socially Engaged Buddhism, as previously introduced by Bernie Glassman and several others.

I'm not a big fan of Socially Engaged Buddhism. Plain ol' socially engaged Buddhism is another matter. In fact, I think that a Buddhism that doesn't eventually nudge you to engage concretely with suffering around you is a pretty shabby kind of Buddhism.

Brad Warner has already addressed the question of why there's so little discussion of concrete ways to help people among Zennies much better than I ever could, so I'll consider some of the other points raised instead.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Enlightenment, Commonalities, and Differences

Found Ensō on Formica

We had a zazenkai last Sunday. It was very well attended; lots of new faces as well as familiar ones. Ari held a dharma talk about the notion of enlightenment, the way it's seen in our tradition, and some comparisons with other traditions, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. There was some conversation about the topic over tea as well.

It got me thinking.

One feature of Buddhist practice is exploration of a dimension of human experience that's often labeled 'mystical.' It consists of subjective, internal experiences that are extremely difficult to describe. There's art and there are descriptions that may or may not seem familiar, but conventional categories break down pretty quickly. It becomes increasingly problematic to say anything at all about them. People can compare notes, as it were, but I think this process only works at all face to face. Second-hand accounts—written down, sung, painted, whatever—are suggestive, but easily misunderstood.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Solidarity with protest against SOPA and PIPA

This blog is dark today in solidarity with the protest against SOPA and PIPA. They may be American bills, but they affect all of us. Stop them. That is all.