Thursday, May 31, 2012

Being Idle Is Not A Crime

The Deming Arts Council is located in one of Deming's historic buildings -- an old bank, with walk-in vaults still intact -- on the corner of Spruce and Gold.  This intersection is in effect the entrance to downtown Deming from the 180, and arguably the busiest intersection in town.  The arts center shares this block of Gold Street with a charismatic church, another art gallery, and several other small businesses: cafes, retail, a couple of loanshark businesses, and some medical offices. 

Outside the DAC building is a black iron bench, at a good spot to take a break from the sun, whether one is doing the historical walking tour of downtown Deming or just out doing a sequence of errands or perhaps walking the kids in a stroller (he said, raising his hand).

When we moved here in 2008, there was a young poetry scene active in Deming.  There was an open mike at the arts council, and often I would arrive early to see high schoolers on this bench, hurriedly polishing the poems they would read that evening.

Recently, I noticed that a little sign has been scotch-taped to the window inside DAC, peering over the shoulder of that very bench.

This is mostly a quotation from city ordinance 6-1C-19, subsection B, regarding loitering in a public place.  The sentence in bold, "No person shall loiter in a public place," is not part of that document.  The definition of loitering is from the ordinance, but loitering itself is not the offense described in the ordinance: it is not a crime to be idle.  As stated very clearly in the ordinance, what is against the law is loitering for the purpose of disturbing the peace, blocking traffic or interfering with other people, bothering people, making them worried for their safety.  Simply being idle, "loafing," or "walking idly" (something I do every day) is not an offense.

It looks like -- and this is not proof, of course, it is simply an appearance -- that somebody at DAC doesn't want folks sitting on that bench, so they made this misleading sign that implies that sitting there is a crime for which they will be punished.  
What the ordinance actually says is that if you are disturbing the peace or doing other things defined in subsection B2, a police officer will simply ask you to leave.  If you refuse, then you've got a problem.   As far as loitering ordinances go, this is all pretty reasonable. 

Whatever the intent was, the sign is misleading and unfriendly.  It also misstates the law, including a statement in boldface print that is not part of the ordinance at all.  DAC has invented its own loitering ordinance, and it is much tougher than the city law.

Some loitering is what our downtown needs.  It needs people walking around idly, looking in the shop windows, stopping off for lunch at Si Senor or Palma's or the brewery, noticing something cool in the window at Room With A View, and then maybe nipping in to check out the exhibit at DAC itself, or asking about art classes that they offer. 

Perhaps the sign is in response to the other kind of loiterer -- the kind without money, perhaps even without a home.  Perhaps someone unpleasant looking sat on this bench, perhaps someone with an odor.  I can only speculate.  There are homeless people in Deming, and a very high percentage of people in our county are unemployed -- much higher even than the current national average.

If that's the problem, however, there is a vagrancy ordinance: 6-1C-3.  Interestingly, it is very brief, and only forbids two things: hanging out around a school for no reason, and begging.  Sitting, even napping, on that bench would not violate any ordinance.  Unless, of course, it blocked pedestrians or somehow caused someone to feel unsafe.

Kids with skateboards?  Well, there's already an ordinance for that, too.  (7-1-4.)  No skateboards, roller skates, or roller blades in the business district, and bicycles need to be in the road.

Whatever problem DAC is addressing, and allowing for the possibility that its proximity to the bench is an innocent coincidence, this doesn't seem like the way to do it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Furniture and Books

A kind woman gave us a piece of furniture.  A heavy piece of furniture.

It was a surprise.  My mother in law dropped in during the weekend with the family's pickup truck and asked me if I had time to help her move something.  We drove north of town, down a dirt road, and through a gate into the home of someone with whom she goes to church.  Minutes later, I was struggling with one of the heaviest things I've ever moved without equipment.  My mother in law kept referring to it as a "secretary."

It is "well-made," as we say, a euphemism for: "this thing is solid, extremely heavy, and you're going to have to lift it to avoid ruining your wooden floor.  If it falls on you, you might die."

It is the kind of thing you install in your home knowing you're going to be in that home a good ten, twenty years, and aren't planning to move anytime soon.  It is a weight holding you to the house.

Nathan had an excellent post recently in which he quoted Suzuki roshi  saying, "We should not have anything that is not necessary."  Nathan then reflected on consumerism and accumulation.

As much as I appreciate a well made cabinet, armoire, desk, or piano -- especially older pieces built well in order to last -- it is one thing to admire the workmanship and another to own the thing.  In a way, I understand the impulse to give it away to a younger couple, to lighten ones own load.

My thing is books.  They have a hold on me.  I cherish them.  I have not amassed a huge collection -- nothing approaching, say, my father's collection of tens of thousands of books.  He actually had to build a separate building, extending a four-car garage on his property, in order to accommodate them.  No, I don't feel a need to collect or hoard them, but the ones I've kept, I want around.  I like to see them on bookshelves.  I like smelling them, touching them.  I refer to books I've read before, and there are a few I haven't gotten around to just yet.  There are novels, poems, plays, essays, political books, books on education, books on sociology, books on buddhadharma and sutras, and more.  They are my entertainment and their presence is a comfort; and they are mulch for my own creative activities.

Last month I wrote about my connection with books and personal libraries here.

Even so, the books -- as a collection -- also bear a similar weight.  Every time I have moved, the most onerous part of the process was moving the books.  Many heavy boxes of them.  Years of tangible accumulated karma on my back.  When we moved our family from Los Angeles to Deming in 2008, the bulk of the moving truck was occupied with books.  There was very little furniture.

So the "secretary" had to go somewhere.  (Just like human secretaries.)  And my wife moved a bookshelf and then she didn't like that arrangement so she moved one of the bookshelves into the dining room and stacked some spillover books on the floor and jammed a few randomly within the stacks or on top of them and when I came home my heart sank.

The dynamics of marriage arise from innocent incompatibilities.  My wife is not comfortable in the presence of bookshelves loaded with books.  It is inexplicable to me, just as my affection for books is inexplicable to her.  What to do with the books, then?  My wife has tried various aesthetic solutions, treating the books as decorative pieces.  A book I might be looking for on any given day could be in the sun room, or on a shelf overlooking the piano (a small stack arranged for size and attractiveness), or in the dining room.  The books were once grouped together by category, at least, but with children yanking books from shelves for fun, and with bursts of hurried tidying, there really is no system.  She has tried to accommodate the books into an aesthetic scheme that works for her; but for me these aren't glass eggs, they are books.  I would almost rather have them in boxes in the garage, with the boxes labeled so I can find what I need when I'm looking for something, and just yield the space to Sarah. 

There is a firepit.  I could just burn them.  Or donate them to the library -- less dramatic, but more useful.   And I would be none the worse for it, really; but I'd weep for years.  So the middle way might be storage: the garage's correct function.

And now there is this "secretary" in the office, standing there with nothing to do yet.  Just like a human secretary.

And Sarah just told me she wants it in another room. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Biden on Memorial Day [UPDATED]

There appears to have been very little coverage of a speech given by Vice-President Joseph Biden a couple of days ago.  The only clip I could find for a while was from The Rachel Maddow Show and is embedded below.  [UPDATE:  Thanks to Robert Grady in Brooklyn, there is now a link to the complete speech below the Maddow clip.] 

Politicians have to make speeches on Memorial Day, and some of them have to do it year after year.  The speeches usually hit familiar themes and use similar rhetorical flourishes, in a difficult balancing act between honoring and remembering a certain spirit of service and sacrifice, made poignant in the loss of life, without crossing the line into celebration of war and violence.

The people giving these speeches are often the ones responsible for sending other people's children into war, after all.

Joe Biden's speech this week was very different.  It was unusually personal, raw, un-rhetorical, and demonstrated a terrible understanding of something I hope never to understand well.

I was going to attempt a post about honoring the sincere spirit of service that leads many people to enter the service.  There is an almost heartbreaking fidelity to serving one's government that spears in me in the side, to tell you the truth.  It seems to me that politicians send these faithful souls to fight and die for cold strategic purposes, often sold to the public with lies and manipulation, not for freedom but for empire; and then they are the ones who have the honor of memorializing the dead.

The spirit of service leaves me in awe, and it pains me to see those lives misused.

I was going to write about that.  But I saw Joe Biden's speech and it stopped me.  Here is the sitting Vice-President of the United States, and instead of giving the speech we all would have expected, he gave an unusually unpolished and personal talk about loss.

I will now give the rest of this post to Joe.  I wish Democrats spoke like this more often.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Innumerable Labors Bring Us this iPad

Interdependence means that everything intersects with everything else.  It is the sense that "innumerable labors bring us this food," as a famous prayer begins.  The broccoli I ate last night consists of soil, water, air, sunshine, human labor, fuel (and thus pollution), the gas I used to heat more water to steam it, and so on.  It all is involved.  It all matters.

This is how nature works, but human minds are in the habit of separating things into arbitrary categories.  To a practical extent, this is necessary for survival -- it helps us cross the street without getting killed.  Beyond that, it creates ignorance and waste.  This is why prayers before a meal, or at least a bow, serve a practical function: they help us maintain a habit of reflecting on the interconnection of all these "labors," so we don't forget, and eat with appreciation of the food's value.

We can extend this practice to consumer goods, as well.  Who built this laptop computer I am working on?  What conditions do they work under?  Are they fairly compensated for their work?  Have I gotten a lower price for this equipment at the expense of their safety?  These are relevant questions, not to obsess over but to remember and ask.

The late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and reportedly a Buddhist believer or practitioner, was probably exposed to the teaching of interdependence as described above.  Yet it did not seem to influence his leadership of this gigantic company.  (Click here for a letter I wrote to Steve Jobs a year ago.)

In January, the New York Times published a vivid account of the lives of workers in the Taiwanese Foxconn plant where the iPhones and iPads many of my friends and relations enjoy.  The revelations were not exactly new.  Jobs was aware of the conditions at Foxconn and was reportedly dismissive of the suffering there, and of the prospect (raised by President Obama in person in 2011) of repatriating some of that labor.  The January report did, however, come at a time when Jobs's successor, Tim Cook, demonstrated an interest in improving the quality and safety of factories and warehouses serving Apple in tighter relations with its contractors.

The condition of those who build our tools and our toys, who bring us our food, who deliver our supplies and maintain the stores we frequent, are often invisible to us, but it still matters.  Cheap prices do not come cheaply from those who labor.  What we enjoy privately and profit from, is paid for in human labor and material cost. 

Under Cook's leadership, Apple has agreed to allow a third-party organization to monitor and report on conditions at Foxconn -- a step above what Jobs was willing to do.  Yet the independence of this organization is important, and questions arise upon learning that the organization is funded by industry.  If this is just a show, a case of industry claiming to police itself, in order to ease consumers' consciences, it is meaningless.

[Image: Apple CEO Tim Cook visits Foxconn this spring.]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Setting the sign free

Earlier this week, we reported on an awkward social situation involving campaign signs. 

To recap briefly: two friends of our family are running for the same district judge seat.  We had initially decided not to take public sides by posting a sign on our lawn for either of our friends; however, when one of their signs showed up on our corner anyway, I had to take sneaky measures to avoid embarrassment and the stigma of betrayal.

On Thursday, Andrew Hernandez pulled his car to a stop in the middle of Spruce Street and shouted to me from the open window:

"Free Jarod's sign!!!!   Set it free!!!   Just let it go!!"

Goats and monkeys, we thought.   Dr. Hernandez was absolutely right.  Jarod's sign was completely innocent in this affair, yet it was languishing in our garage, gathering dust among lawn tools and the bicycle I haven't gotten around to tuning up.  It was unjust. 

Fortunately, family and community came together to find a perfect solution.  The sign would have its freedom and serve its function.  My sister-in-law, an educator and photographer and a fellow homeowner, came forward and said, "I welcome this sign to my own front yard."

On Thursday afternoon, to my tremendous relief and satisfaction, I gave Jarod's sign its freedom on Santa Catalina Street in Deming.  Many thanks to my sister-in-law, and also to Dr. Hernandez, for their wisdom and compassion in this affair.

Does this conclude the affair of campaign signs and the Burning House?  Not quite.  As you know, dear reader, we do not usually shy away from taking positions on political affairs.  We have a visible space and a responsibility to use it.  Therefore, consider this a preliminary announcement:

The Burning House does have an official endorsement to make, and we will be putting our highly visible street corner to use after all.  It is not, however, the race you might expect.  We will return to this matter in a week or so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Germany and the Ecological Crisis

Der Spiegel's report on the stalled energy revolution in Germany gives rise to a question the authors almost ask outright.

I'll ask: is there a capitalist solution to the ecological crisis?

Can such an ambitious and necessary target as Germany's -- 80% to 100% renewable energy by 2050, by far the most ambitious energy conversion plan I know of  -- be reconciled with the profit motive? 

Germany's ambitious energy goals are running into predictable problems.  Some of them are technological and political: transmission lines and batteries, coordinating a new power grid with the phase-out of nuclear energy.  The article cites repeated examples of a basic economic problem: many of the required steps are not profitable.

The logic of a sustainable civilization using renewable energy goes against the economic logic of endless growth and accumulation.  Germany might well turn out to be a case study against the premise of "green capitalism," the idea that this kind of system can be reconciled with the need to radically (and quickly) reduce greenhouse emissions, reduce consumerism and consumption, and base civilizations on renewable energy sources.

It is unrealistic and even unfair, as we have stated before in this blog, to expect for-profit entities to invest heavily in purely altruistic enterprises.  (One would become uncompetitive and disintegrate as a business.)  There is an inescapable role for public investment, an investment without expectation of profit (although a profit could result).

Much of the investment needs to be public, and the resulting infrastructure must remain publicly accountable.  Delivering energy back into the logic of profit motive, of endless growth and expansion -- privatization -- would lead to the profit motive overruling ecological balance.

Public investment could come in part from a carbon tax on the consumer end, which would also incentivize reduced consumption.  But you don't want to overtax consumers without asking accumulated capital to contribute what is in its means.  And thus we arrive at Germany's problem, where a celebrated energy plan is already way behind schedule and energy policy is a confused tangle, as Chancellor Merkel -- a dedicated pro-business conservative -- is struggling to figure out incentives that will induce private investment in a 100% renewable energy grid.

I'm not sure that dog will hunt.  These energy goals can only be realized within an even greater transformation.  It's a bigger and more comprehensive revolution than Merkel bargained for.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On stealing a sign from my own yard

In a small community like Deming, the odds of knowing one or more candidates for elected office increases -- including candidates vying for the same seat.

That's the case in our current election season, where a district judgeship is being contested by two local attorneys, both of whom frequent the methodist church where my wife is music director, and are on friendly terms with the burning house.

Jennifer has a legal practice with her sister, Amy.  Amy's kids have taken music lessons with my wife and participated in our performing arts camps, and Amy's husband is a professional contact for me.  They are also some of our favorite folks in Deming.

Jarod, on the other hand, is a personal friend of the Mrs., his whole family goes to the church (his father used to be the lay leader), and the family has deep local roots -- there is a school building named after them.

The thing is, the burning house has a prominent physical address, right on the corner of Nickel and Spruce -- Spruce being an important east-west road for getting across town.  This corner is visible to many travelers and pedestrians throughout the day and is thus prime real estate for political signage.

The first request came from our friends at Delaney & Hernandez, a cheery request to post a sign for them in our yard.  We begged off, citing our close relations (and shared church) with two of the local rivals.  They readily understood and the matter was dropped.

One evening not long after that, while I was in Las Cruces, the doorbell rang and it was the honorable wife of the honorable Jarod, sign ready, at the door, "Could we post a sign here?"  And my wife, an ingratiating soul, stammered a bit and said, "Okay." 

The next morning, cars zipped back and forth on Spruce, and there on our corner was one of Jarod's signs, after we had already turned Jennifer down.  "Goats and monkeys!!"  I cried, dashing out to the corner and uprooting the sign from our own yard.

Sheepishly, I stole to the garage in back, where the sign now resides.  At my insistence, Sarah wrote a very nice message explaining to the honorable Mrs. that we felt it best to stay out of the sign race, out of love and respect for both rivals.  She wrote a lovely email, and the response was just what we hoped and expected: understanding and sympathy.

All politics is local.  I wouldn't mind posting a campaign sign for some races -- especially if it helps get the word out about a good independent or non-duopoly candidate -- but we're staying out of this one.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ox Herding in Deming

This past weekend, the Burning House was delighted to welcome the traveling ox-herder of the Buddhist blogosphere, Barry Briggs.  Barry has been on a long tour of the United States this year, visiting zen centers at many stops along the way.  He sheltered with us on Saturday night, and visited Deming Zen Center the next day.

He was even amenable to offering a dharma talk.  There are two video excerpts below, one longish and one shortish.

Yes, we know we need to upgrade our audio recording equipment.  Our apologies.  The dharma speech is well worth hearing, and may be easier to hear with headphones or external speakers.  

And here is the longer one, expounding on the tale of Milarepa...

Following his respite in Deming, Barry made his way up to Albuquerque by way of Hatch.  We wish him well on his long trip.

[Image: Barry and Gabriel on Sunday morning.]

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's an Italian boy like you doing in a Mexican drug gang?

Greetings from Los Lunas, just south of Albuquerque.

This is a day trip to Albuquerque Studios to audition for the role of a henchman -- a stock role in the tradition of Hollywood thrillers, the wily and snarling lackey serving a Big Bad Chief Villain.

Amusingly, the scene takes place on a Mexican farm where drugs are processed by gangsters.  I cannot help feeling amused when, here in the state of New Mexico, a casting director needs to cast a Mexican tough guy, they would call me.  But of course I was happy to audition.

When I presented myself at the studio and took my seat in the waiting area, I confirmed that indeed I was the one guero at the casting call.

Once this cup of coffee is finished, I will point my car south and roll down that long, long slope back into Deming.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Taxes are Participation

Senza uno sforzo collettivo a cui tutti devono partecipare in base alle proprie possibilità, metteremmo a rischio la nostra economia e la base stessa della convivenza civile.

That was the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, during a visit to one of Italy's tax collection agencies.  These agencies have been hit with Molotov cocktails and letter bombs over the last week, and in response to the terrorist attacks security is tightening.  Monti met with employees and officials of these agencies to show his support.

Italy's economy is in a terrible way.  The whole eurozone is in a crisis, Italy has frightening debt, and its economy is in recession -- which is related to the austerity measures imposed in order to pay down Italy's debt.  It's working, but at the cost of high fuel prices (think we've got it bad?), public spending cuts, and higher taxes that hit the law-abiding workaday citizens hard.

In many Italian cities, tax collectors actually go door-to-door to collect back taxes.  They are often ringing the doorbells of the poor and working class who are feeling squeezed dry while the few successful capitalists profited from boom times and are insulated from paying for the losses.  This is the social arrangement under which "the first world" is expected to operate.  This is what we consider "developed" and "civilized." 

Monti's statement, translated by me, is that "without a collective effort in which we all participate as we are able, we put our economy and the very basis of society at risk."

An American politician would be accused of communism for making a statement like that.  It is an eloquent statement, but to whom is it addressed?  Is he lecturing those who suffer the most under austerity?  Might he also be lecturing those who enjoy a system that privatizes profit while socializing losses?

A society cannot flourish without shared resources.  In the United States, where political literacy is on the wane and conversation largely impossible although we still uphold some concept of "democracy," this sentiment is usually interpreted as an attack on private resources.  No, not at all.  Acknowledging the importance of shared resources, and shared investment in those resources, is not equivalent to saying "property is theft."

A world in which everybody is in it for themselves and everything is privatized (i.e. operated as a for-profit concern) is expensive, inefficient, and barbarous; and it certainly cannot be democratic.  I have always liked Noam Chomsky's statement that paying taxes should be viewed as a patriotic act, an important way of participating in society.  It flies right in the face of the common narrative about taxes and the public sector, a narrative influenced by libertarian complaints and the confused ideology of the "Tea Party" phenomenon.

What still eludes many American voters -- in spite of the efforts of the Occupy movement, which has mostly faded from the media gaze -- is that a few of us who have vast private resources are eluding payment, while the rest of us pay.  One of our candidates for president is a man who has unapologetically expatriated large personal savings, and has worked in a finance sector among large companies who do the same with their profits in order to evade taxation.

...alle proprie possibilità...

It's really simple.  Society cannot be paid for mostly by the poor and the working class; it does not add up. It depresses the economy and creates human suffering, and this suffering can be measured in crime, domestic terrorism, divorce, addiction, and depression.  We aren't paying higher tax bills, as people are in Italy.  We pay in the form of a decrepit and unjust society, a place of crumbling infrastructure, a place where we bail out institutions of private profit but close down schools, we pay by having to contend with the social waste created by this arrangement with fewer and fewer public resources.  And with a political system in which money is equated with free speech, so that the wealthy can spend unlimited amounts to influence elections, it is assured that we will continue to pay and pay and pay to support our true masters.

Everyone needs to pay and invest in a good society, including this aristocracy we have created for the rich.  This is a central message in Elizabeth Warren's candidacy for the Senate in Massachusetts, and it is an important message for us all.

This is about participation, and those who profit on a large scale from our shared resources without participating need to be called out.  The reactionary rhetoric -- which calls this "class warfare" and "communism" -- needs to be rebuffed as stupid or dishonest.

The alternative is to admit that society does not interest us and embrace barbarism.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Things Buddhisty and the Silent Table [CORRECTED]

Mumon blogged a sort of tongue-in-cheek lament that "the Buddhist blogosphere is becoming a little thinner of late."

It seems to be a time when many of my favorite bloggers have been busy, and I've been running around quite a bit myself.  (Good things happening at the zen center, much to do on the parenting front, figuring out whether I can still afford to go on my solo retreat after I pay my car's unexpected hospital bill, and then a performing arts camp followed immediately by the Italy job...)

A question that has come up for me from time to time, usually when reading reviews of posts that are current in the "Buddhist blogosphere," is: what are we all looking for in these Buddhisty blogs?  Is there something new to be said  about any of this, really?

Zen Master Seung Sahn had an unusual teaching practice of getting new students to speak about their practice at public dharma talks.  He would handle the Q&A part, but have a young student sitting next to him speaking for ten to twenty minutes.  Sometimes these "young" dharma talks were fresh and wonderful, and at other times they were polite exercises in explaining basic Buddhist teachings or sharing very familiar zen anecdotes ("Have you heard the one about Guji and the finger?") .

As a teaching method, this is really wonderful.  From early on in a student's practice (usually when they've taken five or ten precepts)  their effort to share their practice with others is validated.  It isn't to showcase their understanding, but to share their experience and process their experience putting this into practice in everyday life.  The point isn't to find some new spin on the madhyamika.

The teaching strategy did not stop just at the student giving the talk, however.  At these talks, some longtime, knowledgeable older students would be in the assembly listening to this talk. The temple rules say, "Do not think 'I already have great understanding; I have no use for this speech.' This is delusion."  We are directed to listen even when the talk seems familiar and we are feeling more knowledgeable or bored.

These intro talks by younger students rarely had anything new to present about the teaching itself; the gift was the person himself, the person herself, a different expression of person but also us.  And after going to these for a while, you even become familiar with most of the questions and the answers. 

The blogs I read -- and not all of them are Buddhist oriented -- are written by people I find interesting and enjoy.  The selection is small because there are only so many blogs I can read.   Occasionally I do still learn from a person's speech, but mostly what I learn doesn't come from speech -- it comes from seeing them.  It's like I say to my improv students: don't try to come up with anything original, just try to let go so you can be yourself, un-self-consciously.  (Paradoxically, perhaps, that's when people become most interesting to me.)

Could he have been this ingenious: did he really set these dharma talks up as mirrors so students could see one another as he saw us, the mixed-up, hurting, practicing rabble that we were?

A hazard of dharma discussion, of course, is argumentation -- not in the sense of healthy academic debate, as when you challenge a thesis to test its truth, but in the more common sense of identifying with an opinion and defending it, turning it into a competitive squabble of ego against ego.  "More dharmic than thou."  I've met them at zen centers, and I've seen some of them writing on the internet: folks who know a lot about zen, buddhism, or both, but they are full of themselves and their hearts, so to speak, are closed. 

Which reminds me of the late Lou Hartman of San Francisco Zen Center.  Meals at the zen center are eaten in this large dining hall at tables and chairs.  Lou, if I recall correctly, is the man who instituted the convention that one of these tables was the "silent table."  At this table, there was no chat, no discussion, no argument, no talk at all.  It was the table for eating together in silence.  The first time I ate a meal at SFZC, during a short stay there several years ago, Lou was sitting there all by himself, simply eating.  After that, I joined him at that table for meals.  Sometimes there were several people at the silent table, sometimes just Lou and me.

And Lou did not eat "mindfully."  He just ate.  It wasn't teaching, it was just lived wisdom.  The kind of thing that words have trouble illuminating, and that easily gets lost in conversation, language, stories, arguments.   

Maybe occasional silences in the blogosphere are good.  There's not much to report if you aren't taking time to be alive.  This is a problem actors and other artists deal with, too.

But if you thought the blogosphere was entirely asleep, I will point out that Justin Whitaker has a new post, Gay Marriage in Buddhism, that might offer something of interest...

[CORRECTION:  For some weird reason, I wrote Lou Hartman's name as "Lou Pearlman."  Do I even know a Lou Pearlman?  I don't understand my mistake. Anyway, the error has been corrected. -- A]

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lucca Walks!

And now for something completely parental.

Stayed up all night last night editing this two-minute music video of Lucca learning how to walk on his own.

If you like this sort of thing, voila!  Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Dharma Mudra on YouTube

Deming Zen Center is experimenting with video and social media.

As part of this effort, we started a YouTube channel which you can visit here.

The first four videos we have posted are excerpts from a dharma talk given by yours truly.  This is a "Buddhist basics" level of  talk, on the topic of the "three dharma seals," as most of our visitors are fairly new to zen practice and Buddhist concepts.  For some of the readers of this blog, this is old stuff.

Anyway, since I haven't had time or energy to post anything here in several days, I offer you the dharma talk excerpts for anyone who finds them of interest.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Western caucus not speaking honestly

It would be gratifying to see my Congressman, Steve Pearce, a Republican, present a solid conservative proposal for energy security and job stimulation.  Unfortunately, in an editorial he co-authored with Senator Barrasso of Wyoming that has made the rounds recently, he does not initiate an honest conversation on energy policy.

It is always worthwhile to review regulations that govern exploration, excavation, property rights, environmental damage, distribution and pricing of energy, and to eliminate regulations as appropriate.  The authors, however, do not address any specifics.  They simply rail against “regulations” per se.  This is not policy, it is rhetoric.  

We expect politicians to lie, especially in an election year, and both parties play with the truth; but we don’t need to be okay with it.  In this case, our Congressman is lying to us when he complains that Washington is blocking energy production.  Data from the Energy Information Administration shows that President Obama was correct when he stated that American oil production in 2011 had reached its highest level since 2003.   Despite regulations over production in the Gulf, the EIA shows record production there as well.  The projected decline for 2012 is only a few percent.  Profits in the energy industry are robust.   

Pearce and Barrasso want to blame their rivals for gasoline prices and unemployment, but the only redress they seek is to eliminate environmental protections. We are long past the day we can pretend our economy exists in an ecological vacuum.  Energy is a dirty business; even the “alternative” energies come at an environmental cost.   We need an energy industry no matter what, and this is why we also need an EPA. 

It is unrealistic and even unfair to expect energy companies to balance profit with ecological stewardship all by themselves.  Wise conservatives speak of living within your means.  This also applies to industry on a finite planet.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Cigarette is a short film, running about fourteen minutes, written by Sam Tofsted and directed by Sheridan O'Donnell, with Jake Bayless serving as Director of Photography.  We filmed it in Las Cruces in two all-nighters in May of 2010.  Post has taken a little while but the film is done and rather enjoyable.

Here you go.  Enjoy.

Cigarette from Sheridan O'Donnell on Vimeo.