Friday, September 14, 2012

From Facebook

On bus back to Austin. Didn't get mugged. Was it because of inherited karma or earned karma or just didn't?

Mark Manders, painted bronze figure

Waiting for trains to museums

Inside Bank

There was a big copper building and I thought that was the bank. But no, it is a nice neighborhood bank with lots of wood.

Coppermart Bank

Dart train to Lovers Lane

Progress in Big D.

30 minutes to Big D

No photos

Cop just told me I can't take pictures. Said it had to do with terrorist activities.

Austin Greyhound Station

Going on the bus today to big D to see art. Actually just to have a mid-life adventure.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. (Numbers 6:25)

First I made this sketch in 2009:


I made this drawing in 2009.


Then I decided that a line drawing wouldn't work well in the book. So I colored it.







Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kingdom of God is within you.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."—Luke 17:20-2



Thursday, July 19, 2012

There is nothing either good or bad ...

There is nothing either good or bad, thinking makes it so. 
(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene II)


My former student, Jeff, wrote that he disagreed with William, saying that harming another is bad, especially when there is murder (my words). At the same time, another former student, from my days teaching in Dallas, wrote about virtuous capitalism. He imagines a bunch of business men who forego profits to give more to their employees and public than need be. Of course, the net result might actually not be so good for some. The shareholders might need to tell their kids that they can't go to college, and their competitors might go out of business because they can't compete with a company that gives away bread. Is this really virtue? (For a much more articulate expression of the social responsibility of business see: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/005373.html).

I like to think about what morality would be like if there are no humans on Earth. Most people would agree that there would be no good and bad. There is only be ecosystems. One animal eats another, who then eats another and so on. They are usually wired to protect their own and to survive by taking advantage of those smaller or weaker than themselves.

Enter humans onto Earth who make judgments galore. And then they make judgments on others making judgments. Hitler decides that "X" could make his country better. Then someone else decides that Hitler is evil. A cycle is started that produces strife and war. Even two people who love each other have a tough time at getting along.

Buddha wrote (though not with Shakespeare's conciseness),
Do not form views in the world through either knowledge, virtuous conduct, or religious observances; likewise, avoid thinking of oneself as being either superior, inferior, or equal to others. The wise let go of the “self” and being free of attachments they depend not on knowledge. Nor do they dispute opinions or settle into any view. For those who have no wishes for either extremes of becoming or non-becoming, here or in another existence, there is no settling into the views held by others. Nor do they form the least notion in regard to views seen, heard, or thought out. How could one influence those wise ones who do not grasp at any views. —from the Sutta nipata





Monday, July 2, 2012

Jasper's Excusion

Jasper and I, on his last day in Austin this year, went on a excursion to the Bullock museum to see the Flying Monsters Imax movie. Excursions with me always end up more elaborate, and the plans change by the moment. We went to the art museum first, but it was closed. Then to the Ramson Center to see the Bibles and the first photo, but it was closed except for the Gutenberg Bible. Then to Bullock, where I refused to buy him $4.75 junk popcorn (he took it like a cool dude, but later his mom thought it was abuse). Anyway, it was a great trip, reminding me of the trips with my kids when they were that age. Click on the pictures to see them enlarged.

Scale

Flight jacket at gift store.

Gutenberg Bible, 2012

Don't Mess with Texas!

Big football, little boy.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Before Abraham was I am (John 8:58)


My favorite Zen riddle is "who were you before you were born?" This question stumped a star student who thought he knew everything. He went and faced the wall of a cave for a number of years to find the answer. When he returned to give the answer to his teacher, he asked why the teacher had not just given him the answer. "You would have hated me if I did," the teacher answered.

Nothing is permanent. And everything is eternal. That to me is what the mystic John is saying.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The shadow of death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
— 23rd Psalm


Friday, June 15, 2012

Food is a necessity.

Friend raised a lot of questions on my recent blog. I'll just deal with one at a time.

She wrote: Food is not a right. . .  It’s a necessity. Housing is a necessity. Education has to happen if you want to survive. It doesn’t matter if the constitution or the delectation of human rights considers them ‘rights’. . . Without food, you die. Without water, you die. Without housing, you are exposed to the elements and have no real security . . .  and you will probably not live long. So there is what do people deserve and what people need in order to live.

No doubt that food is a necessity. Even Buddha discovered as much when he almost died on his diet of 1/2 of a grain of rice a day.

Some people have too little food to eat. Some of this is unnecessary. We have stockpiles of food that are being kept off the market to prevent prices from falling. Distribution of this food to the peoples of the world should be an important initiative.

Going back to the fact that some people have too little, we have a number of alternatives. One is do nothing, another is to have the government give them food (or teach them to fish), and a third is rely on charity to feed (or teach) those unable to feed themselves.

Doing nothing is not a good option. Just from a selfish standpoint, I or my children could be without food at some point in our lives. I would not want to live in a society where help was not available. The libertarian asks whether this is a role of government or whether private citizens (most charity comes from individuals, not businesses) could take care of the hungry.

1 in 3 Americans helped charities in 2005, giving 260.3 billion dollars. I understand that when we had less welfare than we do now, an even greater percentage of our income went to charity. A good way to wean the government off the feeding of the hungry is to have an option on our taxes to get a tax credit (not a deduction) when we give to charity. That way the charities could compete for dollars. Those with the best record for giving (most of their money goes to the hungry, not to administration) could get the most dollars to give.

This is not a simple or easy problem. Sometimes not giving is the best gift. But sometimes it is not. What I don't think we need is coercive taxing to feed the hungry. Through voluntary giving we not only solve the problem but we create a world village.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charlie at 10 days old.

Short time with Charlie in the car while my daughter went into the drug store. But we got lots done. Took about 30 pictures. We worked on the vowels. I associated each vowel with a finger, as if we were counting with sounds. He tried to say some of them and was really interested (it made him stop crying (he was hungry)). We also counted and went to 5 instead of 4. I'm fascinated with the fact that we can count different elements in the same group and form a relationship that didn't exist (like 4 fingers and 4 apples). Oh, we also talked about fingers being part of the hand and the hand being part of the body and the body being part of the world. He's not quite ready for that, but it will be old hat by the time he is. Oh, I introduced up and down, a totally confusing concept that can't be explained unless you already understand it (like most concepts). Not bad for ten minutes in the back seat of a car!


What do we deserve?

One of the seemingly disagreements between the political parties seem to be about this question. I hope to point out that it may not be so much about what we deserve but rather how we might achieve that which we deserve.

The Declaration of Independence stated that we have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The latter was

"...one of the "unalienable rights" of people enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, along with "life" and "liberty." "The right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give them their highest enjoyment." Butchers' Co. v. Crescent City Co., 111 U.S. 746, 757, (1884.)"

Some say that we have the right to education, to food, to healthcare, and to housing. Though these are not specifically guaranteed by the constitution, one could argue that they are necessities for the pursuit of happiness and therefore also unalienable rights mentioned in the declaration of independence.

One means to achieve these "rights" is to redistribute wealth. This will work to the extent that there is enough to go around and that the powers-to-be have sufficient strength to make such a distribution.

There may be some consequences to redistribution. The "haves" might lose their incentive to accumulate. The "income" of the wealthy is a small part of their wealth. So in addition to high taxes, we would have to distribute their investments. Which may mean that companies that produce goods and services might become impoverished. The "have nots" might lost their incentive as well, having all that they need for their good life.

I love the saying, "give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach him to fish and he has food for life." It suggests a libertarian view of providing a better life for all. The ultimate outcome of a prosperous society will be happiness. That happiness will mean that more have the quality of life that they wish.

I believe both of the presidential contenders want the best for their citizens. The question is how that might be achieved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dialogue with friend on vouchers



Kim: A friend wrote a response to my posting the article about Romney supporting vouchers (though not calling them that). The local governments does three things with k-12 education: they make it mandatory up to a certain age, they tax people to pay for it, and they run the schools. Some have said that the schools could be run privately. The voucher system is a means to jump-start that process, taking some of the money generally given to public schools and giving it, through the parents, to private schools.

Friend: My thoughts about that school voucher issue. . . Not that you actually asked for them.

I once heard Bob Moses argue that we (the US) run a system of failing schools and we rescue the students that we can. We rescue them through ABC programs, charter schools, affirmative action, vouchers, ect. He argued that the reason the system doesn’t blow up is because the steam is allowed to escape in the form of these programs. He suggested there needed to be a national discussion about the SAT and/or ETS.

Kim: I think mandatory city-run schools are like the draft. If it was required that everyone must send their kids to public schools then we'd really see an explosion. Parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools because the kids get a better education there, and also are not subjects to the dangers of public schools.

Friend: I have also heard the argument that the voucher program is not a viable or desirable because you get a voucher for x amount of dollars (too lazy to look up the figure at this point) and this is not money enough to go to any private school. Moreover only fools would take there child out of a school system where their child is worth greater than x dollars to get a voucher for x dollars to try to get that kid into a school that requires greater than x dollars. The voucher program (at least as it runs currently) devalues a child’s worth in many peoples’ minds. (I have no child and am therefore uncertain if this is true.)

Kim: It is true that in practice vouchers are not equal to the amount spent per student. This should pacify the teacher unions who claim that vouchers deplete the resources of the public schools. Public schools profit when students choose to use a voucher for a private school, because they still get some money for that student. I've never heard that the voucher program devalues a child's worth, so I can't respond to that except to say the if any devaluing is done, it is in the minds of those doing the devaluing. 1/2 of the money given to public schools per student is a welcome tuition for some schools.

Having said that, economists talk about two ways of talking about costs. If you have a widget company, you can divide your investment by the number of widgets you produce to find the cost per widget. But if you decide to make one more widget, then you might spend a minimal amount ... nothing close to the cost per widget from the first calculation. If you reduce the number of students by 10% you don't reduce your cost of operation by 10%. Adding a few students to the classroom might not cost additional monies, thought it may negatively impact the learning.

Friend: I personally find it odd that the article you posted is using the words, ‘voting with their feet’ and that Mr. Romney talks about giving poor students the freedom to choose a public school outside their district. I think if Mr. Romney spent any time in the school I went to he would completely understand why I have to laugh about this. I do believe that Romney has never heard the argument that the school system went to hell when they started bussing in students. I have heard this argument many times and I am more than confident that you have heard this as well. I would argue that this is the number two reason people who participated in that white flight event playing out in the 90s give for having to move out (the number one reason being all the crime coming into the area). The bussing program was meant to give some poor students the (I don’t know that I would say freedom) ability to attend a public school outside their district. And this is the reason the schools got bad and forced many people to move away from their communities according to many. I really want to know how this voucher program is different than the bussing program in the minds of people who might be willing to pack up and leave (or vote with their feet) once those ‘poor students’ show up in their district. Also much of the opposition to the bussing program involves the idea that it is too expensive to bus students in and that it would be better to use that money to lift up the district the poor students are trying to escape. I think the very some argument would be applied to a voucher program in only a short matter of time.

Kim: I agree that bussing didn't work. The students were treated like stepchildren and never fully integrated into the school. There are many variables for success in school. One is the school, another the parents, another the upbringing and parental support for education. Vouchers put the responsibility of education back into the hands of the parents and for that reason should make more of a difference.

Friend: If one is willing to give students enough money to go anywhere they want for school, why not just start discussing how schools are funded. If it is the case (and I don’t know that it is) that the underfunded schools (those with a smaller influx of money) are also the schools that do not perform to standard, then maybe instead of sending the kids else where, the funding mechanism could simply be redesigned to redistribute funds more evenly. School funding is based on the property values of an area. Schools in neighborhoods with high property values have more money. In most cases around me, these are not the schools that are having academic performance issues. If the education money were distributed more evenly, I really think students wouldn’t need vouchers to travel across town to try to educate themselves in places that might be hostile to their presence. I realize that some districts have a money management problem (or that they are just controlled by thieves) but if the money was being redistributed than even those outside of an underperforming district would have a stake in how that money was being spent.

Kim: This article from 2008 in the Washington Post says that the cost per student in the Washington DC is $25000 per student. These are failing schools. I don't believe it has been shown that throwing more money at a school will necessarily improve it.

Friend: People already ‘vote with their feet’ when it comes to education. People are willing to pay more for less house and community services in order to ensure they are in a decent school district. This has been the case for my entire life. This (as I have already argued) is the number two reason mass migration occurs in my city. Vouchers and charter schools are not going to fix this issue.

Kim: I agree that people who can afford it will choose to live in neighborhoods with better schools. Hopefully vouchers will encourage new schools to form in neighborhoods with failing schools to give students a choice. This is the hope.

Friend: Don’t get me wrong. If given a voucher back in the day, I would have high tailed it right out of the unaccredited school I graduated from. But my education at a poor school allows me to recognize the absurdity in the idea that letting some kids go to schools outside their district is a solution. That shit was done before under a different name. And nobody. . . not the kids on the bus; not the kids in the good district, not the parents of any of these children seem really happy about how all that turned out.

Kim: That you'd choose a voucher is indicative to me that it is a good program. You want to choose your school. You might want to go to a school for kids interested in art or science or cooking. This will be more apt to increase your passion for learning, which, for me, is the key to getting an education.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Mountain is a Mountain


Edward Weston, in his Daybooks, wrote about the zen saying that a man who knows nothing thinks that a mountain is just a mountain. With some knowledge, he sees that a mountain is not a mountain. And then, when he understands, a mountain is once again a mountain. This painting is the mountain of the man who knows nothing. A tree blocks his full view of the mountain and he labels the mountain, "M," thinking he gets what it is. There are no details because it is just a mountain. I did the other mountains in 2009 but forgot to do this one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hello Darkness my old friend ...


Hello Darkness my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain,
Still remains, within the sounds of silence.
—Simon and Garfunkel

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Object ...

One person told me that Robin Hood is just one lens through which to see the world. Another lens would be to do what is necessary to do to support a community.

Another said that one type of fairness would be to distribute wealth evenly. The other would be to provide better education so everyone could create wealth for themselves.

There seems to be two issues here: coercion and what works.

To what extent do we want to be coerced to pay taxes, invest for the future through Uncle Sam (Social Security/Medicare), and all the other sundries that are required to live in the United States?

What really works to create community? Is it a matter of distribution? Is it a matter of equal access to good resources (quality education, housing, healthcare).

Can community be created with the free-market? Can the government create community? If so, at what cost to our freedom?

Is there one solution?



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leica M9 Photos

I recently took a Leica workshop. The highlight was having a M9 for the day. This is way beyond the finest camera I have ever used. The sharpness is terrific. You can click on the images to see them a little larger.










Sunday, April 22, 2012

Unfair advantages

I heard recently about a few instances which people claimed gave "unfair advantages" to some. We expend a lot of effort to make things fair ... or to complain when they aren't fair.

There is a runner who had his legs amputated to the knees. He uses some springy devices that enable him to compete favorably with full-bodied runners. It is claimed he has an unfair advantage because he doesn't have any feet. The runners commission recently ruled that he could compete. I'm not sure that they used the argument that anyone could have their feet cut off if they wanted to run faster.


Then there are the complaints that corporations shouldn't be able to contribute to political candidates. But efforts to make it fairer might cause more problems than they solve. And it is an easy law to bypass. Corporations simply have to increase salaries with the expectation that their employees contribute.

And it isn't fair that Romney paid only 18 million in income tax, a mere 15% of his income, where someone who makes far less pays a higher percentage.

Some say insider trading should be allowed. It actually could benefit everyone, because we'd see what the insiders were doing and could trade based on that information. Others, of course, say it ain't fair.

We love to demonize. One way of doing that is to complain about what we don't have. "Fair" seems to be one means to get what we want. We deserve it, we say, because we don't have it. When my kids would pull the fairness argument I would just say that life is not fair. They didn't think of coming up with the retort, "well, it should be, and so let's take the first step."

What do you think? Should life be fair? At what cost to our freedom?





Friday, April 6, 2012

There is a God

Click on image to enlarge.

I think that is what people say when something good happens to them. I found a hearing aid that fell off my ear. I would have been upset to spend $500 to replace it (that's the cost with insurance!).

Job still believed in God even when things weren't going so well for him. Maybe he just wanted to give the devil a hard time. I do not know.

I recently reread the story of Adam and Eve. So Eve takes the first bite after the serpent tells her that God doesn't know what he is talking about ... and that she will not die if she eats the apple. I will no longer take advice from a serpent. And I'll continue drinking one or two apples a day in my live forever smoothy.

I've been thinking about regulation lately. It is likely that the serpent did not really speak to Eve. Rather, Eve was tempted to eat the beautiful fruit and did so. Perhaps if she had more self-control, or what I'm calling regulation, she would have left the apple alone.

Most of us believe that we know what other people should do. We can make judgments faster that a speeding bullet. We see a plump woman wearing horizontal stripes and we wish that we could have dressed her.

So I figured out the other day, since everyone knows what I should do, that I would just do what someone tells me. So I tried to put my wife in that role. I vowed to do anything she told me to do. This lasted about ten seconds. We were at a restaurant and I asked her if I should eat 5 tortilla chips. She said "sure." I knew she was wrong... that 5 would lead to 500. So I fired her as my regulator.

In art school, teachers tell you what is wrong with your art and then they tell you what kind of art you should make. I think they are good at the first task, and terrible at the second task. Fortunately some of us had a teacher who said, "listen to everyone and believe no one." I did.

But I'm still stuck on this idea that regulation is the key toward accomplishing one's goals. Jack London wrote 50000 words a day, even when he was sick (I might be off on the number). Others get up at ungodly hours. On the other hand, some don't self-regulate.

Imagine if you knew nothing but how to fulfill your intentions. What a habit that would be! What a great line for job applicant, "I do what I say I will do."

So next time a serpent tells you something, take it with a grain of salt.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Let's get it straight . . . .




Let's get it straight,
or maybe
crooked.

We all want to be
on the other side,
where there aren't
any beer cans
or plastic
bags.

And this ain't no
metaphor. The
other side is not
in the city or on the
moon.

It is about water,
and really about
Nirvana, that place,
so very far away
that we don't even
see it when we
look in the
mirror.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Three Little Pigs and the Expired Auto Sticker

Our neighborhood cars with expired stickers have had their windshields defaced by a citizen who believes that people shouldn't let their stickers expire.

There is a lot of angst expressed on our neighborhood elist about the individual who is performing these deeds.

I suggested that, like the pig that builds the brick house, why not just keep our stickers up-to-date and not have our windshield defaced. My argument fell short, because (in the original fairy tale) the wolf did not go away, but rather went into the house through the chimney and became soup. (I can't fathom why this is an appropriate kid's story.)

It was pointed out to me that the citizen (a.k.a defacer) also defaces some properties being renovated, scribbling on renovators' walls and fences that they don't have the proper permits. Perhaps it is a matter of the permits not being clearly visible, or perhaps the defacer is just spiteful. Maybe the permits need to be bigger or better lit. I don't know.

What concerns me about this situation is that we are fighting fire with fire (defacing with anger). This is the stuff that wars are made of, and we all know that we have enough of that. And not just country angry at country, not just one family angry with another family, but even one family member angry with another.

I'm not sure of the rationale that Mr. Defacer is using. Perhaps he feels this is his compassionate response to the dangers to life and limb when an unsafe vehicle hits the highway, or when renovations are done without the proper authorization. Perhaps he is a believer and advocate of civil disobedience, and is doing what he believes is right.

But why the angst? What does that accomplish? Mr. Defacer scrawled on my windshield. It took an hour to clean it off. And then it took a day to let the anger subside. The anger is something we don't need to create. The birds are leaving me gifts on my windshield. When we are able to talk (they are busy fellows) I apologize to them for not providing a Johnny-on-the-Spot. But is this a cause for anger?

Gluten-free Vegan Bread

This recipe is from Namaste's website

Granny's Gluten Free Oven Baked Bread
This bread was so great in the breadmaker we begged Granny for the oven baked version. Contributed by Sharon Gilman. Thanks Sharon!
Ingredients
3 ½ cups Namaste Perfect Flour Blend
1 ½ cups milk or rice milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
½ cup cornstarch, arrrowroot or tapioca flour or powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 tablespoon yeast
¼ cup warm water

Directions
Mix yeast in ¼ cup warm water and set aside for 5 minutes. Warm milk, add oil, honey and cider vinegar. Beat (room temperature) eggs and add to milk mixture. Add yeast mixture to milk mixture and blend.
Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and blend on medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour into well greased loaf pan. Cover loosely with waxed paper and towel and let rise for 30 minutes in warm location. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover loosely with foil tent to prevent over browning and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for another 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely.

Here is my variation (altered 4/5/12), which eliminates the oil and eggs and doubles the recipe. It makes three loafs in this 1 lb. bread pan

Granny's Gluten Free Oven Baked Bread (Kim's Vegan
Ingredients
7 1/2 cups Namaste Perfect Flour Blend
3 cups almond milk or soy milk
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
for oil: 3/4 cup cold milled flax seed.
for eggs: 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons flax seed AND 1 cup + 2 tablespoon water
1/4 cup honey or agave nectar
1 cup cornstarch, arrrowroot or tapioca flour or powder
2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon xanthan gum

Directions
Mix yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and set aside for 5 minutes. Warm milk, add oil, honey and cider vinegar. Beat (room temperature) eggs and add to milk mixture. Add yeast mixture to milk mixture and blend.
Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and blend on medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour into well greased loaf pan. Cover loosely with waxed paper and towel and let rise for 30 minutes in warm location. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover loosely with foil tent to prevent over browning and bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for another 50 minutes. Let cool completely.

Gluten-free bread needs to be toasted quite a bit. I do it on "6" — the highest number on my toaster.

Changes 4/5/12—added xanthan gum, increased yeast, decreased temperature, increased time. Next loaf I'm going to change the flour from 7 to 7 1/2 cups to see if having more flour will help. I'm assuming that the long cooking time is because I have too much moisture.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A tten shon. Confessions of a “first-class slob.”

Click on collage to enlarge.
A young Zen student was given the job of arranging flowers for the various altars in the temple. He was a very serious sort of young man and was concerned about doing a proper job. There may also have been a bit of vanity involved. “Flowers no higher than the statue’s eye. Check. Odd number of flowers in the vase. Check. No thorns or spiky flowers. Check. No all-white arrangements except for funerals. Check.” As he was working, an older monk came into the room, watched for a moment and asked, “Do you want to know how to make a perfect arrangement for the altar?” “Oh, yes!” said the youngster. “Well,” said the monk, “You take a bunch of flowers, put them in a vase, step back and say ‘That’s perfect!’”

I’m acutely aware these days how poor my attention has been. Yesterday I spend 15 minutes looking for a glass of juice that I had finished earlier and even washed the glass. When I saw the glass in the dish rack I finally figured it out.

Saturday I helped someone set up for tea ceremony. I asked, after altering the wiring on the heater, if it was all working. The tea teacher saw a light on the heat controller and said “yes.” I should have checked the heater itself, which wasn’t heating.

I bought some wiper blades yesterday. There was a twenty dollar rebate. But I threw the package away at the store and didn’t have the UPC code. And now I see that the rebate ended two days ago, a day before I bought the blades.

Last week I contributed to an IRA, but did so from an account that didn’t have enough money in it to cover the purchase. In the meantime, the mutual fund went up and I lost $150 or so.

I could go on and on. Luckily none of these errors was life threatening. They cost time and money, and in the case of the tea ceremony, the error resulted in lukewarm tea. My wife, in the spirit of a true geisha, was very polite when she said that the tea was perfect.

In Zen, Dogen tells us that when we are cooking we should be directing our attention to our cooking. We use the expression, “where were you?” when someone is one place physically and another place mentally. What a gift it is to be “with” another person, and not just sharing with them a physical space.

My mom used to say that I was a “first-class slob.” I always liked the “first-class” part. I thought that softened the blow a little. My neighbor thinks I’m OCD because when we go to our favorite Mexican dive for breakfast I organize the menus on the counter so they are all going the same way, and rearrange the multi-colored chairs sometimes so they look better. So is OCD and SLOB related (a question for my dear deceased psychotherapist aunt who would give me definitive answers (unlike my psychoanalyst sister who says, “ask your aunt”))?

So back to the zen student arranging the flowers. What a difficult job! We want the flowers to look like they just grew that way, and were not arranged. Yet the harder we try to imitate nature, the more unnatural it looks. Is greater attention the answer? Probably, but it has to be wholehearted attention, not just “concentration.” That is another topic for another post.

P.S. I wanted to report that now that I’ve discovered how inattentive I am I would turn over a new leaf. So I went to get some groceries. When it came time for checkout, I remembered that, as usual, I had forgotten the reusable bags I have in my car. Then, when I got back to my car, I remembered that I had forgotten to take into the grocery the bag of recyclable bags that I’d been carrying around.

P.S.S. Just heard a wonderful keynote for SXSW by Bruce Springsteen. At the end he said, “Don’t take life too seriously ... and take life as seriously as death.”

P.S.S.S. I’ve been reading about Shanavasa, the third patriarch of Buddhism. His enlightenment came when his teacher (Ananda) tugged on his robe. He was asking Ananda, “What kind of thing is the original unborn nature of all things [who were you before you were born]?” Imagine how that simple tug must have moved his attention from his mind to the present moment. A tten shon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Taiwan/US cultural exchange exhibit

A couple of my art pieces were in a traveling exhibit in Taiwan and the US. After the fact, they are now doing an illustrated catalog of the exhibit. I wanted to share what I'm submitting for the catalog:
I've been making my staple collages for about 15 years now. I'm struck with the beauty in what we throw away. I used the same stapler in the 1950s in my father's store to recycle hosiery boxes into Christmas handkerchief boxes. Sue Eisler gave me permission to use the stapler for art making. She staples with a beautiful and vigorous reckless abandon, while mine is a more controlled and functional means of attaching one layer to another. 
In these particular collages I incorporated a brochure that Sheow Hwey gave me of the beautiful Taiwanese dancers who, though physically handicapped, showed us all that our only path is to work with what we have.




Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Do Dogs Have Buddha Nature?

Click on collage to enlarge!
I asked that question to my teacher one day. That was certainly beginner's mind. I can't remember what he said, but he was kind not to tell me that it wasn't an original question. He did (and still does) gives me a guilt trip whenever I try to understand life with my too discursive mind.

Barbara Kohn, the Austin Zen Center head teacher who proceeded Kosho McCall, taught a koan class that I took. There we read the koan. Mark Bykoski, a fellow zen student who reads Chinese, translated the koan from the Chinese for JustThis. I thought it was particularily revealing that the various answers the elder monk gives is predicated on him being asked the question. Here's a funny twist on the koan which ends with a similar "Because you have to ask."

I was greatly relieved one day to learn that Buddha Nature is not the goodie two-shoes in us, but rather who we really are. Perhaps it is an onion with all its skin removed, or maybe, rather than removing the skins, we merely have to polish the skins so that the nature of the onion is revealed.

In any case, I'm stuck with some preliminary questions before I can answer this age-old canine question: is there a dog, and is there me?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beyond Good and Evil

So how do we stop walking around with two boxes, one for good and one for evil? Long lines are evil, short lines are good. Rich people are evil, poor people are good. Mosquitoes are evil, butterflies are good.

My neighbor said he won't talk politics because people get so worked up. But he said he'll vote.

Anyway, here are some strategies:

1. Go to a quiet place and get centered.
This might be counting to ten. Or meditating. Or taking a walk. Or eating a bowl of fruit. Do whatever works for you. Let the anger subside and the ripples in the water diminish.
2. Describe rather than judge.
Once we are in the judgment mode we stop observing. We've decided what's good and what isn't. Imagine instead you are a scientist and describe what you are looking at. And when you get tired of doing that, describe the observer describing the event. The difficulty in drawing is actually in seeing what is in front of us. A cd laying on our desk is not a circle unless we are right on top of it.
3. Look at the costs and benefits of both sides rather than making a "judgment."
Even a horrific disaster has many benefits. We are often in situations where we don't choose good from bad, but rather choose something with more benefits and less costs than another thing. What should I put on popcorn, butter or spray butter-flavored Crisco? Do I need to demonize one to choose the other?
4. Step outside of yourself and imagine what someone/something very different from yourself might think.
Contemplate a topic like contraception from the viewpoint of someone who trusts the Pope. Do we really want to call them "stupid" if we don't trust who they trust? And what do they call us for being so ignorant? Allow yourself to see what you'd think if you grew up with different influences, different handicaps. 
5. Realize you don't know all the answers, and, in fact, are prone to thinking you know a lot more than you do.
What do we really know? We can make a fair amount of safe bets. We turn a corner in our car and assume that there isn't a big hole in the street. But sometimes surprises come. Or take a simple question like "how long is 3 seconds?" One could study that for their lifetime and probably raise more questions than they'd answer. 



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kate's comments on Contraception—Ananda and Mother Theresa

Kate suggested that I had just changed the players in my recent blog about contraception. I was making the government evil when they intervene, and good when they don't.

This morning I read about the second patriarch, Ananda, who had a difficult time getting enlightenment. He memorized everything the Buddha said, but still, within Buddha's lifetime, never saw the light.

The first patriarch, Mahakashyapa (aka Kashyapa), was enlightened when the Buddha held up a flower and Kashyapa smiled. Of course, there was more to it than that. Kashyapa also had 30 of the 32 prerequistes that Buddhas have. When Kashyapa was enlightened, a golden robe came down from the sky. I guess he was outside.

Ananda kept asking Kashyapa if there was more to enlightenment than the robe. That's like asking the president if there is more to being a president than living in the White House.

In any case, Kashyapa (aka Kate) said, "Knock down the flagpole in front of the gate." In the good ol' days, when the Buddhists and the non-Buddhists argued, each would raise a flag. Whoever won the argument would be allowed to leave their flag up, while the crowds (?) would tear the other flag down. Big government/little government, insurance company pays for insurance, or not, and whatever else we might argue about. So knocking down the flagpole would be like becoming ok with contradictory points of view. No more dualistic dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Anyway, when Ananda chopped down the flagpole, it crashed with a big thud, and he was finally enlightened. Note: Another interpretation is that Kashyapa had one flagpole and Ananda a second. Taking down the pole indicated that they were both of the same mind and now transmission had occurred. The problem I have with this reading is that there wasn't enlightenment until Kashyapa said, "take down the flagpole." Did Kashyapa know that Ananda would become enlightened?

I had lunch with a group of people today at Elsi's. A woman in the group had recently heard a talk by an author who had been Mother Theresa's closest aid for 10 years. Supposedly Mother Theresa never learned this woman's name because she wouldn't allow any personal relationships between herself and her patients, her associates, the helpers with each other. I asked the woman if the author was criticizing Mother Theresa or just describing how she was. I guess Mother T felt that personal relationships—even holding a baby more than absolutely necessary—would interfere with one's relationship with God. I want to add that Mother T claimed that in all her life she only contacted with Jesus for one week. But we can't say that she didn't try.
"Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear." Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1655720,00.html#ixzz1oD6e7KFa
So let's take down the flagpole and just describe. Maybe there is no "good" and no "evil."


Friday, March 2, 2012

AARP may not be your best friend.

I've been checking into Medicare Plan F. When I called United Health Care I got one price. Then I called AARP. They also chose United Health Care, but at a much higher price. All the Plan Fs are identical, with the exception of those with a large deductible.

So I told this to my wife, and she asked (she never asks this), are you going to write this on your blog? I hadn't thought of doing this ... but why not? Anyone else have good or bad experiences getting Medicare supplementary plans? Does it seem to matter what company you go through?

Health insurance and contraceptives

I think we are missing the point in the debate about health insurance paying for contraceptives. Those who advocate that women should be able to get contraceptives say that health insurance companies should pay for them by law, and those who find contraceptives sinful advocate that they should not be provided by their chosen companies.

Both sides are passionate about their beliefs. And both, in my opinion, are assuming that because they feel a certain way, that it is the job of government to legislate the behavior of insurance companies.

We complain that insurance companies' rates are so high. If contraception costs $1000 then the company needs to charge someone $1000 plus some additional costs for administration and profit. It doesn't matter if the woman or a school is paying for the insurance, the cost isn't going to be a gift of the gods.

Is this a role for government to legislate what the insurance companies should do? How about if that legislation is counter to what many desire? You might say, yes, they should pay for contraception because you believe in it. And yes, they should pay for abortions because you believe in them. But how about for something that you don't believe in ... but that the majority of citizens do? Should they pay for that too?

I see nothing wrong with insurance companies creating custom plans for employers (and for individuals). I'd like to live in a country where they could do that. And the $1000+ that I might save in premiums can pay for other things that I might value more than contraception.

Short Term Rentals


There has been plenty of discussion on the Austin neighborhood elists about SRLs (short term rentals), pro and con. Some people have found them to be a blessing, and others found them to be a nightmare. "Good" and "bad" are labels used by the various contributors.

Some aspects of this discussion have caught my attention. One is how everyone is trying to sway others to their point of view. I'm reminded, as an alternative, to the Indian tribe that has discussions with a pumpkin in the middle. They are reminded by the pumpkin that there are many sides to an issue, and the challenge is to see all the sides.

The second issue is that I get the impression that everyone would like the law to enforce their point of view. For example, some say that the landlord should live in Austin. There may be more oversight if this occurs, but does this warrant a law? And what about a "out-of-Austin" landlord with an impeccable record? Should they be exempt from the law?

It is too easy to muddle our lives with laws—laws that force others to conform to what we think is best. But do laws really improve the quality of our lives? And do they support the dissenting opinion?

An equally important issue is whether we already have laws in place that, if enforced, would solve many of the problems.

Let's look at other means besides more regulations to solve problems. And let's be mindful that regulations create new problems as well as solve them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Juicing Austin

I have both a Champion and a Vitamix for "juicing." I use the Vitamix every day. I use the Champion for making peanut butter.

The Vitamix is far superior, because you don't waste all the pulp... and you can put anything in it. It is a lot of money... but well worth it. You can find reconditioned ones at their site... and they have a long guarantee. There are also some on ebay.

Here's my typical daily juice (I actually have a glass at each meal.

1 carton soy or almond milk or rice milk (or sometimes just water)
two apples (no seeds)
one grapefruit
blueberries
carrots (1 or 2)
banana
bok choy or celery
red grapes
nutritional yeast
flax seed
sometimes absorbic acid (vitamin c) powder

It cleans up very quickly, which is another advantage. I just put some soap in it with water and turn it on.

Masticating and centripetal juicers waste all the pulp, are limited by what they will juice, and are a pain to clean.

If you have too many of anything to use up... freeze it, and then you can juice it later. Or you can pour your juice into an ice cube tray and use that as at a later date.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Politics of Birth Control

In the NYTimes today, I was dumbfounded by the article, Bishops Criticize Proposal on Birth Control Coverage.
Under the White House’s new plan, religiously affiliated charities and universities would not be required to provide insurance plans that include birth control. However, if an employee wanted contraception services, the insurance company that administered the regular insurance plan would be required to provide it to that employee at no charge.
Once could rewrite this to read (without changing the meaning),
All insurance companies shall provide employees birth control, should an employee desire it.
We know that the "no charge" is bogus, for birth control will be an expense for the insurance company ... and like every other expense, it will not come from the CEO salaries.

There is another issue that Uncle Obama (aka Sam) shouldn't be telling insurance companies what they should provide for free or otherwise.

I liked this article on Money and Morals by Klugman. I thought that since Rick Santorum is now a viable candidate, the election is about religion (what Klugman calls morals).

Mr. Obama is trying to satisfy everyone, and Santorum appears to be stuck in the quicksand of his own set of beliefs. Apparently Santorum will slide to third place after Arizona, Michigan and Ohio... so birth control will once more be usurped by $$$.

Vegan Gluten-Free Bread

Here's a really good gluten-free bread recipe:
http://www.namastefoods.com/recipes/cgi-bin/recipes.cgi?Function=show&Id=151

Here are some hints:

1) Amazon sells Namaste Perfect Flour Blend. Best price is to buy 6 bags of the flour on the subscribe and save deal. You can unsubscribe after the purchase if you want, so you aren't signing your life away. It is 48.10 for 6 bags... and that's the best price I've found. It says on the package "not for bread" but the grandma of Namaste figured out how to use it for bread. Also for sale at Central Market in Austin.

2) There is also a recipe on their website for a bread machine, but it is too difficult to get my machine to do one rise instead of two (preferred with gluten-free bread). And the bread machine doesn't cook it for long enough. Some suggest to put it in the oven after you cook it in the bread machine. t have a great bread machine for sale (cheap).
2) Cheapest yeast is at Sams or Costco. I freeze most of it, and refrigerate the rest. I mix it with water at 110°.

3) The consistency is that of cake dough, though I've never made a cake. It isn't possible to knead this by hand. You'll need a mixer (like Kitchenaid). I have an old Hobart... which works great on even a double recipe.

4) I use olive oil. I think that gives it a better flavor.

5) I've used both rice milk and almond milk. I think rice tastes better ... but both are fine.

6) I use tapioca flour ... just because I'm anti-corn products.

7) I use Energ Egg Replacer (Central Market in Austin).

8) I cook it at 375° for 40 minutes covered with aluminum foil and 40 more minutes not covered.

9) Take it out of the pan when done and put it on a rack. Don't dare cut into it until it is cool.

10) I switch off between agave and honey. Some macrobiotic folks are suspicion of agave. I'm not sure what I'll do when I run out of agave.

11) You need to toast it to eat it... and it takes the highest number on my toaster. Though it is great in bag lunches... even if you toast it earlier.

12) Olive oil works great to oil the baking pan.

Let me know how you like it. I bought some non-gluten bread ($5.49 for a loaf) and it tasted like ? (not good).

Friday, February 3, 2012

More on Consciousness


Click on collage to enlarge
Miss S sent me this about John Cage:
On Monday evening during the second program in Sound Reimagined: John Cage at 100, the Juilliard School's weeklong tribute to Cage, some recorded excerpts were played from Lecture on Nothing. Cage gave this famous talk in 1949 at Darmstadt, a hotbed of avant-garde music in Germany. In his soft-spoken, almost expressionless way, Cage was an effective speaker.

At one point he says, "If among you there are those who wish to get somewhere, let them leave at any moment." Cage was not just graciously inviting uninterested listeners to leave. His point, I think, was that we all create our own perceptual experiences, including when we listen to music. If our attention flags during a Beethoven symphony, we are not failing the task of listening. Rather, our wandering thoughts become part of the musical moment. 
I'm beating myself up for moving between my sensations and my thoughts about the sensations. Cage is saying that listening is that movement. And to not only to include our thoughts about the sensations, but other thoughts as well.

So is it possible to be a bad listener? I wonder what he'd say. Probably, no. Perhaps only if you want to get somewhere else, you can't be here. Or perhaps if you want to gain anything, you can't/won't participate.