November 30, 2008

Tiger by the Tail

Ground if .... tastes like certainty.

The flowing stream doesn't freeze / Do I want to be the river or do I want to be the ice? / They are both water

The land speaks / Indignant stones: "Who put me here?" / "We are NOT a fence!"

Leaping lightly from rock to rock / Are we teasing the immobile stones? / Or giving joy in gratitude?

"Fellow Hermits..."

A man who thirsts for sadness, quenched by joy.

November 26, 2008


Somehow I have to break it to my grandmother that I am not going to be there for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Instead, I'm going to be in the air on my way to Boston with a pit stop in Chicago. I'll probably be camping in Logan International Airport, since I'm getting in too late to proceed that day. The next morning, I'll be on a Greyhound bus, a new mode of travel for me, to White River Junction, Vermont. Then, somehow, magically, I have to get to Barnet from White River Junction. As a last resort, I have the number of a car service which wants to charge me an arm and a leg. I'm hoping some of the messages and emails I've left with other participants will bear fruit.

Despite the uncertainties of navigating the unfamiliar subways of Boston and possibly hitchhiking in Vermont, I have confidence that come Friday I will somehow find myself in Karme Choling. There, I will spend several days sitting on my ass doing nothing and occasionally listening to talks from Acharya Rockwell as I attend Shambhala Training Levels IV & V, Awakened Heart & Open Sky. Plus, I get to see another Shambhala retreat center and how it works, as well as the Green Mountains of Vermont. I wonder if they'll still be green or snow covered?

On the return trip, I have the wonderful opportunity to stop and see a dear friend in Brattleboro, and then a day to explore Boston before flying out. My pit stop in Chicago will this time be a night and a day, and include a visit with my thesis client to hash out some programming details for the Windhorse center in Wisconsin. Then at long last, back home to Nebraska, and straight into the chaos of Dead Week and the Finals Week.

Life is so odd, eh?

November 24, 2008

Fat Squirrels

One thing I love about this time of the year is that the squirrels get fat. Squirrels can’t exactly waddle. Usually they bound in lithe movements, two agile arcs, the arc of the body pushed forward by front feet and back feet moving together, followed by the rippling arc of the tail. When they get fat in late fall, their arcs flatten out, their bounds become less energetic, they move a little slower. As a result, the feral cats who live on campus also get fatter and their coats fluff out for winter. But even though the squirrels are now easier prey, even though they’ve lost their sparking quick agility, somehow they seem happier during this time of year, somehow content. I do so love happy squirrels, fat, waddling, fluffy squirrels that chastise passers-by from their leafless perches. It’s such an amusing thing to be chastised by such a small creature for who knows what it was you did to earn their ire. Especially when they look so fat their can barely move.

I wonder what kind of person gets reincarnated as a squirrel?

November 20, 2008

DN Article - Help Barack 2 - Price of Carbon

My snarkiest column yet and they aksed me cut out the most acerbic bits. I'm kinda bummed. I never get to be snarky or acerbic, but some sections of our society (cough: Republicans!) are really starting to annoy me. I guess that's just because someone decided to set the television in the student government office on Fox News.

Emissions trading best for pollution control


November 17, 2008

So Damned Sad

Usually I’m fairly optimistic. I generally believe the world is full of good people who want to help each other. I know that’s naïve and more than likely to be incorrect, but I think it is generally a helpful attitude. Yet today there are so many reasons to be sad.

I’m working from home a lot, so over lunch I turned on the television for a mental break from the site analysis I am writing. Daytime television generally sucks so I ended up on CNN. Today of all days, I remember why I don’t watch the news. Listening to it on NPR is bad enough.

They displayed a picture of a billboard on some Christian community center in some anonymous town which said Obama is a Muslim and it is a sin against God to have elected him to the presidency. It ends with “Ex. 20:3” which I can only assume refers to the scripture Exodus, Chapter 20, Line 3 “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” They should have read a little further, down to line 16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” I think it’s rather misplaced in a country which enshrines freedom of religion. But if they think electing someone of another religion is a sin, that’s an opinion they are entitled to, I suppose. I’m just not understanding the lie.

CNN was also reporting on a man who is pregnant for the second time. Yes, you’re probably thinking what I was thinking. (Because I was also thinking “Wow! I didn’t think we’d actually figured out how to do that with an entirely biological man!” Although, I think we will sooner or later, which will be super cool.) Thomas is a transgender man who was born a woman and is now legally male. I like the way he put it though, in the article he wrote in The Advocate on April 8, 2008: “I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights. Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire, but a human desire.” So when his wife had to have a hysterectomy, he went off his testosterone injections in order to carry their daughter and is now pregnant with their second child. I think that’s fabulous! But reading of the struggles they had in getting medical care, the snide comments of their own family, and reading some of the comments on the website to the story, made me very sad.

One commenter wrote that the world was not ready for this kind of thing. Huh? I wasn’t ready when my eldest cousin got married. I distinctly remember thinking that: “He can’t get married. I’m not ready yet!” My cousin is only two years older than I am. I don't know why us being ready should stop them. Others wrote that it was wrong, evil, and harmful for the child whom they obviously did not love because she would clearly be screwed up and need massive therapy to get over the fact that her daddy loved her enough to carry her when her mommy couldn’t. Huh? That, on top of Proposition 8 passing in California and similar ballot initiatives around the country banning gay marriage, makes me very sad.

Then in Afghanistan, the Taliban are throwing acid at girls on their way to school. They don’t think women should be educated. Sometimes it’s mindboggling, the contradictory nature of gender prejudice. If women are so much stupider than men, then what is the harm of educating them? The guys will still be able to outsmart them right? If men are so much stronger than women, why is the sight of a woman’s bare face enough to drive them into passionate, violent madness? Aren’t women supposed to, at the very least, be protected?

All this unnecessary clinging. All this unnecessary hate. It causes so much suffering. It must hurt so very much. Not just to the victims of the hate, but to the hater. Can you imagine all that energy churning inside you, burning up your mind, strangling your heart, living in such constant anger, such abject fear? I want to ask those people, if you actually do manage to destroy the object of your hate, will it go away? If the person you hate is dead, will you stop hating them? Will that give you any relief?

What if it actually could? What if the hate disappeared with the object of the hate? What if a person could find away to take all the attention of hate, all the anger and violence and pain and viciousness of hate and turn it on themselves? What if a person could hypnotize the world so that all the people who hated those of another race, another religion, another gender, another sexual orientation, or for any other reason, so that all those people were convinced that that single person was the one and only member of that group, the singular object of their hate? What if that one person then killed themself? Would the world finally be at peace? If that was possible, if I could be that one person, I know I would do it.

It makes me very sad to know that it doesn’t work that way. Hate is so much stronger, so much more insidious. Hate is not about the object of the hate. It’s about the person doing the hating. And I’m not much of a hypnotist. It makes me so sad to think of the people at that church who put up that sign and the Muslims who have to look at it. To think of Thomas, his wife, their children, all those freaked out doctors and nurses, and the people who read that article. Not to mention Thomas’s (and his wife’s) family who were so unsupportive and have chosen to lose their own sibling rather than have a brother instead of a sister. It makes me sad to think of those girls in Afghanistan in pain and afraid to go to school and those Taliban men who must be so much more afraid of those little girls in order to go to such lengths.

It’s just so damned sad.

November 15, 2008

Non-Dual Beauty

"When beauty is understood to be the way all things come to be through mutually assisting each other, beauty is the inconceivable non-duality of self and other, the insubstantiality of separation. Beauty seen as separate from ugliness is just a concept of beauty. From the Zen point of view, beauty that lives separate from anything is not true beauty. If one is caught by the discrimination between a right way and a wrong way, and is not able to let go of the delusion of independent action, the light and beauty of all things are obscured. To ope to the beauty of all beings, we practice a meditation in which we thoroughly study and finally forget our ideas of beauty." -- Tenshin Zenki Reb Anderson, Green Dragon Zen Temple, in the Foreword of Zen Architecture by Paul Discoe.

Basic goodness.

November 14, 2008

DN Article - Help Barack 2 - Coal & Geothermal

Raise those picket signs high! Sign those petitions! Pass those initiatives! Citizen action can beat the crap out of the industrial lobby. Even in Texas. Don't let people tell you we gotta do it this way because that's the way it's always been done. With a little imagination, we can find better sollutions.

Geothermal power solves energy woes.


November 12, 2008


Renunciation means you have to want something to change. Renunciation means you have to be fundamentally dissatisfied with the way things are going along. Renunciation means making a commitment. Renunciation means saying “Stop the world. I want off.”

Habitual patterns are an addiction. They are built up over a lifetime, multiple lifetimes, and encoded into our DNA. They are insidious. They are hidden by their very omnipresence, their very normalcy. They hide behind the status quo, not just from us, but from everyone else. Yet they can be no less destructive than chemical addictions.

Utah Phillips quoted the unknown great Ammon Hennessy, “a Catholic anarchist, pacifist, draft-dodger of two World Wars, tax refuser, vegetarian, one-man revolution in America,”  explaining pacifism.

He said, “You got to be a pacifist.”

I said, “Why?”

He said, "It'll save your life." And my behavior was very violent then.

I said, "What is it?"

And he said, "Well I can't give you a book by Gandhi - you wouldn't understand it. I can't give you a list of rules that if you sign it you're a pacifist." He said, "You look at it like booze. You know, alcoholism will kill somebody, until they finally get the courage to sit in a circle of people like that and put their hand up in the air and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' And then you can begin to deal with the behavior, you see, and have the people define it for you whose lives you've destroyed."

He said, "It's the same with violence. You know, an alcoholic, they can be dry for twenty years; they're never gonna sit in that circle and put their hand up and say, 'Well, I'm not alcoholic anymore' - no, they're still gonna put their hand up and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' It's the same with violence. You gotta be able to put your hand in the air and acknowledge your capacity for violence, and then deal with the behavior, and have the people whose lives you messed with define that behavior for you, you see. And it's not gonna go away - you're gonna be dealing with it every moment in every situation for the rest of your life."

I said, "Okay, I'll try that," and Ammon said "It's not enough!"

I said: "Oh."

He said, "You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons. The weapons of privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege, economic privilege. You wanna be a pacifist, it's not just giving up guns and knives and clubs and fists and angry words, but giving up the weapons of privilege, and going into the world completely disarmed. Try that."

That old man has been gone now twenty years, and I'm still at it. But I figure if there's a worthwhile struggle in my own life, that, that's probably the one. Think about it.

So I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about how this idea of addiction and of acknowledging the addiction and dealing with the behavior can be applied to more than just alcoholism or violence or privilege. It can be applied to procrastination, self-deception, obstinacy, clinging, hiding, wallowing, ignoring, and struggling.

I’ve been looking at my self destructive (and people destructive) behaviors. I’ve been trying acknowledge my addictions, my habitual patterns, and to define the impact of those behaviors. I’ve been discussing them, where I can, with the people they effect.

I remember reading once that the second step of addiction recovery is “recognizing a greater power that can give strength,” which is why, I suppose, you hear God mentioned in AA meetings. Or at least in the popular media depiction of AA meetings anyway. So what is the “greater power” when you don’t believe in God? Is it Buddha? In some sects Buddha is depicted as more of a deity, watching over us form the Pure Land or wherever. To me, the Buddha has always been simple Siddhartha Gautama, just some dude who lived and died a couple thousand years ago, who happened, through effort or luck or wisdom, to get some very fundamental things very right. So what then is my “greater power?”

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at home. I had taken a break from my work to sit on the couch and channel surf. My cat was walking along and I reached over the arm of the couch to scoop her up like I have done a thousand times before. I had just deposited her in my lap when she flipped out. Animals generally flip out for a reason, a loud noise, being startled, etc., but she just flipped out for no reason I have yet determined, spazzed, used me as a springboard, scratched the hell out of my arms, and promptly sat down on the floor three feet away with this calm, innocent look on her cute little face.

”What the hell was that for?!?!” I demanded incredulously, pushing up my sleeves to look at the bright bleeding scratches on my arms. She just blinked at me.

Then I was crying. I felt the tightness in my chest, the wobble in my chin, my face muscles scrunching up and I was crying. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the silly little scratches on my arms.  Surprise can be a powerful force.  It's that "liberation upon seeing" that "what the hell" that wakes you up.  My routine was broken.  I was broken. 

I sucked it up. I breathed deeply. I calmed down. Then I got up and went out to get munchies from the gas station up the street. On the way home, I realized I was angry. I was walking swiftly and stridently, in the truest meaning of that word. I dropped off my munchies and then I kept walking. It was dark, with only a sliver of a crescent moon in the sky. The weather was fair and the capitol building was lit. I walked around the giant building, feeling each footfall, listening to each breath. I walked up the grand limestone steps and around the lowest balcony. And when I got home, I sat.

For the first time in months, I sat. I just decided to sit. No strings, no set time of day, no complicated rules about when and how and how many days off. I just set the kitchen timer for ten minutes and sit. Every day. No exceptions. And I count, like an addict. Sat three days.  Then I missed a day and I start all over again.

So I guess that’s my greater power. The power to sit. The power to do nothing, to choose to do nothing, to just stop, to just breath. I can’t indulge in my habitual patterns, my addictions, my destructive behaviors when I’m just sitting. Sitting is greater than them. And maybe, just maybe, if I keep it up, I’ll find a little of that strength and stability they are always talking about.

I decided something was wrong. Why would being scratched by my cat, something that’s happened a dozen times before, suddenly make me cry if something else wasn’t wrong? Why would I feel so antsy? Why would I feel so angry? So I renounced. I said, “Stop. I want off.” 

I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

But I sit.

Honestly! Really!

This morning, I walked through the State Capitol on the way to the bus stop, as I frequently do. I noticed a sign taped to one of the dark, heavy, serious looking doors. "Truth and Deception Board Meeting has been moved to room 1525."


November 11, 2008

Can't Find What I'm Looking For

I don't keep copies of my blog. I let what I write exist only online. Now I am looking for something and I can't find it. Once upon a time I wrote something to the effect of "you can never be completely genuine with the other person when you want something from them." It was quite some time ago and I was trying to find it for a reference in something else I was working on. Doesn't it figure I can't keep track of my own mind.

Anybody seen it?

Widsom of Pie

Here in the Western world there has been much consternation and outrage at the discover of some of the rules for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, monks and nuns. Safe in our so-called equality we stand in our glass houses and frown in disapproval at the quaint ethnic traditions of the less civilized cultures while all the while revering them for their wisdom. We pick and choose only the sweetest apples from the tree and leave the rest.

There is this one particular rule which I thought of today – that any nun, no matter her age or seniority, must bow to any monk, no matter his age or seniority. This may result in the eighty year old abbess showing deference to the sixteen year old novice. Naturally, we modern women scowl and scoff at such a rule. Yet, in the grand scheme, I’m thinking the nun got the better part of that deal. I’m thinking someone was laughing when they made up this one.

Which is more worthy of cultivation? Which is more helpful on the path? Which destroys ego and which feeds ego? Humility or superiority?

My grandmothers knew the tart apples, the ones no good for eating, make the best pies.

November 07, 2008

Thoughts from the Kitchen

Courtesy of my new favorite hangout. A place my father would describe as "yuppie," and not in a good way. A place I tend to describe as "yummy," and thought provoking, too.

"Maybe you should have left 30 minutes ago. - It takes more effort to look upward as you move along, because it requires you to slow down. If not, you may run into something." - From the blog of Bread & Cup.


DN Article - Help Barack 1

Yesterday was a helluva day, but it all came out alright in the end. Corrupted files, plotters on the fritz, last minute corrections, everyone scrambling to help, getting it all done in time, and a lovely jaunt out to enjoy a warm bowl of soup and herbal tea before dashing off with the rest of my class to save the world. Or in this case, the town of Douglas, Nebraska, population 251. We got out of there close to ten o'clock that night, and by that time we were all punchy and tired.

In the midst of all that, I did manage to snatch the paper and read my column. I am always surprised at the choices of copy desk. This time, they changed "draconian government social engineering" to read "draconian government action," which really doesn't have the same ring to it at all. Oh, well. No clinging, right? So here you go: a low carb column preceeding a dense and gooey desert column next week.

Obama's environmental promises demand our commitment, too.


November 05, 2008

Confidentiality and Censorship

Sometimes I wonder if my only real talent is to annoy people. I’m not always sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Today I managed to annoy my thesis project co-chairs. I moved forward on an avenue of my project without consulting with them. Apparently, they think this particular method of participatory planning is more tricky than I think it is. I started a website. They are annoyed I didn’t consult with them, I suspect they are wondering in the back of their minds if I was trying to pull a fast one, and they believe I didn’t give the matter much thought.

Well, they have a right to be miffed, wrong to be suspicious, and at least half right on the last one. I really didn’t give this particular action much thought. I didn’t think about it because I am relying on positive past experience and because of a preconceived philosophical position.

Lots of planning projects have websites. Every planning department, city or county, that I know of has a website. Lots of developers have websites. Churches and schools have websites discussing their growth objectives. I see these websites all the time and use them in my research. I have always found them enormously helpful, both as a researcher and as a participant in the planning process in my community. If anything, have only been disgruntled by a lack of more detailed information.

I have a website, a couple, in fact. I’ve been blogging for over two years now. I’ve been writing columns for the paper for several months. I’ve been putting myself out there, opening myself up to feedback and criticism and I’ve gotten some. It hasn’t all been puppy dogs and roses, but overall it has been a very positive experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Also I have a philosophical commitment to openness, honest, inclusiveness, full-disclosure so to speak. I tend to think the more we all know about each other the better off we are. I believe in collective wisdom. I encourage informed decision making. I think it’s easier for a group to move forward together if they know where everyone is coming from and have some idea of where things are going. It’s a belief that has occasionally come back to bite me in the ass. I have to admit, a good portion of it is born out of a strange naïve optimism. I don’t always see the ways people can use information against each other, let alone the reasons for doing so. I’m completely lacking in realpolitik, which I honestly don’t regret. So of course, when I put something out into the world with the best of intentions, I naively assume that people will react to it in the same manner.

My professors think I’m opening up a can of worms. They are concerned there will be elements in the community who will see this and be adamantly and violently opposed to the entire project. They are afraid this could be the match and once the fire is started, there is no putting it out. My initial reaction is that this is ridiculous on many levels. Yet the fact that I am so immediately dismissive makes me question my motivations.

I’ve never handled critique well. Am I just trying to avoid being wrong? I can understand their concerns and some of their objections but I believe that these would be concerns no matter what feedback mechanism we used. We always knew community participation was going to be an important component and I don’t see that this is any riskier. I also have a high comfort level with this form of communication and I think it was telling that between the two professors, the one with the most tech savvy was also the least annoyed with me, though he still expressed deep concerns.

So now I’m wondering about the relationship between privacy, confidentiality, and censorship. When does one become the other? Does privacy apply to groups? What about when the actions of those groups affect a larger community? Privacy implies that the information, if known, could be harmful. The last thing I want to do is harm someone. Is it okay to keep some things confidential even when you know the other party could use the information and would like to know? Is it okay not to tell someone something because you are afraid of the response? Is there a way to present information in a way which would not provoke a strong negative reaction? Is there really anything you can do about people who are likely to be pre-prejudiced from the get go? Is this a lie by omission or a form of censorship? Am I really just silly and naïve to believe people react to you the way you approach them? How can I control the information flow which still allows plenty of opportunities for feedback from two different groups with two different agendas? Will it further bias one group if they find out that other discussions have been going on “behind their back?” All of these questions broaden my understanding of dealing with others. Not that I have any of it figured out yet, of course.

Of course, the biggest question being: am I letting my own need to be right and fear of criticism (or fear of admitting criticism is legitimate) color my response? The only answer I can come to is: of course I am. I’m bringing my own baggage to the table. That’s the thing about baggage. It follows you everywhere. So, if I recognize that, I can look forward at my professor’s concerns as legitimate, merited, and worthy of deep consideration as I look for a solution. I’m not sure I’m wired to think that way. I’m not sure I can competently consider all the angles or even figure out what they are, just because it’s so against my ingrained habitual patterns. It’s good to try, though.

So now how can I have my cake and eat it too?

November 04, 2008


One pundit asked "What are your thoughts on this historic night?" I'm thinking I wish I had someone to play that drinking game with (take a drink whenever someone says "historic") and I'm really glad I didn't because I would be soooo damn drunk by now and soooo horribly sick tomorrow.

My cat slept through the whole thing and complained at me when I clapped.


"I voted today!" reads the sticker on my thigh. Why my thigh? Well, it's a wonderful, sunny, breezy fall day. If I put the sticker on my jacket, people wouldn't see it if I took my jacket off. If I put the sticker on my shirt, people wouldn't see it if I wore my jacket or my scarf. I briefly contemplated putting it on my face, but decided the stick and stiff circle would probably be uncomfortable.

I am proud that I voted. I am proud of my country, where I have the opportunity to vote. I am proud of all the people who are coming out to vote today. I am proud of the little old ladies who site patiently in the polling places and check out names and addresses, hand out our ballots, and give us our stickers when we're done.

A lot of people have spent a lot of time lately telling us what is wrong with our country, not least of all the candidates themselves. A lot of historians have gotten a lot of face time lately telling us about the history of politics in our country, how it has changed, and very few think it has changed for the better. There was a book review in the Prairie Fire this month (a local newspaper) about The Political Mind by George Lakoff who thinks "...the capacity of government to carry out critical moral missions is systematically [being] destroyed from within the government itself, while public funds are used to provide capital for private corporations to take over those critical function of government and charge the public a great deal for doing so, while avoiding all accountability." He calls this "privateering." It is all of a piece.

Yet today, this day, I am optimistic; I am hopeful; and I am proud of my country - my flawed, imperfect, crazy, stupid, bigoted, violent, angry, wonderful country. Despite how screwed up we all are, somehow we all manage to agree on this one thing: democracy. Maybe we haven't gotten it right, gotten it perfect just yet, but we've come a hell of a long way. Over the last 232 years, we've expanded the franchise here in the United States. We've encourage democracy throughout the world and provided a constant example that it does in fact work.

Of course, there is still more work to do. The turnout today encourages me by showing me that we are willing to do that work. The talking head on CNN just read a poem (go figure): "Some people live for history. We live for the moment just before," she read. That moment just before, this moment, that's where change happens, where we can make it and shape it. By voting, amongst other things.

Sounds like Dharma to me!

November 02, 2008

Call for Letters

This is primarily for UNL students and alumns, but others are welcome also!

"Jeff had a great idea for election day -- he suggested we put out a call to our readers for 'what does democracy mean to you?' letters to the editor. I requested a two-page section for election day, and I'd love to make this work. If you all could help spread the word and get out that we're looking for these letters, that'd be awesome. if you have people that write to you personally about your columns - maybe shoot them an email saying we're accepting letters to the editor about democracy. Anyone else you might know who reads and comments a lot. Anything.


Cyndi Waite, Daily Nebraskan, Opinion Editor"

Send them to me, comment here, or to