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As you may have noticed, I took a three year hiatus from posting movie and book reviews here. My book reviews migrated to Goodreads and my weekly reviews of movies ended with the suspension of weekly movie night. Well, it is back and so am I.

Generally Mel and I will be hosting weekly movie nights on wednesdays, but that will have to flex with our evening engagements and commitments.

Movie night always had a theme (see previous posts), often a very silly theme. A substantial amount (some might say a staggering amount) of alcohol was consumed during previous movie nights, which contributed to the frivolity. I'm sober now, but not much more serious, so anticipate continued goofy with increased coherence.

Next week's theme: emotion into action.
The week after: from being to doing.

I have not made my film selections yet, but will ponder, post, view and then review (possibly including comments from attendees).

Current Location: Georgetown Texas
Current Mood: satisfied satisfied
Current Music: Fela Kuti

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REBOUNDING on the trampoline of life
After being down and out for a bit I've been re-engaging, getting out and circulating. Part of that has been a renewed commitment to expand my boundaries, move outside of my introverted bookworm “comfort zone” and meet new people, while reconnecting with, honoring and celebrating the amazing people I've met in the last year. So far it has gone pretty well.

GRATITUDE FOR ALL I ENCOUNTER; gratitude first and last
I continue to be informed and inspired by nearly everyone with whom I meet and converse. While perhaps the nature of those I'm meeting has changed, this flow of information and inspiration may be the result of my being more receptive to it. I would like to think that my ongoing sobriety plays some part in that, although it is impossible to determine. It would be flattering to think that this flow of information and inspiration may have its source in my conscious attempt to approach others from reverence and not from judgment, that such persons were always around me but this seemingly endless fount of information and inspiration was blocked by my former mundane and often judgmental attitude. Or maybe that too arises from my ego: “I'm being inspired because I'm better now (nah-nah, nah-nah).”

Melanie's friend Jonathon got married last Sunday. Mel and I attended. It was gorgeous, the ceremony was moving and awe-inspiring (I cried... twice), I met several really interesting people and caught up with Erin (hanging with Erin usually makes my day). I only knew Jonathon by reputation; I've really been impressed with his work at the Amala Foundation. I talked with Maya's dad while waiting in line to use the restroom, and that is one deep, spiritual dude. Considering their extensive travels, diverse knowledge seeking and positive intentions, I look forward to becoming better acquainted with both Jonathon and Maya in the future, and was delighted to have the opportunity to share in their nuptials, and I wish them many happy years together.

At the Love ATX meeting Monday I caught up with and shared some amazing experiences, delicious food and most excellent tea with my most beloved Mel and two beloved friends, Daniel R. and my “av-niece” Alex (“like a niece”, derived from avuncular [a real word – look it up] “like an uncle,” which is kind of how I feel about Alex). Also attending were my chi-gong instructor Sol, and presiding over the meeting was, of course, the force of nature that is Jena J.
There was a little classic Persian serendipity that occurred spontaneously during the course of the evening. Naturally Daniel busted out with some old school Sufi wisdom in the form of an aphoristic anecdote at an opportune moment: I LOVE when he does this. I also got to play with a delightful little girl named Leila, named for Rumi's beloved. I adore Rumi and love that name.
I met a lot of fun younger folk with good intentions, and I heard some new phrases: conscious community, sympathetic life system, and unity consciousness. As usual, my overwhelming need to have concrete and specific definitions for terms asserted itself; language is important, and through the process of defining one often refines the ideas which inspire the terms and reveal a term's association with related concepts. This was an informational meeting whose ostensible purpose was to engage prospective volunteers and representatives from similar or complementary local organizations. While I didn't really get definitions from the speakers as to what they meant by those three aforementioned phrases, I spent a portion of the meeting scribbling notes pertaining to what I thought the various persons may have intended by the phrases based on the context of their conversations. I eventually came up with my own working definitions, but they are still in progress and I'm open to redefinitions and refinements. All three terms seem inter-related.

I like Jena's phrase: “conscious community,” and will be applying it from now on to the various communities that Vajra Azaya aids and promotes. I like it much better than the phrase “intentional community,” which we used in our charter and in our mission statement, because most communities are intentional and we are trying to do something a bit different. Towns and organizations have charters, counties have governing bodies, and most countries have constitutions. Towns and cities don't just happen, organizations are typically planned and structured, counties and countries are bounded and defined, and even in less formal groups there is usually some common characteristic, interest, function or activity. Intention exists, it is just the nature of that intention that differs. It seems to me that a conscious community would be a sort of microcosmic collective consciousness, a synergetic gestalt (in the Jungian sense). Add to that the intention to disseminate that worldview and to cooperate with like-minded communities (and/or organizations, and/or groups...), and widespread integrated conscious communities could transform the world (a whole new weldenschuang, to continue using Jungian German words). There are four known ways that living organisms perpetuate their existences: primary transformation of available inanimate and energetic resources (aka – production or decomposition; plants, fungi, archaids and most bacteria), predation, parasitism (viruses, other infectious agents and some worms) and cooperation/symbiosis. While humans are capable of both predation and cooperation, the one that seems to work best for us “intelligent” social animals is cooperation/symbiosis. Creating conscious community takes cooperation to the next level: from a means by which individuals can earn a living to a supportive mutual lifesystem; from an unusual alternative to a cultural norm. Which leads me to “sympathetic life system.”

Daniel R. and Sol are a logo-dynamic duo. Daniel is very cerebral and is fairly reserved about his spirituality; Sol is a smart guy, but one who is more inclined to be open and fluid in spirit. One is conscious and intentional, the other is free and extemporaneous. I relate to both of them. In the classic Stoic tradition of the Greeks deity was conceived as the logos, or universal mind. Daniel and Sol are like the left and right brains of that, and being around the two of them simultaneously can be a truly mind-blowing experience. In the course of a discussion, following something that Daniel said, Sol came up with the idea of a “sympathetic life system.” I don't know what he meant by it, but the phrase has been rolling around in my head ever since. The sympathetic nervous system in the body usually functions below the level of consciousness (unless you are a yogi or are conducting a biofeedback experiment). You really only notice it when something goes awry (e.g. - arrhythmias, asphyxiation, spasms, pain, etc.). To me a sympathetic life system would be one that functions to support the living environment or an ecosystem. It is an interesting way of looking at what I had previously been calling “the vitals.” Or perhaps I misunderstood.

I still don't have a good definition for “unity consciousness,” but I think it might be similar to the old Hive term monis-mind. Monism is the belief that there is only one ultimate substance from which all others derive, that reality is an organic whole, and that any subdivisions of the greater whole are artificial distinctions or illusions. Basically, all that exists are different forms of the same stuff, variations on a theme. Monis-mind was envisioned as a sort of collective gnosis with the logos (aka divine reason, the “overmind/oversoul”). My “snowflake” theory, specifically applied to humanity, but also true in a general sense for everything else, was derived from monism. In the snowflake theory of being, each person is a unique form created of the same stuff and shaped by the same forces; every snowflake assumes a unique configuration, but all are water created by frigid air. Monism is really old, so old that it influenced one of the oldest Greek philosophers, Plato. Plato looked around at all of the various shapes and forms and wondered, if everything is the same substance arising from an organic whole, why are there such a great variety of beings and things? His solution was that this primary elemental stuff was cast into its shapes and forms, like molten metal in a mold. The shape of that casting was the ultimate perfect idea of that thing, its archetype, and the thing itself was an inexact copy, one whose metal was impure or corrupted. Like many of Plato's ideas, this one took hold and held sway in the West until the exclusive dominance of Christianity in the 6th century. Plato had two students who became obsessed with various aspects of the archetypes in their ideal world of shapes and forms: Pythagoras and Aristotle. An obsession with idealized shapes and their relationships inspired Pythagoras to invent geometry, and Aristotle's obsession with form inspired a philosophy which informed the entire western world, becoming the foundation for western civilization. Even in the Christian era Aristotle's influence could be perceived: the intellectual father of Christianity was St. Augustine, a philosopher and lawyer trained in an Aristotelian academy. St. Thomas Aquinas was heavily influenced by Aristotle, as was Martin Luther, the original Protestant. An obsession with idealized shapes and their relationships inspired Pythagoras to invent geometry, and Aristotle's obsession with form informed the entire western world. Western architecture and engineering basically started with Pythagoras; western ethics, law, social organization and government basically started with Aristotle. Contrast those views with the current dominant Western worldview informed by dualism, specifically Cartesian dualism, which segregates what exists (the “stuff” of the universe) into mind and matter. In addition to pluralism (of which there are also several varieties) there also exist several forms of non-Cartesian dualism, most notably that of many Buddhists, who bifurcate “what is” into manifold temporary manifestations, or things which have shape and form, and the eternal void from which the manifestations arise and to which they eventually return, the “no thing.” Things exist at specific places and in discrete times, they are born, created, change, wither, decay, die and decompose or disintegrate; the void is immutable, eternal and omnipresent. The “Thing-ness” of sentient beings is perpetuated by attachment to (or affiliation with, or desire for, or concern about) things, shapes and forms, and beings remain trapped in cycles of manifestation until they can rid themselves of those attachments, affiliations and/or desires. Once those beings have ceased attachment/affiliation/desire or concern for those forms, they perceive the “no-thing” in both themselves and others, and act with compassion and loving-kindness toward all. Those individuals are said to be enlightened, fully conscious, awake. When their physical form expires, having no attachment/desire/affiliation or concern, they rejoin the void, the “no thing,” and do not manifest again as things. The Sanskrit term for this state is nir-va-na (no-thing-ness).
Cartesian dualism seems an unnecessary distinction to me, and one which doesn't jibe with quantum theories of mentation (I call it quantum law... I think any theory which has been consistently proven in thousands of independent tests and applications for nearly a century qualifies as natural law, but I don't get to make those decisions). Monism is a useful and practical philosophy, and functionally it is almost identical to Buddhist non-Cartesian dualism, but it lacks a certain elegance; it is kind of like a number theory which doesn't include zero or the possibility of a null set – incomplete. The West functioned and advanced for over a millenia without the concept of zero, the Greeks lacked it, the Romans lacked it, all of the Middle Age and Medieval European regimes lacked it, and it wasn't until the full acceptance and effective exploitation of the concept of zero that technologically modern civilization happened. Newton and Liebnitz would never have invented calculus without it, science and engineering would still be crude and primitive, and most of the modern world would not exist. In his classic series History and Civilization in China, Joseph Needham explores how Chinese Buddhists invented zero in the 10th century, how via trade it was exported to the Ottoman Empire in the 11th century, and subsequently to the West in the following centuries. I'm certain that the concept of the void, the “no-thing”, had something to do with Buddhists originating the concepts of zero and the null set (a defined set with no constituents). I feel grateful for their concept each time I use technology that would be impossible without it: electric appliances, computers, wireless communication devices, automobiles, and about a hundred thousand other things.

Thank you one and all

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Current Location: Georgetown Texas
Current Mood: satisfied satisfied
Current Music: Fela Kuti

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The very label of postmodern and the term postmodernity implies that which comes after modern, and denotes the terminus of the modern or modernity. Whereas modernity was a plurality of loosely connected philosophies which typically employed similar methods of reason to reach divergent conclusions to a group of common questions about the nature of thought, the self, the universe, and the relation of the individual to the universe, the concerns and questions that postmodernism addresses have proliferated, and many of these so-called schools of thought (and I use the loosest and broadest possible definition of that phrase) are contradictory and mutually exclusive.

Postmodern philosophy seems more concerned with the refutation of previous assumptions, and the exposure of popular myths, delusions, illusions and misconceptions than it does with the promulgation of new universal conceptions. It is thus not a philosophy or school of related philosophies.

At the center of a view of the individual and the universe lie certain assumptions: when those assumptions are refuted and shown to be spurious and are not replaced with other axioms that can generally be shown to be true or accurate based on empirical evidence, then the center becomes a void. When nothing is assumed to be true or real then the very concepts of truth and reality become meaningless and intangible. A negation is not a philosophy (unless one is a nihilist... to quote from the Big Lebowski - nihilism isn't even an ethos, much less a philosophy).

I state this not to devalue the efforts of the postmodernists: many of the illusions and misconceptions of previous eras needed to be discarded, for they excluded many from the common dialogue, and tended to marginalize and alienate those who adhered to divergent views and/or were members of alternative or minority cultures or subcultures. I state this to make the case that when there are no commonly accepted norms there can be no normal (an argument made well by many late modernists and postmodernists). When there is no center no common conceptions are possible; when nothing has gravity then there can be no gravitas; when nothing is held in common, no common or popular culture can arise. In the postmodern universe everything is a matter of opinion and conjecture, truth and reality are entirely subjective and can be altered, accepted or rejected upon a whim at any time under any circumstance. All knowledge is ephemeral, whimsical, and, some might argue, chimerical.

What the postmodernists have done is to wipe the slate clean of obsolete axioms without proposing new universal concepts to replace those lost. What we are left with is a tabula rasa, a vacuum at the center of our collective consciousness.

There is an old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times. An intellectual firmament of infinite freedom and possibility: that is indeed interesting. The current state of ideologic anarchy cannot last: the human mind imposes order and structure on the ideological universe innately - it is part and parcel of our being. A universally accepted law of the known physical universe is the second law of thermodynamics - that all physical systems tend toward simplicity and disorder, and that order and complexity require energy to be developed and maintained. The only known exception to this is life, which consumes and expends enormous amounts of energy to temporarily increase complexity and impose order on disordered and chaotic systems in order to live and reproduce. In the universe of ideas the old orders and structures have been systematically undermined and discredited by the entropy of late modernists and postmodernists in a self-destructive fervor of unmaking, a form of slow intellectual suicide. But we are alive and conscious and filled with the desire to remain so (hence the near-universal fear of death and mental disability). New structures and orders are inevitable if we are to continue to exist in a mutually intelligible way. What remains to be seen is what universal concepts will become generally accepted, how this will occur and how much mental energy this will consume. These are indeed interesting times, and being alive during this era will be fascinating and exciting, if a bit uncertain and disorienting.

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I keep seeing phrases in mainstream periodicals and newspapers such as:

"The United States... the world's oldest democracy." I've seen a dozen or so variations of this over the last 9 months.

I have three problems with this:

1. the first recorded instance of "democracy" in the western world, indeed, the source of the term itself, was Athens, Greece in the 8th century B.C., nearly 2800 years ago.

2. the oldest existing democracy is not the United States, it is Switzerland, whose democratic canton system was originally established in 1376 A.D., almost two centuries before Europeans discovered the land masses in the western hemisphere and four centuries before the Declaration of Independence was penned.

3. the United States is not a democracy, it is a constitutional republic.

I've seen this erroneous assertion stated as fact in:

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Time Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, and several other major publications.

I would like to remind those poorly informed persons in the media of three things:

1. just because a myth is considered common knowledge and many people believe it does not make it a fact
2. some knowledge of history or the subject matter about which one is writing is usually preferable to ignorance, and printing false statements is not just bad journalism, it can also cause those better informed to lose confidence in the veracity and validity of a publication (I've decided that U.S. News and World Report is nothing more than poorly composed propaganda and cancelled my subscription as a result).
3. if in the course of printing and distributing false or unsubstantiated facts a person's reputation, public standing, financial situation or character is questioned, derided, diminished or negatively impacted in any way, that act or acts is/are called "libel" and is both a civil and criminal offense in the United States.

If you want people to trust you and respect your profession, get your facts straight first.

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Current Location: Austin, Texas y'all
Current Mood: annoyed annoyed
Current Music: Ozomatli

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The late, great Isaac Hayes was better known in later years for his film and television roles, especially that of the voice of Chef in the Parker/Stone animated comedy series South Park. While Hayes reached the pinnacle of his popularity and influence on western pop culture during the 1970's, his greatest body of work was produced before the peak of his commercial success.

Hayes was a great rhythm and blues songwriter, and his collaborations with Dave Porter (of Sam and Dave) during the mid-late 1960s include some of the best and most enduring songs of the Stax/Motown/Atco era. Hayes wrote or co-wrote songs for most of the artists signed to Stax Records during the 1960s, artists like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas... and many others.

There are only two discs in the Can You Dig It box set. On the majority of the first disc Hayes is backed by the Stax Studios house band - some combination of Booker T. and the MGs, the Memphis Horns and the Atlantic Records Studio Orchestra. This stuff is great classic rhythm and blues, and Hayes' smoky baritone is positively seductive on many of these tracks. While many of the themes and lyrics are quite dated, the music endures and transcends its era.

The second disc features Hayes' later solo works. While some is excellent, some is fairly mediocre soul.

It is still a good compilation and a tribute to an outstanding and influential career. Hayes' home town of Memphis, Tennessee is considering erecting a statue and a monument to him: great idea; he deserves it.

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Current Location: Austin, Texas y'all
Current Mood: pensive pensive
Current Music: Isaac Hayes

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I work in an institutional, public service environment. The physical environment is that of a middle-sized office building in the low-rent part of town. The building is divided into twelve roughly equal sections with some offices and lots of gray cubicles. As a part of my job I have to walk through one of the twelve sections on a regular basis. There are five whiteboards and about a dozen colored dry-erase pens in this section. The whiteboards are rarely used for the purpose of work-related communication, but instead are used for non-verbal general commentary on a wide variety of topics. Humor is often employed.

Those familiar with the work of micro-sociologist, symbolic interactionist and social psychologist Erving Goffman will immediately recognize this as one of his better known experiments. Goffman designed the experiment and a small group of graduate students administered it. It lasted about a month and studied non-verbal "free" communication, in order to determine fundamental orientations, conceptions of self, small group communication dynamics and "translation" (in the sociological sense). Goffman's study was of civil service office workers. The test subjects were isolated in a wing of an office building and deprived of all forms of entertainment and mental diversion. Then, after a few days of this, four large chalk boards and a sufficient variety of colored chalk in order for each participant to have his or her distinct shade. A subject was selected at random each morning and instructed to pick a topical question to which the other participants could respond. Everything was monitored and recorded, sorted by type and analyzed in several ways; four independent and ten dependent variables were tracked and correlated. The resulting "combined" analysis (first half was qualitative, second half was quantitative) was over 200 pages. The study was novel and innovative and the methods employed, the resulting analysis, and, especially, its conclusions were questioned and the entire affair was considered suspect. There were also ethical issues associated with the methodology.

What Goffman found is what I've also observed here:

1. that the prime motivation of the individuals who write on the chalkboard/whiteboard is not communication
2. that the process engenders a sense of elan, of belonging to something greater than the self or of contributing to something larger than the self
3. that the process, which is an expression of the individual, ironically and counter-intuitively tends to promote conformity and collective or cooperative identities
4. that the actors reveal far more about themselves than they typically intend through this sort of open-ended communication

I'm wondering about this:

1. does anyone in this workgroup (which is primarily IT and other data services workers) have sufficient familiarity with sociology to know that they are re-creating a famous micro-sociology study?
2. if this is a spontaneous thing and there was no design involved... what are the chances of such an experiment just happening? I mean, one of the participants just deciding to do this one day... the chances seem pretty slim and remote

Today there were no questions or responses on the board. I'm going to kind of miss it... although I only participated in it a couple of times, I did enjoy reading the board and I appreciated the fact that it was there.

... might be more on this later...

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Current Location: Austin, Texas
Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
Current Music: Bob Dylan - Suddenly Sweet Marie

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What are some gripping opening lines from films or books, and why do you think they work so well?
Oh my goodness... so many great opening lines, so little time...

I'll stick to printed fiction...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."

"Life is one long tedious descent into hell and this is my travelogue."

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." 

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Who do you care about most in your life?
Three way tie,
Me, myself and I

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If you started a restaurant, what would it serve, what would it look like and what would you name it? You have an unlimited budget.
 Flippant, whimsical and (hopefully) humorous response: I wouldn't so much serve "what" as "who." At The Long Pig Bistro (alternate name: "To Serve Man") people would be garnished with delicacies from their native land and cooked in the traditional styles of their nation of origin. Every nationality, ethnic group and style of cuisine would be represented. And with that unlimited budget I would then abscond to a portion of the Earth that lacked an extradition treaty with any portion of the "civilized" world. Motto: "Have a Friend for Dinner."


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Who is your favorite fictional character? Why do you love them? What fictional character bugs you?
 Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment). Runner up: the "subway Satan" from Bulgakov's Master and Margarita (the concept of a Mephistopheles-like character riding public transit amuses me). Holden Caulfield bugs me.


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