Archive for the 'Nonclassified Nonsense' Category

Hare Krishna

11 March 2018 at 9:15 am
by Berck

The manager of one of the teams in Bangalore has insisted on showing us around this weekend. Yesterday, we went to the Veerabhadra Temple. I’m not sure what I imagined, but it didn’t really fit any idea of “temple” I had in my head.

I don’t understand any religion from a rational basis, but Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common, familiar structure that I can understand to be comforting for some. Paganism is far removed but has, for me, a coherent literary structure and while I’ve never encountered contemporaneous practice, historical practice seems logical.

Hinduism, from my very first exposure has seemed nearly impenetrable. I suspect this is at least in part due to the lack of effort I’ve put into it, but even its practitioners come across to me as confused. The brief facts I know about Hinduism seem as though my childhood textbook writers picked arbitrary facts that were easy to convey with single words: polytheism, reincarnation, caste-system. None of which make any effort to get any core belief.

And maybe that’s because Hinduism isn’t actually a religion in the same sense of other religions I’m familiar with. From Wikipedia:

Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist. Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. The religion “defies our desire to define and categorize it”. Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and “a way of life”. From a Western lexical standpoint, Hinduism like other faiths is appropriately referred to as a religion. In India the term dharma is preferred, which is broader than the western term religion.

My notion of a temple is thus rooted in my experience with temples I’ve known thus far: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and quite a few pagan ruins.

The Veerabhadra Temple is an odd (to me, but common for India) architectural ruin and functioning temple. The outside is surrounded by engraved, well-worn columns, frescoed ceilings, dirt floors. The frescoes are fading or have disappeared and the figures in the columns are eroding. There is no apparent effort to preserve the 500-year-old structure. Visitors touch the columns. The place is dirty.

On the inside, there are several idols attended to by priests (?). Devotees provide a small donation, and are rewarded with some words, some color smeared in their foreheads, some coconut water, maybe some fruit. I don’t really understand the exchange of fruit, as it seems to go both ways. The atmosphere inside is loud and chaotic and dingy and doesn’t resemble any sort of religious practice as I know it.

The drive to the temple was several hours and it was several hours back. I requested that today we see things in vicinity of Bangalore since we only had one day and it seemed like a city of 12 million probably had some interesting attractions without driving far away.

We started today by visiting ISKCON temple in town, home of the Hare Krishnas. We drove for nearly an hour and got to the temple only to discover that our coworker-guide had blindly followed his GPS to a small subsidiary temple and not at all the large temple we were trying to visit. We removed our shoes and visited anyway. I was permitted to take photographs of the idols.

We then drove for a long while down unpaved “roads” as our guide relied on Google Maps directions to navigate back to the correct temple. Google maps has a very good idea of where there are gaps between the buildings in Bangalore. Unfortunately, it thinks all of them are passable roads, and that’s simply not the case.

We eventually made it back to some main roads, and then after another hour, reached the temple we’d set out to see. Unlike the ancient temple it was built relatively recently. I was not allowed in wearing my shorts and to rent a dhoti to cover my obscene white legs, which greatly amused my coworkers.

The time spent in the temple itself was about 10% of the time spent in the massive complex of gift shops that you must pass through in order to exit. My coworkers were awfully interested in the various tchotchkes, but the perfumes and incense were more than I could take. While waiting for them, various Indians came by and took selfies with me. I’m not sure if they were amused because I was white, wearing a dhoti with a t-shirt, have a large beard, or the maybe the entire package. In any case, I’m probably lighting up Indian instagram.

At first I was glad to be able to walk around barefoot, but India is hot and my poor feet have grown soft since my days of perpetual barefootedness. I’m pretty sure I have blisters on my feet.

After another hour of driving and some back and forth about lunch after I requested spicy goat biryani, we arrived here for lunch. It’s apparently somehow related to this guy. I think.

In any case, the food was served on banana leaves and was quite good. Sadly, the biryani was only available as “medium” spicy, but it was still quite good. Instead of plates, the food is served on banana leaves and no silverware was offered. I’m not good at eating rice with my hands. We had a half-dozen different things, and they were all quite tasty. It was spicy enough to make me sweat, which is a good sign, but then all of India is hot enough that I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped sweating.

The Mansion

28 January 2018 at 10:07 pm
by Jonah

When I was in grade school, we had a class where we’d write journal entries and our superintendent would have various students read aloud their entries to the rest of the school.  The favorites were the ones written by the older kids that were obvious rip-offs of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, substituting the names of their classmates.  We’d beg for the next installments to hear what happened.

No one ever asked for me to read my writing.

I wasn’t a very good writer and never had anything terribly interesting to write about. Also, I was a little kid.

One day on the way home from church, my dad made a right turn off our route home, then another right turn down a one-lane driveway.  “Let’s see where this goes!” he said.

Looking back, I’m sure my dad knew exactly where it went.

Dad knew things.  He knew that the tiny gas station with filthy restrooms halfway between our house and my grandparents’ house stocked Yoohoo.  He knew that the vending machine in the workshop of the construction company where he worked had grape Nihi, even though the button you had to mash to get one was just handwritten in.  He also knew that if you shimmied along between the side of the workshop and the fence separating the construction company’s lot to the next door neighbor, you’d come to an apple tree brimming with delicious apples with a branch than overhung the fence and you could pick all the apples you wanted at will.

He had  to know about the long driveway leading to the south with tree limbs overhanging, the weeds growing up tall between the tire tracks.  When you’re a kid and don’t know how to drive a car, if you think about it, a one-lane drive is treacherous.  What if a car comes up the other way?  Will you crash?  Will you come to a standstill?  Will one of the cars have to back up the whole way?  What if the driver isn’t that great at backing up?  Will you crash? Etc.

We drove what seemed like miles, the bright sun disappearing behind the thick canopy of live oak limbs overhead.  Finally, Dad stopped the car.

We got out and stepped into an overgrown garden.  A gigantic fountain lay dry in the center of the garden.  Horticulture and weeds jockeyed for position in the sun’s rays.  This garden had clearly once been splendid.

Beyond the garden was the most beautiful house I had ever seen.  It was tall, stately, ornate, and at the same time decrepit  and a little creepy.  It was huge.  Even in the bright southern sun, it seemed cold and foreboding.

“Let’s take a look around!” my dad said.  My mom, always game for a bit of adventure, began peeking in windows. It was no use. All we could see was darkness inside.

My parents chatted about how much the mansion was worth.  “How would you like to move into that?” my dad asked, obviously rhetorically.

No creatures emerged to assault us.  No ghosts appeared. Nothing bad happened.  When we had looked around at everything there was to see, we piled back in the car to continue our journey home.

Still, this was the most exciting thing that had happened to me in months.  I couldn’t wait to write about it in my writing class.  Maybe I’d even get called on to read it out loud.  I was contemplating the adjectives I’d use.  The house was just so beautiful.  I mentioned all of this out loud.

“Oh,” my dad said, “No, don’t tell anyone about this.”  While tramping around an abandoned out-of-the-way mansion wasn’t illegal, it isn’t the sort of thing you want to go around advertising.

That week I wrote about something else.  Mushrooms, maybe.  Or socks.

(I should probably point out to my parents that I am now publishing this story publicly.)

Operation Barbacoa

1 January 2018 at 3:02 pm
by Jonah

Operation barbacoa: two blisters and two bags of charcoal (to melt through the frost layer) and many hours later

Berck is exultant about his hole.  The leg of lamb is thawing in the laundry room and a stack of maguey leaves is waiting in the garage.  Berck has fashioned wire handles for the pot from Mexico.

We have test-fit the grate on the pot. We have firewood stock-piled next to the hole. We have a plywood cover and tarp ready for the hole. There are garbanzo beans soaking in water upstairs.

Tomorrow morning, we have to get up super early to make a fire.

Step one, giant fire in a giant hole early in the morning.

Roasting maguey.  On shelf support brackets, the Mexican way.

Lamb, wrapped in maguey, in the hole…

Now we spend the next 8 hours wondering if there is enough heat in there…

The moment of truth.

No go.  The meat is still raw.

Next day 2nd try.

Need more wood.  Doesn’t everyone do fire mitigation cutting down dead aspens on Christmas morning?

We have cooked meat! Second attempt much more like success. Wonderful rare roasted lamb, delicious chicken. Doesn’t taste anything like barbacoa, but still quite good.

Potatoes and beans did not cook.  Rice turned into mush.  But we have a hole ready for our next attempt!

My superpower

9 December 2017 at 8:49 am
by Jonah

I have a superpower.

I only discovered it recently, though it turns out it had been there all along.

And for the longest time I thought it was my greatest weakness.

I was continually chastised for it.  I fought to suppress it.  I sought counseling and read books on the subject.

My greatest weakness is anger.

I’m angry all the time.  Even when I am relaxed, joking around, having a good time… I’m still angry.  I’m angry at carelessness and waste.  I’m angry about inefficiency and injustice.  I’m angry because of inattention and cruelty.

A turning point in my journey (and my life) was reading Make Anger Your Ally by clinical psychologist Neil Clark Warren.  Anger, he explains, is a natural internal response that prepares us to cope with hurtful, frustrating and fearful experiences. Anger is a physical state of readiness. When we are angry, we are prepared to act.

Of course, my first reaction when I’m acutely angry is to slam doors, kick a hole through a wall, or burn a building down.  And without developed self-control, I would be completely destructive and do all of those things.

But I’ve learned I can channel this force.  This is why I make phone calls to the mayor’s office and leave voicemails while stopped at unnecessarily long traffic lights.  This is why I write letters to airlines demanding partial refunds.  This is why I attend my neighborhood’s special water district board meetings when we haven’t had any water for three weekends in a row. And all those things got fixed.

And I get to use my superpower at work.  I work at a law firm that helps injured workers get the medical treatment they need and the lost wages they’ve missed.  I get to use my superpower making phone calls, writing nasty letters, drafting snarky court motions.

Anger isn’t wrong.  It isn’t a sin.  The Bible says God gets angry.  The Apostle Paul says not to let the sun go down on your anger.  But that’s good advice.  Anger gives you immediate energy to get things done.  Do the constructive thing you can while you’re still angry.  Don’t wait until tomorrow if you can.

I’ve learned to embrace my anger.  I still slip up sometimes, especially when I’m very tired.  But I’ve learned that, when I feel that rage starting to explode, I should look around to see what I can do in that moment to act to fix the problem that’s making me angry.  And then I do it with an energy that I would never normally have.

My superpower is anger.

The System Doesn’t Work

2 December 2017 at 2:50 pm
by Berck

The following is a Facebook comment. I’m putting it here to see if I still think the same way in a few years, and Facebook is a black hole where things go to die. None of this is saying anything much I haven’t said before, but I like to go back and see what I used to think. For context, the comment that spawned it was:

I’m just amazed that Trump got elected by working/middle class folks on a campaign about catering to them and not the rich, and then passed one of the biggest tax bills for the rich ever. And then said it was a great thing for them.

I’m not surprised at all. This is the fallacy of democracy, especially our democracy. The premise is that an informed electorate will elect representatives that they believe will represent their best interests. But that’s not how it works at all.

First, the electorate is not informed. I think until this election, there was a lot of hope that the “democratization of information” brought about by the internet would lead to a better-informed populace. Instead, it’s lead a populace that better misinformed. The vast majority of Americans (including, from what I can tell from my Facebook feed, lots of people I know, both liberals and conservatives) are completely unable to distinguish fact from fiction from propaganda from click-bait. The hardcore conservatives are somewhat worse in that they truly believe that news organizations that actually work really hard to vet their stories (The NY Times, The Washington Post) are simply spewing liberal lies. But I see plenty of insanity from liberals as well. We have a large number of conservatives that believe Hillary was running a child sex trafficking ring, and liberals will believe any amount of insanity that has the word “Russia” in it.

Second, I think we all know that representatives don’t work in the best interest of the people who elected them. The best of them truly believe they’re making the country better as a whole, but spend most of their time accruing actual and political capital which they can then spend in furtherance of those (often-misguided) goals. The worst of them act solely in their own best interests.

Next, the motivations of the electorate is also a complete fallacy. In general, we vote for people that we believe are part of our in-group, our tribe. Sometimes that comes down on racial, ethnic or gender lines, but more often it’s far more subtle. But when you say that Trump got elected by a working/middle class on a campaign about catering to them, you miss their actual motivations.

They didn’t vote for Trump because they believed that they would be better off personally if Trump were elected. (I think they did believe this, it just wasn’t important.). They sincerely believed that:

(1) Hillary is a criminal who will destroy the country.
(2) Their way of life is under attack from those who are not like them.
(3) Trump is highly authoritarian, and Trump voters really, really like authoritarianism. (Don’t get confused, they call it freedom, but what they’re talking about when they say “freedom” is actually exactly the opposite.)

So, really, don’t be surprised. Trump voters are not upset because they believe the story that this tax plan is good for them, and even if it’s not, the Democrats would have done something worse. And Trump voters don’t hate the rich, and aren’t bothered by a tax plan that is a gift to the rich. They truly believe that as long as *someone* can get rich, they can, too.

I was hoping Trump would win so we could stop pretending like our system works. Sadly, we’re still pretending. Our democracy doesn’t work, and I think Trump has made it clear that it doesn’t. I’m almost as annoyed at “The Media” as Trump is, because they continue to cover Trump as though he has an actual grasp on reality when he makes it abundantly clear, every day, that he does not.

I told you awhile ago that I don’t believe it will genuinely matter whether or not Trump is elected, and I think I stand by that. Nothing much has happened except that now you’re angry instead of the Trump voters, who were angry and aren’t now.

Things that Trump has done that are bad:
(1) He’s basically decimated the workforce of every federal agency. Fortunately, those agencies were already doing a fairly terrible job, so the fact that they’re now doing a much worse job isn’t that noticeable. Thus far, I can still get a passport, send mail, and get an ATC clearance.
(2) He’s damaged what remaining foreign good will we had in a lot of places. By blocking refugees (including thousands of people who worked for the U.S military in the middle east), he’s pretty much insured that no one in the middle east will help us again on our next ill-fated quest to spread freedom. Fortunately, he hasn’t actually done anything to go spread freedom, and I’m pretty sure Hillary would have by now (since she said she would. Trump did too, but not even he knows what he says.)
(3) The refugee thing is terrible in lots of other ways. Many people that we could have helped have died, and countless more will die, because he doesn’t like Muslims. This is one point where Trump has actually managed to do real harm in ways that Hillary wouldn’t have, and Dubya didn’t.
(4) This tax bill. In the end, it’s probably going to make wealth inequality a little worse, but it’s so bad already, how much difference will this practically make? The deficit shortfalls are way worse than Hillary could have managed with a republican congress, but I’m not sure that matters in the long run. It’s still nowhere near the damage Dubya did with the unfunded wars. Since we’re never going to pay back the debt much less balance the budget, I don’t think the fallout (if there ever is any) is likely to be much different as a result of this. I do think cutting the corporate tax rate is a good thing, but doing that without compensating by raising the capital gains tax is pure stupidity.
(5) He clearly doesn’t understand freedom, and has supported, enacted, and tried to enact countless measures that are blatant violations of fundamental rights. This isn’t a surprise. It differs slightly from, say, Obama who talked the talk about civil liberties, then quietly executed american citizens by drone without due process. Hillary was pretty much in line with Obama on this, so it’s a net neutral. Still nowhere near anything on the scale of what Dubya managed with the powers he got under the Patriot Act.

Those are the major things, and really, in perspective, it’s just hard to get that upset about them. I do think that the United States (and, in fact, humanity as a whole) is not on a sustainable path. That said, I think it’s a very slow decline and Trump is such a small part of the big picture that it’s just not worth getting upset over.