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Diner Newz & Multimedia / Just finished my new online CD "Fish Man"
« on: January 20, 2018, 06:51:45 PM »
My fifteen year old midi guitar controller died. I decided to search for a new one. I found the cheapest one I could find, and then a place that was selling a used one for 1/2 price. I bought it. It is wireless and fits nicely on my semi hollow body guitar.
  Now I  have formed a new band and have called it "Fish Man". Me on keyboard. Me on Bass. Me on Guitar. Me on Horns and Strings and Pads. Me on Lead instrument.  The discerning listener will notice I have a formula for the creation of the songs. It is intended, because I am old and tired of getting complicated. I have presented various styles of music in this compilation with some new and exciting lead instruments.

Enjoy if you can. ( that is the title of my first cassette of original music 32 years ago )

The Kitchen Sink / I don't want to put Emojii's in my newz titles
« on: January 20, 2018, 11:17:03 AM »
This new idea of putting an emojii in the title has the following problems for me...

1. It interrupts the the flow of my transfer of the intended context of my newz posting.

2. It changes the context of the title by adding a symbol that doesn't come close to representing the language.

3. It adds a lot of extra time to look up the emojii and the search until you find something that really doesn't work for the title.

4. I don't want  to compromise the impact of the title in plain language with a barely related icon.

5. When you say "I am issuing a new style directive on the Diner", you surely mean it is optional, right?

There is a new icebreaker in the international diplomatic circuit. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call at the UN General Assembly for declaring an International Yoga Day has gained support from several quarters — many representatives from Congress and President Obama as well have shown keen interest in yoga.

From being an ancient spiritual pursuit for those seeking enlightenment, yoga has been absorbed into mainstream lifestyle by people from all cultures and backgrounds across the globe. And now it has also arrived in the global political arena. Good governance and administration require multi-faceted skills and yoga brings skill in action. In fact, it was called Raja Yoga because it was practiced by kings and princes in the ancient days.

Yoga became popular in the West as a solution to lose weight or as a physical exercise and people also found relief from many ills such as stress, anxiety, professional burnout, addictions and insomnia. In additions to its remedial properties, yoga is also a path to realize and harness your deepest potential.

It has a profound impact on multiple levels of our existence. While stretches and postures make the body supple, pranayama and meditation take the mind deep within. An unknown dimension opens up within our being that enriches the experience of life in many ways. There are several benefits of yoga — it enhances health, improves memory and concentration, sharpens the intellect, de-stresses the system and increases energy levels. It also unveils an intuitive ability within us, which is much needed for creative pursuits and in overcoming obstacles like the writers’ block.

According to Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the oldest known text on the subject, yoga is freedom from all the distortions of the mind. If we observe the mind, we will realize that it is always engaged in one of five things:

1. Seeking proof or answers
2. Forming conclusions
3. Imagining or fantasising
4. Remembering past events or memories
5. Dreaming

Yoga or union with the Higher Self happens when the mind is not engaged in any of the above. You usually identify with the activity in the mind. In the waking state, you are caught up in all that you see, smell, hear, touch, taste. If not, you return to sleep or to the state of dreaming where you are completely cut off from the world. None of these really give that deep rest that the system needs to totally recover from the stress that it gathers.

In the physical realm, it takes effort to get results. In the realm of the mind, what is needed is effortlessness. For instance, you cannot relax or go to sleep by putting effort; in fact, putting effort is counterproductive. It takes a certain kind of skill to become effortless. The ability to deeply relax renews your ability to be dynamic in action. Passion is like the in-breath but you cannot just breath in; you need to breath out as well and that is dispassion. Life becomes a harmony when we have all three — passion, dispassion and compassion.

Often one has to sacrifice personal freedom to some degree to observe discipline. But yoga is a discipline that opens the door to inner freedom, contradictory as it seems. With practice, you acquire the knack of switching between different modes of the mind, from engaging with the outside world to withdrawing from it and going within; between passion and dispassion. This skill of moving outward or inward at will makes you the master of your own mind, and when you win over the mind, you win over the world.

The Kitchen Sink / Oh, the glories of country living!
« on: January 12, 2018, 03:51:29 PM »

The Monastery - From left to right. Animal cottage and chicken pen, Old house, pump house, tavern building/our house.

Today, about 10am our water stopped running. Our pump house that I built is 15ft square and 4ft high. It is well insulated and we put a light bulb inside when the temp drops below 20 degrees, and put a space heater in when it drops below 10 degrees, just to make sure the pipes inside don't freeze. It is located down our pasture, across a frozen creek, and down the old driveway about 200 yards from the converted tavern to house we live in. Misa walked over to check the pressure gauge, came back and said we have 0 pressure, and the space heater was still on. We figured that the pressure regulator device had gone bad. She drove 20 miles to town and got a new pressure regulator and some fuses, while I gathered the tools necessary to take the bad one off and replace it with the new one. I took a short nap and when I awoke she was back. It is 16 degrees here with a wind chill of 9 degrees.  We trekked over to the pump house and began the operation.
  When I unscrewed the pressure regulator, the last of the pressured water came spraying out. It got everywhere. Then we attached a small hose to the spicket inside to drain the rest. If the pressure drops to far we have to pump up the tank with air with a small electrical air pump, so I was working fast. I couldn't get the the regulator off the pipe it was attached to. While trying to do so I broke the pressure gauge and she had to go back into town to get a new one while I went back across to try to get the regulator off the pipe. In doing so I smashed my shin with a hammer as deflected off the vice grips I had attached to the pipe while holding the regulator stable on the floor. I still couldn't get it off. I decided to go put it in the table mounted vice in the garage, which is connected to the tavern building, and use a small piece of rebar to turn it, it came off. Now I had to go back over to the pump house to get the new regulator to place it on the pipe. Put teflon tape on each end of the pipe and screwed the new one in place. She returned with the gauge at about the same time. We walked over to put the two new gadgets on, plus two new fuses. On the wet floor I began to work, but my glasses were fogging up so bad I had to take them off, and it is hard for me to see anything in detail without them. So basically working by feel, I attached the new gauge, put the wiring back on, which Misa diagrammed on her cell phone, and put on the gauge. Put one fuse in, and the other refused to cooperate for 10 minutes, but finally did.
    I flipped the electricity back on and WAH LA, it worked, and not only worked but she happened to get a higher pressure regulator and our water is blasting out the faucets. I haven't taken a shower in two years because the pressure is so low . I hand wash my whole body about once a month. I think now the shower will work great. Yahoo!
  If we had called a pro to fix it probably would have cost about $300, we did it for $40, plus we would have had to wait for a day or two to get them here. As many of you know I am taking Prednisone, and I drink about 12 glasses of water each day.
  When I woke this morning I had the strangest song running through my mind. It was frantic and made little since to what I normally create, but I did my best to create the obscure song, and called it "Forced". Go figure!
  I chose this life style in a monastery because I desired to know what life and our universe/s "are" the best I could. With a vow of poverty, and bailing wire and duct tape, we have kept this place going for 34 years. I wouldn't have it any other way.

The Kitchen Sink / Results of my sinus CT scan
« on: January 06, 2018, 03:31:47 PM »
The Doctor emailed..."    Frank,
    Your CT scan does not show evidence of significant sinus disease, so maybe no
    sinus infection anymore.  Even though you're not sneezing that much so might be
    unusual, but I suppose this could be allergies.  We're going to call you in
    Prednisone, an anti-inflammatory medication, to see if that helps.  In the
    meantime, can re-try Allegra or Claritin or Zyrtect, all over-the-counter.
    You do have a couple of bad teeth on the CT scan, and the Radiologist suggests
    that you see a dentist.

So no surgery, yea!!! Hope this stuff works!

  I have no idea of the cost of the surgery, or what type I will need yet. I have no health insurance and it will be self pay. The limited facial/sinus scan is $385. If the cost od surgery is too much, I will be busted, so I might not get it, and if it gets too bad, i will take a long dirt if anyone has any ideas on how I should proceed I would appreciate it.


Diner TV / Album: Knarfs Music
« on: December 14, 2017, 04:11:56 AM »
Audio list — 1 audio file from one album
My music is create.

12th day of Christmas (2:22)

Knarfs Music
I was on my morning walk yesterday and realized today begins the 12th day before Christmas. I started hearing the song in my head and wondered if it arranged as a round. So I downloaded a midi version of it, and arranged it with three rounds. What do you think? Does it sound like a reasonable 3 part round?


Human rights and Palestinian solidarity activists frequently mention violations of international law and the commission of war crimes by the state of Israel. The IPSC National Coordinator Kevin Squires took a look at some of these offences in detail for Liberty, the monthly newspaper of SIPTU, the largest trade union in Ireland.

It was part of a four page ‘Palestine Special’ in the September edition, which also included contributions from Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu, Dr. Claudia Saba of Gaza Action Ireland, and Mags O’Brien of Trade Union Friends of Palestine. You can read the whole section online by clicking here on pages 15 to 18 (PDF).

Collective punishment

Israel operates a military policy of collective punishment called the ‘Dahiya doctrine’, after the area in Lebanon where it was first used by Israeli forces in 2006. Simply put, the doctrine sees massive force being used upon the civilian population in order to exert political pressure on enemy forces. Aside from being a classic definition of the word “terrorism”, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines collective punishment as a war crime, stipulating that “No persons may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited … Reprisals against persons and their property are prohibited.”

Settlements and Annexations

The first Israeli settlements were built in late 1967, immediately following the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.  Today over half a million Jewish-Israelis live in such settlements. As Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that it is illegal for an occupying power to “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”, all such settlements are thus war crimes. UN Security Council Resolution 446 declares settlements have “no legal validity”.

In 1980 Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem as Israel’s “complete and united” capital. UNSC Resolution 478 declares the annexation “a violation of international law” which is “null and void and must be rescinded.” UNSC Resolution 497 similarly states that Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights in also illegal. 

The Wall

In 2002 Israel began building 710km a barrier consisting of 8m high concrete walls, military watchtowers and barbed-wire fences on Palestinian land. Israel claims its purpose it to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel, but its route winds deep within the West Bank –only 15% of its route follows the Green Line border– leading  it to be dubbed the ‘land grab’ or ‘Apartheid’ wall. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (The World Court) issued an Advisory Opinion regarding the legality of the wall, stating that the wall “and its associated régime, are contrary to international law” and called for reparations for those affected by its construction.

Right of Refugees’ Return

Between 1947 and 1949 Jewish-Israeli military forces ethnically cleansed at least 750,000 Palestinians from what became the state of Israel, representing some 85% of the indigenous Palestinian population. 1967, Israel forced around 300,000 people (around half of them already refugees from 1948) from their homeland. Today, refugees and their descendants number, at a conservative estimate, around five million people. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”  Under Article 147 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, “unlawful deportation or transfer … of a protected person” constitutes a grave breach of the Convention.

For six decades Israel has refused Palestinian refugees their Right of Return; UN General Assembly Resolution 194 states that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” This resolution has been reaffirmed many times over by UNGA. Opponents of Palestinian rights claim 194 is irrelevant as UNGA resolutions are non-binding, however Israel’s accession to the UN was predicated upon its acceptance. Furthermore, the resolution is merely an acknowledgement of the specific applicability of the right of return to Palestinian refugees which, according to the Cambridge Journal of International & Comparative Law can be found in eight branches of international law: inter-State nationality law, law of State succession, human rights law, humanitarian law, law of State responsibility, refugee law, UN law, and natural/customary law.

The Siege of Gaza

Since 2007, the 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip have existed under a regime of land, sea and air closure, known as the Siege, or Blockade, of Gaza. This siege has kept Gaza on the brink of a humanitarian disaster for the past seven years, a policy described by an Israeli official as being to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” There is broad consensus amongst human rights organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as UN offices such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that this siege is illegal. UNOCHA called it “collective punishment, a violation of international humanitarian law,” while outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has stated that it “is illegal and should be lifted.”

UN Resolutions

Israel is currently in breach of, or has been the subject of, over 30 UN Security Council resolutions directed at it alone for violations which it has never taken action to remedy.


Last week, the world was informed of yet another expansion of Israeli "settlements" by the Netanyahu government. Israel announced plans for 285 new units in the West Bank, and the retroactive approval of 178 units that were built in the 1980s. Part of an ongoing series of announcements, Israel has now advanced plans for 1,700 new units since July 1.

The UN Mideast Envoy, Nicolay Mladenov, was incensed. "Israeli settlements in occupied territory have no legal validity and are an obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

And the response from Canada and its federal political parties: silence.

    Such announcements must be met with firm and repeated condemnation, by Canada and all other governments.

Global Affairs Canada must have considered the 24 hours after Israel's announcement to be a slow news cycle. Their only press statement announced Minister Dion's upcoming travel to Micronesia.

But Israel's ongoing construction of settlements in the West Bank is no small matter. Such announcements must be met with firm and repeated condemnation, by Canada and all other governments that give lip service to human rights and the rule of law. Here's why.

As Mladenov observed, Israel's settlements are illegal under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention states, "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

In 1958, the Red Cross explained the basis for this prohibition, stating:

    [This article] is intended to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons [...] to colonize those territories. Such transfers worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race.

Thus, Israel's settlements are colonies, with all the pejorative meanings. And with each Israeli colonial expansion in the West Bank, Palestinians struggle to maintain their livelihoods and their communities.

Aside from the illegality and inhumanity of Israel's settlements, they also spell dire trouble for the oft-touted "two state solution" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Global Affairs Canada states, "Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace."

Individually, all Canadian parties have expressed wholehearted support for the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why is it, then, that neither our government nor any of our political leaders lament the growth of these Israeli settlements which are repeatedly hailed as a significant impediment to peace?

It's like two people arguing over how to divide a pizza while one of them eats it. It's no wonder that Mladenov asserted, "It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine [Israeli] intention to work toward a viable two-state solution."

There are different mechanisms of enforcement for international law. Formally, there are international bodies -- the ICC, the ICJ and others -- that are occasionally brought to bear effectively. Far more frequently, it is informal mechanisms that enable international law to bring positive change: collective condemnation, and a desire for international legitimacy.

    Canada is not a military superpower, but it can be a moral superpower.

The condemnation of Canada, its government and its political leaders is far more powerful than many might realize. While it may feel like empty hand wringing to some, history has repeatedly shown that if enough voices are raised, intransigent governments will move.

In one meeting I had several years ago with the foreign affairs critic of a major Canadian party, I asked him about the last time his party had condemned Israeli settlement building.

"Well, Tom," he explained, "Our disapproval of Israeli settlements is well known."

"But when was the last time you actually issued a statement?" I pressed.

"Well, we can't repeat the same thing in statement after statement."

I repeated, "But when was the last time you actually issued a statement of condemnation?"

He didn't have an answer for me.

In a final appeal for action last week, Mladenov said something which should give pause to everyone, regardless of where they stand on the conflict: "For years we have been managing this conflict, while the occupation has continued, Palestinians have been dispossessed, and a one-state reality has been establishing itself on the ground." If Mladenov is right, Palestinians may soon be echoing the battle cry against Apartheid South Africa: "One [hu]man, one vote!"

Canada is not a military superpower, but it can be a moral superpower. Canada may not be the host of Mideast peace talks, but it can grease the wheels for such talks. But to be either, our political leaders have to have the courage of their convictions.

In the meantime, silence is acquiescence.

The recent explosion of the Gaza War, rooted in a long feudal history between Israel and Palestine, has sparked international debate.

The 25-day conflict may be halfway across the world from United States, but it is not far from the minds of black Americans. HuffPost Live hosted a discussion on Thursday, about where black American allegiance should fall on the sides of this conflict, especially in light of recent comparisons drawn to the American Civil Rights Movement.

Kristian Davis Bailey, a research assistant at the Martin Luther King Institute at Stanford University, asserted that black Americans should oppose Israeli attacks of Palestine on the premise of the nation’s “colonial” ambition.

“I think that first and foremost what’s important to note is that Israel is a colonial project and as black people, we have a tradition, a right, and an obligation to oppose colonial projects.”

He further tied the struggle of black Americans to that of Palestinians in highlighting “material connections” between the oppression of both peoples. These he described in terms of police brutality and civilian interaction with law enforcement.

“The Israeli military will train with police units across the United States, the same private prison companies that detain Palestinians in Israel — which is illegal — also have youth detention facilities in the United States, South Africa, and around the world.”

Lawfare Project fellow Chloé Valdary, alternatively framed a case for siding with Israel’s right to act in Gaza based on the terminology of Bailey’s position. She first affirmed that Zionism is, by definition — according to W.E.B. DuBois — an anti-colonialist movement.

Valdary also blamed the use of terms such as “colonize” and “occupy” for “perpetuating colonialism” in the discussion of Israel, based on the origins of the term “Palestine” itself — originally coined by a roman imperialist.

However Dr. Anthony Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of the Humanities at Rice University, finds fault in discussing the current crisis in Gaza through ideology rooted in “biblically based claims.”

“You can’t resolve political economic and social dilemmas through an appeal to metaphysical claims that are theologically grounded.”

He acknowledged the logic for which black Americans could theoretically side with either nation, but ultimately condemned the violence of Israel’s attack in defense of Palestine.

“African Americans know well the desire to preserve personhood and to do that within the context of community, we understand that on the part of Israel and Palestine, but this appeal to religion allows for brutalization, dehumanization, extreme violence that should not be tolerated.”

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
- Autobiographical dictation, 30 June 1907. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2 (University of California Press, 2013)

From MINNEAPOLIS TRIBUNE, 14 February 1901.
Bottom caption: "Better quit your foolin', Mark, and go back and work at your trade."

An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.
- A Tramp Abroad

The new political gospel: public office is private graft.
- More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

Yes, you are right -- I am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go thrashing around in political questions.
- Letter to Helene Picard,
22 Feb 1902

When politics enter into municipal government, nothing resulting therefrom in the way of crimes and infamies is then incredible. It actually enables one to accept and believe the impossible...
- Letter to Jules Hart, 17 December 1901

Look at the tyranny of party -- at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty -- a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes -- and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.
- "The Character of Man," inserted in autobiographical dictation 23 January 1906. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.
- Autobiographical dictation, 24 January 1906. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

I was an ardent Hayes man, but that was natural, for I was pretty young at the time, I have since convinced myself that the political opinions of a nation are of next to no value, in any case, but that what little rag of value they posess is to be found among the old, rather than among the young.
- Autobiographical dictation, 4 February 1907. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (University of California Press 2013)

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.
- Autobiographical dictation, 12 September 1907. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 (University of California Press, 2015)

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
- Autobiographical dictation, 10 July 1908. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 (University of California Press, 2015) of the first achievements of the legislature was to institute a ten-thousand-dollar agricultural fair to show off forty dollars' worth of pumpkins in -- however, the Territorial legislature was usually spoken of as the "asylum".
- Roughing It

...when you are in politics you are in a wasp's nest with a short shirt-tail, as the saying is.
- "The Chronicle of Young Satan"

[In the Galaxy Magazine]: I shall not often meddle with politics, because we have a political Editor who is already excellent and only needs to serve a term or two in the penitentiary to be perfect.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

All large political doctrines are rich in difficult problems -- problems that are quite above the average citizen's reach. And that is not strange, since they are also above the reach of the ablest minds in the country; after all the fuss and all the talk, not one of those doctrines has been conclusively proven to be the right one and the best.
- "The Privilege of the Grave," Who Is Mark Twain?

In Mid August I was cutting vines, and brush away from some tractor implements we were selling, and a few days later woke up with the worst head congestion I have ever teeth even ached. I called my Dentist friend and he said to take Allegra-D, and the pollen count here was super high and I had an allergic reaction. ( I haven't had an allergy in 15 years). I tried it, then Zrtec-D, the Muscenix-D, but nothing helped. I called my doctor and he prescribed Amoxicillin - two week run, didn't work, then another Amoxicillin two week run, didn't work - Leviquin - two week run ( I took one pill and was so sick that night I threw the rest away and some awful reviews from using it.) Anyway I still have constant nasal congestion and my nose feels like it is dripping but when I blow my nose nothing comes out. Today or tomorrow I think I will make an appointment with a ENT doctor, but if any of you have any ideas i would appreciate it.

Spirituality & Mysticism / The dark side of Buddhism
« on: October 04, 2017, 07:13:54 AM »
Buddhism is often seen as the acceptable face of religion, lacking a celestial dictator and full of Eastern wisdom. But Dale DeBakcsy, who worked for nine years in a Buddhist school, says it's time to think again

On paper, Buddhism looks pretty good. It has a philosophical subtlety married to a stated devotion to tolerance that makes it stand out amongst the world religions as uniquely not awful. Even Friedrich Nietzsche, not known for pulling punches when it came to religious analysis, only said of Buddhism that it was "nihilistic", but still "a hundred times more realistic than Christianity." And we in the 21st century have largely followed his lead in sensing something a bit depressing about Buddhism, but nothing more sinister than that. But if we start looking a bit closer, at the ramifications of Buddhist belief in practice, there is a lurking darkness there, quietly stated and eloquently crafted, but every bit as profound as the Hellfires of Christianity or the rhetoric of jihad.

For nine years, I worked as a science and maths teacher at a small private Buddhist school in the United States. And it was a wonderful job working with largely wonderful people. The administration, monks, and students knew that I was an atheist and had absolutely no problem with it as long as I didn't actively proselytise (try and find a Catholic school that would hire a moderate agnostic, let alone a fully out-of-the-closet atheist). Our students were incredibly sensitive and community-conscious individuals, and are my dear friends to this day.


I have no doubt that Buddhist religious belief, as it was practised at the school, did a great deal of harm. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the ramifications of the belief in karma. At first glance, karma is a lovely idea which encourages people to be good even when nobody is watching for the sake of happiness in a future life. It's a bit carrot-and-stickish, but so are a lot of the ways in which we get people to not routinely beat us up and take our stuff. Where it gets insidious is in the pall that it casts over our failures in this life. I remember one student who was having problems memorising material for tests. Distraught, she went to the monks who explained to her that she was having such trouble now because, in a past life, she was a murderous dictator who burned books, and so now, in this life, she is doomed to forever be learning challenged.

Not, "Oh, let's look at changing your study habits", but rather, "Oh, well, that's because you have the soul of a book-burning murderer."

To our ears, this sounds so over the top that it is almost amusing, but to a kid who earnestly believes that these monks have hidden knowledge of the karmic cycle, it is devastating. She was convinced that her soul was polluted and irretrievably flawed, and that nothing she could do would allow her to ever learn like the people around her. And this is the dark side of karma – instead of misfortunes in life being bad things that happen to you, they are manifestations of a deep and fundamental wrongness within you. Children have a hard enough time keeping up their self-esteem as it is without every botched homework being a sign of lurking inner evil.

As crippling as the weight of one's past lives can be, however, it is nothing compared to the horrors of the here and now. Buddhism's inheritance from Hinduism is the notion of existence as a painful continuous failure to negate itself. The wheel of reincarnation rumbles ruthlessly over us all, forcing us to live again and again in this horrid world until we get it right and learn to not exist. I remember one of the higher monks at the school giving a speech in which she described coming back from a near-death experience as comparable to having to "return to a sewer where you do nothing but subsist on human excrement." Life is suffering. It is something to be Finally Escaped.

Now, there are legitimate philosophical reasons for holding to this view. Viewed from a certain perspective, the destruction of everything you've ever cared about is inevitable, and when it's being experienced, the pain of loss does not seem recompensed by the joy of attachment that preceded it. And that yawning stretch of impermanence outside, so the argument goes, is mirrored by the fundamental non-existence of the self inside. Meditation, properly done, allows you to strip away, one by one, all of your merely personal traits and achieve insight into the basic nothingness, the attributeless primal nature, of your existence. Those are all interesting philosophical and psychological insights, and good can come of them. Being hyper-sensitive to suffering and injustice is a good gateway to being helpful to your fellow man and in general making the world a better place.


There is something dreadfully tragic about believing yourself to have somehow failed your calling whenever joy manages to creep into your life. It is in our biology, in the fabric of us, to connect to other human beings, and anything which tries to insert shame and doubt into that instinct is bound to always twist us every so slightly. If the thought, "I am happy right now", can never occur without an accompanying, "And I am just delaying my ultimate fulfillment in being so", then what, essentially, has life become? I've seen it in action – people reaching out for connection, and then pulling back reflexively, forever caught in a life of half-gestures that can't ever quite settle down to pure contemplation or gain a moment of genuine absolute enjoyment.

The usual response that I've gotten to these concerns is, "You're sacrificing truth and wisdom for the sake of feeling good. That's just what you criticise Christianity for, isn't it?" This would be a pretty damn good argument if I were convinced that the conclusions of Buddhist belief were as ironclad as their usually serene-unto-finality presentation makes them seem. There are two central claims here: that our own fundamental essence is non-existence, and that the nature of the outer world is impermanence.

The idea of the void-essence of self is one arrived at through meditation, through exercises in reflection dictated by centuries of tradition. That's enough to give us pause right there – it's not really a process of self-discovery if you're told the method, the steps, and the only acceptable conclusion before you've even begun. Here's the fourteenth (and current) Dalai Lama on how to start a meditation:

    "First, look to your posture: arrange the legs in the most comfortable position; set the backbone as straight as an arrow. Place your hands in the position of meditative equipoise, four finger widths below the navel, with the left hand on the bottom, right hand on top, and your thumbs touching to form a triangle. This placement of the hands has connection with the place inside the body where inner heat is generated."

This is already an unpromising start – if you aren't even allowed variation in the number of sub-navel finger widths for hand placement, how can we hope to be allowed to even slightly differ on the supposed object of inner contemplation? And the text bears this out. When speaking of meditating on the mind, the Dalai Lama manoeuvres his audience into a position where his conclusion seems inevitable:

    "Try to leave your mind vividly in a natural state... Where does it seem that your consciousness is? Is it with the eyes or where is it? Most likely you have a sense that it is associated with the eyes since we derive most of our awareness of the world through vision.... However, the existence of a separate mental consciousness can be ascertained; for example, when attention is diverted by sound, that which appears to the eye consciousness is not noticed... with persistent practice, consciousness may eventually be perceived or felt as an entity of mere luminosity or knowing, to which anything is capable of appearing... as long as the mind does not encounter the external circumstances of conceptuality, it will abide empty without anything appearing in it."

If this reminds you more than a little of Meno, where Socrates leads a slave boy into "rediscovering" the truths of geometry through a combination of leading questions and implied conclusions, you're not alone. Notice the artful vagueness of the phrase "may eventually be perceived or felt as an entity of mere luminosity" - the subtle pressure that, if you don't perceive consciousness that way at first, you must keep trying until something in you falls into line and you end up with the "right" answer to meditative practice. Or take into consideration the construction of the questions - how the second question immediately shuts down any actual consideration of the first, and how the answer to that second question leads to a single special case open to multiple interpretations which are again immediately declared to be explicable by only one single answer. As it turns out, you have as much freedom of inquiry as you had freedom in hand placement. In a curious twist unique to Buddhism, rigidity of method has infected the structure of belief, ossifying potential explanations of existence into dogmatic assertions mechanically arrived at.

The impermanence of the outer world seems more solidly founded. Five billion years hence, I'm pretty sure that this novelty shot glass next to me is not going to exist in any sort of recognisable novelty shot glass form. Nothing in this room will functionally persist as long as you only admit my Use Perspective as the only relevant lens of observation. The matter and energy will both still exist, but they won't exist in the configuration which I am accustomed to. And that, apparently, is supposed to fill me with a sense of existential dread. But it doesn't - at all - and this is the weakness of the conclusions that Buddhism draws from an impermanence theory of the external world. It supposes that I cannot hold in my mind at the same time both an appreciation and attachment to an object or a person as they stand in front of me right now AND a recognition that my use of a particular configuration of matter and energy at the moment doesn't determine how it will exist for all time. Buddhism's approach to use-based impermanence attempts to force us into a false binarism where we must either be the slaves of attachment or the cold observers of transience, and that only one of these offers us a way out of suffering. Compelled by the forced logic of its myopic perspective on self-analysis that we saw above, it opts for the latter, and presents that choice as an inevitable philosophical conclusion.

So, it's not really a choice between Feeling Good and Truth. It's a choice between being able to unambiguously enjoy companionship and a system of thought which uses an ossified methodology bordering on catechism to support a falsely binary approach to our relations with the outside world.

At the end of the day, it's still true that, in many respects, Buddhism maintains its moral edge over Christianity or Islam handily. That instinct for proselytising unto war which has made both of these religions such distinctly harmful forces in the story of mankind is nowhere present. But, the drive to infect individuals with an inability to appreciate life except through a filter of regret and shame is perhaps even more dangerous in Buddhism for being so very much more subtle. Squeezed between the implications of inherited evil instincts and a monolithic conception of what counts as a right answer to the question of one's own personal existence, a young person entering a Buddhist community today is every bit as much under the theological gun as a student at a Catholic school, but because society has such a cheery picture of Buddhist practice, she has far fewer resources for resistance than her Catholic counterpart. And that allows sad things to happen. I would urge, then, that as fulfilling as it is to point out and work to correct the gross excesses of Christianity (and, let's face it, fun too), we can't let the darkness of Buddhist practice go by unremarked just because it works more subtly and its victims suffer more quietly.

MIDDLE-AGED men who reject family life and choose to live alone are more likely to die earlier than their married counterparts, Government figures published yesterday reveal.

They are also significantly more prone than married men to a variety of debilitating illnesses such as diabetes and rheumatism, said the study released by the Office for National Statistics.

The findings come against a backdrop of research which shows that married couples tend to enjoy better health than unmarried people.

Single men over the age of 45 are 23 per cent more likely to die earlier than married men, according to the report, which tracked the progress of around 250,000 men over the course of almost 30 years.

Those who were divorced carried a 31 per cent increased risk of death within the first 10 years of divorce, while those who were widowed were 20 per cent more likely to die sooner than others.

Intra-elite competition is one of the most important factors explaining massive waves of social and political instability, which periodically afflict complex, state-level societies. This idea was proposed by Jack Goldstone nearly 30 years ago. Goldstone tested it empirically by analyzing the structural precursors of the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and seventeenth century’s crises in Turkey and China. Other researchers (including Sergey Nefedov, Andrey Korotayev, and myself) extended Goldstone’s theory and tested it in such different societies as Ancient Rome, Egypt, and Mesopotamia; medieval England, France, and China; the European revolutions of 1848 and the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917; and the Arab Spring uprisings. Closer to home, recent research indicates that the stability of modern democratic societies is also undermined by excessive competition among the elites (see Ages of Discord for a structural-demographic analysis of American history). Why is intra-elite competition such an important driver of instability?

Elites are a small proportion of the population (on the order of 1 percent) who concentrate social power in their hands (see my previous post and especially its discussion in the comments that reveal the complex dimensions of this concept). In the United States, for example, they include (but are not limited to) elected politicians, top civil service bureaucrats, and the owners and managers of Fortune 500 companies (see Who Rules America?). As individual elites retire, they are replaced from the pool of elite aspirants. There are always more elite aspirants than positions for them to occupy.  Intra-elite competition is the process that sorts aspirants into successful elites and aspirants whose ambition to enter the elite ranks is frustrated. Competition among the elites occurs on multiple levels. Thus, lower-ranked elites (for example, state representatives) may also be aspirants for the next level (e.g., U.S. Congress), and so on, all the way up to POTUS.

Moderate intra-elite competition need not be harmful to an orderly and efficient functioning of the society; in fact, it’s usually beneficial because it results in better-qualified candidates being selected. Additionally, competition can help weed out incompetent or corrupt office-holders. However, it is important to keep in mind that the social effects of elite competition depend critically on the norms and institutions that regulate it and channel it into such societally productive forms.

Excessive elite competition, on the other hand, results in increasing social and political instability. The supply of power positions in a society is relatively, or even absolutely, inelastic. For example, there are only 435 U.S. Representatives, 100 Senators, and one President. A great expansion in the numbers of elite aspirants means that increasingly large numbers of them are frustrated, and some of those, the more ambitious and ruthless ones, turn into counter-elites. In other words, masses of frustrated elite aspirants become breeding grounds for radical groups and revolutionary movements.

Another consequence of excessive competition among elite aspirants is its effect on the social norms regulating politically acceptable conduct. Norms are effective only as long as the majority follows them, and violators are punished. Maintaining such norms is the job for the elites themselves.

Intense intra-elite competition, however, leads to the rise of rival power networks, which increasingly subvert the rules of political engagement to get ahead of the opposition. Instead of competing on their own merits, or the merits of their political platforms, candidates increasingly rely on “dirty tricks” such as character assassination (and, in historical cases, literal assassination). As a result, excessive competition results in the unraveling of prosocial, cooperative norms (this is a general phenomenon that is not limited to political life).

Intra-elite competition, thus, has a nonlinear effect on social function: moderate levels are good, excessive levels are bad. What are the social forces leading to excessive competition?

Because the supply of power positions is relatively inelastic, most of the action is on the demand side. Simply put, it is the excessive expansion of elite aspirant numbers (or “elite overproduction”) that drives up intra-elite competition. Let’s again use the contemporary America as an example to illustrate this idea (although, I emphasize, similar social processes have operated in all complex large-scale human societies since they arose some 5,000 years ago).

There are two main “pumps” producing aspirants for elite positions in America: education and wealth. On the education side, of particular importance are the law degree (for a political career) and the MBA (to climb the corporate ladder). Over the past four decades, according to the American Bar Association, the number of lawyers tripled from 400,000 to 1.2 million. The number of MBAs conferred by business schools over the same period grew six-fold (details in Ages of Discord).

On the wealth side we see a similar expansion of numbers, driven by growing inequality of income and wealth over the last 40 years. The proverbial “1 percent” becomes “2 percent”, then “3 percent”… For example, today there are five times as many households with wealth exceeding $10 million (in 1995 dollars), compared to 1980. Some of these wealth-holders give money to candidates, but others choose to run for political office themselves.

Elite overproduction in the US has already driven up the intensity of intra-elite competition. A reasonable proxy for escalating political competition here is the total cost of election for congressional races, which has grown (in inflation-adjusted dollars) from $2.4 billion in 1998 to $4.3 billion in 2016 (Center for Responsive Politics). Another clear sign is the unraveling of social norms regulating political discourse and process that has become glaringly obvious during the 2016 presidential election.

Analysis of past societies indicates that, if intra-elite competition is allowed to escalate, it will increasingly take more violent forms. A typical outcome of this process is a massive outbreak of political violence, often ending in a state collapse, a revolution, or a civil war (or all of the above).

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