What is Meditation for?

ZenWhen you sit quietly, and focus on your breathing, people want to know what it is you are actually doing. I hear and read a lot of answers, mostly trying to explain that you are not doing anything, that this “non-action” is good for your mind. It strengthens your mind, improves concentration, lowers blood pressure, relaxes you – all with practice. And that is all true, these are side effects of sitting quietly and trying desperately hard not to think. As you would imagine. If you’ve ever tried it, meditation is actually really bloody hard to do. Keeping your mind quiet for even 10 seconds is really hard, let a lone ten minutes. I’ve been practicing for years and some times I can’t make it more than a few minutes. Your legs start to hurt, you wonder about how long you’ve been doing it (like it was laps in a pool or something), and your mind hates it.

But none of these things is what should be focused on. Yes, breathing is important, yes acknowledging thoughts as they come in and then letting them go is important, clearing your mind etc, etc. But those are just what to do to get clear. In Zen meditation, the true goal you are looking for is to make your self expansive. To feel your self reach out to everything around you, starting small and getting big enough to encompass  everything… ever. This is not about blood pressure. It is about trying to let go of your ego for just a second, which is all it takes. To think so vividly about everything else in the universe at the same time, to completely forget yourself. When this happens, and you leave it completely behind, you forget you are you. The thing about the universe, or God, or Krishna, or whatever you want to call “everything”, is that it is there. And you can imagine this: It is there, also sitting quietly behind the scenes, closing it’s eyes as tight as it can, and trying to imagine your life in every detail.  It is imagining it is you, really hard. And that’s what you are. If you can relax your mind enough, that you can forget your brilliant puppet show, you might be able to open one eye and peak at the whole show. And when you do, it is the most awful, brilliant, scary, loving, amazing, terrible, and beautiful thing you will have ever seen and felt in your life.

It is also really good for blood pressure.

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Review of Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi

Written around June 2003

The main reason that animation can be so much more than just “plot” is the director’s ability to control every aspect of his vision, frame by frame. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the current reigning champion of hand drawn beauty transcribed into film, and being the writer, director and concept artist gave him complete power over his work of art. The official English title is Spirited Away, but the original is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. The title literally means The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro, but the differences between the English and Japanese versions do not stop there. The Disneyfied version tries to spell out a lot more for the audience than the Japanese version, as Western movie goers are less enthusiastic about thinking about their entertainment. Unfortunately, Disney might find that their spell-checker is broken. The multiple meanings, clever puns and some of the more symbolic Japanese Kanji (Chinese writing system) will be lost on the English dubbed viewer. However, far worse translations have been done, and in all fairness to Disney, this must have been a monumental task.

The first thing that one has to discuss in analyzing an animated feature is the quality of the art work. Spirited Away uses color, light and even CGI to add to the experience of a superbly drawn movie. The animation is smooth, crisp, vibrantly colored, and the CGI effects are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The use of color in this film is so important not just because it makes everything look alive, but the bright vivid colors control the mood of every scene – just think of the warm glow and the accompanying feelings associated with the boiler room.

The incredibly fantastic nature of Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a product of his incandescent creativity. It is filled with dozens of gods, spirits, demons, witches and a few things that defied explanation. From the Radish spirit, to Kamaji the six armed boiler operator, to the three disembodied bouncing heads, to Haku the dragon river-god, all of Spirited Away’s characters are unique and memorable. With limbs impossibly stretching, dragons dropping out of the sky, characters transforming into animals, gods bathing, frogs talking and soot-balls turning into insect-like workers ready to feed the boilers, this film visually drags you in to every scene and completely captivates your eyes and imagination.

Our heroine Chihiro is the most unappealing girl among female protagonists created by Miyazaki (except perhaps Mei in Totoro). But Chihiro is intentionally set up this way. Miyazaki created her to represent the way that he views modern children growing up in the world, spoiled and overly protected. This is the story about a girl who stepped into another real world where both good and evil exist. She will go through many experiences, learn how important friendship and dedication are, and return to the human world with her wisdom. The result is a moving and magical journey, told with consummate skill by one of the masters of contemporary animation.

Spirited Away is intensely symbolic. Every scene is stuffed full with Japanese Kanji, many of which have multiple meanings, even in the context in which they are presented. For example, the train that runs through the spirit world has the characters for Middle Path written on the front, alluding to the Buddhist of the four noble truths. Chihiro literary means “one thousand fathoms” (under the sea) and Sen, her new name mean “one thousand.” These games that Miyazaki plays with his audience are slightly lost on mainstream Western audiences, but can account to the unparalleled success that his movies have in Japan.

There are too many themes in the movie to list, but the major motifs are inner strength and the dichotomy between nature and the industrial world. Chihiro, starting out as a spoiled, clumsy and frightened ten year old, emerges from her experience as a strong, confident, clever and loving young hero. Her transformation is largely due to the fact that she has been taken out of her modern existence and transplanted into a spiritual world, filled with traditional views, responsibilities, stories and even traditional Japanese characters.

The seconded major theme in the film is the battle between nature and the modern world. This is a major theme running throughout all of Miyazaki’s works, especially pervasive in Princess Mononoke. Spirited Away shows how team work is essential in cleaning up nature, when the river-god is mistaken for a stink demon, and Chihiro frees him by removing all the pollution from inside the unhappy spirit. But more than the obvious metaphors, Miyazaki draws us into the natural world with his stunning visuals and panoramas of the natural world around his characters.

Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli have created a modern masterpiece of animation in Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, which has gone on to be the first so-called “anime” movie to reach such critical acclaim, being awarded the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival for best picture and the 2002 Academy award for best Animated Feature. Spirited Away has opened the door for many distributors to begin offering Japanese animated films to mainstream theaters, which are a staple overseas, much to the delight of the huge anime fan base in the US. Already, movies like Cowboy Bebop and Princess Mononoke are scheduled for release in major theaters. Unfortunately, Spirited Away will be Miyazaki’s final feature, as he announced his retirement shortly after the release. But what a finale!

 

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Does Language Shape Thought?

Written in April 2003

Does Language Shape Thought?

Lera Boroditsky (Cognitive Psychology 43, 1–22 (2001))

 

Scientists and Philosophers have long questioned weather or not the language we speak influences the way we think. This is mainly due to the fact that people who speak different languages often talk about the world in different ways.

Benjamin Lee Whorf, founder of the Linguistic Determinism school of thought, believes that the language spoken determines the thought that is expressed. This strong Whorfian view has long been abandoned in the field. Particularly effective in undermining the strong view was work on color perception demonstrating that the Dani (a tribe in New Guinea) who had very little trouble in learning the English set of color categories, despite only having two words for colors in their language

Although the strong linguistic determinism view seems to have died down, many weaker but still interesting theories exist. Slobin has suggested that language may influence thought during ‘‘thinking for speaking”, meaning that the language we speak may force us to pay more attention to aspects of our lives because of the grammar or vocabulary rules imposed on us. This would mean that speakers of different languages would be biased when encoding memories which would continue to change their view of life.

In this study, three experiments were used to investigate how language affects our ideas on time. The participants were Mandarin and English speakers, both native and bilingual. The Chinese view time vertically whereas English speakers view time horizontally. Examples – “cats climb trees” in Mandarin is “mao shang shu” but they also use the word “shang” in “shang ge yue” directly translating to “last month, and one would descending down a month.

Mandarin speakers tend to think about time vertically even when they think for English – In the first experiment, this was seen when Mandarin speakers were faster to confirm that March comes earlier than April if they had just seen a vertical set objects than if they had just seen a horizontal set, and the reverse was true for English speakers.

A second experiment showed that the extent to which Mandarin–English bilinguals think about time vertically is related to how old they were when they first began to learn English.

In the third experiment, native English speakers were taught to talk about time using vertical “spatial” terms in a way similar to Mandarin. On the next test given, the trained group of English speakers showed the same bias to think about time vertically as was observed with Mandarin speakers.

The study shows that language is a powerful tool in shaping our thoughts abstract concepts and that our native language plays an important role in shaping “habitual thought” (e.g., how we think about time) but does not entirely determine our thinking in the strong Whorfian sense.

Vertical Prime

Vertical Prime

Horizontal Prime

Horizontal Prime

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The Role of Retrieval Structures in Memorizing Music

Written in Feburary of 2003 I think

The Role of Retrieval Structures in Memorizing Music

a peer-review study by Aaron Williamon and Elizabeth Valentine (Cognitive Psychology 44, 1–32 (2002))

This study investigated how the formation and use of memory structures change as musicians become more skilled as performers. Novice musicians may lack the required skills and experience to identify a composition’s formal structure, in which case their inept domain-specific knowledge base would force them to exploit other retrieval schemes or prevent them from explicitly using any such schemes.
The study addressed these questions by examining the practice habits of 22 pianists as they prepared an assigned Bach composition for a later piano recital organized by their music teachers. Interviews were conducted after the performances to find out if the pianists segmented and organized their assigned composition during practice and performance knowingly. Secondly, the musicians’ practice habits were studied to find out if their practice sessions were guided by their segmentation of the music. And finally, the extent to which performers structured their practice according to hierarchical principles of organization was investigated.
The 22 musicians were divided up into four groups, based on skill level, and each level was given a piece to practice for a recital. Their practice sessions, recorded on audio tapes, and their later recitals were both analyzed by three members of the “Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music” for quality. The music that was to be learnt by each level was divided up into the categories of “difficult” for pieces that the musicians thought were complex, “structural” for bars that began new sections, both defined by experts and by participants in the study, and “other” for all bars that weren’t “difficult” or “structural”. The practice sessions were analyzed and it was recorded when and on what kind of bar a musician would stop or start a practice session.
A Chi-Squared test was done on the results to level out within-group differences and between group differences in the data based on the expected sections a participant would start or stop a piece and the actual start and stop points. There was an extremely high correlation between the type of bar and when that a participant started or stopped a practice on it. There was also a high positive correlation between the quality of the performances and the chi-squared result of the amount of starts on structural bars.
These findings indicate the use of hierarchical structures to organize practice and to act as retrieval cues for the pianists. Also, the use of structural bars in starting and stopping practice segments increases with ability level and importantly, the earlier the participant began using the structural bars to guide their practice, the higher the quality of their performance.

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How to Make a Chirstian

So I am probably something between a Buddhist (romantically leaning on Zen) and a Humanist. These are philosophies and decisions I have spent working on for years, based on learning, experiences and interest. I don’t ever think they’re right, nor do I “believe” in them, they just work on a more intuitive level for me. Zen as both a nice rational component for my philosophical side, as well as the absurdity intuitive side that I have experienced and couldn’t explain with a thousand blog posts, so I won’t. But this isn’t about me really, it’s about the way I think of my “religion” or view of the universe. I learn about it in a framework of Zen, apply to my life as best I can, learn more about it, and rinse, wash, repeat. Something that has always frustrated me about Christians is their amazing lack of knowledge about their own religion. You can’t have a discussion about Leviticus vs Mathew with most evangelicals, because they know nothing about them (unlike my non-theist self who spent a lot of time in bible study.) This is because they don’t KNOW their religion, they BELIEVE in it. Most people don’t need to know anything about something you strongly believe in, bbecause it takes effort, and most people are stupid and lazy.

Recently I met someone quite strange. Someone who had a Jewish mother and a secular/spiritual-ish father, who had decided to become a Christian. This is not someone who went to prison, or was “saved”, but just a choice. Not only did she choose to become a Christian, she picked Catholicism as well. What is so interesting about her idea of Catholicism is that it is a free, and late choice. Looking for a spiritual home, she picked the largest franchise.

Why I find this interesting is this: It is similar to a person deciding to learn guitar or a new language. When I studied Buddhism, it was all new to me. I didn’t “believe” in it, I took the relative parts that made sense to me and built my own ideas and interpretations around them. This is common with Westerns who follow non-traditional spiritual paths, we don’t have a choice – we have to learn from scratch. She is doing the same with Christianity. Almost everyone I know, or have met who is a Christian grew up with it, or were “saved” (which is reasonably insulting, because it implies that I’m “damned”.) Even if they were “born again”, they had a childhood-based concept that they could “re-believe” in. She does not. A bible story is new to her, every time. Each new concept can be evaluated with an adult and rational mind. If everyone learned about Christ this way, Christians would be more interesting, less dogmatic and probably, largely better Christians.

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Christian Cookbook

The secret ingredient is love. As mentioned in the sacred cookbook:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten burrito, that whosoever eatith in him should not perish, but have moderate to severe diarrhea.
– John 3:16

Delight yourself in the lard and it will give you the desires of your heart.
– Puck 37:4

This is the daiquiri Mario has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Batali 118:24

In the beginning was the Rice, and the Rice was with Vinegar, and the Rice was Good.
– Morimoto 1:1

A typical Italian (but not-Catholics-they’re-not-real-Christians) course might look like:

  • Salvation Taco Salad with Sanctimonious Salsa
  • Devilishly Anti-Christ Antipasto
  • Everlasting Life Lasagna with Defense of Marriage Acini di pepe
  • Holy Trinity Tautology Tiramisu
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Gwar vs Michael Bolton

Justin:  so you even admit it was a good value

Steve:  all shows are $$$ now yeah $45 to see elton john is a good deal

Justin:  so we should have gone but its over now

Steve:  you know what show is good value GWAR!!!!!!!

Justin:  no, its not good value, because they suck besides which
$25 for gwar compared to twice as much for elton john that’s not good value
i’m rocking out to some michael bolton right now


Michael Bolton – How Can We Be Lovers
Sent at 10:31 AM on Tuesday

Steve:  ಠ_ಠ

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How to vote if you are a progressive in Hillsborough County

President and Vice President
Barack Obama and Joe Biden DEM (No shit)

United States Senator
Bill Nelson DEM (it pains me to do so)

State Senator District 24
Elizabeth Belcher DEM

State Representative District 63
Mark Danish DEM (Tasty!)

Sheriff
David Gee REP (Unless you write in for Rob)

Property Appraiser
Bob Henriquez DEM (Unless you have a brain tumor and want Storms)

Supervisor of Elections
Craig Latimer DEM (here’s hope against hope)

Board of County Commissioners District 6
Kevin Beckner DEM (Good guy)

Justice of the Supreme Court
Justice R. Fred Lewis – Yes (he is not an idiot or insane)

Justice of the Supreme Court
Justice Peggy A Quince – Yes (she’s a good judge)

District Court of Appeal
Judge Anthony K Black – Yes

District Court of Appeal
Judge Darryl C. Casanueva – Yes (would be better if he was Casanova)

District Court of Appeal
Judge Charles A Davis, Jr. – Yes/Si

District Court of Appeal
Judge Judge Edward C. LaRose Yes (really yes)

Shool Board Member District 7
Carol W. Kurdwell (Kemple is a crazy)

Soil and Water Conservation District Group 2
Shane Holman (next time, Adam Husarek)

Soil and Water Conservation District Group 4
Roy Gene Davis (best of two bad choices)

Amendments:
Most of this shit is either fucking crazy or does not need to be in the state constitution.

1 – No
2 – No
3 – No
4 – No (read it if you have a few spare hours)
5 – No
7 – There is no 7, and that’s just the way we like it.
6 – HELL NO
8 – HELL NO
9 – No (Meh)
10 – No (Meh)
11 – No (Meh as well)
12 – No

Amend Section 9.11 Of County Charter to Change The Term Physical Handicap To Disabillity
Yes

Amends Charter to Require Financial Impact Statements For All County Charter Amendments And Countywide Referenda
Yes

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Greg’s Facebook Terms of Friendship

You are entitled to continued access to Greg’s facebook wall and messaging system under the following conditions:

  1. You shall not excessively post pictures of your food. We do understand that many meals look fantastic, and you want to promote your favorite restaurants (and gut size), but if you have more photos of food than people, you are looking for gout, not friends.
  2. Posting images that just contain text is a waste of the internet (not that I really care), but the text that normally covers these is drivel. Conspiracy theories, religious sentiments and mothers day messages are to be kept in text format.
  3. You shall not abbreviate like a 90’s teenager trying to send an SMS. Yes, I was a 90’s texting teenager once, and I’ve learn how to spell your vs ur, and even you’re rather than ur. If your first phone had a qwerty keyboard and you say something is g8, kill urslef.
  4. Facebook is not reddit. It is not 4chan. I come here to complain about my friends, not to see messages from other people’s friends. I like going to more than one source for my annoyance.
  5. If something offends you, and not just from me, keep it to yourself. Starting any sentence with “I am so offended, I just saw…” means you’re an idiot. Seek sterilization.
  6. If you are having some sort of apocalyptic relationship meltdown publicly on facebook, thank you. Human beings are designed to mainly care about other human beings and their sex lives – we are naturally nosy gossips. This means that when you post something about her “leaving you is crushing your world,” don’t tell people NOT to comment on it, or even better, complain that it was inappropriate to hit the “like” button. ‘Cause that is awesome.
  7. Seriously, thank you for all the terrible stock photos on which you slabber inspirational messages to waste my bandwidth. I will assume this either a calculated attack or you are too dumb to know any better and remove you. Please rethink breathing.
  8. If your ratio of random check-ins, photos of food, reddit reposts and general statements about what you’re thinking about wearing tomorrow exceeds the number of original status updates of an either humorous, insightful or quirky nature, photos of things that are actually interesting or entertaining, or things that you have actually made – fine. Just realize that you are adding nothing but clutter to an already poo filled internet, and are wasting your “friends” time with mind rotting junk.
  9. Don’t invite me to things that are not real events. Your reposted invite to “Support us on super national African-American cat-obesity awareness day” is stupid, pointless and disheartening. I get my hopes up a little each time I see I’m invited to something, and then scream and kick plastic chairs until my foot bleeds when I find out it’s not a real event. Heartless bastards.
  10. When making lists, have a point. If you titled the list, stick to the format. Don’t simply get angry and veer radically off target on to one of your usual expulsions of irritation. Not everyone is as cranky as you. I’m going to go look at pictures of puppies now.

Umm… GPL3 – it’s all yours.

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Some Memes

At a client’s office waiting for test data. Nothing else to do. Brain to dead to write, so Reddit. Reddit to memes. Memes to “I want to make it”. “I want to make it” to I’ll make fun of my friends.

If you want the original files they’re here:

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