Sunday, December 30, 2007

The "black arts", et al.

It's been a busy week for me, even though it is technically a vacation week. Two things of interest came to my attention.

First, an article read in the Religion News Blog on Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope has decided to rev up the Catholic Church's contingent of exorcists, in an attempt to fight increasing “Satanism.” You can read the article here.

The other is the relatively new book by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the Ghost Hunters TV show, entitled “Ghost Hunting”. I am a big fan of the show, and of Hawes and Wilson's approach to the paranormal. The book is also a very interesting read—I've finally forced myself to put it down in order to write this. In the chapter on a possession case, they mention that the daughter has been using a Ouija board and admitted to dabbling in the “black arts.” I noticed that the words “black arts” were also used in the same context as “occultism”.

As someone who could have been characterized as an “occultist”, I find the usage of this terminology a little disturbing. I want to know what is meant by “Satanism” and “the black arts”. These are not terms that are interchangeable with “occultism.” They may be incorporated under that banner at times, but they are not synonymous. Making them synonymous leads to a lot of discrimination, prejudice, and heartache among those who are serious practitioners with legitimate spiritual aims. To be fair, all parties mentioning these terms above are referring to culturally accepted stereotypes. Which is why I think it's important to make some distinctions.

I think the term “black arts” and “black magic” has been used as a blanket term for all magic. What exactly is magic? In order to define this, you need to start with the understanding that all of the things we experience in this world are manifestations of some type of energy. Magic is an attempt to manipulate that energy towards a certain end. The distinction often made between “white” magic and “black” magic is usually one of intent—those who wish to work WITH existing energies to steer themselves towards a result are considered to be “white” magicians. Those that try to force energies in unnatural directions are considered to be “black” magicians. If you can envision a river—the so-called white magician tries to flow with the river and steer him or herself, the black magician fights the current.

Realistically, “magical” work is neither white nor black. Think about the cardinal element of fire. Fire is a force. It can cook your food and heat your house. It can also burn your house down. It comes down to responsible use of fire, and respect for its power. Magical work is exactly the same.

Now let's look at the idea of “Satanism”. What exactly is a Satanist? Popular definitions suggest that it is someone who practices black magic, and is anti-Christian. After all, to be a Satanist is to defame Christ. This certainly can be true. Organized Satanic churches certainly subscribe to the latter criteria. However, Satanists of this ilk are usually hedonists. They believe that they themselves are gods, and control their own destiny. There is actually nothing wrong with that idea, except that one of the basic human ideals is to respect the “divine” in others and to help each other. While Satanists do have a moral code of sorts, it is really not a spiritual philosophy—it is pure materialism. Even more than that, it is a protest against organized religion, particularly organized Christianity.

What is the problem with Christianity? From talking to many occultists (including Satanists and former Satanists) over the years, the problem is the perennial one—the image of God projected by organized religion. While I don't have a documented study at hand on this, I have observed that some of the most outlandish criminals and serial killers (as well as the most hedonistic of celebrities) have come from very strict religious backgrounds. “Strict” often implies a sense of fear—you do what the Church tells you, or you'll go to hell. It's very reminiscient of the sentiment in the Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” sermon. You are small and insignificant and God could squash you in a moment if you are disobedient. I can remember my Mom telling me about growing up Catholic with this idea, afraid to even have a bad thought about someone. Anyone growing up with this idea, whether consciously intended by the churches or not, is going to naturally bring about a psychological complex. While some may be too afraid to question, others will rebel. These are the folks who will break out of the confines of organized religion to find their own path. Some bear such a hatred for the psychological torment and oppression of their religious upbringing that they are in fact anti-Christian. Those who dig deeper realize that this is an institutional problem, and not necessarily a problem with Christ and his teachings per se. But it takes time to get to that point. Blaming “the Internet and rock music” for anti-Christian sentiment shows an ignorance on the part of the Pope that is staggering. But it's not new.

Instead of souping up the exorcism squad, the Catholic Church (as well as other Christian churches) would do well to examine their approach to teaching believers about God. Some believers fare well with a mystical approach—they want a direct connection to God and shouldn't be denied that connection. Teaching believers to be afraid of God's wrath may breed a respect of sorts, but no love. Fear eventually leads to resentment, and then to rebellion. This can result in anything from finding another religion, to becoming a protesting Satanist, to becoming an atheist.

It is also appropriate to discuss the ceremonial magician's stance on Satan. Biblically, Satan is an adversary that challenges humans' love of God. This challenge is part of the process of truly knowing God. So how did Satan become equated with ultimate evil? It can most likely be traced to the Cathar heresy--the idea that all matter is evil, and only spirit is divine. Even the Church rejected this view. But Kabbalistically, Spirit moves down the Tree of Life into manifestation in Matter. At the center of the Tree of Life sits an image known as Baphomet. Baphomet is protrayed as Satan, but is actually a zoomorph--animal and human, male and female, and making sacred signs showing both light and dark. He represents all possibilities for incarnation, and is in fact the force that moves spirit to matter, and vice versa. A force to be respected as such, not worshipped. Certainly not some incarnation or spirit of ultimate evil.

As to the “demonic possession” side of the equation—even the Church would agree that true demonic possession is rare. In evaluating an apparent possession case, one must also look at psychological factors. Even in cases of real possession it is likely that these two things are intertwined. Schizophrenia and other abnormalities involving a fragmented personality can look very much like demonic possession. I think that the Church has shown a proper amount of restraint in this area in recent history, and should continue to do so.

So what causes demonic possession? I think Jason Hawes is accurate when he suggests that such things are invited, and don't happen on their own. Ouija boards might be one way. I would suggest that most of the time Ouija boards are useless—they don't do much more than reflect your current state of mind. Having said that, I do agree that they can invite unwanted influences in if the person using the board is psychologically weak in some way, even if they don't realize it. Even Aleister Crowley was opposed to the use of Ouija boards (see Equinox III:10).

What about those practicing specific rituals (usually Goetic invocations) designed to raise demons? I have never personally done this, and don't really understand why someone would. I have met practitioners who have done these rituals, usually invoking minor demons rather than the major ones. There are two reasons that I have been given for demonic invocation: the first is that demons are in fact a manifestation of our inner neuroses and psychoses, and directly confronting them allows you to bind them and put them out of the way. The other is that allowing a demon to serve a human creates a situation where the demon can evolve spiritually OUT of being a demon through service. I am not sure of either of these claims. I would still suggest that this is not a sound approach to dealing with one's neuroses/psychoses---you really won't know how much power they have over you until you do the deed, and then it could be fatal or dangerous if you've miscalculated. There are other ways of confronting and dealing with one's inner demons.

Of course, there are those that do these things of pure ignorance, usually from curiosity or as an attempt to display some kind of power. I would suggest that having an open and non-fear-based concept of divinity and of earthly life (which is part of divinity as well) would curtail some of these ventures. One only attempts to make themselves “big” if they feel very small.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Religion in 2007

For those of us with a religious-studies interest, it has been a pretty eventful year. In reviewing my bookmarks, I noticed several themes emerging in the religious news.

1.Increased interest in spirituality among college students: Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, students attending secular universities are more religious. A survey done in 2004 indicates:
“more than two-thirds of 112,000 freshmen surveyed said they prayed, and that almost 80 percent believed in God. Nearly half of the freshmen said they were seeking opportunities to grow spiritually, according to the survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.”

Most universities seem to feel there is a “shift” towards religiosity, based on increased attendance at houses of worship by students, increased interest in religious studies programs (does that mean more jobs for professors???), and the demand for more religious groups on campus. The “shift is accounted for in a number of ways: uncertainty over the war in Iraq, baby boomers not giving their children religion, with the consequence of their children looking to religion to deal with tragedy, increase in evangelicals in secular institutions, etc.

2. The “attack” of atheism: Between the outcry against “The Golden Compass” and the bestselling books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Ian McEwan, atheism has been in the news a lot lately.

3.The debate over “intelligent design”: This still continues, and my favorite article on this one is the religious discussion on the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”.

4.Wicca now the 3rd largest religion in the United States: It is predicted that Wicca will have 20 million or more members by 2012. That’s pretty big for a directionless religion (if you’ll pardon my editorializing)

5. Mitt and Mormonism: Mitt Romney is the first Mormon to make a presidential bid, and it’s bringing up a lot of controversy about exactly what Mormonism is,and whether or not a Mormon should be President.

I’ve saved the big one for last here…

5.Blasphemy: We’re hearing about this mostly in the Muslim world, most notably in the case of schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons, who had a large group of Sudanese extremists calling for her death for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed. There’s also the bounty offered for the death of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for drawing a cartoon that was critical of Islam. There have been many other instances of this type of thing—people having to fear for their lives for representing Islam in a manner unapproved by popular clerics.

So, the question is—culturally, what are we to make of all of this? I have a habit of looking for patterns in religious behavior in society, which may be a good or bad habit depending on your point of view.

First, I see that this phenomenon that we could call “conservative Christianity” is hanging in there, though there is now some backlash. I think I am in agreement with Huston Smith that the debate as it is presented still misses a heck of a lot. There is this sharp line drawn between those who believe in God and those who don’t, and it’s drawn out as some great battle between good and evil. This is not a battle between good and evil. It’s the same old business of Biblical literalism versus a sort of scientific existentialism—either God exists and functions in the way the literalists suggest, or He/She/It doesn’t exist at all, and those who believe in such a being are immature and unwilling to face reality.

What is missed here is that the debate is not about the “ultimate concern” (to use Paul Tillich’s phrase). It is about control. I agree with the assessment that religion is more popular because the world seems very uncertain, and perhaps because of the lack of religious training that baby-boomer children have had, though that would only be one factor. When people are afraid, they need something to cling to—the child missing his parent clings to his teddy bear; when it’s dark out, we look for a light; when it’s stormy and windy, we cling to something solid or get inside to keep from being blown away.

Institutionalized religion is just the comfort for many people. The religions are established, they have rules, and they have specific guidelines for behavior, to allow one to make a judgment in the face of uncertainty. The more unsteady and uncertain a person or group feels, the more they cling to “the rules” for safety. It is not uncommon for former drug addicts, prostitutes, and other socially dysfunctional members of society to embrace religion and become “born again”. This is not to suggest that everyone who embraces these things is sick or crazy—it is merely illustrative of the fact that it is viewed as a means of controlling the out-of-control.

There is nothing wrong with using your religion as a navigational tool to find your way through life, or belonging to an organization to help give you a sense of social identity. The problem comes in when these organizations feel the need to make everyone else adhere to their rules. God refers to something Ultimate, something that is beyond our comprehension. There is no way that any holy book in any religion can possibly lay down the “will of God”—at best they can be a guide.

Which leads us to Blasphemy. What is that, anyway? Taking the name of God “in vain” seems to be the most common definition. For Muslims, creating any image of God is a blasphemy, and they do think this for what I consider to be the right reason—you can’t make an Image of the Ultimate—people will mistake the image for the thing it points to. And by the way—Atheists also believe that you can’t make an image of God. Whatever drives the universe, you cannot give it a gender, physical attributes, or even political or religious attributes. Whatever God is, we can be pretty certain that God is beyond all of our limited human comprehension. Mystics in all religions try to talk about God, but admit that they will always fail, because God is something experienced, and impossible to describe with any real sense of accuracy. The real “blasphemy” comes in trying to limit God to your own petty rules, conflicts, and dogmas. I find it amazing that extremist Muslims can speak out against the use of images, but then declare that God wants them to kill certain types of people who don’t “fit in” with what God wants. Under such logic, how can you claim to know what God wants without violating your own rules on blasphemy?

The inconsistencies of organized religion are not unrecognized in our society. Atheists and others viewed by conservatives as “anti-Christian” are actually anti-institution. They don’t like the petty rules of religious organizations, which are often bandied about at convenient times (and not very consistently) driving the lives of individuals with varied beliefs—beliefs about something that we can all agree that we do not “know”. At the same time, there is a felt need for “purpose”, and this is what really drives people to spirituality—the need to feel that you are relevant in society, and that your existence isn’t pointless.

Which brings me to Wicca. I practiced Wicca for many years, and I’m not sure that I’m too excited about it being “the next big thing” in American religion. Wicca, among other things, has an appeal because of its loose organization. But that benefit is also a detriment—you basically have groups of seekers getting together battling out their own ego issues among each other, and making up the rules as they go along. There are a very large number of “solitary” Wiccans because they can’t stand the group dynamics that exist in covens. I’m sure that there are very functional covens, but I’ve not personally experienced any. It’s a pretty basic tenet of psychology—the larger a group gets, the more the petty politics takes over, as the cause bringing the group together is usually subverted by battles for dominance and power within the group. In a case like this, even if you have many sincere spiritual seekers, it is still a case of the blind leading the blind.

I could say much more about all of this, but I’ve gone on for too long already. I will probably write more in another post. Happy holidays, everyone, and cheers to 2008 being an interesting year (in a good way).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


This demonstrates everything I love about The Onion--I can't even put it into words. People probably think I'm strange for finding this so funny, but I can't help myself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

And The Winner Is...

I went to the doctor today, as I’ve been feverish for a couple of days now. Fortunately the problem is not too serious, but while I was there, he did share with me the results of my allergy tests.

And the winner for what is making my sinuses burn tortuously: cat dander! Yes, my cats are making me sick. Some people will chuckle at the irony of this. On the allergy Richter scale, cat dander rates a 5 for me (anything over 2 is bad). So, this means I need allergy shots, because God knows I will not get rid of my cats. The doctor was smart enough to not even suggest that course of action.

Cats were not the only thing. I am also allergic to dogs, Bermuda grass, American cockroaches (thank God I don’t see many of those), and something mysteriously named “Timothy”.

I wondered about Timothy. It made me think of that horrible song by the Buoys that was a hit in the Seventies—that song about 3 miners trapped in a mine, and they get hungry and decide to eat one of their group, who happens to be Timothy. The Seventies seem to be notorious for weird pop song topics. I guess if I had been there, I couldn’t have eaten Timothy (“Sorry, I have Timothy allergies”). I guess I should also consider myself lucky that my boyfriend isn’t named Timothy. We’d probably have to break up, or I’d have to get shots before I saw him again. That could kill the romance in a relationship.

Actually, it turns out that “Timothy” is a type of grass. Why they don’t just say so on the sheet, I don’t know. In any case, I will soon be getting shots to alleviate my allergies to Shiva, Andromeda, Joplin, Whiskers, and Timothy. And St. Gulick. (If you don’t know who St. Gulick is, you haven’t read the Gospel of Eris. Go buy a copy straightaway).

In the meantime, I am taking lots of vitamins. My doctors are holistic doctors, and are very big on vitamin therapy. So, I’m taking approximately 500,000,000,000 units of Vitamin A per day, and 10,000,000,000,000 units of Vitamin C per day. If you think those numbers aren’t realistic, you are right. The actual numbers are much higher.

According to my doctor, if you really want to get well fast, they can put you on a vitamin intravenous drip that will make you better in no time. It’s their secret for cutting down on sick time in the office—their staff gets it for free. I’m sure it would cost me a bundle.
But it’s a cool idea, and would keep me from having to remember to take my vitamins every morning. If you don’t plant something directly in front of me in the morning, I don’t remember that I’m supposed to do anything with it. Getting a shot once in awhile—well, hey, I’d just have to remember to show up for the appointment.

One of my little allergen bundles wants me to feed him now. Gotta go. Cheers.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Joy

So it’s the holiday season again. On Thanksgiving morning, I watched the Macy’s parade. I’m not really sure why I still do this. I hate the Macy’s parade. I think I watch it for traditional reasons (i.e., I watched it as a kid), but the performances get more and more obnoxious every year. I am not fond of musicals, and the song performances make me cringe.

The next day I went for a long walk along the Delaware River, and had stopped in a café along Harrison Ave. They were playing Christmas music. This no longer shocks me. Lewis Black was correct—Thanksgiving has become Christmas, Part I. I don’t necessarily even mind all Christmas music. Some of it, especially the traditional English pieces (such as the Wexford Carol), are quite nice. But they didn’t play this kind of music. They played more modern Christmas songs, by singers who Dave Barry aptly classifies as the “you don’t love me anymore so I’m going to jump in the bathtub with an electrical appliance” variety. In short, they’re wusses. I don’t like ordinary wuss music, and I especially don’t like wuss holiday music. They sing about children and love and Jesus and hope and trust in such a way that you pray for a painful Armageddon.

What is it about them that I don’t like? I thought about this, and I realize that it’s Carrie Brownstein’s dealbreaker in music—preciousness. Unless you are referring to gemstones, I don’t consider the word “precious” to be particularly complimentary. I cringe if my own mother uses it to refer to me. There’s something about the “preciousness” of these songs that is like an Amanda Bradley greeting card—full of supposedly heartfelt sentiment that smacks of being entirely false.

A friend of mine went away to see our Guru over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I stayed with her 15 and 16-year old son and daughter. Unlike me, they are born and raised traditionally Hindu.

My friend’s son had helped out serving the homeless on Thanksgiving with one of his friends. When I spoke to him, he was totally disgusted. “There was so much food left over. I kid you not—an entire room full of pumpkin pies. Even the volunteers couldn’t take it home. So do you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to throw all that food OUT. I don’t know what it is with these idiot Christians—they cook way too much food, totally overdoing it on one holiday—and basically say ‘f*ck you’ to the poor the rest of the year.”

I thought about that, and realized that he hit upon the very thing I despise about the holiday season. Everyone suddenly wants to get warm and cozy with all of humanity by throwing lots of stuff at them. Once Christmas is over, you don’t see the same level of concern for the homeless, or for orphaned children, or whomever. Just like Christmas music, it is full of sentimentality, with nothing that truly moves you behind it.

Christmas is an entirely secular holiday. It is meant to line the pockets of retailers, and nothing else. I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as much as the next person, but Lucy is unfortunately correct. The “keep Christ in Christmas” signs are bulls**t. Christ was born in the spring, probably in April. This is not about the birth of Jesus. It’s an ancient pagan holiday taken over by Christians in order to assimilate pagans to the new religion. I’ve never really forgiven the missionaries for doing that. The St. Patricks of the world did not do us any favors. The point of the holiday is to celebrate the end of shorter days and look forward to the return of longer days. People have traditionally dealt with this by feasting and getting drunk. People still do that, but they’ve added layers of commercial manipulation and guilt to the festivities. Makes me long for simpler times.

My friend’s daughter now has a job in retail. I picked her up from work on Friday, and noted that she looked disgruntled. “My feet hurt” when I asked her about it, “and they played that goddamn CHRISTMAS music all day—that ‘jazzy’ variety—that just about drove me insane.” I felt bad for her. I remember going to a certain mall in Central New Jersey, where they had this 30-foot tall mechanical singing polar bear set up for the holidays. The voice of the bear was much like that of Barney the Dinosaur, a voice which I can tolerate for about ½ of a nanosecond. If this was designed to make me shop at the mall, then I had some bad news for the management. I had been looking at a piece of jewelry on one of the carts in the mall. I looked at the woman who was minding the cart, and realized that she had to listen to this ALL DAY. It’s even worse than being inside one of the stores, where you might be able to drown out the bear with some appalling holiday music of your own. I realized how blessed I was to work in a library, where noise is not allowed.

So—some holiday advice: leave the semi-automatic weapons home when you’re shopping or dining for the next month and wear earplugs (or bring the ol’ iPod with you) when entering any sort of shopping mall. Shopping may be the reason for the season, but don’t overdo it. Cheers.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Randomness: Gospel of Judas and two new blogs

Today I have mostly stayed in, not doing housework, and wondering if it will snow at all later. All this while enjoying some French wine.

This morning I spent some time reading Elaine Pagels’s recent book, “Reading Judas”, which is about the recently discovered Gospel of Judas. The text is dated from the early Christian church, and is interesting in its view on martyrdom. While Iraneus, Ignatius, and other “orthodox” Christians were encouraging martyrdom on the part of persecuted Christians, this gospel clearly shows that there was dissent on that view in the early Church. The writer looks at martyrdom with as much horror as he does on religions that practiced human sacrifice. The gospel’s message has much in common with Hinduism and other Eastern religions, in its assertion that humans already have a connection to the Divine, and it is sacrificing human passion that is required, not any kind of blood sacrifice. The so-called “Gnostic” texts are interesting in how they show the divisions in the early Church. Once the Master disappears, the followers immediately lose their sense of unity, and start asserting their own understanding of the Master’s teachings via politics and other human agencies. It’s fascinating to contemplate.

On another unrelated note, I have discovered two newer blogs from interesting writers. One is ex-Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein, who writes for NPR, in a blog called Monitor Mix. Carrie is a very funny writer, and encourages comments from readers. I encourage you to read this one—her latest post about cell phones is absolutely hilarious.

I also discovered via Technorati a blog called You-Dope-ia by a gentleman calling himself Melak Ta’us. When I read his blog, I feel like he and I were separated at birth or something-we’re both obsessed with LOLcats, Led Zeppelin, news items in physics and other field that we have no comprehension of but are still fascinated with, and the religious “fringe”, for lack of a better term. I recommend his blog highly.

Monday, November 05, 2007


With apologies to my friend who works at Geico. I hate that stupid Gecko. And the cave men. I love LOLcats, though.

The Curse of Allergies

I am home from work again today, suffering from allergies. This may surprise you. If someone else wrote that sentence, I’d think, “Wow, what a total wuss.” But I assure you that this is not a few sniffles or a cough. When I get allergies like this, the event takes on Biblical proportions, and allergy medicine of any kind does not help.

It usually starts like this: I wake up feeling pretty good, maybe a sneeze or two, but I am ready to go out and dive into whatever it is I need to do that day: work, grading papers, running errands. Then, as I am driving, I start to sneeze, and a burning sensation takes over my entire face. Every time I sneeze, my eyes rain enough tears to cure the Southern drought. If I had any makeup on to start with, I can kiss it goodbye. I then alternate between sneezing until my lungs want to pop, weeping torrents, and trying to breathe. It’s always wonderful when this happens at work. I try to ignore the sensations and keep working, but it’s virtually impossible. Anyone who comes into my department starts out with, “Hi, Brigid, how are you—holy sh*t you look miserable. Aren’t you going home?”
And this goes on until I leave of my own volition, or my supervisor comes out of her office and says, “I can’t stand to look at you anymore. Go home.”

Today I left of my own volition. I went as far as to make a doctor’s appointment for tomorrow morning. When it comes to doctors, I am far worse than the stereotypical male. I like to blame everything on PMS or bad astrology. I could have a major body part dangling and bloody, and I’d say, “Oh, I’ll be fine—probably just PMS.” I have nothing against my doctor. He is a decent fellow, and I go to him because he actually listens to my problem and doesn’t throw handfuls of prescriptions at me. He gives me all my options, traditional and holistic, for dealing with the problem. He doesn’t yell at me if I’ve gained 5 pounds since my last visit, and didn’t even yell at me when I’d waited to come in with poison ivy that had blistered so badly, it looked like it would develop its own language and civilization. The problem is that I have no time. Emergencies don’t fit in to my schedule. So I stall on doing anything about going to the doctor for as long as I can.

So, as you may imagine, this gets to be pretty bad. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why this happens—is it weather, a food allergy, stress, demonic possession, or what. I wouldn’t mind it happening once in awhile, but it’s happened 4 times in the last week. I am past being miserable—I am now angry. You see, the theory I have developed in my burning delirium is that there are angry demons somehow related to my sinuses that like to wreak havoc for no good reason. I call them Bob and Beatrice. If you throw medicine at them—Benadryl, Comtrex, Sudafed, Tylenol Sinus, Advil Sinus (or just Advil)—they get furious and create more havoc. Sleep and ice packs to stop the burning seem to be the only helpful thing. That and maybe an exorcism, but I can’t find my handbook. In any event—it was also suggested to me this morning that I might have an infection. I actually hope so—that means there could be a medicine out there that will make this better.

In the meantime—I am willing to settle for mild sniffling and a headache, if I can maintain it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Onion: Town Hall Meeting

I discovered this in my e-mail today, and it's a pretty good summary of most public forums and group meetings that I've attended:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eagles to release 1st studio album in 28 years

Just read this on Yahoo News, courtesy of Liz:

Eagles to release 1st studio album in 28 years


To quote Liz's reaction:

To quote Colonel Kurtz: "The horror, the horror."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Internet outage

On Friday at work, I was looking at some stuff on the Web, and having an IM conversation with someone who works for an ILS vendor. Suddenly, without warning, I was logged out, and I got the “Firefox cannot find this page” message. I asked around a bit, and it turns out that the Internet was down all over the office.

As you know, I work in a library. This is a college library in the summer, which means it’s already dead as a doornail in terms of activity, and now there is no access to any useful applications.

Frantic, I logged onto IM from my phone, and let some key folks know that my Internet was down. I knew I might have to resort to—hold on to yourselves—using the phone for a CONVERSATION.

I wandered out to the circulation desk, to visit with one of our staff. “I can’t do ANYTHING”, she lamented. “I can’t even check out a BOOK.”

I decided that I would go over to the gym at lunchtime. On my way back to my office, I ran into one of our university IT guys. “Is the Internet back yet?” I asked him.
“Nope. It’s a problem on the other campus. The connection comes through there, and the link from there to here is broken. It’s a huge outage though—not just us.”
I asked him how this was affecting his work. “It’s great”, he said. “I can’t do anything. I decided to go for a walk. It’s nice out.”

I returned to my office, where staff were wandering around like lost souls. I ran into our AV person. He looked at me and threw his arms up.
“What am I supposed to do without the Internet? I can’t do anything.”
After a brief discussion of the merits of smartphones, he said, “I think I’m going to go outside, take my shoes off, and see what it feels like to walk around barefoot on the grass.”

One of our assistant directors was grumbling. “I logged out of my computer when I went to lunch, and now I can’t even log into my desktop. Why the heck did I even shut it off?”

I went back to my desk, where I searched around for something, anything, I could work on that didn’t involve the Internet. There were a few things, but not enough to really fill my time. Our assistant came back from her lunch. “I fell asleep downstairs,” she confessed.

I finally asked my boss if I could just leave early, which I was allowed to do. While driving home, I reflected that there was a time when we had no Internet. I was actually alive during that time. What did we do then?

I thought about it—this is what I used to do in the 1980s and early 1990s at my first library job, when I had nothing else to do at work, and there was no Internet:

Read books or magazines
Visit with other staff under the pretext of doing work
See if I could still turn cartwheels down the aisles
Photocopy random stuff
Check the Village Voice for cool concerts
Gossip about other staff members (I don’t know that this has ever stopped, even among the “professional librarians”)
Visit the vending machine in the break room
Have singalongs with the Reference staff (or at least the really cool members of the Reference staff)
Tell campfire-type stories about strange patrons
Do homework (I was in high school/college then)

I would also add “play baseball”, although I didn’t really participate in this. I used to work with 4 guys, and they frequently entertained themselves by taking the magnet off of the photocopier door, and using one of those plastic “lollipop” thingees that were used to identify popular periodicals, would try to hit the magnet as far into the stacks as they could. If you only made it into the 400s, it was a single, the 600s was a double, and if you made it past the 800s, it was a home run. It just goes to show where boredom will take you—and probably would have been fun if you didn’t run the risk of hitting a patron in the head. But some of our patrons probably could have used that.

Back to the present—I was really missing my Facebook and MySpace status updates. It made me think of this article:

Anyway—as soon as I got home I logged on immediately, to avoid social networking withdrawal. Like a lot of things—you can’t imagine what you would use it for before you have it, and once you have it, you can’t live without it. Weird, isn’t it?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Personal topics

Recently I had a discussion with someone about whether or not a blog should be “personal” in nature or not. Speaking strictly for myself, I couldn’t possibly write a blog that isn’t somewhat personal—I think it would be dead boring otherwise. Maybe you already think it’s dead boring. I assure you it would be worse if I tried to keep it impersonal.

So—speaking of personal topics—I went bra shopping today. I don’t do this often. I have (now I’m getting really personal) very average breasts. I’m not flat chested, nor am I porn star material. I happen to like them just the way they are. I see no need to augment them. Being of an exceedingly practical nature, I not only think breast implants would be painful and expensive—I also don’t need anything else to contribute to the upper back problems I already have, thanks.

Anyway, I went over to Victoria Secret to look at bras. I was hoping they would have a better selection than your average clothing store. As it turns out, they have a huge selection, and nothing that I actually want. All bras now seem to have at least one of two things, if not both: padding and underwire.

As I mentioned, I don’t have huge breasts. I imagine that a woman who is a DD or an E would need iron support. I also imagine that a woman who is flat chested may want something that, well, doesn’t make her look flat chested. I don’t fall into either of those categories, which is why I resent having this kind of a selection. I see all kinds of statements about new “technology” in these bras. I don’t want technology in my bra. I want it in my computer, my cell phone, my iPod, and my appliances. I don’t want high-tech lingerie. Those words shouldn’t even be in the same sentence.

This may seem like an odd topic, but it is one of those things that has always annoyed me, like Paris Hilton, or the Eagles (the band, not the football team). Stay tuned for more strange topics—I feel like I’m on a roll this week.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sannyasa Sukta

I just read the most amazing thing today. My friend brought me a CD of Hindu chants she picked up at Amma’s Seattle program. One of the chants is listed as “Na Karmanana”, and is also known as the Sannyasa Sukta. It comes from the Upanishads. For anyone who has been to see Amma, and has been around for the beginning of the program, you would have heard the swamis reciting the Sannyasa Sukta while the pada puja is going on (i.e., washing of Amma’s feet, garlanding, aarati, etc.).

I feel totally overwhelmed every time I hear the Sannyasa Sukta, but it was just today that I learned the actual words and their meaning:

om na karmana na prajaya dhanena tyagenaike amrtatvam anasuh /
parena nakam nihitam guhayam vibhrajate yad yatayo visanti /
vedanta-vijnana suniscatartha sannyasa yogad-yataya-suddha-sattvah /
te brahma-loke tu paranta-kale paramrtat-parimucyanti sarve /
dahram vipapam parame’ sma bhutam yat-pundarikam pura-madhya sagmstham /
tatrapi dahram gaganam visokas-tasmin yad antas tad upasitavyam /
yo vedadau svarah prokto vedante ca pratistatah /
tasya prakrti-linasya yah para-sa mahesvarah //

What’s amazing about this chant is that it basically sums up the core meaning of all religious belief and practice in what amounts to one paragraph. It refers to 2 things:

1. The way to “liberation” (or salvation, if you prefer) is the renunciation of the world (i.e., surrendering the ego, or cleansing oneself of sinfulness, or removing attachments to worldly things—whatever terminology you prefer).
2. “There is a lotus situated within the body, in the middle of the heart, a place free from all suffering. It is the spiritual sky, free from all material contamination and lamentation. There resides the object of our worship”. This refers to the fact that there is not a personal God “out there” to be worshipped, but that God resides within the heart, and can only be found there.

I would argue that this is the core of all religions, regardless of any other rules, practices, rituals, or dogma. This is even true of the Western religions. On the surface, Judaism, Christianity and Islam seem to refer to a God “out there” and separate from us (and this is unfortunately how it’s understood in our culture), but if you read deeply into the spiritual writings of saints and mystics in these religions, you will find that the same concept is indicated. It removes the need for a religion that uses its scriptures as a weapon, and eliminates the science vs. religion debate—there is no need to argue about the existence of a state of consciousness. There is no discussion of a separate deity watching over things.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Speaking of "female chauvinist pigs"

You have to hand it to the Onion to jump on this issue:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Earth-like planet found (Onion opinion)

The Onion

Earth-like Planet Discovered

Scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star 20 light-years away. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Post-Nor'easter Balanced Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, on a snowy afternoon, I posted my top 5 minor evils of the world—at least they were the minor evils of the week. I had promised balance in the form of a post on the top 5 minor (or major) boons to humanity. It’s interesting how it’s harder to think of positive effects than it is to think of negative ones. Nonetheless, over the last couple of weeks I have seized on positive inspiration when it has presented itself, and tackled it to the ground. Hopefully I haven’t killed it.

Here is the short list:

  1. Jimmy Page
  2. TaB cola
  3. The WFMU blog
  4. Weird NJ
  5. Magic 8-balls

And here’s the rundown:

1. Jimmy Page—IMHO, there is no greater evidence that there is a God than the guitar playing of Jimmy Page. And Jimmy Page himself, let’s face it. The man’s got some sort of manna, even if he hasn’t as much of the mysteriousness that he had in the 1970s. I credit my survival of junior high school to Led Zeppelin. Page was brought to my consciousness again recently when I read this piece in The Onion.

2. TaB—There are 5 potential grocery stores that I can visit within a 10 mile radius. I tend to choose one that is slightly more expensive, because they carry TaB. I cannot go through a week without at least 2 6-packs of TaB. For you young ‘uns out there—TaB was the first diet cola, and is still produced in the U.S. in those hot pink cans (I think the cans are blue if you buy it in England). It’s getting harder and harder to find, though, so I end up driving miles out of the way some weeks to find it. As far as I’m concerned, TaB is the still the best diet cola out there, although the original formula has changed. It contains BOTH saccharine AND aspartame—for double your artificially sweetened pleasure. Originally it only contained saccharine, which is still used in Sweet ‘n’ Low (what’s with saccharine and putrid pink packaging, anyway?). Say what you want about the health risks—it still has no calories, tastes great—and something I eat or drink is bound to kill me one day anyway, so I’m not getting concerned about it.

I know I am not the only person left in the Western Hemisphere who drinks TaB. There is a message board at, where dedicated souls provide information on where to find TaB—not just in cans, but in 2-liter bottles. I am hoping that sometime, somewhere, someone on that board can point me to TaB in glass bottles. That’s like finding El Dorado.

3. The WFMU blog—I mentioned WFMU in an earlier post, during their annual pledge marathon. I’m proud that they are broadcasting from New Jersey. WFMU’s Beware of the Blog has the best assorted collection of musical and pop culture oddities. Where else can you find cheesy Finnish videos featuring choreography by former Serbian president Slobodon Milosevic? Or rantings about a Satanic Donna Summer from a guy known as “Mark from NJ?” (No, this Mark is not related to the other Marks responsible for Weird NJ). You could spend days going through posts here, if you’ve never seen it before. I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy, crappy Saturday.

And..speaking of the Marks..

4. Weird NJ—produced by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, what was once distributed as typed photocopies on legal size sheets of paper stapled together, Weird NJ has become a huge phenomenon in this state. It started out as Sceurman and Moran’s accounts of their travels to local “weird” sites. It has turned into a twice-a-year publication, about 120 pages each issue, covering the strange local folklore of the Garden State. My own contribution is in Issue 26, a piece co-written with Mark Sceurman on Aleister Crowley’s burial site that is still in need of future updating. The Marks have also expanded their territory, starting a Weird US site—including a TV show on the History Channel, and a series of books about every state in the union (there are 2 volumes on NJ). Mark and Mark will sometimes have slide shows at local bookstores—these have become immensely popular, and it is almost impossible to squeeze into the Weird NJ Halloween party, or any of the new issue parties. I used to go, but I’m not fond of crowds, and literally hundreds of folks turn out for these events. You can also subscribe to their channel on YouTube.

In the past, I have looked at the last 5 bucks in my pocket, and had to decide whether to buy food or get the next issue of Weird NJ. Weird NJ always wins—the new issues are like heroin. Once you start, it’s very difficult to stop. (I don’t know this from experience, BTW—I’ve never done heroin. I imagine it would put me to sleep). It provided a favorite excuse during the latter days of my marriage (“Not tonight honey—I’m reading Weird NJ”), and the day after I buy the newest issue always makes for a tired morning after, as I have to stay up all night reading it.

5. The Magic 8-Ball—Administrators just don’t make enough of this useful tool. Stuck on a big decision? Just try the Magic 8 Ball. Its wisdom is just as useful as anything you’ll get out of a long, droning discussion with your colleagues. Probably more useful, as a matter of fact. It’s ideal for the totally indecisive.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hello Kitty knockoffs

I like concepts that are put together, and don't go together. A lot of the fiction writing that I work on involves putting characters together that you couldn't imagine being together in any sort of logical fashion.

Here are a couple of "Hello Kitty" related concepts that don't go together, but are funny:

Hello Cthulhu (for you H.P. Lovecraft fans, unless you're the ones who take the Necronomicon seriously. This concept has been used by more than one artistic soul--one of them, not the one that did the cartoon to my knowledge, has a cafe-press store of Hello Cthulhu stuff. I think I need the coffee mug.)

Hello Kali --as a Kali worshipper, I find the rewritten mantra hilarious. And I don't think Maa takes offense...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Thelemic Hinduism" -- my take on Mr. Crowley

When asked, I frequently define myself as a “Thelemic Hindu.” Most people get the Hindu part, but they don’t understand the Thelemic part. Trying to explain my interest in Thelemic philosophy is often difficult, especially once Aleister Crowley is mentioned. Many folks do not know who Crowley is, and those who do, unless they are Thelemites themselves, have an erroneous impression of him, due to the rumors that abounded about the man the late 19th and early 20th century.

I used to be a department head in a university library—I now work at the same library in a different job. While I was there as department head, our director at the time had amassed a large number of special collections. One of these contained a number of occult materials.

One of the items in this collection was a first edition of Aleister Crowley’s novel, “Moonchild.” I had heard of Crowley, but had read very little of his work, and I picked up the book to look at. The director came in, and saw me looking at it. “Don’t ever read anything by that man,” he said. “He’s evil.”
“Oh really?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. He then went on to tell me how Crowley was expelled from a number of countries for his black magic rituals. Our director was a conservative Christian man, and very concerned about what he perceived as evil in the world. I listened to what he had to say. Then I went home, and proceeded to dig out the Crowley books in my collection and read them. Nothing interests me more than someone whom I am exhorted to stay away from.

My interest in Crowley was piqued farther when a couple of years later, when I met my good friend Frater P. We both work in the same field, and found that we were interested in the same type of materials. The Crowley conversation started over the unicursal hexagram pendant that I was wearing that day. He has a very keen interest in Crowley and his circle, and a great enthusiasm for Crowley’s writings that was infectious.

The more I read of Crowley, the more I liked him. He was not evil at all, in my estimation—he was blatantly outspoken about what was wrong with institutionalized religion. When I worked on my graduate degree in religion at Drew University, I found that I had a lot of the same criticisms of modern Christianity as Crowley, and his unabashed style was just wonderful to me. It was no wonder that he was regarded as such an evil personage—those who work towards finding truth, and speak about it freely, are often vilified by those interested in preserving the status quo.

Crowley’s magical writings are rather intense, and even practiced ceremonial magicians have a difficult time gaining full understanding of his writings. For those who have never read Crowley and are not magicians, I always recommend looking to Crowley’s fiction as a first step—The Scrutinies of Simon Iff is a collection of Crowley’s detective stories, and are not as tedious as his novels. Moonchild was a fascinating read, but the ending is disappointing to anyone who doesn’t understand the point Crowley is trying to make about such magical operations.

The most famous phrase associated with Crowley is “Do what thou Wilt,” or the longer version: “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, love under Will.” The capital letters are important here. Thelema is actually the Greek word for Will.
“Do what thou Wilt” is not a license to hedonism, as many have interpreted it. A man or woman in pursuit of their Will needs to be quite disciplined. In short—the idea of pursuing one’s Will is a very simple axiom for anyone. “Will” can be compared to God’s Will, or the Purpose of one’s life—the reason for being born, coming into existence. Quite simply, to pursue one’s Will is to find out their purpose in this life, and dedicate one’s time to fulfilling that purpose. One should not waste time pursuing things that are contrary to one’s Will. For all of Crowley’s eccentricities, he believed his philosophy fully and practiced it fully—every act he engaged in was to further what he believed his Will to be. He did not feel it was his duty to bow to social norms, or conventional religion. Most folks are scared off by his moniker, “The Great Beast 666.” But Crowley felt it was his duty to bring an end to Christianity, and he saw himself in an anti-Christian role. He wrote a drama called The World’s Tragedy, about the coming of Christianity into the world. In his preface to the play, he explains that he is not against Jesus Christ as a person, or a God, or whatever—he is against what the established order has done with Jesus’s teachings. This is what he wanted to end, and he wanted human beings to fully understand their connection to the Divine—“Every man and every woman is a star”. Institutionalized religion is designed to keep people away from this connection.

To be fair, there are many folks who are not anywhere near ready to make this mystical connection, and for them, organized religion can be a safe introduction to these mysteries. But the seeker who wants to break out of the confines of dogma often finds him or herself in a spiritual crisis—Crowley was one individual who hoped to end this crisis. His bizarre behavior was often an attempt to break someone of their worldview. This is not unlike Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda works—Don Juan gives Carlos peyote in order to shake him up. Carlos is an anthropologist, walking around with his notebook. Don Juan frequently makes fun of him for this, and works to show Carlos that the world is not what it appears to be—and even the “alternate reality” Don Juan shows him isn’t the bottom line. Crowley wanted to serve a similar function in the world.

One of the key Thelemite texts is The Book of the Law, and the Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O. (a magical society that is currently based largely on Crowley’s teachings) has the Gnostic Mass as its central ritual. I have participated in the Mass both as clergy and as an observer, and I can tell you that it is an extremely beautiful ritual with incredible transformative power. I have never been unmoved by a Gnostic Mass. Those who wish to equate it with a Black Mass are totally ignorant, purely and simply. O.T.O. works on the highest level to not only transform its members, but to bring everyone in the world to their true Will. After participating in the Gnostic Mass communion, it is easy to understand how it accomplishes this.

The complaints that I have heard about the O.T.O. are the same complaints that I might hear about any organized group—egos can get in the way, and there are petty squabbles. This is simply human nature, and not the result of any failing in the organization. If everyone in the organization was a fully realized human being, perhaps there would not be such squabbles. Fully-realized human beings are exceedingly rare, and they don’t need any religious organization, because they’ve already achieved the thing that the organization is trying to get them to. To use one of my favorite quotes: “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” In Hinduism, it is understood that yogis do not need to follow the same constraints on behavior that other seekers do, because they’ve already transcended them.

How does this fit in with Hinduism? Really, Thelema fits in with any religion, or none at all. However—the Hindu concepts of maya (the world as we perceive it is an illusion) and dharma (acting according to one’s appointed role in life—i.e. one’s Will) have no conflict with Thelemic philosophy.

There is much more that could be said, but I could probably fill a book, or start an entirely separate blog on the subject.

Some links that I could recommend on Thelema and Crowley for the interested:

There are many more—feel free to comment with others. 93 93/93

Brigid Nischala

Today's "What do you think?"

If you don't read The Onion, you should. Besides the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, it is my only other news source. You may wonder why I don't watch local news or CNN or (ha-ha) Fox News, and it's because I never get the real story on those shows. Satire has more truth to it than anything that passes for journalism on any of those stations.

I love the Onion's "What do you think?" Here is today's:

The Onion

Misbehavior Linked To Day Care

A recent study showed that children who attended day care for a year or longer were more likely to be disruptive in grade school. What do you...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Words speak louder than actions

I'll be going to see the Colbert Report in NY in about 3 weeks. This is one of my favorite clips from that show (and there are many favorites). Interestingly--while Google is pulling these things off of YouTube like crazy, they are available on Google Video. Hmm...

George Bush: Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Snow-day randomness

It’s been awhile since I’ve added to this blog. A lot of my recent efforts have been fictional—I do intend to present these, but not as a part of this blog. Hence, the more “serious” musings on culture have taken a back seat as of late.
Speaking of such things—today it is snowing where I am, after having an 81-degree day two days ago. I can’t express in words how this truly sucks. I did not have to work today (off for Spring Break, ironically enough), so I have been trapped in my home with two psychotic cats, a box of Thin Mints, and a bottle of Smoking Loon cabernet sauvignon.
Such a predicament usually drives my mind into bizarre directions, not all of them useful or purposeful. With all of the major problems in the world today—terrorism, war, poverty, illness, to name a few—I have been pondering the seemingly small but potentially deadly and completely random evils of the world. The impact of these evils is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent with nothing to do. Here is the list I have come up with so far:

1. iPod earbuds
2. The Girl Scouts and their diabolical cookies
3. Don Henley (and anything to do with the Eagles)
4. Boolean search engines
5. Lite beer

Not a huge list—I’m sure that some of you could think of others. Here is my explanation of this list:

1. iPod earbuds: Maybe I am the only one with this problem—but I cannot walk anywhere with my iPod without adjusting my earbuds approximately 97 times. No matter how much slack the wires connecting the earbuds to the iPod actually have, it always feels like they’re being torn out when I make any sudden moves. I do not understand how people jog or do upper body workouts with these damn things. And those stupid little black pieces of fabric that are supposed to cover them—they get lost all the time. If you try to put the earbuds in without this flimsy piece of fabric, it feels like you are sticking a knife in your ear. Add that to the hearing loss that is supposed to accompany excessive use of earbuds, and the clever way the wires get tangled within seconds after taking them out of your ears—and you’ve got a pretty good conspiracy theory.
2. Girl scout cookies: A friend of mine recently told me about 2 arrests in the school system she works in—one was a special ed teacher busted for using coke and heroin. The other was an administrator who supposedly locked himself in his office naked and started doing crystal meth. (Geez, whatever happened to sneaking a hit off of a joint in the bathroom?)
In any event—in the category of less serious but still potentially deadly addictions, I add Girl Scout cookies. Girl Scout cookies are pure evil—I don’t know how else to describe it. They are pushed on you by family and friends with a daughter or a niece, or some pre-pubescent female who needs to sell cookies to earn a “merit badge”. For the most part, you don’t see Girl Scouts going door to door anymore. It’s a shame really, because I could actually avoid them that way—most of the time I am not home, or good at pretending not to be home. This was a survival skill learned when the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses started cruising our neighborhood. One of my pet peeves in the world is door-to-door religion sales. I have an unreasonable amount of anger when I see the fake and condescending smiles of missionaries, so it is better for both parties if I avoid them altogether.
But back to the Girl Scouts—unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are not allowed to spread their literature in the workplace, there is always someone in the office with the order form for Girl Scout cookies. If it doesn’t happen at work, they wait outside of the local grocery stores. This is an immediate gratification scenario—you don’t have to wait for the boxes to come in—they’re right there in front of you. And me, the helpless enraged addict that I am, always walk away with 3 boxes—those peanut butter Tagalog things, the Samoas, and most deadly of all—Thin Mints. I could eat an entire box in one sitting. I did that today, in fact. Shiva, my big black cat who looks like a ferret, came down to watch me. I yelled at him, “Why are you just sitting there, dammit? Stop me!” But Shiva let me down—for a cat that will jump up and grab almost anything out of my hands, he was content to sit there and sniff at the cookie box. I’m betting he gets a commission from the cookie distributors.
Incidentally, I learned that the Girl Scouts as an organization make very little money from their cookies. For the 5 bucks per box (or whatever it is now) that you pay, they usually see less than 1 dollar of the profits. Pretty crappy return on effort, if you ask me.

3.Don Henley : When I was in college, my friend Liz and I came up with the theory that the Eagles as a group are responsible for most of the minor evils in the world, although we also suspected them of causing international terrorist crises as well (this was about 10 years before Sept. 11).
Why Don Henley and/or the Eagles, you may ask? It’s hard to give a rational answer. Like any complex social science problem, it’s a matter of how you interpret the data. What we discovered is that every major thing that went wrong—whether it was the car breaking down, doing poorly on an exam, breaking up with one’s latest boyfriend, or whatever—was always preceding by hearing an Eagles song, usually the dreaded “Hotel California”. You may say it was a coincidence, but it was too common of a coincidence for our tastes. Soon this rumor was rampant on what was then the Montclair State College campus, and you would hear people bring it up at random on the student quad. Many of them tested the theory and found it to be true. Everything really hit rock bottom when Don Henley actually came to a local mall to promote his Walden Woods charity. Liz and I had at least 4 major crises apiece that week, which did not abate until Mr. Henley took off for somewhere else out of state. This led to the modified theory of Eagles-evilness:

1. Hearing any Eagles song is usually a precursor to bad luck, or can at least be considered an inauspicious omen.
2. Hearing songs by individual Eagles is also inauspicious, although there is a sliding scale of evilness. From most evil to least evil: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Joe Walsh. In fact, it is suspected that Joe Walsh is not really evil at all.
3. There is an antidote against the evilness of Eagles songs—namely, any Beatles song, or song produced by an individual Beatle, with George being the most auspicious, and Ringo being the least, but still effective nonetheless. I always kept a Beatles tape in my car, just in case we were ambushed by an Eagles song while scanning the radio dial. Led Zeppelin songs also work.

I worked in a public library in Northern Morris County for a few months, and discussed this theory with a young woman who was a library page. She liked the Eagles, and was even trying to learn to play Hotel California on her guitar. I warned her that this was a grave mistake, which she just laughed off. The next day, she was out driving, got into an accident, and broke her arm. Coincidence? Maybe. Liz and I don’t think so.
We have not corroborated our theory of evilness with Mojo Nixon’s. After hearing “Don Henley must die,” we assumed that he may have figured this out too, but maybe he just thinks they suck, or at the very least, are overrated.

Having said all of this, I have to admit to actually liking a couple of Don Henley’s songs. We all have an evil streak in us somewhere…

4. Boolean search engines: You will have to indulge me on this one. I am a librarian by trade, specifically a cataloging librarian. (For those of you who know the stereotype of professional catalogers, you will no doubt develop your own theory of how screwed up I must be.)
As a professional cataloger, the fact that Boolean could be the basis of a modern search engine irks me to no end. Good catalogers strive to make material accessible to the public through good description and subject access. That can be cancelled out by a few lousy prepositions. “Not” is a huge culprit. If you go into a Boolean-based default catalog search, you run into the “not” conundrum. God help you if you want to search for a title that has the word “not” in it. “Not without my daughter” is a good one. Try this in any SirsiDynix Unicorn catalog (usually called iBistro or iLink)—you will get 99,000 hits, none of them what you are looking for. This is because the “not” operator cancels out the rest of your search, and from the system’s perspective, you may as well have done a keyword search on a blank search box. I migrated a consortium of 37 libraries to a Sirsi Unicorn system. I remember talking to our sales rep about the catalog. I wanted to search “The Sound and the Fury” as an example title. “Oh no,” she told me, “That’s a bad example. You’d have to search just the words ‘sound’ and ‘fury’ to get the correct result set. Or, you’d have to search the whole title in quotes.”

Sirsi insisted that they do this because they “are creating a search engine for the public, not for librarians.” Sounds like the opposite to me. If you don’t know Boolean logic, you’ll never find a damn thing in the catalog. In an era of natural language searching and Google, this is just plain laziness on the vendor’s part. Google does have a Boolean option, but it’s usually in the advanced search, not the default. Hence, it leads to a greater evil in my opinion—the loss of access to relevant information. Maybe it’s meant to give reference librarians job security. But, as it turns out, most of them don’t know how to use it, either.
This rant comes in the wake of the news that SirsiDynix is no longer developing either the Unicorn or Horizon products, and they’re focusing a on a new platform code-named “Rome.” According to Sirsi’s release, forwarded to me by a former colleague, “Rome” is based on the Unicorn system. The release says it is because of the “quality, stability, and reliability” of the Unicorn platform. Which says to me that their company is sunk, and anyone on any Sirsi system should start working on their RFP for a non-Sirsi system now.

I hate to be so negative about this—I used to be the one who tried to put a positive spin on this system for the libraries I used to work for. I like all of the folks at SirsiDynix, but it is clear that some of the key decision makers are not living in the real world. Maybe working off of the Unicorn platform is the cheapest thing to do, and they are looking at the bottom line. But it’s a case of penny wise and pound foolish. I worked extensively with Unicorn’s last 2 or 3 releases, including the much touted GL3.1, which was supposed to solve all library consortia system issues, and apparently cure cancer and bring world peace in the bargain. All sarcasm aside, GL3.1 was not what it promised at all—it had a better interface, but beyond that, all it did was piss off circulation staff because it kept freezing in the middle of transactions. Some knowledgeable folks outside of Sirsi told us that this was a very stable release of Unicorn, but these were folks who apparently did not use the Reports module, which was totally f**ked up. To make this increasingly long story short—Unicorn is buggier that a wheat field during a plague of locusts. They did fix a few things, but they broke countless other things. They also promised a “fix” for the Boolean problem, but is has never worked—implementing the fix crashed the quick search feature on the catalog.
So—I consider it a great evil that a company that has 40% of the library automation market share has decided to move ahead with outdated technology, which will further drive users away from libraries using these technologies.

5. Lite beer : Yes, time to get away from the trauma of my last job, and move onto something else with less significance. I suppose lite beer is a boon for those who want to go out, have several beers, and not get wasted as quickly. Personally, if I was going to go out to drink lite beer, I’d stick to soda, because that at least has flavor. God bless the makers of Guinness, and save me from Anheuser-Busch.

Now that I’ve had a chance to complain—I will provide a list of top 5 redemptions of this Earthly life. But that'll have to wait til the next post.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Female Chauvinist Pigs

I recall a book I read a few months ago by Ariel Levy, “Female Chauvinist Pigs”. She discusses the idea that there is a new idea of an “empowered” woman who is not only not afraid to take her clothes off or be sexually risqué, but also women who go to strip clubs with their boyfriends to look at other women taking their clothes off. Somehow all of this proves that a woman is not meek or prudish—it’s a statement of “confidence”. Levy questions this idea, and doubts that this is really any kind of feminism or empowerment. I think I would agree with her.

You might think that I’m a bit of a prude. I suppose I would say “yes” and “no” to that. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a woman wanting to be attractive, nothing wrong with the very real fact that heterosexual men like to look at women as a matter of course, and that women like to be looked at. There’s also nothing wrong with women being attracted to women, or men to men—when one gets past our external identities, all men and women are both Shiva-Shakti (i.e., have male and female qualities). Sexual fantasies, of any and all kinds, are very normal. However, I also cannot get sexually involved with someone just for the sake of having sex—there needs to be a deeper attraction, a sense of friendliness and compatibility as well. This is my “hang-up”, if you will.

I think I have been always concerned with the idea of “objectifying” women. Certainly attractiveness to the other person does play a role in “love” relationships, but the idea that your worth is judged by your face and your body type is nothing less than de-humanizing. At best, it has little to do with love. What is love? Something based on trust and respect, in the context of human relationships. How do you respect someone who is just a sex object to you?

Levy talks about teenagers and the current environment of sex education. Sex is everywhere in the media, but the current line of thinking is that teenagers should be taught abstinence, rather than being introduced to concepts like birth control. Levy does ask what I consider to be the all-important question—why are we not equating sex with love? The message teens get is that to really be special or of value, they need to be sexy—but they shouldn’t have sex because it’s bad. Sex isn’t bad—it’s the separation of sex from love that can be bad, and lead to so much emotional damage.
Teenagers, however, are dealing with that great tsunami called “hormones”. Trying to stop that tsunami by just standing in front of it and saying “no” is ludicrous—you’ll be drowned instantly or lucky if you survive it. Some are disciplined enough to be abstinent (whatever that means), but one needs to face the reality of this use it as an opportunity to talk about what’s right about sexuality and sexual feelings, as well as the reality of the potential consequences.

This strict dichotomy between sexuality as raunchy and a stiff, controlling morality can’t possibly cause anything but a schizophrenia in the soul. How can anyone possibly learn to love someone else in this kind of environment? It is interesting that married couples no longer are in the majority in this country. If you have been broken in this way, how can you possibly love someone once that initial lust is gone?

The dichotomy has to disappear, and the only way to heal it is to accept whatever it is you feel without guilt, while learning respect for others and yourself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Science and Religion

Recently, I have spent my weekend mornings reading Huston Smith's "Why Religion Matters"--not a new book, but an interesting one, from a religious scholar who writes very accessibly.

The book seems to have come out of a concern about the discarding of a "traditional" worldview, and replacing it with a "scientific" worldview. The concern is a real one, but also a puzzle to me.

The public "battle" between religion and science is extremely evident in controversies in our educational system, and with such issues as a woman's right to choose. "Intelligent design" theory is one example of how science clashes with religion. But I don't think this is a battle between God and the atheists, as it were--it is a battle of worldviews, and both are incomplete.

To begin with--the entire conflict is predicated on the idea that there is some being sitting up in the clouds, directing Earthly traffic remotely. I don't know that anyone really believes this except for hardcore literalists and maybe young children.

Scientific approaches are empirical in nature. They rely on sensory and mathematical data. Scientific method requires a reasonable hypothesis for which measures/experiments are selected that prove or disprove the hypothesis. That may be a bit of a misnomer as well--one doesn't set out to prove that they are right (that represents a bias), and even if experiments go well, they need to be repeated many times before something is accepted as scientific fact. Frankly, there is hardly anything accepted as scientific fact--it's mostly theory, albeit theory well supported by empirical evidence.

So--if you are trying to use scientific methods to prove that there is some being out there in the sky on a golden throne, you will fail.

Smith points out the fact that emotions and emotional experiences (including religious ones) are often discarded in a scientific worldview as being non-objective, and therefore unreliable. This is similar to complaints about psychology, if one takes an extreme Freudian view--religion is merely a wish for a return to an innocent state, or whatever. "Mere" is the key term here--it tries to cut down the power of the experience by dismissing it as something insignificant. Erik Erikson is a bit kinder, distinguishing between those things that are demonstrably true, and those that are felt to be true through internal experience.

Let us turn to the East for a moment. In Buddhism, there is no god-concept. Hinduism has many deities, but they represent one Reality. There are actually 3 types of Hindu worship—bhakta (devotion), tantra, and vedanta. Vedanta is very similar to Buddhism in this respect—there is no-thing to worship. Ammachi has said that atheists are no more right or wrong about God than religious folk—no one has a true “image” of the Ultimate (as that would limit the Ultimate—and break the first commandment, if you are Christian or Jewish), so having no concept may be closer to the truth.

Jewish mysticism has an interesting metaphor for this—the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The menorah displayed at Hanukah is one version of the Tree of Life, but more often it looks like the picture shown above.

The Tree of Life is made up of 10 “vessels”, or sephiroth. The Tree technically hangs upside down, and is light at the top, and dense at the bottom. Malkuth, the bottom sephiroth, is the Kingdom—it is where we are now. Directly above Malkuth is Yesod, which is represented by the Moon. The Moon reflects the light of the Sun, and is representative (among other things) of one’s Intuition.

Above Yesod are 2 sephiroths—Hod on the left, and Netzach on the right. All of the sephiroth have many qualities, but it may be easiest to think of Hod as Intellect, and Netzach as Emotion. Directly above these 2 is Tifareth, which is a very complex sephiroth—it is the point of realization that one is “connected to God” (we are special), but it is also dangerous—one can start to think they are more special than everyone else. One can rise to spiritual heights, or fall down from here.

Here is the relevant metaphor: If our physical life can be represented as Malkuth, then the 3 sephiroth above represent our “tools”—the Intellect/Rationality, our Emotions, and our Intuition. Useful tools, but each limited in their own way.

In the bigger picture—the Tree of Life is one, and represents the Ultimate in its entirety. And that’s the key—EVERYTHING is part of the Ultimate, and one sephiroth is not more important than another sephiroth. Rationality does not overshadow the others.

Back to the East—to “know God” is to be aware that one is a small part of a larger system, of Primal Consciousness (adiparashakti). To re-use a metaphor—it’s recognizing the strength of flowing with the entire Ocean, rather than struggling to maintain an identity as a wave. One is much more powerful with the whole than as a part.

The problem is that Western religion frequently separates God from the world, and we start looking for something transcendant that can only be realized immanently. There is nothing for “science” to prove. In the divination system of Norse runes, Ralph Blum’s “Book of Runes” notes for the rune Sowelu (wholeness)—“What you are striving to become is what, by nature, you already are. Become conscious of your essence and bring it into form, express it in a creative way."

Namah Shivaya.