What issues matter, what can be done about them

So when my vote was suppressed, I swore I’d do something about it. And so far I have.

Political Action Groups
I’m now a member of NRDC, Oceana– those are enviornmental protection groups, HSUS, PETA, COK– all animal rights groups, the Brady Campaign, Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU and EFF.

Individual Politicians
I’ve given money to three candidates nationwide who support doing something about the out of control situation with guns. I also gave money to my local Democratic candidates.

Meetups.
I organize the Progressive Book Club of Takoma Park. Picking books was more challenging than I expected– while the right writes identifiable right wing screeds, the left tends to write nonfiction and works of journalism. Oddly, right wingers signed up and at least one left winger refused to sign up because the group didn’t look radial enough. It’s hard to please.

Funding What Should be in Society
In addition to giving money to the government to encourage it to spend money on issues of importance (instead of tax subsidies-i.e. business tax cuts- in return for campaign contributions), I’m directly giving my money to good causes, such as the Poplar Spring Run (a local animal sanctuary), the Takoma Coffee Shop “La Mano”, the Takoma Community Kitchen, and micro-finance lending via Kiva.

Boycotting What Shouldn’t be in Society
I am boycotting Monsanto. I’m dedicated to cutting out non-organic food from my diet. Since Monsanto only sells poison to homeowners (roundup) and farmers– which I am neither, I can’t effectively stop buying from them unless I stop buying from farmers who buy from Monsanto. I do what I can to harass my building about the pesticides they put on the lawn. So far, only a local ordinance has suggested that the building’s board and management company might stop trying to poison us all.  It depends on enforcement.

Online
It’s all new, so it’s hard to say how effective it is. I tweet, re-tweet, I sign petitions. I click “like” and occasionally re-post. I try to be loud about writing a check.

Some things I won’t do online: get into fruitless discussion in the comment section of the news or fight a flame war with anyone. I’m going to see if a blog coupled with twitter & Facebook integration will provide the reach to those who I’d like to reach: progressives who want to do something, but don’t know what. People who would do something, but don’t know it needs to be done.

Votes get suppressed. What can you do to replace a vote?

Okay, for the last two elections, lines started to get really long. Now when I changed states, I couldn’t vote because I didn’t have a driver’s license. I take the metro. So apparently, anyone who takes mass transit is liable to commit voter fraud, or more likely, not Republican enough for the corrupt voting boards.

Voter suppression is the rightwing strategy to make voting difficult for women and minorities and city dwellers so that Republicans will remain a viable party.

Unlike the the poor, black, asian and so on that the Republicans really wanted to suppress, this time they suppress the vote of a white guy. I wasn’t going to vote for Republicans anyhow, but now I’m mad. So I’m joining as many progressive political groups as I can, top among those MoveOn and the ACLU, both which are working on voter’s rights. So here are some things I will be doing in my spare time over the next 40 years since voting isn’t a sure thing anymore. I’ve added my rough estimate of how many vote equivalents each is worth, and given that the Electoral College system makes the marginal vote about as important as mouse farts, maybe in the long run this will work out of the better. All the same, better than a successful revolution after a nearly stolen election, I’d rather not have the Sith Lords take over in the first place.

Donate to GA, TX and AR Democratic party. Worth 50 Votes.
Money talks, well, as long as you have an attractive candidate. And the Dems have more attractive candidates. If GA, TX and AR turn blue, the GOP will be excluded from the presidency for generations. There aren’t enough old white men in those states for the GOP to govern without repeal non-white and women franchise and maybe the repeal of voting altogether.

I’m going to read the news Worth 25 votes.
The poor and disenfranchised are getting screwed because they aren’t paying attention. I can read, I read fast and I use RSS and I can amplify the the news that is being ignored. I even have truth on myside– since as a progressive I won’t need to make up material.

I’m going to blog. Worth 6 votes.
My task as a political blogger is much easier than for conservative bloggers as I only need teach people how to resist voter suppression, where as conservatives have to move the opinions of their sole audience of old white men to political la-la land and get them to vote. Despite the barriers.

I’m joining about about 22-25 groups. Worth about 20 votes.
Votes in congress are only one way that policy gets made. I don’t have $300 million for attack ads, but I got a few hundred bucks to fund a variety of lawyers, think tanks, activists, watch groups that help decide what congress will be voting on in the first place.

I organize meetups. Worth about 15 votes.
I’ve organized so many meetups I’ve lost count. I create groups like I sneeze. In this election I saw that right wing literature is outselling progressive books. I suspect that in part that is because a lefty will read the original, say, Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is not the the politics section, while right wingers need to have their books written by ideological hacks, which will end up in the politics section.

I’m taking election day off. Forever. Worth 20 votes.
I’m not working class. I can afford to use my vacation days to vote and to spend the day driving people to the polls.

It’s time to take America back from the corrupt right wing voting boards.

(First posted Nov 12, 2012)

Commitment Devices

I’m reviewing BeeMinder and HabitRPG as commitment devices. Personal challenges I see:

Beeminder.
- Incentive to catch up at last minute (progress due midnight)
- Incentive to pick goals that allow for catch up. (marching around the bedroom for the pedometer, writing a blog post at 11:30, vs goals that hard hard to catch up at midnight, such as weight loss– you can’t lose a 1/2 lb between 11:30 or 12:00– okay maybe you could but that’s gross.)
- Incentive to do data entry at last minute. I want to be in bed at midnight, not logging on.
+ Data entry can be done via device (pedometer, wifi scale, runkeeper, blog rss, ITTT emails)
-/+ Automatic data entry goals at the moment, but quirk of luck, favor solitary activities (running, writing), although a few are ambient (walking, weight)
-/+ My goals without measurement would really need a judge to keep me honest– For example # of books read to the toddler. Maybe if my significant other did the data entry.

Anyhow, just started looking, maybe there already are features to address all of this.

HabitRPG
I have to track progress done yesterday if I do data entry in the morning.
Data entry requires logon (as opposed to ambient collection)
Can’t seem to undo a click.

 

Advocacy Group of the Month: ACLU

Why do I like the ACLU? They fight for the right to vote. The believe it is more important to let people vote than anything else.  Voter suppression is a right wing tactic to get more white Republicans into office.  Even if you are a white Republican, you should favor the right to vote.

1) It’s democracy. Not voting is authoritarianism. If you are fundamentally an authoritarian, really, what tribe are you from?

2) Racism and flat out preventing Democrats from voting is illegal, so voter suppression is likely to back fire time to time and suppresses *your* vote. Do you trust the party to suppress the right votes?

ACLU stands up for religious freedom and a division between church and state, something that is important when both those who are over enthusiastic about spreading their religion and those who are over enthusiastic about repressing religion from time to time convince the government to go to far in people’s private matters of conscious.

ACLU is an interesting organization in that their laser like focus on principles sometimes put them on both sides of the progressive-conservative divide.

Everyone, left and right, should be a member of the ACLU– (except authoritarians, like really people?)

Join here: https://www.aclu.org/multimedia

A model for readership dropoff

Kindle has popular highlights and a pseudo-pager number system. So a 200 page book might have 5000 locations. A book might have 15 popular highlights, maybe 20 people for the first, 10 the second, 2 the 15th.  The highlights are located at various locations, say 1% in, 5% in, and the last is at 20% in.

The quality of a sentence affects the # of highlights.  Also the location of the book affects # of highlights because people stopped reading the book.

readers = a + b x
– where the intercept is 100% , all readers are present on page 1.
– the slope is negative and represents the drop off rate.

highlights = quality of sentence  * readers(x)

The number of highlights depend son the quality of a sentence, which is constant, but unknown. So a good sentence will be highlighted say, 1% of the time.

So someday when I have time, I want to see if I can establish the confidence intervals for the curves. Because there are so many constraints, it seems like we should be able to get good estimates of the drop off rate despite relatively few data points.

What I think about Amazon Kindle 7 Day Trials

I wrote this and sent it to Amazon. A low paid customer support person received my email and replied with an unrelated canned message.

“Well you asked for it so here it is:

Since I got my kindle, I’ve bought more books per year than any year before. It’s become an expensive habit. In part this is because I can read 10 or 20 samples and then pick which books I want to read. (you can check my account -  I buy too many books)
I tried the 7-day trial where your sample disappears after 7 days. Before I could finish the sample, it was gone. So where can I find a place to read the rest of the sample? Look at that, B&N’s nook site still offers real samples.
Until then I never even thought about Nooks or Google Books or the like.  But it appears that B&N has more clout to deal with people like Apress (one company that seems to have switched to 7-day trials)
I also noticed I purposely skip over downloading 7-day trials. I won’t finish them on time. What sort of customer exists in an idealized world where they don’t have a job or kids, but only exist as a unidimensional figment of your imagination that downloads 7-day trials and then spends all their time reading it.
So main accomplishments of this 7-day trial thing:
1- I skip samples that are 7-day trials– It’s like entire publishers have disappeared from the inventory now.
2- I switch over to B&N’s nook to get the sample for 7-day trial books. I own like six kindles, why not get a nook to deal with the 7-day trial limitations on amazon?
3- This could get me back into physical book stores where I can see the whole book, cover to cover before I buy it, rather than this now you have it now you don’t bait and switch you get with 7-day trials.  I haven’t been in a physical bookstore for years.
So really, this 7-day trial thing could revolutionize the way I read, rather than being a boring reader who essentially only bought kindle books after reading the samples.
And I need to write a complain to APress which used to be a reputable publisher.
Anyhow, I find the 7-day trial thing bemusing.  7-day trials ruins the workflow for anyone with a real life. I can only imagine how this is for old retired ladies who have lots of free time to download technical book trials and read them immediately.
Please read this email quickly, I’m only granting you a 7-day trial on my feedback. If you don’t get to it by then, it will self destruct.

The uncle I never met has moved on

Some free verse my dad wrote on the passing of my uncle:

The Morning Sun

The sun is steaming through my window,
Gods gift of warmth for all people
Be you Jew, Muslim or Follower of Christ
The sun warms the body
His spirit warms our souls
How blessed  we are !

The sun will fade later and night will follow day
So it is in our personal lives
Sorrow follows joy
And then just like sun the coming up again
Joy warms our hearts again
How blessed we are !

I have been blessed all my life with a big brother
Last night his light went out and he is no longer with us
He will not be there in the morning to impart his wisdom
But his memory lives on in my mind’s eye
And in a sense he lives on within me
How blessed I am !

This morning my sister,Ann, called tears in her eyes grief in her heart
She  her self is near death, in constant pain
Yet she puts aside her pain to grieve for her brother
Her beloved husband is nearing his last days
But she has vowed to be there for him until the end
How blessed he is to have her love for him !

The sun is streaming through my window again
Reminding me that in life’s cycle warmth will reappear again
Even now my family grows with the birth of my grandson Tano
 And  my great grandson, Lincoln.
And if that is not enough a new great grandson is due in July
How blessed I am !

So for today grieve over the loss of Franklin Martin
But in the morning, as the sun comes up rejoice with me
As our lives are blessed with new new life !

Enlightenment, Draft 42

Assumptions
We assume everyone has a naive idea about who they are– some part of you is you and always was and always will be. It might be safe to say, many have never thought much about it– they are just innately afraid of death.
We assume that it is obvious that unhappiness is rampant, it’s a worthy project to seek replacing it with happiness, or at least peace. If this isn’t true– then we are enlightend– and this project is a no longer needed raft and should be ditched.

Evidence
Everything changes, nothing stays the same. Except maybe abstractions like math.
The constant change is a source of unhappiness.
You can disassemble anything and any person and find out that it is made up of parts, none of which are unchanging or can represent the whole. (But, when you disassemble the wagon, when you get to the last part, don’t imagine that wagons don’t exist– look around you at the big heap of parts, which were created by an endless chain of cause and effect extending in all directions– that is *all* we are, that is *all* anything is– a big temporary pile of parts.)

Conclusion
What we are is like a eddie in a stream. Everyone is an eddie in the stream. From what do these eddies arise? From the influence of everyone else. So in postmodern jargon, we are socially constructed.  In Chinese terms, cause and effect interpenetrates, so who you are is the sum of all the chains of cause and effect stretching back to our Ethiopian proto-human ancestors and across contemporary space to everyone on the planet.

Consequences
The project of enlightenment must be re-framed to be meaningful. The relevant unit of enlightenment is everyone.
The sum total of all the sentient beings in the world is the relevant alternative to the self. That collective consciousness

Normative Consequences for Practice
We should work towards the enlightenment of the collective mind. To use a traditional framework, it has consequences for body speech and mind:

Body– Omnivory is autophagy. Corruption of the mind of one node of the collective consciousness affects all nodes (i.e. your drunkness degrades the state of collective mind)
Mind. Politics matter. Altruism matters. Opinions of one node can move the collective mind. (i.e. what you think about global warming matters still when the nodes with power finally decide what to do)
Speech. Low quality communication among nodes of the collective mind degrades the ability of the collective mind to function. (Knock it off with the petty bickering, lies and so on)

Speculative Consequences
Where are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? I always wondered why people felt the presence of imaginary people (gods, dieties, etc)– is it because our brain is optimized to reason about personified things? The story of King Yama holds the attention better than a treatise on a impersonal law of Karma.  Or is it like the Sci-Fi trope, where in hypothetical distributed computers, from time to time autonomous sentient consciousness arise in the network, and in their alien way are able to act like, well Bodhisattvas. Wikipedia is, in a sense, Manjusri. The collective project of modern and ancient medicine is in a sense, the medicine Buddha.  They take messages, process them and move the collective to solve problems. They still can’t cure your cancer– there isn’t any magic.

We bear the Karma of all the actions of people who lived before us– they constructed us.
All the people who live after us bear the weight of our Karma– we are constructing them.

The only sense in which we ever were immortal was as a part of the collective consciousness, and to borrow a Buddhist trope, this was always true, we just didn’t realize it.

Unsolved Problems
What happens to hermits? Can they reach enlightenment as pratekyabuddhas?
What happens if you don’t sometimes unplug from the collective consciousness? Some nodes of the collective consciousness would like very much to corrupt the whole system to favor some nodes over the others– make some nodes happy at the expense of others. We have to act collectively to collectively reach enlightenment, but if we join the club (and get our Buddhist Club membership card) we become part of institutions that have been corrupted over and over. But without institutions, no single node in a network can exert much influence on any other. What to do?
What’s up with the urge to create separate collective minds intent on destroying the others? (Nationalism, patriotism and the collective fault of seeing an atman in the collective– i.e. Russian or US essentialism)

Collective Minds

The central theme in Buddhism is the attempt to achieve enlightenment through a metaphysical realization, then finding peace and meaning in the implications of that metaphysical realization. So I’m working on groking Tom Pepper’s postmodern influenced interpretation of anatman, and if we aren’t an immortal soul, what are we then– maybe a naturalized collective consciousness. So I compiled this set of snippets removed from their context back at his blog.

“…the mind is both social and collectively produced, and that to live in nirvana is to live as an “absolute community,” one which collectively chooses to undertake social projects and in which each individual is part of, and receives the recognition of, the community.  It does take a sangha, then, to produce an enlightened subject…” (Pepper)
Since collectively, we the people, are tribes and governments, politics seems to play a role:

“… Until we can begin to grapple with the possibility that the mind is a collective symbolic/imaginary system, until we abandon atomistic and empiricist models of the subject, we will not be able to conceive of a world not structured by capitalist social relations. …” (Pepper)
And how Buddhist is this idea, who else has had this idea before?

“…In Islamic thought, the twelfth-century philosopher Averroes, who was influential in bringing Aristotle to the attention of Western Europe, explained that following Aristotelian thought we must arrive at the conclusion that the mind is a collective process, not located in the body, but making use of individual bodies (see Fakhry, 70-73)—his thought horrified Aquinas, who set out to recover Aristotle for the Catholic notion of individual immortal souls…..Hegel, as well, becomes much less opaque when we understand that he is arguing for a kind of collective mind existing in social practices” (Pepper)

Again, the implication of this metaphysical realization is engaged political action

“…Many Western Buddhists would say that the investigation of the social construction of our collective mind is not “real Buddhism,” because it is intellectual, and will lead not to passive states of bliss but to the sense of obligation to make endless efforts to change the world…” (All quotes are T Pepper, okay?)

More open ended pointers on the consequences of a collectively constructed self & collective mind:

“…Or are we perhaps better off avoiding the negative critique altogether, and attempting some positive practice?  Perhaps engage in some new kind of collective creative endeavor instead of endlessly deconstructing those that exist?  What might this creative activity look like?  Organized protests?  Community theatre?  Independent film making collective? Journal for radical literature?  Where can we produce ideology, instead of only critiquing it?…”

I’m scanning here, couldn’t grok “bad subject”– but here is again the core theme

“…In effect, the solution to being a bad subject, suffering unto death, is to recognize that one’s “deepest self” is socially constructed all along, and if it is poorly constructed, the fault lies not “deep within,” but in the social formation, which we can change, but only once we, collectively, as a community, realize how it constructs us….”

The metaphysical realization needs to be realized collectively? This will make the task rather difficult, pragmatically speaking. Less than 1% of the US are Buddhists and of those, most are so-called x-Buddhists, who may have missed the point of the historical Buddha (or missed the worthy points of people in between) and practice it as quietist, devotional religion.

“…If we want to live as agents in the world, without suffering, and able to act, we need to abandon the delusion of the atman, and root it out in every appearance.  That is the practice, and it needs to be done collectively, because, as Hegel reminds us, what we do is always social, and our practices can free us only if we choose them consciously and collectively…”

An example of enlightened collective action:

“…We can change these practices only collectively.  Just as any language requires multiple individuals, any social practice requires a collective to participate in it.  We can only produce better social practices collectively; they can never be prescribed in advance by some individual who plans them out, because the thinking involved in such planning would necessarily occur in the current socially form of reasoning, and so would of necessity be limited.  As a result, any such collective practice would always be a “work in progress,” not a dogma.  Think, for instance, of the stories of the earliest Buddhist sangha and the Buddha’s gradual changing of rules (such as the acceptance of women into the community).  Such changes would not be a sign that the Buddha’s original “awakening” was incomplete; rather, the ability to make such changes would be a sign that the sangha as social practice was enlightened….”

And a hyper translation, which sums up the self (we are created by our society), we by default just imagine that things are as they always been and must be (sort of like an immortal soul), but we can and should instead collectively evolve ourselves and society.  Departing from Pepper, it seems like this could be done in the context of many political environments. Whatever the answer, it seems we have to start where we are and work with what is possible.

Samyutta Nikaya

Part II: The Book of Causation

Chapter 1: Connected Discourses on Causation

38: Cetana Sutta

Agency

When he was in the capital, teaching those who were good subjects of the city, Buddha explained the nature of ideology and the subject in this way:

Our choices, our plans, and the structures of our social formations, all of these together make up our ideologies, and give rise to subject positions.  When all of these work together, we have ideological “consciousness,” that state in which we take our desires to be naturally determined, our plans to be thoroughly rational and covering all consequences, and we mistake our social formations for the natural order of things.  When we have this state of consciousness, we are completely interpellated, we are “good subjects” of a social system, and our consciousness exists only to reproduce that social system, mistaking it for natural, forgetting that it is a structure made by humans to achieve some end, to accomplish some human project.  When this occurs, our ideology is reified, stagnation occurs, and then suffering and deterioration and dissatisfaction occur.

Now, it is easy enough to become aware that our choices and our plans are not part of the mind-independent reality, that they are constructed by our social formations, that we choose what we are taught to choose and plan in the ways we have learned.  And then we think we are liberated, because we are aware of the social-constructedness of our desires and forms of thought, of our cravings and our language and our construal of the world.

But at this point, we are still not liberated, because we are still reproducing the social formations which give rise to those desires and those forms of thought.  So long as we continue to act within these social formations, we can at best have a negative freedom, resisting the desires we still have, questioning the forms of our own thought; we continue to produce stagnation and deterioration and dissatisfaction, because we do not yet see that our desires and thoughts are thoroughly and radically immanent, the production of the very structures in which we live and move.

To be liberated, we must produce new social formations, new collective practices in which we can participate, because the individual is nothing but an effect of such structures.  This must be a collective action, an attempt to increase the collective capacity to interact with mind-independent reality; no individual can be free in an unfree social system, except in a kind of negative freedom.

Once we have begun to produce new collective social practices, then we can be free of the reified ideological “consciousness” that is the cyclical world of suffering.  Such consciousness then comes to an end, and we begin to have a new and liberated kind of consciousness, in an ideological practice that refuses reification, that never pretends to be natural or universal, and keeps us always aware of its ideological status, open to change with the production of new social practices.”

And another hypertranslation:

“…Because the self is constructed, and this constructed self is all there is, is the only one there is, we must be all the more concerned with how it is constructed.  And we cannot fool ourselves that we can simply reconstruct it on a whim, that it is unsubstantial and has no causal power, no inertial momentum of its own.  The self can only be constructed with great effort, and by changing the social practices in which it lives, not on a whim. …”

Notes on Shingon

I’m a secular Buddhist. All of the forms of Buddhism have things that just don’t fit with the modern mindset. Some make better starting points than others– many secular Buddhist like SE Asian Therevada. At the moment, I like Chinese Buddhism (Chan and others) and Japanese Shingon.

Things I like

It’s a grab bag. Everyone has projected their idea of what Buddhism should be, could be for so long that Shingon now has a bit of Shinto, Hinduism, Vedantism, which can be discarded, along with a lot of good innovations. And it’s still “recognizable Buddhism”

Bodhisattvas. These are the hardest to incorporate into a secular practice. They are imaginary role models, they exist–weakly– in the collective mind. They are really cool and give a young boy a reason to give a rats ass about Buddhism.

Enlightenment in this life
I know it is a bit of marketing, but it is also a goal and an assumption with consequences. If you can attain enlightenment, then it is “easy” compared to “hard” enlightenment, which takes Kalpas.

Using desire for good
This is a Tantra idea. Taking the advice about giving up attachments at face value implies a certain sort of pathological depression where you don’t want anything.

It isn’t puritan about sex
I’m not talking about how monks can marry, I’m talking about how they incorporated Tantric ideas about sex– use what ever has psychological power as a means for powering yourself towards enlightenment.

The inclusion of ritual as a practice.
This is also difficult to rehab as a secular practice. It’s kind of like an atheist going to get his morning coffee. Is it meaningless, useless and more importantly contemptible? Or is ritual just how people roll, and maybe we should just give into the urge.  But the traditional rituals should be starting points, people should modify and make up their own as they see fit. Shingon is still copying the “summoning the gods as guests, burning gifts for the gods in return for something in reward” pattern which in turn copied from pre-Buddhist rituals. I would have thought that by now, thoroughly Buddhist rituals would be imagined

Esoteric Methodology
This is a methodology of re-interpretation. Old texts are read and an entirely new meaning is layered over the top, often such a radical new meaning you wonder if anyone really believes that the layered, esoteric meaning was intended by the original author. Like all re-interpretation, results will vary, but the methodology, such promising possibilities for living tradition!

Things I still don’t like
Self mummification is assisted suicide via slow self torture for someone who thinks they are gaining immortality.
Vairocana as a sentient Abrahamic-like god, obsurantism wrapped around an eternal soul– these are the very things that keep us unenligtened. I may not have an enlighted grip on what really is, but I can call wishful thinking-devotionalism when I see it.
The deification and veneration of Kukai as some sort of ultra-nationalist Japanese man-god.
Esoteric meaning secret as in “you are allowed to know, you gotta get permission”. Vajrayana guru veneration,
Fixed, unevolving rituals.
And rituals as frickin’ magic– summoning rain and expecting rain is a waste of time.