Sunday Sermon

It's Possible

As I waited in bed for sleep to come, I thought of all the things I could do to fight my insomnia. I could go watch tv. I could surf the net. I could turn the light on and grab a book. I could put on my headphones and play guitar... and then I realized that my computer, my books, and my guitar were miles away. I was in Jim's bed, not my own. I'm house sitting, but the dark had made those two places the same to me. I considered that for a moment. Until that realization had hit me, I was unconciously certain that I was lying in my loft. Had I opened my eyes and looked up, I would have expected to see the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. For just a moment I felt quite disconnnected, as I suddenly dropped back into myself. I quickly became aware of the breathing of Jim's dogs, and the many different little sounds that should have told me that I was not at home.

You're probably thinking, "So what, Linus? You forgot where you were. This is probably just another of the fun side effects from all the drugs you did back in the 80s."

Perhaps, but the sensation of suddenly being somewhere else was quite startling. In a very real sense, a part of me was at Flock Hall. To my way of thinking, it was the most important part of me - we could call it my conciousness. The thing that we call "I" was definitely not at Jim's. "I" was home in my own bed, while the sack of meat that others recognize as me was elsewhere.

One of the core messages of Buddhism is that personal identity is illusory. I've always had a hard time with that doctrine. To put it simply, I don't FEEL illusory. Many teachers will tell you that ego is the symptom of belief in this illusory self, and the closer you come to overcoming the illusion, the harder your ego fights to keep itself alive. When you question the doctrine of no self, you must ask, "Who is asking?" In seeking your ultimate ground you will find that there is none, no ultimate self that is "I".

While I was still pondering my divided self, this teaching came back to me. I realized that "I" am not my body nor my mind, and yet I am both, because I am atached to that illusion. I had a brief glimpse of the truth of the doctrine of no self - of course it's gone now, and the sack of meat is telling me to go have a snack, and the ego is pushing me to punctuate properly - but I did have a moment of clarity in which I saw the folly of belief in the self.

So it is possible. The doctrines of the Buddhas are not just for monks and arhats - ordinary people can see clearly, even if for just a moment. The interesting thing about it was that it came so camly. There was nothing special about it, no bright light, no tears of joy. Just a quiet feeling of, "Ah, that's what they meant."

It would make a much more convincing story if it had happened while I was on my cushions, meditating for hours, but this story will have to do.

Go in Peace.

Religion is a dish best served cold... with sprinkles

Our roving reporter Ryan came across this little tidbit for us, which originally appeared in Harper's Magazine. Apparently, Burger King in England is out to insult and enrage Muslims. The logo on their ice cream cones looks like the Arabic for "Allah" - if you turn it sideways and squint your eyes just right...

The young man who uncovered this outrage, Rashad Akhtar, a twenty-seven-year-old British Muslim, was outraged.
"When I saw it, my mouth fell open. I dropped the ice cream. I canceled my order. That was the defining moment of my life."

I can't imagine how depressing his life must have been before finding this, his purpose. The complete tale of this stupidity is here, but I'll give you a few highlights.

"The Burger King logo is there in Arabic. “Allah” is spelled exactly how it is there, and the Burger King logo is where the ominah should be. Why, there is no way it could be a coincidence. How can you say it is a spinning swirl? How does it spin on something that is static? You cannot spin it around unless you have a mechanical device. You spin it one direction, to the right, and it is offending a billion people."

I think it's pretty obvious that this is a stylized swirl cone. I doubt anyone who is not well versed in Arabic would have noticed this, including the graphic artist who designed it. I'm not sure what he's talking about when he mentions spinning something that is static - obviously he is not familiar with the way a swirl cone is made - and his argument gets more convoluted from there.

"Everyone who sees this is going to be offended. If you put a different symbol on there, you’re offending Jews, Christians, Sikhs, or Hindus."

Um, it's an ice cream cone. The symbol shouldn't offend anyone, unless they worship soft serve...

"I feel humiliated. I want to humiliate the person who did this to an extent that he never works again. I’m going to make him see that it was the biggest mistake in his life. I want to meet the guy. I want to ask the guy, “What does this mean to you?” then never see his face again."

I'm pretty sure it means "Ice Cream"...

"In a way, I’m glad he did this to me. It has opened my eyes. The fear of God, the love of God, the love of not letting anyone disrespect God. Even though it means nothing to some people and may mean nothing to some Muslims in this country, this is my jihad. I’m not going to rest until I find the person who is responsible. I’m going to bring this country down."

You're declaring a jihad on Burger King? And indirectly, on Great Britain?

As a Buddhist, I have seen many of our religious symbols and icons used (on purpose) to sell products. There is a company called Now and Zen that makes frozen vegetarian foods and another by the same name which makes alarm clocks, and yet another that makes soap. There is a chain of fast food places called Buddha's Burritos, there is a T-shirt company called Billy Buddha, the Om symbol appears on all kinds of products, etc.

When I mention this to Christian friends, they just shrug until I suggest that I'm going to start my own plumbing company and call it "Jesus Christ Sewer and Septic Service." How about "The 12 Apostles Casino" or "Mary Magdalene's Escort Service"?

The interesting thing about this is that for the most part, Buddhists just don't really care. Like the name of Allah for Muslims, the terms and symbols are sacred to us, but there is nothing that advertising could possibly do to harm them; they are unblemished in the eyes of the practitioner. If appearing on an ice cream container is enough to somehow tarnish your holy symbols, one could question their sacredness in the first place.

I'm putting together a new business plan. I'll need some start-up capital, but I'm sure "Uncle Omar's Sunni Soft Serve" will be a big success...

Damn Farmers...

Sometimes, the Live Journal last 40 images link is the best thing on the net. A few days ago, I came across this:

(click to enlarge)

Sunday Sermon

The Source

All humans seek happiness in some way or another. There are many theories about how to get it and how to keep it, but today we are looking at from whence it comes. My ideas about its origin are pretty much in line with Buddhist thought, and so not exactly unique or exciting. Instead, I am interested in what each of you think.

What is the source of true and lasting happiness? To make this interesting, let's limit ourselves to about 40 words or so. I don't care if you are Bahá’í, Christian, `Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Satanist, Atheist, Agnostic, or Pastafarian, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

To those of you who are shy, don't be intimidated about posting a comment. The Flock is a very forgiving and accepting bunch, regardless of how ignorant, stupid, or irritating your comments might be. Just look at how long we've put up with comments from The Hopeless Romantic, Mark, and Levi (just kidding - you guys are my favorite commentors! Ok, often you're my only commentors, and I appreciate that...). We will welcome all comments with compassion, so feel free to speak your minds!

Go in Peace.


It's been a bit since I bored you all with a guitar post.

Today I thought we'd look at some of the little products that are available to aid guitarists. Some are cool, some are stupid, some are cool AND stupid...

Slide players always claim that slides have a way of getting lost. For all the Greg Allman immitators out there we have this solution...

Made by Peaceland Music, these slide rings don't interfere with normal fretting and they make it possible to always have your slide on hand (did you see what I did there?). I'm thinking this falls into the "cool" category.

Of course, the other item that most guitarists can never keep track of is picks. While there are many companies that solve this problem by sticking picks all over your guitar or strap, Pikcard has taken their cue from male condom habits. Now your wallet can help you be prepared in more ways than one...

This credit card-sized package holds four picks that you can snap out when you need them, and then pop back in when you're done. Unfortunately they are currently only available in medium stiffness, but they come in about 20 different motifs, ranging from drugs to patriotism to psychedelia. Cool, I think, with a hint of stupid.

When I bought my electric, I was particularly enamored with it's smooth shiny blackness. I joked that the only thing which marred its perfect ebon beauty was the presence of silver strings. DR strings has come to my rescue...

Although these examples are "Red Devil Red" and "Peacock Blue" their website assures us that "Evergreen" and "Hot Pink" are also available... as is "Black Beauty." DR claims that these coated strings last longer, but I don't even care; they're BLACK. Totally stupid and completely cool.

I cringed when Levi told me of his father's Telecaster; it has a huge scratch across the back from repeated contact with his dad's belt buckle. While some guitarists may like their ax to have a few battle scars, I think protection is in order, and so do the folks at Scratch Pad USA.

In addition to making several versions of this nifty stick and restick pad, they are also amassing a collection of "Scratchpad Girls." Lovely Alex here is the first, and they plan to add more. Cool idea.

The continual search for ways to wring new sounds from guitars is usually costly. Effects pedals and other processing units are kind of pricey, but Jellifish offers us a pretty convincing chorus effect for about $10.00.

This little guy replaces your pick. By holding it at different angles, several different sounds can be achieved. It looks to me like it would be hard on your strings, but maybe it's worth it for a cheap effect. Cool, I guess...

And now we come to the just plain stupid.

The Little Fretty is a piece of hard foam shaped like the first five frets. You are supposed to use this thing to work on finger strength, dexterity, speed, and reach. Not cool; definitely stupid.

So we don't end on that low note, here is something that I will be buying in the near future...

The iMic allows you to plug directly into your Mac and record your guitar straight into GarageBand or Pro Tools. Soooo cool; with the mixing capability of GarageBand, even I will sound good in mp3 format...

OK, you've suffered enough. Fine, go then - you've stayed your hour...

Tiny House Movement

It seems that not only American waistlines are expanding. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, in 1950, the average American house was 983 square feet. By 2004, that number had more than doubled, to 2314 square feet. In 1950, houses were built with about 290 square feet per family member, whereas in 2003 houses provided 893 square feet per family member-- a three-fold increase.

The Small House Society wants to give people other options. The houses these folks live in are seriously tiny - 40 to 160 square feet - and no space is wasted. Most have lofted sleeping areas, and many are left on wheels for easy relocation. These little guys aren't cheaply made though - they are built to higher codes than site-built homes, in order to withstand the crosswind forces encountered in transit. The example above, made by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is about 100 square feet, and has a cathedral ceiling, cedar siding, shower, toliet, two burner stove, refrigerator, and sink; all for $36,990.

I heard about this on NPR Monday. They were exploring the idea of tiny portable homes as alternative housing for people displaced by the natural disasters in the Gulf Coast states. For those of you who missed this on NPR, you can find the story here.

I have lived in some very small houses myself, and they have a certain charm. Some of the Flock will remember with fondness the "Serbo-Croatian Cottage" in Laramie. The carpeted sleeping area (dubbed "the manky loft" by Rachel) was quite an interesting space. Unfortunately it leaked, so some of my books were damaged while I lived there, but I enjoyed certain aspects of that little house. It had no furnace but it was quite well insulated; Sal and I lived there through some very cold weather with only two electric space heaters (Sal had a heated perch as well). The driveway was right against the front porch; I loved being able to open the front door and be at my car in two steps.

In Fort Collins, I lived in a slightly larger place on the northwest side of town. It was affectionately called "the Hermitage" even though I never lived there alone. It was so small that the refrigerator was on the front porch! The back room, which was intended to be a bedroom, was quite cold, so it was used for storage; we called it the closet. The main room held the furnace, and the kitchen, so we put the queen-sized bed in there as well and lived like eskimoes. We ate, slept, watched tv, played games, and read in bed. When we had friends over, everyone took off their shoes and got in/on the bed too - I think the record was 6 people at once.

It is possible to be comfortable in very little space. It makes us whittle down our belongings and tighten up our habits. When space is limited, you can only keep those things that are deeply meaningful, and you can't put off cleaning chores at all. Those small houses were good teachers for me...

At any rate, here are a few more to look at. I doubt that this will really take off as a housing trend in America, but I would love to have one.

10x16 End Gable, 160 square feet, $40,990

10x16 Front Gable, 160 square feet, $41,990

Call for Essays

I am ill; I have a sore throat and a cough. I have given myself the week off from preaching, so there will be no Sunday Sermon, and I also had to leave my hollowbody at the shop in Fort Collins for some adjustments, so no power chords this weekend either. Good thing I don't have a job or classes to attend (sigh); sad little academic with no tests for which to study...

I know what you're thinking - you're wracking your brain, wondering, "How can I personally ease the Black Pope's suffering?"

In order to make me feel better, each of you should write something brilliant. If you have a blog, post. If not, start one, or write clever and amusing correspondence. While this assignment is purely optional, it will be graded and become a part of your Permanent Record. You may write on any topic, but I'll suggest a few...

"What I learned this semester." (Probably fairly brief, but worth a stab... a haiku will suffice for most of us.)

"An Analysis of Some of the Many Ways Taye Diggs sucks."

"Duck and Cover: How to Survive a Rock Vapor Incident."

"If Wishes Were Horses: Why Jayne Cobb is My Hero."

"Ten Reasons the Doctor Should Dump Rose and Take Me Instead."

"Pet the Kitty: How to NOT be the Worst. Boyfriend. Ever."

"Taming Your Inner Hate." (Maybe I'll write on that one...)

"Primate Circumcision: Does the World Really Need Jewish Monkeys?"

"Do Six Fingers Make it go to Eleven? How Nigel Tufnel Became Count Tyrone Rugen."

"Walker vs. Daywalker: Why Chuck Norris and Blade Should Fight to the Death for My Amusement."

"Gurney Halleck, the Punk Years."

"The Ark of the Covenant: Holy Icon or Tardis Engine?"

""Nice Shoes - Wanna' Fuck?": Favorite Pick-Up Lines and How to Use Them."

You get the picture - now amuse me. Dance monkey, dance!

Is This Me?

click to enlarge

Sunday Sermon

Nothing Special

A man went to Guanyin monastery to become a monk. When he met with the abbot, Zhaozhou, he said, "This is my first time here - I'd appreciate it if the master would teach me about self-cultivation."
Zhaozhou responded, "Have you eaten breakfast?"
The monk replied, "Yes, I have."
Zhaozhou then said, "Go wash your bowl."

Zhaozhou knew that enlightenment was nothing special. Esoteric practices and ascetic self-denial may seem like what a monk should be doing, but getting your chores done is an equal part of the path. Enlightenment and doing the dishes are essentially the same thing. We shouldn't be trying to do anything extraordinary - we should instead, simply try to be good at the ordinary.

I have other thoughts on this subject, but I am more interested in hearing what you think - please, feel free to comment.

Go in Peace.

Chance Encounter

Today I met God in the supermarket
He was looking for a good tomato
and some greens for a sandwich.
I asked why there was so much misery in this world
and he said it was due, in part, to bad produce.
Not enough backyard gardens, no one taking the time
to grow their own solutions.

He spoke quietly, while misters spritzed the lettuce.
“Few tend their own plot anymore.
Someone else grows it for you, and you pay them
for mass produced answers to your hunger,
but nothing nourishes like homegrown.
The body needs food like the soul needs honesty,
and the best of either isn’t found on a shelf.”

Turns out, He’s not just being polite at the table
when he says, “Help yourself.”

He picked out a ripe one, and a bundle of chard
to go with the rye and baby swiss in his basket.
I tried to keep my cart full of cheetos and pop out of sight.

Finger Tapping a different method of playing a guitar. Instead of fretting a string with one hand and plucking or strumming it with the other, finger tappers do what regular guitarists call "hammer-ons" to generate sound. This allows you to use both hands up on the frets and thus play much more complex parts. You can certainly do this with a conventional guitar - Eddie VanHalen is probably the best known finger tapper in rock - but there are instruments specifically made for this style of playing.

The Warr guitar was designed by Mark Warr. Although it loses points for not coming in black, it offers tuning that is similar to ordinary guitar tunings, and those who play them describe it as being very similar to playing a guitar and a bass at the same time. There are many other companies that make guitars in this vein:

Austin Douglas


and Mobius Megatar, to name just a few.

The sound is interesting, but I really hated the looks of these things... until I discovered this:

The Chapman Stick
This is my favorite in this genre. Very clean lines, no extraneous crap, no attempt to make it look like a standard guitar, and naturally, it's black. There are many theories about tunings, and this guitar is able to accept many different modes. The idea here is that it's not really a guitar at all, but a whole new kind of instrument. A modified Stick was used as Gurney Halleck's baliset in the original movie version of Dune.

Seriously, who is cooler than Patrick Stewart?

If you want to learn the ways of serious tapping, be prepared to fork out a minimum of $2000 to get started, and a lot more if your want more strings - you can get 8, 10, 12, or more. To see how these things are played, click here and watch the videos.

For those who are keeping score at home, this isn't really on my wish list per se... more of a curiosity that I found while trying to avoid studying for finals.

What Were They Thinking?

In the past, I famously relegated the fans of Dr. Who to the bottom of the nerd food chain. In my mind, they were below SCAdians, D&D players, and even Trekkies; I saw them as the plecostomus in the aquarium of fandom. More recently, I determined that the new Dr. Who show is soooo cool that it has upset this scheme. The Whovian can now leave his parents' basement with pride, as I declared the bottom rungs to be occupied by "Highlander LARPers and those who believe in the Force as a religion."

All that changed again last week. As I was surfing I came across this:

Do not enlarge - her labia are practically hanging out.

Disturbing as this was I knew there had to be more. I entered the words "bad cosplay" into Google and prepared myself for the worst. This was one of the first things to pop up:

Behold - the new bottom feeders of pop culture. (It only gets worse from here.) This is, of course, nothing new to con-goers - Trekkies have been doing cosplay for decades - but the anime crowd has really taken this to a new level in the last few years.

Bad cosplay seems to fall into a few loose categories; a lot of these pics could fit in several of them. The first and most common is the person who is entirely too round for the costume they have chosen:

Please bear in mind that I am taking it easy on you here. I purposely didn't choose to put up the literally hundreds of pictures that I found in which large people were sqeezed into tiny costumes with various parts hanging out. Say thank you.

Another category is the gender bender. Sometimes this can be kind of cool - I've seen some female versions of Vash that were appealing in an odd way - but usually it results in this:

("GoGo HeBari" is disturbing, but "Sailor Drew Carey" is my favorite...)

The next category is crappy costumes. This is common to any costume game; the SCA certainly had lots of people who showed up in terrible garb every week (we used to snarkily refer to the period of those costumes as "early fairy princess"). In the cosplay world, there are many of these:

(What the hell is the one on the right supposed to be?)

There are also those cosplayers who are just plain scary:

I assure you, there were many more for this category, but I am merciful...

To reward you for wading in this far, there are some very, um, "outgoing" young women in the cosplay world as well. I refer to this as the "too much skin" category:

While I like naked girls as much as the next guy, I just can't imagine how this works at a convention. If you look at cosplay con pics, there are a lot of little kids running around in the backgrounds...

If you haven't had enough, go to Fuckin' Otaku, but remember, I was filtering this for you; far greater horrors await you there.