Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Adam's Curse

Why must the Octopus hand over so much of himself (time, effort, attention) so that he may live?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Is Jesus Dead?

May not depict actual historical event

As you've surely heard by now, the director James Cameron is holding a news conference in New York on Monday with three caskets, which, he says, contain the remains of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, and their son.

The Octopus remains skeptical of the story. (What is the DNA testing going to prove?) But we'll see how this plays out.

Friday, February 23, 2007

At Gate 88

close enough

The SF airport has one of the greatest airport bookstores in the world -- Compass Books. The place is fantastic: well-stocked with high-quality fiction and nonfiction, healthy stacks of recent Nat'l Book Award, Pulitzer, and Booker Prize winners, satisfyingly obscure staff recommendations, philosophy, religion, and poetry (!) sections to balance the expected business and current events sections, super-literate clerks, and, best of all, and most perfect, a rich collection of pulpy airplane books (thrillers, mysteries, etc.). And all this in an airport book store. It's enough to help me forget my nine hours of legal purgatory in the conference room.

I had some fun buying Mrs. Octopus some presents. I got her Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I am sure she will like (I'm going to read it on the plane) and a sweatshirt from her alma mater at the "U Threads" store up here. (I hope she doesn't read this before I get home.)

A very spent looking woman is hunched over her roll-on bag in business attire here at gate 88 speaking into a cell phone, wearily telling someone to "Just send me a link to the PDF." Just now she yawned and said "Well, he's not a key player, but he can definitely help."

She could be describing the Octopus.

A day in San Francisco

I caught a 6:45 a.m. flight from Burbank to SF today. I'm now in a cab headed back to the airport. I spent the entire day in a meeting. The entire day, including lunch. As a result, I'm feeling a bit zapped right now.

I'm looking forward to eating something and browsing at the airport bookstore while I wait for my flight.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Morning crumbs

People are still apparently being crucified in some places.

Japan is encouraging the study of Hindu gods that appear in religious imagery in their country. "Hindu Gods and Goddesses were introduced into Japan in 806 AD by Kobodaishi a Japanese saint who went to China and brought with him Manytrayana text, scrolls and images" Here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Presidents' Day

Some friends came over today; we watched the sunset from the backyard, had some wine and cheese, and played bocce ball.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Persistence of Objects

I drove home through Beverly Hills from my Vietnamese class last night, listening to "Criminology" off of Raekwon's 1995 classic "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...". The song has a weird, unnerving, hypnotic production by the RZA, with a sustained metallic ringing that repeats on a loop. I had a period back during my senior year in college in the Berkshires where I listened to the song over and over again as I drove through the hills.

As I drove past the Lotus dealerships and the Larry Flynt building, I thought of how strange it was to be listening to this song again, twelve years later, in such a different place, driving through Beverly Hills after a Vietnamese class (where I had learned to say new things, or just the same old things with different words?), with that same looped ringing, unending in the background.

The French say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Donut Day and Difference

On the bus on a sunny L.A. morning. I hope you all are enjoying Fat Thursday. I plan to celebrate by getting a donut this morning -- it's donut day at the office, as it is every Thursday. I feel like I was just typing that yesterday.

I'll probably just get a bagel, but donut is a funnier word.

Every week, the selection of bagels, muffins, and donuts is pretty much exactly the same.

There are these huge yellow and green lions perched on top of a glass and mirror shop here on Figueroa that trip me out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Moving Forward

You get five tickets if your skee ball goes in the middle.

The perpetual dreidel of day and night tempt you into thinking the top will always turn and that you'll always be promised another morning, another spring, but the straight line of time takes us inexorably towards a final stop.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back to L.A.

Coming back from LAX late on a Sunday night in the back of a taxi, accelerating up the dizzyingly elevated ramp to the 110 North, the miserable glittering grid of Los Angeles opening out in front of us, pale blue lights of helicopters hovering over the city, downtown emerging incongruously out of the flattened lights. You can't help thinking of all the pungent neighborhoods of people drinking, sleeping, screwing, praying, lying, procrastinating, and throwing stuff out.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Harvard's New Curriculum

Yesterday, Harvard proposed "a curriculum overhaul to emphasize sciences, religious beliefs, and world cultures . . . ." Perhaps the Harvard faculty are taking their cues from the Octopus?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Eternal Return of the Piss-Smelling Steps

view from bottom of Angels Flight

This is where I get off the bus, and where I begin lugging my crap up the steps to the top of this hill. The Angels Flight railcars are not yet in service, though they seem to be making some progress. The obvious allusion here is Sisyphus. I don't have a boulder that I roll up the steps: instead, I have a backpack full of privileged documents and legal research. Every day, the burden is replaced by a new burden (i.e., a new batch of documents). Each morning, I find myself back at the bottom of the steps. This cycle tempts me to think that time is circular, but we all know it's a terrifying straight line.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Eagle Rock Dining: The Bucket

Liveblogging from The Bucket in Eagle Rock. I heard Huey Lewis's "I Need A New Drug" blasting inside the dining room as I walked up to the front door. I opened the door with some hesitance, not sure what was waiting inside. I walked into the absolutely tiny dining room featuring a small L-shaped counter with stools, where the music was blaring while the kids in camo pants and Honda trucker hats eating burgers and fries and drinking beer laughed raucously at the goofy counter guy's dancing and antics. I let the door close behind me and stood in the small space between the counter and the door in my pressed gray slacks, no-iron dress shirt, and brown Rockport slip-ons and felt very, very old and out of place. There really should have been a needle screeching across vinyl as the music crashed to a close against my glaring yuppietude. But the song continued, the counter guy stopped dancing and looked for a menu, and some of the kids went out to the patio for a smoke, where they proceeded to talk back to the Channel 9 KCal News playing on the TV outside.

My mushroom veggie burger and wedge fries are ready.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Vietnamese Class Week 4: I'd like a Coke

One of the other two students in the class didn't show up this week, so we got a lot of personalized attention during our last session. Just as I was beginning to get frustrated with the lack of progress in learning basic vocabulary, we started in on some useful basic words. We practiced one dialogue where we learned to say "I'd like to drink a glass of Coca Cola." I doubt that there was any product placement, as our textbook, written by a Vietnamese professor at UC Berkeley, is relatively obscure and doesn't seem to have other conspicuous product names.

In any event, the sentence was useful because it was an easy step from there to substituting "eat", "want", and "like" for "drink". As I've mentioned before, it seems that the creators of the Vietnamese language, in their wisdom, decided that after requiring such tremendous effort in producing and understanding the various tones, they would cut Vietnamese learners a break on the grammar end of the equation. Vietnamese grammar is, from what I can tell so far, ridiculously simple. This comes as a great relief after the three weeks we've already spent trying to beat the tones into our heads. There are no conjugations. For example, the same verb, "an", is used in the same form regardless of the subject. So "he", "you", "I", "they", "the Nelsons", etc., all use the same form of the verb.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


sunset in Eagle Rock

A dog down the street howling miserably at the afternoon sun. (He's still howling as I type this under our bright February moon.) I was sitting on the patio next to an old stereo playing a tape of “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond”; the sprinklers in the backyard water the dead grass and rose bushes out of time with the song. Long, thin-stemmed orchids with dandelion bursts of pink purple petals bend in long arcs out of their pots under the patio roof toward the sunlight.

bathroom window and mirror

I should take a picture, I think. Maybe I’ll write a post about sitting here on the patio listening to Pink Floyd and staring at these skinny orchids stretching toward the sun. But I know that the wordless experience in my mind of the dog howling, the sprinklers running, the tragic mid-Saturday afternoon breeze, and the sunlight retreating from the flowers just won’t come out right once I sit down and try to tap it into legibility.

day's end from our study

Friday, February 02, 2007

The more things change . . . .

Some days it feels impossible to write a blog that’s supposed to be mostly about religion. Other days, it’s absurdly easy:
Mayor [of Macon, Georgia] Jack Ellis has converted to Islam and is working to change his legal name to Hakim Mansour Ellis.

Ellis, 61, a Macon native who was raised Christian, said he became a Sunni Muslim during a December ceremony in the west African nation of Senegal. . . .

Ellis, whose mayoral term expires this year, said he hasn't calculated how his religious conversion might affect him politically. He said he is proud to live in a country founded on religious freedom.
From Time. Let’s sit back and wait for Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, The National Review Online, and Dennis Prager to start screeching their tired, idiotic bigotry about how Mayor Ellis’s conversion is a threat to the nation. It won’t take long. What's interesting is that part of the reason Ellis gave for his conversion is that his ancestors practiced Islam in Africa. So is his conversion something radically new, or is it a return to ancient roots?

Relatedly, the folks at Chapati Mystery have posted an excellent open letter to Barack Obama about his response to the bogus Madrasa story:
I was hoping that the response would not be to proclaim the horror of being insinuated a “Muslim” (Is it really such a terrible shame that one was born a Muslim?). I was hoping that you’d point out that the word “Madrasa” simply means “school”. . . . You could have simply said, ‘While I am a Christian, I resent the implications in being branded a terrorist-sympathizer merely by association with Muslims. There is no direct correlation between a Muslim and a terrorist despite the demonizing efforts of certain groups. . . .’

Instead, your campaign sought to play the defensive card. To stress your Christian creditability and to proclaim a vehement distancing from anything “Muslim”. To simply call this story “a malicious and irresponsible charge” at you is wrong. It is “a malicious and irresponsible charge” at the millions of Muslim Americans and billions of Muslims around the world. You may have been the target of this mis-information but the victims are Muslims who must now defend their culture, belief and heritage, while living in America.
Chapati Mystery. I can understand why Obama reacted the way he did. There's no hiding from the sad reality that, for reasons too numerous to list, any hint of Islam is totally radioactive in our current political environment. Still, Chapati Mystery has a point. The most courageous response would have pointed out the barefaced bigotry of the alleged charge.

Finally, Michael Dorf and company at Dorf on Law pose (!) the question whether teaching yoga in public school is unconstitutional. Long ago, you might remember, the OG blogged about whether yoga positions could be copyrighted.

To follow up on the Bikram Yoga copyright story, it seems India is fighting back against Bikram Choudhury's attempts to monopolize the knowledge produced by ancient India by establishing a digital database of the traditional knowledge of India available to all in the public domain:
In response, India has put 100 historians and scientists to work cataloging 1,500 yoga poses recorded in ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. India will use the catalogue to try to block anyone from cornering the market on the 5,000-year-old discipline of stretching, breathing and meditating. . . .

The government wants to thwart anyone who tries to profit from the nation's so-called "traditional knowledge," from yoga to 150,000 ancient medical remedies. India already has successfully challenged one U.S. patent granted to two Indian-born Americans who used the spice turmeric in a wound-healing product. That patent was revoked by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"Practically every Indian housewife knows (turmeric) and uses it to heal wounds," says V.K. Gupta of India's National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, which is developing the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.

When completed, perhaps as soon as December, the digital library will be translated into English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese and sent to patent, copyright and trademark offices around the world.

That way, when someone such as Bikram tries to get a copyright on yoga moves or patents on ancient medicinal cures, those offices could say: "No, that's not original. They've been doing it in India for thousands of years."
USA Today. See also BBC article on the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. The traditional knowledge of India belongs to all: open source of the ancients.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Give the Gift of Starbucks

In the plush comfort of the throwback edition 81, with its luxurious brown velour-like seat padding, and glorious silence in the absence of the bus TVs.

I'm trying to get back into the habit of waking up early, which always makes me feel a bit more virtuous or something.

Very sad news that Molly Ivins died.

Today is Donut Day at the office. I'm looking forward to my donut.

Getting back to our theme, the Forward has a link to an interesting Pew Forum discussion with Peter Berger about religious pluralism across the world.

Last night, I was waiting for the bus home, drinking an iced latte when a youngish, sort of strung out looking guy came up to me, looking longingly at the latte and asked, "Could I drink some of that?". Sort of a weird request, I thought, but I gave him the drink, which was about half full and told him he could have the rest. He began sucking away at the latte hungrily. When worlds collide. The exchange felt a little more weirdly intimate than the usual handing over of change; apparently this guy wasn't too concerned about my cooties.