Vikshepa Blog

Mental Distractions

18 Mar 2023


I am in the US for the last ten days. I came over since my brother was in hospital. He arrived just in time, in the middle of a heart attack; collapsing on the hospital floor. They gave him CPR and snapped him back, and, in the following days performed catheterization and angioplasty. However, he suffered another three cardiac arrests afterwards at the hospital, where he also needed CPR. I arrived just before they installed a device called an Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which is considered necessary in order resolve a problem known as arrhthmia, where the heart is not able to maintain its normal rhythms.

After this last operation, he has been all right. He was released a few days later with mainly bruises to show following the various procedures they administered. They sent him home with about 16 medicines, some of which he is supposed to take temporarily for a few days afterwards. He must change lifestyle habits that contributed to his medical emergency. The question is whether he will succeed.

In the early few days of my stay I stayed at a motel, then at an Air B&B within walking distance of the hospital. Afterwards I came to stay with my brother at his one bedroom basement apartment. We've been having long conversations. I think that a person that came so close to death but survived must have a reason to go on living. To place this in a spiritual frame, if someone almost died but has gone on living, there must be further karma that they need to work out in this life. My suggestion to him is that he will try to discover what more he needs or desires to further accomplish.

My brother is interested in photography, and he has given me an old camera, which I have been trying to study, with the help of YouTube and other sources. It's a Fujifilm X10. My brother has lots of experience in camera sales, and assures me that this is the kind of camera that I have been looking for. Despite being released several years ago, it still gets excellent reviews. People recommend it for the type of photography I am interested in: nature, travel, streets, self documentation. It's small and tough enough to take anywhere, which is basically what I want - so I'm hopeful and eager to get out with it. The camera I've been using, a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS45, developed a problem of dust within the lens or sensor, which leaves artifacts on the photos. Fixing it will be expensive, so there is a question of whether it's worthwhile. But I never really liked the results that that camera gave me. I like mainly its size and tiltable screen. Anyway, I'm glad I'm not buying another new camera, fresh from some factory in China.

Early experiments

fan old camera

A few others from today are in the photoblog.

Tags: cameras, life
14 Mar 2023

Saving our sources of inspiration

Spirituality is an important human impetus. It provides meaning to our lives and helps us to see beyond the horizon of our known world. Without it, existence would be flat and two-dimensional. With spirituality, we regain a sense of wonder at a universe that seems to transcend our finite understanding and diminished view.

Unfortunately, everywhere we look, religion, which often serves as the vehicle for spirituality, appears to be polluted. Churches with dangerous, predatory bishops. Corrupt or violent ayatollas. Murderous hindutwa extremists. Rabbis with hands soaked in blood. Buddhist monks urging genocide; avaricious gurus, vile gun-toting adherents of every creed. Whereever you look, among established faiths and new ones, our sources of inspiration are sullied by these associations. Even putting aside all the extremists, most of our religions are infected with a patriarchal world-view, homophobia and archaic values that need to be left in the trash can of history.

The urge is to shrug off all religion, to throw the baby out with the bath water. If we wish to take the time and the energy, we can do so. We can work through the core material with which religion and spirituality deal and chalk out a way for ourselves. We can ask the right questions, and maybe find solutions that we can live by - perhaps drawing these from an eclectic mix of the world's spiritual teachings or divining new ones.

However, if we don't have the time, the wisdom, the capacity or the inclination to follow that lonely route, we may need to adopt a religion or a spiritual guide, and not allow the the obvious and super-abundant pollution to touch the sources of our inspiration: to protect the weak candle of our belief from the foul wind; to let the beauty of a faintly heard bhajan wash our soul; or let the adhan wake us, for "prayer is better than sleep".

Tags: spiritual life
15 Feb 2023

Diary: software, blogging, estrangement

piwigo logo

Befuddled by FOSS

The new woman who is set to replace me when I retire in a couple of months seemed a little surprised today. First of all there was a screaming match going on in the next room over the submission of a fundraising proposal. I wasn't paying much attention to it as I was busy trying to explain some things about the job (maybe that surprised her too). Then, when I got into explaining about Piwigo (the photo gallery software we use), and kept praising the recent changes introduced by the "developer", she asked me what I meant by "a developer." She is used to big companies with hundreds of developers, not free open source software. She said she didn't feel safe otherwise because "What would happen if the developer goes away?"

So I pointed out that Google (whose software we also use) is guilty of dropping so many applications - just yesterday, I had mentioned another one (Currents) that they are dropping. And I pointed out that if Gmail one day becomes unprofitable, Google could drop that too. "And look at Twitter…" And then, I said, it isn't so strange to be using something that doesn't have a powerful company behind it, because the same is true of many essential parts on which the whole structure of the internet is built! Finally, I showed her the Piwigo website, which says that the application has been around for 20 years and is used by numerous universities, etc.

This is really insignificant

I think that most people with the audacity to publish what they write probably think that they have some essential contribution to make, or something important to tell or sell humanity, and usually this is true. So I feel a heavy responsibility to explain that none of this is true here.

Hardly anybody reads this stuff and they have no good reason to do so. This is, rather, a compendium of unoriginal reflections on the life and times of a forgetable nobody. Whatever ideas are expressed here will certainly have been stated more cogently by people with greater intelligence. If you haven't come across the ideas already elsewhere, you are welcome to restate them in a better way, without credit or, instead, to use them as a prime example of flawed understanding, with or without credit.


Those flags…

With the above thoughts in mind, I listened this evening to a podcast on the Haaretz site by journalist and TV anchor woman Ilana Dayan. She felt that the judicial reform that is going forward is so significant that she had to step out of her usual role as a presenter of content and to analyze its deep negative impact on Israeli democracy. She made me aware both of my extreme ignorance, and of how much of an outsider I am to Israeli society and culture. Her presentation was erudite and informed. But it also had the essential quality of issuing from an insider. Her gut feelings and trust in Israeli society are based on her familiarity with the way things work and the way Israelis think.

I lack all of that. I can't and don't feel like an Israeli. I'm not even sure that I know what other Israelis, especially those who are involved in politics, are really feeling. I simply know that I've emotionally rejected the reality in which they feel at home. I cannot sympathize with a national group that, on the one hand, is proud of its democratic institutions while, on the other hand, it denies basic rights to Palestinians. Somehow Ilana Dayan, who, as an investigative journalist, has a much keener understanding of how the system works, and how it is skewed against Palestinians, can juggle that, and still come out thinking that she is blessed to live in this country.

There was another Israeli journalist, Yossi Gurwitz, whose early death was discovered on Monday. In his later years, he became an anti-zionist, called for BDS, castigated religion and the state. Yet I somehow feel that even he was speaking out of the Israeli experience; existentially linked to the Israel he rejected.

The rejection of an insider is different from the rejection of an outsider. I'm an outsider to Israel as I'm an outsider to the other countries I have lived. I'm a stranger to the national life of those countries as well as to their institutions, such as their academic life, culture, news media and other facets of civilization. Wherever I go, I live on the outskirts, and without the least regret.

My experience is not unique - it's surely commonplace. Perhaps even the majority of people, or a growing number of them, are rootless in a similar way. If I'm more aware of my position, or am more self-reflective about it, it is probably because I have lived so long in a country that is like Israel, which places a high value on the nurturing of its national identity.

Tags: foss, nations, blogging
14 Feb 2023

No democracy under apartheid


We went up to the demonstration in Jerusalem yesterday. There were said to be 80 - 100,000 which made some people feel hopeful. "The young are beginning to wake up" was something I heard there. But it's not clear that even the large show of people had any real influence. The first stage of the legislation went ahead, after all. Politicians have the quality of being able to convince themselves that they are loved by the people even when everybody's against them.

Of course, of the 100k people only a small faction carried signs against the occupation - MK Ayman Odeh borrowed one of these from my granddaughter to have his picture taken with it. The sign said "No Democracy with Occupation".

I think a better sign would have been "No democracy under apartheid", though I only thought about this later.

Because that's the situation we are currently in, according to most of the human rights organizations. And the majority of Israelis still have an inability to internalize or admit this. No government is saying it. They are all promoting a two state solution" which is never going to happen. Israel is living under the pretense that it is merely administering the Palestinian territories, despite the obvious fact that it is never going to give them up. In the case of the Oslo Accords "Area A" (the Palestinian cities), it does not even admit to administering them, but those waters are muddy.

In fact, this is a terrible limbo to be in. The Geneva Conventions have a key flaw: there should be a maximum time period for what can be considered military occupation, after which the occupation should be considered de facto annexation. And if the occupying country continues to exert differential laws towards the population, then this has to be called what it is: apartheid.

The fact of apartheid is crystal-clear in areas that Israel has formally annexed, such as East Jerusalem. Those areas are, in every way, under Israeli law. But if a terrorist (or a mentally handicapped person) kills people, his family's home can be demolished with out a shrug. Unless, of course, he's a Jew. A Palestinian living in Jerusalem can only obtain citizenship with great difficulty. A Palestinian who moves from Jerusalem to the West Bank for a period can be denied the right to return. A Palestinian Jerusalemite who goes to live in another country forfeits their right to return to Israel or the Palestinian territories.

Through protracted military occupation, the granting of limited autonomy and continued settlement, Israel has created a chaotic reality from which it continues to reap both rewards and turmoil. But it is willing to put up with the turmoil forever, or for as long as this is viable and expedient. The focus has to be put on making the status quo inviable, by dropping the pretense of a two state solution and demanding that Israel guarantee full equal rights and citizenship for Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories. If it fails to do so, it needs to be held to account.

Photos from the demonstration

Tags: israel-palestine
07 Feb 2023

NATO and Russia

It's frustrating to see that people calling for peace in Ukraine can be dismissed so easily as Putin sympathizers. This is a classic move to silence critics and peaceniks, in almost every conflict. Accuse them of working for, or playing into the hands of the enemy. So that's how we should relate to these statements also today. There are some, like Donald Trump, who aren't afraid to speak bluntly. Quoting Jonathan Cook's article of today, Trump apparently said: “FIRST COME THE TANKS, THEN COME THE NUKES. Get this crazy war ended, NOW.” Easier said than done. A stitch in time would have saved nine. But for people with vision and courage, there could also be an opportunity here: to rethink and remake the security arrangements between NATO and Russia in such a way that neither side feels threatened, and ensure peace into the 22nd century. This was something that needed to be done quite some time ago. How much further do we have to go down the road towards annihilation before we realize that this is what was needed? I think the war was, all along, never really about Ukraine.

Tags: russia-ukraine
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