2 August 2021

Famous artists

In the afternoon, we went to the village art gallery for the opening of a new exhibition. All the artists came and spoke. Since one of the artists is the husband of a friend of D's, we invited them home afterwards. They were accompanied by friends from Sweden, DF, an Israeli musician emigré and his Swedish wife, GSF, an artist. This couple became quite famous when, in 2004, they created an artwork that so angered the Israeli ambassador that he personally demolished it at a public event. That became a major diplomatic incident: the ambassador was summoned by the Swedish foreign ministry to explain his action. The couple's moment of fame came at a price: they were targeted by a hate campaign by right wing Jews and had to be given a bodyguard for several months.

More recently, following the Mavi Marmara affair, the couple took part in several symbolic attempts by activists to break the siege on Gaza by sailing across the sea to Gaza; naturally on each attempt, they were intercepted by the Israeli navy. As a result of these incidents, Israel abrogated the man's citizenship, which must be quite rare in the case of a Jewish Israeli. He has currently been granted special permission on humanitarian grounds, to visit his aging mother. He himself is in his seventies. He says that he left Israel almost 50 years ago, just a few days before the outbreak of the October war of 1973 - a fortunate decision, as it turned out, since in his army reserve unit, 80% of the men were killed. Just before leaving, he also paid a call on one of our neighbours, whom he had known, but not not seen for half a century - a happy reunion.

Community

All my life I have advocated for communities, both in theory and in practice. First of all, a community can provide a framework and a safety net. Every spiritual movement in the world has advocated for community. In Buddhism, “Sangha” is regarded as one of the “three jewels”, along with dharma and Buddha. And, if one wants to achieve any goal or purpose in life, a small community is key. Margaret Mead is usually quoted whenever communities are discussed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” M. Scott Peck, a US psychologist, also argued that communities are an excellent remedy for the alienation that is the cause of so many ills in modern society. Quite true.

But it is also no secret that communities are hard. Every community I have ever known has been mired in, or marred by, petty internal conflicts. These seem to be a constant. Now, or for several years, I have been at a stage when those minuses have seemed to outweigh the plusses. I haven't really processed or come to terms with this.

Perhaps there comes a time in life when the need for the safe framework provided by community grows less important. In parallel, the aims that one can achieve only in companionship with others, also diminish in importance. I no longer feel that I have any agenda. I have no goal to alter public opinion, reform society, turn people on to anything. I'm not going to advance human evolution or make the world a better place. All those famous people and public figures we know with a life-long mission are truly impressive. But I have always been shaped by the Hindu concept of ashramas; according to which the various periods in life have their own distinct purpose. Nowadays, I feel myself admiring those Taoist hermits who feel that they have no particular purpose, no goal to accomplish, no path to follow, no doctrine to advance, nothing at all. They are free. And they are also free of the need for community.

Legacy

For similar reasons, I totally dismiss the concept of legacy. Presidents always worry about their legacy and ordinary humans always seem to want to be remembered for something. I'm surrounded by people for whom it is very important that their achievements will be acknowledged. They want to leave their mark, and for it to be recorded in stone. I know this quite well because my work consists of snapping pictures, writing articles, keeping protocols, maintaining archives, and mounting plaques. And if people don't want to be recorded in or on these, it is usually due to some opposite reason, such as that mentioning them could harm their future career, wound their pride, or bring people to pester them. The actor Richard Gere once visited our community, but only on condition that we didn't take a single photo of him.

According to Vedanta, the wish to leave our legacy is a symptom of our desire for immortality.(1.) If we haven't done famous deeds, we can at least take comfort in seeing our likeness in our offspring.

Well personally, I don't want my good deeds to be recorded (any more than my bad deeds). Like the criminals who ask Google for the right to be forgotten, I will be quite happy not to leave a trace. "One who excels in traveling leaves no wheel ruts," says the Tao, and I love the wistful words of Omar Khayyam/Edward Fitzgerald: “I came like water, and like wind I go.” We are here for a time, we pass on; others come in our stead. It's fine.

(1) Vedanta says that reality can be described by the triple aspects of sat (being), chit (consciouousness) and ananda (bliss), and that each of these are infinite in scope. We secretly desire this infinity ourselves, by wishing to extend these three qualities in our own life. We wish to extend being, by being remembered or through our children, wish to extend consciousness by learning and amassing knowledge, and wish to extend bliss by accumulating possessions that we believe will make us more happy.

Links

Israel to offer Pfizer Covid booster shots to people over 60 | Israel | The Guardian

The World Health Organization said earlier this month that there is not enough evidence to show that a third dose is needed.
The agency’s officials have appealed for wealthier countries to share vaccines with poorer nations that have yet to immunise their people, instead of using them as boosters. Israel itself has come under criticism for not sharing more of its vaccines with the Palestinians.

I think I will not get a third dose at this time.

Shashi Tharoor asks Om Birla to take action over officials 'skipping' IT panel meet on Pegasus - The Print

The meeting could not take place as the BJP members of the panel did not sign the attendance register, even though they were present in the meeting room, leading to a lack of quorum.

Ruling parties, like Maharajas, do what they want.

News, and what makes it relevant

What really matters is often not what are the top stories that are being reported in the top journals of the times that we all read. It always makes sense to look at what is being under-reported, because this often becomes the main story of tomorrow. Our minds tend to flock together and we have a collective blindness to matters that other people have not begun to think about.

There is also the question of what matters to me as an individual. It is comforting to be of a mind with everybody and care about matters that our friends and neighbours care about. Women who had no prior interest in sports often become interested because their husbands are avid followers of a certain football team. People become attracted to a certain conspiracy theory because they know others who are firmly convinced of it. Imagine that all my friends are convinced that the 9-11 attacks were an internal job engineered by the US government. Fascinating, but I don't happen to live in the US, and it makes little actual difference to me; added to which, there's nothing I can do about it.

I personally get wrapped up in many issues that shouldn't concern me. Thirty years ago I used to write letters for Amnesty International, but that isn't something I am doing today. I am not a social media influencer, and it makes very little personal difference to me that, for example, the Indian ruling party is spying on the Indian opposition parties and Indian political activists. So why does it concern me? I suppose that in this particular case, I can find some reasons. I have a certain passion for India that I can't well explain. Also, the hacking tools that were used originated in Israel. Many young people in my village get drawn into hi-tech, and I worry that some of them might be attracted, due to the high salaries that are being offered, by industries like spyware, which engage in immoral practices.

26 July 2021

Privileged

The other day, the billionaire Jeff Bozo earned quite a bit of flack for thanking all his thousands of employees and millions of customers who had given him the opportunity of flying up to space.

I was thinking of this while lying on the sofa after waking, still half somnolent, from my afternoon nap. In the background was the hum of the airconditioner, electric fans, the fridge, three computers and my silent phone. And I'm just lying here, and all this stuff is buzzing and whirring to keep me comfy and in symbiotic connection with the rest of the planet. And it's not only what I can hear: people are slogging-away 24/7 to ensure my coffee supply, fill my fridge with basic foodstuffs, pump my energy, water and gas, pipe in news, music and movies, and all the while I'm being served like a master by complete strangers working diligently for my general welfare, devoting themselves to discovering new vaccines and meds for my latent diseases, rolling out roads, guarding my gates, and schooling my grandchildren.

So much is going on, just while I lie here with my ears buzzing with the sounds of electronics and possibly with the background noise of all that human activity taking place just for me. I'm like the endpoint of an entire ecosystem about which I'm only dimly aware but without which I'd quickly drop dead. So I want to join Jeff in saying thanks to friends everywhere. Maybe I'm not a billionaire. But I've always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Links

UK economy growing at fastest rate in 80 years, says forecaster - The Guardian
Yes, that will be a comfort to many Brits who hadn't noticed.

Foreign journalists harassed in China over floods coverage - The Guardian

Rising nationalism in China and hostility towards foreign media have made reporting increasingly difficult and risky for foreign outlets.

In the past 18 months at least 16 US journalists have been expelled, and at least four journalists – including the BBC’s John Sudworth and two Australian journalists – were forced to flee. Two others – Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei and Chinese Bloomberg journalist Haze Fan – were arrested and detained on undefined national security accusations.

They only sent John to China because he was complaining too much about flooded tube stations in London

Global phone hacks expose darker side of Israel's 'startup nation' image - CNN

Despite the ominous title, the Israeli-born writer is chuffed; she ends the article with a sweet note which is quintessential Israel:

"I think sometimes people come to curse and the outcome is there is a blessing because what happened at the end of the day, people remember that the best technology is Israeli technology, NSO," Bachar said. "That's what people three months from now will remember."

9 February, 2021

From my journal

I was thinking recently that it is in the nature of those who aspire to truth to fall prey to folly... in the years to come I want to avoid all movements and places that stink of fakery and phoniness. Places with pretensions to spirituality, in particular, are pretty ghastly. On the basis of my experience with them, it isn't surprising that I feel disenchanted. And, of course, I'm well aware of my own failings. I don't need to make these worse by placing myself in the path of further possibilities for failure. It is best to keep to modesty, the water-course way of the Tao.

In terms of the future of humanity, our best hope is in the increasing confirmation given by science of the veracity of the mystical vision of unity and interbeing. Science gives no indication of whether an integral vision, based on this truth, is attainable on a personal level, as claimed by the mystics. That is less important, in so far as it concerns the future of the human race. What is important is that the scientific truth of underlying unity and inter-connectedness becomes a modus operandi for our future development. It offers a hope for our species, as we go forward. Much more so than the quasi-religious writings of all the mystics. The best way of looking at these is as pre-scientific glimpses of truth.

For us personally, what is important is to bring our lives into line with this truth, part of which means minimizing our needs, avoiding consumption for ego-gratification, trying to accord with ecological principles, and of course living in peace with one-another.

Beyond all this utilitarian stuff, there is still the question of whether it is possible to obtain a more inclusive vision, so that it does not become a matter of the intellect struggling with the mind, emotions and psychological needs.

Currently, I find the most appropriate guide appears to be Lao Tzu. I will be looking for solutions there.

Links blog

"We are a year into the pandemic, and video conferencing tools still don't support 1) queues of who talks next, 2) presenting a consistent view of participants so everyone can say a thing and then take turns." https://mastodon.social/@aza_leah

"I think the main way to uncrumble the fedi is just to give admins and users good enough tools to manage their experience. Adopt a principle of consent, so that people aren't just having random junk dumped upon them. If that happens often enough, then it becomes no longer worth it.

Yes you can try to lower the bar and improve interoperability, but this lifts all boats. So it also lowers the bar to adversaries. Lowering of the bar has to happen in conjunction with improved moderation tools so that communities can effectively practice self-governance." https://epicyon.freedombone.net/@bob

✭Paul Frazee - YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkcL4my2wgDRFvjQOJzrlg
"Decentralization and decency speaker" , fossdem - his youtube channel. Speaks on his CTZN project.
#social-networking

✭The Decentralized Web of Hate – Rebellious Data
https://rebelliousdata.com/p2p/
This report looks at how hate movements are decentralizing using emerging technologies in ways that make them harder to combat.
#social-networking

✭facial recognition tech by the Govt. of India
https://panoptic.in/case-study/we
Under Project Panoptic, we have been tracking all ongoing use of facial recognition technology in the country. In a letter to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, we relay our concerns to them and ask them to call relevant stakeholders such as ministry officials and privacy experts to depose before them.
#india #privacy

✭StreamYard
https://streamyard.com/
"StreamYard is a live streaming studio in your browser. Interview guests, share your screen, and much more. Stream directly to Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other platforms."
#live-streaming

✭'Lazy,' 'Money-Oriented,' 'Single Mother': How Union-Busting Firms Compile Dossiers on Employees
https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkdqaz/lazy-money-oriented-single-mother-how-union-busting
According to a 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute, employers in the United States spend roughly $340 million on union avoidance consultants each year, who often report being paid in the neighborhood of $350 hourly rates or $2,500 a day for their work fending off unions.
#US #capitalism

✭A new lens technology is primed to jumpstart phone cameras
https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/02/a-new-lens-technology-is-primed-to-jumpstart-phone
A new company called Metalenz, which emerges from stealth mode today, is looking to disrupt smartphone cameras with a single, flat lens system that utilizes a technology called optical metasurfaces. A camera built around this new lens tech can produce an image of the same if not better quality as traditional lenses, collect more light for brighter photos, and can even enable new forms of sensing in phones, all while taking up less space.
#phones #cameras

31 December, 2020

The illusion of time, the season of superstition

So many legends and superstitions come together at this time of year, from Santa Claus to Jesus, from good will to false promises. But perhaps the most resilient of them all is the illusion of the orderly measure of time; it's something even hardened atheists seem to cling to. As if there are really beginnings and endings of years, years that are favourable or unfavourable, lean or fat; auspicious or inauspicious. For Christians, the year ends and begins in mid-winter; just as the day ends and begins at midnight. For Jews, the year ends and begins in the fall; just as the day ends and begins at eventide. For Hindus, the year ends and begins in the Spring; just as night ends and day begins at the dawn. I've always thought Hindus have the most sensible approach. Mid-winter, just like midnight, seems a rather arbitrary time for beginnings and endings - as if the week should begin on Wednesday or something. Maybe it should.

In Indian philosophy, the pause between beginnings and endings is the time to watch. It is a feature of the Sanskrit language that the place of transition, the sandhi, where words end and begin, affects the sounds that precede and follow the sandhi. The time just before the day begins is the "hour of God", the Brahmamuhurti; the most auspicious time for meditation. The time between the in- and the out-breath, the kumbhaka, is similarly special in yoga. And at the end of every vast cycle of time comes the pralaya, the time of absorption, out of which enough energy is generated for a new cycle to be born.

Every moment is, or can be, a new beginning. If we are present for it, time can actually mean something.

Links blog

✭ Indian state bans government-run Islamic schools from teaching religious scripture - CNN
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/31/india/islamic-schools-assam-india-intl-hnk/index.html
"Once
 the law is passed, the madrassas will become "secular schools" which will not teach students about the Quran, officials said. Opposition politicians have criticized the move, alleging it is reflective of hardening anti-Muslim attitudes in the Hindu-majority country."
#india

✭ Mob attacks and sets fire to Hindu temple in Pakistan | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/30/mob-tears-down-hindu-temple-and-torch-holy-s
"Crowds reportedly led by Islamic clerics attempt to destroy ancient shrine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region"
#Pakistan

✭ How has Israel launched the world’s fastest Covid vaccination drive? | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/30/how-has-israel-launched-the-worlds-fastest-c
"Israel on track to have vaccinated 10% of citizens by weekend but Palestinians might wait months"
#COVID-19

26 October, 2020

Paying Attention

I’m thinking that our lives are like a rich field of individual moments and responses; interactions with persons, things, situations. Whatever way we find to allow these moments to reverberate in our consciousness permits the weaving of them into an intricate tapestry, that gives joy through its beauty and intelligence. Processing our experiences through private journals, or communicating them in social media or in direct conversation may help us in this patient weaving. The question of whether this takes the place of something greater or more unitary may eventually be a false dilemma. Some of the world’s creative geniuses neither wrote nor expressed themselves through any art. Others started out by writing a short poem that organically grew, without prior intention, into a major epic; still others left short haiku or sutras that together assume a similar grandeur. Life, the listening to life, and the sweet or discordant music that we are sometimes able to discover there and express, are not amenable to our egoistic manipulation. Our only responsibility is to pay attention, and not to sleepwalk through this divine comedy. And to love; to love and do what we want, and to leave the rest to the universe, and whether we bloom like a rose or stink like a stinkweed is not in our hands.

Autumn Weather

It's an old dry season
Now the nights are drawing in
The olive trees are ashen
Under a grey mantle of summer dust
The lemon tree is wizened and dry
Its leaves puckered, its fruit sparse
Despite the dripper line

No ants stage commando raids
On the crumbs we leave behind
No little black beetles
Scamper under our door
To litter the stairs with their husks
No moths flutter around the lights
Left on in the entrance

Dusty hamsin winds
Are forecast
Rising up to heat the air
Making everyone feel worse
An unwanted warmth
Come to spoil the cooler days
And parch the morning dew
So needed by birds

But ah, the birds,
Yes there seem to be more of them!
More bird song,
Making every dreamy afternoon
Into a songfest
Are they down from the north,
These birds that brighten our days
In this season when windows are left open
And air conditioners remain unused
Will they pick up and leave
With the coming of the rains
Please linger on
And winter with us
It won't be long or cold.

Reality

Up at sunrise again. Actually I was up twice in the night too, so my days and nights are similar periods of rest and wakefulness. I'm still reading "The Earth of the New Sun", and am enjoying Wolf's conception of a universe where space and time and creatures inhabiting these worlds are highly flexible, and tend to flow into each other. Genders, strange creatures, androids, all are in a fluid mix. I could well imagine a similar combining of time periods in our own world, where wisdom from past times augments the knowledge of the present, with intimations from the future. This is very much the universe of science fiction writers, an embracing of all that is possible, and a refusal to reject anything outright.

We are a little stuck in our conception of what constitutes reality, in our mainstream culture. reality is actually quite a free-for-all. I am maybe too tough on the people around me and myself. For example, when A. embarks on his fantasies, I tend to close off; but that is because, in his real life, he constrains himself ridgidly, and is unable to conceive of even minor adjustments to his reality. So his fantasies involve only a superabundance of what he already has; more possessions.

Freedom of imagination does not have to involve hankering after goods, experiences, but instead can involve the realignment of one's current reality, in ways that had not been previously conceived; just as small children do not relate to the rigid world and constraints fixed by grown-ups. A chair isn't just something to sit on, but is an object to be climbed over; they see many more interesting possibilities in their environment. An adult can become a wild animal or a monster; they lack the conviction that the world is a safe, reliable space and don't really know where the boundaries lie. Anything could happen.

In the world of adults, we are shocked when the stock market falls or a new pandemic changes everything we know.

In my life, I have been doing some things right; my journeys to India, my time spent alone; of course I'm still a fairly ridgid person, but not as much as many of those around me. I'm able to adapt to new realities without too many difficulties, and tend to accept the present moment. I dont' dwell much on the past. Perhaps it's just that the patterns of my life do not change much.

I should read more poetry, as poets, like science fiction writers, are capable of seeing our existing reality in alternative ways. Sri Aurobindo was amazingly skilled at this too, actually. Instead of turning up my nose at his ideas, I should actually be awed at his courage to transform reality through the power of his imagination. Why shouldn't there be a downpouring of divine energy that can transform the brain and the body, to the level of the cells? Who can say that our ordinary humdrum reality is not simply a mass illusion, constantly reinforced by the constraints we put upon it? Why not assume completely different interpretations of this reality? Religious people of all hues operate from a different set of assumptions to those that are prevalent in secular society.

I don't think the reality we witness is a mass delusion, but the interpretations we put upon it are. For example, the furniture upon which I am sitting may be seen as "elegant" by me, but ugly / outmoded / uncomfortable by others. A person with no cultural knowledge of chairs would probably see a chair in a completely different way. And if this is true of simple, solid, human-created objects, it is all the more true for more complex aspects of our reality. How would a person from a patriarchal society relate to a woman president? Or someone from a homophobic society relate to the gay rights movement? How would someone who knows only tribal villages relate to nations, courts, constitutions? Or someone from the future relate to these things? A whole lot of what we simply take for granted is normalized by our culture, and alternative understandings can be imposed upon it. In order to function properly within this reality, we have to be familiar with the conventions of seeing it. We have to learn how to relate to it, and how to behave.