26 April 2021



(Capparis spinosa)

These grow wild around here. They are extremely annoying when we encounter them while walking in the woods, because the thorns point backwards and have a never-let-go quality: if you step into a caper bush, there follows a prickly process of delicate extrication. What's more, in winter they lose their foliage, so become almost invisible, and only the dry thorny stems remain.

But now they are in their prime. The buds are ripe for picking, and pickling, though I've never attempted to do this. The ones in our fridge are imported from Turkey. Capers grow in many climates, apparently, from around the Mediterranean to the high altitude deserts of Ladakh.

URL shortening

I was just reflecting on the fact that I've been using bit.ly for URL shortening, and that bit.ly makes a living by tracking users. For many of these, I could/should be using our organization's URL since that is anyway short, and the CMS has a built-in re-direction feature. On reflection, I already do this in a couple of instances, such as an easy mnemonic link to our YouTube channel.

On a couple of of the WordPress installations I use for organizations, Jetpack is enabled, and Jetpack includes a URL shortener of its own (wp.me), which, according to its privacy statement, does not track site visitors (only site owners and registered users (these sites don't have registered users). So it's also possible to use these WP sites for the purpose of redirection, when appropriate.

Old article

An old friend sent me back an article that I must have written and sent to him many years ago. It is about the desirability of living life without meaning. This must have been a subject that was important to me at the time, and thinking about it must have given me a sense of meaning. The major development is that it doesn't seem important these days. Meaning is inherent in an activity at the time that we are doing something. This post is meaningful while I'm writing it. Afterwards, not so much. I can move on.

Links blog

The Most Effective Malaria Vaccine Yet Discovered - Slashdot

Excellent news today: we have word of the most effective malaria vaccine yet discovered. A year-long trial in Burkina Faso has shown 77% efficacy, which is by far the record, and which opens the way to potentially relieving a nearly incalculable burden of disease and human suffering.


Algerian scholar gets three years in jail for ‘offending Islam’ | Middle East News | Al Jazeera

The scholar, author of two well-known works, was criticised for writing that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and for criticising practices including the marriage of pre-pubescent girls in some Muslim societies.

Biden tells Erdogan he plans to recognise Armenian ‘genocide’ | Genocide News | Al Jazeera

United States President Joe Biden told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he plans to recognise the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as an act of “genocide”, Bloomberg and the Reuters news agencies reported Friday, citing people familiar with the call between the leaders

‘Insanely cheap energy’: how solar power continues to shock the world | Energy | The Guardian

21 January, 2021

Mystical vision

There's that piece I began to write below (January 21, 2021) on "Julie". The information she and others divulge regarding Swami Vishnu Devananda helps to chasten my naive appraisal of him. This new learning was shocking in some ways, though there is always a lingering element of doubt in our regard for spiritual teachers. There's a book that I read some time ago, "Stripping the Gurus" by Geoffrey Falk, which tries to dispel the myths that surround so many of the well-knows gurus, roshis and venerables from the early 20th century to the present. Needless to say, it's an irreverent book, and not very carefully put together. To give just one example, Falk manages to attribute quotes to Sri Aurobindo from 1953, whereas the man died in 1950.

One of my teachers, Brian Fisher, used to speak about mystics as "three dimensional beings" in a two dimensional world. If we are looking at them from our two-dimensional vantage point, we are not able properly to understand them. Swami Sivananda used to say that if a pickpocket sees a sage, he sees only his pockets. I don't think it is possible to understand a guy like Sri Ramakrishna (late 19th century) through the prism of modern psychology. I'm not even sure that it's appropriate to refer to him as a "guy" or hold him to the same rules as ordinary persons. Or take Sarmad Kashani, the martyred naked Armenian-Jewish-Muslim sage of 17th century Delhi. Whatever evil accusations you could throw at him, he would probably confirm But he remains a sage, on a different spectrum from ordinary men.

I'm tolerant enough to admit all this, but there's a world of difference between men like Sarmad, who were courageously public about their imperfections, and modern "godmen" who hold up a standard of behaviour that they fail to live up to themselves. In fact, quite often, their behaviour not only transgresses their own rigid moral code, but is well outside the margins of what is acceptable anywhere in our current society, crossing lines such as sex with minors and the commission of abuses based on status, position, power, etc.

The hypocrisy and behavioral contradictions found in most saints and sages are only the surface manifestations of a much deeper problem, which is the basic human difficulty of attempting to live in two worlds at the same time: a godlike ego-less world of unity, and our ordinary human vision based on egoism and separation. Mystics can glimpse the other world, but can remain there only with extreme difficulty. Perhaps their abominable behaviour reflects an unconscious admission of the impossibility of living up to their own high aspiration.

I'm in two minds whether mystics and seers (either contemporary or remembered) are at all necessary in our own era, and this also raises the question of whether the spiritual pursuit is advisable as well. I think that, perhaps for the first time, the mystical truth of unity, of ecology, of the interconnectedness of life and the universe, is evident today, not through mysticism, but through science, based on empirical evidence. As we begin to understand our world better, and the way in which we interact with it, the truths that were formerly available only through spirituality are now better approached through science.

The unitary vision needs to be taught in schools, but I am not sure it needs to be taught in ashrams or madrassas. From reading the "lives of the saints", we mainly learn the history of the near impossibility of overcoming our intuitively separative vision. The tables have turned. It once seemed that religions held the keys to the truth of divine unity, while rational, scientific truth presented a world of differences. Now it is the religions that are breeding separation, while science can show us the unity.

It is almost impossible to attain to the unitary vision through spiritual or moral training, because it goes against everything our eyes, our minds and our ego-constructs are showing us. If attempting to reach the unitary vision leads instead to insanity or pathological behaviour, we should be content to accept it rationally.

We can all accept that our sensory perception of the world is often flawed. Objects that appear to be small may be large and distant. Our minds and emotions may try to persuade us that we are autonomous, separate beings who need to act only on the basis of our own self-interest, but our rational faculty can show us that this is a fallacy. It is not the mystical vision of unity that will help us to address the urgent and enormous challenges that humans are now facing, but the scientific knowledge of our interdependence with the planet and other species. In a similar way, we can confront many related challenges such as war, the growing gap between rich and poor, the unequal distribution of wealth among nations, the competition over basic resources, and all the rest. All of these issues are based on what Buddhism calls wrong-vision. But if we want to act upon right-vision, we are going to need science, rather than mysticism.

Links Blog

✭ Michał "rysiek" Woźniak / samizdat · GitLab
A decentralized, browser-based solution to Internet censorship that requires no additional software for website visitors and minimal configuration for website admins.

✭ UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status | European Union | The Guardian
Although the UK insists its position is not born of Euroscepticism, the UK is virtually unique in taking this position. The bloc enjoys full diplomatic status with 142 other countries around the world where it has delegations, and where its ambassadors are all granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign nations.

The British still don't understand the EU, even after they've left. It's not surprising they quit it. Maybe the UK should similarly be treated as an "international organization".

the web itself

We had a discussion with Christopher Titmuss the other day, in which he talked about community. Someone raised the issue of "virtual community", implying that his focus on real community might be a little backward-looking in the light of the advent of virtual communities. They gave the example of people in need being helped by crowd-funding. Titmus in his response focused on the surveillance capitalism aspects of Facebook and popular platforms. He said this was a poor substitute for real community, and that we should not delude ourselves into believing that there is any real community to be found in platforms intended only for the gain of their owners. He said that if he uses these platforms it is only to send announcements.

I found myself asking whether this applied to alternative internet social networks that lack profit motivation. I think he probably is not aware of such possibilities but that it is just as likely that he would still think them a poor substitute for real community.

I personally haven't found in the alternative social networks a solution but would not discount the possibility that they might provide a fair solution to develop a planet wide community. But actually I'm beginning to think that the internet itself, or the web that lives on it, is our best and widest social network, rather than limit oneself to little islands. We should develop tools that harness the power of the whole web, rather than encampments. The Indie Web movement probably has the best ideas about how to do that. Because the problem is, on the vastness of the web, how do we find each other? Right now only spambots seem to manage to find my web page. And probably there are also bots and spiders operated by government security services that search for keywords. And other bad actors.

The internet is the closest we have come to networking human consciousness. It contains our worst and finest human traits, ideas, potential, everything. There is a wonderful opportunity there to contribute to raising our collective consciousness, just as there are opportunities to degrading it.

Privacy Badger

Some websites, like The Hindu (newspaper) don't allow access from browsers with Ad blockers, but do allow access from browsers with the EFF's Privacy Badger, which blocks ads that track you. That's another reason to use this add-on, in browsers that it supports, in preference to Adblock Plus for example. PrivacyBadger doesn't support Falkon browser for example, though it does support Waterfox.

New website for Haaretz newspaper giving me trouble

Letter to Haaretz.com: "Your new web site causes Google Chrome to lock up when accessing articles. I'm running Chrome on Linux with plugin Flashblock (since I don't like flash commercial content). I have managed to overcome the lock up by disabling cookies and javascript on your site."

I'm wondering, though, if this is a conscious attempt by the news site to make it uncomfortable for viewers who block their ad content.