“Religion is poison.”

Have you ever seen the film Seven Years in Tibet?

Well, you should.

The first time I watched it, I took away from it many things, but the one line from it that kept my feel­ings col­lec­ted was spoken by Kundun, the Dalai Lama (ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ་), as a fourteen-year-old. He was watching a Newsreel to learn about the world, already aware that the Chinese military had breached Tibetan soil:

Do you think one day people will see Tibet on the movie screen and wonder what happened to us?

Sad and powerful, and tragic given the global ennui towards the Tibetan occupation, but perhaps that’s a subject for another day. I watched the movie again last night and the line that stood out for me this time around comes from one of the Chinese generals who had just ruined a mandala that was being prepared especially to welcome them, who ignored and overrode every cultural imperative of Tibetan culture and religion. As he walked out of the room where he’d just insulted every level of Tibetan life he muttered, “Religion is poison.” He said this to a Tibetan governor without missing a step.

Personally, I find most world religions contemptible human institutions. Put a bureaucracy around and behind an axiom/dogma and you always end up with a weapon. Always. But Buddhism seems impervious to weaponization and I found myself finding the Communist General contemptible. To disrespect others without provocation, to insult a heritage, to remove the right of individuals to practice their own religions (and that includes, especially, religions which seek to override and insult and disrespect other religions) is the true poison here. I’d call it irony that a true-believer Communist would look down upon the entire notion of religion, but that pattern is repeated so often that the intellectual aspect of it is gone and all we’re left with is disdain, sorrow, tragedy.

I know very little about Tibet. In fact, the first things to pop into my head when I hear or see the word “Tibet” include Richard Gere and those seemingly ubiquitous “FREE TIBET” bumper stickers. Yeah, I guess I’ve been part of the “we” in “ennui”, I have to admit.

But some of the tutorials and samples of the professional photography application Aperture include Tibetan landscapes. The film shows the peaceful and vibrant Lhasa and the lands of Tibet, the Himalayan landscape, a people who respect life and the earth. A people ruled by the human vessel of the reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara not with hand or fist or weapon, but by the choice of autonomous individuals whose mainstay is that of respect, happiness and wisdom.

Of course Tibet is not the sole province of these qualities, but it does provide the stark contrast between a religion that reinforces itself from within and a religion which weaponizes itself: two different means of self-preservation; two very different outcomes.

I have of late been interested in typography, searching for fonts that might suit a redesign of these pages. Historical fonts speak as expected, modern ones hold the zeitgeist of their own eras, novelty fonts know their place is a spare one.

Mac OS X 10.5, also known as Leopard, has increased its one-world-ness to include two Tibetan fonts. And as fonts are speaking to me lately, so speaks the Tibetan font, brazen and pliant. A sample:

Tibetansamplefont

If you are on a Leopard machine and want to see more of the glyphs from these fonts (the one above is called “Kailasa”, click here. The Font Book application will launch and you’ll see the font sample. Hit ⌘2 and you’ll be able to see all the glyphs from the font. Most are simply beautiful and taken as an alphabet they speak a certain something about those who employ them. As would be any alphabet, I suppose.

If you want to learn more about the Dalai Lama, click here. (Again, if you’re using Leopard, it will open the Dictionary.app and display information from many sources all at once).

There is nothing worse than Empire: countless persons, customs, cultures, wisdoms lost forever, paved over by a uniformity that breeds nothing but contempt, creates nothing at all and holds little of value.

Will we ever mature past Empire? I like to think that the Dalai Lama, even after all that loss, still hopes or even expects so.

If Reason Panders Will

Have you never witnessed an en­ter­tain­ment acted out upon a stage, across a screen or within a box that so captivated you that you gasped aloud, covering the mouth before you could halt the sound or the hand?

When the story refuses to pander, the pleasing shape and space provide remove, where’s There and then’s Now, having drawn you out of you, having dissevered you at your faults, apportioned into its players.

We break ourselves apart thus for the purpose of turning back to examine our fractions from a distance: more than a mirror, less than necropsy. So exceptional those moments today, haply to avoid lardering discomfort in the heart of a paying spectator, but more likely more simply that salt is the easier seasoning.

To remove ourselves from ourselves whole, not to participate, not to dismantle or disassemble, but to simply to narcotize, our entertainments racing towards extremes, surpassing to surpassed. We are stolen away to distance unmarked: we are escaped.

Choose instead to stay and be our own examiners.

I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim’d their malefactions

I Hate My Blog Palette

Here’s a little secret. I “borrowed” my color palette from the iPod shuffle line. Literally. On that page you’ll find this graphic:

Ipodshufflecolorpalette

Shameless, I know. But karma stepped in and made it unworkable. I’m more toward parchment than pastel and earth than metal, least in this regard.

And someone stop me from iambic pentametering already!

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Bring on the Happy

Today was an unexpectedly wonderful day. Not because I didn’t think I’d have a grand time: I was spending it with my friend Stork, whom I’ve known for over twenty years. That part was a given. As was having Sam around up at Stork’s house for a huge meal.

It was a day that invented itself. And how often does that happen? Or maybe better said, how often do you realize that the Good of a good day emerges all on its own? Oh, you can plan, you can stage, but after all the conscious attempts, all you can do is hope that your clunky throw had good aim.

There’s nothing I can call out from the day to corroborate my story, no anecdotes to prop up a storied stage. I’m just left with a mellow and infusion of positivity and a comfort in the acute pacing of my days of late.

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Kindle! Kindler! Kindling?

Everybody’s heard about the new eBook Reader (redundant switcheroony nomenclature I’ll get to later). It’s from Amazon. Go read the front page and like doing a techie nerdy form of a Highlights magazine, see if you can spot the Apple-inspired marketeering. The English language is a whore and there are many johns in marketing.

Kindle Has it occurred to anyone that the name itself, “Kindle”, seems threatening, ominous, dare I say Bible-Belt/Nazi? Within context, of course.

Anyhoo, Amazon is falling all over themselves to get it just right, and perhaps with good reason: they’re not introducing a product, they’re trying to disrupt with technology. Just like Apple is attempting with the tie-ins to Starbucks.

But there are a few things to note about the ability of this platform/pattern before everyone starts shouting from the rooftops that a New Way has emerged.

Rocket EbookI’m not bitter, because I rather enjoyed my time at Nuvomedia, Inc. They’re the ones that made the Rocket eBook (ReB), a reading device which shipped in 1998 or 1999, I forget. See, it wasn’t a ReB Reader, the device was the eBook, and you loaded electronic works onto it. That was the lingo back then.

So the first beef about Kindle is aesthetics. C’mon, look at the thing? Nearly no flat surfaces, all white, sort of flat-paint looking. The QWERTY keyboard isn’t really a QWERTY keyboard, it’s just a grid of perpendiculars with a QWERTY layout. Why couldn’t they just make it a QWERTY layout? There’s plenty of space down there. Speaking of down there, they should have put the main screen at the bottom and the keyboard on top, because unless you lay it flat, even a 10+ ounce device packs a moment-arm that’s gonna give you pain over the long haul. And before you ask, you know you’re gonna be typing with thumbs, so your view of the screen won’t be unduly obscured if the keyboard were on top. So, on looks? Fugly. Ergonomics: it’ll do, but “good enough” is a cuss word—well, cuss phrase—for UE.

Second, its positioning as a disruptive supply-chain. Nuvomedia pioneered getting endpoint to endpoint technology in place in order for the book publishing houses (far more draconian and backward and conservative than the RIAA, and you see what they’re really like) to go for it. The houses demanded a closed hardware device, so that content could be linked to a hardware serial number AND a standard Rocket login username/password so that the purchased content could be viewed solely on that one reader. The only new thing that Amazon is doing is providing the Kindle-exclusive-EVDO access for free. But Apple did the same type of thing already with the tie-in to iTunes and iPhones/iPod Touches. Not a new trail, but maybe better pavement.

With the ReB, you went to barnesandnoble.com or powells.com and you could filter on eBook formatted title availability. You purchased that title and when you got to the eCommerce “congratulations and thanks you page” instead of giving you shipping dates and tracking numbers, you got a URL. Click it and it downloads to your PC or Mac. I don’t know exactly what the workflow was for Windows, but on the Mac you clicked the URL and after it downloaded, the RocketLibrarian™ (with RocketWriter™!!!) launched automatically.

Now this is where I have to give special nod to Nuvomedia, Inc., beating Apple by a good two years in championing the “Digital Hub” concept. The ReB was a peripheral. Period. Just like iPod is now, just like iPhone is now. Just like Zune is now (except that the ReB actually worked).

The ReB device that Nuvomedia shipped, then VAR’d out to Franklin then sold outright to Gemstar was twice as heavy with a much smaller screen, but it was nine years ago, so adjustments need to be made for that. The screen was beautiful, what was called “half VGA” in those days, meaning 320 x 480 pixel screen. I don’t remember if it was monochrome (like the original iPods) or if it could do 4-level gray scale, but it was an enjoyable experience to use.

Now this is where I tell you that I was hired to design and develop the Mac version of the RocketLibrarian. I also ended up QA’ing and instructing the marketing person on the workings and expectations of the Mac community. She once asked me if she could have a current development copy of RocketLibrarian for Macintosh so she could test it out on her PC. I had to remind her that she had a PC. Then she remembered that she had a MacPlus in her closet at home and “would that work?”. Jebus.

So anyway, I found a partial screenshot of the app I wrote (the Windows version had several engineers, QA people and a team of marketers behind it, natch):

<br/> Rocketlibrarian <br/><br/>

Doesn’t the name of Amazon’s “iPod of Books” bother you? I mean in that sort of insidious way that digs under the sensibilities and kind of deforms things. Kindle. Kindling. Something that burns. Books.

What did they suppose they’d get out of naming a book device something like that? It feels menacing!

Couldn’t they have taken the tack that they’re actually improving on the book rather than killing than nominal, historial original? It gives me the willies—even moreso than the hideous design. And the free EVDO access is called Whispernet! Like it’s keeping a secret or something.

And there’s a bigger question here: is the idea of “digital” to provide nothing more than convenience (less weight, more readily obtained, a boon to the vision-impaired) and its value-adds are nothing more than the original round of eBook devices: bookmarks, permamence in access to the content when it’s not on the device, changeable font sizes. Hell, the ReB (through the RocketLibrarian software) could display the text in any font you had on your Mac or PC. This may seem like a shallow conceit, a feature whose value is mostly in adding a bullet point to a feature list, but having tried out various fonts on the ReB, I discovered that Georgia was far more appealing a read on that screen than any Times variant. Gruber doesn’t agree with me, but it’s actually pretty awesome when smart and learned folks can disagree and argue points.

Where’s the people aspect? Do you really think anyone’s going to own this thing and say “I love my Kindle!” or “I can’t stop touching it!” People get attached to their books. As objects. Involved reading is not only a visual and cognitive thing, but a haptic one: the feel of a cover, the dog-eared pages, the broken spine of that favorite book that you’ve read over and over. And there’s something about turning pages. And looking at where the bookmark (a thin piece of cardboard) is automatically gives you some affordance of how far you’ve read and how far you’ve got to go. Pacing is important, as much for story as for reading a story.

That’s something that eBook devices won’t ever do. The first round of eBook devices eight years ago attempted to compensate for all those things, but the consumers weren’t going for it back then.

They may now, with the more digital-age sensibilities, but no matter, it still has to be an object you want to touch, want to use, want to own. Need to become attached to.

So many others have known this, and for so long.

Swivel, Pivot & Sam Shepard

Sam and I are watching Edward Scissorhands. I got it from Netflix on Blu-ray, high-definition being the primary reason I queued it up on my list in the first place.

I’d forgotten—or lacked the ability to appreciate—the stark contrasts that Tim Burton put in place, a cinematic device to set the tone(s) for the rest of the film: even less than 45 minutes into the film, Edward is least alien and most normal of the whole lot of them. After all this time no one can argue the xenological, A Wrinkle in Time-ish qualities of American suburbia.

Even so, Tim Bur­ton dials the suburban colors towards pastels—houses, clothing and people. Edward, as you probably recall, lives a black and white (and in one scene, lavender) existence and nothing appears real until Dianne Wiest walks into the yard of the “castle up on the hill”.

The only character that has withstood the test of time is Esmeralda, because she’s a fire and brimstone creature spouting ugly Christian doom and gloom within a Brimstone and Treacle story. You could lift her out of this 1990 (!!!) movie and put her in almost any drama today and not have to change a single syllable. And that’s just sad.

All affected they are, except for Edward (and a very vul­ner­able Vincent Price as The Inventor)—and not because he’s alien to suburbia but rather alien to personal conceit and politesse.

I googled the movie to get the list of characters and actors, then clicked on “O-Lan Jones” and from there, found out that she was married to Sam Shepard for fifteen years. From there, I looked at his biographical data. Several quotes are attributed to him, but the one that stood out for me was this:

Personality is everything that’s false in a human, everything that’s been added on to him and contrived.

It was this quote in retrograde that inspired me to write this entry, a happy serendipity. You have to appreciate both Shepard’s economy of words and Burton’s gamboling imagery equally, don’t you?

Personality can only exist among compatriot creatures; everything else it kills.

Before he came down here it never snowed. And afterwards, it did! If he weren’t up there now, I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it. — Kim Boggs, in her latter years

Nothing strips away personality like the power in a poignant memory.

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Botoxic

No, not really. Not slipping under, but I do have this strange discreteness in the muscle tension in several muscle groups in my neck and shoulders.

Finally, after all the health insurance bullshit and runaround these past months, the doctor’s office located a pharma-corp (ironically only a few blocks from where I used to live in Pittsburgh) who supplied the Botox™ that’s been medically needed all along. The combination of my pain management doctor’s legwork, along with the industrial-sized pharmacy corporation’s escrow-ish services and also along with the fact that I long ago surpassed my considerable out-of-pocket expense deductibles resulted in 100% coverage for the injections.

Dr. Anderson kept saying “Wow” and “is this normal for you?” as he assessed the muscle tension in my traps and other muscles (whose names escape me at the moment). I think it says something significant if a doctor who sees these kinds of things every day takes exception at anything like this.

Dr. Anderson is the kind of doctor who likes to explain everything, and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay a healthcare professional. I’ll even take it one step further and credit him with tailoring his explanations to the audience—that being me: he knows I know enough biology to be dangerous in healthcare concerns and as he hooked me (and the botox needle) up to an EMG sensor running on a ThinkPad, he let me “listen” to my muscles reacting to the penetration of the needle. All that EMG equipment is there to help properly locate muscle bundles before the injection of the botox actually occurs.

There’s a name for the phenomenon in my neck and shoulders, and I fit the description thereof just perfectly. So why did the !#$!@#$ disability middlemen—along with the fucking quack of a doctor who determined there wasn’t anything really wrong with me—miss it? Fuck if I know, as they say. But hey, pleading ignorance does save money when bureaucratic machinery stands in the way.

So what I have endured for well over a year now is called Cervical Dystonia. A brief description:

  • Cervical dystonia is also known as spasmodic torticollis.
  • Cervical dystonia is a focal dystonia that affects the neck and sometimes the shoulders.
  • Symptoms include involuntary contracting of the neck muscles, causing abnormal movements and awkward posture of the head and neck.
  • The movements may be sustained (“tonic”), jerky (“clonic”), or a combination.
  • Cervical dystonia may result in considerable pain and discomfort.
  • Treatments may include oral medications, botulinum toxin injections, surgery, and complementary therapies.
  • Cervical dystonia may be primary or secondary.

To add insult to real injury, just look at a short summary:

Symptoms<br/> <br/> In cervical dystonia, the neck muscles contract involuntarily. If the contractions are sustained, they may cause abnormal posture of the head and neck. If the spasms are periodic or patterned, they may produce jerky head movements. The severity of cervical dystonia varies from mild to severe. Movements are often partially relieved by a “sensory trick” (also known as geste antagoniste) such as gently touching the chin, other areas of the face, or back of the head.<br/> <br/> Cervical dystonia may begin in the neck and spread into the shoulders, but the symptoms usually plateau and remain stable within five years of onset. This form of focal dystonia is unlikely to spread beyond the neck and shoulders or become generalized dystonia. Occasionally, people with cervical dystonia develop other focal dystonias.

I could go on (and on and on and on), but I’d rather just breathe. And let the treatment continue on its way hopefully helping me feel better.

And before you ask, no, I didn’t ask for the last remaining drops of the botox be injected into my forehead. And no, my cervix isn’t dystonic.

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I ♥ Hamlet

Recently they finally released Kenneth Branaugh’s full-text Hamlet on DVD. I’m wishing, of course, that it was Blu-Ray for how beautiful the cinematography, as well as the staging, the keen use of mirrored hallways and heavy tapestries to provide inspired replacements for classic stage props. Too often the fewer limits in cinema are nothing compared to the magic of the theater (except when Broadway uses spectacle—helicopters, cadillacs and entire mansion walls—to replace the magic of one’s own imagination), but Branaugh somehow bridged that gap by cleverly discovering or creating cinematic analogs.

Anyway, I come here to praise Hamlet, not deconstruct its production.

If this all seems familiar, well, I’ve talked about it before. And recently (pardon the masturblogging).

I’ve been reading Hamlet and marking each and every relevant passage—and by ‘relevant’, I mean personally so. To get an idea of how much Hamlet resonates with me, just take a look at the picture of my own copy of the book, using little Post-It thingies (yes, that’s the scientific term). Sometimes I want to remember a term because it’s just particularly beautiful. More often, though, Shakespeare expresses sentiments that I haven’t ever seen written down by anyone else—and let’s face it, that’s just sad for how much information is out there these days, to have to go back a few centuries to find a particular nuance of verbiage.

Whenever I read (or watch) Shakespeare, I find myself dropping into iambic pentameter in speech and in written word. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to begin to think with cadence, and even more surprised at where your mind takes you when when there’s a rhythm to your own thoughts. Trochees (the accented opposite of an iamb) just don’t seem to feel as right as iambs, and as science has since shown, a line of just a handful of words is the most comfortable for the human mind to follow and absorb.

Shakespeare breaks the laws of physics—and the precepts of many philosophies—in demonstrating an infinitude of wisdom in a finite body of work. It is said that something cannot arise from nothing, that that which has a beginning must therefore have an ending, but Shakespeare’s works effortlessly ignore time and tide, culture and creed, and beg at eternity’s door.

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4Greattragedies <br/><br/> Hamletvertical

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