Monday, February 27, 2012

They'll never let me into England again. Sod them.

A few years ago, I wrote a posting called "Paranoia Strikes Deep" in which I imagined being detained by Muslim customs and immigration officials on arrival in London because of politically incorrect offenses committed on this blog.

I can't remember now if the post was meant seriously or humorously -- probably some of both. It's no joking matter now, though ... or rather, it is a no-joking matter. The uniformed cultural Marxist goons actually stopped a man from boarding his plane the other day because he -- God help the poor man! -- made a mild joke about (according to the Telegraph) "why a veiled woman was not checked by security." He says he didn't even use the word Muslim, but that didn't keep him out of hot water. And he was an Englishman, a solid citizen, not some kind of yob -- although I'm for Yob Rights when it comes to free speech. If that's what the Muslim concentration camp guards do to a subject of their queen, think what their reaction would be to a Yank who thoughtlessly "offended" them.
As his daughters, who had passed through security, waited in the departure lounge wondering where he was, he was subjected to a one hour stand-off as officials tried to force him to apologise.

Mr Jones, 67, who is the creator of the popular children’s character Fireman Sam, said: “Something like George Orwell’s 1984 now seems to have arrived in Gatwick airport." ... He said that when he made his initial remark the security guard had appeared to agree with him, saying: “I know what you mean, but we have our rules, and you aren’t allowed to say that.”

As he went through the metal detecting arch, his artificial hip set off the alarm, prompting a full search from a guard. It was after this, and as he prepared to rejoin his two grown-up daughters, that he was confronted by another guard who said he was being detained because he had made an offensive remark.

“I repeated to her what I had said and told her that I had said nothing racist,” he said. “She took my passport and boarding pass and I was then escorted back through the security zone into the outer area. Here the female security guard proceeded to question me further, inferring many things that I had not said.

“It was impossible to get her to listen to reason. We were then joined by a second female security guard who stated that she was Muslim and was deeply distressed by my comment. “I again stated that I had not made a racist remark but purely an observation that we were in a maximum security situation being searched thoroughly whilst a woman with her face covered walked through. I made no reference to race or religion. I did not swear or raise my voice.”
It's unlikely that he did -- no well-bred Englishman of his generation would. But Mr. Jones was being a little shifty in his self-defense. The joke or comment was obviously about different standards of security clearance applied to Muslims, and the favoritism generally shown to Muslims in British officialdom these days. The concentration camp/security guards got his point.
He continued: “I had now been detained for some time and my daughters were worried, calling me on my phone asking what was happening. We were going around in circles. I maintained that I had said nothing offensive and the security guard was continuing to accuse me. This had taken about 15-20 minutes and looked as though it was not going to be resolved.

“I asked the security guard if she was going to charge me to which she said no but I could not leave until I had apologised to the Muslim guard.

“At this point I asked for the attendance of a police officer. After some time he arrived but it was also plainly evident that he was keeping to the politically correct code. I told him that if there was a case then he should arrest me.

“I was told that we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said. They decided again that I would only be allowed to continue on my journey if I were to apologise to the Muslim guard. My reply was that as I had not made a racist remark it would be impossible for me to apologise.”
By any sane definition, it was not a racist remark, but the racism category has been expanded to include anything that someone other than a white person doesn't like. What David Jones actually wanted to do, it appears, is protest against a system which discriminated against him and his race. But that is the crime that will bring back hanging in the U.K. So all he had left to him was making a pathetic joke, and later claiming that he meant nothing by it. He was forced to resort to a weaselstrike, protesting his innocence of offending Muslim sensibilities.
Eventually, Mr Jones said, the BA manager suggested that he should agree that what he had said “could” be considered offensive by a Muslim guard.

With his flight departure time now fast approaching Mr Jones agreed to the compromise. Escorted by the police officer, he was taken through security where he was again subjected to a full search after his hip replacement set off the metal detector alarms.
There was a time, not so long ago, when public servants were expected to serve the public. Sometimes that meant having to employ common sense and restraint, even accept the odd insult. It came with the territory. Not no more, friend. Today you have to assume anyone with a uniform and an ethnic tenderness has the state's permission to humiliate you, demand you apologize to them, arrest you, perhaps make you wish you'd skipped being born.

This post, and so many others I've written at this site, "could" be considered offensive by a Muslim guard. While Reflecting Light is hardly a politically important source of comment, these days you don't have to actually be singled out for scrutiny. Her majesty's security state apparatus (like ours) doubtless has computers with Google-like spiders crawling over the Web looking for words and combinations of words that are perceived as threatening.

So it truly would not surprise me if I showed up at Heathrow and was scrutinized more thoroughly than Mr. Jones, placed in a cell and put on the next plane back. No thanks. Even if they ultimately granted me admittance to their ethnic garrison state, I would not spend my travel money, if I ever have any again, indirectly supporting a once-free country that has bent its former liberties for a Muslim über-class.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Now he's talking

Not only have I not watched the Republican so-called debates (real debating, almost a lost art, is done with facts, logic, and rhetoric); I refuse even to read about these imbecilic exercises. They're a lot of tosh and I have better ways to budget my time -- or at least more enjoyable ways to waste it.

But dad gum, this morning a headline caught my eye. Mitt Romney stuck his neck out:
Mitt Romney called the controversial Arizona illegal immigration law a model for the country, and blasted the Obama administration for challenging it in court.

"I will drop those lawsuits on Day One," Romney said in response to a question on illegal immigration during a GOP candidate debate in Mesa, Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill, was in the audience.

"I'll also complete the fence, I'll make sure we have enough Border Patrol agents to secure the fence, and I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers," he added.
Maybe I missed something, but this seems like the first time anybody seeking the nomination has said anything that actually matters. For one shining moment, a would-be presidential tongue spoke words that were not either (a) standard electioneering platitudes or (b) about ridiculous "issues" like contraception that legal entities, particularly at the federal level, should be shy of addressing.

Of course, in practical terms, Romney's statement is pretty much weightless. He said it in Arizona, with an upcoming primary, and where non-Mexicans would overwhelmingly agree. Nothing will bind him to it. And no president should be able to set immigration policy on his own, although our current Marxist scalawag and his predecessor have ignored the law and the Constitution.

Finally, illegal immigration is only a subset of our overall immigration insanity. Even in rapidly Islamizing Europe, politicians openly discuss how much and what kinds of legal immigration there should be. So far, that is taboo in the U.S.

Despite all those reservations, Romney's claimed position is reassuring -- if only because he judged it politically advantageous to express it.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The possibility of The Buddha


Is it possible to be a Buddhist?

Obviously, there are hundreds of millions who call themselves Buddhists or try to follow the teachings of the Enlightened One. In that sense, if you call yourself a Buddhist, you are one, just as you are a Christian or a Jew if you say you are and observe a few rites.

I have never known quite what to say when asked what my religion is. Not if a short answer is wanted. I have been influenced to one degree or another by most of the major religions. It's fashionable in conservative circles to rail against eclectic, "cafeteria-style" religious beliefs or practices. You are supposed to choose one and adopt it wholeheartedly.

This I have never been able to do, because they all have some characteristics I find useful or admirable. Yes, that goes for Islam. The Muslim practice (which I think is mostly honored in the breach these days) of stopping everything five times a day and remembering Allah is beautiful. We benefit from stopping our business (busyness) regularly and remembering that the pleasures and travails of this world are only a shadow of Reality.


But also, all institutional religions are unworthy of their originators or greatest inspirations. In the hands of the worldly, the uninspired, the routine followers, the scholastics, they dry up over time. They become covered with irrelevant traditions that cling to them like barnacles. They can become perverted by fanaticism.

Of all the broad religious traditions, I think Buddhism comes closest to retaining the spirit of its founder and greatest teacher, Gautama the Buddha. Buddhists have never started a war to advance their cause. No one has ever been forced to convert to Buddhism.

To many Westerners, Buddhism seems a very peculiar religion, or not a religion at all. Where is God in it?


The Buddha lived and taught at a time (5th century BC) and place (India) when the huge mixture of beliefs and traditions we call Hindu -- a theistic religion -- had already taken on so much baggage in the form of gods, devas, gurus, chants, stories, and superstitions that the diamond-like clarity of spiritual knowledge was in danger of being lost. The Buddha sought to cut through the clutter. He taught spiritual pragmatism: never mind theology, never mind ideas about God. Life itself gives you the key to Enlightenment, provided you have the right relationship to it in your behavior.

Generally, Buddhism doesn't make distinctions between sacred and profane, the flesh and the spirit. It isn't worldly as opposed to a higher calling. It seeks the higher calling within the worldly.


In Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness, Lama Anagarika Govinda says:
It is the finite that gives meaning to the infinite, because the infinite can express itself only through finite form. And vice versa: where the finite clings to existence for its own sake, without reflecting the infinite, it becomes meaningless and carries the seeds of death within itself.
For the Buddhist, he says,
... it is not a God who is responsible for the evil and imperfection of the world, because the world we experience is the creation of our own ignorance, our own cravings and passions. That imperfection should come out of perfection and completeness seems to contradict all reason, while the opposite appears more likely to the Buddhist. The experiences of life and the examination of those who attained enlightenment have taught him that from a state of imperfection, perfection can be achieved, and the sufferings resulting from our passions are the very forces that lead toward liberation.
To overcome our self-imposed suffering, the Buddha tells us, we have to purge ourselves of certain natural but harmful tendencies of mind and emotions -- something like Christianity's seven deadly sins. Releasing the grip of self-defeating tendencies means keeping a tight rein on every aspect of behavior. He calls it the Eightfold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

All told, this is a teaching of moral fierceness.


And that is where I have to ask: who can actually practice Buddhism? It seems that trying to would test a monk. What chance do any of us living in the world have? In the abstract, it's easy enough to sign on to all the "right" modes of conduct, but how much choice do we actually have?

For just one example, take "right livelihood." Roy Eugene Davis is not a Buddhist (he's actually one of the original disciples of the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda), but he essentially speaking about right livelihood in his book Life Surrendered in God: Handbook to New Era Discipleship when he says:
While instructing in matters of higher metaphysics and spiritual practices, the guru may also inquire into personal matters. He may ask, "How do you earn your living? Is it honest work, benefiting others and society, or does some harm result?"
 And other questions about the ethics of personal life.
If the disciple's answers are affirmative, instruction will continue. If not, the guru may say, "Go home and get your personal life straightened out and when you have done this, come back, and we will then continue our studies."
But in the world as most of us encounter it, how much choice do we actually have about the beneficial results of our livelihood? In modern Western society, conditions are such that we can usually avoid work that is dishonest and overtly harmful. Still, how many people are ever offered work that is unquestionably beneficial and hurts no one? With the best will, can we actually follow a livelihood that is "right" in every sense? Do we have a moral right to impoverish others who depend on us -- spouses, children, aged parents -- so we can congratulate ourselves on our right livelihood?


Similar questions lurk around all the other "right" behaviors. If they are what it takes to be a Buddhist, who qualifies? Buddhism offers, as far as I can see, no comfort for those who just try to be a little better. H.L. Mencken said that the average person is neither very good nor very bad. Is that reprehensible, or is it a survival strategy in a world of rewards and punishments?

Please, Lord Buddha. Help me understand. 


Friday, February 17, 2012

Paul, Paula

In the innocent early '60s there was a sentimental pop song, a duet between "Paul" and "Paula." I think all wholly or partially Latin-derived languages have some given names with masculine-feminine variants. But why only some names and not others?

There actually aren't that many male/female analogs in English-speaking countries: Robert/Roberta, Martin/Martina, Frederic(k)/Frederica ... but the feminine forms seem to be in increasingly rare usage. Edwina is virtually obsolete. (So is Edwin, come to think.) 

French and Italian have many more unisex names, usually created by an "e" ending in French (Daniel/Danielle, François/Françoise, René/Renée), an "a" ending in Italian (Carlo/Carla, Francesco/Francesca). I'm not sure what the story is with Spanish but my impression is that there are lots of paired names.

Yet, as far as I am aware, neither English nor French nor Italian has a female form of Jerome, Ronald, Thomas, Peter (although the Germans have Petra!), William, Samuel ...

Speaking of Francesco/Francesca: Francis has fallen out of favor as an English name, but the French and Italian versions are still serviceable. The French name some of their offspring François/Françoise, the Italians Italo/Itala, but no Americans however patriotic name their kids Americo/America.

Sandro is an Italian man's name (as in Botticelli), but Sandrine is a French woman's name.

That's the game of the name, I suppose.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I have a dream, and no idea what it means

At least since Joseph divined the meaning of Pharaoh's dream of seven fat cattle and seven thin cattle -- saying it presaged seen fat years and seven lean years -- people have been trying to figure out what both dreams in general and particular dreams mean.

Penelope in the Odyssey distinguished dreams entering via the Gate of Ivory and the Gate of Horn.
Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfilment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfilment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them. 
Even today, in our skeptical and supposedly rational times, simple-minded "1,000 Dreams Interpreted"–type books find an eager market.

Of course, more-sophisticated minds have theorized about what dreams signify. Most famous was Sigmund Freud. His theory of dreams, argued in thousands of his and his followers' pages, was that dreams represented an outlet for suppressed wishes, usually in disguise. Probably Freudian dream theory was essentially a derivative of his overall idea of the mind. His brand of psychoanalysis was based on the notion of an unconscious seething with censored drives.


Freud's wish-fulfillment dream theory seems prima facie ridiculous. How to explain nightmares? Do we have secret wishes to be lost, mute, threatened, humiliated? The Freudians had an answer: even in dreams, the censor was still at work -- sweets had to be disguised as slime. When I was in college I read an account of Freudian psychology by his disciple Ernest Jones. As I recall, he gave an example of a dream in which the dreamer plunged a knife into someone's chest. He explained that the dreamer didn't actually want to stab someone. The dream was a metaphor. The knife was a phallic symbol. Sticking it in the chest was another way of working around the censor: it was displaced.

Even then this struck me as making the phenomenology of dreams fit a preconceived theory. Apparently lots of people feel the same way. Outside of the Freudian psychoanalytic priesthood (there are still analysts who practice classical Freudian technique), few take most of his ideas seriously now -- although he is justly credited with discovering the power of the unconscious.  His wish-fulfillment dream hypothesis, in my view, is meaningless because unfalsifiable as long as anything can be interpreted in its terms.


One of the most interesting dream theories was Carl Jung's. At least in his case, it looks like his larger framework -- especially the idea of archetypes -- was derived partly from dreams, rather than his notion of dreams being an outgrowth of his psychoanalytic theory. If there is such a thing as archetypes, and he makes a good case, it's reasonable to believe that they show up in dreams.

But Jung, like Freud, turned reductionist. By his later years, he seemed to perceive everything as archetypal; even UFOs.

Psychical research has a rich history of dream study. (This is a tiny fraction of the literature.) Dreams apparently -- at times -- deliver precognitive (example) and clairvoyant (example) knowledge. Then there is lucid dreaming, in which people know they are dreaming and can write the "script" for the dream. Reportedly there are quite a few who dream lucidly sometimes.


Religious mystics have often cited dreams associated with their metaphysical experiences.

My suspicion is that most of these explanations of dream meaning account for a few dreams, but not many. From an epistemological standpoint, most dreams are no different from ordinary waking experience: occasionally significant, mostly just phenomena. Not that they're "junk," unless you consider everyday experience junk; but of no special or unique importance.

I can remember one dream in my entire life that seemed to me then, and still seems insofar as I can recapture the feeling, as possibly having a spiritual quality. I couldn't describe it to you, can hardly describe it to myself in words.


And then there is -- I have to borrow the expression from Rider Haggard's book title -- She

She visits me in dreams from time to time.

I don't know her name or who she is. She is Love and Beauty and an ideal. She looks different on different visits but I recognize her, usually during the dream itself, sometimes afterward. 

She has nothing to do with eroticism. Her meaning is greater. But I don't know what.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The machine of a new soul


Here's your soul. I mean, your Soul. The new Kia Soul.
Admittedly, calling a car the Soul is a pleasant change from all those alpha-numerics like A3 and letter combinations like GTO. At the same time, it shows the devaluation of "soul" in our age of scientific materialism.

Even silly terms like "soul music" and "soul food" had some vague connection with human qualities. Naming the Korean-made car the Soul is to reduce the word, which once suggested the transcendent part of human identity, to the tag for a mechanical object.

Those who still respond to the old meaning will be disconcerted to hear people say things like:

"I got a used soul cheap."

"I liked it so much I got a second soul."

"She said she'd only marry me if I traded in my soul."

"The bank re-possessed my soul."

I'll stop here. Brevity is the Seoul of wit.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Depleting your future with travel


 "Let us be patient and trust that the treasure we look for
is hidden in the ground on which we stand." 

-- Henri Nouwen

From a blog called Freedom Twenty-Five, apparently written by a 25-year-old bloke (tip of the hat: Dennis Mangan's blogroll):
Should You Quit Your Job To Travel? Probably Not

If you are fresh out of college, have no idea what you want to do in life, and want to spend the last 10k of your student loan money on a year-long trip around the world to “find yourself” – don’t. You’ll wind up on a path to being forty years old, without a dollar or a marketable skill to your name. Southeast Asia is full of these types, and you don’t want to be one of them.
His description of the game of Hippie Traveler Stereotype Bingo is a hoot.

This young man (if that is, indeed, who the author is) seems to be a fast learner. He's onto something.


In my 20s and 30s, I did my share of reckless traveling. My world was pretty narrow then -- I suppose still is, in a way -- so I never loped across the Himalayas, smoked kief in Marrakech, or discussed philosophy with headhunters in New Guinea. Still, I conned myself with something like the delusions he ascribes to "Ms. Frumpy McFrumpleton."

Not that I worked for NGOs teaching English or building outhouses so I could See the World, Expand My Horizons, and Become One With All Mankind. I just took "vacations" to Mexico, Jamaica, Hawaii, England and other locations when I was running on fumes financially -- in fact, unemployed.


Does traveling when you're young and have delusions of being a free spirit offer any benefits? I think so, but not the sort that adventurous lads and lasses imagine.

You may well get to see or temporarily experience different ways of life (not necessarily the same as understanding them). Whether that is of any use depends on what you do with the knowledge. In my case, it helped me get over the immature case of anti-Americanism I contracted via contagion in Berkeley in the '60s. I learned something no one had ever suggested to me in those feverish days: corruption wasn't some uniquely American trait. The fall from grace is universal among mankind, although of course it manifests in different ways and to different degrees.


Travel is interesting, sure. But not so interesting that it's worth sacrificing too much time for -- at the stage of life when you need to be building a base for the future. If that time is wasted, it's very hard to make up. On the whole travel is best once you are established in a profession and relationships; it isn't a substitute for ordinary human satisfactions.

Besides, interesting and enjoyable are not synonymous. Traveling with minuscule financial resources offers momentary pleasures, but also anxiety and discomfort. And it is not the way to discover the "real" culture of the place you're visiting or hanging out in. Poverty is degrading wherever you find it. The people you meet at that social level may be decent, even virtuous, but their own experience, limited by their means, is not likely to offer insight into anything worthwhile.

Freedom Twenty-Five writes:
If you aren’t doing anything with your life, the easiest way to distract yourself from that fact is to start living out of a backpack. Your days will be full of activity – finding food, finding hostels, catching buses, going out, keeping an eye out for pickpockets. Much like white-collar workers who distract themselves with busywork, aimless travel is a way of filling your time, so you don’t have to ask hard questions about how you’re spending your 25,000 days.
I don't want to sound like a Victorian moralist, but travel is no substitute for building character and exploring your soul. For that you don't have to be a rover and a collector of exotic cultural experiences. As the man said, wherever you go, there you are. Determining what you are and who you are is the hard part, and the best part.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Hu-ray for Blu-ray


Yeah, I'm late to the party, as usual. But being an early adopter is costly. It almost always pays to wait a few years after a new technology comes along. Once it succeeds in the marketplace -- if it does -- economies of scale mean it becomes a commodity and drastically cheaper.

So, thanks to a Christmas present, I am now a card-carrying member of the Blu-ray League.


In the unlikely event you are not familiar with Blu-ray, it's the highest-resolution videodisc format for high definition TVs. The discs contain far more information than earlier generations of DVDs (and they're read by blue-violet laser beams, hence the catchy name).

My new Sony Blu-ray player can do all sorts of fancy stuff, especially receive streamed movies wirelessly from Netflix and other sites. I haven't quite worked out how to set that up yet, but it's supposed to be easy. Instead I immediately signed up with Netflix for Blu-ray discs and put several at the top of the queue.


I had actually never watched a Blu-ray video before, except those hokey demos they play in stores. Let me tell you, this is a serious step forward. Coupled with my LCD 1080p television, the Blu-ray image (and sound) are not only as good as what you get in a movie theater; they're better than you will find in many.

Among other Blu-ray films, I've seen Margin Call (vanished without a trace on its theatrical release, but not bad); an IMAX film, Under the Sea (dazzling); The Transporter (I was led to expect more than it delivered in mindless entertainment, but Jason Statham does have a certain magnetism); and Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (a near-great Western almost ruined by Eli Wallach's typical scenery chewing). And The King's Speech, which I had not seen before -- I may do a posting about that one.

This past weekend my Blu-ray fare was the visually poetic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I enjoyed it more than when I first encountered it in a theater on its release.


As Blu-ray and HDTV become the norm in homes, will they kill the traditional movie theater? Probably not. The end of the movie theater has been predicted ever since TV went big-time about 60 years ago. (The movie industry countered TV with color film and CinemaScope, as well as a brief flirtation with 3-D.)

As long as I have the Blu-ray/LCD combo, I could live without ever seeing a film in a theater -- the only exception perhaps being a state-of-the-art venue like the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood. But a lot of people still respond to the hype that surrounds new-movie openings and can't wait a few months till the disc comes out or they can stream it from their computer. 

The best thing would be for Blu-ray and HDTV to put the tacky multiplexes with shoebox theaters out of business. Then maybe the remaining movie theaters would have to emulate the Arclight, and we might get something like the movie palaces of the '20s and '30s. 


Saturday, February 04, 2012

The end of Reflecting Light


Regular readers will have noticed a falling production rate recently and, your blogger fears, quality control lapses.

Most writers sooner or later reach a state when they feel that they no longer have anything worth saying. Verbal semi-paralysis ensues. It used to be called "writer's block," although the term became something of a joke and is no longer used much. But the phenomenon remains.


For my part, I tend to think that I've been recycling ideas here. It is perhaps inevitable after more than six years of blogging.

At least on social and political issues, what more can I tell you that might add value to the discussion, barring an unexpected turn of events? Everything I've been railing about all this time is still with us: out of control immigration, cultural Marxism, the growth of the federal Superstate, Europe's gradual surrender to Muslim domination, and for the past three years an affirmative action president who understands nothing and looks on the U.S. as an "unfair" and "unequal" nation that must be leveled through redistribution of poverty. Even writing that list bores me, which likely means anything further I write on those subjects will bore you. 


This was not originally meant to be a largely political blog. That it evolved into one is down to the many dangers pressing on us. It would have been morally wrong to have ignored them, even though in truth I am not much politically inclined and certainly ignorant compared with some other bloggers.

Nevertheless, there is so much more to talk about, much of it good, even in dark times.


So, before treating Reflecting Light to assisted suicide, I am going to experiment with a different format, stepping back from commenting on day-to-day events, even though those are the easiest postings to write in a time-pressured life. The banner says Reflecting Light is about spirituality, psychical research, and the way we live now. I want to concentrate on those; but also arts and entertainment.

This will probably mean fewer postings, since the newly emphasized topics require more research and, possibly, more thought. Some readers may fall away, but aggrandizing readership has never been my goal. If you happen to be among those who visit this blog for the political content and are uninterested in the rest, I don't blame you if you strike Reflecting Light from your list. Thank you for your readership.


To alleviate the problem of relatively sparse serious postings, I will also probably do some very short entries that may be no more than observations, perhaps humorous. Also I may link to other bloggers' or writers' comments if I think they're important or eloquent and likely to pass little-noticed.