Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Peeling Zen Potatoes

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.

I think of myself as a Zen Master. I am not a Zen teacher. Teachers do not come into being until a student appears. The appearance of a student creates the teacher. I have no students.

When a student presents himself to a Zen Master, begging for instruction, he or she is traditionally rebuffed. The student must try harder and more sincerely. One student eventually cut off his left arm and presented it to the Master as proof of sincerity.

When you ask a question of a Zen Master you may be rewarded with 30 whacks from a cudgel. If you fail to ask a question you get the same treatment.

The secret of Zen is that there is no secret. Zen has nothing to teach. When you understand that you may stop your 30 year study under your master and say goodbye with respect. You become the Master.

In 1985, I went to work for a company with 500 employees in 40 offices. The first week the CEO gave me a new IBM XT with four boxes of software. It was our first computer. I took the software manuals to the beach in Sarasota on the weekend. One was DOS 2.3, one was Lotus, another a database and the last was a word processor.

The CEO came back on Monday any I made the ancient computer play "Yankee Doodle Dandee". He was satisfied.

By the end, all 500 staff had laptops, word processing, debit cards, access to accounting reports, e-mail, fast connections over a wide area network and they were keeping track of 1,000,000 donors on a database I designed. We were "ghosting" software installations and running data over fiber optics and big Cisco routers.

I had one idiosyncrasy (well, maybe more than one). When they logged into the domain controller that validated them in the morning, I would put some kind of Zen story into the login script and sign it "Zen_Master". Each morning was a different Zen story. No one ever questioned who the Zen_Master was. This went on for 20 years. Sometimes I gave them an Emily Dickenson poem and they sighed with relief.

Back then I never really understood Zen. Now, because of my advanced age and wisdom, I am a real Zen Master. Here's the deal: it's just life. Get though it. There's no secret. Peel the damn potatoes.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Maybe Tomorrow?

Wichita, Kansas

A woman with a fear of facing the world is reported to have sat on a toilet seat in her boyfriend's apartment for over two years.

Each day he would pass food and water to her and encourage her to come out.

"Maybe tomorrow" was her daily response.

Ultimately, her skin grew around the toilet seat and finally emergency responders were forced to transport both the woman and the toilet seat to the emergency room, where the seat was surgically removed.

Mrs. Phred and I would like to visit Wichita in April. We'll apparently have a hard time now saying, "We're not in Kansas anymore" as a measure of locational weirdness.

Kansas was once a standard for middle American normalcy. When Dorothy was swept into Oz these were her words to her dog Toto. Yes, Toto...we're still in Kansas and it is weird.

Here's the full story from the Associated Press.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

My Father's Wisdom

Harry has been gone now for 23 years. Sometimes he still talks to me in dreams. His life during the depression was not easy. He was passed from farm to farm as cheap labor. He remembered one uncle-farmer who sawed the legs off his pet rabbit to keep it from running away again.

I have a newspaper article about Harry at age 18. He apparently drove 50 miles to see a body behind glass in Horseheads, New York. The body was an unidentified man named "Bill Bailey" who was an example of the local undertakers art. My future father got a little out of hand and pushed his drunken companion though the plate glass window.

I met Pop at age 3 when he returned from Germany in 1946. My first memory is of rebelling against this stranger and attacking him with a toy hoe. I still remember being surprised by how easily I was disarmed. My second memory is trying to assassinate him by dropping lipstick tubes down the barrel of his shotgun.

Pop was an intelligent man who read a lot. Perhaps he should have gone to college on the GI Bill after the war instead of working two or three jobs to support us. He was a painter, a short order cook, an apple-picker; he delivered newspapers and worked in an ice house.

He told me that Albert Einstein sometimes came into his diner in the early hours with unruly hair for breakfast after working at Cornell. We had an ice box. Eventually he managed to buy us a refrigerator and even a television. He told me that there was more to math than addition and subtraction. He told me about calculus.

He moved us all to Florida in 1953. He had a 1949 Chevy sedan and a trailer with our stuff. I remember the smell of Orange blossoms. The first week was a disaster for me. I saw my first electric stove and placed my hand on the burner when it changed from bright red to black. I spent the day swimming in a lake and my whole back came off in a mass of sun-burned blisters as big as robin's eggs.

Pop was full of advice for me:
- Never make a bet with a man in a bar.
- Always start painting at the top and work your way down.
- Always make sure the money is on the table when you make a bet.
- Never use latex paint over oil paint.
- Always make sure what you will be paid before you do a job.
- Never volunteer
- If you can't handle it, don't drink.
- If work was any fun, they wouldn't have to pay you for it.

Pop took me fishing in Tampa Bay and I caught a dogfish. He told me too stick my fingers in its mouth and get my hook back. I was afraid. He called me a baby and took the fish to retrieve the hook. It bit his fingers to the bone and he cursed. I laughed. He took it well.

He started making money as a painting contractor during the 50s boom and bought us a $2,000 wood frame house and a $2,000 1951 Cadillac. We lived on a road that the county paved with shells every six months. The Mosquito truck came by every night and we always ran behind it in the night-fog it created.

To drive home his lessons, he would set up situations to teach me about life. He asked me to dig an 8 foot by 8 foot hole, six feet deep for a new septic tank and told me he would pay me for the work. When the perfectly square hole was finished after four days, he tossed me a dime and told me again to ask what I would be paid before doing the work.

His main recreation on the weekend was to go to a bar called "The Deep South" and pick a fight with two or more men at the same time. He often accused them of looking inappropriately at my mother. Sometimes he would come home with gravel burns on his face. Mostly not. Mostly he prevailed.

Even into his sixties he would pick fights at bars with much younger and bigger men. He came home one day with a missing patch of scalp from a tire iron. The young man in question took a swing and ran after seeing the look in his eyes.

In High School, I told him I wanted to be a painter like him. He told me to go to college so I could get a job in the air-conditioning. Once, when I was 13 he offered to pay me $8 for caulking carports. This was what it cost him at $2 an hour for a full time painter. When I satisfactorily did twelve of them the first day he told me he was proud of me and that he was putting me on the payroll at $1 an hour effective that morning. He let two painters go that week.

I got accepted at Harvard based on some test scores and my grades in my first year in college. He took a look at the cost and suggested that he could afford a State University but he would do his best to fund Harvard if I really thought it I needed it. I went to the state school for two years and then joined the Air Force. They paid for the last two years and then sent me to Navigator school.

After Vietnam, we didn't see eye-to-eye. He called me a yellow coward. I was hurt but not angry. I don't think he really was following the issues very well.

At the end, Harry liked to pour gallons of yellow oil paint over the automobiles of the people he argued with in bars. He also had a home-made flame thrower filled with gasoline that he kept under his shirt and sometimes employed against adversaries. He was careful to only frighten them.

Life with Pop was never dull. I loved his intelligence and his aggressive nature. His eyes would flash when he was angry. He never gave me advice about love but I learned a lot about other things from him. They don't make them like that anymore.

Tesla, Time Travel and the Philadelphia Experiment

There are places where time and space are naturally bent. An example is the strange Lordsburg Door, located near Lordsburg, New Mexico. Periodically, as the door opens, a tree stump with a human leg embedded in it is seen near mile marker 17 out on US highway 90.

There is some evidence that these fluxes in space and time can be artificially induced. This appears to have been the case with the USS Eldritch, which took part in the Philadelphia Experiment on August 15, 1943.

The brilliant inventor Nicola Tesla and the theoretician Albert Einstein are both reported to have been involved in this experiment. The object was to render the ship invisible by wrapping the hull in inch-thick cable though which a high-frequency signal from an elaborate system of generators and Tesla coils was induced.

The results were disastrous. When activated, the ship generated a green fog and disappeared from Philadelphia, reappearing in Norfolk Harbor 24 hours later. Many of the crew ended up embedded in the walls of the ship. Others became insane. Some were mercifully dispatched with a pistol shot to the head. Here is a written account from one of the few survivors of the 176 man crew.

Tesla was a genius of such magnitude that some doubt that he was actually human. Many of Tesla's inventions, like the “free energy receiver” and the long-range "death ray" may have been suppressed to prevent the collapse of the electrical utility, coal and oil industries or for reasons of National Security.

Tesla also attempted an experiment to use the core of the Earth like a “tuning fork” to conduct "free" electricity. In the process, he melted the town generator of Colorado Springs. At exactly the same time, an unexplained explosion in Siberia of about 15 megatons leveled hundreds of square miles of pine forests. This explosion is often dismissed as a comet or meteor impact.

After his death in New York City, Tesla’s files and notes on death rays and other matters were confiscated by the FBI. Some of the FBI files on Tesla were published on the Internet under the Freedom of information act, but these have since been removed.

It's easy to sensationalize this strange American immigrant. He fell in love with a white female pigeon with violet eyes. He said he saw rays of light emanating from her eyes. He insisted on exactly 17 folded linen napkins with every meal. He constructed a tower in New Jersey to communicate with aliens. However his fame rests on rock solid accomplishments: the invention of alternating current, AC motors, the first radio transmitter and receiver (two years before Marconi) and the first to harness the power of falling water to generate electricity (at Niagara Falls).

Here is the author and Tesla's symbolically unlighted statue at Niagara Falls.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Bob’s Your Uncle

That’s a British and Australian expression that means your success is guaranteed.

Wikipeadia says that in 1887, British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, appointed his nephew Arthur James Balfour as Minister for Ireland. The press had a field day when he referred to the Prime Minister as "Uncle Bob". Balfour later went on to become Prime Minister himself. The theory is that to have "Bob" as one's uncle is a guarantee of success. Alternative expressions include “Robert’s your father’s brother” or “Bob’s your Auntie’s live-in boyfriend”.

General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne obviously had no Uncle Bob. He led his troops south into New York from Montreal in 1777. On the way he enlisted the help of the Native American Indian nation, the Iroquois. The few crossing points on St. Lawrence and the Hudson rivers were obvious strategic choke points, with the two rivers splitting the original colonies in half from Montreal to New York City.

The enthusiastic Iroquois scalped an American farmwife and presented her long red tresses and bloody scalp to Gentleman Johnny, much to his horror and dismay. The American militia began coming out of the woods in great numbers to support the rebel cause as the result of that single unfortunate incident.

At Saratoga, the mufti-clad American hid behind rocks and in trees and slaughtered the British at long range. The English troops were conveniently neatly dressed in parade formation in bright red coats with pretty white lapels. The English never fully adapted to this style of fighting, which was modeled after Indian methods.

The original plan was for Gentleman Johnny to link up with General Howe’s troops, who were suposed to be marching north along the Hudson River from New York City. However, for reasons known only to himself, General Howe changed plans and loaded his 13,000 men into 265 ships in New York harbor and sailed into Chesapeake Bay to capture Philadelphia, the rebel capital. Howe was sucsessful in out-generalling Washington and capturing the city, but it was a clear case of winning a battle and losing a war.

The surrender of Gentleman Johnny at Saratoga involved 6,000 remaining British troops. General Howe also resigned under heavy criticism. The Ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, was then able to lure the French into a global conflict, based on the rebel victory.

Rather than an outright unconditional surrender, Gentleman Johnny agreed to allow his men to surrender their weapons, and return to Europe with a pledge not to return to North America. Burgoyne had been most insistent on this point, even suggesting he would try to fight his way back to Canada if it was not agreed. However, the Continental Congress, urged by George Washington, repudiated the treaty and imprisoned the remnants of the army in Massachusetts and Virginia, where they were sometimes maltreated . This was widely seen as revenge for the poor British treatment of American prisoners.

Most of the early victories and guerilla tactics of the Americans can be attributed to the great American General Benedict Arnold. However, in dispatches home, other generals claimed credit for his victories and he was passed over for promotion and then investigated for financial irregularities and corruption by the Continental Congress.

Totally irritated, Arnold switched sides and planned to surrender Fort West Point to the British. However, a courier was captured with the treasonous plans and Arnold escaped and settled in England after receiving a payment from the Crown equivalent to $500,000.

Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne returned to England in disgrace and fathered four illegitimate children. Arnold lived out his life in England and his name is as synonymous in America with treason as Thomas Crapper’s is with the flush toilet.