Tuesday, August 3, 2010

update update

So, I'm killing this blog, and resurrecting it on wordpress where the living's easy and the spam easier to control. You can find the new blog (including all old posts from the blogger incarnation) by replacing "blogger" in the URL with "wordpress".

Smell you later, blogger. Much, much later.


I haven't given up on blogging, I'm just sick of dealing with all the spam that my blog seems to attract. So I'm looking into other blogging options.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

yoga rant

Since last fall, I've been co-teaching a pranayama/meditation/dharma discussion group on the first Sunday of every month. We started out strong with about a half dozen participants, but quickly the number dropped, and this month no one showed up. My ego wasn't bruised much (I wasn't really expecting anyone to show up, based on the great weather and the low turn out in recent months), but the more I think about this, the more frustrating it is. I also teach moderate and "advanced" yoga classes. The moderate classes are definitely the big sellers, but there are always students in the advanced classes as well, so clearly there is local interest in advanced yoga practice. And what is more advanced than moving past asana practice and working on the other seven limbs? Where are my "advanced" students on Sunday night, when we're doing the real advanced work? Everyone wants to look good flopping around on a sticky mat, but no one wants to sit still and work. It's a lot easier (I know this from my own experience) to be driven to work hard physically by an external task-master (the teacher) than to have to sit and deal with your own insatiable internal task-master (the mind). So I understand why no one shows up for our first Sunday sits, but it frustrates me anyway.

I'm going to be teaching classes this Sunday morning. I'm mulling over my options for the "advanced" class. Option one: business as usual. Option two: work on pranayam and sitting for 75 minutes. Option three: start by asking everyone, one by one, what "advanced" yoga practice means. Option four: tell everyone to roll up their mats at the beginning of class, put their shoes back on, and go outside to pick up litter from the street while contemplating saucha. Probably I'll stifle my frustration and go with option one. I can't force my students to do advanced practice. But neither can I stop being bugged by the fact that what we're calling advanced practice really doesn't amount to much more than calisthenics with Sanskrit names.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Someone asked me today if I had three channels to watch - the anger channel, the misery channel, and the sunshine channel - which would I choose to watch? It was an unfair question; obviously I was supposed to choose the sunshine channel. But just as obviously, I guess, I don't think that's the choice I'd actually make. What possible benefit could you glean from closing yourself off to certain inevitable avenues of human experience, unsavoury though they may be? We are all going to experience anger and misery in our lives; being open to them allows us to figure out how to work with them more intelligently and sensitively than by just running away. There is an emotional rawness which can only be tapped through anger, and there is a sweetness on the other side of fully-realised misery that you will not find anywhere else. So I wouldn't choose to watch just the sunshine and puppies and lollipops channel. I would watch all three. And so I do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman - a review

I'm a big fan of Pullman. I loved the His Dark Materials series, so much so that I found it hard to talk about without getting very excited and jumbling all my words for a year or two after I finished the third book. Pretty sure I've written about Pullman here before... oh well, I'm too lazy to find the post and link to it. The long and the short of it is that his less than exalted view of religion finds a very receptive audience in me, so it was with great pleasure that I added his new book (let's just call it GMJ for the sake of brevity) to my library queue.

The book is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, however, with the revision that Jesus and Christ were two different people - twin brothers with decidedly different approaches to the question of what is Good. I found the title to be a bit of a misnomer; I didn't think Christ was depicted as a scoundrel at all, just someone with good intentions and poor judgement. I wondered as I read GMJ whether Pullman had come up with the title of the book first, then wrote it, realized it didn't quite match his original vision, but didn't want to part with such a juicy title. I don't know that this is so, but I imagine that it might be. Regardless, both Jesus and Christ were surprisingly nuanced and, I thought, sympathetic.

One of my favourite quotes from the book, from the chapter "Jesus In The Garden Of Gesthemene," page 197: "As soon as men who believe they're doing God's will get hold of power, whether it's in a household or a village or in Jerusalem or in Rome itself, the devil enters into them." Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely; what power is greater than believing you're doing the work of God? Doing good in the world requires humility, and is not reconcilable with ostentation or pride.

Apart from the splitting of Jesus into two people, I don't know how consistent GMJ is with the gospels. I wasn't raised with any sort of religion, and for better or for worse, most of my knowledge of Jesus comes from pop culture depictions. In fact, if my best friend in high school hadn't convinced the bus driver on the way back from our senior class trip to play the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, thus piquing my interest, I don't know if I'd know much of anything about Jesus. Ha! Take that, religious right! Most of my knowledge of Christianity comes from show tunes, that ever present staple of gay culture.

Overall, I give the book a thumb's up; it's not as scandalous as the title suggests, and I think Pullman does a good job of retelling the story and calling into question the more dubious aspects of Christianity (abuse of power, treating followers as sheep, &c.) while keeping the core values of the protagonist(s) intact. But if you really want to have your mind blown by Pullman's philosophy on religion, do yourself a favour and read the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

CBC - Backbencher

There's a new radio drama on the CBC - Backbencher. It's about a brand spanking new MP in the House of Commons from a riding in Nova Scotia. I'm quite enjoying it so far; it doesn't have the action/drama of Afghanada or the comedy of Canadia 2056, but it's near sight more entertaining than Monsoon House. I can't imagine what Backbencher's target audience is, though; is there really a swell of interest for Canadian Parliamentary drama? I would have figured I'd be more or less the only person interested in this sort of thing.

In other news, I'm toying with the idea of combining two of my interests and writing a radio drama/comedy set in a yoga studio. I have a few rough ideas in mind, but haven't put pen to paper yet.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

dumb joke

Inspired by a snippet of conversation I overheard last night at the Muddy Cup:

"Hypnosis? My mom tried that once."
"Did it work?"
"We can't tell; she's just VERY SLEEPY all the time now."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Alan Chartock, WAMC

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I listen to a great deal of radio. I listen to conventional broadcast radio, I listen to streaming stations on-line. I listen to local stations, stations from other states, stations from other countries. I listen to music programmes, news programmes, radio drama, radio comedy, public radio, commercial radio. And I listen to some radio programmes which joyously defy any and all classification. I even had my own radio programme for about a year in college, and miss it sorely sometimes. About the only genre of radio with which I am not intimately acquainted is right-wing talk radio. So it is on no small pool of experience that I draw when I say that far and away the most obnoxious radio personality I have ever had the displeasure of listening to is Dr. Alan Chartock, president and CEO of local public radio station WAMC.

I didn't always feel this way. Ten or fifteen years ago, when I started listening to WAMC, I had much greater tolerance for Dr. Chartock. In gross terms, after all, his political views are in concordance with my own. He, too, is a progressive lefty; supports Obama, doesn't support the wars, &c. We also share a love of Pete Seeger's music. The common ground between us ends there, unfortunately. I am irrevocably divorced from the cult of Chartock by the man's own insufferable self-importance and megalomania.

Dr. Chartock's voice is inescapable on WAMC; both literally (he is on the air almost continuously, hosting his own weekly programmes and serving as a regular commentator and co-host of other programmes) and figuratively (there are very few commentators on WAMC who do not share Dr. Chartock's political views). I can understand, to some extent, the pervasiveness of his actual voice over the air waves. If I remember correctly from my days in the DC area, WAMU's president was also their most regular on-air personality. Perhaps this is inherent to public radio stations in this country (or at least those devoted to commentary and news). I cannot, however, understand Dr. Chartock's refusal to air more than the most paltry smattering of opinions contrary to his own. WAMC offers air time to a wide variety of commentators. Exactly one of them is a conservative; and even his arguments are poorly constructed and inane. It is almost as though he is retained to serve as a straw-man. This theory is not in any way discredited by the fact that during every single fund drive, Dr. Chartock parades this one conservative commentator's brief weekly opinion pieces as evidence of his own (Dr. Chartock's) magnanimous willingness to air other points of view. Is it really Dr. Chartock's sole responsibility and privilege to determine who should and should not be allowed air time? WAMC is a public radio station. It is their responsibility to provide quality programming for their audience, not the palest imaginable shadow of balanced politics.

If WAMC's lone conservative commentator were my sole complaint, it would not occur to me to accuse Dr. Chartock of egomania. Perhaps WAMC is simply catering to its audience's interests. However, Dr. Chartock really shows his hand during his Tuesday afternoon hour-long open political forums. Callers generally fall into two categories: progressives and conservatives (reflecting WAMC's audience and local demographics, the majority fall into the former category). Within each of these categories, there are sub-groups: conscientious callers and, for lack of a better term, wackos. Conscientious callers respectfully voice well reasoned arguments, sometimes calmly, sometimes with great passion. Wackos are generally irate and voice opinions which they are unable to support. My perspective is that both progressives and conservatives can have valuable insights to share, and should be granted air time to share them, provided that they are conscientious. In other words, callers should be screened based on their placement on the conscientious/wacko spectrum, not the progressive/conservative spectrum. This idea, however, is clearly foreign to Dr. Chartock. Progressives are permitted to voice their opinions with minimal interruptions, regardless of where they fall on the conscientious/wacko continuum. Conservatives, on the other hand, are treated to continuous interruptions from Dr. Chartock, with the result that regardless of their state of calmness at the start of the call, their level of agitation increases until Dr. Chartock cuts the call short and informs his call screener, over the air, to add the caller to The List (ie, the list of callers who are no longer permitted on air). I listen to this happen every time I tune in, and it never fails to disgust me. He even has the audacity to accuse his conservative callers of speaking from a "bully pulpit." I believe the Yiddish word for this sort of statement is "chutzpah."

Why do I still listen if Dr. Chartock's antics infuriate me so? WAMC, despite the failings and egocentrism of its president, is still a quality source of local information, and I do enjoy many of its other programmes and commentators. Many years ago, though, I stopped donating to the station during fund drives because I couldn't stand the thought of underwriting Dr. Chartock's gigantic ego. I know many of WAMC's other listeners enjoy listening to him berate callers with opposing viewpoints (they voice their enjoyment in their comments during the fund drives); to me, this is the cheapest sort of lions-vs-Christians entertainment. WAMC's listeners, I believe, would be far better served by a more balanced approach. And perhaps by a change in leadership.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

bra story

Walking down Church Street a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see a bra hanging in a tree outside an apartment building. It stayed there for a few days and gave me a smile every time I walked past it. When it disappeared, I thought I'd seen the last of it... but then last week, I saw it (or its twin) outside another house about a quarter mile away. I can't for the life of me figure out what the story behind this bra is. I'm wondering where I'm going to see it next.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Projects for the new year - update

I've winnowed down the list; I realized I'd bit off more than I cared to chew. So, I've chosen just two projects to focus on this year:
  • Train for a triathlon
  • Writing project
I may work on some of the other projects on the original list as well, but I'm not committing myself to them. "When all else fails, lower your standards!"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer - a review

I read this book because my friend Lorna interviewed the author for Chronogram, and he seemed to have interesting insights about the considerable overlap between evangelical religion and what he refers to as the "new atheism" - Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. Unfortunately, although Schaeffer's ideas are interesting and found a receptive audience in me, he is not a very strong writer. It was a bit of a struggle to get through the book. I do have to give the author credit for penning one very good chapter; he wrote about a mason he knew when he was growing up in Switzerland, someone who almost never spoke but focused intently on his job and always produced superlative work. The only time the author saw this master craftsman rise to anger was when his mother tried to rush him in a job, and he replied, "Non, il faut faire ça comme il faut" - "No, this must be done the way it must be done." This story is compelling to me because this is the way I always hope to work, no matter what the task, and on those rare occasions when I rise to this level of ability, it is sheer bliss to do whatever it is that I am doing. I understand why Schaeffer included the description of this man in his book; work, when done this way, is a form of prayer or meditation. It gives one the experience of connection (or "communion," if you like) regardless of one's beliefs or lack thereof.

Schaeffer's main thesis is that both evangelicals and the "new atheists" are insufferably obsessed with their own rightness, and more importantly, everyone else's wrongness; thus do they miss the point entirely - that mystery is the fundamental condition of existence. I agree with him, and he supports his thesis well enough, but he does so in the first hundred pages of a 230 page book. The rest is repetitive and/or tangential, much to the detriment of the book. Also, Schaeffer's anger, though understandable, does not serve him well here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I heard the story of a famous Buddhist monk who was visiting an ashram to give a talk. The ashram was very excited to have the monk come, and asked him to send a bio so that they could advertise his talk. They didn't hear back from him for a while, so they asked again. Still nothing. They asked again. No response. Finally, the day before the talk, they asked one final time for a bio, or resume, or whatever, and at last they received a reply. Four words: "One mistake after another."