We’re off to New York City on Sunday for a week of unstructured visiting, walking, museum-going, eating, and all the other fine things to do in Manhattan. Next weekend, our friends the Wilsons will come down from Rochester, and we’ll get together with John Morgan for our annual Blumberg-Morgan-Wilson weekend. We’ve been doing these BMW weekends for more than 30 years, and this will be the first without Claudia Morgan, who died in March. Claudia spent the last 12 years or so of her life wheelchair-bound; she was a victim (and I use that word deliberately; it is a cruel disease) of MS. Being with her, we had a chance to see close-up the many indignities visited upon those whose independence is qualified—still dependent on the designers of wheelchairs and the environments in which those roll.
So it was especially wonderful to read Jamais Cascio’s long story about the Kenguru car; he sees the Kenguru, which was designed by the Hungarian rehabilitative services company Rehab Rt., as an example of Long Tail manufacturing.
For a variety of reasons, I wouldn’t expect to see many (or any) on US roads, but in societies where micro-cars are already in service — that is, much of Europe — the Kenguru may soon be an occasional sight. If you do see one, give it a wave; the driver has greater independence than before, and he or she is riding an early indicator of what the next decade could hold.
I see the car as an example of the Buddhist ideal of compassion. Walking with Claudia through Central Park (she loved the Gates; she entered her sharp decline shortly after that event), we were conscious of how easy it is to look over the head of someone in a wheelchair, to mentally edit her out of the picture, to be blind to her autonomous presence, to her Buddha-nature. One of the women tending the Gates, with their long poles with the tennis balls at the ends, came up to our group and ignored everyone but Claudia; kneeling down in front of her, the woman immediately engaged Claudia in a long and animated conversation; she had worked on every Christo project since the Running Fence, and she was delighted by Claudia’s enthusiasm for the Gates. We learned later, from someone who knew her, that the woman’s father had recently died after a long battle with MS.
She knew. She knew that there was a person in there; someone other than someone in a wheelchair. That sensibility—the awareness, looking at another, of someone in there, someone who cannot be looked past, or over, or around, someone with whom one can share, must share, the common fate—that is the essence of compassion, and it is, I must believe, what informed the design of this cute little car.
The Commander-in-Chief addressed the troops yesterday via a satellite link. Certain troops, that is:
Before the president spoke via a video link, his event planners handpicked 10 soldiers from the Armyâ€™s 42nd Infantry and one Iraqi soldier, told them what topics the president would ask about, and watched them briefly rehearse their presentations before going live.
The soldiers did not disappoint. Each one praised the president, the war and the progress in training Iraqi troops. Several spoke in a monotone voice, as if determined to remember and stay on script.
(See if you can spot what criteria were used to choose the President’s audience from the black-and-white-white-white image above.)
The story, based on an AP feed, was in this morning’s Washington Post; interestingly, it does not appear in the online edition. The Post reports that “The presidentâ€™s delivery was choppy, as he gazed frequently at his notes and seemed several times to be groping for the right words.” And they characterize the address as “one of the stranger and most awkwardly staged publicity events of the Bush presidency”. I wouldn’t be nearly that generous.
Bill Poser, over at Language Log, tells us that October 9 is Hangul Day (í•œê¸€ë‚ ) in Korea, celebrating the creation and promulgation of the Hangul alphabet by King Sejong the Great in 1446. Hangul is not an ideographic language like Chinese, in which every concept has its own ideograph, and pronounciation of a word is almost completely disassociated from the ideographs that represent the written form of the word; in Chinese, a given ideograph may have one pronounciation in Cantonese, a completely different pronounciation in Mandarin, and even be used, with the same meaning but with, again, totally different pronounciations, in classical Korean or Japanese—languages as different from Chinese as English is from Nepali.
Hangul, on the other hand, is an alphabetic writing system, in which just 28 letters represent, quite faithfully, logically and unambiguously, the spoken sounds of the Korean language. Prior to its invention by King Sejong, the very few literate Koreans—all members of the ruling elite—used Chinese ideographs to represent the written form of ideas. Hangul made it easy for any Korean to read and write the language.
Here is a translation of King Sejong’s opening paragraph of the document in which he introduced Hangul (that document, itself, was written in Chinese ideographs);
“The sounds of our country’s language are different from those of China and do not correspond to the sounds of Chinese characters. Therefore, among the stupid people, there have been many who, having something to put into writing, have in the end been unable to express their feelings. I have been distressed by this and have designed twenty-eight new letters, which I wish to have everyone practice at their ease and make convenient for their daily use.”
And here is Bill Poser’s comment on King Sejong’s document:
Nowadays that isn’t such a striking goal, but in his world it was remarkable. In 15th century Korea, as almost everywhere else in the world, literacy was restricted to a small elite – most people were illiterate. Furthermore, Korean society was extremely hierarchical. It consisted of three tiers, nobles, commoners, and slaves. It was almost impossible for a slave to become free, or for a commoner to become a noble. Until 1444, when King Sejong forbade the practice, a slave’s owner had the right to kill him at whim.
Not surprisingly, there was strong opposition from the nobles in King Sejong’s court, who presented him with a memorial of opposition to his new alphabet and who debated him about the wisdom of introducing it. Poser makes it clear that King Sejong’s accomplishment here was not simply a linguistic one:
For the king himself in such a society to create the means for mass literacy, knowing full well its liberating effect, is absolutely stunning. King Sejong was not merely a great scholar; he was a great humanitarian.
Poser’s article is extremely well written and well organized, full of all sorts of interesting things, without every getting too detailed or too technical. Read it and enjoy.
I wish you all a belated Happy Hangul Day!
Here is what I’ve heard.
The Fortunate One, on this occasion, was travelling with a large group of monks when he arrived at the town of Kesaputta. The people of the Kalama clan who lived there had heard reports of the Buddha. “He is the ascetic Gotama,” they told one another, “the one who went forth from the Sakyan clan to the homeless life. It is said that he is the Fortunate One, a Buddha, fully enlightened, seeing the way and following it, getting it at every turn and getting it all, the only one able to tame those ready to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, all-knowing, perfected. He has directly experienced this world, with its gods, its deceivers, its ultimate sources of being, and he shares that experience with everyone. He teaches a truth that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good at the end, with all the right words and right emphases; his life is spirited, perfectly complete and pure. It is good to see such a one coming our way.”
Then the Kalamas approached the Fortunate One. Some of them paid homage to him and sat reverently to one side. Others exchanged greetings with him, talked cordially with him, and then sat down to one side. Still others saluted him with palms joined, then sat down to one side. And there were some who remained silent, watching him carefully, sitting to one side. Then one among them questioned him, in this manner:
Tony Evans covered the Dalai Lama’s address on compassion at the Wood River High School in Sun Valley. His Holiness discussed the probability that global warming was implicated in the increase in natural disasters. The next day, Evans used Google to see how the event had been covered and found 23 stories from as far away as Russia and Italy. None mentioned the global warming angle.
In these stories the Dalai Lama was cast as an affable monk, as a jokester, even as a thoughtful military analyst. Nothing about his “contingencies,” which link us together as human beings, the provincial attitudes of Islamic extremists, or the pointlessness of revenge.
Many of these stories had near identical phrases describing the event, as though they had been prepared from a single source. Could this have been Burson Marsteller, the multi-billion-dollar global public relations firm that handled press for the event?
Evans points out that B-M has worked for the major oil companies for decades, and helped defeat Clinton-era legislation that would have controlled greenhouse gas emissions. And he asks, “Was BM’s client the Dalai Lama, or the U.S. State Department, which handled security for his visit?”
I’ve worked with a lot of public relations people and firms over the years—most of my career was in advertising and marketing communications—and I never got comfortable with the concept. When you produced an ad campaign, at least, the client—the money behind the story—was identified. With PR, it was too easy to slip one over on an unsuspecting public, to get a story out that kept the storyteller concealed behind the curtain, to dissemble. And that process has come to control so much of our public discourse that it’s difficult for anyone to speak sincerely and directly without being spun, especially when that person is speaking truth to power.
Michael Berubé has a very funny piece on the Values Kid. At a press conference today, Berubé reports, Bennett reversed course from his refusal on Friday to apologize for his remarks on how aborting Black babies would reduce crime. (Warning: heavy sarcasm ahead, mixed with fantasy)
Bennett closed his remarks today by asking the American people for a second chance. â€œOne more time, double or nothing,â€? Bennett pleaded. â€œI just need one more shot. Iâ€™m not ready to cash in my chips just yet, people. Here. Let me tell you how far the crime rate would fall if we aborted babies from Spanish-speaking households. Twenty percent, Iâ€™m saying, and you give me a ten percent margin of error either way. Eighteen to twenty-two. Let it roll. All in. Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.â€?
I’ve been busy.
I’ve hooked up with a group of folks in Cincinnati who are studying Buddhism, and we’ve organized ourselves as the Dharma Study Group. We’re reading and discussing the texts in the Pali Canon (the best collection in English translation is at the Access to Insight), and I’ve cobbled together a website to help us stay on track and focussed. I’m using TextPattern for the website, and so far, I’m impressed. It seems to be even more powerful than WordPress, which drives this blog, yet it’s pretty easy to understand and has a relatively intuitive UI for managing the site. Which is good, because the documentation, at this point in time, pretty much sucks. I’ll report back when I’ve had more experience with it.
I’ve also moved to a new hosting service, TextDrive, which is run by the same group of geeks responsible for creating TextPattern (note that TextPattern can run on just about any hosting service that offers PHP; it does not rely on any special capabilities of the TextDrive service). I’m not absolutely certain I did the smart thing here; the TextDrive servers are slow, compared to the SolidHost servers; the interface for managing the domains I have hosted there is plain and simple Webmin, as opposed to SolidHost’s elegant cPanel; and there have been several server crashes just in the few weeks I’ve had stuff on TextDrive. But their response has been excellent, their support smart and appropriate, and their drive to make it work is apparent. I think they will, and that I will be happy having made the switch. That said, I can’t recommend SolidHost too strongly; they’ve been a fantastic service and I’d go with them again in a heartbeat if I didn’t lust so foolishly and obsessively for geeky delights (e.g. Ruby, fastcgi installed, modPython installed, subversion, etc.)
I have seen some interesting stuff on the web over the past week, and I’ll compile a single portmanteau post to lay them all on you, sometime this evening or tomorrow. And, now that I’ve got dharmastudy.org up and running, I’m going to move back to the stuff I’ve been writing on belief; maybe a week or so on that.