Thursday, May 29, 2014

Peacemaking opportunities and hindrances - video interviews with Arabs and Israelis about Israel, Palestine and more - myriad opinions and lively explorations

Here is an article about the site, the director and history of the project:

What can we learn from these "opinions" ?

Can the dissemination of these sorts of video increase the willingness of leaders and elites to make the choices for peace?

Can ideology, religious attitudes, nationalism, prejudice, hatred and other firmly held beliefs be modified by exposure to media like these videos?

Dharma Talks from sesshin

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Unintended consequences and the UN - or maybe intended consequences?

In recent years the UN has sadly been unable to do anything effective about the major conflicts that it attempts to resolve, whether in Syria, in Ukraine/Russia, Central Africa or in the South Asia Sea around China, Vietnam, Japan, Philippines, etc. Even worse, in some arenas, such as Haiti, the UN has caused increased problems, include disease and death. Is this indicative of something about the UN that is worth exploring? Is the UN now, maybe due to structural and functional issues, unable to significantly impact world conflicts?

A more extreme example of long-term UN failures seems to be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, there have been charges that the UN is actually making the situation much worse by being a part of the problem.

Below are the thesis and conclusions of a detailed exploration of the role of the UN in fostering peace between Israeli and Palestinians, or in hindering and derailing the possibilities of peace.

"Despite the “Zionism-is-racism” resolution having been annulled, these [UN] offices, agencies, and committees continue operating as the engine of the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state and attack it through boycotts, sanctions and divestment. It is these structures and their activities that are being exposed here systematically for the first time...."

 The article ends with the following conclusion

"...At the moment, the UN’s institutional treatment of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict encourages Palestinian hatred, legitimizes their rejection of Israel’s right to exist, increases Israeli mistrust, alienates its supporters, and, above all, enables the type of Palestinian unilateralism that undermines the peace process and prolongs the conflict. A renewed effort at reform by influential member states would go a long way toward changing this state of affairs for the better.

Such an effort would end the UN’s hypocrisy on the issue and help it live up to its founding principles. The institution’s selective violation of its own sovereignty principle, its double standards toward the Middle East’s only democracy, its obvious political bias, and its unrelenting assault on the legitimacy of Jewish self-determination would end.

But as long as the UN’s “propaganda apparatus” for Palestinian rejectionism survives, the world body’s essentially positive nature will be disfigured by well-founded accusations of discrimination against its only Jewish member. For the good of Israel, the Palestinians, and the UN itself, it is long past time for the world body to finally say farewell to the libel that Zionism is racism."

For the full article, and a chance for you to explore and evaluate the conclusions, see:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Interdependent and interbeing includes myriad forms - even seemingly 'socialist' and 'capitalist'


Led by IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management researcher 
Oskar Franklin  , the Swedish study (paywall) started
with a surprising observation. Root fungi were actually working 
to maintain nitrogen scarcity in the forest. When less nitrogen 
was available in the soil, fungi gave up less nitrogen to the trees. 
But when nitrogen was abundant, they built up their stores like 
speculators cornering the market in a commodity, effectively 
forcing the trees to get their nitrogen from the fungi no matter what.

“The new theory pictures a more business-like relationship among 
multiple buyers and sellers connected in a network,” Franklin said 
in a press release. Instead of being a cooperative trade of carbon and 
nitrogen between organisms, trees are forced to export large amounts 
of carbon in order to unlock nitrogen stores from the fungi."
For the full article see:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Response - able

 “What is the Dharma body of emptiness?” asked a disciple.
 Shoushan replied, “Your old teacher is underneath your feet.”

Elihu Genmyo Smith

Our life practice is responding as this moment universe, being responsible.  This is beginner’s mind.

Being present this moment - without holding to or being blinded by emotion-thought of what we “know”, “don’t know”, are “good” at,  are “not good” at,  “should” do, or “shouldn’t” do - nurtures responding. Responding is not dependent upon specific skills or experiences.  When we walk by something and hold to the belief “that’s not mine to do”, “oh, that shouldn’t require my efforts”, “someone else needs to do that”, right there, in believing attachments and reacting out of body-mind habits, the reactiveness misses this present moment, this endless dimension universe – and unfortunately often results in stress and harm.

Response-able is not holding to the fixed habits that arise; it is not that habits, attachments and reactions don’t arise but that despite the reactions like  “oh, I don’t know how to cook,” when it is our opportunity and the circumstances call for it, we cook.  “I’m not good at…”are thoughts and beliefs, reactive habits.  It doesn’t matter which of many beliefs arise, how self-centeredness appears – I am or am not good at gardening, at computer work or….  Holding to these without seeing and being what is so right now is living in daydreams, in habits -and misses this moment, this universe. All we have is this moment; not this moment me and the world but this moment the whole universe that is our life of encounter. Do you see this?

This is the beginner’s mind that Suzuki Roshi clarifies in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Despite our resistance to it, despite our holding to “expert body-mind”, to self-daydream of what so-and-so is like and what such-and-such should be, the ability to respond is what we are, what this life is. A simple response is inhaling after we breathe out, after exhaling. All of us exhale, and at a certain point you respond (to the need for oxygen, for air) by breathing in.  Very natural - responding as this moment. This is the universe breathing. 

When arising habits, tendencies, beliefs and reactions, “run” our life then this hinders this life, this present moment. If we allow them to be the basis of actions, responses, then stress, dissatisfaction and suffering result. And this is also so if we allow them to be the basis of what we do to others, what we expect of others, react to how “others” are or are not, and “get into” their business. If we don’t notice these arising, do not see the reacting out of them, the not-noticing and the reacting-out-of is how much we are not responding as this moment. While the arising is neither good nor bad, it is simply cause-effect, at the same time there are consequences in our life, the life of those around us, the life of the universe.

Able to respond is being present, is able to sense, see and hear the universe, this moment – to not only hear and sense the self-reactive habits, attachments and beliefs that arise. Able to respond is able to feel this life here; it doesn’t mean we have to do any particular thing, doesn’t mean we have to respond in any particular way or even have any special skill. Our ability to respond grows out of being present.  Our capacity is only hindered by holding to emotion-thought such as “oh, I don’t do that,” or other beliefs/attachments such as I shouldn’t, I can’t; especially holding to beliefs of self and other, to dualism and self-centeredness.  Responding isn’t anything fancy.  As I said, it is breathing, inhaling after exhaling. This is responding, being responsible - all of us know what happens if we exhale and don’t respond.  You know it very well. This is natural awareness, being awake. Responding - and being willing to respond - is this beginner’s life that we are.  Responding is whole being-ness, intimacy. We have opportunities from morning to night, from when we open our eyes, when we wake up. Every encounter is this moment. Breathing in, breathing out, is encountering, is responding; being listening is responding, being responsible, being able to respond – it is not limited to doing any particular thing. Greeting someone we meet with a bow, a smile or “hello” is responding; “please”, “thank you” and “you are welcome”  are responding, silence is responding. Does not matter if we are strong or weak, old or young, healthy or sickly, responding is as we are – as we are is the perfect universe manifesting.

Responding is also to see what is ours to respond to and what is not ours to respond to. We can create all sorts of difficulties if we mix these up, if we attempt to respond to what is not ours, interfere with others in what is theirs to respond to, attempting to make them be or act as we believe, creating body-mind stress, harm and suffering over mixing into what is the universe of not-ours to respond to. A simple example of this is believing and acting out of judgments of others.

Only our inability or unwillingness to be what is so, to see what is so, hinders us. Only holding to preconceived ideas, beliefs about so-called me or so-called others, hinders our functioning.  And it is our willingness to see those when they arise, to allow those to be, to be in the midst of experiencing, of being this open life that we are, this not-knowing beginner’s mind, that is our practice opportunity. Our unwillingness, our wishful thinking, doesn’t change reality, it doesn’t change what is so - and yet it hinders this life that we are.  The dialogues and encounters of various ancient masters or modern masters clarify this. Since I brought up Master Shoushan Xingnian (10th century China - Shuzan in Sino-Japanese) in an earlier piece, I will mention a few of his dialogues. 

A monk asked “What is Shoushan?” Shoushan is the name of the mountain where his temple was, as well as the name of the temple. The custom in China and Japan, and even in the United States, is for a head of a temple or monastery to take the name of the temple.  Shoushan literally means chief or head mountain.  Shoushan responds, “east mountain is high, west mountain is low,” expressing this life directly and simply  – following along the question and expressing the truth of life – these are never two!  

The disciple doesn’t see Shoushan’s response; instead he seems to hold some ideas that the answer is about the height of mountains and not his “fundamental” question. From the disciple’s response we may assume he wanted to ask a “Zen” question and to get a “Zen” answer.  So the disciple again asks, “Oh, what about the person inside the mountain?” He is saying, “I’m not interested that mountain’s high, that mountain’s low, that is just some externals, I want to get some important truths. I want to get some Dharmic fundamental points about the True person in Shoushan.” Is there a person inside the “mountain”, a separate person “inside” Shoushan? The master responds, “Fortunately for you, my staff isn’t in my hand.” Do you see Shoushan’s response, the kindness and at the same time directness to further manifest this point, to attend to and sweep away what blinds and catches the questioner?

Asked about mountains, the response is in terms of the question, allowing the questioner to let go of what he believes he knows about internal/external, mountains, people and Dharma; the response is life right here now. Don’t live in a daydream, in beliefs and dualism - which is what we do when we don’t respond out of this moment. There are all sorts of daydreams that we may live in. Our practice is responding, or noticing what daydream we are caught and blinded by - which is responding; otherwise the daydreams result in missing this moment life encounter, this moment breath, short breath, long breath.

Appropriate for today’s early winter, another questioner asked Shoushan, “What is the eye that does not deceive others?” If I explain, which is already off, he is trying to ask a question about genuine awakening but in conceptual, theoretical terms. Shoushan responds directly, being response-able. “Look, look, winter is approaching.” Being in windy late fall - “what eye doesn’t deceive others?” “Oh, all the leaves have fallen and the wind is blowing strong. Look, winter is approaching.” But the questioner wasn’t satisfied with the immediate response, the response-able response. So he said, “But what about the ultimate meaning of it all;” The questioner could be saying –“I mean seeing the ultimate meaning, what is really important. Not what is going on now, winter weather approaching, that doesn’t matter, I am asking about what is really important, the dharma eye that does not deceive.” And the master said, “And after that, we will have gentle spring breeze.” Not buying into the questioners daydream, he shows the questioner what is appropriate.

If we live up in our daydreams then we walk through a life of daydream; we don’t live this moment, don’t see the piece of paper that needs to be picked up from the floor. “Oh, that’s not mine, I’m thinking important things.”

Asked, “What is the Dharma body of emptiness?” Shoashan replied, “Your old teacher is underneath your feet.” “Oh, why reverend sir, are you under the feet of your pupil?” “Oh, this poor, blind fellow who is living in a daydream.”

Life is always this moment, practice always this moment - not some ideas about it. Our opportunity is being this moment, being responding. We don’t need to figure out anything else. Not because there isn’t a time or place to do that if you want to; but if we carry that around in all sorts of places then we miss, literally miss, our life. Then we have “an expert’s mind” that knows all sorts of things and knows what they should or shouldn’t do, knows who should or shouldn’t be in front of them. Then we miss the food that we put in our mouth because we don’t taste it; we don’t feel the bowl when we are holding it, we don’t feel the floor as we’re walking. And we don’t see the person who is speaking to us. Instead, we are “they shouldn’t say that to me, should know better, should …” –  being so leads to difficulties in our life and the life of others.

Reactive tendencies and habits are “normal”, the result of all sorts of cause-effect - biological, psychological, sociological, genetic, etc. There are many ways of explaining them. Nevertheless, our practice is always now. Right now, what is called for? What is skillful and appropriate, compassionate? This is the simplicity and immediacy of our practice, in the midst of individual skills and abilities, of capacities of all sorts - as a musician, a programmer, a doctor, a waiter, all sorts of abilities that we develop. Always the capacity of being beginner’s functioning, this able-to-respond, being open, loving - this is awakened state - in sesshin, after sesshin, with friends, family, strangers, at work, the grocery store, and everywhere else. And we know very well the trouble we can get into when attaching to reactive beliefs.

At times we use the words “you are responsible” in terms of blame or judgment, or in ways that hinders us from seeing how wonderful our ability to respond is. Like the tree response-able to the changing seasons with the leaves turning color and then the tree dropping leaves  – simply tree being response-able.

From morning to night response-able is the universe responding. Our opportunity is to be this universe that we are - respond. Respond to the conditions as they appear in many realms, so-called inside, so-called outside. If we attach to judgments, daydreams, we may get in trouble and cause trouble. Be the joy of our encounters, responding as the circumstances and conditions of this life.

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Responsibility and Freedom in Judaism

In relation to my article "Response-able", here is an interesting take on responsibility from a traditional Jewish perspective, especially as this is clarified in the Jewish calendar:

"Passover, as just about everyone knows, celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery. While Shavuot, as fewer people realize, commemorates the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, arguably one of the most important events in human history....

Most important, the freedom of Passover without the law of Sinai would bring chaos. A society of only freedom and no rules would have no norms for behavior, no distinctions between right and wrong, and couldn't enforce such conventions even if it had them. A society controlled by pharaoh-like, state-declared law, on the other hand, would not give citizens the freedom that Passover—and, incidentally, the Declaration of Independence—proclaim to be our birthright, an endowment each person receives from the Creator....

Together Passover and Shavuot also teach that accepting the Ten Commandments at Sinai endowed the world with a sense of purpose and destiny. That acts as a guide for how to use freedom. The Passover story makes clear that God did not liberate the Jewish people merely to free them from bondage. God emancipated the Israelites to serve God in the desert, accept the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and then strive to live them out in their daily lives."

The full article is here:

Interesting Advice on Commencement

"To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world—for the better.

It will not be easy.
But start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world, for the better."

Life Lessons From Navy SEAL Training by William H. McRaven

For the full article see:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ocean Tides and the Moon

Many years ago, a physicist friend extolled the potential of tidal power that were being explored in projects that he was working on. Though it was very interesting and produced research results and scientific papers, at that time in the 1970's there were no practical results. Now it seems, there is something happening.

"Marine power has long been a tantalizing prospect for energy researchers. Tides are much more predictable than wind or sun....

Still, companies here have found that harnessing wave and tidal energy isn't easy. Any device must be tough enough to withstand the sea's constant movement, including what one developer here calls its "horrendous storms." Maintenance is a constant challenge.

The ups and downs of the Pelamis sea snake's segments turn wave motion into power. Pelamis

'People say this is not rocket science," says Neil Kermode, managing director of EMEC. [the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney Scotland, a grid-connected, renewables-research facility capable of testing both wave and tidal technologies.] "No. You fire a rocket into a nice, cold vacuum. We're trying to do things in a salty, grit-filled electrolyte that's got animals in it.' 

Near Hoy, in the island group's southwest, a wave device owned by Pelamis   has been brought into the harbor for maintenance. The device, a series of large, rocketlike tubes, resembles a giant red and yellow sea snake swimming over the ocean surface. As the sections of the snake, connected by joints, rise and fall, they push and pull connecting pistons, producing power from the sea's movement.
Undersea cables from the Orkney shore connect to the Pelamis device—and others—transmitting the power to EMEC, which owns a substation connected to Britain's national grid."

For a detailed report on developments in wave and tidal technologies which make use of this renewable non-polluting source of energy, see the article cited below:

Saturday, May 17, 2014

GMO follow-up comments

I have received a number of responses to my blog about GMOs. Below are 2 excerpts that reflect different perspectives.

Here is an excerpt from a letter:

"Besides the heinous thought that a corporation believes they can copyright a naturally occurring element, the implementation of their policies is economically disastrous for small farmers and environmentally troublesome as biodiversity is reduced. And this isn't even mentioning the quite possible links between Monsanto's use of pesticides and the dramatically diminishing bee populations.

This aggression to silence their opponents, create monopolies and resist labeling really raises a red flag for me as to how 'industry independent' a lot of the GMO research actually is.

Finally, I once spoke to a scientist at a party who was working on genetically modifying some plants.  She said that while evidence
was pointing to the safety of GMOs for human consumption, a big caveat was the unknown effects on ecosystems when GMOs are introduced. She seemed genuinely concerned about it actually. "

The following response sent to me is from an article with a very different perspective:

"One prevalent myth is that organic agriculture does not employ pesticides. Organic farming does use insecticides and fungicides to prevent predation of its crops. More than 20 chemicals (mostly containing copper and sulfur) are commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops and are acceptable under U.S. organic rules. They include nicotine sulfate, which is extremely toxic to warm-blooded animals, and rotenone, which is moderately toxic to most mammals but so toxic to fish that it's widely used for the mass poisoning of unwanted fish populations during restocking projects.
Perhaps the most illogical and least sustainable aspect of organic farming in the long term is the exclusion of "genetically modified organisms," but only those that were modified with the most precise and predictable techniques such as gene splicing. Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables and grains in our diet have been genetically improved by one technique or another, often through what are called wide crosses, which move genes from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature. Therefore, the exclusion from organic agriculture of organisms simply because they were crafted with modern, superior techniques makes no sense. It also denies consumers of organic goods nutritionally improved foods, such as oils with enhanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
In recent decades, we have seen advances in agriculture that have been more environmentally friendly and sustainable than ever before. But they have resulted from science-based research and technological ingenuity by farmers, plant breeders and agribusiness companies, not from social elites opposed to modern insecticides, herbicides, genetic engineering and 'industrial agriculture.' "
For the rest of this article see:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

GMO - a thoughtful exploration of the science, politics and fears

I do not know enough to evaluate GMOs but the positions around the issues such as use, labeling and sale of GMO crops and food are significant and have led to violent confrontations and hardened positions. And yet, there is much not known. It is worthy of exploration and clarification.

This quotation is from a most interesting article about GMOs:

"Though opposition to GMOs has its roots in the liberal environmental movement, an increasing number of environmental writers and thinkers have begun to take the industry’s side in the debate, pointing to an overwhelming scientific consensus  —based on hundreds of independent, non-industry-funded, peer-reviewed, long-range studies—that GMOs are safe. The scariest recent study, which claimed that GMOs caused tumors in rats, was the work of a rogue laboratory in France whose findings have been widely debunked. The National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the U.K.’s Royal Society, the European Commission, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have all sought to weigh GMOs’ purported risks, and found that there is no evidence they are dangerous.

And yet GMOs are the subject of widespread fear and antagonism. University labs accused (not always accurately) of conducting GMO research funded by Monsanto have in the past been burned down   by eco-terrorists. This type of sabotage has been rare in the past decade, but it may be making a comeback: Last year, a field of GMO sugar beets in Oregon was destroyed by vandals. Scientists and journalists who voice pro-GMO opinions are accustomed to being dismissed as industry shills, personally vilified, and even receiving death threats. Headlines on food blogs warn of“mutant GMO foods.”   In the D.C. area, a car topped with a giant half-fish, half-tomato—the “fishy tomato”  —roams the streets; the car’s hood reads “LABEL GMO FOOD.” In the popular imagination, GMOs are scary."

For the full article see the link below - and if you are interested, see also some of the very heated comments:

Not-two, life-death universe

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Monday, May 12, 2014

Academic illness and a proposed cure

"Universities have not only failed to stand up to those who limit debate, they have played a part in encouraging them. The modish commitment to so-called diversity replaces the ideal of guaranteed equal treatment of individuals with guaranteed group preferences in hiring and curricular offerings.....
.... On too many campuses, as in a funhouse mirror, ideological commitment to diversity has brought about its opposite: ideological hegemony, which is much more harmful to the life of the mind than the alleged structural inequalities that social engineering set out to correct."
"....So far the university culture has not been able to destroy the two-party system, but its influence on the current administration in Washington gives some sense of what may lie ahead unless small "d" democrats—which these days means mostly conservatives—begin to take back the campus. Through patient but persistent means, they ought to help students introduce speakers, debates, demands for courses and all the intellectual firepower they can muster in favor of American exceptionalism, the moral advantages of a free economy and the need to protect democracy from enemies we are not afraid to name.
In short, let the university become as contentious as Congress. In Nigeria, Islamists think nothing of seizing hundreds of schoolgirls for the crime of aspiring to an education. Here in the United States, the educated class thinks nothing of denying an honorary degree to a fearless Muslim woman who at peril of her life, and in the name of liberal democracy, has insisted on exposing such outrages to the light. The struggle for freedom is universal; would that our universities were on its side."

For the full article see:

The Closing of the Collegiate Mind

If you read her article, does her diagnosis of the illness seem accurate?

If not, in what ways is it inaccurate?

Where would her proposed cure lead?

Are there alternative "cures" ?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Billboard That Purifies the Air Around It

I wonder if the billboard can be combined with solar panels so that the electricity required would also be locally generated ? If so, then it is almost like trees, though it does not produce wood, leaves, homes for insects, birds and many other beings.

"Last year, scientists at University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Peru came up with an ingenious billboard that produced drinkable water. Now they’re at it again, this time giving billboards a different superpower: the ability to purify surrounding air.

So how does it work? The billboard sucks in dirty air nearby and filters it through a water-based system, a process that traps 99 percent of the pollutants present. Clean air is then sent back out to the surrounding areas. The filtering system uses 100 percent recyclable water and consumes 2.5Kw of energy per hour...."
For the rest of the article and a video see: