Archive for February, 2015

2015/02/24

A priest and a rabbi walk into a stupa…

So I had lunch with my friend the Rabbi the other day (yesterday, actually, how time flies), and she told me this Joke (paraphrased):

A couple of little Jewish kids come home from school, and they are all like, “Daddy, our Catholic friends were talking about this Trinity, and the Father and the Son and the something-or-other else, and what’s up with all that?”.

And the father sighs, and says, “Okay kids, sit down, this is important.”

“We are Jews.

“There is one God, unitary and indivisible,

“and we don’t believe in him!”

I thought this was funny. :) As was her observation that atheism is a major branch of Judaism.

Later on I told this joke to a Catholic from the Midwestern U.S. (to whom no offense at all). The joke, to say the very least, did not resonate.

I guess there aren’t any atheist Catholics? And probably no atheist Christians, even?

(Or Catholic atheists or Christian atheists. Would that be different?)

On the other hand, there are atheist Jews and/or Jewish atheists (the Wikipedia page is currently proposed for deletion, but it’s there, and of course there’s the joke and all).

And there are definitely atheist Buddhists (or Buddhist atheists?). There is reason to think (although I can never find the right sutra) that ol’ Buddha himself was more or less an agnostic (of the “we have more important stuff to think about here on Earth than that” school, like my Mom was).

So there’s that.

Probably I mostly just wanted to write down the joke. :)

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2015/02/06

Warum ich ein Schicksal bin

(That is, “Why I am a Destiny”; it’s the title of one of the sections of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo; other sections have names like “Why I am so smart”, “Why I write such good books”, and so on. Interesting guy, ol’ Neitzsche.)

The Invisible Masters have been using me a little more blatantly than usual lately. I wrote about the cute older couple with cellphones the other day, and now I have another story this morning.

The doors between cars on Metro North are a test of both brain and brawn. They have four handles, one of which actually unlatches the door so it can be opened, and the other three of which are deadbolts that lock the door closed (which is kinda puzzling to me, because they have handles on both sides of the door, and so can’t be used to actually lock anyone out, but whatevs). And they have very strong hinge-springs.

So a typical person wanting to open a door may turn one of the wrong handles, locking the door, and then maybe try the right handle, but the door is locked so it doesn’t work. And even if they do figure out the right positions of the four handles, they still have to be strong enough to get the door open.

This morning I was on the usual train to work, sitting in my usual seat in my private office at the conductor’s end of the car. It’s a nice seat, with a little extra privacy and space, and inter alia allows one to become well-versed in how the door works, and help people with it now and then.

This young and rather grumpy-looking woman came up to the door this morning, somewhere south of Ossining, and fiddled with the handles and vainly tugged at the door. I reached over and opened the door for her, and she stepped through and struggled vainly with the door to the next car.

“How many stops does this train make?” she asked, stepping back into my office.

“Nothing between Ossining and Grand Central.”

“No, I mean, how many other stops.”

“None; it’s an express.”

Sighing, “I think I’m on the wrong train.”

“You should talk to the conductor, he can… be helpful.” I said, although I figured that meant he could tell her what train to get at Grand Central to get back up to whatever station she was headed for.

“Yeah, but he’s,” she nodded toward the next car, “and that door’s locked.”

So I disentangled from the Internet and extracted myself from my phone, and opened both doors for her, and felt virtuous.

But here is the Schicksal part: not too long later, a bell rang, and the train rolled to a stop at Yonkers. Out the window I saw the woman looking around, and then going through an open door into the train across the platform. And the Express rolled on.

I had no idea they would do that. :)

2015/02/04

I am just an ego with feet

I have to tell this heartwarming story because it reflects well on me (and therefore might make up for a bit of oogling of BeyoncĂ© Knowles’ bosom, and of (hitherto) unspoken thoughts of the general form “we should just freaking nuke [annoying region] and have done with it”), and because it makes me smile, and so might make you smile (and thereby make up for some more oogling and imagined nuking).

When you come up from the S into Grand Central, just past the turnstiles, there is this area which is sometimes interesting, where the Puppy Guy hangs out, and there was this guy selling “How To Pick Up Women On The Subway” books the other week, and so on. So when I come up that way, I tend to look around.

(Not that I don’t look around at other times also. Looking around is good.)

Yesterday on the way home the only obvious unusual thing in that area was this older gentleman talking rather loudly into his cellphone, saying “just past the turnstiles, yeah, no I don’t need to go back in, just look to the left and you’ll see me…”, and I thought okay and continued on.

And a few yards along there was this smallish older woman, cute and slightly hunched forward over her own cellphone not particularly looking around, saying “but I am past the turnstiles, yes, but I don’t see you…”.

So I boldly leaned over slightly and gently turned her toward the abovementioned gentleman, and pointed in his direction with an outstretched arm, and she said “oh!” and started moving in that direction, slowed considerably by the streams of people she had to cut across to reach him.

And I couldn’t resist looking back to make sure it was all working right, and she was about halfway to him, and he had looked up, and was saying into his cellphone, “Oh, there you are!”.

So that was nice. :)

2015/02/03

A footnote in Kaufmann’s translation of “I and Thou”

I was struck just now to find, tucked away at the end of a footnote discussing the technical details of one of the many tricky bits of translation in Buber’s “I and Thou”, this paragraph from Kaufmann:

The main problem with this kind of writing is that those who take it seriously are led to devote their attention to what might be meant, and the question is rarely asked whether what is meant is true, or what grounds there might be for either believing or disputing it.

It is easy to read this as a sort of jarring Philistinism, as though Kaufmann is wondering wistfully (or grumpily) why Buber has to use all of these coinages and poetic turns of phrase, all of these images and metaphors, rather than laying out his argument clearly, in simple and common words, perhaps as a set of bulleted lists (maybe a PowerPoint deck!), so that one could analyze it logically and decide whether or not it’s likely to be true.

Which seems like a hysterically inappropriate thing to think, given that what Buber is doing here is laying out a particular way of thinking about the nature of reality and each individual’s relationship to God (or equivalent). A deeply personal way of seeing the world, that he invites the reader to consider, and (implicitly) to adopt or not according to taste.

This isn’t really a thing that admits of being true or false, or of being expressed in plain and simple words (or at least of words where “what is meant” is immediately evident without special attention being paid to the question).

For me at least, Buber is saying, “think of the things we do as divided into two kinds: the I-It and the I-You; then think of…”. This is in the imperative, and doesn’t admit of being true or false (or likely or unlikely).

And surely Kaufmann, being the translator of the silly thing, realizes this.

I see only three plausible theories here so far: that Kaufmann is just pulling our leg in this paragraph (which would be wonderful); that there is an entirely different way of understanding Buber under which the paragraph makes more sense (I would be very curious what that way is); and that Kaufmann really does fail to understand the material as anything more than muzzily-expressed truth-claims that, if only more concretely written down, one could study objectively in the lab (this seems both the most obvious, and in some way the least plausible, explanation).

It’s a funny world. :)

2015/02/02

#snow

The snow falls undeterred
Onto freshly-shoveled ground
Ancient Snow with its newborn flakes
Covers everything.

snow

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