Mar 10, 2006

Meet the Neighbours

In my front yard yesterday afternoon. The post is part of bird-feeder. This is one reason I really like living here.

Of Fonts and Colours

There's some controversy brewing in the comments about whether white-on-black or black-on-white is better. I thought of putting up a poll, and may do so yet if I can find a free service that doesn't use pop-ups. Anyway, thanks for the input.

My own feeling is that some colour other than white is a better background. White screens are by definition putting out maximum light and are hard on the eyes. In the end I may go with black text on some pale coloured background.

On the use of fonts; serif fonts were invented as a practical way to extend the life of block print in the old days of moveable lead type. If, for instance, the cross-arms of a lower case t started to wear out, a sans-serif t would look like an l. The serifs on the end, being relatively bulky, would wear out last and the vertical stroke would at least have two little dots on either side which the eye would fill in. So they're kind of redundant with computers.

Also, serif fonts always remind me of school books and newspapers. They seem somehow more academic and serious. Sans-serif can sometimes seem light and even trivial. It's all a matter of taste I guess.

Hockey Night in Kandahar

Canadian troops are starting to take casualties in Afghanistan. We have to ask if it is worth it. The new Conservative gov't is refusing a debate in parliament, saying it would be "bad for the troop's morale." The foreign minister also said "Canadians don't cut and run." The rhetoric could have been written by a Bush staffer. (The last gov't wasn't perfect, but one thing I miss is the ability to feel smug about how at least we weren't as bad as the Americans.)

The Buddha said something very interesting about war; he said "men strap on armour and wield swords against each other for sensual desire's sake." In the case of all these new colonialist wars in the Middle East; that holds very true. The sensual desire is energy to run our autos and heat our homes.

Bringing democracy? Give me a break. The western powers are getting less democratic by the day with their Patriot Acts and secret trials. (And we have made in Canada versions here.)

In Iraq of course, it's about the oil stupid. The Afghan war has been out of the spotlight until recently and the polite cover story seems to have held up with the public better. But what you see on CNN ain't neccessarily the whole picture. The stark fact is that this territory needs to be held because it is the only viable route to bring Caspian gas to market.

There are also some specific questions that Canadians need to hear answers to. Are we turning over prisoners of war to the American military, which does not respect the Geneva Convention? If we must have troops there at all, why aren't we working with the United Nations instead of putting them under the banner of the US Operation Enduring Freedom? (Don't you love the Orwellian panache of those guys?)

Anyway interested in some background can read a pdf file published by the Canadian Peace Alliance.

Mea Culpa

From my inbox

Venerable Ajahn Punnadhammo:

I was hoping to have you answer some questions for me, which are unrelated themselves but have both demanded answering in my mind. I do thoroughly enjoy reading your blog, and check it frequently for updates, but find myself naggingly questioning the appropriateness of a Theravada monk to be commenting on those things which you do. No doubt this has been addressed to you before, and you may have even spoken of the question on your blog in the past, but I am a new reader as of the published Tricycle article on Buddhist Blogs, and am curious to read your response to the issue. I did a few minutes of quick research into the patimokkha, and was quite astonished to see that there are indeed no rules at all which specifically restrict the speech of a Bhikku, but I might point out that in the Nikayas certain topics seem to be looked down upon, though no formal transgression or punishment is detailed.

"Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue." DN 2

I think I can safely say I have never used this blog to talk about garlands and scents. More seriously, I have two things to say in my defence;

First, as the emailer goes on to say; also provides this useful commentary on the matter - "Conversation that does not deal with the Dhamma, though, is termed "animal talk" (tiracchana-katha) in the Canon, and there are several passages (e.g., Pc. XXI.1; LXXXV.1; Mv.V.6.3-4) that criticize members of the group of six for engaging in animal talk: worldly talk about "kings, robbers, and ministers of state (politics); armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; also philosophical discussions of the past and future (this is how the Sub-commentary to Pacittiya 85 explains 'tales of diversity'), the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not." The Sub-commentary notes, though, that to discuss any of these topics in a way to foster an understanding of the Dhamma — e.g., discussing the impermanence of worldly power — is not considered improper.

I believe that politics can be a proper subject of comment for a bhikkhu provided his effort is directed towards Buddhist virtues such as peace, compassion and contentment with little.

Secondly, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I am only human and sometimes I'm in a mood and edge over the line. In general, I don't think it helps one's spiritual life to be overly rigid and narrow. It's all a question of finding the balance (Middle Way.)

And let me add a third; there is a vinaya rule against looking into another monk's bowl to find fault.

Mar 5, 2006

Blog Format

Thanks for all the input I've received on the format of the new blog.
A number of people have pointed out the white-on-black style of this blog is hard on the eyes. Although my first impression was how cool it looked, I do have to concur. At some point hopefully soon, I'm going to sit down over a cup of coffee and re-jig the CSS for the page (which BlogSpot lets you do) and come up with something better. Any more suggestions would be useful at this point.

PS - a few people have suggested I turn on the word verification option to stop spam. I will do so if spam starts to become a problem. Until then, why burden the user with it?

PPS - one person asks for a bigger font-size. I sympathize, but you can always increase or decrease the displayed font-size yourself, unless you are browsing with Explorer. And why on earth would you want to do that?

Deadeye Dick goes Hunting

When Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face last week, they were hunting pen-raised quail on a so-called "game farm." This isn't hunting, it's pure gratuitous slaughter.

The first precept of Buddhism is non-harming so good Buddhist don't hunt. I used to be pretty militantly opposed to all forms of hunting. But living in an area where it's part of the culture, and getting to know a few decent people who hunt I've softened my views somewhat. Thoughtful hunters make a couple of arguments that are hard to counter. First off, if you are not vegetarian you are eating meat that came from some living being. A wild deer or moose suffers a lot less than a factory-farmed pig or chicken. So hunting is kinder to the animal than farming (or more accurately, less cruel.) Second, these days agri-business (as it's more accurately called than "farming") pumps so much crap into the "product"; anti-biotics, growth hormones, even brains fed to herbivores until it (surprise) caused a horrible wasting disease. The only way to get healthy meat is to kill a wild animal.

We could add to these the social fact that hunting is a traditional part of many marginal economies. And in Canada that is not just the natives either, in many parts of the country wild game is an important part of the diet for the rural poor and has been for many generations.

Nevertheless, these defences only hold good in the limited area of food hunting. Also many, probably most, hunters have some sense of sportsmanship. Using bait is considered unfair, for instance.

Some forms of hunting are absolutely indefensible on moral grounds. Trophy hunting for one; people who take down a moose or an elk for the "rack" or a bear for the pelt for instance. I heard the other day that it used to be common practise in BC to dump moose carcasses in swamps after removing the rack. This was at one time a legal and accepted practise.

Bear hunting as it is practised around here fails on both counts. It is utterly unsportsmanlike because the bear is baited to approach an elevated blind. And it is wasteful because usually the only thing the hunter wants is a pelt as a trophy to put in his den.

Hunting penned animals on a game farm is also without any redeeming merit. I wonder what the fat quails Cheney blasted were fed on?

It is a disturbing thought that some people would find an afternoon of shooting helpless birds amusing. It is even more disturbing when these people are among the most powerful in the world.

Play the Dick Cheney Hunting Game online.

Read the Humane Society statement on canned hunts.