some dhamma music

Over the weekend (in addition to everything else) I received a “press copy” of a new, compilation CD from a company called More than Sound (that, oddly, has something to do with George Lucas): “Dhamma Gita: music of young practitioners inspired by the Dhamma.” While the fellow who sent me the copy didn’t say so explicitly, I suspect he sent it to me under the assumption that I’d do what I am currently doing — blog about it. And I do have a couple of things to say about this album. One, I fear, may be more the purview of the Angry Asian Buddhist, but I think that it’s nevertheless important to say. So, if you’re of the opinion that these are just nut-job, guilty liberal tirades, feel free to skip the later half of this post. If, on the other hand, you’ve got an open mind to alternative points of views (not to mention music), by all means, read on. But the other thing I want to say about this compilation album is actually about the music which, on the whole, is quite good, Angry Asian-esque asides notwithstanding. So, without further ado, I think I’ll start with the good news.

no borders

This past weekend, the Institute of Buddhist Studies hosted a conference on Buddhism in the West called Buddhism without Borders. It was, by most accounts, wildly successful.

(I say “the Institute” hosted it, but let’s be honest — myself and my good friend Natalie did most of the work organizing it. I sometimes have a hard time accepting compliments and often feel more than a little uncomfortable boasting my own accomplishments, but I think in this case I can be allowed to sing our own praises. This conference was the coolest thing I’ve ever done as a scholar.)

One of the panelists presented a paper about about Buddhism on blogs, a study that focused on issues of identity and race within the popular discourse of Buddhist practice. While her paper was not directly related to this blog, she did mention it. And by mention it I mean that in her accompanying Power Point presentation, she showed a screen shot of this blog and pointed out that it’s mine, that’s right, me, the same Scott who helped put together this conference. So, whatever illusions (or delusions) I may have harbored about no one ever reading this blog, whatever illusions (or delusions) I may have that no one in my academic community is aware of this pretty shabby looking blog, well, those illusions have been shattered. I think I’ve been effectively outed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if my readership around here didn’t just jump by a dozen or two. (Hi there!)

How narcissistic is it of me that I’ve even brought this up? It’s completely irrelevant. Like I said, the paper in question really had very little — let’s be honest, nothing — to do with this blog or my little blogging hobby. But then again, aren’t most blogs at least a little narcissistic? Even if we honestly believe that we’re in it for the sharing of knowledge or other high-minded altruistic reasons, we’re still interested in contributing our own opinions and perspectives to some particular conversation — here are my ideas, my opinions, me me me, blah blah blah.

parenthood and class

My wife and I have started watching a new show called Parenthood, (very loosely) based on the <a href="1989 movie of the same name. The television version is set in Berkeley — though clearly some alternate reality Berkeley who’s had its progressive-liberal claws removed — and it looked like the pilot, at least, was actually filmed here in the Bay Area, so it’s local connection was an immediate hook. I find myself wanting to like the show more than I actually do. It’s leaning toward being good, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

Sarah Braverman, the Diane Wiest character, played here by former Gilmore Girls mom Lauren Graham, has an interesting story line. She’s clearly being written as the plucky, down on your luck, possibly working-class character in juxtaposition to her upper-middle class siblings and parents. Her sister is a high-powered attorney and one of her brothers seems to own his own business. Her other brother (the Tom Hulce character from the film) seems to be a screw-up, but he also lives on a houseboat, has a wealthy girlfriend, and works in a recording studio. Unlike his movie character, I don’t see him getting thrown out of a moving car in front of his parent’s house any time soon.

Sarah, on the other hand, never went to college. She’d been a bartender in Fresno before leaving her alcoholic husband and taking her two teenaged kids with her back to Berkeley where they have to live with her parents while she looks for a new job. In last week’s episode, she enrolls her kids in the local high school; but because of some transcript or bureaucratic mix-up, her daughter is being forced to repeat the 10th grade.

When the mom finds out, she goes to the principal’s office to plead her daughter’s case. Now, this show is a mellow-drama, so this scene is full of heavy-handed music and platitudes while the mom bravely holds back tears and the principal wear a stern yet compassionate expression. In one of the subsequent scenes, we see the principal taking the daughter out of her class, ostensibly escorting her to the 11th grade. Mom won.

thoughts on social media

One of my earliest forays into the world of online social media or networking was a site called Tribe. I got involved with Tribe in late 2003 or early 2004, quickly made a lot of online friends that turned into real-world friends, and after a year or two, lost interest in the site, became distracted by other interests, and let my profile collect digital dust.

Tribe’s social networking model was very different from Facebook’s or Twitter’s. Whereas the lion’s share of what one posts on the later is public (or “public” to the people within your circle of friends), the vast majority of what you could do within Tribe was constrained to “tribes” — discussion-forum-esque groups one could join and engage in conversation with others. Over time, one’s personal profile became more elaborate and, like a Facebook profile, they, too, became a locus of activity. But, back when I was active, nearly all activity happened within tribes. And tribes had various levels of openness, from completely private and invitation-only to completely open to everyone on the network.

The hey-day of my activity on Tribe was during the 2004 United States presidential election. As you can imagine, there were dozens of tribes dedicated to the topic where people from all over the political spectrum debated the issues, defended their chosen candidates, and attacked the minutia of others’ opinions. In this midst of all this debate emerged one fellow who took up an extreme, right-wing position on just about anything. He attracted a lot of attention, both negative and positive, and along with some other conservative friends started other tribes dedicated to their causes and points of view. (One of these folks was particularly fond of what could only be described as low-brow humor. I believe he started a tribe dedicated to “camel toes,” for example, a tribe that successfully overlapped a racial slur for people of Middle Eastern descent with with various photos of women’s below-the-waist wardrobe malfunctions and was thus both deeply misogynistic and racist.)

One of my Tribe-friends was a left-leaning, Stanford graduate student in the sciences. And one day he announced to us in private that the conservative rabble-rouser wasn’t a real person. My Stanford friend had made him up, created a false account, created an elaborate back-story for this person, and then went around Tribe starting arguments with people with the express purpose of challenging other liberals to defend and explain their positions more clearly. On the one hand, it was a brilliant ruse. On the other, it exposed one of the fatal flaws and best features of Tribe: anyone could make up an account, a personality, an identity, a whole person completely divorced from reality. In short, a “person” who existed only within the network of Tribe.