General Topics

None of these fit into any easy category; they're random, sometimes random griping, sometimes advice.


Bread in restaurants: why don’t they cut it all the way through? Instead, you get “slices” that stop about 7/8 of the way through, and then you have to rip off the rest. Is this supposed to make us feel more natural or something? However, we wind up having to plop our hands all over the bread just to get a piece off -- so by the time the last person gets a piece, heaven only knows how many bacteria have managed to get passed around due to that bread. Just slice the f***ing bread, please.

Evolution and Evangelicals

Evangelical Christians hellbent on disproving evolution by natural selection must qualify as among the most mentally-enfeebled human beings ever to walk the face of the planet.

Have they ever stopped to consider that their task is completely meaningless? Let’s say for argument that somehow they actually do disprove evolution by natural selection. Well?

All we have in its place is: “we don’t know how all those species got there.”

We don’t have anything about “God put them there.” The opposite of Darwinian evolution is not “God made it”. The opposite of Darwinian evolution is: “we don’t know.”

Disproving evolution doesn’t do a rat’s-ass worth of argument in favor of the existence or non-existence of God. The two are completely unrelated.


Sometimes I think we haven't developed all that far past the early hominids depicted in the early scenes of '2001: A Space Odyssey.' You remember them — starving to death, rooting for scraggly berries and weeds, competing for food with wild hogs, obviously on the fast track to extinction. Food walks all around them in abundance (those aforesaid, soon-to-be-posthumous wild hogs) but they can't make the connection. One morning a mysterious black monolith appears...choral music by Ligeti starts playing...and bingo. Goodbye hogs, hello Rush Limbaugh. Or something like that.


I haven't the faintest idea how my subconscious sends essay subjects floating up into view. One minute I'm appreciating a fragrant box of organic peaches at the farmer's market; a split second later I'm well into the lead paragraph for an article about the mating habits of retired orchestral contrabassoonists. All in all, I'd rather not know how the whole thing works; better to start (and subsequently abandon) an ill-gotten article about musicianly sex lives than to understand, and possibly rig, the whole inspiration process.


Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth, looms large in catholic worship. Statues, visions, poems of praise, and a series of increasingly convoluted doctrinal positions all cement her status as the sacred feminine par excellence.

I'm a religious anesthetic, not one to sign on the dotted line to empirical systems of belief. As such I view much of religious practice as an outsider; sincerely religious people mystify me almost as much as do football fans. I just don't get it.

The intellectual shoddiness of Mariology -- theology concerning Mary -- absolutely flabbergasts me. Here's an example: from early christian times onwards theologians assumed Mary to be free of a bible-based condition called "original sin" -- apparently because said condition threw a monkey wrench into the sacred machinery and not because anybody actually knew anything about her -- but none of them had worked out the precise moment when she actually became free of that pesky bible-based condition. This bothered them. Various groups and factions each made up something they deemed plausible. They all tossed it around for a few centuries. Finally a pope decreed the doctrine of the immaculate conception -- i.e., it happened at the moment of Mary's conception. That settled that.

Nobody seemed to know, or care, that it was a made-up problem with made-up remedies and a made-up resolution.

During the original Star Trek TV series, Klingons had smooth foreheads. When Star Trek was revived, first with the movies and then Star Trek: The Next Generation and its offshoots, Klingons had knobby foreheads. That's because the original shoestring budget dictated that Egyptian No. 2 pancake makeup plus eyebrow pencil would suffice to establish Klingon-dom. But expanded budgets of later eras allowed the producers to indulge in prostheses for the Klingons, giving them their knobby, chitinous foreheads.

No problem, and really no need for comment. Everything about the later shows was fancier than the original -- costumes, sets, special effects, you name it. But then one of the shows came up with an episode that attempted to explain why the Klingons' foreheads had become knobby.

Oh, please.

The Star Trek universe is a man-made thing, a fiction, a creation of the mind. People made it all up. Then other people made up more stuff on top of what the original writers made up. Makeup artists made up makeup. Scenery designers made up scenery. Props builders made up props. Costumers made up costumes.

Pope Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine of the immaculate conception on December 8, 1854.


A fellow Dharma practitioner and I were having breakfast together recently, and during the discussion we decided to nail down what the Buddhist equivalent of a “fatwa” would be. We decided that it would be a “metwa” -- i.e., “metta” + “fatwa”. This would be an all-stops out attack on a person by sitting there and absolutely flooding that person with waves of lovingkindness and compassion.

Soto Zen Buddhism

I can happily go through the rest of my life without ever seeing another idiot dolled up like a fake medieval Japanese. The few times I’ve been at SF Zen Center I always feel like I’ve wandered into a community theater production of The Mikado. What exactly is being promoted here--liberation, or Japanese ethnocentricity/xenophobia?

TV Crime Shows

On any crime show worth mentioning, if a character who by all rights should have been a wordless extra is given a name, a function, and some lines of dialog, you can count on that character being either the malefactor or at least a very close associate. Somebody's secretary enters his/her office and has an exchange with the boss together with the assorted CSI folks who are investigating the case. Perhaps the boss says something like: "Oh, Smithers there. He's been with the firm for years, really from the beginning when Old Man Wilson founded it. He's been completely loyal to every CEO." You may turn off the TV at that point should you wish; Smithers did it.


Folks who are enamored of every word they write are unlikely to write well. Erasing is the key to good writing. Nowadays we are blessed with that ubiquitous servant, the Delete key. It must be used with abandon and with nary a second's hesitation. Another key is revision, the more the merrier. I try to write early then allow the article to ferment for a while; upon returning to it a week or so later, I'm much more inclined to notice problems.