Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year!

image via
Happy New Year!

"And if you survive till two thousand and five
I hope you're exceedingly thin
For if you are stout you will have to breathe out
While the people around you breathe in..."
— Pink Floyd, "Point Me At the Sky," 1968


(You can hear a live BBC version of this early Pink Floyd song, with slightly different lyrics, here at the top-center of the page.)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Day of Reckoning, I Reckon

On Wednesday, Dec. 22nd I had the appointment with the nephrologist. I think that for the most part I got the best answers I could reasonably hope for. Here's what I learned:

To begin with, my situation is such that there aren't many absolute, definite answers about my case. I am, he said, in a "gray area" where they can't say many things for certain, but they can give me "most likely" scenarios.

It seems I do have polycystic kidney disease (PKD), but the kind I have is most likely not the most often diagnosed—or the most terrible.

When PKD was first identified, it was discovered to be associated with a mutation on chromosome 16. This type of disease, known as PKD1, is a degenerative disease, growing more and more severe as the sufferer ages, until one or both kidneys shut down.

But researchers soon noticed that only about 85% of PKD sufferers had the mutation on chromosome 16. The other 15% appeared to have nothing wrong with chromosome 16. Most of these people were found to have a mutation on chromosome 4. This form of PKD, called PKD2, is not so degenerative. PKD2 can grow worse in life, but it takes longer, and isn't as severe as PKD1. While PKD1 involves very large cysts covering and enlarging the kidneys significantly, PKD2 is associated with smaller cysts and less pronounced enlargement of the kidneys. People who have PKD2 sometimes never even know it, as it sometimes doesn't cause any symptoms or problems.

There are still some PKD sufferers who have no mutation on chromosome 16 or chromosome 4. These very-rare cases apparently have defects in other areas, but the location hasn't been found yet.

The nephrologist explained all this to me, and then said I probably have PKD2, or perhaps I may be one of those people who don't have either of the identified mutations. In either case, I most likely have a less-severe form of PKD. That is to say, the disease's progress should be quite slow, and I'm not as likely to have renal failure as people with PKD1.

Consistent with PKD2, the cysts on my kidneys are small, although the kidneys are covered with them. There are cysts on both my left and right kidney, but there are fortunately no cysts on my liver, spleen or other organs.

I have still more tests coming up, and will return to the nephrologist in six weeks.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Funny what a logo search turns up

I'm at work and just happened to be looking for a good copy of the logo for the German shoe company called Haflinger. A quick Google search turned up something else altogether. These guys are just beautiful! They look a lot like my favorite horse, the fjord.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Pain, Pain, Go Away...

I'm looking forward to my appointment regarding the kidney disease, which is coming up on Wednesday, December 22nd. That's the day I'll see the nephrologist. Hopefully he'll have more information for me. The way I see it, there are three things he might say to me:

1) "Yes, it is Polycystic Kidney Disease." I can live with that (so to speak) because I've done some reading on it, have largely settled into the idea of having it, and am prepared to accept it.

2) "It's not PKD; instead, it is..." If he names some other disease, I'll have to "start over", doing reading and research. It might be a good thing if it's not PKD. But it might also be a bad thing, since there's always something worse.

3) "We still can't be sure what this is. You need more tests." That would be the most frustrating of the three scenarios. I just want to know what's going on. I want to give it a name and a diagnosis, because once I know for sure what the problem is, then I can move forward. I hate being stuck in this "don't-know" area where I can't really take the next step because the identity of the disease is not absolutely confirmed.

I'm hoping for an answer like either #1 or #2 on Wednesday.

The pain lately has been coming and going. Last Thursday I didn't even need to take a hydrocodone (the generic Vicodin) because I felt relatively good all day. But on Friday my back way hurting like hell most of the day and night. Saturday, too, I was in significant pain.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Fun With Iodine and Radiation

Thursday, December 9th I went to the "imaging center" for the scheduled testing for my kidneys. When I went there, I only knew that they were going to take another x-ray, but this time with a luminous dye injected into my veins.

First I had to figure out how to get the light blue hospital gowns on properly; the x-ray technician gave me two gowns to put on. "One opens in the back, and the other you put on like a robe," she explained. I didn't understand immediately, and was further baffled to see that the two gowns were identical. How can I put two identical gowns on differently? I thought. After a couple minutes of struggling and feeling like I was failing at some sort of surprise I.Q. test, suddenly it made sense: one gown goes goes over my arms with the opening in the back. The other goes right on top of it, except with the opening in the front. I don't know why they couldn't just have gowns that slip on over your head instead of giving you two gowns that need instructions to understand.

With the gown finally on, the x-ray tech had me stand with my back flat against a big board. A large mechanical device—clearly the x-ray camera—hovered just in front of me. She swiveled it down to over my abdomen so that I was right between the camera andboard. She took several x-rays of my abdomen, a couple directly of my front, then asking me to twist to face roughly 25 degrees left and then 25 degrees right for addition x-rays. Then she said, "There are hand-holds there right by your hand." I grabbed them, and the entire board and camera, including me, tilted back gradually. "Cool, I get a ride!" I said. The tech smiled. The platform stopped once my head was just slightly lower than my feet. She asked me to slightly bend my knees, took another x-ray or two, then had me twist my knees to the left then the right for more angled shots. She then lowered me back to the upright standing position.

She took me to the next room where there was a familiar MRI scanner, much like the one pictured here on the How Stuff Works website. The MRI process was already familiar to me, having had one done only a couple weeks previous, plus another with that hellish "piña colada" luminous drink back around May of 1999.

I laid down on the table/gurney and was lifted in for a quick scan without any dye. The familiar recorded voice told me "breathe... and hold" and before I knew it, the first scan was done. Then the MRI technician hooked up my left arm with the iodine dye which would display my arterial system's functions for the next scan. The needle itself was little more than a quick pang of pain, then it was fine. But the more compelling sensation came as the dye flowed into my veins: a deep, warm "glowing" sensation that radiates and spreads through the body, settling especially strongly in the posterior. Once the dye was coursing through me, the table lifted me up and in, the MRI scanner spun up, and the recorded voice again said, "breathe... and hold." And that was it.

They disconnected me from the iodine, but left the little rubber tube in my arm just in case they needed to redo the scans. I was walked back to the x-ray machine. With my head feeling already mildly foggy and spacey from the iodine dye, the x-ray tech again had me stand against the board, put the large camera up to my abdomen, and swiveled me and the entire camera up once more. This time it tipped back even further so that my feet were perhaps a foot or 18 inches higher than my head. I expect this probably just helped the dye to flow more readily through me. She took a couple more shots, and I was able to watch the x-ray images come up on a screen to my right while she and the radiologists checked the images. I noticed white "bubbles" of varying size around the area of my kidneys, and suspected that maybe those were the cysts. But I didn't ask.

The x-ray tech removed the rubber tube from my left arm, apologizing for the painfulness of removing the strong tape. "I hate having to do this to guys," she said, "I never know whether to do it slowly or in one quick rip." I changed back into my regular clothes, and went out to the car where Elisa was waiting.

The people in the imaging center are not permitted to read the images or discuss any potential diagnosis with me, so I don't know anything about actual results or what the x-rays and MRI scans turned up. My next appointment is to see the Nephrologist on December 22nd. I hope and expect he'll be able to tell me more.

Coon Fancy

image via

The January 2005 issue of Coon Fancy magazine. This is a little affectionate parody I put together, dedicated to Mary Anne Miller, Dora, Patty, Eddie and all the other raccoons and raccoon-lovers of the world.

Check out Mary Anne's raccoon photos.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Polycystic Kidney

image via
Polycystic Kidney 1
Originally uploaded by Rev. Day-Bu.

A kidney damaged by Polycystic Kidney Disease. In a nutshell, PKD is a genetic disease in which cysts grow on the outside of the kidney. The cysts grow larger and larger, gradually damaging the kidney's filters which remove toxins from the bloodstream. PKD causes bad, constant pain, and ultimately--though it can take years--the kidney will fail.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Tale of Two Kidneys

Back in 1999 I first became aware that my kidneys had a problem. It started with a hot pain in my back and blood in my urine. I paid a visit to my doctor, and had an x-ray done, then a rather interesting and enjoyable ultrasound, followed up by an MRI scan. The MRI was interesting but unpleasant. Mainly I just remember fasting for the first time ever, the foul-tasting "piña colada" drink loaded with luminous dye that I had to force down just before going for the scan, and then lying on the little gurney, a tube pumping another luminous dye into my veins halfway through the scanning.

In addition to confirming that, yes, I was suffering from kidney stones, the MRI also revealed that I had cysts on my kidneys, particularly my left kidney. The urologist told me that it's common for a person to have a single cyst, but unusual to have cysts all over the kidneys. We talked briefly about a disease called Polycystic Kidney Disease, which is presently incurable, degenerative, and ultimately fatal. Needless to say, this was definitely not news I wanted to hear. The urologist was, however, very reassuring. Since I haven't shown any symptoms of anything the cysts would cause, they couldn't really diagnose the cysts as being anything. Until I experienced some symptoms, he said, I should just put it out of my mind and not worry about it.

I did exactly that. I put the cysts at the back of my mind, and saved my attention and energy for the kidney stones.

I dealt with something like six or ten bouts of kidney stones over the next five years, becoming intimately familiar with the symptoms. One episode was particularly horrible, with intense pain like nothing I could have ever imagined. It literally had me crippled, hunched over moaning and gasping until my wife came home and took me to the emergency room where I was treated to the dreamy painlessness of a morphine drip. I've since been told that passing a kidney stone can sometimes be even more painful than childbirth. I'm sure that particular instance was just such a case. I haven't experienced that level of pain again since then, and hope I never have to.

Sometime back near the start of the summer of 2004—June or July—I started having a strange pain in the left side of my back. It only stood out a little from my usual arthritis pains, and I figured I'd just pulled a muscle or something. No biggie.

Problem is, come September it was still there, and subtly worsening. As I worked on all the campaigning stuff in September and October, it just kept getting worse, to the point where sometimes just turning very slightly would cause a sudden, intense pain to rip through my side. Sometimes it feels as though there's something inside my left side, something jabbing me inside. It had to be a particularly bad kidney stone, I figured, and I only hoped it wouldn't be as painful as the episode which had landed me in the E.R.

During the last week or two before the presidential election, it got to the point where I had to start popping hydrocodones (generic Vicodin) to deal with it. I had a prescription for the pain killers endocet and hydrocodone for when I had particularly bad kidney stone pains. I know pain killers are a popular drug to abuse, but I've always been clean—I don't even drink alcohol or smoke—so I really don't have any interest in abusing those pain killers. But they sure come in handy when the pain gets especially bad.

With the pain severe enough to force me into taking hydrocodone, I quit procrastinating and made an appointment with my doctor. Around the time of the election, the pain got really serious, and didn't go away. It became a constant burning pain, growing and fading but never disappearing altogether. And if I turned or bent to get a paper or something, I often got a sudden flare of pain that makes me actually cry out uncontrollably.

I felt sure that the source must be a bunch of jagged kidney stones that just weren't coming loose and dropping from my kidneys. That's just my wild theory. At times it felt like a cracked the lowest rib on my left side, but it didn't hurt when I touched the rib, which it would if it was broken. (Plus, a broken rib would have healed long ago.)

The night of November 9th, I foolishly let myself doze off right on the carpeted-but-hard floor. I woke up four hours later lying right on the painful part of my left side. D'oh! Needless to say, it hurt like f*ing HELL for several days after.

On November 11th I saw the doctor and got two x-rays taken. I got to see the x-ray plates myself. I saw what looked exactly like two kidney stones. One was about the usual size (about as big as the fingernail on the pinkie finger), but one of them was damn near the size of a walnut! Holy crap, I couldn't believe it was that big...

A couple weeks passed, but no stone passed and the pain just kept on burning, aching, and occasionally stabbing me when I turned or leaned the wrong way. In that time, I had a new MRI done—this time without Satan's favorite drink (that horrible, luminous "piña colada") and without any needles in my arm to inject dye.

On Monday, December 6th I saw the same urologist I had visited in 1999. I fully expected to be told I was experiencing a nasty stone or two, and that they would have to use lasers or sonic frequencies to break it up. I thought that I would ask, if I remembered, whether the cysts had changed.

It didn't turn out to be that simple at all.

I don't have any kidney stones in my system right now. There are a few way up in my left kidney, but they haven't "dropped" yet, which means they're currently not a problem and not the source of the pain. There are no stones in the tracts now. So kidney stones are currently not a problem, and have nothing to do with the bad pain I've been having the last few months.

The MRI turned up that thing which I'd put out of my mind five years earlier: the cysts all over my kidneys. The cysts, the urologist told me, have grown, spread and worsened significantly. These cysts are the origin of the constant pain. They show all the signs of being degenerative, and now the doctor—with clearly apparent surprise himself—said this really looks like PKD.

I'm in line now for a small battery of tests and appointments. This afternoon I'm going for another X-ray, this time with iodine dye to illuminate all the nifty little tubes and veins.I'm going to another kidney specialist soon—this one a renal surgeon, a nephrologist—for further diagnosis. I'm also

I'm not upset or freaked out so much as I'm just shocked and numb. The prognosis doesn't look very good right now, but I'll adapt and adjust no matter what. I'm prepared to accept anything. Or at least I think I am. I'll just take things as they come, and see how well I can ride out the waves.

Later today I have the next x-ray done, including some kind of luminoud dye. Meanwhile, I've found a couple good resources for information about PKD:

The PKD Foundation

The New Zealand Kidney Foundation's fact sheet on Polycystic Kidney Disease

The PKD Access Center

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Bizarre crash

image via
Bizarre crash
Originally uploaded by Rev. Day-Bu.

Yesterday I had one of the weirdest application crashes I've had in a long time. This is a screenshot.

Friday, November 26, 2004

One in 4.5 billion

From a post on the Democratic Underground forums:


Those are the odds that Kerry's EXIT poll percentage would EXCEED his ACTUAL reported vote percentage by MORE THAN THE MARGIN OF ERROR in 16 out of 51 States by chance alone. That is exactly what occurred on Nov. 2.

I know that is hard to fathom. But here is the data. And here is the calculation, based on the number of individuals polled in each state and the corresponding Margin of Error (MOE).

The chances of a given state falling outside the MOE = 1/20 = .05. The calculation for the probability that 16 out of 51 states would fall outside the MOE is a simple one which uses the BINOMIAL DISTRIBUTION FUNCTION:

The Probability (P) that at least 16 out of 51 states would deviate beyond the exit poll MOE is:

P = 1-BINOMDIST(16,51,0.05,TRUE)

This returns P= 0.0000000218559% or 1 out of 4,575,415,347!

Here is how the odds decrease as the number of states (N) exceeding the MOE increase:

N>MOE Odds
3: 1 out of 4
5: 1 out of 24
8: 1 out of 139
10: 1 out of 2707
12: 1 out of 1,037,879
14: 1 out of 57,503,169
15: 1 out of 490,978,624
16: 1 out of 4,575,415,347

The individual state probabilities are calculated using the Normal distribution Function.

For example, consider Florida: The probability that Kerry's 50.51% exit poll percentage would decline to 47.47% in the actual vote (a 4.04% deviation, far outside the 1.84% MOE) is equal to .06%.

This calculation is based on the FL exit poll sample size of 2846, which produces a MOE of 1.84%. The corresponding standard deviation (StDev) is 0.94%. The StDev is plugged into the normal distribution function, along with the exit poll and reported vote percentages.

The probability that this deviation would occur due to chance is:
.06% = 100*NORMDIST(47.47%,50.51%,.94%,TRUE)

Here are the Exit Poll and Voting Results for all the states:

Size refers to the exit poll sample size for the given state. The percentages are Kerry's Exit Polls and reported Votes.


State   Size    Exit    Vote    Diff    StDev   MoE     Prob    >MoE?   Favor
DE      770     58.50%  53.54%  -4.96%  1.80%   3.53%   0.29    yes     Bush
NH      1849    55.40%  50.51%  -4.89%  1.16%   2.28%   0.00    yes     Bush
VT      685     65.00%  60.20%  -4.80%  1.91%   3.74%   0.60    yes     Bush
SC      1735    46.00%  41.41%  -4.59%  1.20%   2.35%   0.01    yes     Bush
NE      785     36.76%  32.32%  -4.44%  1.78%   3.50%   0.64    yes     Bush

AK      910     40.50%  36.08%  -4.42%  1.66%   3.25%   0.38    yes     Bush
AL      730     41.00%  37.00%  -4.00%  1.85%   3.63%   1.53    yes     Bush
NC      2167    48.00%  44.00%  -4.00%  1.07%   2.11%   0.01    yes     Bush
NY      1452    63.00%  59.18%  -3.82%  1.31%   2.57%   0.18    yes     Bush
CT      872     58.50%  55.10%  -3.40%  1.69%   3.32%   2.24    yes     Bush

RI      809     64.00%  60.61%  -3.39%  1.76%   3.45%   2.68            Bush
MA      889     66.00%  62.63%  -3.37%  1.68%   3.29%   2.21    yes     Bush
PA      1930    54.35%  51.00%  -3.35%  1.14%   2.23%   0.16    yes     Bush
MS      798     43.26%  40.00%  -3.26%  1.77%   3.47%   3.29            Bush
OH      1963    52.10%  49.00%  -3.10%  1.13%   2.21%   0.30    yes     Bush

FL      2846    50.51%  47.47%  -3.03%  0.94%   1.84%   0.06    yes     Bush
MN      2178    54.50%  51.52%  -2.98%  1.07%   2.10%   0.27    yes     Bush
UT      798     30.50%  27.55%  -2.95%  1.77%   3.47%   4.78            Bush
ID      559     33.50%  30.61%  -2.89%  2.11%   4.14%   8.60            Bush
AZ      1859    47.00%  44.44%  -2.56%  1.16%   2.27%   1.38    yes     Bush

VA      1000    47.96%  45.45%  -2.50%  1.58%   3.10%   5.66            Bush
LA      1669    44.50%  42.42%  -2.08%  1.22%   2.40%   4.49            Bush
IL      1392    57.00%  55.00%  -2.00%  1.34%   2.63%   6.78            Bush
WI      2223    52.50%  50.51%  -1.99%  1.06%   2.08%   3.00            Bush
WV      1722    45.25%  43.43%  -1.82%  1.20%   2.36%   6.54            Bush

NM      1951    51.30%  49.49%  -1.81%  1.13%   2.22%   5.54            Bush
CO      2515    49.10%  47.47%  -1.63%  1.00%   1.95%   5.15            Bush
IN      926     41.00%  39.39%  -1.61%  1.64%   3.22%   16.42           Bush
GA      1536    43.00%  41.41%  -1.59%  1.28%   2.50%   10.69           Bush
MO      2158    47.50%  46.00%  -1.50%  1.08%   2.11%   8.17            Bush

NJ      1520    55.00%  53.54%  -1.46%  1.28%   2.51%   12.67           Bush
WA      2123    54.95%  53.54%  -1.41%  1.09%   2.13%   9.70            Bush
IA      2502    50.65%  49.49%  -1.15%  1.00%   1.96%   12.41           Bush
AR      1402    46.60%  45.45%  -1.15%  1.34%   2.62%   19.55           Bush
KY      1034    41.00%  40.00%  -1.00%  1.55%   3.05%   26.01           Bush

OK      1539    35.00%  34.00%  -1.00%  1.27%   2.50%   21.63           Bush
MI      2452    52.50%  51.52%  -0.98%  1.01%   1.98%   16.47           Bush
NV      2116    49.35%  48.48%  -0.87%  1.09%   2.13%   21.29           Bush
ME      1968    54.75%  54.08%  -0.66%  1.13%   2.21%   27.80           Bush
MD      1000    57.00%  56.57%  -0.43%  1.58%   3.10%   39.18           Bush

DC      795     91.00%  90.91%  -0.09%  1.77%   3.48%   47.96           Bush
MT      640     39.76%  39.80%  0.04%   1.98%   3.87%   50.72           Kerry
OR      1064    51.20%  52.00%  0.80%   1.53%   3.00%   69.91           Kerry
HI      499     53.30%  54.55%  1.25%   2.24%   4.39%   71.10           Kerry
TX      1671    37.00%  38.38%  1.38%   1.22%   2.40%   87.10           Kerry

TN      1774    41.50%  43.00%  1.50%   1.19%   2.33%   89.68           Kerry
CA      1919    54.00%  55.56%  1.56%   1.14%   2.24%   91.35           Kerry
SD      1495    37.76%  39.39%  1.63%   1.29%   2.53%   89.65           Kerry
ND      649     34.00%  36.36%  2.36%   1.96%   3.85%   88.58           Kerry
KS      654     35.00%  37.37%  2.37%   1.96%   3.83%   88.76           Kerry

Avg     1450    49.18%  47.38%  -1.80%  1.42%   2.79%   21.67           Bush
Med     1507.5  49.23%  47.47%  -1.81%  1.29%   2.52%   6.66            Bush

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I found Nemo!

image via
Originally uploaded by krewemaynard.

I found Nemo!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Trying to Sleep in Here!!!

image via
Trying to Sleep in Here!!!
Originally uploaded by latenightowl.

"latenightowl" tends to a gang of raccoons, and regularly posts photos of them on flickr. This is my favorite so far. She also has some videos of the mischievous little guys.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

This presidency brought to you by...

Something I whipped up. If you like it, please pass it on to sites that might use it. (BartCop, BuzzFlash, or anybody who might like to put it on their website.) Be sure to get the largest version!" Here's the original in all different sizes.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Blog Interrupted

Jessica Cutler blogged anonymously and luridly about her exploits with politicians and staffers, but when her identity was discovered, she gained very sudden unwanted fame.

The Washington Post has a fascinating and enjoyable article about Jessica's outing and what followed.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Blue Water

image via
blue water
Originally uploaded by alfarman.


Taking Flight

Taking Flight
A Canadian Goose takes flight at Squalicum Harbor on Bellingham Bay on the foggy morning of September 28, 2004.

This is from my photo area on flickr. I signed up for flicker a week or two ago and have just now uploaded my first few photos. I may present some of them here just to keep the content fresh, and to share.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

John Kerry in Tacoma, WA

John Kerry was at a rally in Tacoma, Washington on Saturday, 28 August 2004. I was there, and I have the photos to prove it!

Friday, June 04, 2004

Seeking an explanation

"If you look through all the different cultures. Right from the earliest, earliest days with the animistic religions, we have sought to have some kind of explanation for our life, for our being, that is outside of our humanity."—Jane Goodall

Friday, April 16, 2004

Stewart's Slippers

"It's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the entire world."--Stewart Smalley (Al Franken)

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Lamb cutlets

"If you have fifty million Americans on a full-moon, loony Sunday night at Sunday school praying, 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me lie down in green pastures'... Well, if your Lord and God is a shepherd, I ask you: What does that make you? Ba-a-a-a-a!"--Dr. Timothy Leary

Monday, February 23, 2004

Banishing A Ghost

The wife of a man became very sick. On her deathbed, she said to him, "I love you so much! I don't want to leave you, and I don't want you to betray me. Promise that you will not see any other women once I die, or I will come back to haunt you."

For several months after her death, the husband did avoid other women, but then he met someone and fell in love. On the night that they were engaged to be married, the ghost of his former wife appeared to him. She blamed him for not keeping the promise, and every night thereafter she returned to taunt him. The ghost would remind him of everything that transpired between him and his fiancee that day, even to the point of repeating, word for word, their conversations. It upset him so badly that he couldn't sleep at all.

Desperate, he sought the advice of a Zen master who lived near the village. "This is a very clever ghost," the master said upon hearing the man's story. "It is!" replied the man. "She remembers every detail of what I say and do. It knows everything!" The master smiled, "You should admire such a ghost, but I will tell you what to do the next time you see it."

That night the ghost returned. The man responded just as the master had advised. "You are such a wise ghost," the man said, "You know that I can hide nothing from you. If you can answer me one question, I will break off the engagement and remain single for the rest of my life." "Ask your question," the ghost replied. The man scooped up a handful of beans from a large bag on the floor, "Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my hand."

At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned.

People's reactions to this story:

"Ghosts are just human and can't know or do anything that a human can't."

"No one knows everything. Not even a spirit. You can be wise in some ways, but not in all ways."

"The ghost kept coming back because the man was always impressed by how it seemed to know everything. It had power over him. But when he finally stood up to it, and challenged it, the ghost disappeared forever."

"The ghost is actually a part of the man. So it couldn't know anything that the man himself didn't know."

"The ghost comes from the man's own mind. He created it. It is his own guilt that came back to haunt him."

"The reason something haunts us is because we keep our attention on it. When we move on beyond it it will disappear."

"To me, this story just shows that souls have memories, but not enlightenment."

"I don't like the ending. I read the story with high expectations, but felt let down in the end."

"Why didn't the ghost know that the man had seen a Zen master?"

"If the wife really loved the husband, how could she subject him to such a promise?"

"Everything the ghost knew didn't amount to a handful of beans!"

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The blind men and the elephant

The parable of the blind men and the elephant is a story told by Lord Buddha:

Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, "Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant."

"Very good, sire," replied the servant, and he did as he was told.

He said to the blind men assembled there, "Here is an elephant," and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, "Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?"

Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, "Sire, an elephant is like a pot." And the men who had observed the ear replied, "An elephant is like a winnowing basket." Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle; the tuft of the tail, a brush.

Then they began to quarrel, shouting, "Yes it is!" "No, it is not!" "An elephant is not that!" "Yes, it's like that!" and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.

Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.

Friday, January 16, 2004

The Wheel of Fortune Goes 'Round and 'Round

Once I heard a good explanation of the "wheel of fortune" metaphor, it became one of my favorites. At the top of the wheel is a wealthy, powerful man--a king of men. At the bottom is a destitute peasant. On one side a man is on the way up, but on the other side a man is going town. The wheel of fortune never stops spinning. You're always on your way up, or on your way down--not only physically, but emotionally as well. It's a miserable process going up, and it's a miserable process going down. The guy at the top is miserable because he knows success is fleeting. The guy at the bottom is miserable because... well, he's at the bottom of life. But the wheel keeps spinning and spinning. ("Changes aren't permanant, but change is.")

The only escape from all the spinning, all the striving and struggling, all the misery, is at the hub of the wheel. Let the world spin around you, and remain unmoved.

Getting to the hub is, of course, the tricky part!

Black Elk said that to his people (the Oglala Sioux), the center of the universe is located at Harney Peak, South Dakota. But, he said, the center of the universe is really carried inside you wherever you go. That is, sacred places are not physical locations; they're conditions.