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This is another wonderful movie that I have watched twice now and really enjoy. It is a documentary called, “Wake up! On the Road with a Zen Master.” It was made about Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching trip to Europe. Master Seung Sahn was the founder of the Kwan Um School of Zen of which I am a part. He was an amazing teacher and those who knew him have wonderful stories to tell about him. I never had the chance to meet him as he died in 2004, long before I ever started to think about Buddhism. From what I have been told, this movie is a great way to learn about this dynamic man who, despite some of his faults, was a very loving and caring individual. The movie can be found at Google Video if you’d like to watch it in different sizes or below.

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An Amazing Movie

The other day, I had the opportunity to find an amazing and beautiful movie on line. It is called Amongst The White Clouds and describes the life of Buddhist monks living alone in the woods in China. It’s amazing to watch these men and women work and live and practice. It’s not every day you get an opportunity to meet someone like this so this movie will have to do. It’s about 90 minutes long so make sure you have time before you start to watch it. If you’d like to see it a bit larger, go to http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5902279151658995270# to view it in Google Video.

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My regular readers may have guessed from some of the things I have said in previous posts that I am a bit of a geek. Nothing too serious, just a slight penchant for geekery really. I could quit any time I want to and be as normal and well-adjusted as the next guy. If I wanted, I could have fashion sense and social skills to charm and amaze anyone I’d like. It’d be easy to pack up the metric ton of geek related items I’ve accumulated over my lifetime and purge my book collection of a small library’s worth of books and comics and art and games that would give away my roots as a geek. I’d simply have to rebuild myself from scratch and totally change my personality. How hard could that be? Oh, yeah, I’d have to give up some music too: like listening to nerdcore hip-hop artist MC Frontalot. I’d have to delete all four of his albums from my iPod. But I don’t really want to do that and maybe this will show you why even the non-geeks out there should be grooving with “The Front” as he is known to his fan base. From his newest album, I proudly present the official video to his song First World Problems.

If you’re so white that you can’t understand what he’s saying, the lyrics can be found here.

Besides being a witty and funny song, he brings up a lot of valid points here. There are so many things that we consider problems that we have to deal with that would be luxuries in most of the world. Seriously, think about this: I have a blog dedicated to my attempting to overcome the problem of having too much food. How messed up is that? For almost all of human history, not having enough food was a significant issue. Now, we in the west have to worry about getting too much of the stuff. When was the last time you ate too much? I did just last night. I made a delicious tofu saag from ingredients I found in my kitchen and it was so good I just kept eating until it was all gone. Sure it was totally vegetarian and fairly healthy but I certainly wasn’t mindful about what I was eating. When I was finally finished, it’s because there wasn’t any left. I paid the price later by having a stomach ache due to putting too much stuff into it. How many people (as a percentage of all the humans who have ever lived) have had that problem on a regular basis? I’m pretty sure it’s in the single digits at best. Diabetes is a horrible disease and it is definitely one that we have seen grow along with the rise in obesity rates throughout the world.

One of the things that I find interesting about this is that our situations may change but our perception of suffering does not. I recently finished watching the classic 1954 version of Seven Samurai on Netflix and in it there are obvious distinct social classes between the peasants and the samurai. However each group is suffering in their own way. The movie does a wonderful job of showing that just because the stars of the movie are powerful warriors doesn’t mean they have it all together or have a life filled with bliss. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves in life, suffering will not go away. No amount of money, fame, recognition or food will end it. We have our own set of problems unique to our day and age and culture but we still have problems. Sometimes it helps to try to keep things in perspective that the problems we face aren’t as bad as those others do but I don’t think the psychological impact or the stress caused by the problems is different. Our responses to stress and pain and suffering are evolutionary in design so it doesn’t matter if we are starving to death or dealing with obesity, we are going to have a reaction that is in line with the way we have evolved to handle suffering. That’s why the answers provided 2500 years ago in Buddhism still work today across millenia and throughout the world regardless of continent or culture. Buddhism is a practical set of tools and resources to deal with and minimize the effects of suffering. So, we may have first world problems like misplacing the Ambien or not getting our favorite snack but it is our reactions to these problems that determine our quality of life. Spend some time and try to put your problems in perspective. This will help you to be grateful for the wonderful things that we have going for us in our modern, Western world and it will help you to deal with the stress and pain of suffering in any form.

Personally, I’m pretty pissed off that all my clothes are baggy and make me look silly when I wear them. Now that’s a problem worth bitching about!

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When I go to the gym to exercise it can get a little boring to just stay on the machine for 20 minutes or more moving around without anything else to do. A few weeks ago, I picked up an armband and some new earpohnes that hook around my ears to keep them from falling out. I couldn’t wait to get to the gym to try out the new toys!

The next day, I get up and go to exercise and that’s when cruel reality slapped me up the side of the head with the mackerel of disappointment. I have big arms. I’d love to say it’s because I’m buff but that’s not the truth (yet). My arms are fat. In fact they were so fat that I couldn’t fit my armband around my arm with the iPod inside of it. Needless to say, I was a little upset. There’s nothing like a bitter dose of reality to bring you back from a blissful state of “I can’t believe I’m so skinny now!”. I still have a long way to go and eventually I hope to be able to wear the armband with an iPod snugly tucked into it. Until then, my new pants that I got for exercise have pockets and the headphones are long enough that I can put the iPod in my pocket and still listen to music. So, that’s what I’m doing to keep the workouts fun and enjoyable. I actually have a playlist that I’ve designed full of music that keeps me pumped up and moving at a good speed. Having some good workout music is a great way to keep your exercise going smooth. Here’s what I have on my workout playlist. It will betray my love of indie and classic rock (and a little rap) but I think it’s a pretty good list.

1. Sabatoge – Beasie Boys

2. The Hardest Button to Button – The White Stripes

3. Same Old Thing – The Black Keys

4. Shut Up And Let Me Go – The Ting Tings

5. Young Folks – Peter, Bjorn & John

6. Dashboard – Modest Mouse

7. Revolution – The Beatles

8. Rock And Roll – Led Zepplin

9. Welcome To Paradise – Green Day

10. Wave of Mutilation – The Pixies

11. A-Punk – Vampire Weekend

12. Little Bribes – Death Cab for Cutie

13. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces – Ben Folds Five

14. Crazy – Gnarles Barkley

15. Intergalactic – The Beastie Boys

16. Voodoo Child – Jimi Hendrix

17. Titus Andronicus – Titus Andronicus

18. Paper Planes – M.I.A.

19. Jump Around – House of Pain

20. Troublemaker – Weezer

21. 1901 – Phoenix

22. Lessons Learned – Matt & Kim

23. Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

24. Pot Kettle Black – Tilly & The Wall

25. Calculator – Micachu

26. King Rat – Modest Mouse

27. Cut Your Hair – Pavement

28. I’m Down – The Beatles

29. Breed – Nirvana

30. Fit But You Know It – The Streets

31. Vamos (Live) – The Pixies

32. Scarlet Begonias – Sublime

33. Bangers & Mash – Radiohead

34. Got Nuffin – Spoon

35. Now We Can See – The Thermals

36. Cheer It On – Tokyo Police Club

There’s nothing like some good music to make a workout go a lot more smoothly. What do you listen to when you work out?

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When you begin to explore Zen, you are quickly immersed in a certain type of aesthetic. Zen art and design is pure and simple and has a beauty that is unique and recognizable the world over. I have always loved the cleanliness and beauty of Zen artwork and thanks to some friends who are architects I learned to love things whose form and function was tied together in a way so obvious that you can’t help but wonder why no one has done it before. This morning, I think I may have found a perfect example of simplicity and purity of design married with a form uniquely suited to purpose. A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is made up of thousands of pictures so it’s worth millions of words right? If seeing the following video sends you to a state of pure and perfect enlightenment, you may thank me later. For now, just enjoy.

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One of the things that the book Savor touches on in a few places is the power of food advertisement and how it impacts our desire to eat things that aren’t good for us. One thing that I’ve done to try to make positive changes in my life is to seriously cut back on the amount of TV I watch. I guess that’s why I hadn’t seen this commercial or not been aware of it until recently. I’m not sure what makes me madder about this commercial: the message that it’s presenting or the fact that it’s aimed at kids. If I weren’t getting so many new visitors to the blog thanks to the generosity of Savor’s Facebook page linking to me, I’d unleash a stream of profanity at those responsible for this commercial that could burn holes into any monitor it appears on. The commercial in question is for McDonald’s Happy Meals®. I used to love getting them when I was a kid and they were a brand new concept in marketing food to my generation. I guess we’d gotten tired of listening to some clown and his cohorts dance around the screen on Saturday mornings interrupting our He-Man and Smurfs cartoons telling us to go out and buy more food. I can still hear my brother and I thinking, “if we go to McDonald’s, we can get a box with a toy and some food in it! Isn’t this great?” or, “If I go to McDonald’s, I get a toy!”.  Why is it that every major fast food chain does this? Because it works. Getting kids hooked on instant gratification and shiny new toys that break the day after you get them home is good for the shareholders. Who cares if they’re killing kids by making them fat right? Their bigger bottoms are good for a bigger bottom line so it’s all OK.

My kids are just like most others and when we ask them what they want for dinner they usually give us the name of whatever fast food joint currently has the coolest toy being hocked on TV. Right now that’d definitely McDonald’s because they have Star Wars skateboards and my son is just as crazy about all things Star Wars as I am. Most of the time we don’t do the fast food thing but reinforce the message that just because a toy looks like fun on TV isn’t a good reason to go get food. It’s become a lot easier for me to do this now that I don’t eat at McDonald’s any more (though I do crave a Big Mac every so often).  Recently, a lot of parent’s groups have started to complain about using toys to get kids to want to eat at these restaurants so McDonald’s is trying a different marketing tactic. Check out an example of it below.

How many things can we find wrong in that commercial?

  1. It’s got a catchy happy tune that’s designed to make you associate that feeling with the brand.
  2. It’s got a cute kid in it whose space man helmet is too heavy for his head. Once more, positive feelings = brand message.
  3. It’s got a doggie playing with the aforementioned kid. We have a cuteness overload here people! How can the brand not be wonderful just by association?
  4. The animation is interesting and well executed. It’s visually appealing and slick. It makes you want to watch it and listen.
  5. It’s got a mom giving her special little spaceman boy “all his favorite things”. That’s right, the food from McDonald’s is right up there with a mother’s love. Isn’t that great?
  6. The message. We can’t forget the message. “Joy is a gift. This is the box it comes in.” If you give your kids a happy meal, you give them joy. You wouldn’t want to be a bad parent and deprive your precious little snowflake of joy would you? Look how happy the boy is. Don’t you want that for your kids?

The message from this commercial is what really gets me angry. I feel like going of on a rant that would make Lewis Black hand me some blood pressure medication and remind me to breathe. Who in his right mind would be so evil as to come up with this piece of manipulative crap? Who would then take that evil to a new level and make a national advertising campaign out of it? Who approves all of this stuff and why am I not seeing more critiques of this piece of commercial filth? Telling people that eating fatty foods is joy is just plain wrong. There is no way to justify this. Telling people that feeding their kids fatty foods is joy is even worse! Equating positive and happy feelings with a specific brand that’s dedicated to creating suffering and death and disease is an outright act of commercial propaganda that we should not tolerate. I used to fall for this garbage hook line and sinker in the past and I’ve personally eaten more Big Macs and fries than I could ever hope to count. At one point in my life, you could have probably found special sauce in my blood work if I would have ever had it done back then. I know full well the power of how these advertisements work. I’ve been involved in marketing companies in the past and I know the methodologies used by them to create these branding messages. It’s sick. It’s twisted. It’s unacceptable that I have to constantly fight these messages that are bombarding my kids. We have done a lot to cut back on the amount of television that they watch but when McDonald’s runs a commercial like this every single time Nickelodeon stops for a commercial break they can’t help but see or hear the message. I also try to point out to my kids how the commercials are trying to make them do something. They’re getting better at seeing this stuff for what it is but I don’t know who’s winning the fight for their minds. What happens to other kids who may not have restrictions on how many hours of TV they watch? What if their parents don’t spend time critiquing commercials with them? What message do they pick up when they hear over and over that food is joy. This is just one commercial for one company. Every kids movie, every cartoon, every toy brand all have a special tie in with one restaurant or another to promote themselves. Some of the stuff they do is pretty cool too. I’ll be the first one to admit that. Hell, if I were still a kid, I’d be all over some of the toys offered in these meals. In fact, I’m looking at an Einstein bobble head figure that came in a McDonald’s happy meal that my son gave to me. It was a tie in to a movie and I love seeing it on my desk. I just don’t want to see any more kids grow up to become obese adults. I don’t want people to think that unhealthy food is a source of joy or that giving this food to the people that matter the most to them will bring them joy. It’s an outright lie and it’s killing us all. Even if you don’t eat at these restaurants we’re all paying for the extra costs brought on by treating the diseases that eating too much of this food brings. We’re all suffering because of it.

I think I’m done ranting for now. I still can’t believe this commercial and I hate it to the very core of my being. I’ve said everything that I can without going too far. I feel sickened by the thought of what this commercial is doing to us and our kids. I feel saddened about my own poor choices in the past from buying into these lies. I want the world to change and be better. I want others to complain about things like this in order to get it off the air. I hate the fact that McDonald’s is one of the better fast food companies as far as social responsibility goes and actually does make an effort to do the right thing (sometimes). They lose their moral credibility when something like this comes out. Pay attention to the ads that you see and listen and analyze their message. Think about how they effect you and others. Unless you fear that they might make you sick.

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This is TOO Funny!

My son, a fellow Star Wars nut just found this video and came to me laughing his head off and telling me I must watch it. I followed him into the computer room and this is what I saw. I laughed my way through the entire thing. This has got to be one of the funniest Star Wars parodies I have ever seen. Watch and enjoy.

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