Shared posts

28 May 18:53

I’m tired of hijab.

When I was 19, I stood on stage and talked about being propositioned by a university professor. I said he was a dirty old man and repeated some of the choice phrases women hear every day in the streets of Egypt.

When I left the theater later that evening, I overheard two men:

“Isn’t she ashamed of herself for saying such dirty words when she’s veiled?!”
Photo Credit: Egypt Today (This is me, fyi)

Fast forward five years. I sat on a panel next to the president of Catalonia, speaking to more than 800 people from over 40 countries. And yet later on that day a man raised his hand after my presentation and said:

“You know, we’re doing you a favor.
We’re helping you take that symbol of oppression off your head.”

I’m tired of being the token “omg-look-such-an-articulate-awesome-non-stereotypical hijabi!”
I’m tired of hijab taking up so much space in my life.
I’m tired of speaking about it.
I’m tired of explaining it.
I’m tired of defending it.
I’m tired of being treated differently.
I’m tired of having to prove I’m normal.
I’m tired of being thought stupid and backwards.
I’m tired of the judgments — from both sides.
I’m tired of the opportunities denied.
I’m tired of expectations.
I’m tired of hijab.

It’s been a long, hard slog. I’ve been veiled for 15 years. I spent years writing about it, justifying it, hating it, loving it, ignoring it, defending it.

I did theater. Spoken word. I represented. I wrote angry critiques of the representation of Muslim women in media. I didn’t let other people speak for this Muslim woman. I spoke for myself. I wrote award-winning editorials like this one. Whoot whoot.

(If you’re interested, the project I loved most is crowdfunding here.)

But then I was done.

I was over having to constantly justify my choices.
I was over preaching to the choir.
I was over having to prove something.

I realized being thought of as “amazing” was actually insulting.
Because the assumption was that being veiled meant I was stupid and very non-amazing.

Hijab is so personal.

And yet it’s so public.

I’ve been told I had to take it off if I wanted to anchor a show.
I’ve been told “I wish I could shoot you.”
I’ve been refused entry into several venues.
I’ve been called a “dirty Arab,” an “ignorant Muslim,” a “stupid whore.”
I’ve been asked to sit at the back of a lecture hall.
I was just spat at in Paris last month.

You get the picture.

Being a hijabi is tough. It really is. There are days I wish for nothing more than to take it off. Days when I just want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t want to be different.

It’s just covered hair to you. That is all. No more, no less.

The fascination with it is crazy.
Behind the veil.
Beneath the veil.
Unveiling the Muslim woman.

*ooooooooh insert Aladdin music here.*

Let it be. You don’t have to understand why I wear it.

There’s so much more to write.

But I’m already over this post.

27 May 00:00

Keyboard Mash

Tertiarymatt

This is the best XKCD in kind of a long time, I think.

WHY DON'T YOU COME HANG OUT INSIDE MY HOUSE. WE CAN COOK BREAD AND CHAT ABOUT OUR INTERNAL SKELETONS.
20 May 16:35

Database interfaces

Tertiarymatt

R nerdery follows.

There are many different databases. The most familiar are row-column SQL databases like MySQL, SQLite, or PostgreSQL. Another type of database is the key-value store, which as a concept is very simple: you save a value specified by a key, and you can retrieve a value by its key. One more type is the document database, which instead of storing rows and columns, stores blobs of text or even binary files. The key-value and document types fall under the NoSQL umbrella. As there are mature R clients for many SQL databases, and dplyr is a great generic interface to SQL backends (see dplyr vignettes for an intro), we won't delve into SQL clients here.

What is the difference between SQL and NoSQL (key-value, document)? A diagram may be helpful:

diagram

NoSQL is often interpreted as Not only SQL - meaning a database that is called a NoSQL database may contain some notion of row-column storage, but other details diverge from traditional SQL databases. See Wikipedia for more information.

If you aren't already using databases, why care about databases? We'll answer this through a number of use cases:

  • Use case 1: Let's say you are producing a lot of data in your lab - millions of rows of data. Storing all this data in .xls or .csv files would definitely get cumbersome. If the data is traditional row-column spreadsheet data, a SQL database is perfect, perhaps PostgreSQL. Putting your data in a database allows the data to scale up easily while maintaining speedy data access, many tables can be linked together if needed, and more. Of course if your data will always fit in memory of the machine you're working on, a database may be too much complexity.
  • Use case 2: You already have data in a database, whether SQL or NoSQL. Of course it makes sense to interface with the database from R instead of e.g., exporting files from the database, then into R.
  • Use case 3: A data provider gives dumps of data that you need for your research/work problem. You download the data and it's hundreds of .csv files. It sure would be nice to be able to efficiently search this data. Simple searches like return all records with variable X < 10 are ideal for a SQL database. If instead the files are blobs of XML, JSON, or something else non-tabular, a document database is ideal.
  • Use case 4: You need to perform more complicated searches than SQL can support. Some NoSQL databases have very powerful search engines, e.g., Elasticsearch.
  • Use case 5: Sometimes you just need to cache stuff. Caching is a good use case for key-value stores. Let's say you are requesting data from a database online, and you want to make a derivative data thing from the original data, but you don't want to lose the original data. Simply storing the original data on disk in files is easy and does the job. Sometimes though, you may need something more structured. Redis and etcd are two key-value stores we make clients for and can make caching easy. Another use for caching is to avoid repeating time-consuming queries or queries that may cost money.
  • Use case 6: Indexable serialization. Related to the previous discussion of caching, this is caching, but better. That is, instead of dumping an R object to a cache, then retrieving the entire object later, NoSQL DB's make it easy to serialize an R object, and retrieve only what you need. See Rich FitzJohn's storr for an example of this.

rOpenSci has an increasing suite of database tools:

  • elastic (document database) (on CRAN)
  • sofa (document database)
  • solr (document database) (on CRAN)
  • etseed (key-value store)
  • rrlite (key-value store)
  • rerddap (SQL database as a service, open source) (on CRAN)
  • ckanr (SQL database as a service, open source)
  • nodbi (DBI, but for NoSQL DB's)

Some of these packages (e.g., rrlite, nodbi) can be thought of as infrastructure, just like clients for PostgreSQL or SQLite, for which other R packages can be created - or that can be used to interface with a database. Other packages (e.g., ckanr) are more likely to be useful to end users for retrieving data for a project.

If you're wondering what database to use:

  • You may want a SQL database if: you have tabular data, and the schema is not going to change
  • You may want a NoSQL key-value database if: you want to shove objects into something, and then retrieve later by a key
  • You may want a NoSQL document database if:
    • you need to store unstructured blobs, even including binary attachments
    • you need a richer query interface than a SQL database can provide

SQL databases have many advantages - one important advantage is that SQL syntax is widely used, and there are probably clients in every concievable language for interacting with SQL databases. However, NoSQL can be a better fit in many cases, overriding this SQL syntax familiarity.

There is another type of NoSQL database, the graph database, including Neo4j and Titan. We didn't talk much about them here, but they can be useful when you have naturally graph like data. A science project using a graph database is Open Tree of Life. There is an R client for Neo4J: RNeo4j.

Let us know if you have any feedback on these packages, and/or if you think there's anything else we should be thinking about making in this space. Now on to some examples of rOpenSci packages.

Get devtools

We'll need devtools to install some of these packages, as not all are on CRAN. If you are on Windows, see these notes.

install.packages("devtools")

elastic

elastic - Interact with Elasticsearch.

install.packages("elastic")
library("elastic")

elastic is a powerful document database with a built in query engine. It speaks JSON, has a nice HTTP API, which we use to communicate with elastic from R. What's great about elastic over e.g., Solr is that you don't have to worry about specifying a schema for your data. You can simply put data in, and then query on that data. You can specify configuration settings.

Example

In a quick example, here's going from a data.frame in R, putting data into elastic, then querying on that data.

library("ggplot2")
invisible(connect())
res <- docs_bulk(diamonds, "diam")

About 54K records in Elasticsearch for the dataset.

count("diam")
#> [1] 53940

We don't have time to go through hardly any of the diverse and powerful Elasticsearch query interface, so as an example, let's plot the price of diamonds in $300 buckets using the Elasticsearch aggregations search API

aggs <- '{
    "aggs": {
        "pricebuckets" : {
           "histogram" : {
               "field" : "price",
               "interval" : 300
           }
        }
    }
}'
res <- Search("diam", body = aggs, size = 0)
df <- do.call("rbind.data.frame", res$aggregations$pricebuckets$buckets)
ggplot(df, aes(key, doc_count)) + 
  geom_bar(stat = "identity") + 
  theme_grey(base_size = 20) + 
  labs(x = "Price", y = "Count")

plot of chunk unnamed-chunk-7

We have a package in developmented called elasticdsl that follows the lead of the Python client elasticsearch-dsl-py to allow native R based ways to specify queries. The package focuses on querying for data, whereas other operations will remain in the lower level elastic client.

sofa

sofa - Interact with CouchDB.

devtools::install_github("ropensci/sofa")
library("sofa")

Example

Connect to your running CouchDB instance:

?cushion

Create a database

db_create(dbname = 'sofadb')

Create a document in that database

doc_create('{"name":"sofa","beer":"IPA"}', dbname = "sofadb", docid = "a_beer")

Get the document

doc_get(dbname = "sofadb", docid = "a_beer")

There's a similar interface to inserting data within R directly into CouchDB, just as with Elasticsearch above. There's lots more to do in sofa, including adding ability to do map-reduce.

solr

solr - A client for interacting with Solr.

solr focuses on reading data from Solr engines. We are working on adding functionality for working with more Solr features, including writing documents. Adding support for writing to solr is a bit trickier than reading data, since writing data requires specifying a schema.

install.packages("solr")
library("solr")

Example

A quick example using a remote Solr server the Public Library of Science search engine.

solr_search(q = '*:*', fl = c('id', 'journal', 'publication_date'), base = 'http://api.plos.org/search', verbose = FALSE)
#>                                                     id  journal
#> 1                   10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/title PLOS ONE
#> 2                10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/abstract PLOS ONE
#> 3              10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/references PLOS ONE
#> 4                    10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/body PLOS ONE
#> 5            10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/introduction PLOS ONE
#> 6  10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/results_and_discussion PLOS ONE
#> 7   10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/materials_and_methods PLOS ONE
#> 8             10.1371/journal.pone.0123754/conclusions PLOS ONE
#> 9                         10.1371/journal.pone.0031384 PLoS ONE
#> 10                  10.1371/journal.pone.0031384/title PLoS ONE
#>        publication_date
#> 1  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 2  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 3  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 4  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 5  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 6  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 7  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 8  2015-05-04T00:00:00Z
#> 9  2012-02-14T00:00:00Z
#> 10 2012-02-14T00:00:00Z

solr is quite useful in R since it is a common search engine that is often exposed as is, so that you can pop this solr R client into your script or package and (hopefully) not have to worry about how to query the Solr service.

etseed

etseed is an R client for the etcd key-value store, developed by the folks at coreos, written in Go.

This package is still in early days, and isn't exactly the fastest option in the bunch here - but upcoming changes (including allowing bulk writing and retrieval) in etcd should help.

devtools::install_github("ropensci/etseed")
library("etseed")

A note before we go through an example. etcd has a particular way of specifying keys, in that you have to prefix a key by a forward slash, like /foobar instead of foobar.

Example

Save a value to a key

create(key = "/mykey", value = "this is awesome")
#> $action
#> [1] "set"
#> 
#> $node
#> $node$key
#> [1] "/mykey"
#> 
#> $node$value
#> [1] "this is awesome"
#> 
#> $node$modifiedIndex
#> [1] 1299
#> 
#> $node$createdIndex
#> [1] 1299
#> 
#> 
#> $prevNode
#> $prevNode$key
#> [1] "/mykey"
#> 
#> $prevNode$value
#> [1] "this is awesome"
#> 
#> $prevNode$modifiedIndex
#> [1] 1298
#> 
#> $prevNode$createdIndex
#> [1] 1298

Fetch the value given a key

key(key = "/mykey")
#> $action
#> [1] "get"
#> 
#> $node
#> $node$key
#> [1] "/mykey"
#> 
#> $node$value
#> [1] "this is awesome"
#> 
#> $node$modifiedIndex
#> [1] 1299
#> 
#> $node$createdIndex
#> [1] 1299

rrlite

rrlite - An R client for the Redis C library rlite

devtools::install_github("ropensci/rrlite")
library("rrlite")

This package may be more interesting than other R Redis clients because there is no need to start up a server since rlite is a serverless engine.

Example

Here, we initialize, then put 20 values into rlite, assigned to the key foo, then retrieve the values by the same key.

r <- RedisAPI::rdb(rrlite::hirlite)
r$set("foo", runif(20))
r$get("foo")
#>  [1] 0.51670270 0.08039860 0.34762872 0.30276370 0.15985876 0.66062207
#>  [7] 0.26802708 0.97451274 0.94458185 0.04604044 0.93153133 0.91241321
#> [13] 0.64395377 0.12517230 0.31826622 0.34425757 0.79364064 0.91926051
#> [19] 0.47487029 0.11644076

This is a good candidate for using within other R packages for more sophisticated caching than simply writing to disk, and is especially easy since users aren't required to spin up a server as with normal Redis, or other DB's like CouchDB, MongoDB, etc.

rerddap

rerddap - A general purpose R client for any ERDDAP server.

ERDDAP servers

install.packages("rerddap")
library("rerddap")

ERDDAP is a server built on top of OPenDAP. NOAA serve many differen datasets through ERDDAP servers. Through ERDDAP, you can get gridded data (see griddap()), which lets you query from gridded datasets (see griddap()), or tablular datasets (see tabledap()). ERDDAP is open source, so anyone can use it to serve data.

rerddap by default grabs NetCDF files, a binary compressed file type that should be faster to download, and take up less disk space, than other formats (e.g., csv). However, this means that you need a client library for NetCDF files - but not to worry, we use ncdf by default (for which there are CRAN binaries for all platforms), but you can choose to use ncdf4 (binaries only for some platforms).

Example

In this example, we search for gridded datasets

ed_search(query = 'size', which = "grid")
#> 6 results, showing first 20 
#>                                                                                                   title          dataset_id
#> 11                                                      NOAA Global Coral Bleaching Monitoring Products            NOAA_DHW
#> 13 USGS COAWST Forecast, US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico (Experimental) [time][s_rho][eta_rho][xi_rho] whoi_7dd7_db97_4bbe
#> 14  USGS COAWST Forecast, US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico (Experimental) [time][Nbed][eta_rho][xi_rho] whoi_a4fb_2c9c_16a7
#> 15        USGS COAWST Forecast, US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico (Experimental) [time][eta_rho][xi_rho] whoi_ed12_89ce_9592
#> 16            USGS COAWST Forecast, US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico (Experimental) [time][eta_u][xi_u] whoi_61c3_0b5d_cd61
#> 17            USGS COAWST Forecast, US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico (Experimental) [time][eta_v][xi_v] whoi_62d0_9d64_c8ff

Get more information on a single dataset of interest

info('noaa_esrl_027d_0fb5_5d38')
#> <ERDDAP info> noaa_esrl_027d_0fb5_5d38 
#>  Dimensions (range):  
#>      time: (1850-01-01T00:00:00Z, 2014-05-01T00:00:00Z) 
#>      latitude: (87.5, -87.5) 
#>      longitude: (-177.5, 177.5) 
#>  Variables:  
#>      air: 
#>          Range: -20.9, 19.5 
#>          Units: degC

Then fetch the dataset

griddap('noaa_esrl_027d_0fb5_5d38',
        time = c('2012-07-01', '2012-09-01'),
        latitude = c(21, 19),
        longitude = c(-80, -76)
)
#> <ERDDAP griddap> noaa_esrl_027d_0fb5_5d38
#>    Path: [~/.rerddap/3d23f817218694a622895e78417d291f.nc]
#>    Last updated: [2015-05-14 11:02:25]
#>    File size:    [0 mb]
#>    Dimensions (dims/vars):   [3 X 1]
#>    Dim names: time, latitude, longitude
#>    Variable names: CRUTEM3: Surface Air Temperature Monthly Anomaly
#>    data.frame (rows/columns):   [6 X 4]
#>                   time latitude longitude       air
#> 1 2012-07-01T00:00:00Z     22.5     -77.5        NA
#> 2 2012-07-01T00:00:00Z     22.5     -77.5 0.2500000
#> 3 2012-08-01T00:00:00Z     22.5     -77.5        NA
#> 4 2012-08-01T00:00:00Z     17.5     -77.5 0.2666667
#> 5 2012-09-01T00:00:00Z     17.5     -77.5        NA
#> 6 2012-09-01T00:00:00Z     17.5     -77.5 0.1000000

There are many different ERDDAP servers, see the function servers() for help.

More information on ERDDAP: http://upwell.pfeg.noaa.gov/erddap/information.html

ckanr

ckanr - A general purpose R client for any CKAN server.

CKAN is similar to ERDDAP in being an open source system to store and provide data via web services (and web interface, but we don't need that here). CKAN bills itself as an open-source data portal platform.

devtools::install_github("ropensci/ckanr")
library("ckanr")

Example

Examples use the CKAN server at http://data.techno-science.ca

Show changes in a CKAN server

changes(limit = 10, as = "table")[, 1:2]
#>                                 user_id                  timestamp
#> 1  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2015-03-30T15:06:55.500589
#> 2  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2015-01-09T23:33:14.303237
#> 3  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2015-01-09T23:31:49.537792
#> 4  b50449ea-1dcc-4d52-b620-fc95bf56034b 2014-11-06T18:58:08.001743
#> 5  b50449ea-1dcc-4d52-b620-fc95bf56034b 2014-11-06T18:55:55.059527
#> 6  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2014-11-05T23:17:46.422404
#> 7  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2014-11-05T23:17:05.134909
#> 8  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2014-11-05T23:12:44.074493
#> 9  27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2014-11-05T23:11:41.536040
#> 10 27778230-2e90-4818-9f00-bbf778c8fa09 2014-11-05T21:54:39.496994

Search for data packages

package_search(q = '*:*', rows = 2, as = "table")$results[, 1:7]
#>                      license_title maintainer relationships_as_object private maintainer_email         revision_timestamp
#> 1 Open Government Licence - Canada                               NULL   FALSE                  2014-10-28T21:18:27.068320
#> 2 Open Government Licence - Canada                               NULL   FALSE                  2014-10-28T21:18:58.958555
#>                                     id
#> 1 f4406699-3e11-4856-be48-b55da98b3c14
#> 2 0a801729-aa94-4d76-a5e0-7b487303f4e5

More information on CKAN: http://docs.ckan.org/en/latest/contents.html

nodbi

nodbi - Like the DBI package, but for document and key-value databases.

nodbi has five backends at the moment:

  • Redis
  • etcd
  • MongoDB
  • CouchDB
  • Elasticsearch

nodbi is in early development, so expect changes - but that also means it's a good time to give your input. What use cases you can think of for this package? What database do you think should be added as a backend?

devtools::install_github("ropensci/nodbi")
library("nodbi")

Example

We'll use MongoDB to store some data, then pull it back out. First, start up your mongo server, then intialize the connection

mongod
(src <- src_mongo())
#> MongoDB 3.0.2 (uptime: 230s)
#> URL: Scotts-MBP/test

Insert data

library("ggplot2")
diamonds$cut <- as.character(diamonds$cut)
diamonds$color <- as.character(diamonds$color)
diamonds$clarity <- as.character(diamonds$clarity)
docdb_create(src, key = "diam", value = diamonds)

Pull data back out

res <- docdb_get(src, "diam")
head(res)
#>   carat       cut color clarity depth table price    x    y    z
#> 1  0.23     Ideal     E     SI2  61.5    55   326 3.95 3.98 2.43
#> 2  0.21   Premium     E     SI1  59.8    61   326 3.89 3.84 2.31
#> 3  0.23      Good     E     VS1  56.9    65   327 4.05 4.07 2.31
#> 4  0.29   Premium     I     VS2  62.4    58   334 4.20 4.23 2.63
#> 5  0.31      Good     J     SI2  63.3    58   335 4.34 4.35 2.75
#> 6  0.24 Very Good     J    VVS2  62.8    57   336 3.94 3.96 2.48

Data is identical:

identical(diamonds, res)
#> [1] TRUE
19 May 14:00

SteamVR's "Lighthouse" for Virtual Reality and Beyond

by Joey Fameli
Tertiarymatt

Being used by the Void?

20 May 06:43

Tested In-Depth: PCIe Solid State Storage

by Joey Fameli
Tertiarymatt

Well, this is pretty absurdly fast.

24 Apr 18:07

Neonicotinoids: euphoria then death for bees

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

No surprises here. These neoniotnoid seed coatings are so dumb. They add almost no value for farmers, almost certainly damage the soil fungal community, and their systemic expression is injurious to bees of all stripes, and probably lots of other non-harmful insects as well.

Two papers published in the journal Nature earlier this week are causing quite a stir in the bee world. The first, “Seed coating with a neonicotinoid insecticide negatively affects wild bees” by Rundlof et al. is unique in that the authors were able to perform controlled field experiments. This is often difficult to do because […]
30 Apr 17:52

Let’s save the right bees

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

ALL THE POLLINATORS

It’s about time that someone clearly and succinctly wrote about the “bee problem.” And someone finally did. Gwen Pearson, known for years as the Bug Girl, has a story in yesterday’s Wired that says it all, “You’re Worrying about the Wrong Bees.” I’ve been a fan of Gwen and her writing for a long time, […]
16 May 18:29

Taranov split in photos

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

It's really crazy that this process works as well as it does.

Since I’ve written many posts about Taranov splits, I’m not going to belabor the whys and hows. Still, I’m always amazed that it works so well. For me, it is the best way to split into non-compatible equipment. In this case, I was splitting a top-bar hive into a Langstroth. I had thought this hive […]
18 May 16:27

Pollinators on the night shift

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

We need all the pollinators.

Nocturnal pollination is something I seldom think about, but this fascinating article by Paul Manning at Poky Ecology describes a host of nighttime pollinators in lowbush blueberry. Really, I had no idea how busy a berry bush in the dark could be. In a series of experiments, researchers found that as much as one-third of […]
23 May 18:01

What do you smoke?

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

Some considerations here I'd never thought about.

Five years ago I wrote a post about what beekeepers burn in their smokers. Earlier today, Bill Reynolds of Minnesota added a comment to that post, recommending adding a handful of green grass to a fast-burning smoker to cool down the smoke and avoid singeing wings. Good point. When I re-read my post, I was […]
18 May 10:06

Silver prices affect the price of all film products

by Bob Crowley
Tertiarymatt

As someone who has used silver in multiple ways, I miss the days of $7/oz

Here is a historical chart of the price of silver that shows the more recent spike in prices, and then the collapse.  Although plastics and sensitizing dyes can be as costly as the silver used, all film is subject to price spikes when and if the price of silver spikes. As you can see, it did that. Like oil, the price of the final product is quick to rise, and very slow to fall.


25 May 22:16

All work and no updates makes Scott a dull boy. All work and no updates makes Scott a dull boy. All work and no updates makes Scott a dull boy.

 
 







 







25 May 15:45

Buddhism and Politics

by Brad
Tertiarymatt

What bugs me is when it appears that liberal, left-leaning Buddhists are trying to mix Buddhism with their political agenda in precisely the same way people like Pat Robertson mix Christianity with their conservative political agenda. This just makes us all look bad to everyone except lefty types who already agree with whatever cause is being espoused. Nobody is going to be convinced to change their views on militarism or global warming because they saw a photo of a bunch of weirdos in costumes they associate with cult members holding a banner outside of the White House. It’s an exercise in vanity, which can only serve to help entrench people’s previously established views.

It’s never as easy as you would like. To say Buddhists should not be involved in politics is obviously silly. But to say that all Buddhists should share a certain specific set of political views is also ridiculous.

A few years ago I was giving a talk at the Houston Zen Center. Gaelyn Godwin, who runs the center, took me aside before the talk and said, “We have a lot of conservatives in our group. So if you say anything political, it’s best not to assume the audience here is liberal.”

I had not intended to talk about politics at all. But maybe she’d seen this sort of thing before with visiting speakers. A lot of Buddhist centers in America have a very strong left-leaning political bias. I often see stuff for liberal causes tacked up to bulletin boards at the Buddhist centers I visit and it always bugs me. But maybe not for the reasons some of you would assume.

I find it amusing that, after my post I Wish I Could Agree, I’m seeing myself labeled as a “conservative Buddhist.” I’m really not. I’m fairly apolitical. But when it comes to most issues I tend to side with the more liberal, left-leaning views.

Zero Defex EP

Zero Defex EP

I am, after all, a member of the hardcore band Zero Defex, who have songs that address topics like the dangers of nuclear proliferation (Drop the A-Bomb On Me ), global warming (Armageddon), fracking (National Sacrifice Zone), unregulated capitalism (Competition), the horrors of war in general (This Means War, War Zone), and the hazards of dobermans sticking their noses up your butt when you’re trying to heat up a bagel (Swine Hunt Doggen). One of our songs was even used in the Ralph Nader presidential campaign a few years ago. No. I am definitely not a “conservative Buddhist.”

But I am concerned whenever I see any mixing of religion and politics. When I was a youngster I was aghast at seeing Christianity mixed with conservative politics, with the implication that Jesus himself wanted you to vote Republican. If we respond to that with the equivalent of, “No! Buddha wants you to vote Democrat!” I don’t see how that’s any better.

I understand when Buddhists are concerned with issues like militarism and global climate change. These are urgent matters that affect all of us. It’s just that it rankles me to see people representing themselves as the “leaders” of Buddhism and presenting their views as if they are the consensus views of all Buddhists.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to explain that there is more than one form of Buddhism to people who seem surprised at this revelation. Or how many times I’ve had to tell someone that not every Buddhist considers the Dalai Lama to be their commander and spokesman. Or how many times I’ve had to explain that all Buddhists do not have a unified political agenda. Then something comes along like the meeting at the White House that I wrote about in my blog post and I have to start explaining it all over again.

Which is fine. I like explaining things.

What bugs me is when it appears that liberal, left-leaning Buddhists are trying to mix Buddhism with their political agenda in precisely the same way people like Pat Robertson mix Christianity with their conservative political agenda. This just makes us all look bad to everyone except lefty types who already agree with whatever cause is being espoused. Nobody is going to be convinced to change their views on militarism or global warming because they saw a photo of a bunch of weirdos in costumes they associate with cult members holding a banner outside of the White House. It’s an exercise in vanity, which can only serve to help entrench people’s previously established views.

This is not the same as saying Buddhists should never be involved in politics. If you’re a Buddhist and you want to get mixed up in that circus, be my guest. I don’t really care. Just please don’t represent yourselves as the leaders of Buddhism and your specific views as the correct ones for Buddhists to hold.

For my own part, I try to keep my political views out of what I do in my capacity as a teacher of Buddhism. I don’t want my politics to be seen as somehow “Buddhist.” It’s very easy to send a mixed up message.

For example, I’m a vegetarian. I really believe in vegetarianism. I think it’s a great thing and I’d like to see more people become vegetarians. I believe it’s an important issue in terms of personal health, environment, and ethics.

Yet I am very aware that a lot of people who don’t know much about Buddhism tend to believe that all Buddhists are vegetarians and that Buddhism requires its adherents to abstain from eating meat. This is not true. My friend Gesshin wrote a really good blog piece recently about this. In a nutshell, lots of Buddhists eat meat, and the historical Buddha never required his followers to be strict vegetarians.

Because I see the dangers of confusing people on this issue and making them think that Buddha will send them to Buddhist Hell for eating at McDonald’s (I think he should but he won’t), I tend to avoid making too many overt statements about my vegetarianism. And when I do talk about it, I always make sure I explain that vegetarianism is a personal choice, not something mandated by my Buddhist practice.

(Interestingly, I found that in Japan — where they should know better — I could simply say “I’m a Buddhist” and people would quickly accept my vegetarianism without any further need for discussion.)

I feel that Buddhists with strong political convictions would do better to approach their political convictions the same way. In America, Europe and the rest of the West, Buddhism is very often seen as going hand-in-hand with leftist political views. As is the case with vegetarianism, lots of folks who know little about Buddhism tend to assume Buddhists will have a leftist political bias.

Those people on the Interwebs who referred to me as a “conservative Buddhist” obviously knew that there was a general feeling that it was unusual to be a conservative and a Buddhist at the same time. Actually, it’s not that weird. Just like there are millions of liberal Christians, there are also millions of conservative Buddhists.

I think it’s unfair to take advantage of misunderstandings about Buddhism and its relation to politics in order to advance a specific agenda.

I don’t like it when religion gets mixed up in politics even when it’s a religion I follow and a political agenda I tend (mostly but not always) to agree with.

UPCOMING EVENTS

July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT

November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT

ONGOING EVENTS

Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

* * *

Your donations will not be sent to the Democratic campaign. They’ll be sent to my landlord. Thank you very much!

 

25 May 20:53

Fufanu - Full Peformance (Live on KEXP)

Tertiarymatt

A little Bauhaus, a little Joy Division, some post-rock.

http://KEXP.ORG presents Fufanu performing live at Toppstöðin power station in Reykjavik during Iceland Airwaves. Recorded November 3, 2014. Songs: Now Wire ...
25 May 04:21

Thinking is Optional

Tertiarymatt

I've arrived in a "divided brain" state. One part of my brain falls totally for all the stupid things in the movie, and gets emotional, while simultaneously the other part picks them apart, and shouts obscenities.

sleep is dumb

Tonight’s comic is about shutting your brain off.

20 May 04:46

Mad Max Versus Game Of Thrones

Tertiarymatt

On the handling of agency, assault, and why MM:FR is actually interesting and GoT is sort of lazy.

(art above by Kate Leth, who is awesome)

(and below, you will find some spoilers, so you are very much warned)

Over here, you have Max Max: Fury Road, a film that may not have won the box office this weekend, but did a pretty Herculean effort ($45 million) for an R-rated film based on a very fringe franchise with aesthetics that go well against what anybody would think would sell actual tickets.

In the other corner, one of the most popular television shows on at present: Game of Thrones. Pseudo-medieval epic fantasy serialized for pay cable, also very R-rated (well, TV-MA, I guess), and perhaps also a surprise that it connects so well with the popular consciousness.

Both are, in their own way, very similar worlds.

One is post-apocalypse. (Though exactly how or why, we do not know.)

One is pre-apocalypse. (“Winter is Coming,” remember.)

Both are brutal, backward worlds. All too often harsh and unforgiving. The GoT world is probably more advanced than the Mad Max one, in a lot of ways — at least socially. In GoT you’ve got pretty gardens and big cities and varied climates. Mad Max eschews all of that. It’s basically a dust-fucked hell-hole. Occasionally damp, mostly dry and abrasive. Society has dissolved. People are not so much people as they are animals and zealots only. It’s all just sand in your chastity belt.

Both are, you could argue, male-driven worlds. Grotesque, feudal places lorded over by grotesque, wretched men. You’ve got Immortan Joe and the Bullet Farmer. You’ve got Joffrey and Bolton and a gaggle of other spectacular assholes. Both in fact feature comically evil men. Like, so evil it’s just fucking ridiculous. In Mad Max, you might argue it’s less evil and more straight-up lunacy, but you don’t get the feeling these are bad dudes with good sides. They’re just monsters. And guys like Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton are so eeeeevil that the show affords us every chance to watch them plucking wings off of butterflies (metaphorically). Which, admittedly, maybe gets a little old, but what the hell do I know? It certainly works to make you hate them.

If both are male-driven worlds, you can then take a pretty good guess how women are viewed in these worlds? Spoiler warning: it ain’t good. Women ostensibly have a higher position inside Game of Thrones, where they are at least viewed as more than just “things.” In Mad Max, women are objects. They are sources of production, more or less — animals for breeding, for milk, and for all that we can guess, meat. They are post-apoc livestock.

Some folks will say — okay, there are topics and subjects you can’t write about. Which is nonsense, obviously. Everything is the domain of fiction. Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted. It must be, for fiction to maintain its teeth. Fiction only has meaning when everything is permissable. Rape and sexual assault is one such topic — some will say it’s off the table. Which again: it can’t be off the table. That’s a very good way to ensure silence around the subject, isn’t it? Saying you can’t speak about it in fiction is adjacent to saying you can’t speak about it for real, which is already a problem that doesn’t need worsening by made-up rules of fiction.

So, take that subject, and filter it through the lens of Game of Thrones and then Mad Max.

Both use sexual assault in the storyworlds.

In Mad Max, you can’t accept women as “things” or livestock without then making the leap to say, mmmyeah, it’s probably not by choice. Okay? They didn’t sign up for it. That’s frankly the whole point of the movie, isn’t it? (Again, see the art above quoting the movie: WE ARE NOT THINGS.) If you leave Fury Road and look back upon the series, you see a few powerful women here and there (Aunty Entity, and, erm, that one lady with the crossbow?), and you also would get to see an on-screen rape scene in The Road Warrior – one viewed through spyglass at a distance, but it’s very clear what’s going on. The confirmation of women as object is shown when one of the women in Fury Road is cut open so that the child inside her can be seen, even though it may not be alive.

In GoT, rape is part of the fabric of life. It’s woven right in there. It’s almost background noise — I’m pretty sure if you turn on the show and zoom in, it’s like Where’s Waldo or trying to find Carmen Sandiego. There’s maybe always a rape happening on-screen somewhere, at some point? “Did you find the rape happening in every episode?” (It’d be like a really super-gross party game.) Characters talk about rape. They do it and exposit scenes while they do it. They accept it and expect it. Folks will say this is based on medieval history, though really, it’s based more on medieval myth, and of course, once you throw dragons and active godly magic into the mix you pretty much signal that you don’t have to base your fantasy (key word: fantasy) story on anything, really. (But “it’s based on history!” is always a good crutch for lazy storytelling, so whenever an editor or critic challenges you, don’t forget to say loud and say it proud.)

So, two very popular storyworlds.

Two portrayals of a world where women hold dubious power and are seen as “things.”

One of these is roundly criticized for it.

One of them is roundly celebrated for it.

Game of Thrones catches hell for its portrayal of women and this subject.

Mad Max is wreathed in a garland of bike chains and hubcabs for it.

What, then, is the difference?

Let’s try to suss it out.

In Game of Thrones:

- rapes often happen on-screen-ish

- they happen semi-often

- they happen to POV characters (Dany, Cersei, and now, Sansa Stark — given that there are six total assumed major female POV characters in the series, that means 50% of them have undergone active sexual assault on-screen)

- twice the rapist is a character we like (Drogo, Jamie)

- often used to motivate characters or sub in as character development

- seemingly meant to shock, often male-gazey

- history of it in the show

In Mad Max: Fury Road:

- the assault is implicit, not explicit, happens way off-screen

- not a focal point, per se, of character development

- though does provide seeds in the bed for character development — meaning, the event is hidden so that we don’t see it, but what grows up out of the dirt still suggests that it happened

- not much history of it — but again, Road Warrior has an explicit instance?

- we are never on the side of the rapist

- not male gazey because not on-screen and because of female POV (Furiosa)

I don’t know that this tells us enough yet, so let’s unpack it some more.

Frequency is an issue, for one: in GoT, we see rape and sexual assault again and again. In four seasons, we have three (ugh this sounds horrible to even put it this way) “major” rape events used as plot devices and character motivational tools (and that sounds even more horrible and icky). In Mad Max, we never actually see it at all. In Got, it happens often enough that you begin to wonder if there is a well-worn, oft-punctured notecard for the GoT storyboard that has written upon it: I DUNNO, PROBABLY RAPE?

Which also suggests that another issue is point-of-view. Where do you put the camera? Where do you place the narrative? Fury Road begins well after any actual assaults have occurred (with the exception of the “cutting out a baby” thing, which is more a byproduct of sexual assault rather than an explicit sexual assault). And none of it is on-screen. The story happens after. In Game of Thrones, the rapes are — man, this will never not sound gross — “ongoing.” It’s an ever-unfolding rape carnival, a parade of sexual assaults. (Here, by the way, someone will surely say something about why are we so concerned about the rape but, say, not concerned about murder or Greyjoy’s “dick removal scenario.” To which I would respond, frequency again becomes an issue: if every season contained one major dick removal scenario, you’d probably start to say, “Hey, Game of Thrones writers, maybe cool it on the cock-chopping. It’s feeling like you have a thing against dicks. Do you hate dicks? Why do you hate dicks so bad?” And here we could ask the same about women. Do you hate women? Why do you hate women so bad? Do you have a thing against them?

Of course, they don’t hate women. That’s absurd and we can’t really assume to be true — both Mad Max and GoT posit a world that hates women, though, so again, what’s the difference? GoT gives us the pain and suffering of women as part of a larger pattern meant to motivate characters. In some cases, male characters — in the assault on Sansa Stark, I have been repeatedly told that it “explains” what Theon Greyjoy does. I have no idea what that is, but I can guess that it’s something against Ramsay Bolton, and there I’d like to suggest that Theon (the subject of the earlier “dick removal scenario”) probably needs no more motivation to do ill against the Boltons given the aforementioned fact of his man-wang being turned into dick salad. Nor does Sansa require “motivation” to hate the family who literally murdered members of her family. We don’t actually need more, there. We do not require further “character motivation,” and if rape is the only way you can motivate your characters, you may want to go back to Writer’s School because I think you skipped a few crucial 101 classes.

What it then comes down to is a question of agency. (Here: a post on agency and women characters and how “strong female characters” are really nothing without agency and the ability to push on the plot more than it pushes on them.) Where you place the narrative camera and how you choose to affect the characters leads to the question of — what does assault do for the character’s power and choice in the story? Placing the events off-screen and before the film begins, Fury Road buries it well enough to explain why the characters are doing what they’re doing. The arc of those characters — the women — in Mad Max is one of going from zero to one. From a loss of power to a gain of power. The story is about the reclamation of agency — it’s them saying with great and violent effort: we are not things.

But in Game of Thrones, the opposite occurs. We witness powerful women undercut by assault. It removes their agency. (That is, quite explicitly, what sexual assault does.) They are robbed of power to motivate them, to make men feel bad, to make the audience feel sympathetic. But they go from one to zero. They go from something to nothing — from agent and actor upon the plot to victim of the plot. You might say that Dany is motivated to become the queen by the act, but first, that’s gross, and second, it’s also not true. She’s motivated only to become a wife and a lover at that point. Cersei is changed by the act — it would seem to begin her descent. And Sansa is just at a moment when we start to believe she has agency and power. She’s tougher. Harder. She’s taking on a whiff of Littlefinger’s machinations. The show wisely made it seem like reclaiming Winterfell was at least in part her choice. Her hair is dyed black. She appears a grim, death-like specter of vengeance. And she even says the right things: she indicates her lack of fear, she impresses her power on others. It’s a turning point for a character who for so long has basically been a whipping girl. She’s been a can kicked brutally down the road. And finally, finally you think — ahh. Here it is. Here she is claiming her power. Finding her agency. Here she will at last become, like Arya, a mighty force for change and no woman and no man will ever again dominate her and –

Oh. Oh.

She gets the black dye removed from her hair and it’s like Samson with his locks cut. Because along comes Ramsay Bolton — who is so eeeeevil I’m surprised he doesn’t have a sinister mustache to twist and a puppy to eat — to take that all that away as he gleefully assaults her. All as we focus on the poor weepy face of dickless Theon Greyjoy, who by the way is a child-murderer so wait why do we care about Theon Greyjoy again?

It’s not that GoT is poorly-written. That’s actually the shame — it’s often so well done. The show is really one of the best television shows around right now. It’s part of the Renaissance of hella good storytelling going on the tube at present. If it was a garbage-fire of a show, we wouldn’t even care. We wouldn’t expect better. But me? I’d like to expect better. Because its creepy fascination with hurting and marginalizing its women characters is increasingly gross and lazy.

Listen –

This isn’t about being shocked.

This isn’t about being offended.

It’s about something larger and lazier and altogether nastier.

It’s really about rape culture. About how this seeps in like a septic infection. About how it’s illustrated and handled with little aplomb, how it’s a default, how it forms an overall pattern.

Rape and sexual assault are fraught topics. To say you can never use them in fiction is, as noted, a terrible thing. We must be allowed to talk about bad things. We must be allowed to explore them from nose to tail to see what it means. Fiction is best when it doesn’t turn away from pain and suffering. It must embrace trauma. But that also means treating it and the characters who suffer it with respect. Make it an organic part of the story, not a “plot device.” A plot device is crass, cheap, lazy. Sexual assault is not a lever you pull to make people feel bad. It’s a trope because it keeps showing up — that’s not a good thing. Women are constantly fridged in these stories to make male characters feel something — to make the audience feel something. The problem isn’t in individual instances, you see? It’s in the pattern. It’s in how this keeps showing up again and again, a lazy crutch, a manipulative button the writers mash with greasy mitts, a cheap trick to rob agency and push plot. Meanwhile, you have actual rape victims in the audience who are like, “Hey, thanks for turning my trauma into cheap-ass plot fodder.”

In fact, let’s dissect that a little bit — RAINN suggests that 1 in 6 women have been the subject of some kind of sexual assault. A TIME study noted that, on campus, that number is 1 in 5 women. These are consequential numbers. Huge, scary, terrible. Now, realize that Game of Thrones gets some of the highest ratings on cable television — roughly seven million people watching. And in 2013 it was roughly 42% women who made up that audience. If you go low enough to accept the 1 in 5 number, you accept that roughly 588,000 sexual assault victims are watching the show. Even if you think that number is inflated — even if you assume it’s not 20% of all women but only 5% — that number still becomes 147,000. It’s a not insignificant number. It’s a marrow-curdling number. And it’s a number where each person affected has others who have been affected in turn — family, friends, other loved ones. Trauma is not a stone thrown against hard ground. It’s a stone thrown into water. It has ripples.

Ask yourself again: Game of Thrones versus Mad Max.

Would you rather see a world where the women declare in a barbaric yawp: WE ARE NOT THINGS?

Or do you want to be subjected to one where again and again it’s proven: WE ARE ONLY THINGS…?

Do we really not see the difference?

Do you not see why one would be celebrated while the other is excoriated?

Now, please go and read:

Sansa, Ros and Trying to Keep Faith — by Leigh Bardugo.

Then — Matt Wallace writes Try Harder, Do Better.

Comments closed.

16 May 22:03

On the Taxonomy of Spaceships

Tertiarymatt

This is really pretty solid.

Yup, spaceships again.  Between Star Citizen, the new Halo, the new Star Wars, a couple of key mods for Sins of a Solar Empire that I keep up with and have done some voice work on, and Destiny, my mind has been buzzing with them.  I’m a huge nerd who thinks of things in my free time like “if I were a shinigami what kind of Zanpakutō would I have?” and “I wonder if I’d rather be a ranger or a mage” and “ff I were a Jedi in the New Jedi Order, what kind of ship would I have?”  And alongside that sort of inane theorycrafting and imagination comes obvious questions, like “would I want to captain a cruiser or a carrier?”  But then, what exactly is the difference?

It would be a stolen and recommissioned Imperial II-class Star Destroyer named Sanguine, by the way. In case you were actually wondering (I bet you weren’t).

There are lots of different ship classes in science fiction, and I’m not talking about the designated name for a particular frame (like Victory-class or Firefly-class).  I’m talking about classification of ship roles.  You have your cruisers, your destroyers, your frigates and corvettes, your dreadnoughts, and all sorts of other roles.  But something that always confused me is exactly what the differences are between them.  If you had shown me two ships and claimed one was a destroyer and one was a cruiser I wouldn’t have really understood what that actually means and what roles they employ in a battle.  How is a battleship different from a battlecruiser?  Is there any difference between a star cruiser and an assault cruiser, and if so what is it?

So like any good geek I did research and actually enjoyed doing it!  And the knowledge I’ve gained I want to spread for anyone who is interested, whether that be due to simple curiosity or you’re developing a story or RPG setting.  Because knowledge is power.

Before we get to the meat of the topic let’s look at a bit of history.  When science fiction writers were exploring space they drew a natural comparison between space travel and the maritime Age of Sail; both feature long voyages on large vessels through “alien” terrain that human beings can’t freely traverse.  As such, naval terminology entered the lexicon very quickly, and as a result spaceships are classified by similar naval systems.  That’s also likely the reason why the branch of the military that deals with spaceships in fiction is very commonly called the Navy.

Naval warfare, particularly way-back-when in the 17th Century or so, was rather stringent and refined.  The British in particular had very strict guidelines on ship classification, roles, and tactics.  As time went on the definitions for particular warships and roles blurred until we hit modern day navies.  Back in the day, like 17th Century back, a common tactic was the naval “Line-of-Battle,” introduced by the Portuguese in the 15th Century.  The idea is that your fleet would very literally line up in a single-file row and turn their broadsides toward the enemy.  This gave all ships within the line free sight to fire on the enemy fleet without fear of hitting an ally.  Battles could play out with enemy fleets sailing parallel to each other and firing into one another, though the ideal situation had your line slicing perpendicularly through the enemy’s line at some point.  Ships that could survive standing within the line were thus referred to as “ships of the line (of battle)” or “line-of-battle ships.”  Other ships existed that were not ships of the line, and they usually had other tactics to employ and jobs to fulfill.  (This is important information for later; I promise.)

“Everyone just shoot to the left!”

Let me touch a bit on capital ships and flagships.  William S. Lind explains the concept of a capital ship extremely well; “These characteristics define a capital ship: if the capital ships are beaten, the navy is beaten. But if the rest of the navy is beaten, the capital ships can still operate.  Another characteristic that defines capital ships is that their main opponent is each other.”  In short, a capital ship is a ship that doesn’t need the rest of the fleet to function, and can operate independently of a fleet while being the main target of other capital ships (not that they are impervious to the fire of other ships, but that generally capital ships will seek each other out for direct confrontation).  Note that this definition refers strictly to independence in a large-scale engagement.  Plenty of other vessels can operate independently in other scenarios, such as patrol, but in a large-scale battle they would not be able to combat the enemy fleet if the capital ships fell.  Capital ships are generally some of the largest and most heavily armored ships in a fleet.  However, they should not be confused with flagships.  A fleet can have multiple capital ships within it; the term simply describes the capabilities of a particular vessel.  But an individual fleet will only ever have one flagship at a time, the “lead” ship, which the admiral/general/fleet commander resides on and operates from.  Flagships are often capital ships (as they generally want to be the biggest, most powerful ship in the fleet), but by definition whichever ship has the fleet commander on board will fly the flag and thus be considered the flagship.  Usually, this is a specifically designated vessel but the title can jump around as needed between ships.

So, from here on out I’ll be explaining the various classes of ships, their histories, and how I would personally define what the role a spaceship of that kind would take.  I’ll also provide specific examples of each ship type as I go.  A word of warning, though; even in the real world rules are and were constantly being broken.  Ships technically designed as one type of vessel may perform the operations of another type equally well, or some countries may have different rules from each other and thus classify two vessels of almost identical capability differently.  Not only that, but as technology improves the various classes can become so alike that it can be very difficult to draw a line.  A further problem (which comes up very often in sci-fi) is technological superiority; that is, a ship classification in one species’ navy may not be equal to the ships of the same classification in another species’ navy.  For example, one navy’s corvette may be large enough and powerful enough to be more than a match for another species’ destroyer or cruiser.  What’s important when we talk about ship classification is the comparison of ships within the same navy.  So while that corvette may be a cruiser as far as the alien race is concerned, what’s important is that the species that built it considers it a corvette.

Just remember that this guide exists as just that; a guide.  It is not a strict law, the rules of which can never be broken.  Feel free to break these rules if it makes sense for you to do so.

Let’s go from the smallest ships to the relative largest.  For each class I’ve bolded particular characteristics that stand out to me and help cement the ship’s role.  I’m just going to be going over warships, so things like freighters or single-pilot ships will not be getting the once-over.

Corvette

The word “corvette” comes from the Dutch word corf, which means “small ship,” and indeed corvettes are historically the smallest class of rated warship (a rating system used by the British Royal Navy in the sailing age, basically referring to the amount of men/guns on the vessel and its relative size; corvettes were of the sixth and smallest rate).  In complete honesty I have not found much information on what role corvettes tended to employ; or at least nothing extremely concrete.  By all rights, early corvettes are essentially just smaller, less effective frigates; they were more lightly armored and armed than frigates, while not being as quick or maneuverable.  They were usually used for escorting convoys and patrolling waters, especially in places where larger ships would be unnecessary.  Corvettes could also be used for taking out larger vessels already crippled by other ships, almost making them akin to scavengers.  Later corvettes in modern navies (around WWII) started filling a niche as antisubmariners, minesweepers, and trawlers (it might be more accurate to say that those kinds of vessels started being called corvettes, but the effect is the same).  In many ways, corvettes existed just to have a ship or two (or ten) available; being smaller and more lightly armed meant that they were cheaper to construct, and that is important when discussing anything in history.  It takes money and resources to build things, so you can’t just build a bunch of the best thing.

The Tantive IV, a CR90 corvette, was the famed consular ship owned by the Royal House of Alderaan. It’s the blockade runner first seen in Star Wars: A New Hope. This is a perfect example of technological superiority; the Imperial I-class Star Destroyer Devastator, despite being a much larger vessel of a more combat-oriented variety, was able to outspeed the corvette relatively easily and capture it. (Star Wars)

In Sci-Fi – Corvettes would be the smallest warships, designed for escort and patrol, anti-mine, or anti-stealth.  They would be used where larger ships with more firepower are not deemed necessary (such as backwater worlds or low-risk areas) or where a larger ship would be unsuitable for deployment.  Corvettes might be outfitted to have some sort of stealth or cloaking system for reconnaissance or spec ops missions; naturally it would be easier to cloak a smaller ship than a larger one (though plenty of examples of large stealth ships exist).  In some series they are likely to be diplomatic vessels due to their small size and speed, particularly seen in Star Wars, and can commonly act as blockade runners (again; their small size and speed makes them ideal for slipping through a blockade, where a larger ship presents more of a target).  They would, ideally, never be used for direct combat in large scale engagements due to their extremely light armor and weapons, but may be employed in a battle to lay down or destroy minefields, uncover stealth ships, act as stealth ships on their own (for whatever purpose needed), or for dispatching already crippled vessels.

An SDV-class heavy corvette of the Covenant Empire, notable because it is the only Covenant warship known not to have shields. In Halo: Reach we encounter a small advanced fleet composed of approximately 4 SDVs and a single CSO-class supercarrier; the corvettes were thus acting as an escort group for the larger capital ship. The Covenant’s technological superiority meant they could send such vessels against the UNSC without much fear (even though destroyers would traditionally fulfill that role better), and in fact we see corvettes acting as an advanced fleet again in Halo: Forward Unto Dawn when most of humanity had no idea of the Covenant’s existence. (Halo)

Frigate

“Frigate-built” was a term used in the 17th Century describing a warship that was built to be quick and maneuverable.  They were often too small to stand in the “line of battle” and usually had only one weapons deck (but sometimes two).  By the 18th Century the term had been modified slightly to include ships that may be as long as a ship of the line but were still designed for speed and had lighter weaponry, making them useful for patrols and escorts.  The 19th Century brought armored frigates to the world, which were actually regarded as being the most powerful warships at the time.  They were still known as frigates because they were lightly armed with only one deck of guns.  Modern frigates are generally used as escorts for other warships and convoys.  As I mentioned earlier, frigates and corvettes really are very similar in their designs and roles; frigates just tend to be larger (and thus more expensive to build) and had more firepower, so they could engage in direct combat more effectively.

Paris-class heavy frigates of the UNSC Navy above the planet Reach. We see a multitude of frigate types in the series. Paris-class were designed almost exclusively for direct space-based combat rather than escort, but the Stalwart-class light frigates and Charon-class light frigates are more variable in their roles, able to carry a compliment of marines and other troops for planetary defense as well as fleet defense. (Halo)

In Sci-Fi – Based on their history, space frigates would probably be best defined as smaller vessels with light armament and armor (but more powerful and larger than a corvette), suited for speed and maneuverability.  They’d often act as patrol and escort vessels, whether for a merchant convoy, a single capital ship, or a fleet.  Their agility and maneuverability means they can move to redeploy and protect other ships better than larger, slower moving vessels.  You’d likely see a strength-in-numbers strategy with them.  Frigates, unlike corvettes, would more commonly see direct battle and would probably not be found with stealth drives in most settings; they are simply getting too large by that point.

Captained by Commander Shepard, the Normandy SR-2 was a frigate built after the design of the SSV Normandy SR-1. Like her predecessor, the Normandy SR-2 was a stealth ship, able to completely mask its heat signatures at sub-light speeds (though visual identification was still entirely possible). Like all frigates the Normandy SR-2 was extremely fast and maneuverable, able to weave through the debris of a battlefield with little effort. (Mass Effect)

Destroyer

Destroyers are comparatively modern ships.  Historically, they were designed after the emergence of torpedo boats (quick, frigate-like ships which employed newly invented self-propelled torpedoes as their main arms) in the late 1800s.  Torpedo boats were faster and more maneuverable than larger ships, able to bear down on a battlecruiser and take it out with its torpedoes.  Destroyers were originally designed as, and named, torpedo boat destroyers, but at some point became referred to simply as destroyers when their roles expanded.  They went through many iterations, but were essentially smaller cruisers designed with the sole purpose of hunting down and destroying torpedo boats, and had much more powerful weaponry as well as torpedoes to fulfill this purpose.  As such, they were employed as escorts for larger, slower warships (to protect those warships from torpedo boats).  They were designed to have the long range and speed to keep up with their fleet, and over time this fact plus their multi-purpose capabilities meant that destroyers began seeing more use as advanced scouts for a fleet as well as direct fleet combatants, anti-submariners, and anti-submarine patrolDestroyers operated in destroyer divisions or units composed of multiple destroyers in order to carry out these tasks.  By WWII destroyers began filling in a niche as (what I’ll very simply call) anti-everything vessels, extremely powerful high-value targets due to the number of guns they would field.  In fact, this pushed several countries to develop smaller corvettes and frigates as anti-submariners in order to take some of the heat off of destroyers.

Galor-class ships are Cardassian vessels that have long skirted the classification between cruisers and destroyers, but ultimately have been classified as destroyers by Starfleet. They most often operate in a destroyer group of three vessels. (Star Trek)

In Sci-Fi – Destroyers would be much like their naval counterparts; ships smaller than cruisers (and usually larger than frigates, though not always) but armed to the teeth with a multitude of weapons.  They’d mostly act as escorts for larger fleets (and likely not for single warships, but exceptions would certainly exist) but can be seen operating in destroyer-only divisions as well.  You could expect to find destroyers fulfilling all sorts of roles because of how multi-purpose they are, even roles that could be fulfilled by other classes that are designed for that purpose.  It would, however, be rare to find a destroyer acting on its own in most circumstances; destroyers are not capital ships and do not operate as patrol craft.  They do not operate independently as a rule, though I know of at least one case in fiction where a super-destroyer acted as an independent ship.  Science fiction, as I mentioned previously, breaks a lot of rules.

The CPV-class heavy destroyer of the Covenant navy. These vessels are used by the Covenant largely for ship-to-ship engagement and glassing operations (that is, a form of bombing or scorched earth tactics). CPVs also have the capacity to function as occupational vessels if needed, cementing their worth as multi-role vessels. We see entire fleets (read; destroyer groups) in Halo Wars. (Halo)

Cruiser

In the Age of Sail “cruiser” was a term used to describe ships which underwent “cruising missions;” that is independent scouting, raiding, and commerce protection missions.  These “cruiser warships” were normally frigates and sloops because there simply wasn’t anything else available at the time.  By the mid 1800s ships began being constructed that were specifically designed for this sort of work, and as such were called “cruisers”.  They could be smaller, like a frigate, or larger, but it was not until the 20th Century that they were consistently scaled to be larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship.

The original Enterprise was a Constitution-class heavy cruiser. It’s capacity for extreme range and independent operation made it a perfect vessel for deep space exploration, but the ship still had the firepower to put up a fight when needed. (Star Trek)

Cruiser roles in the late 20th Century included anti-air defense, shore bombing, and commerce raiding, depending on the navy.  However, the increasing firepower of aircraft made it so that individual cruisers could no longer operate safely, pushing navies to have their cruisers operate in fleets.  Because of this, cruiser fleets were also specialized for particular roles (like anti-submarine or anti-air) and the generalized cruiser fell out of use.

In Sci-Fi – Cruisers are medium-sized vessels, able to operate independently but also commonly seen within a fleet.  They would have the capacity to be used as anti-fighters, planetary bombers, raiders of enemy supply lines, and scouts.  However, they would also be the class of ship most likely to engage in non-combat roles such as exploration or even colonization due to their ability to operate independently for extended periods.  I would not expect cruisers to commonly be used in front-line assaults of an enemy fleet; that role is better left to other ships.  However, they have the firepower, size, and better defensive capability to go up against other ships when needed and it’s not uncommon to see cruisers making up the bulk of fleets in some settings.  It is however, in my admittedly amateur opinion, not the ideal choice; better to fill in that space with destroyers or battlecruisers and battleships.  Cruisers can be considered capital ships in some settings (and in fact, some settings treat any ship over a certain size as a capital ship, regardless of role).

The Pillar of Autumn was a modified Halcyon-class light cruiser. It’s redesign inspired a new class of vessel known as the Autumn-class heavy cruiser. The UNSC is a good example of a navy whose fleets were comprised mostly of cruisers. This was likely due to the kind of warfare that the UNSC dealt with before the Human-Covenant War; most combat was against small Insurrectionist groups, and so extremely powerful and formidable warships were unnecessary. Thus, when the Covenant attacked it was cruisers that had to do most of the fighting. The UNSC did have at least one class of battleship commissioned after the Human-Covenant War. (Halo)

Battlecruiser and Battleship

Battlecruisers (or battle cruisers) are the first vessels in this article to commonly be considered capital ships.  They are similar to battleships, having a similar armament and size, but were generally faster and not as heavily armored by comparison.  Originally fielded by the UK in the early 20th Century, battlecruisers were designed to combat and destroyer slower, older armored cruisers through heavy gunfire.  As time went on (around WWI) they began seeing use as general-purpose ships alongside battleships by all manner of countries.  Unfortunately, battlecruisers were generally inferior to battleships, and in the Battle of Jutland this was perfectly exemplified as both navies lost battlecruisers but no battleships; the light armor of the battlecruisers made them easier targets for heavy guns.  As technology improved battlecruisers were designed with heavier armor.  At the same time, battleships began becoming faster.  These similarities would ultimately cause a blurring between the two classes, and by 1922 the Washington Naval Treaty considered battlecruisers and battleships functionally identical.  The Royal Navy continued to refer to pre-treaty battlecruisers as such, and WWII saw a re-emergence of modernized “cruiser-killer” battlecruisers.  However, only one such vessel actually survived the war, cementing again their general inferiority to battleships.

The CCS-class battlecruiser forms the backbone of the Covenant Navy, and as such provides a powerful example of a battleship-like battlecruiser. They are still considered capital ships despite the fact that they were often fielded in extremely large numbers (but then, battleships in our day were actually fielded in very large numbers as well). (Halo)

The term “battleship” is a contraction of phrase “line-of-battle ship” from the Age of Sails.  If you remember, ships of the line were the largest and most powerful ships that a navy could field and were strong enough to stand within the line of battle.  Modern battleships arose from ironclad battleships in the late 19th Century, and battleships were for decades considered the most powerful type of naval warship.  They were characterized by very heavy armor and large-caliber guns, making them key capital ships.  So influential were they that treaties such as the Washington Naval Treaty were designed, partially, to limit the number of battleships that a particular country could have.  They represented naval might and power, and battleships were so influential in their strength that the simple existence or presence of a fleet, even without leaving port, could create psychological victories for a navy (called a fleet in being).  Battleship tactics often saw other vessels, such as destroyers or cruisers, employing scouting and raiding missions in order to locate enemy fleets before the battleships came in to sweep aside the enemy.  Despite these strengths, battleships were susceptible to smaller weapons such as torpedoes, mines, and aircraft missiles (and thus required the presence of smaller escort ships such as frigates and destroyers to protect them; it’s all circular).  If your battleships fell the fleet would fall, as is the accepted definition of a capital ship.  Presently there are no battleships currently in service anywhere in the world.

Imperial-class Star Destroyers, despite their name, are really more akin to battlecruisers or battleships; they represent the technological might of the Empire, and even the presence of one in a system could instill enough fear in a population to quell any potential uprising. They form the backbone of the Imperial Navy, much like the CCS for the Covenant, and they are also able to operate independently when needed; all rather un-destroyer-like characteristics. (Star Wars)

In Sci-Fi – Despite their unfortunate history, battlecruisers in space tend to operate similarly to battleships, and I would argue there is not much distinction between the two owing, partly, to the blurring of both vessels in our history.  Battlecruisers and battleships, thus, often act as the heavy hitters in a fleet; they are the main combatants and are protected by other vessels such as frigates and destroyers.  Being that they are capital ships, an engagement is usually won through battlecruisers and battleships.  If a distinction is made between the two classes then battlecruisers would likely be quicker and less heavily armored than battleships, and in some settings are not even considered capital ships at all.  But again; rules can be blurry and broken at the whim of any author.  Regardless, battlecruisers and battleships are the truly massive, anti-“large vessel” ships in a fleet.  They are meant to take a lot of punishment and dish out that punishment in kind.  One particular term I see fairly often is “star cruiser.”  In my mind, a star cruiser could either be the equivalent of a cruiser or a battlecruiser; that distinction is likely decided by whether or not star cruisers are considered capital ships, since that then determines the general capabilities of those vessels.  As a general rule I would be bold enough to claim that star cruisers are equivalent to battlecruisers, and named as such because space.

40K is a good representation of a setting where battle cruisers may not be considered capital ships; at the very least in the Ciaphas Cain novel
40K is a good representation of a setting where battlecruisers may not be considered capital ships; at the very least in the Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor’s Hand it is blatantly stated that a particular lord general had to temporarily use an Armageddon-class battle cruiser as his flagship as “none of the capital ships were ready to break orbit in time.” (Warhammer 40K)

Carrier

Aircraft carriers, like destroyers, are very modern classifications.  They are the one vessel in today’s navies that almost anyone can pick out at a glance without fear of mistaking them for something else.  This is due to their extremely obvious design; a very large, flat deck suitable for landing and deploying aircraft.  Put as simply as possible, carriers carry aircraft (whether plane or helicopter depends on the ship).  Historically, the concept of utilizing seagoing vessels for airborne operations was considered as far back as the early 1800s (though with balloons rather than planes).  It was not until the early 1900s, with the invention of seaplanes, that actual aircraft launched from a ship become prominent.  Back then, an aircraft with floats was launched from a modified cruiser or capital ship with a catapult, then recovered by a crane after it would later land in the water.  Semi-successful uses of ship-borne craft in 1914 showed the world how effective such assets could be in war, and heavier-than-air craft started becoming more valuable for the world’s navies.  By 1922, with the Washington Naval Treaty, battleships and battlecruisers (which most navies had too many of to be legal under the new treaty) were being converted into carriers.  The flat-topped design did not become prominent until the late 1920s.

The CAS-class assault carrier is particularly well armed for ship-to-ship combat. However, the vessel’s extremely large size and multiple hangers allow it to carry hundreds of fighter craft, troop dropships, and boarding craft. Being an assault vessel and capital ship it needs to have the extra firepower to personally punch its way through a blockade in order to disperse its payload onto the planet’s surface. It very well exemplifies the Covenant’s technological superiority over the UNSC; a giant ship with a nearly unending amount of fighters that can also rip apart anything the UNSC throws at it. (Halo)

No one can deny the value of single-fighter aircraft.  Planes provide a new dimension from which to attack and defend, and can carry payloads ranging from missiles to bombs to supplies for ground troops.  Aircraft were extremely effective compared to even the best guns as they were more accurate and had the benefit of extreme maneuverability.  That said, carriers suffered from a lack of personal offensive and defensive ability, and relied on their aircraft or the rest of their fleet to protect them.  Even so, their aircraft can be considered an extension of themselves and the reign of the battleship was brought to a close when U.S. ship-borne craft sunk numerous Japanese super battleships, the largest battleships ever made.

In Sci-Fi – Carriers tend to be some of the largest capital ships around due to the need to hold and transport large numbers of fighters, bombers, and other craft.  Typically, though not always, their hull-mounted armaments are light; carriers usually rely on the large numbers of fighters they carry (when operating solo) or their fleet for defense and attack of other ships.  The ability to carry craft does not make a ship a carrier by default; many frigates and cruisers, for example, will carry a compliment of fighters or a few ground vehicles.  In order to be considered a true carrier the vessel’s main role needs to be the transport and deployment of smaller craft (or troops; as far as I’m concerned not all carriers are extremely large and I would classify troopships and assault ships as small carriers).

Dreadnought

It’s difficult to talk about historical dreadnoughts without also talking about battleships.  The first dreadnought was the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, a large and heavily armored battleship that ran on steam turbines (and thus made her the fastest battleship at the time).  Dreadnought operated on an “all-big-guns” philosophy, giving her more heavy-caliber guns than any other ship at the time instead of smaller, quicker-to-fire secondary guns.  Her creation was extremely influential in her time, and she spawned a new variant of battleship called “dreadnoughts” (and battleships made before her were designated “pre-dreadnoughts”).  Thus, strictly speaking, dreadnoughts are just particularly large and powerful battleships.  As such they carry the same characteristics of battleships; they are capital ships, represent naval power and influence, and would need a fleet to protect them from smaller vessels and weaponry.

The Executor-class Star Dreadnought, also known as the Executor-class Super Star Destroyer, was one of the largest (if not the largest) warships fielded by the Imperial Navy. Over 11 times as long as an ISD (that’s 19km), the Executor was Darth Vader’s personal flagship and inspired fear wherever it went. It was, unfortunately, taken down by a single pilot in a doomed fighter, but this just shows the vulnerability of larger vessels to smaller, quick-moving craft. (Star Wars)

In Sci-Fi – Dreadnoughts are a just about always gigantic ships; massive vessels that dwarf even the largest battleships or battlecruisers.  The role they fulfill is exactly like a battleship or battlecruiser; complete dominance and superiority.  Intimidation, even more so than with battleships, is the name of the game when it comes to dreadnoughts.  When you have a multi-mile long ship bearing down on a fleet you know the enemy’s morale is precarious at best.  Due to their large size they can often carry a large number of secondary craft, like a carrier, but their extremely powerful armament would tend to exclude them from that definition.  A dreadnought carries a bunch of craft because it can, and this adds to its lethality.  But its true strength is its overwhelming firepower, plus its usually resilient armor.

Other Terminology

Whew.  We’re about 5000 words in and I’m starting to lose steam, but let’s go over a few other things before I end today.  You may have noticed some terms floating around that I’ve used but not really elaborated on, like “heavy” and “assault.”  Those terms actually mean something, and so I’m going to take the last part of this article to explain them.

Armored: This is very self-explanatory and I don’t think I have to spend many words on it.  An armored vessel is one with more resilient-than-normal armor than others of its classification.  They can, theoretically, take more punishment.

Assault: By definition, an “assault” in warfare is usually the first phase of any particular attack.  You can have aircraft assaults, or spaceship assaults.  However, sci-fi lexicon also seems to borrow the term from the concept of amphibious assaults.  These are operations where ships land ground (or air) forces upon a particular location through some sort of landing site like a beach; D-Day is a prime example of this.  Assault vessels, therefore, are designed for assaulting an enemy planet, installation, space station, etc.  They are usually designed to carry large numbers of troops, vehicles, drop ships, supporting aircraft, and the like; they assault the planet by being the first ships to touch down and dispense their payload and then get the hell out of dodge while the ground forces do their thing.  Sometimes they need the brunt force of a fleet to allow them to get to the planet in the first place, but then you have ships like the Covenant’s CAS-class assault carrier that can do that job themselves.

Acclamator-class assault ships were used during the Clone Wars to great effect, allowing for the rapid and powerful deployment of clones onto a planet. Acclamators are a good deal larger than frigates, which classifies them as cruisers or even small carriers (considering their transport role). Despite their main function as troop transports a fleet of Acclamators could engage in a Base Delta Zero, the bombardment and total surface destruction of an entire planet. A single ISD, by comparison, could do that by itself in less than a day. (Star Wars)

Light and Heavy: I described the Halcyon-class (from Halo) as a light cruiser, while the later Autumn-class is a heavy cruiser.  So what’s the difference there?  Generally speaking, whether a particular vessel is light or heavy refers to the payload of its weapons.  Sometimes the resilience of its armor may come into play (again; exceptions exist), but overall a vessel’s status as light or heavy is dependent on its guns.  A light vessel has a lighter armament, while a heavy vessel, naturally, has a heavy armament.  As such, you’d expect heavy vessels to be more useful in an engagement.  Light vessels, meanwhile, would probably see more use in non-combat and support roles.  At the very least they are less specialized for direct large-scale engagements.  The various frigate classes in Halo are perfect examples of this; the Paris-class is a heavy frigate and very specialized for space combat.  The Charon-class and Stalwart-class light frigates, meanwhile, were more jack-of-all-trades ships that saw more use as ground-support vessels and fleet support.  Of course remember; sometimes you gotta make do with what you have available.

Super: I think this one is fairly self-explanatory as well.  A super vessel is, for lack of a better word, just a bigger version of whatever classification of vessel it is we are talking about.  Because of their increased size they almost always have much better armor and much stronger weapons than the “normal” variant.

The Covenant’s CSO-class supercarrier is the largest non-Forerunner ship we’ve seen in the series. Visually based very similarly on the assault carrier (and I really don’t like that, if I’m to be honest) it was almost 29 kilometers long and powerful enough to take on entire fleets on its own. Super indeed. (Halo)

And there you have it.  Hopefully you have a better understanding of space combat and ship classification.  I know I learned a lot by doing this; already I’ve starting thinking about things differently.  Just the other day I finished the Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium omnibus and I had a better appreciation for some of the scenes in the last book (The Traitor’s Hand) that described a battle taking place in the planet Adumbria’s orbit.

Please don’t hesitate to use this information however you see fit.  I hope it brings a sense of realism and authenticity to your games and I hope you appreciated my attempt at a comprehensive guide to ship taxonomy.  With any luck it did someone somewhere some good.

16 May 21:37

Poop KABOOM

Tertiarymatt

Max's costumes over the films.

I’ve written before about how much the evolution (or de-evolution) of Max’s costume is my favorite part of the original Mad Max trilogy, but seeing Fury Road this weekend had me wanting to more thoroughly document all the basic changes I’ve noticed to Max’s gear throughout the first three films, especially since the costume (and Max’s poor V8 Interceptor) is the only really consistent thread of continuity between any of the movies.My buddy Mike Russell pointed out that with every Mad Max sequel being a story retold by someone else as a kind of “history of future past”, continuity between each these films isn’t important, but it *is* nice to see how much attention to detail George Miller’s costumers have paid to Max’s gear during his journey from MFP Headquarters, to Broken Hill, to Thunderdome and beyond&hellip;.

I’ve written before about how much the evolution (or de-evolution) of Max’s costume is my favorite part of the original Mad Max trilogy, but seeing Fury Road this weekend had me wanting to more thoroughly document all the basic changes I’ve noticed to Max’s gear throughout the first three films, especially since the costume (and Max’s poor V8 Interceptor) is the only really consistent thread of continuity between any of the movies.

My buddy Mike Russell pointed out that with every Mad Max sequel being a story retold by someone else as a kind of “history of future past”, continuity between each these films isn’t important, but it *is* nice to see how much attention to detail George Miller’s costumers have paid to Max’s gear during his journey from MFP Headquarters, to Broken Hill, to Thunderdome and beyond….

15 May 13:00

Detail from page 371 of Family Man, now online!No bunny trauma...

Tertiarymatt

The face of a determined murderer of bunnies.



Detail from page 371 of Family Man, now online!

No bunny trauma in this page! No really I promise.

15 May 07:00

Family Man Page 371

by Dylan

Family Man Page 371

13 May 18:14

Take one article by Mallory Ortberg on The Toast about the weird...

Tertiarymatt

Thing that I always thought about the pre-flood world: God made women so amazing that angels wanted to get with them.



Take one article by Mallory Ortberg on The Toast about the weird Madeleine L’Engle book “Many Waters” and add one conversation with Carla Speed McNeil about the enduring appeal of sexy evil glam angels and then turn it into a mutual dare.

Tyadaaaaaa

09 May 00:25

Imaginary Conversations

by Brad
Tertiarymatt

This is one way in which having a "quieter" mind would be qualitatively different.

Haley_Joel_Osment_ml_140910_16x9_992First off, tomorrow, like almost every other Saturday, I’ll be leading Zen at the Veteran’s Memorial Center 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome! It starts at 10:00am not 9:30 tomorrow. There will be yoga led by Nina Snow before zazen.

And next weekend I’ll lead a 2-day retreat at Against the Stream, Nashville co-sponsored by the Nashville Zen Center May 16-17 and I’ll be speaking in Nashville at Against the Stream, Nashville on May 19th. For more info go the the Nashville Zen Center’s website of the Against the Stream, Nashville website.

Oh! And commenting on the blog works again! Hooray!

–   –   –

Last week a guy asked me about imaginary conversations. He said he spent a lot of energy engaging in imaginary conversations with people he knew. These often stressed him out and made him upset.

I imagine everyone does this. I clearly remember bringing a lot of these imaginary conversations up to my Zen teachers when I’d have private talks with them. But when I did, they always shifted the focus of the conversation we were actually having right then and there on to something more concrete and real. It took a while to get the message that these imaginary conversations weren’t actually very important.

Still, they went on all the time. Some of them kept me awake at night. Some of them gave me bad headaches or indigestion. Some of them made me so distracted I’d forget what I was actually doing and screw things up for myself. Even though the conversations were imaginary, they had real world consequences.

Nowadays I have very few imaginary conversations. Oh sure, they happen sometimes. But not that often and usually only when I deliberately try to have them for some specific reason. Like when I need to figure out how I’m going to explain something to someone with whom I’ll have very little time. Or I sometimes work out what I’m going to say at a public talk. But it’s very rare for me to engage in the kinds of conversations in my head that used to drive me to distraction.

I do recall what might have been the last time I had one of these completely unbidden imaginary conversations that really drove me up a wall. I don’t remember all the details. I know it was my grandfather I was going to explain whatever it was to. This imaginary conversation went on and on, taking all kinds of different twists and turns. I was living in Japan at the time and I was going to see him in a few weeks. When I actually got to Ohio and started saying whatever it was, I realized that my imaginary “grandpa” in my mind responded so differently from my real grandpa right in front of me that it was clear the whole imaginary conversation I’d been having with him had been a complete waste of time.

That realization wasn’t what made the imaginary conversations stop. Merely intellectually understanding a thing like that doesn’t do a whole lot.

What worked was my daily Zen practice.

See, when you do Zen for a long time you start to notice that the conversations you have with imaginary people in your head are a lot like a piece of gum that all the flavor has been chewed out of. There’s just no reason to keep that piece of gum in your mouth anymore, so you spit it out.

It was only on retreats that this understanding began to become really clear. Although the half-hour sittings I did every morning and evening helped a lot.

You’re working with habits and habits are hard to break. You think it’s tough to quit heroin or cigarettes? Try quitting a habit of mind that you learned before you were old enough to even go outside on your own and that is reinforced by just about every TV show or movie you see, almost every book, magazine or webpage you read, pretty much every conversation you have with just about anyone about just about any topic. That takes a lot of work.

Quitting the habit of holding loads of useless fake conversations in your mind will not make you any less able to have those kinds of fake conversations when it’s practical to do so. But it will make you sleep better, digest better and maybe even not screw up so many things you try to do.

And that’s today’s little lesson! Thanks!

ONGOING EVENTS

Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

UPCOMING EVENTS

May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER

July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

* * *

Your donations to this blog mean a lot. Thank you!

 

11 May 19:21

Knowing for Yourself Even If There’s Nothing to Know

by Brad
Tertiarymatt

#magicalthinking beat? Or not.

peanutbutterchocoHere’s a Dutch TV show I was on. It’s in English with subtitles.

In this interview I say something that I’ve been saying in a lot of my talks and interviews for the past couple of years. I might have even put this in There is No God and He is Always With You. I can never remember my own books…

Anyway, the idea is this. When I was younger I thought that life was very mysterious and very brief. I wanted to know if there was a reason for all of this. I heard people talk about God and I heard people talk about atheism. But what I wanted was an answer for myself.

I wanted to know concretely if there was a God or if there was an Answer.

Or, if there was no Answer or no God, I also wanted to know that for myself.

I can’t accept that there is a God just because the Pope and Pat Robertson say there is. But, in exactly the same way, I can’t accept that there is no God just because Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens say there isn’t.

This is where I part ways with most of the prominent atheists out there. I am in full agreement that the scientific method is a better way of learning about the history of the Earth than reading the Bible. I see the logic in accepting logic over superstition.

My problem is that both the major spokespeople for religion and the major spokespeople for atheism  seem to be working from the same criteria. Most of us believe the only way to learn the truth is to receive wisdom from outside. The religious believe it will come from the words of religious figures or via a direct message from a divine source, a personal revelation from God. The non-religious think it must come in the form of sense data as interpreted through the intellect. So it becomes a fight over which interpretation of the available data is better.

If that’s what you’re arguing, then the atheists win. No question about it. When asked to choose between ancient fables and modern science, I’ll choose modern science every time. When asked to believe something someone says God told him and something someone else can show me actual data about, I’ll go with the data.

The trouble for me was, that was not the question I was asking. At first I thought it was. But even after I’d decided that science made better sense than religion, I was still left in the dark about what actually mattered most to me.

It took a long time to understand that sense data as interpreted by the intellect was not going to do it for me. Even if the interpretation of that data was as logical as it could possibly be. And even if that sense data was a divine revelation from God on High.

It took a lot of sessions of sitting without seeking for answers before I got a sense that seeking for answers wasn’t the way to go.

I’ve heard a lot of ways of trying to describe what ultimately worked. Dogen wrote about turning the light around and shining it inward. But I tend to picture it more like taking a step to one side.

It’s kind of like there’s an argument. One guy is shrieking, “Chocolate is better than peanut butter!” Another is screaming, “Peanut butter is better than chocolate!” For a while you listen to them, trying to evaluate their claims.

Then one day, you notice that there is a whole world outside that argument. There is real chocolate and there is real peanut butter. So you step to one side and try some peanut butter and some chocolate for yourself. And then you try some pad thai and some curry, then maybe a bit of bicycle riding and feeling sand between your toes…

After a while the argument those guys are having ceases to be important anymore. It rages on, but you’re no longer listening.

Or something like that.

ONGOING EVENTS

Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

UPCOMING EVENTS

May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER

July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT

November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT

* * *

Your donations to this blog mean a lot. Thank you!

12 May 04:24

Comic for May 12th: Gimme Shelter

Tertiarymatt

Click thru. Read things. Think about them. via the Bacon Tornado.

Comic for May 12th, 2015.
13 May 02:13

Heat Dissipation

Tertiarymatt

Hanners and her firemen.

11 May 05:01

Talent

by Ian
Tertiarymatt

I know this is true, and yet still feel like that annoying guy.

Talent

12 May 14:46

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Humans are Amazing!

by admin@smbc-comics.com
Tertiarymatt

Today, in arguments for veganism:

Hovertext: Well, for a certain definition of "think."


New comic!
Today's News:
09 May 08:49

(via Saturn Return by Tertius)

Tertiarymatt

Once upon a time, I made this thing right here. Someday perhaps I will return to my "space songs" project.

06 May 09:48

Listen/purchase: Great Anthem of My Youth by Boduf Songswe were...



Listen/purchase: Great Anthem of My Youth by Boduf Songs

we were good for nothing
we were always lost
visions kept us distant
distance kept us locked

blinking the days away
the years have razors for teeth
now night comes
and by degrees
we are nudged from comfort

hide on mountains rusting
graze on stars and bones
rendered into cyphers
dreaming of return

blinking the days away
the years have razors for teeth
now night comes
we turn to see
you’re out of reach (like always)

06 May 01:25

A Nice Stroll

Tertiarymatt

Oh, come on. May is entirely on point here.




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I will be at TCAF this weekend! You should totally come say hi!