The Dhammapada exploration – part 23: Nagavagga

Long time no Dhammapada, but this article is here to fix that. If you’ve played a fantasy roleplaying game before, you’re now thinking, “Wow, ‘naga’, that surely means evil snake people! We’re going to meet the snake lords!” But I gotta disappoint you there. It seems naga also means elephant. This is still an important chapter on self control, let’s see why!

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Your freedoms are eroding as technology becomes more closed

TL;DR: We’re not doing a good job of keeping the Internet and related technologies as open and egalitarian as they used to be, allowing a dangerous oligopoly to reemerge. How can we reverse the trend? And by we, I actually mean you.

I see some worrying signs that we’re going backwards in terms of freedom. Read on for some scaremongering.

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Reviews of 10 vegan cheese alternatives

I recently bragged that I would be sampling many vegan cheese alternatives. So I went ahead and ordered entire boxes full of different vegan cheeses. This is the selection:

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From top left to bottom right:

  1. Sheese Smoked Cheddar Style
  2. Sheese Blue Style
  3. Violife Cheese Slices Cheddar
  4. Violife Cheese Slices Smoked
  5. No-Moo Blue Classic (German: No-Muh Blue Classic)
  6. No-Moo Herbs (German: No-Muh Kräuter)
  7. No-Moo Piquant (German: No-Muh Rezent, not pictured)
  8. No-Moo Mild-aromatic (German: No-Muh Dezent, not pictured)
  9. Wilmersburger slices mushroom
  10. Wilmersburger wedge strong
  11. Wilmersburger wedge herbs

Read on to find out what I think about each of them.

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Switzerland’s own anti-Muslim campaign

The Swiss People’s Party (one of the most powerful parties in Switzerland) has recently launched a campaign against easier naturalization of third-generation foreigners. This is one of the billboards:

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People’s Party campaign, photo by Newsnetz. Note the nazi color scheme.

As a Swiss person, I am way more afraid of the old white men behind this campaign than I am of that hypothetical woman behind her niqab.

These men have in the past:

  • Weakened our education by cutting funding.
  • Managed to make the building of minarets illegal while building Christian churches and Jewish synagogues is still legal.
  • Supported not one but two new laws that undermine privacy, increase surveillance and allow remote wiretapping of Swiss citizens and others on pure suspicion, without a court order. These laws are BÜPF and NDG.
  • Are now supporting another new law that reduces taxes for large corporations while increasing them for individuals, the Corporate Tax Reform Act III.

And they are mostly men. Only 11 of their 65 seats in the national council are under the butts of women.

As a reaction to their billboards I would love to see an interview with a third-generation foreigner who likes to wear the niqab, but I’m pretty sure you won’t find one. The only person I am aware of in Switzerland who even wears a niqab is Swiss through and through: Nora Illi. On the right in this picture as you can surely guess:

Anne Will
Photo by Spiegel/WDR

But since she’s had Swiss citizenship since birth, I guess that won’t be a problem for our geniuses at the People’s Party, eh?

The Dhammapada exploration – part 22: Nirayavagga

It’s Dhammapada-time again! This time we talk about Nirayavagga, the Abyss, the state of woe. In your typical carrot-and-stick duality, you would call this something like hell. Also, there’s some stuff about rebirth.

Again, rebirth is not understood as physical reincarnation by all brands of Buddhism. There is significant disagreement about this. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of physical rebirth (I sure as hell am), rebirth is also be defined as the reconstruction of your illusion of self that happens from any moment to the next.

At any one time your brain holds a certain pattern and a synaptic configuration and whatnot, and that configuration makes you think you are you. But this structure is always changing. Your consciousness gets its image of itself and its surroundings from the sense organs in small snapshots, but it also stores (not like a tape recorder) a memory of many of the past configurations. That means that from moment to moment, you are reborn. The you that was a moment ago has given rise to the you that is now you in a series of interdependent events that started when your brain developed in utero. You will never be that you again. In that sense you are reborn every moment.

By your actions you can influence this rebirth. That’s also part of what all that kamma talk is about. Want some more about self as illusion? Watch Sam Harris give an explanation.

Buddhist philosophers figured that shit out millenia ago, and today’s science is also curious about some of those topics. Topics like free will is an illusion, the self is an illusion, time is an illusion, it’s all very trippy stuff and it’s no wonder that a bunch of ancient monks, bored silly by staring at walls for hours every week, dug into this first.

But now, let’s descend into hell!

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 21: Miscellaneous

The old masters probably had some pretty smart verses that wouldn’t fit neatly into any of the chapters they’d laid out for the Dhammapada, so in the end they thought “screw it, let’s just put them all in a chapter titled ‘Miscellaneous’ and be done with it”. You’d think this would become a boring chapter, but it contains some real gems. Let’s read!

290. If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater.

Chasing after worldly delights, clinging to money, fame, the ego, getting extremely drunk, partying all weekend, amassing Italian luxury sports cars (that break down every time you drive them), those are examples of lesser happiness. You might think they make you happy, but the rest of the Buddhist literature explains why this is a delusion. Soon after buying that Lambo, you find out it can’t fill the hole in you. And then you want another Ferrari. But guess what? That Ferrari won’t plug what’s missing either. This type of craving for belongings is a never-ending cycle that can only be stopped by avoiding it in the first place, by recognizing what it is.
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Microsoft’s x86-on-ARM is a sign of the times

I’m just writing this to be a total prick and rub your face in things and make you angry at me, because now even Microsoft is taking ARM seriously after announcing an x86-on-ARM emulator for Windows, and six years ago I told you (more or less) so. But anyone in computing could have made that prediction at the time, so don’t be too angry. It seems I was quite optimistic back then. Let’s see what happened to the rest of my predictions:

  • I said Atom would never catch up to ARM in terms of energy efficiency or power consumption vs. performance. This is probably one reason why Intel dropped their Atom for mobile processors now. So I got that one right.
  • I said the Linux kernel would play a big role in this and would expand to more and more devices. Since then things like the Raspberry Pi were introduced, Chromecast happened, the Amazon Fire TV stick thingy came out, cheap Chinese Android TV boxes are a normal thing, the Amazon Echo appeared and all of these run Linux. Devices that sold millions or even dozens or hundreds of millions of units. I’ll rate that as correct.

These are things probably anyone could’ve predicted. Were there people doubting ARM at the time? I don’t know. Maybe Microsoft was, but that was under old management and old management was not good at seeing the signs. Ballmer was good at propping up the old business model, but completely uninspired with regards to innovation.

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