Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Comic Guru To Make Cosmic Splash

This morning I explored the site of Guru Pitka, alter ego of Mike Meyers in the comedy The Love Guru, due for release in mid-June. Love Guru is pushing the envelope of web-based marketing, with Pitka promoting his fictional self through networks from facebook to beliefnet.

Just as Matt Damon's Rounders in 1998 heralded the poker boom, Love Guru may foretell a surge of mainstream interest in the Eastern spirituality subculture. We'll see in a couple months. Meanwhile, I'd say it's worth a moment to visit the site for its laugh-out-loud satire, technical virtuosity, and psychedelic visuals that gave me flashbacks to old Salvia trips. Let us know what you think.

Publicity for Meyers/Pitka will be goosed by controversy. As reported in today's Guruphiliac blog, defenders of Guruism are urging theater owners to "stop distributing or screening the movie till Paramount has made necessary changes to the movie, so that it will not hurt the feelings of the worldwide spiritual and Hindu community."

Therein lies the more profound side of the story. I see meditation as a process of curiosity and exploration, of unconditionally questioning all my ideas and opinions. If I'm sincerely questioning my ideas, only then can I laugh at them. Only then can I see what a great joke it is to assume that Truth can be contained by ideas.

Everyone engages in inquiry, right up to the point where it bumps into deeply-held personal beliefs. Inquiring and believing are mutually exclusive. An ancient sage (or maybe it was Woody Allen) said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." I'd add to that, "... or tell him your beliefs."

In a live-and-let-live society, we must defend individuals from assault, threats, and deliberate deception. But there's no fundamental right to be free from hurt feelings; questioning dogmas will always ruffle feathers. Laughing at beliefs reveals them for what they are: no more than beliefs. It loosens our grip on what we think we understand; it leads to recognition of how profoundly we simply don't know. From that perspective, all pretensions of knowing what it's all about... are pretty damn funny.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I've got a special connection to yesterday's Pennsylvania primary, having grown up in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. My family still lives there, and some of them are close to Governor Rendell. As I wrote in a previous posting, I'm a Libertarian voter myself, but as I follow the Democratic contest, I'm rooting for Obama.

Why am I so viscerally on Obama's side? One thing I've noticed as I watch my mind: I'm revolted each time Clinton or her supporters argue that she should be nominated on the basis of "electability." As best as I can figure, here's why:

Imagine that you're going to a party, hoping to connect with someone for friendship or romance. There are two strategies you could follow. (1) You could speculate about, e.g., what most women are looking for in a man. Then you try to conform yourself to what you think they like. Or (2) You could express your authentic, natural personality, and let the rest take care of itself. If someone is attracted, it'll be to who you really are, rather than to a mask you're wearing.

Same thing when applying for a job. You can imagine what an employer is looking for and then try to fit yourself into that mold. Or you can simply communicate what your real talents are. If you're really qualified for the job, simple honesty is enough to get you hired.

Is it too much to ask of our candidates, that they take the more honest path? That they truthfully tell us about their skills, values, and insights... then let the chips fall where they may? Campaigns should be based on honest communication, at least as a default position! If you're a candidate with ideas that you believe in, and insights you think are good for the country, shouldn't you be concentrated on articulating them? Sharing sincere ideas with the population is beneficial regardless of whether you win this particular election. Indeed, championing ideas may be more important than your personal success.

Every time Clinton opens her mouth about "electability," it comes at the expense of communicating ideas and information about what's best for the country and the world. I don't give a damn if you're "electable"; I care what you stand for!

Buddhism teaches that all things are constantly changing. This means that no one knows who is or isn't electable. The best anyone can do is examine public opinion and voting patterns of the past, and then make assumptions about how they'll apply in the future. It's a guessing game. (God knows that if Clinton were really so skilled at judging electability, she wouldn't have lost so many primary contests so badly.) There's just one matter that candidates can speak to with absolute authority: their own beliefs and values.

In the midst of this world of relative morality and situational ethics, one value that I still find worth supporting is honesty. Also, I've got some person history with politics-as-psychodrama. I voted in 1984; I was 24, and it was my first US election after years in India. I had no enthusiasm for either major party candidate, but in an effort to support the lesser of evils, I voted for Mondale. When he lost 49 states, I felt sick. I had voted for someone I didn't believe in, and didn't even get the satisfaction of a close race. I decided to base my politics purely on conscience (which usually means voting Libertarian), rather than speculating about who'll win.

There's a whole branch of Yoga based simply on acting each moment without attachment to the results. My life goes better when I focus only on which action is correct, rather than what I imagine will be immediately popular. I'll trust a politician who articulates what he/she feels is true and beneficial, and leaves it to God and the pundits to worry about who gets elected.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Crisis of Disappearing American Jobs

I’ve been a computer consultant for decades. During the “tech bubble” of the late 90s, when programmers like me were in great demand, I started working at the San Francisco corporate offices of Gap Inc. Ever since, they've paid me well to design MS Excel spreadsheets, automated with vba code. Aside from a couple of short intervals between contracts, these assignments have been my consistent meal ticket.

A new management team has decided to cut costs by outsourcing all programming work to India. My last day is a week from Friday. Aside from being a possible milestone in my own life… the movement of jobs off-shore is a big issue in the current political debate. I’ll be blogging about the political, economic, and spiritual significance of the phenomenon. It may take a few postings to do so, but I’ll at least get started today. Anyone who disagrees with my views is always invited to comment, letting me know where you think my thought-process has gone wrong.

By sending the work off-shore, Gap is losing my proven skills, and my years of experience with their specific needs. They’re losing my availability to present my work face-to-face, with no language barrier. Due to these factors, it may take 3 or more workers in India to replace me. But since the Indians work for a fraction of what I get paid, Gap can hire several of them to replace me, and still save significant money.

The city of San Francisco requires local businesses to provide certain benefits to all employees, such as sick leave and health benefits. This translates into a few extra dollars per hour in costs that get passed on to the Gap. So even if multiple Indians working long hours run up combined salaries that rival my own, the cost of these mandates could tip the balance, making outsourcing the rational choice for my employer.

Why are the Indians willing to work for so much less compensation than I am? If I demand $50/hour to write computer code, why are they doing it for the rupee equivalent of $10? Mustn’t we conclude that their lives are far less comfortable than my own? That the $10 is more vital to them than the $50 is to me?

A little examination reveals that the correlation between money and happiness is non-linear. (Even the Bible says something like that, though in less precise terms.) For someone struggling to provide a family with the most basic necessities of life, each dollar earned is a meaningful boost to his happiness (or decrease to his suffering, if you prefer). But once we get a beyond having to worry about paying the rent, greater earnings, perhaps surprisingly, have little to no effect on happiness.

To be honest, I don’t expect this job loss to downgrade my lifestyle at all. But who knows. Maybe I’ll never find another job at this level. Maybe I’ll have to spend time and effort learning new skills, making myself more productive and useful, in order to get a new job. While I’m retraining, maybe I’ll have to give up a few trips to Vegas, or downgrade my Netflix subscription. It’s highly improbable that the effect will be much more serious than that.

I may lose some luxuries, while a few Indians get help climbing out of poverty. Who could possibly be such a narcissist, such a jingoist, as to consider this a bad thing??

(Yes, of course, many Americans getting laid off are worse off financially than I, and they must give up more than luxuries. That’s irrelevant to my point, which is that the typical working-class American losing his job is wealthy compared to the Indians who are gaining them.)

So what’s with the furor in the US, particularly among Democratic primary voters, against globalization and outsourcing? Why are the candidates demogoging about free trade causing jobs to “disappear”… as if those jobs cease to exist when they leave our borders? (Tangentially: at an Obama rally, a supporter actually ranted that NAFTA is responsible for his job getting outsourced to India… and Barack had to gently remind him that India isn’t in North America.)

Kindly contemplate this issue, and I’ll share more of my own thoughts in an upcoming post.

[In an unrelated matter: I have a sneaking suspicion that some readers of this blog may be interested in a new documentary, “Peyote to LSD: Psychedelic History,” airing on the History Channel, Saturday April 19 at 10 PM.]