bookmark_borderPost-425: Buddhist Digital Resource Center

(3600 words)

The “Buddhist Digital Resource Center” (BDRC) ( was the topic of an interesting talk I was able to attend this year.

This organization, the BDRC, is devoted to Buddhist texts: finding them wherever they may be, restoring-and-cleaning them as needed, scanning them, uploading them, hosting them on the Internet, and making them accessible. The last point there (“making them accessible”) is a lot more involve than it may sound.

This work is privately funded and is preservationist in nature. The originals of these Buddhist texts are always left with the original owners if that is at all possible (or otherwise, I presume, deposited in museums or archives in the country in which they originated).

Buddhist texts of various languages, scripts, conditions, and provenances are involved, but Tibet has an enduring pride-of-place with this organization. The role of Tibet in this thing is an entire interesting backstory, and that backstory was one of the reasons why this talk ended up so surprisingly rewarding in the best tradition of public lectures (which were once such an important part of our civic and intellectual culture).

I was interested to get a window into a subject-matter with which I was not much acquainted.

I feel compelled to record some of what I heard and learned as faithfully as I understand it, and other observations or thoughts on the project, its background, and what it all means.

Continue reading “Post-425: Buddhist Digital Resource Center”

bookmark_borderPost-424: Maddy’s Taproom, r.i.p. (2011-2020)

Maddy’s Taproom,” a bar, previously of downtown Washington D.C.

I remember when I saw that it had been abandoned. It was late in 2020. There it was, boarded up. Closed permanently. “Retail space available” signs were up.

I later learned that Maddy’s Taproom had closed several months earlier, in July 2020. It had been doing fine as of February 2020.

The picture I use here is lifted from the Internet. It is what the street-corner entrance looked like in the 2010s. Now imagine boards of plywood over all the glass-windows and doors. Now imagine me, on the sidewalk diagonal across, seeing the place in its permanently-closed-and-boarded-up condition for the first time. It was a sad moment.

I had some memories and some passing appreciation or fondness for this place, Maddy’s Taproom. That day I passed by in 2020, I didn’t know that the place had gone down. Gone. Another victim of that great monster, the year 2020.


(4750 words)

Maddy’s Taproom, as I say, was a low-priced bar. What I recall of the inside is wooden tables and chairs, a few booths, low lightning, working toilets, and cheap beer. There was some kind of low music but it didn’t interfere with conversation. The clientele that I encountered there was mellow, unpretentious. Nobody around had a particularly bad attitude. It was a relaxed place. It was a pleasant place. That is why I steered people there occasionally. It is why I am writing this “ode” or recollection and commentary on the place.

Continue reading “Post-424: Maddy’s Taproom, r.i.p. (2011-2020)”

bookmark_borderPost-423: A pall over the Olympics of 2021 – and Japan vs. Korea differences

(Originally written in August 2021 with minimal material; recovered from the “Drafts” folder after the site move; and filled in, March 2023.)

I enjoyed watching the Olympics in summer 2021.

However, a “pall”was cast over the whole year of 2021 and all that happened, or tried to happen, or might, or wished to have happened, under that “pall.” That includes the Olympics. The pall was the extension of the disruptions and panic over a flu-virus. The long-disruption continued to disrupt my own life-plans and goal and aspirations in 2021. Seeing the Olympics disrupted was a symbol of that.

I really resented this phenomenon, a triumphant social-movement with political backing, practically amounting to a coup d’etat (or as I heard someone propose it: a “flu d’etat”). I thought a lot about why/how it happened and continue to do so (in 2023). What social, cultural, political, or technological factors caused this thing? Many ideas have been aired on the matter, but I don’t think we have at all come to terms with them. I don’t think our world of circa-2000 or circa-2010 could have pulled this off, but the world of 2020 did.

Japan, the host of the Olympics of 2020 (–>2021), was captive to the powerful international flu-virus panic coalition and acted in obedience to it. It is somewhat true that in Japan a tradition of civilian use of surgical-masks in public existed, at least I say so based on several visits. I recall how, on my very first pass through Japan en route to South Korea for the first time (2009), a medical team in hazmat suits boarded our plane to inspect passengers for “swine flu” before giving the all-clear and letting us off the plane, where I proceeded to wait for a connecting flight, full of that great-gift of nervous-excitement about what South Korea and hagwon teaching might have in store. I remember distinctly laughing at this over-concern. Soon enough these measures were dropped, and absolutely everyone outside a tiny sliver of medical-researchers forgot entirely about H1N1 “swine flu.” On entry into Inchon Airport, there was a single 3×5″-style card that had about three questions on it, to the effect: “Do you have symptoms of flu? YES / NO.” I circled “No,” handed it to a bored-looking woman collecting them. She didn’t bother even glancing at the card. I proceeded towards the arrival terminal. A few kids at the hagwon made some kid-like comments about H1N1, but soon everyone forgot about it.

Some of the commentary in 2020 praised South Korea as having “defeated the virus” in part by loyal mask-wearing, which (the commentators said) was a pre-existing widespread practice in South Korea. Having spent a number of years in South Korea in a variety of situations, I can say that is false. There was no tradition of widespread mask-wearing in the sense the advocates of the panic of 2020 were alleging. Very occasionally you might see a few masked people during so-called yellow-dust season, but these masks could easily be missed entirely if you weren’t looking for them, and were only seen out-of-doors, not indoors. In short, in my experiences through much of the period 2009-to-2019 in South Korea, none of the mental images I have are of people with masks. I bet if I reviewed all the photos I had from that period, none would include someone with a mask in the background (with the sole exception of the brief MERS panic of 2015.)

I remember having my eye out for differences between South Korea and Japan on my visits to the later. The two very much seemed very similar. Although there is a significant language-gap (especially now that Korea has severed its intellectual association with Chinese-characters), much of what one sees and experiences in the two countries are very similar to an outsider. I remarked, at the time, that the two are almost analogizable to different regions of the same country. In this context, what major-and-noticeable differences there were would stand out. I remember distinctly making a list of “differences between Korea and Japan.” Near the top of the list was that you’d see some people parading around in surgical masks. This strange phenomenon was usually women looking to hide from the public, or so I concluded in 2015, perhaps somewhere in the pages of this blog. This was achieved in Korea usually through other means, as with maybe large-sunglasses and a low-rising hat of some kind, maybe a scarf, but not a surgical mask (before 2020).

On the Olympics, when Japan announced it would delay the Olympics, then ban most international visitors, impose certain brutal requirements of quarantining and testing for those few allowed in, even ban domestic spectators, it made my heart sink. That was not because I wanted spectators, but because it signaled there was still a lot of fuel left in the flu-virus panic which was causing so much real damage as I perceived it, including damage to my own life-plans and hopes and goals. Japan’s series of cutback and draconian measures related to the Olympics were signals that this strange social-movement, this global-scale politicized obsession over one flu-virus, would last through not only annus horribilis 2020 but also probably through calendar-year 2021, and (as I guessed some time  in maybe spring 2021), if it lasted strong through 2021 it would very assuredly continue through the winter 2021-22 (flu season), but then if we are so lucky it could fade0out in spring, when flu viruses always fade, which is what happened.

I had never really believed the central claims behind the panic (if “claims” is even the proper term; it was all rather highly sensationalized from the start). The claims emerged into a hegemonic social force emerged, beginning some time in March 2020. I recall having evaluated the claims and rejected them, on available data, in mid-March 2020 already. It became a lonely time indeed because so few were on that side (many more were later). I saw the panic as a social phenomenon divorced from the data, and got very little for being right  about it. Seeing friends embrace the panic was dispiriting. I felt like one of those characters in a Twilight Zone episode who wakes up to find aliens have taken over normal people’s thoughts.

Here I am in spring 2023 filling in this bare-bones draft, putting meat on what I wanted to say. Having written a thousand words, I overshot my target, but I hope someone at some time (perhaps myself much later) gets some use of this. As I try to recall now the Olympics of summer 2021 two years on, I realize that I don’t recall any specific sporting events. I do recall watching some of them. I did watch some of them, and followed with some interest. But I don’t readily recall any of it. Instead I remember the “pall” over the whole thing, a “pall” over the whole of the early 2020s.

One reason I don’t remember many specifics of the “2020” Olympics (held in mid-2021) is that so much of public life was depressed and anti-social even into that time. An event like an Olympics or a World Cup of soccer is necessarily public-spirited. I can recall specific scenes of previous Olympics, but when I draw into my memory-bank I often come up with scenes involving other people in some way (which, alas, is the sociological purpose of sports spectacles for the large majority of those in any way peripherally involved). I conclude that we, humans, are not meant to experience life “through screens,” if that’s all there is to it.

bookmark_borderPost-422: “Will an Afghan pullout occur?” (Washington Post, Feb. 1988)

(This is from the “Drafts” folder, written in 2021 but never posted. It has successfully survived the latest blog-migration. Edited in March 2023.)


I hear that the U.S. president gave a press conference yesterday (August 18, 2021) which went about like this: “Good afternoon. Virus virus virus, virus virus, virus, — ahem, let me see, oh, Yes, — Virus virus virus…” and so on. He then abruptly left the room without taking questions.

The performance was remarkable because it was a few days after the dramatic collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghanistan government, about which I wrote a few days ago (“Who Lost Afghanistan?“). He  had still not mentioned the word at all.

“Afghanistan” has shaped up to be just about the worst blow to U.S. prestige in some time. That’s what people are saying, from high-ranking various highfalutin nabobs in Europe denouncing Biden down to the level of the Smartphone-peasant interested in outrage and sensation. These latter are excitable and easily distractable people of the Smartphone era, the instant-everything era.

The tech-landscape of 2020 is what I believe caused the panic of 2020, and in principle it can cause other panics, and actually I think the entire system now glides along on these panics. It is a truism that countries and organizations could have better foreign-policy outcomes if they were aware more of past experience, and not in a propagandistic way but in a sober way, but the way people consume information does not at all encourage this.

I was on a long flight and was stuck in a airline delay (14-hour delay in a layover city) when the news of the ongoing collapse began to spread. People standing around began circulating the word. With instant-updates something they’d otherwise be aware of at long arm’s distance became real. As usual now, everyone with any interest became a mini AP newswire and expert commentator.

The surrealism of the bland virus talk amid the Afghanistan panic and uproar was so striking not because virus-virus-virus is so different from what these people have been talking about for about a year-and-a-half now (the extended annus horribilis 2020, the year of lockdown carried over into 2021), but because he seemed to be studiously ignoring the Afghanistan debacle. Everyone wants to know about the Afghanistan collapse; no one cares about the virus-virus-virus talk (for now).

I immediately thought to 1989 and wondered how the Soviet Union handled its pullout from the same muck it had foolishly became involved in. To that end, I found a 1988 Washington Post article commenting on then-rumors the Soviet Union’s proposed withdrawal from Afghanistan. The article (“Does Moscow Really plan on leaving Afghanistan?”) is dated some months before the Soviet Union’s detachment from that place actually began. I copy the text below as a historical document.

In reading the Washington Post article today, we have to judge the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan over nine or ten years as relatively more successful than the USA’s. It took years for the Soviet-backed government to lose after 1988/89, whereas the USA’s client state collapsed so spectacularly within mere weeks of the pullout signal, and after a much-bigger investment by USA’s taxpayer (said to be two or three trillion dollars) who never got a vote on whether it was a good idea to sink twenty years on such a project or not. A huge investment of extremely questionable wisdom or the usual imperial hubris. In other words, it looks like it was “for nothing.” How many thousands of miles of high-speed rail or maglev could have been up by now with even a healthy portion of that two or three trillion?

In any case, the Washington Post article deals with the same question as the Smartphone-experts are so concerned with today, except that the historical actor of Biden-2021 is replaced with Gorbachev-1988. As a foreign-policy problem, all the pins are standing, aligned to very similar places on the floor, and the onlookers are saying similar things. The biggest difference is that the Cold War spirit has this writer in the Washington Post (Lally Weymouth, 1943-, who seems to have had elite connections to the newspaper) reflecting the USA’s pro-“Mujaheddin” positioning of the time. She even has a section on the “Mujaheddin” reaction to the withdrawal rumors, alongside China’s, Pakistan’s, and so on.

A lot of Cold War cheerleaders praised the CIA’s backing of the “Mujaheddin” as some great victory worthy of recalling in song and story (and movie). That Mujaheddin later became known as “the Taliban.” The old myths about how great the CIA was for backing them get tangled up in the Taliban’s status as bad-guys. The whole thing is confusing, and a little ridiculous. Such was the Afghanistan venture of the 2000s, 2010s, and its farcical denouement of 2021.

I remember already as early as 2006, one day, suddenly thinking: “Why are ‘we’ still in Afghanistan?” Jumping ahead fifteen years, my skepticism was right. In the meantime, around 2008 and 2009, a cousin of mine who enthusiastically embedded himself in a career in the U.S. Air Force (now somewhere else in the national-security apparatus) was in Afghanistan. He spoke of what he did as being part of a team going from village to village team handing out goodies to village elders. Virtually anything they wanted they would get. Interesting, I thought, but a little ridiculous to play Santa Claus with the U.S. military.



By Lally Weymouth
Washington Post, Feb. 21, 1988

Islamabad, Pakistan — “I have never seen a test case like this,” says French diplomat Jean-Francois Deniau of the proposed Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. “It’s the only way we can see if Gorbachev can do what he says. It’s so important for freedom and for hope. It’s like D-Day … We can’t accept that a question like this will receive a false solution.”

Continue reading “Post-422: “Will an Afghan pullout occur?” (Washington Post, Feb. 1988)”