synthetic zero


January 31, 2002

At the end of our street, filled with beautiful turn-of-the-century houses and dilapidated old genteel apartment buildings, is a fairly blocky grey tall apartment building. For years, however, breaking up the monotony of that building was this red neon heart that shone all day and night from one of the windows about a third of the way down from the top. Some tenant had put this in their window, a curious and ironic comment, an ornament that transformed an unimaginative and somewhat oppressive rectangular prism into something somehow human, comforting, with a sense of humor.

One day, however, much to the sadness of the residents of our street, we noticed the heart was gone. That tenant had finally moved out. At that time, I told friends that I hoped someone else would take up the tradition of the red neon heart and put at least some colored light in their window. I didn't really expect it to happen --- but this is Portland, you never know. Lo and behold, a month or so later, someone put a red light bulb in their window, which they left on for much of the evening. Then someone else put in a red light, and someone added a green light next to it, and another person put in two red lights. There is also yet another greenish light off to the right, which you can't see in this picture.

I wonder if these folks all independently decided to add color to their building, or if they talked to each other? Either way it's nice to see that when one good thing goes away here, it is replaced by many other good things. It's a group artwork for a disappeared mini-icon: Tribute to a Red Neon Heart.

January 30, 2002

Warning: explicit sexual content ahead (albeit discussed in a clinical fashion).

For a couple of reasons the topic of circumcision has popped up recently. To tell you the truth, for most of my life I never much thought about this. I recall, when I was a kid, noticing other boys' penises looked a little different from mine, but I figured, whatever, people are different. It was only slowly that I even became aware of the word "circumcision" and I had no idea what most people meant by it. I certainly never thought of the fact that I am uncut as any sort of handicap.

A few weeks ago I saw this episode of Sex in the City in which one of the women freaks out because she discovers the man she's into is uncircumcised. Various "funny" events ensue. I got to thinking about this: what's the big deal? These days, only 65% of boys are circumcised in the United States; but at the time I was born it was something like 93%. (It's a lot lower on the West Coast than the East Coast, apparently). However, almost no one in Europe or Japan is, except for religious reasons. This is a peculiarly American obsession. There were at one time supposedly health justifications for this practice, but these days it is generally accepted that circumcision is medically unnecessary.

But it's worse than that: there are some major downsides to circumcision. Because the foreskin is far more sensitive than ordinary skin --- at least as sensitive as the lips and more sensitive than eyelids, circumcision apparently causes a major loss of sexual sensitivity, as much as 50-75%, during sex, because, with an intact erect penis, the foreskin stretches and is exposed. Furthermore, the effect of completely exposing the glans is to cause the skin to toughen, further reducing sensitivity over time. What's worse, male circumcision is worse for the woman as well, because it removes the natural lubricating effect of mucous-membrane-to-mucous-membrane contact, requiring increased or artificial lubrication. In a way, I find the Sex and the City episode to have been quite irresponsible, because it actually ended with the man choosing to become circumcised, and then going off to sow his wild oats, because now he could sleep with so many more women. In essence, encouraging people to undergo this unnecessary and potentially quite harmful operation. Thankfully, though I was born here, my parents followed Japanese custom and chose to leave me whole.

If you're having a baby boy, seriously consider not having him circumcised (unless you must for religious reasons). If you are uncircumcised, for God's sake don't do it now. And, believe it or not, if you are circumcised, there are apparently some options for partially restoring the foreskin (impossible though that sounds). Like they say... "you don't know what you're missing." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Meanwhile, after a flawed but ultimately relatively successful campaign in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration predictably veers off course, threatening not only Iraq and North Korea but also Iran, quashing the civil rights of immigrants, and, in domestic policy, covering up their complicity in the fashioning of policy that helped Enron avoid public scrutiny for too long. We have gone from a crisis situation where the road ahead was relatively clear to a muddled situation where the direction of this government is drifting dangerously towards the same arrogance and unilateralism that characterized their pre-war policy. The stupid people are gaining sway yet again. It could be very dark times ahead, indeed, for us all, if this Administration doesn't get its act together. Sadly, I suspect the chances for this are very slim.

January 29, 2002

William Fields has a new idea for collaborative filtering using Google and personal websites: submonitions. The idea is, make a page with the word "submonitions" on it, also listing a bunch of stuff you like/find cool/etc. Then when you want to find people with similar taste, to see what else they might recommend, enter "submonitions" into Google, followed by some stuff from your own list. You should get your own page followed by other pages with those same items in it.

The only problem with this idea is that Google typically requires that all keywords you enter be in the page you're looking for. AltaVista, however, does not. You could enter "+submonitions" followed by a bunch of keywords from your list, and AltaVista will return pages that have some, but not necessarily all, of your items.

Furthering the conversation about creativity, etc., Heather Anne Halpert sends me this link about genius.

I've recently been doing some investigation into gender differences in perception of attractiveness. Using hotornot as a baseline sample, I asked various female friends of mine to rate some of the men and explain why they gave their ratings. In many cases I couldn't understand what the aesthetic was: but my friends would say "he looks nice" or "he looks disorganized" as reasons for a higher or lower rating. I realized that, for women, various cues to a guy's personality will actually affect their raw perception of physical attractiveness... whereas for men, these cues get factored in later, when the guy is thinking about things like long-term compatibility, etc. I posted my picture just to see what would happen, and sure enough I got ratings all over the place, from 1 all the way to 9 (where were the 10's, I ask you.) It seems fairly doubtful to me that women typically get such a wide distribution of ratings. Maybe the 1's were frightened off by my long hair, my beard, the poster, my ethnicity, or who knows what, and the 9's... well, I'd kind of like to talk to those women... (just to find out what they were responding to.)

January 28, 2002

Ruthie's Double is back!

I was just reading this book by the Dzogchen master Namkhai Norbu and came across this excellent quote, which anyone interested in Buddhism, Dzogchen, or Eastern traditions in general ought to read and know:

...those who already have a certain familiarity with Tibetan culture might think that to practice Dzogchen you have to convert to either Buddhism or Bon, because Dzogchen has been spread through these two religious traditions. This shows how limited our way of thinking is. If we decide to follow a spiritual teaching, we are convinced that it is necessary for us to change something such as our way of dressing, of eating, of behaving and so on. But Dzogchen does not ask one to adhere to any religious doctrine or to enter a monastic order, or to blindly accept the teachings and become a 'Dzogchenist'. All of these things can, in fact, create serious obstacles to true knowledge.

Of course this applies to everything, not just Dzogchen.

Susan just told me about this strange phenomenon she has noticed at the Chinese Garden Tao of Tea where she works part of the week. The patrons often have moods that seem to go in waves; i.e., one day everyone will order a whole bunch of $1 snacks, or another day every table will order the same combination of teas, or another day nobody orders any snacks at all. It's like the weather. We discussed the possibility that the customers were just seeing what other people ordered and unconsciously doing the same ... the only problem with this hypothesis is that most of the customers wouldn't be able to tell what the other people had ordered, at least in the case of the tea, and some of them were first-time customers so they wouldn't be able to tell from the smell. With the snacks, the customers could see each other --- except there were days when everyone would order all the $1 snacks, then the whole place would clear out, and then the next customers who came in and sat down would again order all the $1 snacks. Cue music.

January 27, 2002

Via my housemate Paul and snarky malarkey: Industorious Clock.

You see me writing here, but I myself often feel like a mute. I have thoughts/feelings which I cannot fully express. My words come out as painful mistranslations, I look at them and think: that's not what I meant. I hold my thought spaces, crystalline, dynamic, in my mind, and sometimes I want to shout them out into the shared space between us. Occasionally someone will understand me, magically, without me saying a word: or with just one word, or a look, or gesture, or a touch. But I forge ahead, oblivious, hoping someone will hear or see or smell these little clues I leave, like traces of hair or fingernail clippings, or faint tracks in the wilderness, and reconstruct something about where I have been: a mystery novel.

January 26, 2002

Talk to the invisible hand.

Furthering the discussion about the relationship between different sorts of mood disorders and creativity, some articles on the relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity:

From Manic Depressive Illness and Creativity, and a page referring to Csikszentmihalyi:

These corroborative studies have confirmed that highly creative individuals experience major mood disorders more often than do other groups in the general population.

From an article about work by Nancy Andreasen on bipolar disorder and creative people:

Manic depression afflicts at least 1 percent of the population, and, in contrast to most mental illnesses, the rate is considerably higher in the upper social and economic classes.

Andreasen completed a study of 15 topflight American writers at the prestigious University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and compared them with others matched for age, education and sex. Ten of the writers had histories of mood disorders, compared with only two from the comparison group. Two of the 10 were diagnosed as manic-depressive, and almost all reported mood swings, including manic or hypomanic (mildly manic) states.

From a note about a book by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb on the subject:

Many recognized geniuses had creative capacities that were driven by bouts of manic intensity followed by the depths of mind-numbing despair. From Plato, who originated the idea of inspired mania, to Beethoven, Dickens, Newton, Van Gogh, and today's popular creative artists and scientists who've battled manic depression, this intriguing work examines creativity and madness in mystery, myth, and history. Demonstrating how manic depression often becomes the essential difference between talent and genius, Hershman and Lieb offer valuable insights into the many obstacles and problems this illness poses for highly creative people.
This almost makes me want to be bipolar myself. In some ways I have some of the traits: I tend to work in bursts surrounded by periods of lying fallow. But I don't have the same degree of highs and lows, and I don't experience the mood swings. Hmm, I wonder if it is possible to add just a little bipolar disorder to one's personality?

January 25, 2002

Let's see here. Former Enron executive who fiercely criticized Enron's accountng practices, who resigned last May because of this, is found dead, shot in the head in his Mercedes, just as he is being vindicated by events. Is there anything even the slightest bit fishy sounding about this?

January 24 (b), 2002

Several days ago Caterina wrote this in response to my post about intelligence and cynicism. In one of the comments (and, by the way, those comments appear at least on my browsers in a window that is both not resizable and too narrow), Kathryn writes the following interesting comment:

In Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Csikszentmihalyi refutes the notion of a 'suffering artist.' After interviewing about ninety people he considered leading creatives in various fields, he came up with a list of common traits that creative people had -- most of which were paradoxes. Creative individuals were both depressed *and* happy.

"10. The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain and yet also a great deal of enjoyment."


I've heard of this "happy but depressed" before --- some of my favorite people are like this, and strangely enough the Lovely Suzanne (owner of the Portland hipster grease joint The Roxy) was once quoted by Monk Magazine as saying "Portland people are depressed, but happy." Maybe that has something to do with the creative atmosphere of this town (he says in its praise, as he prepares to leave it...)

January 24, 2002

Something is going around (Geegaw, Caterina), but there is hope (German study). Ever since I started taking liquid Echinacea when I first noticed the signs of a cold or flu, I noticed a dramatic decline in the severity and duration of my illness. Subjectively, colds that might have lasted several days end up going by in a couple of days --- and in many instances the initial symptoms never develop into full-fledged illness. Of the participants in the study who began taking Echinacea at the first signs of symptoms, only 40 percent developed illness (as opposed to 60 percent of the placebo group), and the median time for recovery for the Echinacea group was four days, as opposed to eight for the placebo group. This matches my personal experience as well --- Echinacea helps me to stave off colds, and when it doesn't, I usually recover in what feels like about half the time. In fact I'm taking it right now to hold off a cold that has been brewing amongst my friends. People used to think that it was only useful to prevent colds, but it seems to actually better at treating colds than preventing them. Still, it is the first thing I've ever tried that really works. It is great stuff.

I finished ripping all my CDs. I used 128kbps VBR (Fraunhofer) which sounds good enough for me. I had to get a better sound card (I got a $100 SoundBlaster Audigy) and moved my "good" computer speakers ($300 Cambridge SoundWorks FPS2000) back to the "music" computer. It sounds fantastic, actually. But what's really wonderful is being able to hear all this music I had forgotten I had. So many CDs which had just gotten stuck into storage, and it's all accessible now. I have 1800 tracks, 8 gigabytes.

Just received an ACLU Action Alert in my email which I figure I'd share with you:

Attorney General John Ashcroft is reportedly considering a plan to relax restrictions on the FBI's ability to spy on domestic organizations .... You can read more about this plan and send a FREE FAX to Attorney General John Ashcroft from our action alert at: http://www.aclu.org/action/spy107.html.


January 23(b), 2002

Everyone is surprised that Amazon showed a profit. But I wasn't. Amazon has always seemed to me to be an actually reasonably run enterprise. Yes, they took some big risks and expanded vastly --- maybe too far --- but they're in the business of actually selling products, not vaporware Internet advertising. They have huge mindshare and for all the hype it did seem to me that it should be possible to make it into a viable business. I thought they'd probably shock everyone and make a profit just as predicted --- but they did even better than that, showing not only a pro forma profit but a real profit.

January 23, 2002

Quantum game theory leads to cooperation instead of betrayal as the most rational strategy. Of course, cooperation is also the more rational strategy even without quantum mechanics if you factor in other effects, such as reputation and systems effects such as the fact that we depend upon the survival of others to allow us to survive --- so there is a built-in reason for compassion and altruism to be a trait that evolves in populations, even if it might not seem rational for someone to sacrifice themselves for the group individually speaking. In other words: compassion is rational, when you take into account interdependency --- which is the actual situation we are in. We are not independent of each other, strictly speaking.

January 22, 2002

The problem with logic is not that it is wrong or useless, but that it is too simple. A logical proposition is always stated within a formal system as either true or false. But real-world propositions only make sense in context; as interpreted within a particular world view (paradigm), from a particular perspective (a speaker or listener or a community of speakers and listeners), at a particular moment in time, and they are often dynamic (scroll down and read Bateson's point 13 in particular). Real-world propositions also rarely map into absolute truth values --- is "it is hot" true or false? Hot for whom? Hot for humans or hot for salamanders or hot compared to the surface of the sun? Of course one can deal with some of these problems by making the logical model more complex, but one can never completely eliminate these problems. There will always be huge gaps in the framework, no matter how elaborate you make it.

Logic is a toy, like a set of building blocks, Erector set components. You can build nice little models with varying levels of power, beauty, and utility. But you cannot build a logical model of the entire world. At best you can roughly approximate one particular way of looking at the world (and even then, only certain ways of looking --- ways that can be decomposed into binary statements --- this leaves out poetry, most of art, etc.). The fact that logic is useful, even indispensable for certain things, doesn't take away from the fact that it cannot be used for everything. One has to be able to pick it up, like a tool, and then set it down again.

Before going to sleep it is helpful to let go of the next, next, next. It's helpful when you're awake too.

January 21, 2002

Toadex has this to say about my King Lear remark in my last entry:

While mixing shit into a baking brick or crepe one day, I happened to see parts of an epidose of the popular television program, "Do You Want To Be A Millionare? And If You Do Then Who Are You? Come On Down!" It was the Olympic Ath-a-l33t edition, well anyhow That's irrelevant. The question came up, and it was Dan Jansen, I'm fairly sure of that, Dan Jansen was playing, and the question came up: Amongst and about who or whom does King Lear divide his kingdom? A His three sons B His three daughters C His three silly answer and D likewise. Mr Jansen was stupid, I mean, stumped (genuine typo in fact), so he decided to poll the audience after failing to get winks or nods from his Olympic Ath-a-l33t compatriots. Results something like: 50%:sons 20%:daughters 15%:stupid answer 15%:stupid answer. So: no, Anyone has not read King Lear.

Bruce Barone sends me this link to a nice photography site.

They say "'tis better to give than to receive" but I think this is more true than it seems. The quality I most love about my friends is not that they give me a lot (though they do), but that they are willing and able to receive. It's actually a gift to allow someone to give you something. So it's not so much that receiving is great: it is being willing to receive what is given that's great.

January 19, 2002

About the photo, Richard writes:


Seeing a photograph of someone for the first time is not unlike seeing a movie after having read a book. Or perhaps it is like the collapse of a quantum mechanical wavefunction. In either case, the abstract, the universal has resolved itself into the particular, into a distinct incarnation. The universe of all possible Mitsus has been narrowed down just a little bit more just as it is gently narrowed down with each new entry or correspondence, each act that serves to give form and substance to our place in this world.

In any case, its a good thing.

Enron employees trusted their management. Ah, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha. The problem was, this was a company in bed with the Bush Administration. If that's not a glaring sign that you better not trust management, I don't know what is. Why is it that it is always the overtly pious and the favorites of the entrenched powers who end up being the worst betrayers of trust? And why does this continually catch people by surprise? Hasn't anyone read King Lear?

One quote from the article makes me feel better about being 36:

Now he, Ms. Stone, Mr. Lindquist and thousands of others are competing in a job market where Enron has won little good will. The company had hired many of the city's and the industry's most talented people. "Enron is not a good name in Houston right now," Mr. Johnson said.

But even if Enron is mostly just a hulk of a business now, it did one thing for its employees: It trained them to do their jobs at a level above the average.

"I know I can outwork those 36- year-olds," Ms. Stone said. "I'll work hard again."

Ah, it's good to feel like the young Turk for just one last moment. I have to savor this, since it's probably the last time I'll feel it.

January 17, 2002

Okay, here it is, what you've all been waiting for (yeah, right), a straightforward, simple photograph of ... me. Taken by my housemate Paul G.

What you expected? Not? Email me whether the answer is yea or nay.

January 16 (b), 2002

Amazing new experiment shows evidence for quantum gravity for the first time.

January 16, 2002

Growing up I had a great deal of faith in myself, the universe, and my family members. I felt I could rely on them and on everything. This didn't mean I felt the same sense of reliability for the world at large: I was raised to be very suspicious and even paranoid about some things. But when it came to the essential reliability of the systems and people very near me, I had no doubts. That is to say: I didn't think they were infallible, I just thought they were very, very competent, very careful, and about as reliable as you could expect fallible human beings to be. Furthermore, when I thought they were fucking up, they accepted my input and adapted, further increasing my confidence. We were a family/universe system of constant evolution.

Of course I say all this now but at the time it was just part of the background of my life, I hardly gave it a second thought. Looking back on it, it seems remarkable, however, given the relative lack of reliability of people I have encountered since my childhood. But a good example of this is the following. I used to go to this high school that was about an hour drive away from my house (in rush hour traffic). Before I could drive, therefore, my father had to take me there and back (some days I stayed with my cousins, who lived close enough I could bike there, but other days I was at home). My dad often picked me up after school on his motorcycle. So, I'd get on, and we'd ride down the freeway towards home. But one thing I particularly remember is that sometimes I would allow myself to just fall asleep there, sitting on the back of the motorcycle, as we rode back. His bike at the time had a big backrest so it wasn't as though I was just sitting there with nothing behind me, but still, I just trusted in my inherent body sense to "know" I was on a motorcycle and I would stay balanced even while asleep. I trusted my dad to ride the bike and take care of me even when I was asleep, sitting behind him. And it all worked just fine. I never fell off (if I had, I doubt I'd be typing this... )

January 15, 2002

When I was in college I was quite clueless about certain things having to do with romance. For example, I had many friends, and I treated most of them the same, whether male or female. Although I was attracted to many if not most of my female friends (since I am a man, I am, like most men, at least somewhat attracted to pretty much any healthy woman who is reasonably smart and at least average-looking --- which at a place like Harvard ends up being about 75% of all the women there --- at least), I almost never hit on any of my female friends.

The funny thing is, as I found out later, some of my female friends developed varying degrees of interest in me. Somehow, I missed all of their signals. The whole thing was kind of sad in a comical sort of way (because I was so stupid). Thankfully this didn't happen every time.

I took two lessons from this: one, I was clueless (which may be attractive to some women I guess --- sort of like being gay --- or being straight but acting gay --- is attractive to some women). But also, my friends were afraid of rejection, perhaps, so they were overly tentative.

January 14 (b), 2002

Is being cynical or negative inherent to being smart? I never used to think so when I was growing up, but one day several years ago when I was at dinner with six or seven other friends of mine, all very brilliant folks, I asked "who here is negative or pessimistic?" I figured about half of them would raise their hands. But they ALL did. I realized I was the only person there who was essentially an optimist. I realized I am a freaky creature, a Stimpy personality with a Ren brain. I had no idea how rare that was until that night.

I suppose it makes some sort of sense. The easiest way to have a trusting, happy-go-lucky personality is to adopt a narrow view of the world, to blindly put your faith in the powers that be, in tradition, in the status quo. You won't have too many worries if you don't question things. On the other hand, another way to be happy is to apply your intelligence so intensely to everything that you find every situation workable. You can work with every problem, no matter how terrible. It involves finding your ground not in any way of thinking or dogma, but in the ground of being itself, which cannot be described or understood completely, ever. And if you go far enough in that direction, you can find that just as supportive --- even more so --- than the narrow approach --- because it cannot be taken away. It is what I like to call "grounded in emptiness."

I suppose it's something like this: some happy people come from a Father Knows Best world and accept it and are happy with that. Others grew up in the Addams Family and are happy with that. Like me.

January 14, 2002

I've decided to rip all my CDs to my FireWire hard drive so I can set up playlists of my music without having to shuffle through my discs. RealJukebox (now called RealOne) is a fairly nice way to do this... a reasonably friendly interface, and it plays while you encode. However, it doesn't come with an encoder that will encode mp3s at bitrates above 96kbps; however, it is a little-known fact that you can get a free plugin that will encode mp3s with the Fraunhofer codec up to 320kbps; just click here to get it if you have RealJukebox or RealOne installed.

And if you want to get the free RealOne player, click here (they do everything they can to redirect you to the $10 "premium" version).

I find it easier to work while I have music playing...

January 13, 2002

Hamid Karzai affirms women's rights:

The Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women states they are entitled to "equality between men and women, equal protection under the law, institutional education in all disciplines, freedom of movement, freedom of speech and political participation and the right to wear or not wear the burqa or scarf".
But, Karzai is still slowly organizing his authority over the nation.

However, their four-year drought is finally broken by a rainstorm.

January 12, 2002

Saw Mulholland Drive last night --- one of the most satisfying Lynch films I have ever seen --- perhaps one of the best films, period, I have ever seen. And yes, I figured out what was going on, though it took a lot of paying attention to details. It is a remarkably well-constructed film (which becomes apparent once you figure out what is going on.) Maybe this time Lynch wanted to prove he could make a confusing, surreal film about identity confusion and yet make a large, intricate script which held together perfectly as a logical story as well. Is this "better" or "worse"? Is it that important for there to be a logical explanation?

January 11, 2002

Napster beta finally launches. You have to have signed up ahead of time to be a beta tester, and they only chose 20,000 of the two million people who tried to sign up. And they chose me! But I am sworn to secrecy. Still, I can link to news articles about it. (Note: all information posted here comes from already public sources...)

Caroline writes about ravens. Coincidentally, I just saw an amazing documentary on PBS about ravens, how they lead predators to prey and then swoop in and help themselves to a share of the meat, and how they've evolved all these fantastic symbiotic behaviors. These birds are so smart they're almost scary. Which is to say I really like them, they're remarkable.

Another raven link.

My housemate just realized he passed the 1,000,000,000th second mark two months ago. For those of you who want to celebrate being one billion seconds old, it comes at around 31 years, 8 1/2 months.

January 10, 2002

Each (moment, second, day, week, month, year) could be your last. Make the most of it. Sometimes I think to myself (well, quite often), what if I were reliving my life by going back in time from the end to this very moment, if I had a chance to live it all over again, starting now? What would I do next?

January 9, 2002

Wearing tight bras causes breast cancer. I've been hearing this one for years, so I began to look into it: is it true? So far, many medical authorities call this a "myth", but when I actually studied the evidence, I don't see how they can come to this conclusion. Every article I can find about this subject which "debunks" the bra-to-breast-cancer connection merely states that there is a "lack of evidence" and that the study upon which this claim is based has many methodological flaws. The primary problem was that the people conducting the study did not control for other risk factors, such as weight, diet, breast size, etc.

However, looking at the results of their clearly flawed survey, they are rather stunning: among the women they surveyed, women who wore bras 24 hours a day experienced a 125-fold greater risk of breast cancer than women who did not wear a bra at all. Even had they controlled for other risk factors, could they be sufficient to account for such a large difference? Most other risk factors only lead to around a three-fold difference in overall risk. In order to account for a factor of 125, therefore, bra wearing would have had to be strongly correlated with at least five other independent risk factors --- exceptionally unlikely. What would be convincing would be another study done with proper controls which showed the results of the flawed study disappear under careful statistical analysis. However, it seems very unlikely that such a study could account for such a dramatic difference in results. Even if their lymphatic constriction explanation is bogus, the raw statistics are worrisome. If I were a woman I wouldn't wear a bra. Until more evidence comes in, I think women ought to be very careful.

This just in: British study lends credence to the theory that bra-wearing can cause health problems for women.

January 8 (b), 2002

The obligatory Yatta Exuberance link.

In reference to my comment about internal narrators, Jouke sings:

My internal narrators keep speaking in tongues to me! So much for a sense of humor: one just isn't quite enough! In the absence of a benevolent brain proper they seriously discuss and interpret my every sound and sting and itch from the bowels, the blood and muscular vessels, the largest, the smallest organ and cerebral vacuities, the latter feeling rather like a turned inside-out lunar globe implant, including impoverished force G: much to the enjoyment of the selfish narrators.

'Mister!, Mister!' one loyal under assistant bell boy narrator runs up to me shouting, 'Jane and Tiramisu III are getting married!' Hey, I'm their Best Man... guess what makes sense. Please stay around while I'm at the wedding, where happy ractors J+T3 undoubtedly will split the cake, and have it. If I may advise you, go have a chat with the other lonely patients at the Sanny Side of the Street! Oh, and tell them to come pick up their CD players, DVD cameras and shiny laptops soon.

Suddenly, in the manner of 'O Tannenbaum', I hear a song echo from the garden. "I-den-ti-ty, I-den-ti-ty, Thou Art My E-ve-ry-Dai-ly Me / In Any Case A Chocolate Bun / Will First Increase, Then Kill the Fun..." I pull myself up from the bed at my black and blue Makkum scarf and stumble to the window, to burn a tiny lens in its frosty pane with my hot-temp breath. Well of course! It is my internal visualizers, taking down the last Christmas decorations before they will roll in the Easter Eggs which they have been preparing in the night kitchen. After the wedding cake had been finished of course. This internal kin at least knows how to collaborate! And pull off something else than egotistic gibberish! Oops! My Intestinal Gourmands cue me: we don't want to be late for that wedding! Cheerio!


January 8, 2002

Happy birthday Susan. Willamette Week is discontinuing her wonderful column, however, partly due to fiscal problems but partly, I think, because they don't realize how great it is... express your appreciation for her writing to the editor if you like... (they haven't updated her column on the website for a few months now, too, for some reason, though her last column was published last week).

As a number of people have prompted me, I feel like going ahead and posting a photo of myself here. Sometime. When I get around to it. Maybe. If any of you have any thoughts about this, pro or con, feel free to email me (see link at top of page).

January 6 (b), 2002

The marmalade sky. The zebra skin ground is red. The sun is large. The hippo is next to the horse.

(Sample output from WordsEye text-to-image program. Via Subterranean Notes via Geegaw via Apathy.)

Saw Donnie Darko last night. It's strange, I feel like a time traveller all the time myself. Though I don't get told by giant rabbits to wreak havoc, I do feel as though I am living and reliving my life, over and over again, like time is unmoored from its foundations.

New web-based service to help writers get published.

January 6, 2002

Corruption in the Eastern Shura. It's funny how everyone predicted that it would be the Northern Alliance wreaking warlord havoc over everything, yet, as I noted before, they are among the more organized and civilized forces in that country. It is simple common sense: the Northern Alliance have had years to develop an organizational structure, adapting to the need to appear civilized in order to gain international support --- and after a while, when you try long enough to appear a certain way, it begins to rub off. The other parts of the country, however, hastily reorganized after the withdrawal of the Taliban, are much more likely to organize themselves along criminal lines. When a totalitarian force withdraws, typically chaos reasserts itself; for a while (as it did in the former Soviet Union, for example). People aren't in the habit of regulating themselves, so... they don't. If there isn't a preexisting tradition or organization there to step in, then it doesn't go well.

January 5, 2002

Caroline emailed me; we've faintly known each other for a while, we first met when she was working at the Hollywood Theatre, and she used to help Miranda with stuff at the theatre, where Miranda often performed. I hadn't known she had a weblog, I was very glad to discover it. She writes this in her last entry:

What is getting to me is that many of the movies I've seen lately seem to be dwelling on this one theme: distinguishing reality from fantasy. Take, for example: Memento, Waking Life, Donnie Darko, Vanilla Sky, and now Mulholland Drive. I think that these films are really disturbing to me in particular because they cause me to lose my ground. I find myself near something of a psychotic break lately, and it could just be because these kinds of questions are just to heavy to dwell on without going "insane." It's pretty clear that there is way more to everything than we can possibly be aware of. What really messes with me is that several of these films make a connection between this unknown and death, as if to say you have to be dead to find other worlds/planes or that death is an overwhelmind mess of, well, mess. It helps to just remind myself that I can continue to experience and explore these other worlds and sensations and false memories without necessarily being dead or insane.
I think that threshold between the seemingly light, positive world of things and familiar reality and the other world, the unseen, the ground of being, the place where the distinction between dreams and waking life blurs --- that threshold can seem like the boundary of death, just like it. I once read a friend of mine who said that some visiting Rinzai Zen masters once, while she was meditating, helped by yelling out, "Die! Just die!" Letting go of the ordinary habits of constructing the world is also a matter of letting go of what seems to be "our life." The irony, of course, is that if we forget that we're dreaming, we're in fact trapping ourselves in our picture of the world; giving up the viselike grip on our constructions may feel like death, but in reality it is liberation. Still, there is danger, and a lot of people get lost, they go through this and cannot find their way through it safely.

January 4 (b), 2002

Do not accidentally type "www.salob.com" when trying to type in "www.salon.com". Don't.

No, don't.

I warned you! (If you couldn't resist, avert your eyes and scroll down to the link at the bottom to close the annoying window). Why do browsers make this possible? Bleah. (Not that I'm anti-porn or anything, but most "hard core" porn strikes me as no more erotic than watching a nature special.)

January 4, 2002

Whups, forgot to update my index page to point to the new entries, below:

January 3, 2002

Salon's editor writes an article describing his change into a "hawk". I have always thought it strange that people would self-identify as "dove" or "hawk" --- as though the choice of whether to use or not use military force can be decided out of context. Military force, to the contrary, is something that ought to be used with extreme reluctance --- yet there are clearly circumstances in which it ought to be used. As I've written before, I am in total agreement with most of my leftist friends about the many horrible crimes we have committed abroad --- in Vietnam, but also in many covert and not so covert operations to destabilize foreign governments --- whether those governments were democratically elected or not. Yet at the same time, the moment the Gulf War occurred, it was quite obvious to me that, despite the fact that we were fighting the war for the wrong reasons (to protect our oil interests), nevertheless, in that case, we were on the right side. My tremendous admiration for people like Gandhi and my total distrust of our government's past record didn't stop me from coming to this conclusion --- because I am neither a "hawk" nor a "dove." Each conflict is different, and has to be evaluated on its own terms.

Obviously everyone wants peace, but always choosing not to fight does not guarantee or maximize peace. One could, for example, not resist an invading totalitarian force, and then live in "peace" under severe oppression --- but a police state is a form of brutal violence, merely systematized. There is no simple route to peace: it depends on the situation, and on your opponent.

On the other hand, the fact that our last few major military campaigns have been both relatively successful and relatively morally justifiable could lead us to become a nation of "hawks" --- a big mistake. To a large extent we have Vietnam to thank for these recent wars --- it taught us restraint. We would be making a big mistake to unlearn that lesson now. Vietnam happened partly because World War II had made us a military nation --- yet we won World War II partly because we had been so reluctant to get involved in that war in the first place. Let's not forget either Afghanistan or Vietnam.

As Dana Carvey put it in his imitation of President Bush (Sr.) on Saturday Night Live years ago: "We have learned the lesson of Vietnam --- stay out of Vietnam." It's a funny joke with a grain of truth to it: the real lesson of Vietnam is not that we ought never to fight any war, but that we ought to be reluctant as hell to fight a war. We ought to question our own motives as well as explore every possible avenue of peaceful resolution first. But if we are forced to fight, we should do so: with regret, but complete commitment.

To me, the basic criteria for war should be the same as anything else: would things be worse (more suffering, more degradation, loss of life, etc.) if we fight or do not fight? Either way something bad will happen, the only question is which course is worse.

January 2, 2002

Evil. Strangely, I have always felt, at my core, evil, in some sense. As though I were a reformed criminal --- not some petty criminal, but some uber-criminal, a super-villain. Then, somehow, what feels like many lifetimes ago, I saw the light as it were and changed my ways. Yet I still feel that sense of being evil, deep down. Like I am more demonic than a giant demon --- but somehow I have turned myself towards doing good.

I remember one night, long ago, as I was falling asleep, I heard this demonic voice in my head saying something like "I will kill you..." or some shit like that. Without the slightest hesitation I shouted back, in my head, in a giant BOOMing mental voice, "SHUT ... THE ... FUCK ... UP". At the same time, I radiated the feeling of a threat of the total annihilation of whatever it was that was threatening me (combined with a certainty that I could and would do so). It shut the fuck up. I was thinking, you know: no demon is going to out-demon me...

The story of Milarepa, a Tibetan saint, has always resonated with me. According to legend, he began as a black magician, but changed his ways later on after meeting his great teacher, Marpa.

(PS: No, I don't think it was an actual demon that was talking in my head, but simply some weird neurological fluctuation. I think. Although of course if the word "demon" has a meaning, one of the meanings are the demons inside of us...)

January 1, 2002

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

There are two kinds of power. If you think of the vortex of reality which is at the center of the relationship between you and the so-called "world out there", which you could loosely call "yourself", or "your awareness", we can call that one end of a polarity, the "self" end (not to posit that the self exists as a separated entity --- I am speaking loosely here). And if you think of the so-called "world out there" as another end of a polarity, we now have two ends tied together by a string (which actually makes them not two different things, but just two ends of a cyclical loop of causation --- but I won't get into that now). For now, we can just call one end "the world out there end of the string" and the other end "the awareness end of the string".

One kind of power aims to gain power over the "world out there" end of the string. This is ordinary power; one manipulates what one thinks of as the world, and attempts to gain advantage in that world by manipulating the things that one conceives of as elements of that world.

However, there is one curious thing that people often overlook, which is that one does not, in fact, see the other end of the string directly --- we work not with the world, but with the world as filtered through and defined by the perspectives we take up. In other words, the world the we see is not the world, but the world as defined by the "awareness end of the string."

Which brings me to the second kind of power. The "awareness end of the string" is something we normally think of as a sort of structureless point somewhere behind our eyes which is the focus of windows that we think we have on the world. In fact, however, the awareness end of the string is compound, made up of many pieces, most of which we do not pay attention to, which are, among other things, the very pieces which create our picture of the world.

Changes in those pieces can restructure our picture of the world, and thereby open up new possibilities to us. To do this, however, requires letting go of not just what we think of as our agendas but letting go of who we think we are, what we are constantly making ourselves into without even being consciously aware of it. In a strange way, the first kind of power involves trying to get what we want, and the second kind of power involves being willing to give up what we think we want (to see differently, more clearly, but never perfectly).