synthetic zero


March 30(b), 2002

The Bush Administration's approach to the Middle East crisis is utterly insane and will lead the Middle East and us into disaster. They have no strategy, they simply mouth vague statements repeating the tired old ineffective rhetoric of the last year. We need to take a much more aggressive role, restraining Israel in particular.

March 30, 2002

Information grows out of our bodies, and our bodies grow out of information. It is not merely a game of rearranging symbols, permuting the possible combinations of our lives in our imagination; it is connected ... to us, to each other, to the ground --- and vice-versa. We're all swimming in it.

We have come to think of information as disembodied, separate from the person speaking and the people listening. As though it lives on its own. When we pick up a book or watch a film it feels disconnected from its context; but in reality the information would have no meaning without us, and the world in which we live, to give it breath.

The Information Age is a wonderful contrast; on the one hand, never before have we been so disconnected from the limitations of our bodies --- when we sit in front of our computers we disappear slightly. But on the other hand, unlike the book or film, the author of the information is there to be contacted. You can write back; you can write on your own. So in a strange way the information feels more connected to the people, it isn't just sitting there, it is part of something. It is part of the context, it is more closely connected to our bodies even as we become more virtual.

March 27, 2002

"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once." Immortality seems like a good thing, but if organisms were immortal they would quickly fill up every available cubic centimeter of space. No death = eternal stagnation. Would you really want to live forever, if it meant seeing humanity eventually replaced by some other species, and you would be an anachronism so out of place that you would have no way to relate to the world around you? What if Hitler never died, or the Pharoahs, etc. Death makes room --- we are born into our time and our context.

Which is also to say: we shouldn't waste time, because this is it.

We should be quick, without hurrying.

March 25, 2002

While watching one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Dexter's Laboratory, I just saw a commercial for another show which advertised it as starting at "12.5 PM". That's such a great idea! We've had to live for too long with our confusing and complicated time system. We should go digital: 100 minutes per hour. 10 hours per day. And this confusing "leap year" system must end. Let's go to 100 days per year! The metric year!

March 24, 2002

I am Samurai Lapin!

March 23, 2002

It sometimes takes a certain genius to take a big risk.

March 22(b), 2002

Paul writes:

What if we could suddenly 'jump' back to an earlier version of ourselves?
What if right now we have just jumped back in time from a future self and are now able to avert the catastrophe that we got ourselves into in that future? Of course, when we jumped back we lost a lot of our memories of the future, yet, perhaps we can still faintly remember them...

What if this not only happens once in a while, but is constantly the case all the time? That is to say, the past, present, and future are constantly reinventing themselves? Time does not just "flow" from past to future, but from future to past and in an infinite number of other ways? What ends up "happening" is an endless negotiation between past and future?

What if we could not only become aware of this, but at some level we are all aware of this already on an unconscious level?

I should add that I often feel this way.

March 22, 2002

One of my favorite stories from Richard Feynman's Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, about scientific education in Brazil when he visited:

After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn't know what anything meant. When they heard "light that is reflected from a medium with an index," they didn't know that it meant a material such as water. They didn't know that the "direction of the light" is the direction in which you see something when you're looking at it, and so on. Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words. So if I asked, "What is Brewster's Angle?" I'm going into the computer with the right keywords. But if I say, "Look at the water," nothing happens - they don't have anything under "Look at the water!"


March 21, 2002

Tiffany told a bunch of us the following odd, true story:

terri and i were driving down SE 39th Street, headed south toward a meeting of our Burning Man group. we saw these bright lights hanging out in the sky, directly in front of us but a long way away. still, you could tell they were pretty low in the sky. "those don't look like planes," terri remarked. one of them made a rapid diagonal dive. "and if it is a plane," i said, "it's about to land on us."

we took them for helicopters, these three hovering lights. but very weird helicopters, certainly not like i've ever seen before, other than on the X Files. we approached Hawthorne Street and found that we were very close to the one which had dived. it appeared to be a block away, maybe two, to my right, and hovering low. we were stopped at a red light. i could peer upward to my heart's content.

there were lights in long rows, almost neon-like, and they made a shape. the colours definitely involved red and white, but perhaps a pale glimmer of blue or yellow was also represented. i can't recall the shape exactly, but i think its edges were roughly pentagonal. it seemed small, too small, smaller than my little car small. if that little pentagon-shaped thing *was* the flying object with the bright lights, then this was a *seriously weird UFO thing* happening. more likely, it was a conglomeration of lights on the underbelly of a big black helicopter.

i rolled down my window, expecting to hear that familiar, creepy chatter of a helicopter, but was greeted instead by dead silence. just regular old street noises. nothing. that's when i got spooked. but the thing was pulling up and away, zooming east into the night. the other two hung on our horizon for a while before heading the same direction.

we saw at least two more, still driving south, south south south on 39th, until the road dead-ended. we'd missed our street. all the "helicopters" were gone. i flipped an illegal bitch in the 3-way stop where 39th dead-ends, and saw a strange, enormous glowing thing on the eastern horizon. i drove slowly and we stared out the window for a better look at the glowing thing between the trees.

it was the moon, a particularly enormous, fat, pudgy, grotesque looking moon, but beautiful in its unusual cream-yellow corpulence, its edges soft and malleable.

Since I'm in story mode I feel like telling another story, even though it is totally unrelated to that one. But I like it. As related by Martin Buber:

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, The Rav (rabbi) of Northern White Russia (died 1813), was put in jail in Petersburg, because the mitnagdim (adversaries) had denounced his principles and his way of living to the government. He was awaiting trial when the chief of the gendarmes entered his cell. The majestic and quiet face of the rav, who was so deep in meditation that he did not at first notice his visitor, suggested to the chief, a thoughtful person, what manner of man he had before him. He began to converse with his prisoner and brought up a number of questions which had occurred to him in reading the Scriptures. Finally he asked: "How are we to understand that God, the all-knowing, said to Adam: 'Where art thou?'"

"Do you believe," answered the rav, "that the Scriptures are eternal and that every era, every generation and every man is included in them?"

"I believe this," said the other.

"Well then," said the zaddik, "in every era, God calls to every man: "Where are you in your world? So many years and days of those allotted to you have passed, and how far have you gotten in your world?" God says something like this: "You have lived forty-six years. How far along are you?"

When the chief of the gendarmes heard his age mentioned, he pulled himself together, laid his hand on the rav's shoulder, and cried: "Bravo!" But his heart trembled.

Finally, from a Sufi poem:
What is to be done, O Muslims? for I do not recognize myself.
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Muslim.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature's mint, nor of the circling' heaven.
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin
I am not of the kingdom of 'Iraqian, nor of the country of Khorasan
I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwan.
My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless;
'Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.
Down with dogma.

March 20, 2002

This truly boggles the mind:

...fire at a girls' public intermediate school in Mecca ... claimed the lives of at least fourteen students ...

Eyewitnesses, including civil defense officers, reported that several members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (mutawwa'in, in Arabic) interfered with rescue efforts because the fleeing students were not wearing the obligatory public attire (long black cloaks and head coverings) for Saudi girls and women.

...mutawwa'in were at the school's main gate and, "intentionally obstructed the efforts to evacuate the girls..." The religious police reportedly tried to block the entry of Civil Defense officers into the building. "We told them that the situation was dangerous and it was not the time to discuss religious issues, but they refused and started shouting at us," Arab News quoted Civil Defense officers as saying.

"Whenever the girls got out through the main gate, these people forced them to return via another. Instead of extending a helping hand for the rescue work, they were using their hands to beat us," Civil Defense officers were quoted as saying. The officers also said they saw three people beating girls who had evacuated the school without proper dress. A Saudi journalist told Human Rights Watch that the mutawwa'in at the scene also turned away parents and other residents who came to assist.

Perhaps this will be the Saudi's Triangle Fire. It should be mentioned that as I understand it Sharia law explicitly says that protection of life ought to prevail in cases like this, but these wacko religious police clearly didn't understand this point.

march (part 1)