synthetic zero


November 27, 2002

In Los Angeles for the holidays.

My grandmother is a demure woman, very Japanese, and though she's lived in the United States for most of her life she doesn't really speak English that well. She watches NHK which we set up for her via a special Dish Network subscription. In her opinion, however, quite clearly, New York is the superior place to live. "You like New York? Ya... I think New York better than Oregon, ne? Oregon too small. New York better." Though it might seem a bit surprising to have a diminutive elderly Japanese woman extolling the virtues of the big city, Japanese, young and old --- despite their cultural respect for nature --- they really like cities --- they like to be close to people. In America and England, people retire and move to the country; in Japan, they retire and move to Tokyo.

An acquaintance told me about the following study: researchers compiled ten clues, and gave them to the subjects, who were supposed to try to guess what the clues referred to. When given all ten clues, almost all of the subjects would guess correctly. A different set of subjects were given just five of the ten clues, and also asked to guess. The five clues weren't really sufficient to guess correctly, so most of the subjects would guess wrong.

What's interesting is that when these second set of subjects were given the remaining five clues, many of them would stubbornly stick to their original guess, even though, had they been given all ten clues at once, they would have likely come up with the correct answer.

November 26, 2002

More on the moron:

It takes a lot for Canada to make the papers, but this was a good one. Last week at a NATO conference Francoise Ducros, a top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, was overheard calling President George W. Bush "a moron." Out loud.

It was, to say the least, a bit of a diplomatic faux pas. In the Canadian Parliament, opposition politicians screamed for the head of Ducros, Chretien's director of communications. Meanwhile, a Canadian news organization ran a poll, asking the public what Ducros' fate should be.

The winning suggestion: Give the woman a promotion.


November 25 (b), 2002

As I've written before, I am very sympathetic to those people fighting for our right to have an Internet that is not encumbered by government-mandated controls on our ability to send and receive data. And it's obvious that the RIAA's interests are entirely that of the corporations and music conglomerates, not the artists. However, I am not at all sympathetic to the notion that writers, musicians, or other artists ought to give up any and all royalties for their work in favor of making money only from touring, etc., as Esther Dyson has argued. Yes, the greatest work has been done by artists who were not doing it for the money --- but this doesn't mean that, as a society, we shouldn't try to find a systematic way of supporting them. What will actually happen if we don't find a way to support artists is that the rich and powerful will gain even more power over our culture than they have now, since they will be able to afford to give patronage to artists who can't otherwise support their work directly.

I love this poignant song by the folk artist Gillian Welch --- she hasn't explained publicly what it is about, but it seems to be addressed to this issue. ("Everything Is Free", from The Revelator):

Everything is free now, that's what they say,
Everything I ever done, gonna give it away.
Someone hit the big score, they figured it out,
That we're gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay.

I can get a tip jar, gas up the car,
try to make a little change, down at the bar.
Or I can get a straight job, I done it before,
Never minded workin' hard, it's who I'm workin' for.

Everything is free now, that's what they say,
Everything I ever done, gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score, they figured it out,
That we're gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay.

Everyday I wake up, humming a song,
but I don't need to run around, I just stay at home,
and sing a little love song, my love and myself.
If there's somethin' that you want to hear,
you can sing it yourself.

Cause everything is free now, that's what I said,
No one's gotta listen to, the words in my head.
Someone hit the big score, and I figured it out,
And I'm gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay.


November 25, 2002

Making an argument is a form of performance art, in a way. One has to imagine that the person listening to or reading your argument has a different mind than yours. You are not talking to yourself, after all; so it is an attempt to create an experience in another person, purely by virtue of their reading your words, that will enable them to see and understand at least some aspect of what you see and understand. Doing this well requires a sort of flair for the dramatic as well as the logical.

November 23 (b), 2002

Bush declared by Prime Minister Jean Chretien to be 'not a moron.' When you have to say that he's not a moron, well...

November 23, 2002

I've reorganized all my music into playlists because of my new Archos hardware/Rockbox software combination, and it's quite wonderful. My favorite playlist is Ambient/Electronic/Experimental/Trip Hop with stuff like Autechre, Nurse With Wound, Tortoise, Bill Laswell, Elliott Sharp, tracks from the NorCal Noisefest, combined with things like Yo La Tengo, Esthero, and Massive Attack. It has crazy stuff that you've probably never heard of like Takagi Masakatsu. I don't know why I never made these kinds of playlists before.

I would compare Merce Cunningham with Robert Rauschenberg (the great artist and Merce's collaborator at one time) before I'd compare him with Martha Graham. Things he did as far back as the 60's are more intense and wild than most things I've seen choreographed recently. His is the one case where fame really goes along with quality.

I still haven't gotten used to people asking "to stay or to go?" I was conceived in New York, came here most summers when I was young, and visited many times before I came here a few months ago. But somehow I had never really noticed that restaurants invariably say "to stay or to go?" instead of the more familiar "for here or to go?" prevalent everywhere else I've been in the U.S. My brain doesn't parse it, and I always have to stop and cogitate for a moment before I figure out what they mean. I still answer "for here" instead of "to stay" --- causing equal confusion in return.

I went to college in Cambridge, MA, but I don't remember people there using this phrase.

November 22, 2002

Dan (of One Continuous Mistake) sends me this regarding my thoughts on a new approach to solving certain problems regarding the origin of spacetime and the measurement problem in quantum mechanics/quantum gravity, which I'm working on with my friend Jonathan Tash, and also how this might relate to certain Buddhist ideas:

I want to define three terms:

'Void' is the ground of being, the dharmakaya, the Oneness, God, etc.

'View' is a mapping from 'Void' to 'Void' that defines how a sentient being experiences 'reality'.

'Discrimination' is a conscious act of will. By applying Discrimination, you modify your View. (This is what quantum measurement is-- an observation that rotates the state vector into a different subspace or 'collapses the wavefunction'.)

Each sentient being's View is unique and can't be directly experienced by any other sentient being. However, sentient beings can have overlapping Views. In fact, they need to have this in order to interact. No one can directly experience someone else's View, but to the extent that two beings' Views overlap, it's possible for them to communicate.

So, what we think of as 'the world' is just the common 'consensual hallucination' produced by the overlapping Views of many sentient beings. You could think of it as us 'living inside the Matrix'. It's like how in Buddhism they say the world is an illusion. I never really understood that they actually meant it!

What we think of as spacetime is part of the common View we have as human beings. Really there is no space and no time; it's all part of our 'conditioning', which means our View, which was set up long before we can remember and is very difficult to change now. (It comes from our "karma from past lives", you could say.)

So really, there are many more directions it is possible for your to move in as a sentient being than you may normally think are possible. It's like saying 'All your dreams are possible'. Well, they are-- all you have to do is set your mind on where you want to go, and look all around you for skillful means that will bring you toward that goal. The only thing that can stop you from achieving some goal is your own inability to believe it is possible.

There are two directions that are particularly interesting, that I'll call 'heaven direction' and 'hell direction'. 'Heaven direction' is the experience of moving more toward wholeness. To go this way, apply compassion. 'Hell direction' is moving more toward separateness. However, if you're a human being, you can't just go all the way toward complete wholeness, because that would cause you to lose your identity.

The whole world, essentially, is just reflections of yourself as shown by your View. You can choose what in that 'reality' you want to identify with, and move toward it. Our whole conscious experience is a process of trying to separate signal from noise. There really is no good and bad; there's just how you pick the signal out of the 'reality noise'. The dharma is like a radio going from reality to you and from you back to reality.

This picture is quite compatible with the physics-oriented picture that Jonathan and I are working on, though I have questions about the meaning and scope of what Dan is calling discrimination. I'm not quite sure I'd say that discimination is a conscious act of will --- I'd rather say that there is something I might also call discimination which is at the root of awareness, one could call it the ground of awareness. Conscoiusness and will I believe are built up from those primitive percepts in some sense, to me. But aside from that, what is the nature of this discrimination? What are its limits? That's a tricky thing --- it is, in a sense, asking the question of what is the nature of awareness itself, and what are its limits?

The view Jonathan and I are working on, however, shares with Dan's picture the sense that physical reality is really just an information process. In our picture, the nature of physical reality as we ordinarily experience it is actually constrained by computational or information considerations --- i.e., we think that spacetime is the way it is because this is needed for computational reasons, i.e., it is our awareness that produces it. It follows that the constraints of spacetime might be in fact not absolute --- i.e., there is a larger scope in which we really live which might be partially accessible if we relax what Dan is calling our discrimination.

November 20, 2002

Found this really cool thing for my Archos hard disk mp3 player: an open source firmware project called RockBox that fixes most of the little glitches and problems with the built-in firmware, plus adding a bunch of really nice features (like expanding playlists from 999 songs to 9999 songs, dramatically improving the stability of the playlist feature, adding customizable fonts and screen layouts, etc.) It doesn't yet support recording (coming in a future release), but it does have a "multi-boot" feature that makes it easy to reboot into the old firmware to record.

Another useful music tool: mp3 Tag Studio, a great tool for fixing ID3 tags in mp3s. Much better and smarter than some others I tried, like MoodLogic (which takes forever and didn't identify about 30% of my songs in its database --- I guess I have rather unusual musical taste). It was much better than Music Match about guessing the correct values for the various fields from the filenames, etc.

November 19, 2002

Tonight I walked around in the city by myself. I felt the world flowing through my veins, I breathed in the dust and noise and I breathed out time and space. I felt alert, like a monster with a kind heart, dangerous but compassionate. I realized that that monstrous being was the real me. I am the monster, a giant alert beast, deadly yet friendly. I am not to be trifled with, not because I am fearsome but because I am reality. Reality is terrifying and yet utterly beautiful and never selfish: therefore, there is nothing to be afraid of.

You are also reality.

November 17 (b), 2002

Anything is possible at Zombo.com.

November 17, 2002

I'm no opponent of technology, but even I am mildly surprised by this: Maine gave all its seventh graders laptops and it's really working. It's not that I'm surprised that it's making a difference, but what a difference it makes:

...at a trial run last spring at one school in rural Washington County, absenteeism dropped 50% with the arrival of state-issued laptops. Pre-laptops, seventh-graders at Pembroke School received 28 detentions in 96 days. With laptops, the same students numbered just three detentions in 79 days. Using the laptops, 91% raised their grades in at least one academic area; 82% improved in two subjects; 73% in three or more fields.

"I was a skeptic at first," said Goodness, whose school board passed a resolution two years ago opposing the laptop proposal. "But this really is changing the face of education."

Just got the Archos Jukebox Recorder 15 at J&R in order to make field recordings (Susan and I are doing a project to record subway noises). I was thinking of just getting a cassette recorder but this thing jumped out at me --- until the end of this week there is a $50 rebate available, so it was only $150. The thing has a 15 gigabyte hard disk and a fairly high-quality mp3 codec/recording capability which can take a line input or even an SPDIF digital input. We hooked up a Sony battery-powered microphone to the line input and boosted the recording level to the maximum and it worked fine (the levels were a bit low, but the signal was clean). It has USB 1.1 (took a few hours to transfer my entire 10 gigabyte mp3 collection --- all of my about 300 CDs --- to the unit --- which is fast enough for my purposes). The user interface is simple and straightforward. Playback sound quality is good (don't use the bass boost feature, it seems to cause distortion, but adjusting loudness and the bass and treble controls is enough to get reasonable results, even though it lacks a full-blown equalizer). The main advantage of this machine, to me, is the recording capability --- it even has a "next" feature that quickly advances to the next track for easy capture of LPs or cassettes. Two minor annoyances: no hold feature (to lock the controls so you don't accidentally hit them) --- not such a big problem since the keys don't seem to easily get pressed --- and no easy way to pause during field recording (you have to stop the recording and start over, entering a new clip name) --- also not too big a deal since with gigabytes of space, you can record literally hundreds of hours before running out of space, so you can just leave the thing recording and edit it offline later.

November 16, 2002

It's important not to mistake oversimplification for clarity and precision. If I make a model of the world out of Legos, the edges of the pieces of my model may be exceptionally sharp, but as a model of the world it is not very precise at all.

One real change in the current era is we keep much better records of everything. There are video cameras everywhere. When the World Trade Center was hit, we had multiple camera angles on it. All of this is now archived and digitally reproduced a thousand, a million times over. It is much harder to keep any secrets, so now people just tell secrets right out in plain view of everyone. You can go to the Barnes and Noble and pick up books detailing philosophical and yogic teachings that had been kept secret for hundreds, or thousands of years. In 1915, the Turks massacred a million Armenians and hardly anyone noticed or remembered --- could such a thing happen again today? Massacres happen (as in Rwanda), but it is now extensively documented. There are books, interviews, photographs, journals, movies, television documentaries, etc. Governments try to keep things under wraps and they might succeed to some extent --- there is still a lot which doesn't reach the general public --- but the sorts of secrets people tried to keep in the past, it's either far harder to do so now, or well-nigh impossible. The more that information technology has infiltrated a part of the world, the less easy it is to keep these things under wraps. Millions of people saw Rodney King get beaten --- if it had happened ten years or twenty years earlier, it is unlikely anyone would ever have known about it.

It's more difficult to manufacture silence in today's world than it was even ten years ago. It's still happening, of course, but becoming harder and harder to do.

November 15, 2002

In the old days, samurai would have advisors whose job it was to tell the lord that they were full of shit whenever they thought that was the case. They were straight up, honest. You could call them "no" men. While I hate it when people are arbitrarily and stupidly opposed to things (whether they're my ideas or not), I love it when the people close to me tell me I'm full of shit whenever they honestly think so.

The big mistake people always make is trying to become adults. I have been making that mistake recently. It's really a silly terrible careening off of the road. Not that being irresponsible is the way to go, either. Being a sort of responsible child, that's the way to go.

November 14, 2002

Jim Flanagan (of Everything Burns) sends me a link to this reassuring paper regarding the risks associated with the RHIC center possibly destroying the universe. Apparently, there are "compelling arguments" that this won't happen due to the experiments at RHIC. They're really... pretty sure about it. Whew. I'll sleep so much better tonight.

Found a martial art school and went there tonight to participate in the class. It was quite interesting, and fun to get back into moving and doing martial arts again. It's really in my system somehow, I always feel really good after doing some sort of martial arts like this. There's something about both the feeling of moving your body in a mindful way as well as interacting with others in partner exercises which really makes me feel satisfied. I've done a variety of different martial arts over the years, and they're all quite different, but there are still some fundamental principles that remain the same. Balance, timing, sensitivity, mindfulness --- I love the present awareness that one has to embed oneself in when doing this sort of thing. It's not about combat or self-defense, for me --- it's about being in the moment with myself or with another person. Right there.

November 13 (b), 2002

A tantalizing glimpse at what sounds like a very impressive and surprising experimental result. The article is extremely vague however --- I want to hear more details. I wonder if experiments like these might destroy the universe? If they do, of course, we'd never see it coming, so I suppose we can take solace from that.

November 13, 2002

The interesting thing is that people tend to overestimate certain kinds of risk --- for example, a friend of mine (who wrote his doctoral thesis on a related topic) mentioned to me that there was a study in which people, playing a certain game, made choices that assumed the risk was about twice what it really was. Or, people tend to overestimate risk based on worst case scenarios... for example, airplane crashes cause people to fear air travel even though on a per-mile basis it is far safer than most ground transportation options. In Bowling for Columbine (a much more thought-provoking film than I had anticipated), Michael Moore makes the case that one of the main reasons for excessive gun violence isn't so much lack of gun control laws as it is a tendency for Americans to overestimate risk based on overreporting of violent crime in the media. For example, despite the fact that violent crime has declined steadily for years, media reporting of violent crime has skyrocketed --- causing Americans to buy more and more guns. Ironically, Moore points out that the problems with gun posession and other firearms violations in schools has been mostly in suburban areas, not in the inner city as one might imagine.

At the same time, human beings also systematically underestimate other kinds of risk. As I noted in an earlier post, in Dietrich Dorner's The Logic of Failure he points out that human beings tend to assume many things about the way complex systems behave that might have been reasonable in ancient times, but are no longer reasonable today. For example, we tend to assume that when you change one part of a system, everything else will remain the same, or we tend to assume that effects will immediately be correlated with causes (i.e., we don't realize there is often a delay) --- these sorts of errors are the cause of many unexpected failures ranging from environmental catastrophes to nuclear power plant accidents.

November 12, 2002

Most people think of relaxation as the thing that happens when you get a massage, or when you sit on a couch and watch TV, or something. That might be a kind of relaxation but there's another kind, a deeper sort of relaxation which involves all of the seemingly involuntary movements that make up our upholding of our idea of our history, our situation, who we are, and so forth. If you can relax that (not by throwing it away, but just by loosening it a little, letting it be there a little less intensely), then you can move in a much larger space of possibility. The problem is... if you try to relax this, the very effort itself causes it to tense up more. And you also have to find it to relax it, but to search is also something that causes it to become more tense. However, we really don't have any alternatives... we just have to do the best we can.

People make whole religions out of this issue. It's supremely important but also supremely ordinary.

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You're covered with a thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you've died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.

-Rumi (from The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)

November 9 (b), 2002

American Killed in Yemen Tied by U.S. to Buffalo Cell. I guess I'm still not yet totally in the groove of the war on terror, because when I read this headline I thought: an American was killed by a single cell from a buffalo?

November 9, 2002

Communism and oligarchical capitalism are pretty much the same thing. I always thought it was amusing that the bugaboo of the right has always been communism, which shares pretty much every structural principle with what the right always wants: unfettered capitalism leads to monopoly control which ends up being functionally the same and only stylistically different from communism. Similarly, the bugaboo of the left used to be capitalism, yet so-called far-left-wing "communism" was, in fact, supporting the exact same outcome as the right was supporting. In both cases you end up with a command economy and excessive centralization of power which is both oppressive and ineffective. The original motives may be different, but the outcome is the same. In both cases the mistake is the neurotic overapplication of one principle, not understanding the nature of systems requires balance, contradictory forces, both markets and regulation, both short- and long-term thinking, both decentralization and democratic oversight.

The Chinese are demonstrating this quite well. Without changing anything fundamental, they're shifting from one to the other style.

... the world's last major left-wing dictatorship, the Communist Party of China, has transformed itself. It is now... the world's last major right-wing dictatorship.

....Dictatorship of the proletariat has failed. So the party is giving plutocracy a chance.


November 8, 2002

Last night I dreamt I was doing this old martial art I used to do, and I was taking an exam. Watching the others take the exam, I felt their movements weren't very complete or direct. So I got up for my turn and the examiner asked me what I was going to do, and I said I was going to cut reality. He asked me, "What are you going to cut reality with?" I replied, "I am going to cut reality with reality." He made a noncommital sound. I elaborated, "There is no cutting and nothing to cut, and that is what will be cutting reality."

November 7, 2002

Despite the election debacle, I felt strangely optimistic today. This contrasts sharply with my general sense of doom (accepted cheerfully and perhaps somewhat fatalistically) I've carried with me for a while now, ever since the turn of the millenium. I'm not optimistic for any reason I'm aware of --- it's just a feeling I have. Something appears to be better than it seems, but I'm not sure what.

Sue and I went to Coney Island today. We figured it would be deserted (it was: closed and no one there), but it was perhaps one of the best things I've ever done in New York. The beach was cold and dark, the wind was blowing the sand out to sea in scurrying breaths; the clouds were lit with the pink fire of the city which faded into dark blue over the Atlantic ocean, itself somewhat frightening, unknown --- dotted with giant ships far off shore. The wind literally howled through the empty Coney Island amusement park rides. The beach was almost entirely deserted, a fantastic spectacle. It was thrilling to be in a natural setting with almost nobody around when we've been so used to being surrounded by throngs, constantly. Even in New York there are still wonderous experiences like this which no one knows about.

It wasn't entirely deserted --- we saw these two figures far off who turned out to be a man and his biological father --- whom he had just found (he was adopted). They were visiting the beach and he asked me to take their picture --- "my first trip to Coney Island with my father," he said, smiling. He was practically overflowing with joy.

We eventually came to the Brighton Beach area, the Russian district. We had had no idea it was there, it was complete serendipity. My first impression was how clean it was --- the streets, the shops, everything. I didn't realize Russians (at least the immigrants) would create such a neat community (at least relative to the rest of New York). My second impression was that many of the shops and people carried a very particular stylishness, not exactly in the same vein as Western Europeans, of course, but you can understand why those characters in the Russian novels always liked to speak French --- there is something very slightly French about it. After walking up and down the street we settled on a friendly-looking cafe with pleasant, tasteful decor. It wasn't too ostentatious but it was clearly arranged with care. The one odd thing were the small television screens placed all around near the ceiling (somehow even this was done without being crass, however) playing what appeared to be Russian music videos --- all varieties. Some had sexy women in them, but a lot of them had space themes, or athletic themes --- echoes perhaps of the USSR's obsession with catching up to the West by competing in those areas. These things still seem to carry symbolic weight for Russians. The videos all had very high production values. The music was more varied than MTV --- one Nirvana-style girl rocker, but also a lot of soft vocal pieces, as well as a lot of poppy sounding stuff.

I felt for the first time a sense of naturalness being in New York, after visiting Coney Island in the dark cold of November.

Susan had never heard of Nathan's Famous. She thought I was only pretending to recognize the name to put her on.

November 6 (c), 2002

4am EST. My linear projections show Mondale losing Minnesota by a thin margin. Still uncertain. Also, I rechecked my projections and I show the Oregon governorship remaining Democratic (sigh of relief).

November 6 (b), 2002

3:15am EST. Using my totally unscientific county projection scheme, I predict... the Minnesota race will go right down to the wire, but I think right now Mondale has a slight disadvantage. The absentees will likely go Republican, and they haven't been counted yet, and he almost could pick up the votes he needs from the city to offset his losses in rural areas... but maybe not enough to offset his losses in absentee ballots.

November 6, 2002

At 1:32am EST, I project that the Republicans will gain control of the Senate. Jean Carnahan will lose --- she is currently over 20,000 votes behind, and I project she can only pick up maybe 2,000 votes or so in the uncounted precincts.

November 5, 2002

Went to a free concert tonight, Mannes College student orchestra. One of the pieces was a percussion solo with orchestra piece, quite impressive Japanese soloist. One thing that people don't always know about Japanese is that, whether it be due to culture or genetics, on the whole, we have rhythm (for example).

November 3, 2002

Don't worry, this isn't going to become an exclusively political blog, but I have a few more thoughts.

Retired General Anthony Zinni, Bush envoy to the Middle East, takes the hawks to task: "I'm not sure which planet they live on," Zinni said, "because it isn't the one that I travel."

I'm not convinced we need to do this now. I am convinced that we need to deal with Saddam down the road, but I think that the time is difficult because of the conditions in the region and all the other events that are going on. I believe that he can be deterred and is containable at this moment. As a matter of fact, I think the containment can be ratcheted up in a way that is acceptable to everybody.

I do think eventually Saddam has to be dealt with. That could happen in many ways. It could happen that he just withers on the vine, he passes on to the afterlife, something happens within Iraq that changes things, he becomes less powerful, or the inspectors that go in actually accomplish something and eliminate potential weapons of mass destruction -- but I doubt this -- that might be there.

The question becomes how to sort out your priorities and deal with them in a smart way that you get things done that need to be done first before you move on to things that are second and third. If I were to give you my priority of things that can change for the better in this region, it is first and foremost the Middle East peace process and getting it back on track. Second, it is ensuring that Iran's reformation or moderation continues on track and trying to help and support the people who are trying to make that change in the best way we can. That's going to take a lot of intelligence and careful work.

His reasoning is patently obvious but it seems to escape the wackos in the Bush Administration diving headlong into a war that is both beside the point right now and exceedingly dangerous and destabilizing.

I have to say, however, that I really have little patience for the quality of the analysis coming from the left, as well. Either we have reflexive anti-war sentiment coming from the likes of Noam Chomsky (who has probably been one of the biggest forces driving certain intellectuals from the left --- because, despite his obvious brilliance, his predictions and views on the military operations from the Gulf War to Afghanistan have been increasingly inaccurate -- leading me to feel that though he makes excellent points, there is a fundamental bias in his thought that he isn't recognizing), or we have converts to hawkism like Christopher Hitchens who cannot see the difference between the studied (even if somewhat disingenuous) multilateralism of Bush Sr. and the irresponsible, suicidal mad dash of Bush Jr.'s incoherent foreign policy team.

Wake up, everybody. WAKE UP! Actually, I'm afraid it is already too late. The UN will be bullied by us into authorizing force far too precipitously, despite misgivings on the part of France and Russia, and the world will not be behind this even with UN sanction. It's just so, so wrong. As General Wesley Clark, the former commander of the Kosovo operation, said: "If we go in unilaterally, or without the full weight of international organizations behind us, if we go in with a very sparse number of allies, if we go in without an effective information operation ... we're liable to supercharge recruiting for al-Qaida." Fight one stupid, rash war and help the enemy win the big, important one. If they realized what they were doing, the strategy would be tantamount to treason. Except they're going to bring the world down with us: it's treason against the whole world.

November 2, 2002

More Iraq thoughts.

I want to lay out some basic theoretical notions which I think underlie my reaction to the current way we're handling the Iraq situation.

War is always something one should enter into as a last resort. People get killed in wars --- it is a grave decision to take someone's life. It may seem like a video game, when we push a button from on high and wipe out some blips on a screen --- but on the ground it is deadly serious. These people are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers... as Lao Tzu said, the implements of war are an ill-omened thing: one should conduct one's victory like a funeral.

However, a war that can possibly save lives in the future may well be a brutal yet ultimately necessary choice. Thus my support for the first Gulf War. During the Cold War the United Nations was a paralyzed entity; and our own foreign policy involved looking the other way while terrible crimes were committed --- as well as actively participating in those crimes. We supported dictators and even aided them in horrific human rights violations, murders, executions, and even massacres. The list of our crimes abroad is well-known and reprehensible.

When the Cold War ended, however, our primary motivation for committing such crimes evaporated. I do not believe that it was either justified nor necessary to do such things even during the Cold War --- but once it ended, even the pretense of a reason to do such things also disappeared.

Saddam probably believed that we would look the other way rather than start a war to kick him out of Kuwait. During the Cold War we would have. The region had been too unstable and we had worried about starting a conflagration that could lead to a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR. However, by the time Hussein decided to adventure into Kuwait, that fear was gone, and we had a chance to show that the world could indeed stand up to the destabilizing ambitions of a petty tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.

In that case, we handled things properly, in my opinion: we gave Saddam ample time to consider his options. All he needed to do was decide to pull out of Kuwait and we would have withdrawn the threat of force. During the long period we allowed him to consider our ultimatum, we also built up our military forces in the region. We marshalled international opinion, we gained support from many Arab nations, and we got a UN mandate to go in. We got Congressional approval. By the time we launched our attack, we had both overwhelming military and diplomatic momentum on our side.

The key to the success of the Gulf War was a deliberate approach and overwhelming force. A general principle of the use of any military force is that it should be done only after all other options have been thoroughly exhausted. We did this in that case. Saddam didn't blink, so we attacked. It was a terrible loss of a hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers' lives --- but it established the principle that the civilized world, acting in concert, would at least in some cases stand against an egregious violation of international law. Admittedly, we have failed to apply similar standards everywhere --- in Africa, we did nothing during the Rwandan massacre, and other similar conflicts. Furthermore, oil clearly played a role: not that we went into the war specifically to protect our oil interests, but because oil made us care more about what happened there. But despite these lapses, the Gulf War, I believe, set a precedent for a new international system of security, in which military force is used to rectify and deter threats to regional and international stability. I believe this is actually what George Bush, Sr., meant by the phrase "New World Order."

Setting this precedent I believe had the potential to save many more lives in the centuries that followed it than were lost in the Gulf War itself, on all sides. This is the main reason I supported that war, despite the terrible human cost.

Further international actions, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan proved that the world can and would act when international security or basic human rights were gravely threatened. This gave petty tyrants and dictators nowhere to hide: they were facing not just the wrath of one nation, but of the civilized world. One tyrant cannot long stand against that sort of tide.

The centerpiece of this system was the flawed yet still workable Security Council of the UN. This centerpiece was and is necessary to provide legitimacy to this system of international security. It also spreads the responsibility to the whole world, and thus makes it more difficult for tyrants to find refuge.

This same system could well be used in the war on terror.

This system has worked to beautiful effect. The population of the world was beginning to see the UN Security Council as it was intended to be: a system designed to stabilize the world and help provide security.

I have no illusions about the UN as some sort of magically wonderful world government that will solve all of our problems. As an entity I have little interest in it --- what I believe in, however, is international cooperation in matters of security, because it isolates and marginalizes those who threaten it. The UN is an institution that is in place already and the Security Council is an adequate architecture for dealing with these issues.

Bush II, however, has already done everything he can to dismantle this system, which had the potential to provide a form of security for both the world and for us that could well have worked for centuries. Because of his administration's puerile posturing, now even if the UN does act against Saddam, it will be seen as caving in to American pressure --- which is precisely what the system was intended to avoid --- that is, giving a dictator the opportunity to single out a specific adversary and blame his woes on it (in this case, the United States, us) --- rather than face the wrath of a united world. The UN will not have credibility in this case, and because of the immature and irresponsible actions of this Administration, it may never have such credibility ever again. This system's ability to deal with the terror war, which is a far more important war than this Iraq situation, may also be forever compromised.

This was a huge and totally unnecesary price to pay for the relatively minor, indirect, and long-term threat that Iraq posed to us and to the world. It may well lead, I am afraid, to the total breakdown of security on our planet --- the system that was tentatively in place, created to a large degree by the leadership of Bush Sr., is now in ruins, perhaps irreparably damaged. This system was flawed but it could have evolved --- now, because of a few ideologues in this Administration, ideologues who believe the UN should be disregarded and who hate the entire concept of international security as espoused by Bush Sr., it may be irretrievably lost. And, sadly, with it, we may have lost our best hope for long-term world security (when I say long-term, I am thinking on the scale of decades and centuries, not just years).

We may not have much time left, this human race on this planet.

November 1 (b), 2002

Some of my thoughts on politics and Iraq.

November 1, 2002

A good friend of mine (at the author's request, I shall not reveal who) wrote this as part of a journal project (writing for an hour a day), several years ago, and I recently came across it and despite the pain in it, I couldn't help but find it hilarious and well-written. The author also agrees that it's great, and agreed to let me share it with you in all of its angry brilliance.


I'm so angry I can't even think anymore, straight, crooked, whatever. I sit here disgusted with everything I read or hear or think about. The world seems incredibly false, self serving and puerile. I can't hardly control myself enough to act like a human being. I'm an ape baby. I want to shit on everybody's food and fart on their faces. I feel like running up into somebody's face and spitting. I hate Noah's bagels for being non-kosher and a waste of packaging materials. They act old, but they're really nouveau riche. I don't even like having to spell nouveau riche.

I don't care if I never write another good thing in my entire life. Who cares about anyone or anything? I don't care if I stuck in adolescent hell for the rest of my life. Who else would? I think people should stop fiddling with their stupid selves. Picking at the world around them fussing with it and leaving hair all over the place. I want to smash their faces in.

He wants me to work, to make money. That's what he wants to do. But I don't want to do that. He thinks that someday, we'll have enough money that we can do whatever we want. But that'll never happen. He never has enough money to do that. My sister has enough, living on $1000 a month, but he will never have enough.

I hate working anyway. You have to be nice to people who don't deserve to breathe.

Is this crap more salable than anything else is? Just because it's angry and gross? Would you rather read this than a love story or a self-help book? Is this art because it's mean-spirited? Where am I stealing this copy from? The High School Times book review?

I have to do this for another hour or so. If I don't do it, I'll never get over it. I can't believe I thought that. I feel like such a liar. I'm just like everyone else, after all. Wanting to have flowers up my nose so I can't smell the shit trail I'm leaving behind me. Don Norman says people often assume the wrong causal relationship, but I'm not, in this case. I excrete shit, therefore, I am made of shit. It's on the inside. I don't see what could be simpler.

Of course, I'm also made out of meat shit, and bone shit and blood shit. But the fact is, that all this will eventually turn to shit. If not my own shit, then I will be worm shit. Or if the sun burns out, I will be cosmic shit. A mass of dead cosmic shit floating through space. The ether. I won't even have the pleasure of being anti-matter. I'll just be dead matter.

But then, these "dark moods" will eventually pass, and I'll put on my gortex jacket and cover my ass and walk to the corner store to give my clean fresh money to somebody else who will make me my food. And I'll eat it, hoping that because I didn't make fun of their hair, they didn't spit in my food or jack off into it (if they can get it up to do so, given that their lives are so boring) and then human order will have been established.

There are three different kinds of matter I can think of. Live matter, dead matter and anti-matter. I think dead matter is definitely the least sexy of these three matters. Some people are attracted to the second sister, but I think this is only because they are full of self hatred and they want somebody else to hate more. Most people straight out despise the oldest sister because she's such a bossy bitch. They like the youngest sister because she's such a conniving bitch, nobody can tell what a bitch she is. Do you think it's very anti-woman to write stuff like this? I'm sure that it is, and it shows what a disgusting, unpopular, common-minded, unself-examined, reject of higher learning and society I am. Fuck you.

Of course, the truth is, I'm really meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent. I would never punch a lady in the mouth. I'm scared to walk on the sidewalk with the other good people. I should probably throw myself out into the street and get run over by cars, mashed down into the asphalt so I stop getting in the way of everyone else. Except that would be so messy and sensational. No. Instead, when the pack eats, I will eat last, allowing myself only to pick at the food and not to enjoy it, avoiding fattening foods and the items I'm most attracted to. Because I must never allow anyone to see that I'm hungry, that would be an admission of desire and people like me should never desire anything.


I was thinking today that I think I might have figured out life, art, architecture, science, philosophy, and all that, and how they all relate to each other (I'm of course not serious, though I'm a little bit serious, actually), but then I realized I have left out music. I didn't have any sort of deep understanding of music that would fit it into my grand scheme. So there's still something missing. Music is a very strange activity --- what is its evolutionary function? No other animals create new music all the time. Very few animals, in fact, listen to music at all; birds seem to use it, though it seems to have a utilitarian purpose, being used for signaling and mating. Music gives us pleasure, but it's a pleasure that doesn't seem to be related to anything that is obviously related to survival. It's seen as a vice by certain religious fundamentalists. Why is music seen to be dangerous? It almost feels erotic; like sex, it can have a shape and a climax (well, classical music more than popular)... so perhaps that's what scares some of the religious people. Music is fractal in structure, like language --- it reminds us of the fractal world in which we live, perhaps. But our experience of the fractal world is primarily visual --- but music is auditory, spread out in time. Unlike the auditory language, it seems to appeal to our feeling more than our intellect (except perhaps to composers).

Music is an enigma.

In other news, Sifl and Olly's final unbroadcast season is now available on DVD and VHS. Except it's sold out on DVD at the moment. But I will be getting one as soon as they get back in stock in a few weeks.

I am going to gather up all my thoughts about Iraq and post them. Soon.