synthetic zero


October 31, 2001

The thing about this sort of reverse time flow is that, unlike forward time flow, you need to rely on factors that are not only beyond your "control" but beyond your immediate local awareness. In other words, to participate in or go along with these seemingly teleological universal impulses is not just a matter of listening for signals from the future and inputting them into your thought process, but in some way getting out of the way of the larger process and allowing it to operate --- not independently of you, but sort of with and including but not limited to just you and what you know and can control.

October 30, 2001

The Northern Alliance are not angels, but they're not all scoundrels, either. And we cannot let the Pakistan intelligence service, ISI, dictate to us yet again which factions we ought to support. It was at their behest during the war with the Soviets that we decided to fund the more extremist Islamic leaders, to disastrous effect in later years, as we are now discovering. More moderate leaders like Abdul Haq, who was just slain in Afghanistan after getting nearly no support from us on his mission, were shunned, and Haq himself was well-known for his harsh criticism of our policy of primarily supporting religious extremists during the Soviet war. Now, as we can all see, Haq was totally right all along. Rather than focusing on military targets at the front, we have decided, for reasons that are still opaque to me, to focus primarily on bombing targets in urban areas --- granted, we're aiming at military targets, but obviously when you bomb civilian areas you are going to make big mistakes, such as bombing Red Cross warehouses twice, and bombs going astray, hitting civilians. (And while we're at it, has anyone involved in targeting ever heard of statistical process control? Get a grip, people.) Meanwhile, whatever reasons we may have for not focusing our attention on purely military areas, such as the front lines, the longer this war goes on, the longer it takes before Alliance troops can retake major parts of the country, the longer it will be before food aid can safely be distributed --- causing more potential for humanitarian disaster. I believe and still believe military action is warranted, but it seems increasingly clear that we are in this for the long haul --- and if that is the case, bombing through Ramadan and preventing essential aid from getting into the country could well lead to disastrous mass starvation amongst the Afghan people without changing the fact that we are probably going to have to fight in Afghanistan for quite some time to come.

The effect of our mistake of not getting a UN mandate for our action and not getting more allies to participate in the strikes means that this war is shaping up as the US versus Afghanistan: this can only help the Taliban. I think we need a major top-to-bottom review of our strategy and tactics, pronto.

October 29, 2001

I'm 36 years old, and I don't yet feel very much different from the way I was when I was 26 (or even 20); I imagine that as I age the changes will become more obvious (or suddenly obvious, if I come down with some terminal disease)... but there is one thing that has changed, which is my reaction to the physical appearance of women. I remember when I was in college and I saw pictures of models in magazines or in advertisements, or models in magazines like Playboy, for example, the women in them seemed older, sophisticated, knowing of sexual secrets, etc. Then there was a time when these women appeared to me to be roughly peers. As I transitioned into my thirties they seemed like fresh-faced younger women, but still, women. Now, however, when I see women who are college age or slightly older, the age of most models, for example, most of them just look to me like children. I can't imagine them in any erotic sense at all; they look so innocent and unaware, which is, at least for me, not a turn-on. I have friends who tell me they seem to be still drawn to young women, but they find dating them very difficult because of the maturity gap --- they tell me these young women tend to be more rigid in their thinking, due to lack of experience with the world. I don't seem to have this reaction to women that young, for the most part. Of course it varies with the specific person --- there are older-looking or older-acting young women, etc.

I guess, for me, woman-as-girl was never a turn-on; what interested me was always the strong, intelligent woman. Not so much women who attempted to be masculine, but rather I saw (and still see) strength and outspokenness as a very powerful human trait --- which can be expressed in both a feminine and masculine manner. That is to say, I never saw strength and keen intelligence as a specifically masculine trait, but something that a woman could/would/should naturally have as a part of their own personal expression, without making them less feminine in any way. Maybe this is because all of the women in my family are strong, and the tradition in samurai families was to have strong, self-reliant, intelligent women, women who could help advise even on political and strategic affairs, or even fight when necessary, particularly in the early feudal period. Though the position of women deteriorated later, there is still a tradition of strong women that was preserved in many samurai families: mine, for example. So I am attracted to this sort of woman --- an unconscious drive also, I suppose, to increase the probability of having strong, intelligent children.

October 28 (b), 2001

What an unbelievably cheesy memorial ceremony being held at the World Trade Center right now. It makes one embarrassed to be an American. Is this really the best the country can do? It's like a bad late night K-Tel Records commercial. Get Soothing Terrorism Recovery Music for only $9.99 (plus $6.95 S&H).

Oh, okay, whew, at least a little real classical music being thrown in here now, it's not a total boobfest.

October 28, 2001


The other day while driving through Portland, minding my own business, I suddenly spied a large truck with the following words painted colorfully and tantalizingly on its side: AUTONOMADIC BOOKMOBILE. Some web surfing reveals it to be a creation of the Bindlestiff Family Circus. More can be discovered about the bookmobile here.

What about dressing up for Halloween as, say, that feeling you get when you first wake up in the morning and it is raining slightly, and you feel pleasant but you're not entirely sure where you are, or even who you are.

A quote from Shunryu Suzuki on non-sectarianism (and non ism-ism, for that matter):

Zazen is a practice which contains innumerable activities; zazen started even before Buddha.... Zazen practice is the practice which includes the various activities of life. So actually, we do not emphasize the sitting posture alone. How to sit is how to act. We study how to act by sitting, and this is the most basic activity for us. That is why we practice zazen in this way. Even though we practice zazen, we should not call ourselves the Zen school... We should forget all about some particular teaching; we should not ask which is good or bad. There should not be any particular teaching. Teaching is in each moment, in every existence. That is the true teaching.

I wrote this note to myself two months ago: "Communication is possible only because it is impossible. Every message exists only in the space of its context." What do you think I meant? Because I'm not entirely sure, myself. If you have an idea, email me.

October 27, 2001

It has always seemed to me that time has two aspects: the sense in which it is flowing forward, and the sense in which you are standing there and time flows backwards, past you, towards its source. Forward movement is ordinary time: causality, events moving like branches of a tree from prior causes to future causes, governed only by chance, constrained by nothing. Time flowing backwards has this subtle sense that not all possibilities are equally probable, a faint trace of the future affecting the past, like the foreshock that appears in the data recorded by the Princeton anomalies lab (PEAR) in advance of the attacks. If forward causality were strictly adhered to, the PEAR data ought to be strictly time-asymmetric: and it is asymmetric, but there does seem to be an unmistakable foreshock. Why?

I've often felt these sorts of foreshocks in my personal experience; sometimes they've been remarkably vivid and unexpected. Strategies based on forward causality are the ones that people usually think of as mundane or "worldly" -- those based on backward causality seem to have a feeling of being more "spiritual" or grounded in what seems to be a kind of teleological universal impulse; however, I don't think of this as an external agent controlling things, but rather the universe as a whole --- or the future --- sending faint signals back to us in the past, subtly altering probabilities with greater or lesser significance depending on the situation. This backward causality doesn't appear to radically alter probabilities most of the time, nor does it seem to affect most statistics --- but it does appear to leave enough of a trace to be detected both by human beings and by scientific instruments and statistical analysis, if the PEAR data and analysis hold up.

Of course, one wonders why it is that events significant to humans in particular would have the most impact --- why humans? It is one of two possibilities, I think: either humans or conscious beings have a strange interaction with the universe, or it is because we are the ones observing the world, and so to us, in the version of quantum reality in which we are making the observations, statistics appears to be skewed in such a way that would be significant to us, as humans (but only to us). Perhaps from the "point of view" of the ant, events appear to be skewed towards the ant, etc.

October 26 (b), 2001

What I really want to watch on TV and read in the news are accounts from people who are actually on the scene, or who have some intimate inside knowledge of the situation on the ground. It's tiring and pathetic to listen to talking heads pontificate on things they know little about, when it's painfully obvious that they haven't even been staying abreast of developments which can be read about in the daily newspapers, much less have any inside information. It's even more worthless to listen to and read extensive coverage deconstructing the remarks of high-level officials like Tom Ridge, who obviously haven't had the time to come up to speed yet on everything they are supposed to be managing. What I want to hear from are people close to the real scene, not people living way up in the upper echelons of Washington, far removed from daily realities.

So I was very glad to see Christiane Amanpour's show on CNN International, also aired just now on CNN, complete with interviews with international correspondents in countries around the world, covering serious issues that are getting short shrift right now in the press: the Kashmir situation and reaction in India to the war, Muslim reaction as reported by Pakistani and Muslim journalists, the monumentally historic IRA decommssioning: from the point of view of journalists who are there. It's too bad we don't often get to see much of this sort of coverage.

It seems to me that if you want to in some way make yourself do things that you really want to do, instead of waiting for the right moment to begin doing it, it behooves you to just start doing it now. Doing so is risky, of course, but simply by placing yourself in situations where you are trying to do whatever it is you really want to do, you also place yourself in learning environments: environmental pressure, so to speak, and you will be forced to adapt and evolve.

Seattle and Portland have a funny sort of rivalry. In many rivalries, for example, Harvard versus Yale, (Hertz versus Avis, Coke versus Pepsi, Ernie versus Bert) one side is often considered to automatically have the upper hand --- in those cases, I have noticed, it is the underdog that is usually most obsessed with the rivalry. In the case of Seattle and Portland, however, it is strange, because each of them has a smug certainty that they are clearly the superior city. While Seattle folks rarely think about Portland, when they do, it is often with an air of condescension (insecurity?) The typical Portlander's attitude towards Seattle, however, is a sort of generosity mixed with pity. Portlanders will earnestly mention the things they like about Seattle, while in the back of their minds thinking about how Seattle has made every mistake Los Angeles made. Portlanders dont take glee in this --- they just shake their heads sadly, and go back to enjoying their lives. The fact that Portland has long been overlooked doesn't seem to bother most Portlanders, in fact, they have liked it that way.

However, Portland has begun to have a national and even international reputation; at first, Portlanders greeted this news with a sense of foreboding: oh no, now they'll all want to move here. But as growth continued without destroying the city, now the attitude has somewhat reversed itself: all the attention has simply given Portlanders a quiet sense of validation. Even the backlash against Portland's reputation is, in a way, only further confirmation: they don't try to knock you down unless you're at the top.

There is one strange caveat, however. Of all the people I have met in Portland, there is one group that tends to be somewhat ambivalent: people who grew up here and haven't spent much time elsewhere. They don't seem to appreciate what they've got (sort of the opposite of the Seattleites who don't realize what they haven't got). But then they move away and find out.

The fact that both Portland and Seattle believe they are "obviously" on top makes the rivalry a bit less intense than it otherwise might be, however. Neither side seems to think there is much need for a debate: the question has already been quite naturally settled, even before it was asked.

October 26, 2001

Portland: Projections via consumptive.org.

Cynthia Korzekwa (ikastikos) posts her drawings to a kind of visual weblog here.

I stayed up all night making new video effects for the ever-evolving Swan Tool. Miranda is performing it tonight and tomorrow night in Olympia, at Evergreen College, 8pm both nights. Catch her if you can.

I am extremely sleepy.

October 25, 2001

For a brief moment, the American public seemed to be focused on serious problems overseas; the cable and national news networks aired in-depth documentaries about Afghanistan made before the attacks, international news dominated the headlines, and the networks delved into analyses of Islamic issues, military strategy, and international affairs in general. How soon things shift: now, while millions face starvation in Afghanistan, Sharon defies U.S. demands with yet another raid into Palestinian territory, and we drop cluster bombs in urban areas: are we still tending to the serious matters of the day? Alas, instead, we are hyperventilating about the price of Cipro and a few amateurishly-carried-out anthrax attacks. It's Gary Condit, terrorism edition. Of course, bioterrorism is a threat, one among many, but this comical hoo-hah is totally distracting from real issues that will affect us and the world in the short and long term.

October 23, 2001

Have you ever noticed how useless --- even worse than useless, sometimes --- film critics can be? A bad review might stop you from seeing a perfectly good --- even excellent --- film, when in fact the problem was not with the film, but the reviewer. Similarly, I'm sure we have all wasted hours of valuable time seeing a movie that some reviewer loved --- but not you.

Of course, the problem here is the proxy nature of film reviews; we ask someone else to substitute their aesthetic sense for our own, which is rarely going to result in perfect correspondence. Going to comparative sites like Rotten Tomatoes only helps slightly; we get to see the overall consensus of many film reviews, which just gives you the homogenized, average opinion --- unless your opinion always coincides with that of the average film critic, this will not do you much good either.

It occurred to me that a good way to find a reviewer that might tend to share your own particular sensibility would be to take a movie that many reviewers liked, but you hated --- or vice-versa, and find the one reviewer who not only went against the grain, but agreed with your own particularized opinion about a film. I chose Pitch Black for this experiment: a stylish, creative thriller which I thought was far better than most reviewers gave it credit for --- and, using Rotten Tomatoes, discovered the one reviewer who shared my sentiment: Cynthia Fuchs.

You may not share my specific sensibility, so you might not find Cynthia's reviews as perceptive as I do. But perhaps, by going through the above process, you can find a reviewer for yourself who shares your aesthetic. In any case, I certainly have found mine. She is, to me, an amazingly intelligent and unusually discriminating film critic. She also teaches cultural studies; her somewhat un-updated home page can be found here.

Cynthia publishes her reviews in the Philadelphia City Paper, PopMatters, Reel Images Magazine, PopPolitics, and Nitrate Online.

October 22, 2001

New and improved links list.

Does anyone know what the hell the "scroll lock" key was/is ever supposed to be for? I suppose I can guess, but I do find it comical that every keyboard has one, and furthermore there is usually a prominently displayed LED devoted to it. As far as I can tell all it is now is an annoying key that I accidentally hit from time to time, causing me to scramble around trying to find it so I can turn off the damn LED.

Against dogma. It is interesting to me that fundamentalists of every religion seem to disagree about everything (often even when they are from the "same" religion), yet so-called "mystics" from many religions seem to be able to find agreement on many things. Zen Buddhists refer to Sufi masters, Sufis refer to Zen Buddhists; Jewish mystics refer to Catholic mystics, Catholic mystics refer to Zen and Sufism, Advaita Hindu mystics refer to Zen, and so forth. Furthermore, it is also interesting that "mystical" traditions tend to be friendly to, or at least able to deal with, things like: modernity, science, and even postmodernism, whereas fundamentalist interpretations of religion are often hostile to these things.

From Advaita and Science:

Science and religion have not ordinarily agreed with each other. There are several areas of contention between the two. The word 'religion' is often used to denote the ritualistic aspects of religion. However, the true meaning of the word, and the sense in which it is used in this article, is to indicate a genuine search for the truth about life. To avoid confusion, we will henceforth use the word 'spirituality' instead to denote such a search.

Some of these points of contention are:

a) the existence of a 'soul',

b) the existence of 'free will' (versus genes, conditioning and chance),

c) the existence of rebirth,

d) the existence of God,

e) and reliance on faith versus reliance on experimental proof.

Science denies that the first four exist - for it has found neither proof nor any place for them - and refuses to take their existence simply as a matter of faith. But what happens if we conduct research in spirituality while applying the scientific method? Can we find a model of spirituality which agrees with science on all these points?

Interestingly, we can. Not only that, if we delve a little further, we will find that all the mystics and sages have been pointing to this very same philosophy from time immemorial.

It seems to me that the general agreement between the mystics of many religions and, for example, science, doesn't necessarily mean the mystics are right, but it almost certainly means the so-called fundamentalists are wrong. If you have, on the one hand, a subset of people who come from radically different cultures and starting points, yet they seem to have converged on a similar (even if not identical) point of view, to the point that it even becomes possible for them to translate their technical language from one to the other, and furthermore that these same folks tend to be in agreement with much or all of empirical scientific investigation (depending on the group), and on the other you have an almost endless variety of dogmatic views which are in direct contradiction to modern science as well as with each other, I think at the very least we can conclude that the dogmatists are full of shit, whatever you might think of the mystics.

October 21 (b), 2001

The right wall and the left wall (from the classic I and Thou, by Martin Buber):

At times the man, shuddering at the alienation between the I and the world, comes to reflect that something is to be done. As when in the grave night-hour you lie, racked by waking dream --- bulwarks have fallen away and the abyss is screaming ... so ..... he calls thought, in which he rightly has great confidence, to his aid; it shall make good everything for him again.... So this man says to his thought, "You see this thing stretched out here with the cruel eyes --- was it not my playfellow once? You know how it laughed at me then with these very eyes ... ? .... Will you make it up between me and it, so that it leaves off and I recover?" And thought, ready with its service and its art, paints with its well-known speed one --- no, two rows of pictures, on the right wall and on the left. On the one there is ... the universe. The tiny earth plunges from the whirling stars, tiny man from the teeming earth, and now history bears him further through the ages, to rebuild persistently the ant-hill of the cultures which history crushes underfoot. Beneath the row of pictures is written: "One and all." On the other wall there takes place the soul. A spinner is spinning the orbits of all stars and the life of all creation and the history of the universe; everything is woven on one thread, and is no longer called stars and creation and universe, but sensations and imaginings, or even experiences, and conditions of the soul. And beneath the row of pictures is written: "One and all."

Thenceforth, if ever the man shudders at the alienation, and the world strikes terror in his heart, he looks up (to right or left, just as it may chance) and sees a picture. There he sees that the I is embedded in the world and that there really is no I at all --- so the world can do nothing to the I, and he is put at ease; or he sees that the world is embedded in the I, and that there is really no world at all --- so the world can do nothing to the I, and he is put at ease. Another time, if the man shudders at the alienation, and the I strikes terror in his heart, he looks up and sees a picture; which picture he sees does not matter, the empty I is stuffed full with the world or the stream of the world flows over it, and he is put at ease.

But a moment comes, and it is near, when the shuddering man looks up and sees both pictures in a flash together. And a deeper shudder seizes him.

The two walls must be seen at the same time, and become one. There is no escape from this, though we try to run away from it.

Another Martin Buber quote which seems apropos at this time: "The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God."

The dire situation of starving Afghans is extremely serious. It is difficult to know, given the limited amount of information we have been getting from Afghanistan, whether our current campaign is going well, poorly, whether it is moving too quickly, or not quickly enough. Moving too slowly could lead to more death in the long run, since it could mean that it will take longer before aid convoys can go in safely, and decrease the probability that troops who want to defect to the opposition will have the opportunity to do so in time to help the starving Afghan civilians. On the other hand, we may be moving too quickly, and bombing could increase internal Afghan support for a Taliban regime that was not popular to begin with. In any case, no matter what, mass starvation of Afghans must be avoided at all costs. This would be a disaster not only in human terms but in terms of our long-term strategic interests, for reasons too obvious to bother to elaborate upon here.

October 21, 2001

Via [sub]culture, from an interview with Peter Greenaway:

I think cinema is now dead, if it's ever been alive, because I think probably we've never seen any cinema, we've only see a hundred and five years of illustrated text which is again a whole new phenomenon. Cinema still, for me, hasn't created its own language. It's like that Bresson definition which was made in the 1930's, that cinema really is an uncomfortable amalgam of the theatre, the novel and painting. Alas for me, very little painting in the cinema. Most cinema is not visual. It's people following text. You can see it time after time after time. 99% of films, you can see people following text and not making images. That seems to me to be a very unhappy way to have created cinema, but now I think it's too late, because cinema has changed all its characteristics. Cinema basically is a passive medium that I will say died on the thirty first of September 1983 when the remote control was introduced into the dining rooms, the sitting rooms of the world, because suddenly you wanted to make a passive medium into an active one, in terms of interactivity. So I think you have to re-organise and this is what I mean by the philosophical implications to the new technology. You have to rethink the idea of the moving image to put it in a new place, because the cinema basically used the nineteenth century novel as its as its model ...

The editor is king. The organiser of the material and what the new technologies have allowed us to do is all to become supreme editors. We can now make anything out of anything.

I still think there is hope for creating a new language for cinema. One which is truly visual, and not merely, as Peter puts it, illustrated text.

From this LA Times article:

The young woman didn't know the name of the book she was after when she wandered into a Santa Monica bookstore. She just knew she needed to read it.

"What is their book, the one like the Bible?" she asked Margie Ghiz, owner of Midnight Special. The Koran, Ghiz said. Then the owner apologized; she had just sold out.

In that case, the woman asked, could she look at anything related? "I think I need to know more about how other people think," she said.


October 20000, 2001

I am dying to see this movie. Two of my favorite films are Slacker and Before Sunrise.

I am soon jetting off to New York (early December), to engage in a short film project with Heather Anne and others, to visit friends, and do a little business. I'm also going to check in and see Miranda perform The Swan Tool again --- she keeps updating it (involving re-edits on my part --- but though I'm editing and recompositing the visuals, I have no idea what the new stuff is like in performance yet, so it'll be interesting to see). You can buy tickets here.

October 19, 2001

Caterina thinks I should put my picture on this site; of course she always has hers right there on the home page, something I wouldn't do, but I've been thinking, why not? I'm surprised that she hasn't gotten a lot of harrassing email from men --- though, being a man, I suppose I am not that worried about that. I don't have a particular need for anonymity here --- maybe I will go ahead and do it. Or, like Susan, just put half my face up (strangely, even people who know her well who don't know she writes that column, but who have read the column, don't recognize her from that half-photo.)

Monty sends me a link about a 22-year-old guy who was prevented from flying because of his choice of reading material.

New, free, open-source Microsoft Office-compatible StarOffice version 6.0 now available in beta. I've been using StarOffice 5.2 almost exclusively for the last few months and it does everything I need in word processing and spreadsheet-ing. StarOffice 6 improves on the user inteface of StarOffice 5.2, getting rid of the strange "desktop" metaphor in favor of a more standard application metaphor. It supports XML, better Office compatibility, and improved ease of use. It's a large download but I recommend it. The only downside is no Mac version yet, though since it is open source, there is a chance that will come into being at some point.


october (part 1)