synthetic zero


October 31, 2002

Halloween. I suppose it's a time to be scared, all right: for the future of the nation. In many recent conflicts I parted ways with my left-leaning friends in support of war --- I supported the Gulf War (despite the fact that we fought it mainly because of our oil interests), I supported the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and I supported the war in Afghanistan (though we made a number of rather severe mistakes which led to a lot of unnecessary deaths). However, when it comes to the ridiculous way we're going about the situation in Iraq, I find myself back with my traditional allies. I almost threw up when I read Christopher Hitchens, who began (rather predictably) as a Trotskyist in the old days but now has been beating the war drums against Iraq for some time. I suppose something strange happens to people when they begin to switch sides; they cannot maintain a sense of independence; having once associated with a "side" they unconsciously flip over to the other "side" with equal and opposite force, despite their claims to now be seeing things more clearly and objectively. It's hilarious how he quotes Orwell at the beginning of the interview then says he prefers to call the war on Iraq "an intervention against Saddam Hussein." Absolutely priceless.

Hitchens claims to be balanced in this debate, but he finds himself to the right of Henry Kissinger on Iraq, and he tries to explain this away by pointing to the many crimes committed under Kissinger's direction, as though somehow this means that this time we ought to err on the side of going even farther than Kissinger would advise. Kissinger isn't even against war against Saddam Hussein --- he just has argued that it ought to be done as part of a multilateral process. Apparently even that is too much opposition for the "neutral" Hitchens.

What we're doing at the UN and against Iraq is truly bizarre and unfathomable. Even if one were to buy the argument that we must do something about Saddam Hussein, there is no reason to think that this something must be war, right away. Furthermore it ought to be done multilaterally --- especially when you're the only remaining superpower, one has a responsibility to be as absolutely careful as possible about not appearing to be moving unilaterally. To childishly insist on our independence from the UN is not to demonstrate strength, but a sign of dangerous weakness: the hawks in the Administration are too unsure of their own masculinity to be willing to negotiate like responsible adults with other nations of the world. We want the world to know we're the most powerful nation and we can do whatever the fuck we want. Well: the world already knows that, Mr. Wolfowitz. Thanks for reminding them, and making them hate us even more for it. These "hawks" have no backbone: that's the real problem.

October 30 (b), 2002

Well, I was wrong (about the crush)... except that I wasn't. Strangely enough, she DID put my name in as a guess after she got one of these emails, back in July (though I never got an email from that or I deleted it as spam), but she says it wasn't her this time. Of course, the whole thing is an email list generating scheme, but it is still amusing to play with. I now have officially given up guessing since I can't think of anyone else who fits the clues I got.

October 30, 2002

I think I've figured out who sent me the crush email. I'm pretty sure I know what happened.

The funny thing about New Yorkers is that most of them don't seem to know how to do anything for themselves. Everyone seems to know how to hire other people to do things (some of those people actually do know their jobs, unless they're crooks, preying on those who don't know). People who don't know how to deal with a can of WD40 or don't know how to unfasten bolts from Ikea tables; it's kind of funny. I think that's why things are always broken around here--- it just takes a long time to get the guy to come and fix it, and people don't feel they can actually maintain and/or fix ordinary things themselves. In Long Beach, a tiny airport with only a few gates, everything runs perfectly. At JFK, the baggage claim is chaos, no one knows what the regulations are (had to force a check in agent to talk to a reservations agent I called on the American Airlines 800 number and get them to listen to an explanation of their own regulations regarding pet health certificates), and of course, upon landing, the entire American Airlines terminal was filled with loud static coming from the PA. No one, apparently, knew how to stop the PA from making that noise --- or no one cared. New York seems to breed a sense of helplessness in the general population, people who have grown up dependent upon professionals to do things for them.

I should add here, though, that I do know a small number of people from New York who are hyper-capable with knowledge of a vast variety of things and the ability to do many things for themselves. They are a tiny minority here, but perhaps they are the ones that everyone else relies upon to fix things. It's not really an efficient tradeoff however; there just aren't enough such people to keep everything working well. A bit of DIY would go a long way here.

October 29, 2002

Someone sent me a "crush" email (via someonelikesyou) and I can't for the life of me guess who (or I don't know their email address). So, fess up. Don't be shy.

I had a huge epiphany about the relationship between art in the 19th century and later, art prior to the mid-19th century or so, and architecture. Basically it is that art is increasingly becoming like architecture, and I have a very specific set of reasons why I think this. And in the meantime it is becoming increasingly like contemplative/spiritual practices (not just the making of art, which always has been to some extent, but also viewing/interacting with art). Art is not only not any longer about depiction, it is literally about engaging the viewer in an active involvement or participation in a sort of direct experience of their own; and therefore art is beginning to share with architecture a more explicit interest in how the viewer actually interacts with the art --- though this has always been a concern of art, it is becoming increasingly the main or even only concern. That is to say, art today now has the effect of being primarily about the experience of the viewer, rather than a record of an experience of the artist, or a depiction of a scene or a symbol, etc. Again, I'm not claiming this is somehow entirely new --- I am saying the emphasis has shifted.

October 26, 2002

It's hard to believe, like something out of a nightmare: the great senator Paul Wellstone is dead. Ralph Nader wasn't fit to shine this guy's shoes (or even clean his fingernails). Not only a man of principle, but someone with the balls to actually get out there and get elected, for real, and do real work in the Senate for the people of Minnesota, the nation, and the world. It's a shocking and terrifying tragedy, and one that comes at a particularly eerie time --- like Mel Carnahan, right before an election. This is a dark time, and it seems to be getting darker.

October 25, 2002

Today I bought a very cool new Swiss Army Knife which they call the CyberTool though it could just as well be called the iKnife... it's probably the best-designed and most useful Swiss Army knife I've owned. It comes in multiple translucent colors (I wonder where they got that idea), but, most importantly, it has the main features I always want in a multitool: a usable pair of scissors (the biggest failing with the Leatherman which I also own), serviceable pliers, and the best screwdriver system I've ever seen on a multitool --- it lets you change heads, and comes with eight options including a whole bunch of those weird Torx screwdrivers as well as the usual Philips and various sizes of flat head including tiny ones for eyeglasses. Even better, the screwdriver comes on this really long shaft that gives it a lot of reach. Okay, enough nerding out on the multitool.

I also bought a DVD+RW drive. Some words of advice: be careful if you try to get an internal drive and put it into a firewire enclosure. Sometimes the software they bundle will only install if the drive is detected internally. Also, don't try to use Roxio's packet-writing software (allows you to treat a DVD+RW as a giant floppy) or HP's DLA packet-writing software with a DVD+RW, at least under Windows XP. It's just not very reliable. I recommend Nero's InCD packet-writing software, which comes free with Nero's Burning ROM (which I also recommend for its stability.)

October 21, 2002

There's a Zen saying: "The life of a Zen master is a continuous series of mistake following upon mistake." With that in mind ... check out the new blog written by mushin.

October 18, 2002

In California again for a little while. I hate to admit it, but driving my car again is quite a feeling of liberation after being constrained only to walking and riding the train in New York. In Portland, I also walk most of the time, but there I have the car as an option, so somehow I don't feel any sort of withdrawal --- but after being in New York for a while it's somehow quite thrilling in a way I hadn't anticipated to be able to zoom around in my car again. (I do tend to zoom when I drive --- in a safe way of course).

On the other hand I had a dream that I had an electric scooter, similar to the sort of vehicle you can buy at a place like NYCEWheels on the upper east side. Something like that might sate my desire for faster than walking transport. We'll see.

October 17, 2002

The most important thing is to constantly check and re-check everything. Not neurotically, but calmly: and not the surface things, but the depths. Are things really the way I think they are? Don't just buy into your assessment of what seems to be the case in your life situation. Things are rarely exactly what they seem to be.

The Bush Administration is engaging in what would be a comically inept foreign policy adventure; except for the fact that it could get us all killed. It's not that I trust Saddam Hussein --- who does or would? But it's pretty clear that he's a self-interested despot, not a religious fanatic --- and really, the only possible motivation he would have to use weapons of mass destruction is if he is backed into a corner by the threat of being deposed. Hussein isn't bin Laden --- he doesn't want virgins in the afterlife, he wants them here and now --- but he is enough of an asshole to try to take as many of us with him when he goes as he can.

Even more stupid than the idea of going to war against Iraq right now, however, is the way the Bush Administration is going about it --- if they really feel that it is necessary to attack Iraq, then the right way to do it is to make it appear as though it's not just our idea. The United States likely could get agreement on a resolution authorizing force simply by first getting a resolution authorizing unlimited inspections, and when the Iraqis systematically flout that (as they would), it wouldn't take that much Iraqi intransigence to get the UN to eventually decide to authorize force if the US wanted to press the issue. Because of the way the US is going about this, however, if we do end up attacking Iraq it will become a certain cause for militants of generations yet unborn to try to destroy the United States pretty much utterly, without end. If the UN authorized it, it would be Iraq against the world --- but instead, it's going to be Iraq against us. It is such a stupid, stupid way to go about this, it boggles the mind.

October 16, 2002

Susan and I went to an introduction to meditation class at Tibet House in Manhattan yesterday. The center is very beautiful and well-appointed, but I have to say that at the present time the artwork hanging in there is really tacky. I'm sure the artist is a good person, and I'm quite sure that the art has a certain appeal to some people --- but it's kind of embarrassing for someone who appreciates art, as well as Buddhism, to go into a center like that and see such a vast gap between the relative sophistication of Buddhist thought and philosophy and the utter lack of artistic sense of the people who run that particular center. Oh well: it's perhaps too much to ask that people always be really competent in both areas.

The teacher was from a Vipassana lineage (not sure which one); she was very thoughtful and measured. I enjoyed her presentation, but towards the end she illustrated the tremendous gap between Theravada, at least in her lineage, and the sorts of Zen and Dzogchen schools that I have primarily studied. She gave a speech about effort, which is a common theme in all Buddhist schools, but painted a picture of this gradual approach which I suppose is emblematic of at least some Theravadan lineages --- i.e., this notion that one gradually builds up moments of "wholesome" mind states, bit by bit, until one assembles them into longer and longer moments of happiness. Though the Dzogchen and Zen traditions agree strongly with the Theravada in many ways, in particular in the lack of continuity of the self, the constructed nature of the world, etc., they disagree pretty strongly in this regard. Dzogchen and Zen do not believe that happiness should be thought of as consisting of a gradual process of building up billions of little decisions to enter into wholesome states --- rather it is a recognition and realization of the already-accomplished perfection of the ground of Being as it already is. There is, of course, still a notion of progress even in the "sudden realization" emphasis of Zen and Dzogchen, but that notion of progress is seen to persist only relative to the observer or experiencer; i.e., in the time-stream of apparent experience, we appear to get better or worse at being "in synch" with the way things already are. This then appears to be a kind of progress in time. But this is seen to be clearly a kind of illusion, the same sort of illusion that inheres in our apparent context of living in space and time; it's not fundamental. It's a very fine difference and perhaps just more of a difference in emphasis, but it's a real contrast and it has a significant effect I think on the overall way that practice evolves.

October 14, 2002

Last night I had these dreams about how dirty New York is. It really is dirty, it's not just a cliche. Then Caroline told me she had a similar dream last night. So I probably got it from her somehow, infected by her nighttime thoughts across distances.

Went to see Xavier Le Roy Saturday night. It was raining (which actually cheers me up since it reminds me of Portland), so the turnout wasn't a sellout house. Still, somehow I think The Kitchen does a kind of paltry job promoting these shows. Not bad, it was fun, especially the second short piece with its dream/dreamer/dreaming theme, though that part was billed as a throwaway.

Gradual versus "sudden" enlightenment: I want to write something about this subject but I am too sleepy right now. Suffice it to say it is a very important issue. Meanwhile, I recommend Shunryu Suzuki's latest book, not always so.

Sometimes we say Buddha nature. Sometimes we say enlightenment or bodhi, Buddha or attainment. We call Buddha nature not only by these names, but sometimes we call it "evil desires." We may say evil desires, but for Buddha, that is Buddha nature.

In the same way some people may think that laypeople and priests are fundamentally different, but actually there is no particular person who is a priest. Each one of you could be a priest, and I could be a layperson. Because I wear a robe I am a priest, and I behave like a priest. That's all. There is no innate nature that distinguishes priest from layperson.

Whatever you call it, that is another name of one reality.


October 12, 2002

Crazy dreams; they seem to be getting more intense. Last night I had one long dream about writing a paper entitled "Would Causality Induce the Creation of the Universe?" I.e., it was about a theory in which the mere appearance of causality (in a formless reality) would immediately cause the universe to begin to evolve. It's reminiscent of some work that Jonathan Tash and I are doing on the mathmatical relationship between awareness and spacetime in quantum mechanics, which might have some bearing on quantum gravity and certainly has bearing on the measurement problem and the apparent lack of objective reality in quantum mechanics.

Surprisingly good movie reviews.

10 mbps network connects via the touch of human skin.

Manhattan lacks irony. Things always seem serious here.

There are a huge number of Japanese restaurants here, but kind of an excessive proportion of sushi. Yes, I like sushi, but there are other kinds of Japanese food.

October 10, 2002

From The Onion:

Frank Gehry No Longer Allowed To Make Sandwiches For Grandkids

Japanese tend to say a lot without saying very much. I find it sometimes kind of strange that Americans don't like to acknowledge even the possibility, in some cases, that what isn't said might be a valid part of the conversation --- the implicit is off-limits. But for Japanese, without the implicit, the whole culture would cease to function.

The downside to the Japanese style is that one has to really be an insider, in some cases, to fully function there --- whereas in America, it is much easier for, say, foreigners, etc., to fit in, once they have a basic command of the English language.

On the other hand there are some things that just can't be communicated explicitly. Zen koans are one example of a scheme for doing this; there are many others. I tend to have complex models of the people around me all the time, and I often mistakenly assume that they have similarly complex models of me --- I realize as I get older that this is often incorrect, and I have to say things explicitly to be understood. It's peculiar, even though I grew up in America and I am an American, because my parents are Japanese I have this Japanese cultural habit anyway.

Saw a good show of work by an Israeli woman, Michal Rovner, at the Whitney the other day. She does a lot of work with photographs and video installations: ghostly figures, light, color, and music. The show closes after this weekend; it's worth seeing if you're in the city, I think.

October 6, 2002

Coming off of a long period of heavy work.

New York has many broken escalators.

Spirited Away is mind-bogglingly good. I almost typed mind-bloggilingly.

I have many friends who are astute observers of the human condition, who can understand and pinpoint other people's characteristics and qualities in a split-second, yet who have absolutely not a clue when it comes to themselves. Typically, they have very distorted, unrealistic, often negative self-images. It turns out that when we look at images of people, there may be a difference in how we process images of ourselves and that of others; in split-brain patients, the right-brain tends to focus on recognition of others, whereas the left-brain seems to be specialized for self-recognition. I wonder if there are similar differences in the way we think about others and ourselves more generally. It certainly seems that way.

I tried to look at myself in the mirror, thinking of my face as the face of a stranger --- it was rather disconcerting.

October 1, 2002

Sometimes it feels as though you have to complete everything in your entire life in one moment, one stroke. This sense of hurry, hurry, hurry, got to finish it right now.

At other times we seem to have an indefinite amount of time, things can wait forever.

Neither view seems correct; or perhaps both are true. One should never rush, yet at the same time we don't have a moment to lose.