synthetic zero


September 30 (b), 2001

Israelis continue to kill teenagers armed with stones, despite the peace negotiations by Arafat and Peres. Nine Palestinians have been killed since Arafat ordered his own forces, unilaterally, not to open fire even if fired upon. This continued intransigence by the Israeli armed forces is nothing other than criminal, and Ariel Sharon must hold his troops accountable and stop the murder, or he is no better than a murderer himself. It is disgusting to read these stories at any time, but even more so at a time like this. Sharon and the Israeli Army are not only killing Palestinians but they are endangering the stability of the entire world. This is the ultimate in hubris, arrogance, irresponsibility, and it is despicable, puerile, and savage behavior. What they are doing endangers us all, Israel included. It is simultaneously stupid and vile. We need to put some big-time pressure on them, and now. We have even more of a responsibility when our friends, like Israel, err.

New promising blog: [sub]culture.

September 30, 2001

It seems that some animals, in particular, dogs, may, in fact, laugh. It sounds to us like a pant, but there is a specific sound that dogs make when playing that they do not make at other times.

Went to see the fantastic experimental/retro/punk/rock Japanese girl band eX-Girl tonight at the Meow Meow Club. What a high-energy, playful, beautiful show. Makes me proud to be Japanese (-American)... I think in many Japanese, deep down, underneath our Japanese politeness and reserve is a truly wild inner core. Live, eX-Girl does more experimental and crazy things than you find on their CD. They were accompanied by a surprise visit by the incomparable Amy Denio, whom I've heard perform before alongside the Topiary Kings (the latter alas do not have a real web page and they don't perform nearly often enough), as well as with her old group, Tone Dogs (I highly recommend their CDs). eX-Girl is impressive on stage, they improvise and generate a lot of excitement and energy. I highly recommend them, please see them if you get a chance if they're coming through your town.

Alex sends me a link to the following petition, which urges the government to fight terrorism while protecting our civil liberties. You can sign it online.

Via Invisible City, a site where you can contact Congress to register your opposition to measures that attack our civil liberties. Thankfully, Congress has already been questioning a number of elements of Ashcroft's proposal, in particular the proposal that they could hold illegal immigrants indefinitely without judicial review, provided they simply declare them a threat to national security, but the Administration is trying to step up pressure on them to push the legislation through.

September 29, 2001

Some of you may be familiar with the work of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab, which has done a lot of rigorous mathematical analysis of various paranormal phenomena, and, strangely, found statistically significant, replicable results from a number of experiments. In particular, they have done a number of studies on the effect of human intention on random number generators. One particular experiment they have been running involves a large number of random number generators (which they call EGGs) scattered all over the world which are intended to monitor for anomalies during major global events. The most remarkable data were generated by this experiment... guess when? September 11, 2001.


September 28 (c), 2001

I suppose I've had to give a lot of thought to what exactly my overall feelings are about war, peace, violence, nonviolence, and so forth. Most of my friends tend to be leftist or left-leaning or pacifist or pacifist-leaning to varying degrees. What guides me in situations like this?

In the end it comes down to whether I believe the fighting will lead, in the long run, to less violence in the future and more freedom and dignity for the greatest number of people. America has had very dirty hands abroad and many of our covert and overt operations have been manifestly unjustified, and have helped give us the bad reputation in the developing world that we have. However, there are times when some people want to fight for their own freedom and dignity and human rights, and at those times I just ask myself, if I were in their position, would I join them? If the answer is yes, then I feel we are also justified in helping them in what ways we can. It's pretty much as simple as that.

I believe a foreign policy guided by these principles is not just good from a moral standpoint; it is also good for the United States in the long run. Justice leads to stability, and stability leads to peace. Of course, there are always contradictions and other problems. We helped the Muslims in Kosovo defend themselves against Serbian domination, but some of the people we helped were running drugs and prostitution rings, and generally were criminals. The extent of Serbian "genocide" against the Kosovars was grossly exaggerated, though certainly the Serbs did kill a lot of Kosovars. And, after KFOR marched in, the Kosovars engaged in a great deal of harassment of Serbs, causing ethnic cleansing of their own. Furthermore, it is not clear that we pursued the most effective route to peace in the region, and the bombing campaign itself was rife with targeting and other errors, causing avoidable civilian deaths, including the famous bombing of the Chinese Embassy. However ... in the end, the repressive Serbian government was overthrown by their own people, and the decade of massacres and death that had gripped the Balkans came (mostly) to an end. There have been some problems in Macedonia, but for the moment there is a peace agreement, and most people seem to have enough confidence that NATO troops are sufficiently impartial that we have been able to broker that peace agreement.

So I have to conclude that it is not always futile to try to help people who want freedom. But what about Afghanistan? What about "blowback"? Well, I know someone who has spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan. He says that at first, the Afghans actually did have a pretty stable multi-ethnic coalition government. But we disappeared from the scene once the Soviets were gone -- we didn't bother to help them after we had achieved our aims. We said nothing as Pakistan threw military funding to a fringe radical fundamentalist fragment of the former mujahedeen and encouraged them to shell Kabul, where the relatively moderate government was holding power. This fragment turned into the Taliban, propped up primarily by foreign funds and fanatical fighters coming from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In other words, we abandoned our responsibility to the people of Afghanistan and looked the other way as the Pakistani intelligence services installed a government which has brought starvation and repression to its people. We are now reaping the whirlwind.

So, yes, I believe we should use military force only as a last resort. But I also believe that we can and should aid those seeking greater self-determination and basic human rights. Not only because it is right to do so; because it will lead to better long-term stability for the world, which will also benefit us in the end. There have been many instances where we have failed; where we have acted out of Cold War paranoia and as a result helped to generate or prolong massive human tragedy and prolong instablity and injustice abroad (many cases in Central and South America), or when we have stood by and done nothing as real genocide went forward (Rwanda). We should, in all cases, pay attention to what is going on abroad. We cannot afford to be ignorant any longer.

In this case, what do we do? Although the Northern Alliance has many elements which are questionable to say the least, the fact is the Taliban is worse. We know the Taliban has harbored terrorists whose express aim is to kill American civilians among other things. The Taliban is a foreign-imposed government which the Afghan people themselves abhor. And they have oppressed and repressed their own people harshly, based on many reports from many sources, including Afghans themselves. However, it is also true that many of our allies have used their own repressive tactics on their own people. Part of the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism comes from this fact. We cannot overlook our own allies in this --- both for our own security and stability as well as their own, we need to pressure our erstwhile allies as well as our enemies. We have to be consistent about this to the extent we can. But in the end, if we do work to help the Afghans overthrow the Taliban, I believe that, if we stay engaged in the long run (while not imposing ourselves on them), we will not only be doing ourselves some good but the Afghan people as well.

I've finally added a permalink feature to my site (starting with this month's entries). To link to a specific entry, use the permalink at the end of the entry. This link will work as long as this site is up.

September 28 (b), 2001

For those people who wonder why "they" hate us, excellent article in the Christian Science Monitor detailing grievances from the point of view of a number of Muslims.

It's important that we keep clear the distinction between legitimate grievances and the fanatical ravings of these terrorists, who combine fact with fantasy and legitimate complaints with paranoid delusions while killing innocent people and failing to take credit for it. Jen forwarded me an email she received from her friend Rajae, who is Muslim:

Former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali visited the ruins of the World Trade Center on Thursday. When reporters asked how he felt about the suspects sharing his Islamic faith, Ali responded pleasantly, "How do you feel about Hitler sharing yours?"


September 28, 2001

Even Paul Wolfowitz (the hawk) of the Defense Deparment indicates we are not planning to bomb immediately. "'We don't believe in just demonstrating that our military is capable of bombing. The whole world knows that,' he said." I think it's strange that people assumed we'd just be rushing in there and bombing within days. It takes weeks or months to plan a careful military campaign, especially when you're trying to be precise about who you target in a country with as difficult terrain as Afghanistan. However, for the sake of the suffering women of Afghanistan, not to mention our own safety and security, I hope that whatever resolution comes of this, the Taliban is eventually overthrown.

From Science, Knowledge, and Sufism, the writings of a devout Sufi Muslim. Here is an excerpt from a commentary on the various depradations and crimes committed by fundamentalists:

  • The Taliban in Afghanistan forbid girls from going to school
  • Mohammed, the Prophet of God, said: "It is incumbent on every Moslem man and every Moslem woman to seek and learn knowledge." Where is one to learn knowledge/science, except at school? And which one is the religion whose educational institutions were once legendary?

    The Taliban's version of Islam is a strained, extremist, fanatical distortion of the traditional teachings of Islam.

    On a lighter note, I saw the first episode of the new Star Trek show. No, I don't dress up in uniforms and I don't go to conventions, but yes, I like science fiction and I watch this show. Some obvious gaffes and errors (the crew had never heard of Rigel, even though this is the seventh brightest star in the sky, and it is an English word, not some exotic alien word), and the Vulcan woman clearly has been slacking off in her Vulcan meditation exercises --- unless in the 22nd century Vulcans controlled every emotion except disgust and cattiness. But setting aside such nerdy details, I have to say the worst thing of all was the theme music. The most execrable music I have ever heard on any television show. If you were unfortunate enough to hear this theme music even for a moment and are now permanently scarred, I urge you to register your displeasure here: The Enterprise Theme Song Must Go Petition.

    We all live in dream worlds of our own construction. Waking up doesn't mean forcing the world to match up with our dream, but recognizing that there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in our ... dreams.

    September 27, 2001

    My dad once told me, "the only reason they needed us samurai was because of the other samurai." The samurai code had a lot of rules, but one of them was: never kill in anger. Joseph Campbell once told a story about a samurai whose lord had been assassinated, so the samurai went to kill the assassin. After a long time he tracked the assassin down and had him cornered. The assassin spit in the samurai's face. The samurai left immediately. Why? Because he could not kill in anger.

    It's kind of ironic that in traditional Japanese culture, premeditated killing was considered more virtuous than killing in the heat of an emotional outburst.

    Of course, one ought to kill only as a last resort. Ultimately, the only reason to ever kill is to minimize the suffering and death of more people later on. If you have been forced to kill to prevent further death, however, it is an indication of a significant failure in that you have allowed things to deteriorate to the point that killing becomes necessary.

    I believe that we ought not to kill a single person for revenge. The only possible reason to engage in any sort of warfare or killing is to relieve the suffering of people, and to prevent more killing in the future. Not just for ourselves but for others as well. If it is possible to avoid killing to achieve this aim, we ought to avoid it.

    But some of my friends believe that non-violence should always be adhered to. If I believed it could work in this case, I would agree as well. I do not happen to believe it will work with this particular enemy. Non-violence worked against the British, it worked during the civil rights movement. It did not work against the Chinese invaders of Tibet. The British and the Americans were a different sort of oppressor than the people we are facing now; our new enemies are ideological warriors who believe that their corrupted version of Islam ought to dominate the entire planet someday. If we could come to a peaceful accomodation with them, we should try. But I don't think it is possible at this point. The perpetrators of this crime have not even taken credit for it; they do not want to negotiate with us. While we go after them and their support structures, we need to avoid as much as possible killing innocent people. But I fear we're now in a position where some killing will have to occur.

    There is a story about the two greatest swordsmakers in ancient Japan. It was said if you held a sword made by the second greatest swordsmaker in a stream, it would cut a leaf in half as it floated by. But if you held the sword of the greatest swordsmaker, the leaves would flow around the blade, unharmed. Unfortunately I believe we are partly responsible for getting ourselves into the situation we are in, through shortsightedness, arrogance, and ignorance in our foreign policy in the Islamic world. We have both not taken our responsibility as a superpower seriously enough, and too often taken sides against Muslim interests. However, now that we've gotten ourselves into this, partly through our own incompetence and through our own crimes and mistakes, I believe we are in the unfortunate position of having to use the less-desirable sword. Not for revenge, and not only to protect ourselves, but to minimize the death and suffering of people on all sides, over the long term.

    In the end, I can only hope as few innocent people on all sides die in the coming years.

    September 26 (b), 2001

    Russia does not rule out becoming a member of NATO. This seems good, though it prompts one to wonder if, someday, the whole world will be members of NATO. I suppose there'd still be the possibility of an alien attack. Anything seems possible these days.

    The Administration is downpedaling the importance of military strikes, and shifting to an "information war" strategy which includes strikes as just one component of a multi-prong strategy. This is, of course, an information war more than anything else. An information war that can kill people. It's good to see that Pentagon planners are taking into account the current humanitarian crisis emerging in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, I believe, after considering this, that if the Taliban are overthrown as a result of this war, it would be not only in the best interests of the United States but in the best interests of the Afghan people as a whole. On NPR a reporter who has many contacts in Afghanistan said that she had heard "almost universally" that if the United States got UN backing to come in and topple the Taliban, the Afghan people would support that. They would resist the imposition of American control, but a UN mission would be welcomed. Interestingly enough, Rabbani of the Northern Alliance suggested the same thing: after the Taliban are deposed, if they are deposed, he suggested Kabul be demilitarized (including his troops) and a UN peacekeeping mission be sent in. This sounds viable, except it might be hard to find countries willing to contribute troops to such a mission until the country really is stabilized. However, just darting in and out with a few Special Forces operations without doing something to stabilize the country could be a recipie for chaos and more terrorism. I believe there is reason for the UN to act against the Taliban, a repressive government that has, whether bin Laden is directly responsible for these attacks or not, openly harbored and trained terrorists who themselves have applauded the attacks of September 11th even while denying responsibility for them. There is plenty of evidence these groups have committed other acts of terror. Of course, any replacement for the Taliban would have to include the Pashtun, but I suspect that could be negotiated.

    Researchers say music is linked to brain's sex response.

    Researchers have successfully entangled clouds of trillions of cesium atoms! This opens up the possibility of quantum teleportation of macroscopic assemblies of atoms.

    September 26, 2001

    Why talk or think about geopolitics when we are not the ones making the decisions here? I've heard that sentiment expressed by some. (I understand those who don't want to talk or think about it for other reasons, but I am talking about those who complain that we aren't at the levers of power, so why discuss it?) I suppose it's interesting to me that we feel comfortable talking about domestic politics but for some reason international politics and news has become a subject literally foreign to most Americans. In other countries people are very aware that we live in a large, interconnected world, but we Americans have been living in the illusion of safe isolation, exacerbated by steadily-shrinking international news coverage (until now --- though the repetitive television news coverage has been somewhat numbing and not always very informative, but that's another story). For some reason, even when I was a kid, I always turned first to the world news section of the paper. When major events occur abroad, sometimes I scour the Internet, trying to find out what they're saying about the event not only here but in other countries. I asked myself, what are Iranians saying about Khatami's reelection? What are newspapers around the world saying about Fujimori? What are the Russians saying about Kosovo, Bosnia ... Afghanistan? We talk about geopolitics because we live on the planet Earth and America is not the only country in the world. We talk about it because ideas and memes are the raw material of representative government; informed public opinion eventually influences policy (as well as helping to shape future policy-makers). The memes we start in our informal conversations and web sites may eventually find their way into the halls of power. And, because trying to make sense of a trauma is the best way to heal, in the end. There are other ways to make sense of a trauma, but trying to understand the geopolitics of it is, yes, one of them.

    Not that there is a single story to be told here. There are many stories, fragments of stories, cultures, intertwined threads spread throughout. There are personal stories as well as political stories. Every story is right and wrong. We are in the end just dealing with an Indra's net of stories. They do not and do not need to add up to a coherent narrative. On the other hand, I don't think everyone needs to be thinking about geopolitics right now. For some, their suffering is still too immediate. This is just how I tend to operate in times of crisis; I start immediately thinking about the whole situation from a strategic perspective. I don't really feel like sitting back and not thinking or talking about it, because that would mean just leaving what happens next to our leaders, without comment.

    It is interesting that copies of the Qu'ran are selling out here in America. We finally want to learn about a part of the world we've more or less ignored (while at the same time meddling with) for years. For example, we've blundered about in the Middle East, giving excessively biased support only to Israel, no matter how egregious the evidence of Israeli misconduct, I think primarily because we feel we can relate to the Israelis but we don't know the Palestinians.

    Part of this ignorance, ironically, comes in the form of excessive credulity that foreigners are much more willing to live under oppression than we are. I remember reading people saying, for example, as a way of excusing the human rights abuses of various governments in Asia, that Asians are somehow more amenable to authoritarian governments. While Asian culture is certainly quite different in many ways from European or African, the notion that Asians are somehow "dictator-friendly" is really the worst sort of cultural ignorance. Yes, Asians have a tradition of Confucian relationships, but Asians want to be free, just like white people. Governments, of course, might claim that their people have a cultural predisposition towards wanting oppression, but let's consider the source of such rationalizations (i.e., propaganda).

    The Taliban, for example, pretends to be practicing a pure form of Islam, but it explicitly says in the Qu'ran, for example, that women should get an education. There's nothing in Islam that says that women should not work. The prime minister of the largest Islamic country in the world (Indonesia) is a woman. Yes, there was some resistance to the fact she is a woman --- but she's prime minister whether there was resistance or not. Pakistan once had a female prime minister. Etc. As one person put it, conflating the Taliban with Islam is like equating Aryan Nations with Christianity.

    The huge irony here in Pakistan warning us against trying to establish a proxy government in Afghanistan is that the Taliban only exists because of massive military and financial support (including fighters and personnel) from Pakistan. In other words, many people consider the Taliban a proxy government of Pakistan. So no wonder they're warning us against setting up a proxy government. They want to have a government there which is friendly to them. The situation there is, however, difficult. Afghanistan is a country that is notorious for its battling factions. Even if the Northern Alliance wins, it is likely that it will continue to be bombarded by resistance fighting for a long time. But, ironically, most of these fighters would come from Pakistan or other Arab nations --- that's where most of them come from now. It's a big mess. Reports I have seen from the Northern Alliance territory indicate that most people there live in a much more tolerant and open society, so it is likely that they would be more popular (provided the worst elements within the Northern Alliance can be held in check). The top leadership (Rabbani) of the Northern Alliance is moderate.

    September 25, 2001

    From The Onion, finally published today, US Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With:

    "We were lucky enough at Pearl Harbor to be the victim of a craven sneak attack from an aggressor with the decency to attack military targets, use their own damn planes, and clearly mark those planes with their national insignia so that we knew who they were," Rumsfeld said. "Since the 21st-century breed of coward is not affording us any such luxury, we are forced to fritter away time searching hither and yon for him in the manner of a global easter-egg hunt."

    "America is up to that challenge," Rumsfeld added.

    I think every Japanese-American has always felt embarrassed and ashamed about Pearl Harbor. We could take some comfort that its architect, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was opposed to war with the United States, and planned the attack against his better judgement, and that Japan had intended to declare war before attacking, but the message was lost in a bureaucratic snafu and was delivered only after the bombs had dropped, but still --- that was cold comfort. But now... people are saying, hey, Pearl Harbor wasn't so bad. Only 2,400 killed and it was a military target. And, by gum, at least the Japanese took responsibility for it.

    Kinda sad when Pearl Harbor becomes the "good old days." Like when we used to think switchblades were a fearsome gang weapon. I dread the day when September 11th becomes the good old days.

    It seems the name for this disaster is going to turn out to be "9/11" or "September 11". You can't name it after the location (World Trade Center) because it was bombed before. So what's left? This date will really live in infamy in a way that December 7th kind of didn't --- because everyone just called that by the place it happened, Pearl Harbor.

    I'm worried that this Administration will make the same mistake we made before in Afghanistan; after the Soviets were defeated and our Cold War aims were complete, we abandoned Afghanistan and left it to a bloody internal civil war which ultimately led to the disastrous situation they are in today. If somehow the loose coalition known as the Northern Alliance succeeds in ousting the Taliban, we had better pour aid into that impoverished nation in every way, without trying to establish control over the country directly. Afghans need to govern themselves, but we need to give them all the help we can, or history will indeed repeat itself. Rumsfeld says we're not in the business of "nation-building" but we damn well better be in the business of "nation supporting."

    And in the here and now, millions of refugees need immediate food aid or they risk mass starvation.

    Late-breaking news: Israel and the Palestinians agree to resume full security cooperation. Things will probably fall apart again many times before they get better --- but this is good news.

    September 24, 2001

    The problem with the Northern Alliance/United Front is that many of their commanders are guilty of some pretty atrocious war crimes. I've heard concerns about them echoed by many people, including government officials. Unfortunately, Massoud, the military leader of the Rabbani government, was assassinated; he was a popular stabilizing force, an urbane moderate. Some of the remaining leaders of some of the factions have a very bad human rights track record. It remains to be seen whether these disparate forces can really work together. Afghanistan is famous for blood feuds and a great deal of lack of trust between the various factions. However, it is easier to commit atrocities when the world is ignoring you; harder if everyone is paying attention. It will be interesting to see if these factions can somehow learn to live together with the whole world watching.

    When I think about what we ought to do now, I think ... what if I were Afghan? And when I ask that question I can't help but think I'd be pretty close to the views of these women: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. They wish the US to attack Osama bin Laden, the terrorists, and the Taliban, but not the suffering people of Afghanistan. Interestingly, and I have mentioned, somewhat surprisingly, I believe this is indeed the emerging consensus American policy. At least at this point.

    Fundamentalism is, in many ways, a self-contradictory phenomenon. On the one hand fundamentalists talk about something they call "God", but let us examine this more carefully. I think even a fundamentalist would agree that what they call "God" must be beyond the limits of the human mind to encompass. Opening up to something that one calls "God" must, therefore, involve moving beyond the limits of the world that you think you see around you, connecting with an aspect of reality which is greater than that which can be ordinarily comprehended by human beings. But the whole point of fundamentalist thinking is to replace the symbol for "that which is beyond human comprehension" (God) with a set of assertions about reality which are painfully easy to understand. In other words, fundamentalism is utterly opposed to mystery.

    Thus, in some very important sense, fundamentalism is the ultimate form of idolatry: the replacement of the real with a stand-in, a construct, that which is human-understandable. A set of rules, a set of ideas that are supposed to be not pointers or hints at the truth but THE TRUTH itself, explicitly.

    To me, the word "God" is problematic. However, I think that religions that use this word are really trying to encode or refer to something that is better called simply "reality" or more deeply, "Being". Reality, or being, is already beyond our ability to directly know. Therefore, what's really important is not belief so much as doubt. Doubt is necessary in order to open up to realities beyond the hyperrealities of our own constructs. We can never actually fully understand reality, but, presumably, we ARE reality (or more to the point: reality is reality), and we can open up, to some extent, to the fact that our constructs are not complete.

    The Sufis like to say "there is nothing but God."

    There are two emotions that will get you or your loved ones killed: sentimentality or bloodlust. Let us not fall prey to either.

    September 23, 2001

    Headline: science fiction writers predict the future! I was watching an episode I'd recorded of the remarkable and poignant Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop (shown on the Cartoon Network every Sunday night ... well, technically Monday morning, at midnight, also available in video rental stores in unedited form), and I commented to Susan that it was strange that in that universe bounty hunters were so commonplace, and she said: terrorism. Ever wondered what it would be like to live in the future? Well, the future is now. We're living in it: here in the year 2001.

    Just a few days after I write that I hope we will make a case to the world, the state department announces that we will indeed make such a case. Furthermore, we're doing the smart thing and apparently we're not going to carpet bomb innocent Afghan civilians, and we are planning to support internal Afghan opposition forces, from multiple regions and ethnicities. (Another interesting first-hand look at the current situation in the Northern Alliance). This is, so far, good news. I have been moved to hear counsel for restraint not only from children and students but even from generals and intelligence analysts and government officials. Unlike the fate of my mother, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, Arab-Americans and Muslims are not being herded off to concentration camps. Is it too much to believe that we may have begun to mature as a nation? We shall have to keep a watchful eye on everything that transpires. I don't doubt that stupid mistakes and atrocities will be committed on both sides, but maybe, just maybe, there is hope that this war will be less unjust than many we have fought or supported in the past. It's going to be tricky to get all these factions to work together, especially after they retake the country, presuming they do, but one can only hope that in these changed conditions they will find a way to learn to work and live and rule together.

    September 22, 2001

    We Japanese are indeed crazy, but I kind of like it. There are lots of wacky things Japanese people are willing to do despite or perhaps because of the usual rather placid Japanese everyday life. In fact, I think, deep down, most Japanese are pretty wild people, who, in private, or during strange religious ceremonies, will do all sorts of pretty amazing things. (link care of the newly revived Bovine Inversus).

    September 21, 2001

    Thankfully we're trashing the stupid (and offensive) code name "Infinite Justice".

    I am beginning to hope, against all expectation, that there might be a chance that we could fight this war with discipline: that is, hopefully, with as few atrocities as possible.

    I was watching footage of people reacting to the attack, minute by minute, on a documentary yesterday. I was moved to tears. But then I thought, hey, that's strange, I usually don't cry when I see tragedy and disaster --- I am strange that way. I cry when I see bad guys repenting, or people realizing the error of their ways. But there were no bad guys in the video footage I was watching. Then I realized what it was that moved me to cry: it was watching the expressions of horror on the faces of the people watching. I realized that it is not that I weep when bad guys repent --- I weep whenever I see human beings feeling sincere compassion for their fellow humans. It wasn't watching the towers fall that made me weep: it was when I saw and heard the reactions of the people watching, when I saw their compassion. They were screaming not for themselves, but for the people who were dying in the crush. I am crying now, typing this.

    September 20, 2001

    Heather Anne tells me she likes the writing on Killing The Buddha regarding the attack. (Note: for those unfamiliar with Buddhism, the title "Killing the Buddha" refers to an old Zen koan, "if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.") "In darkness all distinctions fall away." We are going into darkness; the unknown. We must embrace and face the fact that we don't know what will happen, we must be willing to recognize that we don't have the answers. We must respect and honor the darkness, which contains everything.

    Although I believe it may be necessary and justifiable to use limited, targeted force in this situation against the terrorists, I believe we need to avoid targeting civilians and make as clear a case for our actions to the world (especially the Islamic world) as we can (within the constraints of maintaining the security of our plans and ongoing investigative methods), and proceed with caution. The Taliban is a repressive regime, it has wreaked havoc on the people of Afghanistan, particularly women, and most Afghans oppose the Taliban, but if we go in with military strikes without making a clear case, the Afghan people who have suffered so much will be against us, and we will encourage more people to join the terrorist campaign. No matter what we do we will have enemies, but there's no reason to needlessly add to their ranks. The Afghan people are not our enemy: none of the hijackers, reportedly, were Afghan. We need to avoid attacking civilians and helping extremists to recruit by turning more people in the Muslim world against us. Let's think this through, and avoid making stupid mistakes through undue haste. There may be a need to do some things quickly (to prevent the perpetrators from escaping) but we should not rush just for the sake of getting the appearance of action in motion. We should look at this seriously, with a long view.

    1 World Trade Center, New York, NY, as seen from space, on Mapquest.

    September 19, 2001

    When I walk around town I see everyone going about their daily lives, with everyone looking much as they did before the attack; I think to myself, though, that this is a world still moving forward out of the momentum from the world that we were in before September 11; that was one in which our lives were largely concerned with matters that involved peacetime thinking, where there were no major threats to our home territory (that we knew of) on the horizon, a kind of carefree attitude. And I thought: I will miss this world, which I can see around me as a melting three dimensional snapshot or hologram that is going to go steadily out of focus, morphing into something new which we will see in retrospect as having been inevitable (like the convulsions of the late sixties in the long aftermath of the Kennedy assassination). I feel superimposed: the old me and the yet-to-become me. Though I have said that in some ways this world is more suited to my proclivities (samurai) --- I nevertheless would never have wished this world into existence. I'd so much rather be a useless warrior in a peaceful world. In some ways that is my purpose: to be ready to serve the world in a time of crisis, perhaps to give up my life, only to return the world to a more peaceful time where I might not be either needed or even remembered (flashback to the ending of The Seven Samurai). I don't need to be useful or remembered: I just want peace. I am willing, however, to do what I need to do to help achieve that again.

    It is said that in the Qu'ran there are various prohibitions on conduct during a conflict. Among these are:

    don't kill women

    don't kill children

    don't kill old people

    don't kill soldiers who are unarmed (trying to surrender)

    don't destroy buildings

    don't destroy a tree if it has a green leaf on it

    The greatest jihad is the struggle against one's nafs (ego or egoic tendencies).

    I frequently rely on Lao Tzu in times of crisis: among other things, he advised that one ought to conduct even one's victory as though it were a funeral, and to go to war only as a last resort:

    Weapons generate fear; all creatures hate them.
    Therefore, the Tao–Master tries not to use them . . . .
    He uses them only when there is no alternative,
    and then without joy, in a calm and restrained way.
    Enjoy weapons, enjoy killing.
    Enjoy killing, lose yourself . . . .
    The killing of many people should create sorrow and grief.
    A great victory is a funeral ceremony.

    Valerie Clarke, a psychic who lives in Lancashire, has been haunted for a few years by a dream of an airplane-related disaster befalling the World Trade Center. She revealed this on the BBC's Kilroy show ... three months ago.

    It seems we're going to need Special Operations soldiers, and a lot of them. I'm actually glad that there's a lot of talk of using these guys, rather than an emphasis on a traditional military assault, because chances are the number of innocent civilian casualties will be a lot lower using Special Operations forces as the mainstay of this new conflict.

    September 18, 2001

    Just rented Before Sunrise (on DVD, which is the only way to rent movies, I think...), one of my favorite films. To say it's the best movie about love I have ever seen is to do it a terrible injustice, because it's the only movie I have ever seen that to my mind actually captures what it is really like, the first few moments of true love, the taste and texture of it, the feeling and the rhythm, the excitement and tentativeness and spontaneity, the actual flavor of the milliseconds and seconds and minutes and hours of that incredible newly-created universe between two people where something sublime lives. Other films dance around love, or they make a joke out of it, or they wallow in romanticized myth, or it becomes a kind of friendship story, or just about sex --- but this film is grounded in the actual moment by moment experience of the unfolding of that unique space between two people which is simultaneously irreproducible and private and yet strangely familiar to anyone who has ever been in love. The familiarity of the film is precisely in the unique details, the things which unfold between two people just because they're those two people --- every pair of people is a new world, and this is what the film captures so perfectly.

    It's strange, I ordered this film from Netflix right after Jen and Susan and I saw an atrocious film ostensibly about love and sex, before the attack. The disc delivery was delayed by the airline disruption, but it finally came today. Seeing it now is the completion of an arc of action which had its origin from before the disaster. It was refreshing to remember what it was like when I saw the film the first time; and it's also a connection with the time before the disaster. A return.

    September 17, 2001

    It was something of a relief to hear murmurings on NPR that the current plan, to the extent the government is talking about it, is to try not to indiscriminately kill civilians, but rather to engage in "surgical" strikes against specific targets which our intelligence determines to be associated with the terrorist network. It seems too much to hope that reason will prevail in this situation --- one can only assume something else will go terribly wrong --- our intelligence will fail, etc. I think had the United States made it clear (and even now I don't think this posture is being made clear in the least) that we were intending to go after just the terrorists and not intending to carpet bomb innocent civilians in Afghanistan, we might have been able to get more international support --- and perhaps forestall some of the criticism we're already beginning to receive from both allies and Muslim nations. Suffice it to say that I believe we should go after the terrorists but we ought to do so as specifically as possible. This will be a long and protracted conflict, and most of the battles will not take place on battlefields.

    I am not interested in escaping from this terror, this crime --- I want to dive into it, think about it, make sense of it, get ready for what is to come, which could be very dark days. The Talking Heads song "Life During Wartime" comes to mind. Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?

    Heather Anne sent me email reminding me of Z Magazine's website. Lots of thoughtful articles.

    It's strange how this particular tragedy has touched almost everyone I know in some way or another. I know people who saw people jumping from the buildings, who have acquaintances who were killed, who are volunteering to help in their own affected neighborhood. The air travel shutdown affected me; I had to drive Zac to the airport --- to rent a car, so we could get him down to the Bay Area to perform with Miranda this week. In ways large and small this whole thing has affected a lot of our everyday lives. Of course we've all had talks with friends, consoled each other, helped each other process this.

    It's odd, though, because as I've written before it is times like this that my latent warrior personality suddenly feels like it is useful again. I find myself naturally being able to fit my evolved habits of thought and feeling to this sort of disastrous crisis. How to respond? How to handle things both right here at home, with my close friends, and far away? I actually think that even our speculations and discussion of what to do, how to respond, even if we are not in the halls of power ourselves, it is part of our functioning as a civil entity --- we talk about this because public opinion does affect policy. What we say to each other and to ourselves is part of the way we will have to come to terms with this situation over the long run, because it is going to be a long run. So I think we should, if we can manage it, go ahead and talk about this with each other. This is part of how we are going to fashion a collective response, which we can hope will be better thought out than the responses we have had to some other challenges in the past. I hope we have learned something from our mistakes.

    September 15, 2001

    I think we've all felt the last election had begun to institutionalize a divide in this country: an urban versus rural mutual distrust. But this one disaster seems to have changed a lot of opinions of those in the heartland about the heart of New Yorkers. Perhaps it will serve to bring together people who had begun to see each other only as stereotypes:

    Debi Koss, a nurse, used to think of New York as a faceless, godless cinderblock. But she has revised her views. "I've seen a lot of selflessness," Ms. Koss said. "Anytime you see somebody laying down their life for somebody else, that surprises me. Last week, I would have railed at New York. This week, it's hard to do that."
    Knowing New Yorkers myself, having been conceived there, spending a lot of time there on vacations as a child, I wasn't surprised at all. New Yorkers may be apathetic and blase and rude much of the time, but there is underneath that a fundamental friendliness, a feeling of connection, which shows itself in times of crisis. And this change of opinion goes both ways; I have to say that I've been moved to revise my opinion of the humanity that can be found in at least some American financial barons (see my post of a couple days ago).

    Caterina reminds us all that most Afghans view their own Taliban government as oppressive. If the Afghan government is found to be supporting terrorists and they refuse to help us eradicate the threat, our targets should not be the Afghan people, but its government and the structures that support it. A news wire article has this to say:

    Fearing a revenge attack by the United States for the hijackings in New York and Washington, Afghans began leaving their capital Saturday and stocking up on food and other supplies.

    "There is no pleasure in life anyway, so I don't care if the bombs come and I have to die along with my children," said Leilama, a 38-year-old mother of six in Kabul. "But the United States should know that the Afghan people are not their enemies."

    I believe there are times when military force is not only warranted but required. To defend your own country, and, yes, even to retaliate for an attack: these are regrettable but sometimes necessary. However, I believe in general the most effective use of military force is always force used with restraint and justice. Morality and pragmatism, I believe, go hand in hand. We ought not to go in and indiscriminately bomb Afghan civilians, many of whom are just as much victims of the Taliban --- if not more so. If we need to move militarily, and the Taliban refuse to cooperate, we must be willing to face two realities: terrorism against us will be an ongoing problem for decades to come, but also it is not the people of Afghanistan generally but rather the militants and fanatics and fundamentalists specifically who are our enemies. Attacking innocent civilians would not only be unjust it would decrease our security. For the sake of innocent lives and for our own sake, let's not just perpetuate the cycle of violence, but if we must use violence it ought to be with the aim of trying to help stop even more violence in the future.

    Let's not forget fundamentalists at home, either: I am an opponent of fundamentalism in any culture. If someone wants to be a fundamentalist in their own homes, fine. But I am vehemently opposed to them imposing their choice on me or anyone else. That goes for "our" fundamentalists as much as "theirs". Keep it to yourself if you must follow that path.

    Via Peterme: an article on the origins and function of fundamentalism. Every society has a certain percentage of people who become fundamentalists. It's inevitable. But I don't want them taking over my government. But let's not blame everyone of a certain ethnicity or religion for the excesses of a few particularly extremist fundamentalists. There is moderate Islam, there is the wisdom of the Sufis. The Iranians, whom some of us feared for a while, have now voted twice in a row by margins of over 75% for a moderate leader. People are not so different; there are fundamentalists everywhere, but mostly, people just want to live their lives.

    September 14, 2001

    It sometimes takes a while for us to adjust to the implications of a new era. For decades we've found ourselves still trying to fight World War II, when nuclear weapons clearly make such a war between major powers impossible (or, more accurately, suicidal). It has seemed obvious to me for a long time that the ways in which conflict will eventually unfold will involve small-scale brush wars and, more importantly, covert operations, terrorism, infiltration, assassinations, bribery, covert and overt persuasion, diplomacy, psychological warfare, and espionage. Except for his prediction of the reemergence of royalty, I believe the vision that Frank Herbert elucidated in Dune has a lot of prophetic elements: a world of intrigue in which human intelligence and infiltration is very important, and nuclear weapons have a diminished background role. War, when it does occur on the battlefield, is done with conventional weapons and is limited in scope. Treachery and infiltration, turning agents into double agents, etc.: these are critical. This is the situation we live in today, and it is the logical consequence of the impossibility of open warfare between large powers in the era of the nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, we have allowed our human intelligence capabilities to decline precipitously in recent years.

    What happened to tolerant Islam? (An article by a Muslim in the Los Angeles Times).

    From The Guardian (in the UK): They (Americans) can't understand why they are hated.

    Roger Ekirch finds in his research that as recently as 200 years ago, before the Industrial Revolution, people used to sleep in two phases: a "first sleep" lasting four or five hours or so, following by a waking "watching period" of an hour or two in which people sat up in silent contemplation, considered their dreams, or engaged in sexual intercourse, and then a "second sleep" that lasted another four or five hours. This is, interestingly, the same pattern used in Tibetan Buddhist dream yoga. More discussion of different sleeping patterns in different human societies. Sleep is underrated and underappreciated in our society.

    September 13, 2001

    One thing that has been interesting about this tragedy is watching people who are at the pinnacle of the halls of monetary power, and seeing how much true humanity can shine through at a time of real crisis. I saw an interview with Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, who lost 700 employees who were working near the top of the north tower, and I was impressed by the depth of his sincere and utter horror, and his true committment to trying to lead the people in his company in a selfless manner after this. This sort of leadership is exactly the sort that truly moves me. An excerpt from the interview.

    Heather F. gives us an incredible and vivid depiction of what it was really like.

    September 11, 2001

    Ever since Bush won the presidential election I have had rather dark premonitions about what might happen to the United States and the world as a result. In particular I have been worried about their global policy, which has seemed to me to be mired in the past (still fighting the Cold War), irrational, concerned with fantasy threats (missiles from North Korea?), ignorant and apathetic towards real threats (instability in the Middle East, terrorism), arrogant, unilateralist, and reckless (nuclear proliferation, the environment). I have in particular been concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks both now and in the future. We have been apathetic in the face of mounting violence in the Middle East. We have failed to restrain Israeli military excesses in response to Palestinian demonstrations. We have been pushing an insane missile defense program that will only serve to increase nuclear proliferation and multiply the number of sources of a nuclear terrorist threat against the United States, and give us no additional security against credible threats from other legitimate governments (as one analyst put it, the principle of nuclear deterrence doesn't require that our foes like us, it just requires that these governments not be suicidal.) And terrorist attacks are very unlikely to be launched via ICBMs.

    Having said that I believe that we are forced to respond to this attack very forcefully. Civilians have been attacked and killed with cold deliberation. Whatever the justifiable grievances of the Palestinian people --- and I believe they have been unfairly portrayed as primarily responsible for the violence in the Middle East --- (and I am also assuming here that their plight was the justification for the attack --- aside from some extremist groups in that region, who else would have the motive or means to carry out something like this?), nothing justifies the deliberate mass murder of civilians. Nothing justifies this sort of barbarism, and we have an unfortunate need to respond strongly. However, I can only hope that we will do so carefully and only after determining in a deliberate and open manner who was really responsible. If we fail to do this, any retaliatory action we take will simply result in more outrage in the Arab world, the potential destabilization of moderate Arab governments who are our allies, and a further deterioration of our ability to mediate any sort of peace agreement in Israel.

    September 7, 2001 (later)

    Couple interesting Wired articles: Possible signs of life on Mars. Games as virtual reality as art.

    Jouke writes an amusing critique of Adbusters' latest issue, "Designer Anarchy":

    Well kids, as long as designers don't understand that it's not as much No Logo... as that it is No Slogan ('no logo' being a point in case, it's sloganization is not doing Naomi Klein's work a whole lot of good): no thematic, textual or graphical simplification of an infinitely detailed living reality, in all its vulnerability and power.


    September 7, 2001

    An interesting paper investigating some of the implications of inflationary theory. (Another discussion of inflationary theory). Garriga and Vilenkin point out that inflationary theory predicts that there are an infinite number of O-regions, or observable "universes", but each O-region has a finite number of possible alternate quantum histories. As a result, they argue that there must be an infinite number of O-regions which have identical histories to our own, but which may have a different future evolution. Furthermore, while we are today causally isolated from those other O-regions, in the future our O-region will come into causal contact with the others, and thus there is a chance we will be able to compare our history with that of other O-regions.

    In reference to the subject of yesterday's post, Mark reminds me of the following quote of Anatole France:

    There is no such thing as objective criticism any more than there is objective art, and all who flatter themselves that they put aught but themselves into their work are dupes of the most fallacious illusion. The truth is that one never gets out of oneself. That is one of our greatest miseries. What would we not give to see, if but for a minute, the sky and earth with the many-faceted eye of a fly, or to understand nature with the rude and simple brain of an ape? But just that is forbidden us. We cannot, like Tiresias, be men and remember having been women. We are locked into our persons as into a lasting prison. The best we can do, it seems to me, is gracefully to recognize this terrible situation and to admit that we speak of ourselves every time we have not the strength to be silent. “To be quite frank, the critic ought to say: ‘Gentlemen, I am going to talk about myself on the subject of Shakespeare ...’
    Personally, I don't think of this as a misery. The Zen people like to say we are steep, like a cliff; unscalable. Yet at the same time we are completely unified and interrelated with everything and everyone. Both independent and interdependent.

    Monty sends me this link to an article about an H-Bomb the Air Force lost 43 years ago off the coast of Georgia.

    September 6, 2001

    Subjective knowlege, unlike the objective, depends not only on the circumstances of the observer, but on the structure of the observer herself. Can we really know what it is like to be an ant? Or an amoeba? The fact is, we can't even really completely know what it is like to be another human being --- or even ourselves, ten years ago or ten years from now, though the homologues are strong enough that some sort of metaphorical communication is possible to some extent. But push this farther and one comes to a fundamental limit of knowledge: the limits imposed by the very structure of our selves.

    It follows that when we are confronted by choices, there is another dimension of possibility: changing hidden aspects of our own functioning. We are not unchanging structures; every moment we are slightly different. We tend to think that making a choice involves selection of courses of action, laid out before us like items on a menu, but what about changing the chooser? The possibilities open to one chooser may be quite different from those open to another, and that other chooser can be a new version of ourselves. Have you ever had the experience of having a tremendous insight that actually replaces a pattern inside yourself, so that new things become possible after the insight? New possibilities become clear?

    How can we remind ourselves of this from day to day? From moment to moment? Every time we think the issue involves simply selecting a choice, we reinforce the habit of thinking of ourselves as immutable, and this is the most restrictive prison of all.

    September 3, 2001

    I have noticed that some people, often women in particular, are hesitant to give voice to their inner concerns or objections, their inner truth, out of a general lack of a sense of legitimacy or a fear of repercussions, anger, or reprisal. They also might feel that it is unseemly to speak up, or overly self-centered, or perhaps impolite. If you say nothing, however, the resentment and discomfort can only grow --- leading perhaps eventually to a breakdown of the relationship or communication altogether. Alternately, the resentment could grow until you feel no choice but to come to some sort of extreme way of accomodating your discomfort --- a blowup or total withdrawal.

    If there is no truth at the base of a relationship, the signals that go back and forth between people become increasingly unmoored from reality, which is another way of saying the relationship will become boring. There is nothing more interesting than actuality, even though actuality may seem uncomfortable or frightening at first. But is it really less frightening or less uncomfortable to live in a world of falsified sentiment and unreal symbols, a world of ghost images and words? You cannot go anywhere if you don't deal with what is really happening.

    I am not suggesting that people ought to become insensitive to others, rude, or confrontational. Quite the opposite. A sensitive expression of one's truth, coupled with a willingness to listen, is far less rude than withholding your concerns, because when you say nothing you not only deprive them of your truth but you prevent them from expressing theirs in response. But most importantly you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be more fully you, to be who you are, while remaining in relation to the other person. We all have a right to be who we are. Accomodating others and being sensitive does not mean we have to totally suppress our own truth.

    September 2, 2001

    It's very important to be willing to not know. It is impossible to know everything, to prepare for everything, to control everything, to think of every angle. In fact, the thing that we call "I" is a tiny fragment of a giant stream of reality. That reality is flowing on, not only outside the "I" but through it, and not only outside the body but intertwined with it. At the same time, we are all completely and fundamentally who we are, independent and unique. The totality can always be a surprise to the fragment, however, and the fragment can never anticipate every twist or turn on the road. But, we can all BE the twists and turns on the road, as they are, as they happen, here and now.

    Some more fun websites recommended by (Portland) Paul:

    Snarg.net, a funny Flash game.

    The "hyperactive electronic zine," I/O/D.

    deepdisc projects, a set of experimental music sites.

    Born magazine, a "design and literature collaboration."

    Urbansounds, a magazine about and of electronic music (music clips on site).

    L'audible, a site filled with interesting experimental music.

    Contour.net, another site with good experimental/electronic music links and clips.

    September 1, 2001

    Been seeing a lot of films about nuclear war recently, including Buffalo Commons, featured at the Peripheral Produce Invitationals. It seems a coincidence, or perhaps it isn't. Just as we thought the threat of nuclear war was subsiding, we seem hellbent on resurrecting the world nuclear arms race. I feel the Bush Administration could well do much more long-term, disastrous harm to the nation and the world than one might expect.

    The thing that is strange about nuclear weapons, something echoed in practically every movie about nuclear war, is that everyone seems terrified primarily of our own weapons being launched. It is unreal, like a terrible nightmare, invariably accompanied by the phrase "oh my God". The goal of most nuclear war movies involves somehow stopping our own weapons from accidentally going off. We root for our own equipment to fail, for us to stop the maniacal computer or malfunctioning equipment or accidentally launched nuclear bombers or missiles. Isn't it interesting that nuclear weapons, unlike practically every other weapons system, exist primarily not to be used?