Monday, November 11, 2013

tandoori taco sunset


Crab, Dill Pickle, Fully Loaded Baked Potato, Mediterranean Herbs, Salt & Pepper, Soulmate Cheeses & Onion, Ranch, Honey Mustard, Sweet Onion, Cheddar And Sour Cream, Rotisserie Chicken, Spicy Jalapeno, Sour Cream And Onion, Salt & Vinegar, Cheese & Onion, Smokey Bacon, Prawn Cocktail, Pickled Onion, Beef & Onion, Marmite, Spanish Chicken Paella, Japanese Teriyaki Chicken, German Bratwurst Sausage, Italian Spaghetti Bolognese, French Garlic Baguette, American Cheeseburger, Brazilian Salsa, Scottish Haggis, Irish Stew, English Roast Beef And Yorkshire Pudding, Dutch Edam Cheese, Australian BBQ Kangaroo, South African Sweet Chutney, Argentinian Flame Grilled Steak, Welsh Rarebit, Mango Red Chill, Pizza(!), Magic Masala, Nori Seaweed, Basil, Squid, Garlic Soft Shelled Crab (Hong Kong), Soy Sauce, Salmon Teriyaki, Hot & Sour Fish Soup.

I'd be surprised to find this list of potato chip (crisp) flavours had any connection to actual ingredients. In the fast-paced world of food technology today, creating a new flavour is easy, a matter of chemistry. I imagine it's like creating a new shade of lipstick: the hard part is coming up with a name.

...maybe they also do some testing on pigs before they launch to the public.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

wholly water

God | Squad

personal best
Abstinence is a big part of why I'm not Mormon. It's hard to relate to teetotalers. My people are Irish/Australian; I can't get my head around the idea of cultures that don't drink. When do they let their their id off the leash?

I once stopped drinking for 2 years during a bout of hepatitis, so I can understand non-drinking for reasons of poor health. I also understand drinking for reasons of good health: for some of us, alcohol is part of a mental health regime that helps us thrive in the conditions of modern civilization, like iodized salt.

Mostly, I don't understand why anyone would refuse alcohol on religious grounds. The deeper issue is not alcohol, it's about trust. If someone can refuse to drink alcohol for no other reason than because the Almighty forbids it, how can I be sure they won't make other choices that seem random and arbitrary to me?

That's the thing with religious people: they follow a different set of rules. They can eat this, they can't eat that. This day that can't work, that day they have to stay up all night. If you want to get to know a religious person to the level where they don't seem just, well, random and weird, then spending time and sharing activities with them is not enough. To get to know a religious person, you also have to get to know the(ir) Almighty, an entity who usually is not bound by Logic or Reason. Almighty has not introduced his/herself to me and has not answered my calls.

Why would anyone give up their freedom to, say, drink alcohol, in favor of an apparently arbitrary set of rules delivered from on high?

Consider the swimming pool. I love to swim. But I won't stay long in an open pool during public swim on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I might try a few underwater somersaults, or see if I can swim the width underwater on a single breath, but very soon I'll get bored and out. For me, it starts to get interesting with lane ropes. Lane ropes give swimming some sense.

I used to train with a swim squad. We had a coach who set the workouts for us. A typical set might look something like this:
3 x (4 x 75):
#1: free;
#2: 25 choice stroke, 50 free;
#3: 50 choice stroke (same stroke), 25 free;
#4: 75 stroke (same stroke).

The sets often seemed arbitrary. Sometimes Coach Al would tell us to swim lengths without kicking, or only using one arm, or using a limited number of strokes or breaths. The sets were sometimes hard to remember and we would occasionally lose our place. No problem, Coach Al would bark out the next drill from the end of the pool.

I never really understood the method behind these intricate swimming sets, but Coach Al seemed to know what he was doing. All I had to do was follow Coach Al's commands. Giving him control over my workout allowed me to focus on swimming right in the moment. All other concerns washed away. I retain a strong memory of the feeling of liberation I experienced during those punishing swim squad workouts.

Giving myself over to the commands of Al made swimming meaningful and rewarding; Maybe I do understand why someone would hand over their freedom to a higher power. Ideally, every once in a while, you and your higher power should get together after practice and share a drink or three.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

owning jesus

Man of faith smashing scripture 
If I was Khalid I would not belong to the Muslim faith. I would not subscribe to its beliefs, nor would I follow its practices. If I was Khalid, I would own Islam.

You may think I am being pedantic, but in fact, I am being Orthodox. This post is about Faith and Religion, chapter and verse.

As it happens, I don't own Islam, although I do have some ideas for how I'd fix it up if I did. It could use some pictures on the walls, for one. I own Catholicism. Yes, the Pope is mine. Sorry about him. He just won't listen. We've been thinking maybe medication would be a good thing for him.

I never asked for Catholicism. I inherited it. I find it unsightly, myself, but my mother likes it. It's not like I can give it away. It's not much practical use, so I usually keep it in the attic, buried under a pile of other accumulated crap. Sometimes I drag it out when we have visitors who are interested in that sort of thing. It's not pretty, it gets in the way, it's poorly constructed, rotting, and often stinks, but it's mine, my problem.

The actual point of this post is to point out the absurdity of the idea of anyone belonging to a faith. In my view, Faith requires free choice. Without free choice, Faith becomes compulsion, or unthinking adherence to culture -- without free choice. If faith is possible without free choice, then Ants can be believers.

My complaint may seem specious. Belonging has 3 senses, roughly: classification, fit, and ownership, and it is reasonable to say that a Christian person belongs to the Christian faith in the same way that an ant belongs to the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Arthroproda, and the class Insecta, i.e., in the sense of classification.

To my ears, however, when people say they belong to a faith, it sounds like they mean the faith owns them. It sounds inappropriately passive. Subscribing to a faith is equally passive. (More often, believers are prescribing the faith, which, at least, is active.) To be a follower of a faith is also passive. All these terms seem dispirited, especially for a faith. Faiths should spirited, not passive.

So is my problem pedantry? YES! My problem is other peoples' pedantry, the pedantry of people of the word. Because language, like mathematics, is a system of symbolic manipulation, processed by the parts of our soul (or brain, if you prefer), that handles logic and analytical thinking, which, if you think it through, are anti-thetical to faith. Salt on the slug of faith. If your faith needs a logical proof, then it isn't faith. If you have a logical proof, then you don't need faith.

Faith and Reason don't mix. Language is a system of symbolic manipulation, inextricable from Reason. So people of the word, i.e, subscribers/prescribers of scripture-based religions, must swallow this indigestible nugget before they can open their mouths to preach. This may explain the constipated empathy for non-believers. Scripture is no place for Faith.

The proper medium of Faith is Art. Art is handled by the systems of the brain that deal with intuition, emotions, fellow humans, and beauty. Compare: which religion you would like to own?

Scripture Art
Rational Intuitive
Manipulative    Open
Consistency Beauty
Eternal Humane

What about Poetry? I grant, poetry is Art, capable of expressing the ineffable. But is religious scripture poetry? Millions of the faithful claim it is. But if scripture is poetry, then is it fiction? No. The categories of fiction and non-fiction don't apply to poetry. Poetry, like music, has its own criteria of Truth, based on Intuition, Authenticity, and Beauty.

So, if scripture-based faith was music, what kind of music would it be? Probably something like this ancient music:
Music of Ancient Greece - First Chorus, Orestes Tragedy of Eurypides - by Christodoulos Halaris - Ancient Greek Music

It may have it's musical qualities, but it doesn't come anywhere near this more recent work in terms of Intuition, Authenticity, or Beauty:

My point is, if scripture is to be read as non-fiction, then believers are literally followers, and that's no way to belong to a faith. If scripture is meant to be poetry, then, it's a crunky, stiff, and unappealing kind of poetry, a poor alternative to other, better, more uplifting and soul-nourishing art on the market.

The best indication of the Truth of scripture-based religions, like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, is the Art they have inspired, not the scripture they are based upon.

People of the word (followers of scripture-based faiths) may argue that scripture is poetry, and believers do make the free choice to believe in its truth. But poetry, like music, does not give prescriptive truth.  Art does not give Rules.

I'm preaching to the converted. If you are still reading this far, you already agree with me. Otherwise, you would have stopped reading this infidel nonsense earlier, recognizing it for the Sophistry it is. The fact is, dear reader, I don't even believe in the existence of you. I can't think who would be interested to read this far. Oh yes. Sorry. Hi Mum! Yes, I believe in you. I hope you are looking after Jesus.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

an uncomfortable opinion


I am a moderate man, a man of the left. I am a family man, father to 4 children, born in 4 corners of the world. I am a believer in larger social causes, sceptical of western capitalistic ideologies of individualism. I support socialized medicine, and advocate bicycle paths. I am a Canadian, living in the Netherlands. So I am surprised to discover that everyone needs guns.

Justin Bieber needs a gun. Carly Rae Jepsen needs a gun. Pamela Anderson needs a gun. Shania Twain needs a gun. Celine Dione needs a gun. Leonard Cohen needs a gun. Keanu Reeves needs a gun. Nelly Furtado needs a gun. Jim Carrey needs a gun. Avril Lavigne needs a gun. Margaret Atwood needs a gun.

Not just Canadians. We all need guns. Right-thinking community-minded freedom-loving atheists like myself especially need guns. We should resist any attempt at gun control, gun registration, ammunition monitoring, and anything else that sniffs of restrictions on our natural rights to defend ourselves. We need guns to protect ourselves from conservative religious nut jobs. The NRA doesn’t explain this well.

This is a new opinion for me, two days old as I write. It came upon me suddenly, as I listened to reports of PRISM, the US governments collation and monitoring of our personal network data. Working in the software industry, I am aware of how much detailed personal information can be extracted from such a database. Living in Europe I am often reminded of how badly governments have behaved. Yesterday, in fact, we had to detour around a cordoned-off area of the beach where an unexploded grenade had been found. It is easy for me to imagine a bad government – in Turkey, say, or Italy – using social network data to snuff out sparks of dissent: actual, potential, or perceived.
"According to the documents revealed by Ed Snowden, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has access on a massive scale to individual chat logs, stored data, voice traffic, file transfers and social networking data of individuals. 
The US government confirmed it did request millions of phone records from US company Verizon, which included call duration, location and the phone numbers of both parties on individual call. 
According to the documents, Prism also enabled "backdoor" access to the servers of nine major technology companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. 
These servers would process and store a vast amount of information, including private posts on social media, web chats and internet searches."

In 2001, the Bush Administration amended the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to permit warrantless wiretapping. Lawmakers who knew of the program were gagged from publicly discussing the top secret program.

These laws give the US government the ability to identify virtually anyone on the basis of their expressed personal beliefs and opinions. The scope of surveillance extends to other western capitalist democracies. (Of course, citizens of overtly authoritarian regimes already expect surveillance.) Whether exploited or not, these laws provide unprecedented capability for oppression.

The Obama administration recently reauthorized these powers after "extensive debate," a fact all the more worrying because I am disposed to like Mr Obama. I imagine he made the inevitable political choice: If he chose to end the surveillance program he would be held responsible for the next terrorist act against the United States. Reauthorization, however, merely maintains the status quo. I like Obama, but I'm scared of many of the other conservative US politicians. I'm scared of what might happen if the more extreme conservative US politicians were to gain control of the levers of power. In time, inevitably, they will.

I don't like the tradeoffs of my new position against gun control: the increased risk of gun violence on the streets, in homes, and at schools. However, history shows the alternative possibility of ruthless repressive authoritarian regimes is a reality.

I am uncomfortable with my new position against gun control, but it came to me quickly, and so may change just as swiftly. Please dissuade me.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Thursday, June 6, 2013

managing conflict in the workplace

plan your meeting in advance 
On a certain occasion when Father Nicanor brought a checker set to the chestnut tree and invited him to a game, José Arcadio Buendía would not accept, because according to him he could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules.
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

It seems to me the exercise of war is a demonstration of commitment to a cause, the point being to establish that your commitment to a position is greater than the commitment of your opponent. Clausewitz said "War is the continuation of politics by other means". War operates on a mass-psychological level, involving the marshaling of commitment of entire populations.

King George III described the cost of war in terms of "blood and treasure," but the currency of war is ultimately blood. Even treasure is valuable only as long as you (or your people) are alive to enjoy it.

It seems to me the purpose of war is to demonstrate the commitment of a population to a position, and this commitment is reckoned in blood, your own blood. Measured in terms of commitment, willingness to die for a cause trumps willingness to kill.

What if José Arcadio Buendía had agreed to the checker game, and Father Nicanor had won the game, only using a checkers computer app? Would José Arcadio Buendía have considered himself defeated? I suspect José Arcadio Buendía would then have given Father Nicanor a bloody nose. ...and walked away the victor, in my view.

Robotic technologies, such as drones, enable (economically advantaged) warring nations to draw blood without putting their own soldiers in harms way. In my view, this is cheating, like Father Nicanor's checkers computer. The nation using the robotic weapons draws the blood of its enemy, but demonstrates no commitment of its own. In fact, the behavior may be read by its enemy as a demonstration of lack of commitment, just as a shiny red sports car betrays the sexual insecurity of the middle-aged man.

Advanced weapons may make it possible for a warring population to kill every one of their committed enemies with minimal risk to your own population. Reckoned in blood, the technologically advantaged side will have won. There will be no committed enemy blood left.

The terror and the horror of their enemy's advanced weapons may drain the commitment of a warring population to the cause. But having entered the conflict, the warriors have already established themselves as resolute and resigned to the cause. Isn't it more likely the use of advanced weapons will strengthen their resolve to test their enemy's commitment?

War seeks the level at which a society is existentially committed to a position. War is a negotiation, diplomacy by other means. It's a market mechanism to determine value, value measured in identity & existence, value reckoned in blood.

In war, the use of advanced weaponry such as drones is cheating, just as Father Nicanor's chess computer is cheating, just as Lance Armstrong's steroids was cheating. In war as in more structured competitions, victory achieved through cheating is illusory and usually fleeting.

I hope this puts your ridiculous workplace conflict into perspective.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Monday, June 3, 2013

i earned some humility today


I'm sorry for not understanding.
I'm sorry for not listening.
I'm sorry for not seeing you already understood I was wrong.
Sorry for insisting.
Sorry for my pride. 
Sorry for my arrogance.
Sorry for not appreciating you.
Sorry for my insulting tone.
Sorry for false modesty.
Sorry for my ignorance.
Sorry for my preconceptions.
Sorry for my prejudice.
Sorry for my insensitivity.
Sorry for doing all of this again.

I apologize in case you blame yourself.
The blame is mine.

I apologize to make myself feel better.
I do not expect forgiveness.
I will fail to change.
I apologize to you.
I apologize to myself.

I am truly sorry.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Saturday, March 16, 2013

message for your deaf ears

the Arecibo message

blah blah blah

There is of course the satisfaction of composing florid prose. And cryptic terseness. Vanity? Not in the long run. Assertiveness: that's why I write these little essays.

These blog posts are a chance for me to express my point of view in whole, without interruption, and in detail; something I otherwise rarely have the opportunity to do. This is because no one gives a shit about my personal opinions and views.

I get well enough professional respect to keep my chin in the air, and am sufficiently feared at home to maintain my testosterone levels; so I'm comfortable with the general lack of interest in what's going in my personal head. But sometimes I'm curious about what's going on in there. And often I'm not really sure until I see it written down.

Why broadcast my views? Because publishing imposes discipline. It encourages me to consider a hypothetical reader while I am writing a post, and provides a satisfying sense of closure when I click the button when I'm done.

lorem ipsum vanitas

I'd like to correct any misconceptions about self-importance. I have statistically certain knowledge of exactly how many people find these posts compelling and relevant. Nobody. It's a one-way communication into the abyss. Like broadcasting radio messages into space. The situation is stable. I check the statistics daily. In this way, I keep my self-importance in check.

No, dear reader, I do not consider you a "nobody," or an "alien," or in any way like an "abyss". In fact, I am most likely related or married to you, in which case, I love you. Otherwise, I probably know you to some degree personally, in which case, chances are we are friendly. Thank you for reading this. You are kind, and I would be pleased if you left a comment and more pleased if you actually discussed any of the thoughts in these posts with me. If you have come to this blog by accident, then I humbly hope you will find something amusing enough to warrant your time. If you already dislike me and have come to this blog in search of justification, then i) I'm flattered, and ii) you lose, dickhead. Ha!

wankity wankity wank

I enjoy the craft of composition, the pleasure of creation, of forming an argument, of working with ideas. I like the practical reward of having coherent thoughts at hand when the (rare) occasion arises.

However, I have noticed two potential downsides. Since I started to blog, my personal email account has been neglected. Friends can wait days for a reply. I prefer to believe this is a symptom of a general creeping fatigue of the demands of constant connectedness, as well as because time blogging leaves less time for other leisure activities; but there is also an element of cowardly vice. Measured by word count, I seem to prefer unanswerable pronouncements over personal correspondance. But the way I like to think about it is, I'm sparing my friends and family the ordeal of appearing interested. I've seen it. It's not pretty. I'm performing an act of mercy.

The other potential drawback is being seduced by words. By this I mean falling into the world of semantics and logic. Language is limiting. It's wrong to understand the world as something that makes sense. While I use language to reveal my thoughts, I should not deceive myself that all thoughts can be expressed in language. I should not devalue the inarticulate. Because I will become an asshole.

happy ending

So why bother? Why to write down thoughts no one cares about for a blog no one reads? Why anything? Because it gives me joy. It makes at least as much sense as anything else I do.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Friday, March 15, 2013

anachrony in the EU

father knows best

time capsules

An anachronism is a thing that is out of place in time.

In Montreal, Pierre's car is referred to as le char à Pierre; in Paris, it's la voiture de Pierre. The similarity of the Quebecois char to the English car is accidental, it's not an anglicism. In fact, it's an exaptation of the 17th century French word for horse-drawn carriage (a kind of chariot). French as spoken in Quebec contains many such traces of the language spoke in the 17th Century, when French colonies were established on the east coast of what is now Canada. 

When the colonists left home, they took their language with them, and in the new world, the language evolved in its own direction. In smaller, isolated populations, evolution proceeds at a slower pace; hence the survival of 17th century words in Montreal now extinct in Paris. 

Do you remember that kid in middle school who spoke a different language at home? Did you ever have the fortune to eat at their house? Was the food weird and exotic? Did you finally surrender to the  gesticulations of the mother and accept second and third helpings? Did you fail to notice the Father and your friend were not doing the same? Were you surprised and dismayed when the next, main dish came to the table? Did they give you some wine? Did your friend seem to operate under different rules than most of the other kids, rules from the "old country," covering things like curfews, and drinking, and dating?

thousands of miles away and 30 years behind

When immigrants come to a new country, they bring with them a snapshot of their home culture, including moral values. In the relative isolation of their new home, the moral values tend to evolve more slowly than they do back home. Children of immigrants lead a time shifted life. Remember that immigrant girl who wasn't allowed to date? Her cousin in the old country was already on the pill. 

In the age of the internet, these effects are less strong, but I contend they remain strongly relevant. Day to day physical proximity and direct face to face interaction within a community is much more influential to our beliefs and behavior than online news, Skype, or any other mediated communication. I am witness to it.

expats are immigrants

My children have attended schools in 4 countries over the last 6 years. We now live in the Netherlands. My work is nearly exclusively in English, so I don't speak Dutch very well. My children often have to explain the school bulletins to me. Does my family then live in a time bubble?

In several ways, our family is an anachronism. In the Netherlands, 60% of women work, and part-time (flexi) work seems to be becoming the norm. The average family size is 2.2. In our immigrant household however, I am the sole breadwinner. Monday to Friday, I leave the home at 7:30 and return tired at 7:00, when I am served an excellent home cooked dinner. I do almost no housework. My partner, to whom I am married, the first marriage for both of us, is a full time mother of 4 children. It could be a situation from a 1950s TV show. Only the wife in this comedy is much less complacent (more pissed off) about her part.

My children complain about the strict limits on television and computer use we enforce. They claim we are the only parents in the school with such arbitrary rules. 1. I don't believe them. 2. I'm not able to socialize enough in the community to sense how far from the norm we really are.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

the unbearable lightness of dementia

Nothingness haunts being. 
Sartre claims we yearn for a solidity that always evades us, that however much we are established as, say, a Respected Judge, Competitive Businessman, Resolute Defender, Caring Father, Creative Artist, or even Innovative Pornographer, there is a part of us that knows it is all a pretense  We long for the comfort of knowing that we simply are whatever we are, to be one indisputable thing, in the way, say, that a rock is unchangingly a rock. We long for the solidity of objects. We desire to inhabit our being confidently and effortlessly (the French say "to feel good in one's skin), but our ease is ever eroded by the knowledge that we built our identity ourselves, on a foundation of nothingness. This is existential angst. Our lives are spent fleeing from this reality.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Do you ever feel exhausted by the effort of simply maintaining your own identity in the society of others? Does the foundational flimsiness of your identity prick your confidence from time to time?

Maybe this is what it is like to experience dementia. As our memory and cognitive agility declines, we lose our ability to maintain a solid façade of identity. Like cold winter wind through a broken attic window, Nothingness creeps in, . Life, once solid-seeming, begins to lose its substance. Anxiety, which we had to this point always managed to suppress and conceal from ourselves, now begins to overwhelm. It's the same anxiousness, fear, and nausea hiding in all of us, only unleashed.

Maybe this is why people with dementia sometimes retreat into the well established patterns of their youth. Perhaps, searching for solidity, they lean on whatever ways of thinking are still most intact. Neural pathways established earlier and reinforced over a lifetime are the strongest.

Maybe this is why doll therapy is sometimes effective for people with Alzheimer's disease, because it taps into primal drives to care and protect children. Perhaps these basic drives are solid-feeling and therefore comforting.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

taxonomy of humanity

Imagination and Fact

There are fiction people and non-fiction people. Non-fiction people prefer their information to be actionable, with clear relevance and direct application. Fiction people prefer their information to be inspirational, evoking new images and experiences. Although I have lately bought more of the second than the first, I am solidly a fiction man. I have had lengthy spells of nearly exclusive non-fiction consumption, in the form of news magazines (e.g., The Economist), history (e.g., Colour), biography (e.g., God's Call Girl) , and analysis (e.g., The Tell-Tale Brain); but I have found that fiction (e.g., Time's Arrow), gives me much more insight into the world around me. Non-fiction gives you a bicycle pump, fiction gives you a map.

Objects and Experiences

There are Art people and Travel people. Art people spend their money on beautiful and inspiring objects. Travel people spend their money on experiences. Art people attend to their day-to-day environment, striving to make each moment unique and meaningful. Travel people seek new perspectives on life, viewing each situation from the standpoint of another. Art people live in the moment, which they seek to transcend; Travel people live in their memories, and in their anticipation of their next adventure. I admire the Art people, but history suggests I am a Travel person.

Leavers and Stayers

There are stay-to-the-end-of-the-party people and don't-to-be-the-last-to-leave-the-party people. I'm a stayer. I do try to be sensitive to the desires of our host, but I don't like to stop when I am enjoying myself. If things are getting crazy, well, to my thinking, the whole point of a party is a change from the normal. Crazy is not the time to leave. It's like leaving the opera before the fat lady sings. I make an exception in cases of impending violence or destruction. No, Karaoke is not covered by these exceptions.

Hard and Candy Asses

There are end-of-the-world people and not-end-of-the-world people. In my experience, most people are not-end-of-the-world people, meaning they do not want to be around when the comet extinguishes all life, or global warming fries the last mammal. Me, I reckon human life will eventually come to an end, and I think humans are the only ones who care much when it comes to an end, and after human life comes to an end none of human history will be of any significance at all, so wouldn't it be a privilege to know how it ended? You may not like how it ended, but you would have the satisfaction of knowing with certainty. I'm not a nihilist. I believe life is meaningful; but only to the living. I have no desire to pro-actively end the world during my existence, just as I have no desire to end a party simply because I must go home. I'm a finisher. I prefer to see the end. Not-end-of-the-world people have their heads in the sand.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

logical politics

The Prophet Daniel (Michelangelo)


After listening carefully to the comments, and considering the situation and the personalities, and the motivating forces and preceding events, I have decided everyone is wrong. Where it is not plain wrong, your understanding of the facts is superficial, and your criticism more political than logical. I have therefore decided not to change my perspective, conduct, or approach. I have decided to push back.

I would have expected to relish this situation. Greatness needs fortune in order to rise, like the acorn needs fertile soil. The opportunity to stand firm in the light of truth against the storm of unenlightened opinion is a gift. Righteous indignation is a rare and invigorating joy. 


Then there is hubris. Certainty blinds. Moving tongue, deaf ears. Established experts are often the last ones to notice the changes that make their knowledge obsolete. Perhaps you are all genuinely trying to bring my attention to something new, so new that we have not yet found words for it, and because it cannot be defined, I deny its existence, when I should instead join your efforts to describe it.

What if I am right? You will not thank me. You will remember only the bitterness of being wrong, and you will think of that bitterness when you think of me. Our differences center on certain shared interests, but we also have our own held personal interests which take priority over these other interests, and, no doubt, all of our personal goals include not feeling wrong, or bitter, or an asshole. 

So in the end, looking at the bigger picture, why don't I just go with the flow? As important as we all hold our shared goals to be, let's face it: we aren't talking about rescuing starving refugees from advancing troops on the wrong side of the desert border. We aren't disputing whether the convulsing open heart surgery patient will be saved or killed by tightening of the clamp. Egos are at stake. So why not keep my gunpowder dry and live to fight another day?

Practical Realities

What fight? What day? What's the profit if I sacrifice my integrity? The stand I take now determines the nature of the challenges I will face in the future. If I give up ground, I condemn myself to fight similar battles in the light of a precedent that weakens my position and gives strength to my opponents. "The man who trims himself to suit everyone soon whittles himself away".


Of course, we all succeed or fail together. It is small satisfaction to the man on the sinking ship to have seen the iceberg. The situation calls for influence and persuasion. We must be led gently into the light so that we are able to see the truth for yourself. Because we are too easily distracted by the arguments, and lose sight of the what is really important. Logic often leads away from the truth.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

bud lite

beer me!

A student asked the Buddha, "Teacher, many holy men profess to show the way to enlightenment. How am I to distinguish those who offer wisdom from the charlatans?"

The Buddha answered, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Which is why I am an atheist.

Buddhists have described their practice as the Science of Life, and this agrees with my own preferred way of looking at things. I admire Buddhism, but they lose me with the mystical stuff. Call my way of looking at things, Bud Lite.

The approach to life that most agrees with my own reason and common sense is Epicureanism. Here is a sample of the teachings of Epicurus:
  • Truth can only be known by the evidence of the senses. 
  • Pleasure is the chief good of life. 
  • A tranquil state of mind is the chief pleasure. 
  • Learning is valuable only in that it rids us of fear and teaches us to pursue pleasure intelligently. 
  • Virtue is valuable only so far as it leads us to happiness. 
  • It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing "neither to harm nor be harmed"), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life. 
  • Fashion, culture and civilization create unnecessary needs. Their pursuit is more likely to disturb than reward. Simple pleasures are more lasting and satisfying. 
  • Who you share a meal with is more important than what you eat.

The History of Philosopy without any Gaps podcast has 3 commendable podcasts on the Principles, Ethics, and Theory of Epicurean Philosophy.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Monday, March 4, 2013

foregone conclusion

1 Did you click? Which link? Your choices disclose your fate.

2 You saw that coming.

Religion and Science converge on an unacceptable answer

Fatalism seems to have past its use-by date. The idea that the future is predetermined is something you expect from ignorant zealots, not civilized thinkers. However, if you take science seriously then eventually you come to the conclusion that the universe is controlled by inescapable forces. Science and Religion seem to converge on Determinism.
determinism [dɪˈtɜːmɪˌnɪzəm] n

1. (Philosophy) the philosophical doctrine that all events including human actions and choices are fully determined by preceding events and states of affairs, and so that freedom of choice is illusory. Also called necessitarianism. Compare free will [1b]
2. (Philosophy) the scientific doctrine that all occurrences in nature take place in accordance with natural laws
3. (Physics / General Physics) the principle in classical mechanics that the values of dynamic variables of a system and of the forces acting on the system at a given time, completely determine the values of the variables at any later time
determinist n & adj
deterministic adj
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

The debate over Determinism v. Free Will has been ongoing since antiquity. But findings in the fast-moving fields of neuroscience and behavioral psychology tend to support the deterministic theory. Emotions, desires, decisions, even our aesthetic senses can all be traced back to physical structures and events in the brain. There has been notable dissent from scientific and philosophic luminaries such as Epicurus, drawing on principles such as atomic swerve, and Karl Popper, drawing on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle; but on the whole, science is on track to definitively demonstrating the reality of Determinism. It seems inevitable. We should resign ourselves to the fact that physical, psychological, and spiritual reality manifests itself according to inexorable principles of cause and effect.

So what is a right-thinking upstanding member of the congregation supposed to do about it? Calvinist members of the Christian Dutch Reform Church believed in unconditional predestination to salvation, meaning that that they were already destined to land in either heaven or hell and nothing they did could change it. This was an unpleasant fact that Calvinists had to come to terms with, and I like how they did it. Their response was to take the view of highly engaged spectator to life. Although they couldn't change their final destination, they could watch their own actions carefully for evidence of where it would be. This stance seems like a sensible response to the situation, and not entirely depressing. It's like watching a long football match (what you might call Mancunian Mindfulness1).

A silly question

Although the Calvinists offer a practical response to the problem of determinism, they don't really resolve the issue. Determinism is a hard answer to accept. It doesn't feel correct. If determinism is the answer to the question of Free Will, then perhaps we should ask what the question means in the first place?

Douglas Adams can pick up where Calvin left off. In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the earth is revealed to be a supercomputer designed to calculate the meaning of the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Let's say reality does operate according to unswerving principles of cause and effect. Say we can understand these rules completely, in the form of something like an algorithm. Say we know the starting values of every variable in the algorithm. Can we predict the future?

In principle, yes, we could predict the future. But practically, we'd need to actually perform the calculations. A chalkboard won't do; we'd find we had fallen behind the future we were trying to predict even before the first squeak of chalk on slate. To run the calculations, we'd need an amazing complicated calculation machine, the ultimate reality engine.

To successfully predict the future, the reality engine would need to run faster than Reality itself. But I don't think this is possible. It's my (Douglas Adamsian) view that the most efficient way to calculate the future is Reality. It's impossible to calculate the future faster than it occurs in reality.

Which leads to a pair of questions I've been puzzling :
Does it make any sense to say something is pre-determined if no entity (man or machine or hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional being) knows or can know the outcome?
I think the answer is no; because if nobody knows the outcome, it's not pre-determined. So,
If something is not pre-determined, can it be deterministic? 
Again, I think the answer is no. Any other solutions I have found are unacceptably convoluted.

Religion and Science are both wrong and I am right

In summary, here is my contribution to the metaphysical debate over Free Will:
  • Physical, psychological, and spiritual reality does manifest itself according to inexorable principles of cause and effect. 
  • It's impossible to calculate the future faster than it occurs in Reality. 
  • Therefore no entity (man, machine, or hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional being) can predict the future; 
  • Therefore, determinism is not a possibility.
And what about Free Will? That, of course, is up to you.2

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Saturday, February 2, 2013

domestic science

I have been accused of sloth, disorderliness, unhygienic behavior, and general filthiness; and general moral depravity and social unfitness by implication. I call to my defense: Science!

The facts are not in dispute. In the bedroom, I have failed to make the bed; I have stepped over underwear rather than stooped to pick them up. In the kitchen, I have ignored dirty dishes in the sink the counter; I have dropped banana peels onto already overflowing rubbish bins. In the bathroom, I have have left the toilet seat raised and drops of urine on the rim; I have failed to react to empty toilet paper rolls. These neglectful behaviors result in others doing the work that is rightly my responsibility. All of this: not in dispute.

I am, however, innocent. Science will show that I am blameless just as the blindman who, as a result of poor design or inadequate legislation, walks in the wrong side of a revolving door, causing inconvenience to travelers rushing to catch their train. Imagine the distress of that blindman as he suffers the outrage of travelers concerned only with their own journeys. I am that blind man.

I have explained that I simply do not see the unmade bed / discarded underwear / dirty dishes / overflowing bin / urine drops / toilet seat state. But my pleas are refused, and I am accused of pride, arrogance, sloth, incontinence, and worse. I call as evidence: the Monkey Business Illusion:

It's common to overlook what you are not looking for. This is the way Attention works. Objects and events not related to our immediate concerns fade into the background. The cocktail party effect, where we selectively tune into a particular conversation among many in a crowded noisy room, is another example of this phenomenon; as is the illusion below. I think it's related to the connectome.
easy to overlook what you aren't looking for
Q.E.D. Vindicated. Science has shown I cannot be accused of pride, arrogance, disrespect, or sloth (at least on the basis of the present charges). I do not ignore mess and filth; I don't see it.

I am occupied with bigger things: Global Warming, Unrest in the Middle East, the European Financial Crisis. My accusers occupy themselves with smaller things: clothing, schooling, food.

Research toward my defense against the related charge of incontinence is ongoing.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

barrel of monkeys theory

monkey in front of Angkor Wat (Endless Loop)

Angkor Wat. What the hell? How did anyone manage to mobilise such a massive portion of the resources of a civilization toward creating these monuments? Magnificence is sufficient to justify the existence of these works, but is not enough to explain them. To maintain the colossal construction, planning, coordination and effort over several decades, there must have been a practical reality sustaining the dedication, faith and pride.
Barrel of Monkeys
I have a theory. It's called the Barrel of Monkeys Theory of Happiness. The objective of a game of Barrel of Monkeys is to create the longest chain of monkeys. Pick up one monkey by an arm, hook the other arm through a second monkey's arm, continue making a chain... Your turn is over when a monkey is dropped. To succeed at Barrel of Monkeys, you must maintain a certain amount of tension in the chain. Without tension, the monkeys fall apart.

without tension, the monkeys fall apart
Tension as I will use it here to talk about life, means essentially the same thing as purpose, only with emphasis on the unsatisfied, ongoing, incomplete aspect of purpose; tension as unfulfilled need, drive. Religions give this kind of tension, as do competitive sports, street gangs, and addictive drugs.

Without tension we get unhappy and restless. Tension gives coherence to events and circumstances in the same way it holds the monkey chain together. Without tension, life degenerates into "blooming buzzing confusion". This is the Barrel of Monkeys Theory of Happiness:
Without tension, life falls apart.
The theory scales. It applies to nations as much as individuals. A sovereign ruler concerned with keeping her dominion united and subjects content should ensure there is sufficient unifying tension among the people. A command from a god to create a magnificent temple can do this. Or a space race. Usually, though, it's a call to war.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Saturday, January 12, 2013

bad trade

don't do it

Pornography is bad for you, son. There's nothing at all wrong with sex (although it can get complicated), but pornography is bad. Masturbation is fine. Fantasy is fine. Pornography is bad. Don't do it. Let's just leave it at that, OK? If I catch you looking at pornography I'll... tell your mother ...I'll blog about it.

Substances and behaviors can be innate, habit forming, addictive, or habituating. The drives to sleep, eat, and sex, are innate; part of the human condition, and in my opinion, to be celebrated. Repeated behaviours like buckling you seatbelt, brushing your teeth, or cracking your knuckles can become habits; good or bad. Certain substances, like nicotine in cigarettes or morphine in heroin are addictive; they create a physical craving for more which often cannot be controlled. Addictive substances are usually also habituating; your body gradually requires more of the substance to reach the same level of satisfaction. This is why many drugs are so harmful: they generate uncontrollable cravings for ever more quantities, eventually taking over your life.

Pornography is not a drug. But it is habituating. It's a combination of an innate drive for sexual arousal and a habituating stimulus. Habituation of sexual arousal works differently than habituation of drugs. With drugs, we want more; with arousal, we want different. Compare it to habituation of another innate drive: hunger. We must eat, and we will eat, but we enjoy to eat tasty new things. Tasty new things are a sensual treat. But a constant diet of the same treat, no matter how tasty, leads not to enjoyment, but boredom and worse: dissatisfaction and sadness because you have lost one of life's great pleasures. This loss of pleasure happens because of the lack of newness, of interesting unexpectedness in your diet.

Now, imagine an app that let you experience the tastes of eating without actually consuming any food. Imagine it really was pleasurable to taste ice cream or chocolate, or chilis or poisonous blowfish or chargrilled panda steak with this app. Would you use it? The danger would be that you would become so habituated to exotic simulated tastes that you lost your ability to enjoy real foods. As your pleasure in real dinners disappeared, you would also lose a great part of your enjoyment of dinner parties with real people. You would have lost your ability to enjoy some of life's great pleasures. You traded them for an fake. Bad trade.

And it's the same deal with pornography. When you look at pornography the effects of habituation dulls your senses, reducing your ability to enjoy real sexual experience.

As you look at pornography over time, you will need to look at different types of pornography in order to reach the same levels of arousal.  To maintain your interest, you will find yourself always searching for something new. And eventually, this leads to pornography in which women are treated as unfeeling objects, or slaves, or humiliated victims, or animals, or any variety of unrealistic or immoral scenes. And you will become habituated to these scenes, and you will lose some of your ability to enjoy real sex, and generally, you will die inside.

Bad trade, my son.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Saturday, January 5, 2013

this is not a post

Exceptions are the rule. They are the barber who shaves everyone in the village who does not shave himself; the spy who declares he never speaks the truth; the science of probability.

Much great art seems to be about exceptions, in the sense that great art often embodies a paradox. I'm thinking of Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe". The painting clearly depicts a pipe, but it's greatness lies in the fact that the truth that it is in fact a painting and not a pipe is put in our face. The painting of the pipe would not by itself be impressive art. The combination of the painting and the caption make it great.

A beautifully rendered landscape is great to the extent that it captures a truth while not being the truth. We can appreciate the true beauty of a landscape without having the experience of art, but the painting gives us more, because ..."ce n'est pa une landscape".

Psychologists have found we have two modes of thinking: a fast intuitive mode, and a slower, more methodical rational mode. We tend to prefer the first. Neuroscientists have found two distinctive neural systems: an inarticulate, holistic system that attends to relationships among individual entities, and an articulate, precision system used for manipulation. The first system deals with love, the second system science. It boils down to two opposing ways of being in the world, a fundamental conflict which has been variously termed:

Exception v Rule
Absolute v Relative
Specific v General
Emotion v Rationality
Faith v Logic
Religion v Science
Silent v Articulate
Action v Talk

In another post, I've talked about this dichotomy in terms of High Context and Low Context knowledge.

It's possible to look at much art in these terms, as evoking the basic contradiction in the ineffably, indescribably unique nature of every living moment, and the need for us to generalize experience into crude categories to even think about it. Man v. Nature is the struggle of an individual against the laws of the universe. Romeo and Juliet is the the attraction of opposites. Movies are about one man's struggle against the odds.

Once I start looking, I find the conflict of the Exception and the Rule everywhere. An evening's TV shows me Dan Draper firing his friend and colleague, the admirable Laine, on ethical principle, rather than making an exception and forgiving him out of love. Terry Pratchett's Hogwatch concludes with the observation that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the like are necessary to train children to believe in little lies, so they will believe in Truth, Justice, Morality and the like when they are older. Because science and logic just don't get you there on their on own. Faith and Reason are contradictory, parallel, and omnipresent.

In life and in art, exceptions are the rule.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Friday, January 4, 2013

game of throwns

I read that our brains work by projection. We experience anticipated sensations. This enables us to react faster than our neurons can transmit electrochemical signals to our extremities, a requirement when we need to do things such as catch a ball. We intuitively calculate the trajectory and experience the feeling of the ball hitting our palm before the actual nerve impulses from our hand arrive at the brain. Unless the ball doesn't hit our palm as anticipated, in which case the contradictory nerve impulses from our hand cancel the experienced anticipated impulses. But in the normal course of events, when we catch the ball as usual, then the experienced sensation is very slightly ahead of the nerve impulses generated by the actual event, and a product of what might be called projection, however faithful to the actual nerve impulses.

This is part of the explanation of the phenomenon of phantom limbs, where people continue to experience amputated limbs as if they were still there. In the absence of contradictory nerve impulses (from the missing limb) there is no cancellation of the projected experience. Thus, some people feel their lost arm waving at a friend they see on the street, experience itches that cannot be scratched, or cramps that cannot be eased.

Projected experience is not just the plight of those with amputated limbs. We live slightly ahead of ourselves, shaping reality before it immerses us. We wake up happy and the world is good to us. We wake up grumpy and the world is inhospitable. Even though we know the world would be better if we changed our attitude …we find we can't. We 'find' ourselves in a mood. Mood locates, or orients, ourselves in the world, and our position determines what of the world is disclosed. In revealing our throwness, moods reveal a trajectory -- a direction and velocity, an angle and impetus, a bias and conviction.

We are all projectiles.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

domestic violins

I was angry at her for being angry at me. How could anyone be angry at me? Do I not make every effort? Do I not consider others before myself? Am I not proactive, self-actualized, and uncomplaining? Are not the everyday indignities, humiliations, and injustices that afflict me the equal or worse of those afflicting others in comparable situations, that is, those of similar health, education, income and nationality? And among these peers, are not my expectations indeed more modest, my outlook more inclusive? The outrage!
She was angry at me for being distant. But this distance is only a reflex of self-protection, defense against unappreciative, angry loved ones. Of course I withdraw! Because I have learned the futility of trying to explain myself. I have learned the futility of arguing. I have abandoned aspirations of being understood. Fighting is pointless. Instead I am silent. I seek only peace; solace I find in my own quiet thoughts, and on the internet on my smartphone.
But I can engage. Yes, I can try to influence the situation. Yes, I can express myself; I can say what I think. I am angry, that's what I think. I am angry about the unwarranted hostility I must suffer. And I don't like how she says she feels unfulfilled. As if to say a relationship with me was unfulfilling!  It's a direct attack. And I don't like the way she talks about my family.
She refuses to discuss her attitude about my family! How can we move forward when she won't talk? We haven't spoken for a day and a night.
She sends me a message: "how about when you come home tonight we forgive one another and move on?" A good idea. I wish I had thought of it. I guess that's why I love her.
...despite everything.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

falling into the looking glass

We came out fighting. Our first intercourse of the New Year was triggered by my spending too much time on the phone. There is something to that. I do have the phone out a lot. It's taken as a rejection of present company, and I can see that it's rude. But I do try to be discrete. For me, the small screen is more a chance to read, to catch up on the world around me, and to keep in touch. It feels like an advance. The phone lets me put idle moments to productive use.

But I guess I overstepped. I slipped into overuse, letting the phone obtrude into my family life. I fell into the looking glass. The phone is just so available ... it's easy to overuse.

Would the reaction have been so strong if it wasn't a phone? What if I was reading a book all the time? Because mostly that's what I'm doing on the phone, reading. Maybe I'm that 1950s cliche husband with his face in the newspaper all the time ..."yes dear". I also use the phone for podcasts. I've always been a radio person. I like to listen in the shower, or as I do chores and duties around the house. I never really pay full attention to the outside world when I'm reading or listening to the radio. So maybe it's not the phone. Maybe it's a middle age man thing.

Not that I appreciate my kids plugged into their phones all the time, eyes or ears. It's like they have something better to do and I'm not invited, which of course is normal for teenagers. I don't blame them. But it's galling that they do the better thing to which I'm not invited in my direct sight. For this, I do blame them. The big offense might be the visibility of it. Maybe I need a shed where I can go to fix things and read and listen to the radio.

I tell my kids that too much time on the small screen is unhealthy. The environment of a small screen is necessarily limited compared to the richer stimulus environment of outdoors or real human interaction. Time spent on the small screen is time taken away from the richer stimulus environment of reality. Do they want to be house cats or lions? Budgies? Or Eagles!?

They don't care. The nature metaphor isn't persuading them. They don't know what I'm talking about.

So I'm going to cut back on the phone when I'm at home. And I'm going to force those kids to cut back too.