Thursday, March 31, 2005

New improved flavor!

The "poor taste" presumably exhibited by some jokes consists essentially in dealing with a topic that is repulsive to some party or denigrates some person or class. Though it ruins jokes to diagram them, let us point out that a common element of the template for jokes is what might be called "borrowed valor": the joke pivots on an atypical and deflating treatment, suddenly revealed at the end, of a topic that the listener is worried about, perhaps subconsciously worried about. So jokes have to be about subjects an audience cares about, no WORRIES about, more than they admit, subjects like relationships, impotence, race, bosses, public exposure of their whatever, etc.. But that is pretty much going to be the same as the list of subjects on which one man's worries are another woman's repulsions: they are the crowd dividing topics, the little pry bars that can be driven into the body politic and humanity in general.

The joke was in such good taste not a single person laughed.

And, of course, death is the great repulsive worry. So much so that in many cultures and communities rational conversation on the matter is brief when it happens at all. I want to put a sign on the wall above my desk which reads "If my work has fallen short of my usual low standards, please reinsert my feeding tube."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Ring in the Nose

You may be intelligent, articulate, strong willed and punch like Mike Tyson but if you loose your temper easily, you can be manipulated in many circumstances by much weaker adversaries. To borrow from Pirke' Avot, a favorite source of mine:

Who is strong? He who subdues his impulses.

Note: Be aware that many variant translations exist in English but the Hebrew is roughly contemporary with cannonization of the Pentateuch and poses a few challenges to the modern reader.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

About Evil

Evil certainly has many definitions, many relative to value schemes which are of course relative themselves. Leave discussion of the dimensions in which the evil is relative to particular sets of rules one ought not break for another time.

Consider the dimension of intention.

For the sake of illustration, suppose we say that doing unnecessary harm to or benefiting at the expense of others is evil. In the dimension of intention, it would generally be judged a lesser evil to have harmed another inadvertently or unknowingly. Generally we are inclined to forgive and not brand the trespasser as a miscreant if they acknowledge their unwitting misdeed as a mistake not to be repeated. But even when evil is done on purpose, and we understand the motive as a mistake, some hope of correction exists and some path to forgiveness may be found. Those who persecute a minority or a stranger out of fear and ignorance, hateful as their crimes may be, are still within our understanding of human nature. Motive is a slippery arena in which to wrestle with the value and importance of the actions it is presumed to drive. Where are the poles in this facet of behavior? "He was afraid for his life and acted in self defense" is acceptable to law and some juries. "I just get a thrill out of hurting people" is unacceptable but in some cases, a good therapist might spy the ancient hurts and misperceptions and in a few years, untie the knot of misplaced self hatred. Is any behavior completely outside the pale? The practical answer would be "yes". But those with an unfathomable and practically incurable urge to make others suffer or perish are quite unusual. If you weigh evil by counting the victims and understand there is plenty of suffering that is entirely out of human control, then you have to look at the armies, the gangs and the mean and selfish crowds. The person who knows they are hurting others while personally getting nothing out of doing the harm and is only going along with a crowd or a superior who may have the sickened will that is evil...that kind of person in their thousands and millions are the minions of gratuitous misery, not the authors of mayhem but its printing press.

To be a rabbit you must be ever vigilant for the hounds. To be a human you must be ever vigilant that you have not become a hound.

The thoughtlessness of many will work the will an evil few.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Lose that weight

Disease, age , poverty; the burdens of human existence are many but the heaviest is pride. And that is the one burden you could cast aside.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Where to begin

When someone tells you they have no faith they are apt to be making a mistake. They may only mean that they think they do not take on faith the same things that you do. Such confessions, or challenges as the case may be, betray, at the very least, that the person believes [for how can they be sure]that speaking to you is necessary or may be helpful to you, themselves or both. Faith is the same concept in many different contexts: whether it is the unquestioning acceptance of impossible and supernatural phenomena and miracles, or trusting readings taken from a thermometer and inferential steps taken to arrive at a mathematical proof...all these are simply things we do in our personal category of "if I had to question that, my world would be meaningless and mad". The resolute reductionist and the person happy to tell grownups and strangers that angels surely watch over their every minute both operate on faith but the former consciously works to minimize what is taken on faith where the latter trusts that even logic itself may be dispensed with. The reductionist is, if thorough and honest in application of their understanding, receptive to argument and evidence but skeptical while the person who has latched on to a comforatable fairy tale becomes resistant and threatened and will go through outlandish intellectual contortions to maintain some sense of the wholeness of their story which wholeness eventually becomes their sole yardstick to measure the value of all evidence and argument. Yet, different and opposed as two such constructions of existance may be, you can see faith at work in both.

If someone says to you "I have no faith", ask them "Then why are you talking to me?"

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Mired for God

My millipede nighmare is back. That sucker really knows how to stomp on me.

If you can filter out the fear, the unconscious willingness to be comforted with an illusion, the downright scary mix of dream and sensation that passes for consciousness in most of us, the magical short-cuts and other weaknesses of the mind, most of the evidence that remains speaks in the favor of the atheists and agnostics. But aren't we lonely then? We live among each other and we live in the world. The framework of living is then relationship...we have some kind of relationship [stranger, lover, aquaintance, hero etc] to each person in our life and we have a relationship to the world as well. The continuity, the basic sanity of these relationships is greatly aided by the convenient concept and apparent utility of "person" or "soul" and if we find ourself in dialog with someone who, for their end of the conversation, supplies an unpredictable, disconnected sequence of utterances, possibly responsive or total nonsequitors then we perceive a crazy person or a broken soul and pitying or fearing them, withdraw from engagement. Only the true and loving adept can hang on for the ride with the broken soul and emerge still sane. But even the adept would have no place to start in a relationship with a world that had no soul of its own. And no place to end.

There is little difference between reaching for something that is not there and reaching for something you see so poorly that you cannot know that it is miles above you. In either case, it is exercise the soul sorely needs. The difference and danger is that if you suspect there is nothing up there, you might stop exercising. You might just give up.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Timing is everything

Ignorance can be lethal but, in the short term, it can also be cured. Not so stupidity. And note that an arrogant attitude will sheild you from absorbing some facts where stupidity shields you from all facts. In the long term, stupidity cures itself, exploding in failure or sputtering out in exhaustion.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The quality of alertness varies

We say shit happens. And we say accidents happen.

Oh, really?

A guard rail and a diaper are much the same: neither prevents the accident, they just lessen the consequences. Isn't it a little inconsistent that we demand the one and shun the other?

The Life of Meaning: Truth are Consequences

Two of my teachers argued politely over the meaning of a certain precept. The effort to maintain a respectful tone did them credit but the air was electrified with the subtle heat of their differences over this matter. I learned more than they tought. Tolerance was the greater precept. All who strive are my teachers now and I am free from carrying on their arguments within me.

What does anything mean? Be wary of "meaning" and substitute, where possible, an attempt to see "consequences" which are less slippery, more measurable and possibly corrective.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The power of perspective

Just plan your funeral. Plan it throroughly, and all the other planning the rest of your life may require will fall in place.

It is the unplanned moments and years that will come to mind when you recount your life.

Auto da Fe

The decision to sacrifice personal gain or even just to abandon the comforts of conformity in order to do some work that bucks the wide and deep trends of depletion and annihilation comes from an unusual place. It is not done for gratitude since only human beneficiaries can even say thanks and they will have no resources to materially return the favor. People who must thank themselves or wait for thanks will burn out. True reformers are more likely to be burned at the stake, or worse, ignored, than to be welcomed for their proposal to rearrange the plumbing of money, effort and value that operates a society. I suspect such decisions arise from unusual identities, from an uncommon perspective on what a person is and what people are and how linked those two may be, from an ease of seeing "us" and a difficulty of seeing "them" whether class, nation or generation is the presumed distinction.

Almost anyone is smart enough to change the world for the better. Few are brave enough and fewer humble enough to work at such changes for greater reasons than their own satisfaction. So perhaps the portion of us who tithe and then the portion of those tithes that actually bring relief, hope or justice to some living thing...perhaps that is the best we will ever do. Still, at any moment any one of us could choose to swim against the ubiquitous current of people who , under the illusion of self interest, find it easier to default for contentment and change the world for the worse one hamburger at a time. That magnanimous choice would be an act of great faith. How few would it take to cancel empires of ambition, to suck all wind out of the sails of the schemers?

Monday, March 21, 2005

On Blessings

It is healthy to count your blessings. It is useless to speculate on their source except to know it is not you. It is unhealthy to fantasize either that they are deserved or undeserved. But do not undercount: they come in the form of challenges as well as gifts of health and friendship.

Give a man a sufficiently comfortable crutch and before long he will go lame.

On problem solving:

We speak of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Some only see the forest, some only trees. But a few see that the forest is in the tree as much as the tree is in the forest.

Complexity is the refuge of quacks while genius sees the simplicity of the interdependence of whole and part.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Only one circle

Sightings of this hope are sporadically reported, like a species thought extinct, but flitting through awareness in scattered climes and times. I dig and hunt for the line between ends and means, so clear in narrower contexts such as business or war, but find it a blur where it really counts.

There is a love that needs no lover, just the space between.
From process where sacred stone grinds gently on sacred stone flow the sands of time.

When a divergence of experiences convenes bearing lightly their
codes of good and evil, with earnest will to find conciliation
they bind the many and the small, discovering the one and greatest nation

Do not regard that will as mere expedience, a grudgingly tolerated improvement
over bloodshed. It is not the means. It is not the end. It is both.

Not our guns, not our genes, nor the cleverness flickering upon our screens,
Not these tools of sect and tribe that collude for a world of asperity
But our sharing, our teamwork and trust are the true and mighty means
To carry our hopes quietly unending and unfolding to a grateful posterity

Friday, March 18, 2005

A Duelism

How could fruitless arguing drag on for so long?
"Righteous" just means RIGHT to one.
To the other it just means WRONG.

I should not sacrifice reason just to gain rhyme. Then again, who wants to memorize "To the other it just means INSECURE AND INTELLECTUALLY DEFENSIVE"?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

They are only hours after all

This bears repeating. And, though their attention is a special and priveleged channel, children are not the only ones to carry our imprint forward in our absence: Lovers, spouses, dear freinds with whom you are yourself are all more of the waters on which the ripple you make will spread out. But only if you will throw your whole self into that pond.

The only hours of your life that get lived again after your death are those you spend with your kids.

Viva La Differentiation

Some of the most educated and influential people can speak as if there were organic differences between the sexes in such sexless and abstract specialties as mathematics. I could not prove such a contention by my experience. My SO earned a more advanced degree than I did and it was in mathematics. But I am a hopeful romantic [worse, I hear, than the hopeless kind] and take a dram of comfort from the notion that there is a feminine way to weigh ones life as distinct from a masculine way. What that difference is exactly, I can not satisfactorily formulate. What I observe is not more than my experience, mechanisms that suggest themselves to me, no more than guesses.

Men are driven mad sooner than women by the differences between what they expected their lives to be like and the lives they feel they have actually lived.

Less realism at the outset? Biologically doomed to a late realizaiton that offspring are our only certain legacy, that fabricating heritage, through craft or empire, is a sham substitute and the only hours of your life that get lived again after death are those you spend with your kids? Men are too rewarded for not talking about their fears and loose that vital relief valve? No...I have no idea why it is so but I see it play out often, especially in divorces.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

When the 3rd or 4th shoe dropped,....

I suspected that the topic which had entered my darkened mind was not bipedal.   Religion is my millipede nightmare.   Shoes are banged on the table.   gauntlets hurled, and all the good advice to avoid a topic that could only make me enemies is ignored.

Progress is repugnant to some because it bears this crisis: what was once one quest has split into two and it is as if there were a fissure clear around a meridian.

Science is a framework within which we pursue technical knowledge in vehicles blind to the ancient artificial measures of good and bad.   Religion is a framework within which we can seek self integration and the tools to find or packages of ready made spiritual wisdom in a cart hitched to the allure of certainty, absolution and immortality through sacrifices that establish our ultimate worth.   Science, though it is built on the constant turn over of models proposed and models challenged to provide instrumented proof in a stream of tolerant skepticism, attracts a comunity bent on monolithic consensus.   There is in essence, only one kind of science.   Why can't we have only one kind of religion?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Forging peace within the soul

I came to suspect that this chain of attitudes may hold together the most self-possessed lives because of how repeatably and miserably I failed at the honesty link.

To those with courage, honesty is always worth the prices it exacts.
The wise always find the courageous path is actually the easiest.
The humble do not blind themselves, seeing with their eyes rather than their "I". This enables them to grow wise by gathering rather than shedding the lessons life dishes out.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Correcting correction

It occurred to me that "To attack stupidity head-on at every opportunity passes for a noble goal at least in the mind of the attacker but only compounds stupidity with arrogance." But this adds nothing to the stock of such sayings, e.g. Confucius: "To argue with a fool, shows that there are two." Maybe Socrates had the best way of dealing with fools. Minds have not grown clearer nor the world simpler since his careful we must be in declaring something foolish! When you are about to level your lance at some wrong-headedness, first repeat:

If I can't stand it, how am I so sure I understand it?

Your aggravation is not what proves they are in error.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Heresy of the counting house

Is the counting house our new church or our dominant heresy?

This ought to be absolutely universal, not just in lip service, but in daily guidance of most of our exercise of whatever wealth we control. It would, of course, destroy the economy we know and replace it with one that does not gobble up the world in four generations. Wouldn't you welcome the moment when the last ad was aired and the doors of the asylum slammed shut on the last copy writer driven mad by universal laughter and cat calls at his efforts to foster useless desires in us?

The counting and touting of our possessions, loudly or in private, is damning evidence that we are possessed, that purchasing is the only response we have to a void no purchase can fill.

In his sick genius of death worship, Bin Laden's choice of targets perceives us more clearly than we perceive ourselves...our counting houses are so much more magnificent than our churches. As we stumble into Bin Laden's trap, dealing death ourselves, it may be a good time to revisit our old bumper sticker:

He who dies with the most toys dies.

No doubt, I lose many arguments this way!

When you would become small minded, the first thing you will find you no longer have room for is doubt.

It is a mistake to think yourself the victim of doubt. Embrace doubt and ask it for further insight.

Rather than list my favorite music

Which would get personal and long winded, let me describe how things would get on that list.

No matter how artfully played, how clever or advanced its composition, music which does not stir the emotions has failed.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Viewing Car Ads a lot like visiting or partying with friends and observing their marriages and relationships: the effort and cost are hidden. And advertisers know their greatest ally is your imagination, projecting from your dissatisfactions.

From the outside, the experience of other people's relationships can be one of vivid though perhaps contrived beauty. But you should suspect illusion. If it were your car, could you get in without banging your head, would your feet reach the pedals, would the turn signal be where you instinctively reach for it, will the car work with you to stay upright at an unexpected bend in the road, and could you afford to keep it running?

For the life of a car, it is adjustable to fit some people. While falling in love, humans can adjust to a partner who may not or who may later grow to not fit that well. The balance of the relationship will run on patience, commitment and tolerance, if at all, which is both more explainable and more admirable.

For a lucky few, "while" is a long long time.

Friday, March 11, 2005

There will only be one show

If you were expecting a comedy, you better laugh. If you need it to be a tragedy, then cry. Just never mind all the crazies in the audiance!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I know this is not always the case

...but I think it is sad that it is often the case:

Loneliness is a self imposed imprisonment, tolerated because it passes for protective custody.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Never mind my bumper sticker,

Read my mirror:


Monday, March 07, 2005

Yes, you were once an optimist

On the dust jacket of the operators manual for the mind:

We are in a state of grace in our infancy because we have no model that requires reasons, no notion of cause, effect or propriety. We accept all that happens. [we don't like some things then to be sure but there is not the added stress of thinking "that should not have happened"] Youth is a miserable time because we have learned, sometimes over our father's knee, that actions have consequences, there are causes and effects, there are reasons. We come to demand reasons. We try to fit all experience into this breaks. We are hurt. We can be so hurt we start revolutions to make the world be as it should be. The great feat of maturity is to relinquish that model, not doing so as an act of defeat but as a progression to a new vision of the struggle, a view where, for some things, there are no reasons or bigger reasons than we can comprehend and, child-like again, we accept, we cease our futile fight against what is.

Caution: many books purport to be this manual...I am not sure I got the real one.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

War, thy name is human frailty

See in history how conflict grows from shameful little seeds to the bloody flower of war with such repeatability. It flows along, enabled on most scales by impersonality but the costs are always personal, thus you know we feed ourselves a lot of myths...I offer you more constructive myths about conflict:

All of the PR that war making throws up speaks or shouts about strength and courage ["ours"] and treachery ["theirs"]. But most campaigning for war stands upon fear and little of it stands up to even the lightest scrutiny. From "Gott mit uns" to the predictable "they fired first!", you have to wonder that so few are struck by the symmetry of propagandas in conflict.

When hatred straddles your path, veins popping, spitting and screaming its thousand righteous reasons in your face, remember to dig for the fear that is its only honest reason.

The most fertile soil for the seeds of war is alienation. It is a weakness old and broad as mankind itself that we can be distant even from our neighbors, ignorant of the humanity in even those with whom we trade and have commerce. When we are satisfied for a label to stand in for a tribe, a sect or a nation, we are doomed.

Sometimes the best way to be rid of an enemy is to befriend him.

I like to think "Know thy enemy" works as well for the pacifist as for the warrior. What beneficent force put that phrase in mouths of old military gurus when, acted upon in its fullest sense, it might turn a warrior into a pacifist? Maybe it hasn't worked yet because its never fully quoted. Its oldest attribution is Sun Wu Tzu, who followed that pharse with ", know thyself..." not something a warmonger would really want to do.

Study will conquer more fears than armor ever did.

And do not insist that the other side study too, for the existance of sides is a construct in the minds of one party that our natures cause to be immediately reflected in the minds of the other party, a self-fullfilling prophesy of separation.

The best defense may be to take no offense.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Awareness is not optional

But it can be drowned out.

How many times do we turn on the radio or the TV because we are not comfortable with what is playing in our head?

Consciousness is an appetite for preoccupation. Hence we seek companions, be they people or deities. Only when you are truely alone are you truely yourself, but are you then complete?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Life is not optional

Having options may seem to make life bearable but if you do not have commitments, what the heck is your life anyway?

Mountain bikers know

....that if you look at the rock you want to avoid, you hit the rock but if you read the trail for the spaces between the rocks, you navigate a rough trail ok.

If you count your blessings, you may forget how many scars you have.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Truth in labeling

The term "blind faith" puzzles me. Those who profess it seem to actually be claiming an enhanced vision, an ability to see some scheme behind reality that need not agree with observation or history and is a privileged re-interpretation of both.

How would we fare if Blind Faith were a statement of hope rather than of certainty, an admission that a human's basis for knowing is terribly limited and necessitates leniency in judgement?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Are you now or have you ever been an optimist?

I am not of two minds about cynicism. The two things I have to say about it are not unrelated. And I consider myself an expert. My own father labeled me a cynic not long after I started my schooling. I see it now as a symptom. There has grown up in the world a malaise so common the symptoms confer status.

Most cynics are just bruised optimists.

Cynicism is a cheap way to feign sophistication.