Tuesday, July 26, 2016

CRISPR Gene Editing

So, here I go again, about to enter an arena where I have no qualifications. But I enter as a public citizen, concerned about yet another wilding trend among the intelligentsia. In that sense, I may end up aligned with religionists who invoke received word and the Name of God. I hope not.

I wish I could say that I'm an expert on random, but I know there are far better experts out there, including some who use their detailed knowledge of stochastic processes to imagine perfected machine intelligence in our near-term future.

I wish I could say that I'm an expert on Chinese culture, but I continue to struggle to get on top of yet another arena where I refuse to specialize to the point of having something trued to say.

Still, like the tall fellow who can easily say that he's above 99% of the population, I probably know more about these things than your average English-literate bear.

First, on the China thing. I am truly and deeply disturbed and annoyed by how many Chinese plant their selfhood in something that gets called "blood." If you look Chinese, then no matter where you are you can and should call yourself Chinese, and join in the pride.

Of course there are many Chinese by that definition who know far less Chinese language and culture than I do, and so I find this attitude to be a blatant kind of racism. It makes me want to wave the American flag, if that weren't already expropriated by our own home grown narrow-minded racists, religionists, anti-socialists and on down or up the list.

Still, we Americans do not fundamentally plant our identity in our genes. We worry a bit about disease tendencies which come down the genetic line, and sometimes associate these with statistically meaningful racial designations, even when and though these racial designations have no actual "meaning" relative to our humanity.

These are statistical associations and not death sentences, in pretty much the same way that you might be able to smoke cigarettes your whole life and still not die of lung cancer.

My own way around this is to confess that I am NOT human. I work on becoming human each and every day, and it is not easy. I believe that my humanity is composed of my ability to read and write, and that humanity did indeed begin only some five thousand years ago, with the emergence of written language.

Here in the West, we have a very hard time moving away from the "In the Beginning" kind of statements. Big Bang. Creation. The Word. Made Flesh.

In China, there is more of a tradition of transformation out of chaos, and if you look at the writing system and read of its origins, it is much easier to imagine writing emerging from the world about, rather than being invented or dropped on man out from some blue.

We are not evolved to read and write, but those things which have contributed to our immensely powerful pattern recognizing brain did apparently favor quick discernment of lines and corners such that you can reduce information down almost to the most elemental tracings and still recognize a word when you see one.

Of course, even in Chinese, the written word is mostly about associations with a spoken language. Much has been written about the superiority of alphabetic languages - English in particular - and how the advent of this simple encoding of speech patterns enabled so much of what we tend still to call our progress.

Not so very long ago, while I was on an even steeper learning curve with Chinese than I am on just now, it was thought world-wide that the Chinese written language could and should disappear entirely, since linguists knew that it could easily be supplanted by any arbitrary phonetic transcription. This is pretty much high linguistic dogma, and who am I to disagree with it?

But the surprising thing is that computerization and the information revolution did not leave the Chinese written language behind at all. Indeed Chinese may already have surpassed English on the Internet by some measures of text generated each day or minute or year or what you will. Digital technologies have liberated Chinese from its quaint ghetto, rather than to banish it.

You may ascribe this tremendous growth to the speed with which the Chinese economy has overtaken all but one of the world's largest, organized as these economies still are into nation-states and other unnatural impositions on the biomass of Earth.

You may do that, but it would still be to beg the question of why China was able to grow so fast. You may wish to blame that on the greedy outsourcing of production to drive prices to the very bottom (which was never to give you something cheaper - it was always to pump the money more efficiently to the top - you have to true the incentive structures here). You may predict that China cannot overcome the speed bump of middle income.

But you would be ignoring that legitimate feeling that Chinese have when they feel proud of their Chineseness. China has only recently been a nation-state. A better term proposed by a scholar more learned than I shall ever be would be to call China a civilization state. It is in fact formed around a core identity composed of a long and still largely coherent written tradition which goes back to the advent of the written word. Resolution out of chaos.

This pride is legitimate, but not by claim of blood. It still takes lots of work to own it, and perhaps even if only by the relative distance that I have had to cross in order to gain its measure, I may claim to have worked much harder than many Chinese. I often feel resented for that in China, because I remain a relative clod. I'd be better off acting the American ape.

As I said, to mock a fine translation of the Dream of the Red Chamber, I am mostly Hardleigh Yuman. I certainly don't stake my humanity on my genetic line, fine though it may seem to be. I retain some very dim hope to get there before I die, but the oxygen thins and the peak is shrouded in storm as I grow older just when the most energy is required of me.

 Mass dissemination of the Bible the sutras occurred in both east and west. The printing press, the wood-block process, and the arcane methods for deciphering the written word became ever more distributed and dispersed. Down from Church Latin, and Confucian examination tortured poetics, to we the people, the vulgar, the great unwashed. The masses.

Now finally, when the motor memory to read and write Chinese is mostly obliterated by its power and reach, the Internet makes reading and less often writing almost as natural as breathing for almost everyone.

And if you can't write well, you can post photos and videos and we are encouraged to think that this is bringing people closer together across a magically shrinking globe.

Except that hate feels still ascendant.

We engage with the world through a screen darkly. We grow fat on processed foods which magically engorge our want faster than our bellies can feel full. It's the economy, stupid, and this is how it works. There is no yacht too big, no houses too many, no luxury out of reach and we comfort ourselves that the economy is the farthest thing possible from a zero-sum game so that we can ignore the structural forces which exacerbate inequities and perceived and ever more real and terrifying inequalities.

China, again, is the great example of the benefits of liberated want. China will jump on the gene-editing bandwagon more quickly than anywhere else,Both among the scientific diaspora and in the labs of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etcetera.

This probably because they are less afraid, these Chinese (there I tag "them") of creation out of nothing. Grotesque monsters conjured by experiments gone awry. Catalytic melt-down of the biosphere by unloosed ravelling gene-strands.

Or have they already jettisoned from their own cultural center, leaving that to a different sort of less celebrated scholar, now that they have mastered the language of Western science?

I confess that I get as excited as the next guy to imagine tailor made cures for my defects, for cancer, for my children's likely intelligence or even beauty (though that ship has sailed and my luck was good and true!). I long for ways to save the elephants, digest the plastic dead zones in our seas, bring biofuel quickly to market, remove the carbon from the atmosphere in time for meltdown avoidance. I really do.

This is exciting! I already seem to prefer those foods wrapped in plastic at the end of a long trip that they were bred for, since as a single guy I can eat them before they rot in my refrigerator. Hell, what if they were able to cure Alzheimers before my mind is fuzzed by it!

But from a longer view, it won't have made a difference. I may not have any more to say than I have already said, and if I can't know how to make it beautiful, there will be someone coming after.

Most of what has made me me has been the impingement of chance encounters. I haven't made as much of these as I should have, unlucky in life and love is probably only a character defect and not the Fates' responsibility.

But only in the very recent West post-Darwin do we assign meaningless to random. Typically, we focus on the alphabetic soup of genetics instead of its expression. We think that rewriting the code will change the chance environment out of which that expression sprang across the eons, as though making a better me will change the conditions for my thriving.

In physics, there is a newly re-imposed grid where Ether was found impossible to be. Superconducting Higgs condensate blinking in and out of existence seems to be essential to our understanding of the physical world at that level of detail. Almost as though mind did pervade the cosmos since there is no longer nothing there in vacuum.

And as was the case with the first round of Cartesian grid-work, we will fail to notice the imposition of mind over matter, and the banishment of tortured body from its liberated soul.

It is not our mind, it is our body which pervades all of outer spaces. We are in some sense the point of time's arrow. And yet we are trapped within metaphor as the only figure of speech we know. We still think that there are thingy things in the ideal realm which is the playing field of mathematics.

Again, reverting to the Chinese case where the poetic couplet crowds metaphor out, it is more about ways of seeing, not things seen, by juxtaposition of rhyme and reason, sounds and furies, posed in legible opposition on the page.

If we tinker with genetic codes we only create detached impossible beings which never did evolve. We will have crawled into the screen and just like Kurzweil hopes to do become eternal so long as no one flips our switch. And all that we will be is a very high-resolution simulacrum.

Far far more anxious am I to know how to make contact with my fellow so-called human beings, than to set out finding other life, by definition from our distant past if they are alive in our now, and in our near dead ended future if not. Lonely in the cosmos is never so sad as lonely here on Earth.

I am not convinced that gravity is the end of what shapes our physical being. There is love in creation, and I posit e-motion as the only stable definition for simultaneity. No boson gauge particles can be exchanged, because emotion is a force which exists in mind alone and mind indeed does pervade the cosmos still and evermore.

Not an extended grid, but the deeper meaning of chaos is not the exile of random, but the chance of our time-evolved and still evolving being. Granted by love from a Center I shall not Name. It is not enough to eradicate disease and our shortcomings. Far better to comfort the sick and deficient and out of luck true hearts. You will not find these in the halls of power.

We must engage with the uncarved block, and rather not to be creative.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Calculus of Love

As well you know, gentle reader, once upon a time during  my ill-spent and still quite interminable youth, I did declare that gravity is love, love is gravity and thought I was done with it. I had learned that gravity determines the shape of the cosmos, and loudly doubted that there would ever be gravitons to discover, nor waves.

When I couldn't gain traction in any learned discussion, I pretty much dropped the entire subject and have lived a long life, happily ever after as it were, and was and still shall be (though I did not wear a helmet).

In a manner desultory to some extreme, I did await further enlightenment, indulging random-seeming curiosity along my way up against a now seeming rapid decay of memory. I was quite certain that there must be some more enlightened fellow human being who would true this discourse that I'd quite given up on.

No such luck, right? We still seem on the brink of something which feels an awful lot like disaster, and I have still been suffered to exist. My estimates have been way off!

So, ever moving toward the conclusion of this fine though popular rendition of the antics of 20th Century physics, it does occur to me that I had one thing quite wrong, or rather it never did occur to me with the right spin factor. I hadn't accounted for the simultaneity of emotion.

I mean radical simultaneity of the sort which stops the cosmos, as in there is no propagation as there are no physical particles on exchange. Duh!

As I do quite vaguely recall calculus, at which I did seem to excel while not grokking a single bit of it, the method provided a means to conclude calculations which were otherwise quite literally interminable. You take terms in a mostly artificial manner to their limits and sum over the resulting near-perfect approximation.

Computers, naturally, can do the same thing for far more complex structures than does figuring on paper, and so we have a whole new branch of experimental mathematics whose solutions are rather more demonstrated than proven. Cool!

Whole worlds have been created on these combined methods, which are themselves rather equally terrifying and exciting (as though those two were in opposition). And yet mostly now we wish reality to be screened and framed, since we cannot bear the actual so-called natural gravity of it. Many even fantasize that there will be technical solutions to each and every one of our complaints, as though slings and arrows might sting for nevermore.

I scratch myself to bleeding now and wish I wouldn't.

I have declared that we are each our own cosmos, never noticing that this is but a physical reality. Conceptually, we inhabit that eternal now which is in Mom's blasted mind, who puts a smile to it as best she can. Present are all who came before and follow, distant only by space-time and memory's recession into binary squares.

I did watch with no small quantum of sadness last night as simulated mankind trumps common sense in anger at loss. Which is but a natural response to being dissed and cheated and ignored. Wrong prophet is all, wrong psychopathic channeler of rage to oversimplified conclusion. Every preacher is such a man, and so no shame in it.

And yet our knowledge of physical reality does approach love, by narrowing intervals of if-not calculus then according to some simplifying factor that we are all in it together, whether we would like to wall ourselves off in some gated portion of spaceship Earth, or no.

Still there is no human on the planet, as it was never our DNA nor measurable intelligence which distinguishes us from beastliness. It was only ever our love, which might bind us to eternity, and all those teeming others which might inhabit our cosmos but eons away, reduced to now if we would open to them. We cannot get there by ignoring those just in front of us.

Toodles then, it's off to work that I must go, though I will return to work the clarity of this utterly trivial statement when I have the time. There is still the painfully trivial calculus to make a living.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Suspense is Killing Me

What if next time the Internet is down? I'm almost but not-quite through with a not-quite binge-watch of a 48 episode Chinese not-quite soap opera. It has an English title, something like "City and Country Life" but I don't think it would have been translated or subtitled in English because just like me, I don't think it would have any audience among speakers and readers of English. It's far too insider Chinese, where it's called 满仓进城,Man Cang Enters the City.

Man Cang is a big strapping country boy, who gets the girl and conquers the city based on simple country honesty. I think I'm on episode 43, where things look as though they're going to jump the shark, and well, I just can't wait to finish it, so I'm writing here and now.

The other book I'm reading is The Lightness of Being which is a kind of celebration of this moment in physics, though it was written a long time ago in physics terms. Like maybe 2009. It's nice to bring my terminology up to date so that I can put gluons and quarks and bosons and hadrons in their right place, which is pretty much the same reason that I'm watching Town and Country, in which case I'm looking to grok the colloquial Chinese. Which is fun because the story pretty much moves from the Cultural Revolution up toward contemporary China, which is helpful for a guy like me who might still say "comrade" which now means "gay guy" kind of thing.

In the world around, all sorts of people are making rash decisions about killing themselves or toppling governments or wanting blatantly narcissistic idiots to take over the government. They seem also to not be able to stand the suspense, to the point where setting certainty and then following through with it beats going through the motions of daily life.

I myself feel on the brink of quitting my job again, which just really makes me nervous. I'm on something like episode 61 of a 65 episode series which ends with me not quite able to relax, but at least be on some sort of honorable dole. I feel the terrorism of health-care costs, and can even calculate these on the AARP website if I wish, which makes a kind of sobering wakeup call about how much funding I lack to retire even a tad bit early.

So I'm imprisoned by a job which prevents me from being known as myself, which is simply because I'm not worth enough money. I mean I'm at a College where the president will make more in a year than I will have made in my entire life, and he doesn't seem to know much about education. He had a life-changing moment when he was working for an outsourcing company and decided he needed to do something good for the world, and now here he is just being rich all over again. I have a cousin in the same outsourcing job he left who's both stupid enough to want Trump and richer than the pres.I don't know if that's all funny and ironic, or pathetic and scary but there you go!

Personally, I think leading a college - like leading a country - should be done in service to the public and not involve personal ego. The honor bestowed should more than equal the sacrifice in demonstrable worth, and not by some revolving door which enables you to declare zero-net-worth against future earnings as a ploy to dupe your followers. Hell, even Hillary tried that once and is probably still paying for it, poor old girl.

We have to construct a narrative of genius around people like Zuckerberg and Brin because otherwise they'd just be some poor lottery winning schmuck and the whole towering game of thrones would be deposed.

I confess that my heart sinks when I see some cultural kingpin's portrait on the dustcover of their book, and like Taylor Swifty, they are made up to look the part and wouldn't you just die to be their friend or lover? I mean it's obvious that's just sour grapes on my part.

But I know how it all ends, and I'm just getting really really tired of keeping it to myself. I mean, not that I haven't tried my little heart out, but really I'm not that good a writer, and I wouldn't make a good cover photo in a zillion years. All I know is Earnest.

By the time it's almost way too late, we're about to discover that the laws of science have been inverted, and the Earth really is the center of the Cosmos. We're about to discover that technology has just about zero to do with the scientific method except as an enabler for materials engineering, and we're about to figure out that human-to-human trust is the biggest issue facing us, each and every one.

Nevermind reports that we toss away more food than we eat and still have poverty and food insecurity. Nevermind that we refuse to elect leaders who don't pledge allegiance to some patent narrative insanity, so long as it counts as religion and has a following. And then we use whatever brand X opposing belief structure to cow ordinary people like you and me into more submission. Nevermind that our thought leaders believe in eternal life according to the most stupid notion I ever did hear; that we can solve our bodily problems with technology, and maybe suck our personality up into the cloud.

I just wonder if that's before or after it gets turned off in one of the bejillion ways for that to happen. I know for sure that I'm way more narratively insane than almost anyone who runs a country, but just like Man Cang, I know a pack of lies when I sense it. And I would rather have the roles as played in the soap opera than the dolled up stars who play them. But that's just me.

So the thing with this endless chase for the grand unifying theory of everything in physics is that it's starting to look like an interminable dodge from the obvious. The fellow who wrote the book I'm reading, Frank Wilczek, won a Nobel Prize just like Albert Einstein did, and so I know he's way way smarter than I will ever be. Well, OK, I'm on the slide down to decrepitude, so that was a really stupid thing to say, but you know what I mean.

At one critical point in the book, Wilczek hedges: "Not that minds are necessary for time - I don't think many physicists would accept that (and the equations of physics certainly don't)." This is on Kindle page 104 of 220, so you can see I've got a ways to go, but this is well after he marvels that equations come first and then people know where to look and voila, they find what they are looking for. Pure ideation, pure Platonic idealism, life as metaphor for life.

In my cosmos, where the Earth is Core, human life is way more complex than anything else out there. Way back in the old days of Einstein we already knew that mind is implicated in reality, we just didn't want to accept the responsibility which that entails is all.

In the beginning was the Word, right, and the word was made flesh and that's about the end of it according to one nutty narrative that has a lot of currency. But really words emerged from the landscape if you don't live in an idealistic mindset, and humanity was an emergent phenomenon once words got written down. Before that we were just another mammal, organized into tribes by virtue of spoken language which itself was only necessary for talking to strangers.

Trust me on this, it's way easier to follow in Chinese, but we humans have barely been here for more than a moment of time, and it has little enough to do with our hardware, which if they could they would just serve up on a dish in China along with just about anything else ... Humans are an emergent phenomenon (plug for the College I'm about to abandon).

These things didn't happen by design, really, or did they? I mean, Wilczek seems to want to bring the grid back into the picture as stand-in for that once and forever disproven ether which was supposed to fill the void. It feels dangerously Cartesian, as a way to banish mind from body, re-introduce terminal objectivity, and suppose that personality is eternal and utterly unique like a snowflake-Bentley (which proveably isn't depending on which proof you follow).

Well, maybe it is, personality. If we can have a Big Bang whose effects are still discernable though they happened at the beginning of time itself, then surely we can have some cosmic emotive heart whose draw transcends time and space and forever. I mean, what if emotion is part of the cosmic structure? Really!

The trouble with emotion is that it's really tough to measure. It's more in the body than the mind, really, and the scientific method just leaves a person cold unless and until the Eureka moment when you find out more things about objective reality out there which promise to give you power over your future as though maybe you really could live forever, avoid all accident, and be safe among a crowd.

True confession. I can't love. Wives and lovers all make the best liars and I confess that I am one. If you can't trust the one you love, then how the hell are you going to trust a politician? They almost never add up to much more than a track record. My problem is that I cannot trust myself, which distinguishes me only slightly from no-one, if you know what I mean.

But as I've always tried to say, there really are two kinds of trust. The kind where you'd trust the bus-driver because you know he knows how to drive the bus (even though you might want a nanny-cam on him if he's driving your kids) and the kind you would trust with your kids, but wouldn't want driving the bus.

A few of us from Burlington still oscillate about which kind of bus-driver Bernie would make, but we're pretty sure he'd be safe with our kids. He just simply doesn't have all that much dirt in his background, although I've gotta say he exercised bad judgment letting his uppity wife make too much money with a College that's since gone bust. Too bad they didn't come to  me! I could have found a Chinese buyer and all would be well in the end.

But we'd never trust those Chinese to build us high-speed rails, nor certainly to run our schools into the ground by destroying all our creativity!! Not a snowflake's chance in hell!

I don't see a whole hell of a lot of creativity out there over here. It's all about fascination with a screen, which is a pretty good way to deny reality no matter how cute Pokemon might be. A screen can never actually be reality, by its very definition.

Well, OK, another true confession. I feel for my screens and they are real for me. Each morning I look forward to grabbing my iPad and taking in some news of the day to see if the world is still there. Because I read books on it, it takes on some of that look and feel which makes me feel cosy, and damn that sociopath Jobs, if he doesn't make it feel good in the hand and by the swipe. I never was a fanboy, but I appreciate a nice piece of equipment as well as the next guy.

I just don't happen to think that Jobs was worth as much as we made him out to be is all, and if the iPad didn't exist but we had learned to trust one another better, I'd still rather live in that world without my iOS in its various flavors. The next big thing that I feel coming is meltdown, and I'm not looking forward to that so very much.

Why just the other day at this fine College where I work, I attended a seminar by a professor who wants to bring synchronicity into the business processes which he teaches about. Real honest-to-goodness Jungian synchronicity. (Of the sort which we all must deny on pain of exile from polite and learned discourse, so the College has that on the plus ledger). As part of the exercises in the seminar we were meant to describe some event in our lives which might fit the definition of synchronicity, and then tell it to a partner who would report it to the group.

I choked, and nearly panicked plainly because as far as I can tell utterly everything about my life is one long string of synchronicity. No, I don't hand over the steering wheel to Jesus, and I've never really tried prayer to know if it works or not (I assume that it does, since I know an awful lot of people who swear by it and seem to do alright). I just feel plainly lucky in everything about my life, even though they called me Hardluck for short when I was a kid.No kidding!

I mean for University, I was admitted to much better schools than Yale, which I attended on a lark. I've quit better jobs than most people could ever hope for, and I've got social and cultural capital coming out the Wazoo (I assume that should be capitalized as the name of a river or something). I feel like I should take risks, and feel guilty like some kind of woos for not doing so.

But vanity-climbing Everest, say, seems like a really dumb way to die, and making lots of money - even though I know it's not a zero-sum game and there's nothing wrong with making money-  just seems awkwardly egotistical in the face of so many people who need it more than I do. I think I'm just plainly too lazy to make jobs for other people, and I honor those who do (except when they buy gargantuan yachts and live in multiple houses, and then I just think they're way way over an edge which I despise, loath and frankly fear).

As a relative youngster, I did work out how emotion fits cosmology, and maybe that has been my justification for doing not much with my life. I already knew the ending. I mean sure, I've tried really hard to get people to follow the argument, but mostly I end up seeming silly and stupid, so, well, I'd mostly rather keep my mouth shut and be thought a fool, etc.

Anyhow, I've had child rearing and ex enriching obligations (not fair, since she truly is the victim here) and have done my best to keep going without losing my soul along the way. I've done OK, although now that I have a positive net worth for the first time in my adult life (I had oodles of money as a kid after paper routes and bicycle mechanics, which I squandered mostly on an education, idiot that I am), I seem to feel a perverse need to squander it. Reach for that other trapeze while I'm on the upswing.

So we all have premonitions. A series of unlikely coincidences lead up to falling in love, according to several of the stories in this seminar I attended. We all know that's true, and they seem magic! The story I came up with, typically, was about falling in love with a boat all over again. You know the drill (I mean of course the "you" that reads me, which is a fictional you if ever there was one). You start longing for a boat because you find yourself near a beautiful lake. You look around to see what's possible, and wonder out loud how you can own a boat when you live in an apartment. You learn that there is this community sailing center where you can stow the boat for a reasonable amount of money, even though the guy who tells you about it warns you away for some unknown reason as though it were the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

But the place you call which was recommended is way beyond expensive, and so you go down to the community sailing center, and it seems just fine, and you look around in the storage area and notice this little boat which looks abandoned but sweet. And then later on during a quick perusal of Craig's list, there is the very boat.

I didn't tell my table partner (who was the wife of the Board chair as it turns out and wanted my name to tell her husband) about how the fellow who owned the boat reminded me of me long ago. We had the same car, and he was an engineer, and a bit clueless and harried and with a wife and kid who needed more attention than the boat did. And while I have tended critical of him for things about the boat that he left me clueless, I maybe don't give myself enough credit for what I've since learned in my life.

The Board chair's wife didn't tell my story about he sailboat the way she was supposed to. She only told about how my whole life was synchronicity, and so was hers, which nobody really challenged on account of her evident wealth. Meaning that once you're wealthy everything really is synchronicity by definition. Unless you get sick, which can happen to anyone, or have an accident, which would be synchronicity too, but who's counting.

I was a bit disappointed because I'd told her about how I broke the mast almost right off the bat, and then capsized early this spring when the water was still really cold, and it wasn't at all like the synchronicity which the professor was like to mention, mostly regarding how people got rich and famous on a whim, which in my mind doesn't accrue to their favor unless they're making jobs for other people and not just self-aggrandizing the way that I am here and now, just for instance.

My point was that these mishaps didn't damage the originating falling in love. I mean I spent the winter and time in China puzzling through how I would carve the new mast, and capsizing gave me focus to fix all the things that the clueless prior chain of owners had all out of whack. I'm almost nearly one with the boat now, if only I weren't so old and feeble anymore, but it suits me better than one of those athletic capsizeable racers.

I got my first real job by similar synchronicity, going against the advice of headmasters willing to talk to me and talking to a school which had just unionized and would be nothing but trouble they warned me, but as it turned out would actually hire me. I soon became its headmaster, paid the princely sum, of perhaps 30% more than the highest paid teacher, which was $50K up against $30-something I think. I had been making about $12K so I felt plenty rich, but I think 30% above the highest paid teacher should be the outer limit anyhow, since the school's only real job is to get great trustworthy teachers alone in the classroom doing their mostly lonely thing with a bunch of kids. Thirty percent is just for the extra hours put in, and even then I think time makes a lousy measure of worth though it might beat the alternative which we use now.

I got my first homely boat the same way, and eventually lived aboard, so there, and it was then that I did discover and formulate the cosmological constant for emotion, which gave me a pretty big Eureka moment of my own. Which looking back might have been some kind of manic episode, though I can't shake it and keep wanting to get someone to hear it, which is pretty much why I started blogging where I'm my own worst enemy for sure as you can see. Running on as I do.

Another true confession: I can't love. Did I say this already? I've tried over and again, and I suppose that's just one example of the irony of it all which rules the cosmos. I mean I can't love in the falling in love kind of way. I love my daughters, and my family, though I'm shy about showing it (less so than the Cotton Mather family tradition has made certain of the rest of them). I don't have enough trust to fall in love, which is also why that Chinese soapy opera captivates me, since as a people, they clearly aren't quite sure what they think of this romantic Western import either.

By my read of cosmology, we are each a separate cosmos. I proved this to my satisfaction by the Twin Paradox, but there are lots of other ways to demonstrate these truths. I know the math goes against this resolution, but the math also comes up with silliness like the many worlds solution and quarks and gluons which are more like pure math than reality. My nephew does the math on that stuff for CERN, and it's way way cool, just like virtual reality must be if you don't puke, but it's not as cool as falling in love as that self-same nephew would tell you.

Emotion is real. It's just not measurable is all. And ask yourself if you're not the center of the cosmos and see what you get for an answer. Go on. Do it!

I don't know about you, but as lonely as I would feel to know that there is nothing else in the cosmos to approach human complexity, I would feel that much more lonely once we've destroyed our collective homebody here on earth. This is my home, my family, those that I can trust, and I am fighting mad that we seem so hell bent on destroying ourselves.

But I'm not about to blow you or anybody else up about it. It just makes me really really sad and lonely. I've banished the word God from my vocabulary, and so I don't pray. No, that's not right. I guess what I mean is that everyone who talks about God seems to ruin it for me. They seem to think that getting rich is holy, and that shooting bad people is a good idea, even when most of them are only guilty of being black. Methinks they doth protest too much. I don't think they feel a god-damned thing, except for rote.

My God is quite real, and doesn't require name or gender to be so. Real as the gravity from Big Bang. I know that those decisions in my life which aren't all plotted out carefully (which I've already confessed in my case are most of them by far) are made for emotional reasons. I sense something, I'm drawn somewhere in some preconscious way. Neurologists know that consciousness is what the mind rationalizes for what was already decided preconsciously anyhow, so why not just go with that? I suppose because we wouldn't be the center of the cosmos anymore, right? Right??

Well, I'm going for a bike ride while I still can and still feel like it. I know I should wear a helmet. I know. OK, I probably will. And I'm not following my feelings. It's more like that's the way the day is working out, and I don't feel like fighting it anymore. This woman asked, me, see?

I'll be the one whistling along the bike-path. Big gut big thighs kind of thing. Like a moth to light maybe, but hey what's a meta for?????

Friday, July 8, 2016

Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the InternetMagic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet by Virginia Heffernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I entered this book self-consciously wearing that habitual anger I now continuously try to transcend, mostly failing. The author herself did this to me by that point in her preface where she supplies jacket-copy which would be faithfully paraphrased by the Amazon come-on which reeled me in. As though it were some critic's take: "Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet." Dogfooding, right? No, I don't think that's the right term. Press-release confused as news. I knew that I would be duped, that I had been had.

Except for on the Internet, you're not allowed to suggest greatness for yourself, and I already knew there would be no theory here. I wanted a means by which to comprehend the Internet, that same thing McLuhan tantalizingly seemed to supply to media before it would seeming soon engulf us. I'd never heard of Heffernan, and easily bought the Kindle version because Amazon had credited me with some remainder from lawyer-enriching suits against price-fixing Apple. Something like that. I was willing to be had. Evidently. I own an iPhone. Kindle as an app, twice removed from thingness, not yet the cloud-reader.

Heffernan's version of history collapses so thoroughly into the NOW, that only a few years hence if there are any readers left of her, they will be required to parse her references in the same way that Rosetta Stone codexes are decoded, as though a random find of a fragment could allow a more-clear gaze into the lossy past if one just gazes hard enough. But just now, I get all her references, resenting her as I do for chest-pounding academy-baiting journalistic almost Blink-grade hubris. What's his name. You know. Gladwell. Phew!

It angers me too that she does actually remember those matters in recent history already gone to me. For me. Gone. Details etched for her in more youthful memory, trained to recall references as she has been, and I still won't forgive myself for not knowing who she is, this Virginia, namesake of my own for-the-unreconstructed-State-named mother, whose own being is reduced to a present which must be the inverse of that state of consciousness achieved by drowning in my youth. When the entirety of my life to that point was simultaneously there. Soon Mom will not remember my name. I cannot care less.

Eventually she calls the artifice of rose (you thought it a natural flower?) by its name - Kurtzweil demented - and wins me back and calms my anger, although it will be hard to forgive her abiding adulation of that which is destroying us, embrace of Nobodaddy, Destroyer of Worlds, it was not the atom - as she transmutes those to digital bits instead - which would release the horrible power of mankind's collapse of irony into Singularity with engendered God.

I want theory, dammit. My heart was already here when history longed for it. Nor cloud nor other metaphor will seduce me onto profane eternity. Art in earnest is not art, though Metaphor's figure constrains us to think so. Idealist Platonic reduction, as though the Internet, like the painting, is not the thing itself, representing nothing other.

Toward close of virtual book (for me. I hear there is a real one) she does reveal that there is a mathematics of life too, and that it has won the Nobel prize for its author (can you tell that I also would tantalize you to read this book, shill for someone I wouldn't dare actually to know).

Because I have not mind to remember anything, nor ever have had, and therefore feared dead-ending among wrong references followed; in something like the philosophy of language say, if there is such a thing, I've mostly done amateur sleuthing into Chinese literary figures, figuring that as a natural language there is no end to it, as there might be to endless particulate physics, say, or certainly critical literary study which can't stop global warming anyhow.

If one wants to exit idealist philosophy, one has to enter an entirely different world, where Metaphor is not the main conceit. Chinese will soon overtake English on the Internet. There there never was any concept of representational art, or ideas expressed, which is something that happens when you press a dog's bladder, or post a fart, but not in commune with the uncarved blockhead.

By the time which spans my brief life that keyboarding Chinese was reduced by power of so-called artificial intelligence (machine prediction, more properly) from acreage of indexed type, through analytical encoding, to pin yin sound-reversal, the power of digital to destroy the motor-memory embodied written word was already complete. Whole textual histories dissolve into the alzheimer's order from which I cannot retrieve a single remembered so-called photograph from the cloud into which I dutifully dump them. I suppose that it must be enough to know that I could if I were to really want to. Soon enough not.

Anyhow, nevermind theory. The Internet simply and totally means that the self is already gone and that it was our clawing for individual identity which caused the melt-down. College presidents now are first qualified as millionaires or named celebrities or ex-governing leaders, in some inverse proportion to the power of their school's name (But the University of Calfornia??!!! Really????). This is institutional isomorphism, aping Jobs and Gates, with students as widgets (scary nasty dangerous cut-throat widgets if you follow Heffernan to Harvard). Ditto identity. I won't wear blue-jeans ever. See? Journalists stand in as serious thinkers, sanctioned to make fun of scholarship in almost the same way as what's-his-name - Governor of Florida after Jeb - did or does or has. Authenticity is my enemy too, see, I am one with the masses. Of?

Damn if this Virginia isn't a hell of a lot more genius than you or me. She nails the titans of industry, men all, to the wall or to the crossroads of history. I'd like her to nail me too. But apart from being a brilliant writer, she's wrong on nearly every single point. Well, except for Creationism. She got that right. And discovered that irony is lost on the Internet along the way. Tant pis, dommage and a Deus. Vaya con Dios.

Yes, Virginia, there is a clause. It laughs, is fat, is witless. A safety clause. An exit clause. I watched pirated YouTube video of Eddie Van Halen at the Hollywood Bowl mid-reading and wished I could have been there. He is his guitar his guitar is him. I watched through the length of it mostly to preserve my suspense against the moment when copyright-security would shutter the unlicensed camera. Better than to be there. Better story. Close up and real. Ending more true-to-life.

Internet is not art so much as it is the representation of art now that art is dead and gone. This, in brief, the thesis of the book. Burn incense, bow, and keep that departed soul alive. It takes care not prayer to keep the heart alive. The Internet sucks all my living up to a sky Goddess wearing Prada is all I know for sure. I am left with nothing. And yet I cannot turn away.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Twin Paradox Review of Two Books, DeLillo Zero K and The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin

Zero KZero K by Don DeLillo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Twin Paradox Review; Zero-K and the Three Body Problem

I wait for my system to boot up. I use Bing only to get me rotating beautiful pictures which helps along the wait. I feel a bit sorry for them, outpaced in book value. Bill miserably trying to resurrect his vacant soul.

Both authors are new to me, DeLillo and Liu. I’m certain of neither first name yet without a reference check. They cover the same ground, one as an author of literature, one of science fiction which won’t quite make it there, to literature. Both are worth reading.

Seems to me I read a whiney Tom Wolfe defend himself against the high-brows as an author of realism. Pornography on the one end and art on the other are both always distortions of reality. Tom wanted to be in the real and respected for it. I wasn’t quite buying the argument though I enjoy reading him.

Science fiction imagines us out of ourselves. I read the Three Body Problem for the simplest of reasons; I wanted to bring my Chinese vocabulary up to date. As a runaway bestseller, I thought it would keep the pages turning. I was not wrong, although when I incorporated the book into a series of talks I was giving in China in Chinese to students and asked who had read the book(s), only one or two among hundreds had actually read them and that one or two seemed proud. Proud, perhaps, of having enough excess of brainpower to grow a lawn instead of cramming crops for the exam. Other students seemed in some awe of that one or two.

I am boasting sure, but I am weak among that one fifth of the human population with Mandarin Chinese, soon to exceed English in words committed. Nothing remarkable in that. There are historically epic advantages to their written script, only now so recently discovered.

I make valiant efforts to penetrate Chinese popular culture, on stage, in books, on screens large and small. I suppose it is like sipping at an ocean, although I’m not sad that I did forsake the academic pursuit. Those people are so much more focused than I am, deep into esoteric one in hundreds discourse the need for which throngs will eternally misapprehend. Chinese seem to read so much more in translation than we do. Smug we are.

It was only a scant 40-odd years between Einstein’s humble reconfiguration of the numbers and Hiroshima Nagasaki. We are that clever when given a cue.

Both Delillo and Liu contend with hibernation, with choices to resurface years or eons down the road intact or reassembled. Both ponder what we Christians call the soul. I am put in mind of the recently excavated Han Dynasty tombs in Xuzhou which I toured repeatedly because they are all that is there among sameness of reconstruction. Emperors or contenders entombed within jade suits woven together with incorruptible gold thread to ride out eternity behind hidden maze-like stoppers to paths of discovery. Only uncovered so recently among China’s building and therefore excavation boom. The wages of destruction.

There is a massive problem with my computer now in the “cloud” where I save everything because I’ve learned not to trust my local storage. I trust the durability of Google or Microsoft better and they give my eternity away for free.

It seems they can’t quite perfect the versioning matter, and so they present to me autosaved and potentially lost documents for my decision. Which was the whole point of saving and shutting down and feeling confident and now they want me to seek out a potentially lost word that I had slaved against. This is NOT acceptable, though my words are not good enough for it to matter. It makes me hate them. It doesn’t make me stop using them.

Because his Chinese seems translatable nearly word by word into English, I can’t quite imagine that Liu can be a great author. I haven’t read or even glanced at the work in translation, but it’s mostly descriptive prose, difficult to read because of the fictions built on top of esoteric physical competency making it as difficult to read for natives in whatever language it presents itself. Art requires that the medium expose itself, no?? I’m probably wrong here. Scientific knowledge must by definition be independent of the medium for its rendering. It’s like pornography that way. Cross-cultural.

DeLillo delights in working the medium. There would be no point to translate him, although the exercise would be worth the effort. Of all things, recently while in China I sat in among a group of translation academics gathered at FuDan University to hear the reigning experts on translation of Samuel Beckett, himself multilingual, and as beyond translation as distant from Chinese, and there was some comedy to it for me. I could not square the renderings in Chinese with any possible reading I could do of Beckett. No way. I have the same problem with classical Chinese poetry translated into English, though the exercise is well worth the effort don’t get me wrong.
It seems that one doesn’t know what one is talking about until one rehearses its explanation. I don’t know.

DeLillo works a somewhat obvious conceit. That very wealthy individuals now may choose to be preserved rather than to die. To be transported beyond our local hell into some indeterminate future when life will be more regularized. He works it beautifully, and it leads you to understand – or to think you are getting closer to – what it might mean to be human.

Liu is dealing with life elsewhere in the cosmos and toward the same end. As with that recent Hollywood film Interstellar, love is the answer. So simple that it seems a cop-out. Liu’s portrait of love is mawkish, Christian-like pornography where beauty is undersullied and grand life of leisure among wood paneled sybaritic full-blooded leather-bound volumes with child is that which anyone would want and He who has it forsakes that for the sake of our collective endurance. Wine and a fireplace to eternity.

True confession. There is a third volume which I have yet to open (virtually, since I depend on the electronic version to speed my otherwise terminally cumbersome lookup of unfamiliar vocabulary items, most of which are transliterations of English, devilishly difficult to retrofit from Chinese where these transliterations have a life of their own!). I don’t think the denouement holds further interest for me, and its heft feels interminable. I trust the author, but he promises only more exceeding cleverness.

I will finish DeLillo.

I make this case. That DeLillo will endure. Not, perhaps, so long as Shakespeare has after resurrection, nor so long as Einstein, but his prose is durable. There is seeming heart there. That thing beyond cleverness which incorporates the unembalmable part of the lived body. Something to identify with the Man.

In the cloud I am only words and moving pictures, virtual not real. I am realized in the connection, right, to you among those who would die for me.

It is not the warfare. It is not ugly humanity, failing in our purpose to immortalize our goodness. It is wealth. It is the concentration of power in such a very few hands. It is the proxy rage which men are made to feel against fellows, and given a weapon by which to enact it. How could they possibly have rage of their own, but for want of sanction to enact it without choice for occupation in Han times or our own? Rage rage!

I came upon Bentonville, Arkansas by motorcycle from the wrong direction once. I had never heard of WalMart. I hailed from Buffalo and we had been overrun only by bigbox churches, epic consumers of that post-papist commodity concentration. I’d only recently before seen my first HomeDepot-type establishment, in the orbit of DC, in the orbit of money, and I reeled. It was a Disneyland of sorts and yet there was nothing there that I would want. All the goodies in the long-gone and old fashioned hardware store had disappeared. You could do it yourself, but you could make nothing. You could fit part into brand-name constructions. You could be a grunt.

There was an old-fashioned town square in Bentonville. There was a five and dime, and inside was a kindly old man and he gave me a personal tour of the Walton museum, and he seemed actually to believe the hagiography, that he was curating actual greatness, and I was innocent. I had never heard the word Walton or WalMart, but when I went out the other side of the “city” it was all trucks and warehouses and I started to understand. This was something big. Bigger even than the man who started it.

This is also America’s posture to the world. We are willing to pri-vate to undermine competing local forces by force of predatory capital. We are willing to forgo communal protections, warriors all, against the world and that makes us terror incarnate, terrorists, predators upon humanity.

China the same. These the powers that be, these the drivers of technology, of warfare of entertaining ourselves to death. There is no vision beyond but for love. Of course.

So far as I can tell by sipping along the beaches, all modern Chinese literary forms are peppered with English. It always gets a laugh in peformance. As far as I can tell it is studiously mispronounced to sound like English as a moderately literate-in-English Chinese person would pronounce it, although I cannot be certain that this is not simply expression of the limitations of the actors. Mandarin off the tongues of Western actors sounds barely Chinese as well.

Behind these utterances is a fascination with romantic love, that thing which is our most resplendent export. That thing most alien to China. Because it is at root a Western notion, needing to put meaning beyond urges and a direction to history, personal or writ large. Chinese are therefore far far more sophisticated in their understanding of love and its limits, by and large. Not so sophisticated as DeLillo though, who is far more sophisticated than Liu.

At the core of each of these two novels is great concentration of wealth and of romantic love. In the Three Body Problem, humanity is preserved from annihilation by a superior species, by a man in love and therefore beyond technical in his thinking [ambiguity sic]. In Zero-K, there is a fabulously Bill-grade wealthy individual who funds eternity cryogenic hibernation and then drinks his own water in the end to be”with” his great love in eternity as in life. Emperor and concubine.

In neither fiction is there is any hope for humanity but by leaping over our overdetermined and already ruined therefore present. Only now does my snot run clear after two months in China and a bad bad cold across three weeks to clear the passages. I live in the cleanest part of the planet.
It is not strange that we would impose order to terrifying chaos. That we would discern the principles which rock our world, that we would imagine some time when all is peaceful and ordered and perpetual, that we could never trust in random.

And yet, emotional attraction among true hearts is as eternal as the originating forces catalogued in such particulars now by physicists. Mind, not brain, was there in the beginning as the non-perceptual relation among tangibles. Forces, exchange of particles. Love a prognostication of connection, a projection to eternity, an impulse against the laws of physics. Else what’s a meta for?

Already post Hiroshima Nagasaki more time has passed than it took to get there from the ground zero of Einstein’s supposed self-contained genius, which he also was quite willing to celebrate and dress in Wolfeish White. And those with imagination to understand that random is not meaningless but rather simply beyond our imagination’s reach are restricted to story-telling, with truth reserved for the evening internetted news and the emanations of Science.

There are only religionists and true believers in Scientism, and humanity is down the tubes forever and ever amen.

So, while Master Liu is fascinating, Don grants hope and reprieve and proof that lived language lives on, perhaps eternally if anyone is paying any attention.

I am now on first-name basis. I will read more.



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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Noone at the Wheel

High Noon, right.

I find all the endless certainty about driverless cars tiring. Really really tiresome. It dissolves into senseless assumption that technology - "progress" really - carries along with it its own autonomous imperatives. As though there is no longer any room for human choice, nor even any necessity. If that is so then Kurzweil is right and the singularity is near. We will be sucked into digital eternity, which is at least the functional equivalent of extinction. In or out, that's it.

But of course technology has no imperatives, and its course remains a function of some kind of collective absence of caring. Technology is a very efficient way to pump wealth upwards, and one has to assume that driverless cars will do this still more efficiently than the imperative each to own one. So the price will balance out. Costwise, think of a very big iPhone. You won't be able to afford your own, but they will, those nasty .01%.

If I were them, I'd want a toilet in it. A bar. A big screen. Come to think of it, we won't even be able to own a car with a driver even if we wanted to. Since all accidents will be either the fault of a VW-sized entity, too big to ever lose to you, the liability to be at fault will drive those expenses through the sunroof faster than your insurance company can deny your claim. What is the cost to wreck a really expensive no-fault moving palace?

I mean it's nice to think that we might call up a car on our app, and get to where we want to go for less than the cost to own a car now. Except that the only fall-back job will be to tend bar in someone's driverless car, since you won't be hired to drive it.

When I was a kid, car-fueled sprawl had really only just begun. China now looks like a nightmare version of what I saw happening then. There is no-place to sit and rest except for the price of a cup of coffee which far exceeds the cost of a meal. This is the functional equivalent of free parking everywhere, which is a choice we make as well. So I walk on average maybe seven miles a day. Beats sitting still.

But surely a small city like Burlington could banish all but driverless cars to beyond the city limits and create a safe and calm place without the noise and smell of cars. No need to park them. No need to repair them oneself.

Burlington is home to socialist experimentation of a sort. It could happen. But it won't. Because there are just too many people seduced by cool and money together to allow for any workers' paradise to realize itself. There are coders and there are financiers and neither has time to grow a heart.

Not that they aren't all very nice people, but growing a heart takes actual time and not just for screwing around at cocktail parties. It takes education. It takes reading. It takes caring for more than yourself alone. It takes conversation beyond the ones that make you happy.

Sprawl of the sort which is suffocating the planet is not inevitable. It's a choice not to give a damn, to imagine that there is nothing that you can do about it even as you sit at the pinnacle of all mankind for all of time. Ommmmmm. It may be escape, but it's still a choice.

Driverless cars are not inevitable either. Likely political, environmental, and economic disaster will get in the way of the dream, and the folks who had the dream will feel as dejected as Buffalonians do about all the mistakes in our past. If only. Coulda been a contenda.

At about the time that driverless cars are a reality, we all can and will "work" from home. We will all be either coders or financiers. We will all enjoy endless virtual realities, smell free, touch free, dirt free, free free. Well, except for the ever-growing slave classes. Yeah, nothing I can do about that.

I'm not proud that I enjoy driving my car. A lot. I enjoyed my Harley even more. A lot. I'm not proud that I like meat. A lot. I ate dog the other day, OK? I'm not proud. They're no more intelligent than pigs, and why is that the measure anyhow? Intelligence! I was not about to insult my host. I'm only human. Human intelligence involves heart, not just machine thinking. Anyhow, I enjoy sailing on open clean water even more, and that I won't be able to do any more. That's where I draw the line. I'm not about to eat humans. But technology is.

What is humanity other than the civilization of the cosmos by means of the written word. I know I'm speaking Chinese here and you won't get it, but it is our freaking job to put heart into the cosmos. We are reverting to animalistic idiocy. We have become very very clever robots. We have come to model machines, and not the other way around.

Up in dog-meat city I toured ancient Han dynasty tombs, recently uncovered along the way toward excavating the entire city for the sake of "progress." You know the drill, wrap up the emperor in a jade eternity suit and bury effigies of those who served him. Obfuscate the entrance and maybe kill those who know the way. Serve up jade ornaments that took the artisan's entire life to carve. And all the instruments of death and destruction, already advanced to the point of crossbows with the accuracy and reach of our best snipers. Pre-drone, I mean.

I'll just bet you can order up one of those eternity suits again, to go right along with your pink driverless Rolls Royce if it suits your fancy. We're going backwards in time. I'll bet there's already somewhere you can buy human flesh if you really want it. I'm sure glad I'm not a one-percenter. At that level insulting your host is probably fatal.

I have a dream where the prisons are empty and the streets are full. Where transit involves conversation instead of solitude. I mean I've met the nicest people on the high-speed rail, which granted is its own kind of social filter. But I'm talking about friends for life across the span of an accelerated trip.

We won't invite China in to build these for us, because it would be too mortally embarrassing. Humiliating. But they could do it for an infinitesimal fraction in time and money as compared with Jerry Brown's ramrod dream. Or was that Musk? Anyhow, a lot of muscle, a lot of imperative, a lot of up against the grain of what it is the people want.

I hate to tell you that I don't hate the people who will vote for Trump.  I know them. They're nice. I know gun owners and biker toughs and wingnut right wingers, and I think they're probably all angry for the same reason I am. Too bad they pick someone who only plays a dealmaker on TV. Too bad they want Noboddady at the wheel. But I do feel their pain.

Somewhere along the way we will have excavated our past, we will stare into our future, we will become human again, and it will be as though there were a God. A virtual reality. This will happen with or without me, as my agency is approximately nil. But I still care. You do too if you will but admit it.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Reunion Farewell

After nearly 30 years, I've now shared three lively meals with my friend from Guangzhou. We roomed together as young teacher trainees in Beijing; part of the first-ever such joint living and working arrangement post-liberation. He persisted at his long-time home, and became a Dean at Zhongshan University - Sun Yat-sen National University. I meandered in my life as I do now in China.

Shitao has a daughter working in Hong Kong, I have two. We had traded some letters and pictures across the years when mine were infants and before his was born, but as my life diverged those stopped. We met in the days well before email, and I'm afraid we stopped writing before we could update addresses.

As I was flipping through some pictures on my phone to catch him up a bit, he stopped me at one, astonished, wondering what that picture was doing there.


I told him my story, that while I was in Shanghai last spring the subway stations were full of ads from this company. That I'd glanced at them, but mostly quickly as I do at all the Chinese ads which are full of impenetrable jargon; I would have to stare and study them a while. I do that when waiting for trains, but these were along the walkways where I was struck by how the man in the ad resembled my friend Wayne. He was a long-time teacher at the school I headed for a short time, back in my home-town, Buffalo. Wayne was almost exactly 20 years my senior. He passed away a couple of years ago. Missed by many.

There are so many Europeans and Americans depicted in the ads in China. I've asked about that, and the usual bland reply is that exotic things are always more interesting, dispelling my curiosity as to whether Western style hasn't been introjected by Chinese still looking up to us. These ads seemed in that vein, and mostly I marveled at how closely Wayne's likeness fit the aspirational mode. I think he would have rather liked that.

We became very close, Wayne and I. But he resigned before the school's final year, when it closed for good. I never did know if that was a protest against my direction for the school, or a kind of passive support for whatever work I wanted to do that he couldn't get behind. He had been angry at me for what I thought were personal reasons, and gave no indication of political opposition. But he and a senior colleague who also resigned had always been the force behind keeping the school alive. They'd mounted a successful unionization movement against cluelessly arrogant priests. I too had been its president for a while, and pretty much owed my ascent to head of school to Wayne.

That was a mixed favor for sure, as the school was already effectively defunct. The best I could do was to claw out a few more years, during which I made a reasonably tight plan to keep it going. But Buffalo was at the steepest part of its downslide, and many of its banks were terminally hit by the savings and loan fiasco. Overbuilding Texas mostly. Who knew that was only round one.

We had our differences. The school was meant for "gifted" kids, and Wayne was passionate about beautiful minds and beautiful bodies. I chafed at his treatment of those he felt unworthy of his attentions. It reminded me of a cruel father, finding his own son wanting. Maybe I felt my own Dad was that cruel - showing his disappointment more readily than any pride - though truth be told, I felt guilty at being favored. Dad passed last winter.

There were plenty of father/son vibes between Wayne and me, and maybe those composed the taboo against the kind of sexual bonding which was Wayne's habit. I am certain he was utterly honorable with his students, as at least one among the lingering priests among the faculty was not. I was pleased when that one scurried away as soon as I became the school head. Maybe even a little proud.

From his good students, Wayne got the very best. Earning his favor was a goad to fine work. A literature and writing teacher, he was utterly impatient with sloppy thinking and exposed it in ways both hilarious and cruel to authors and to students, and especially to his colleagues. Many of his best students remember him as the one person who made the most important difference in their lives. I think a few still, well, chafe.

I brought with me to the school bad habits learned across a bumbling life. Drink and smoke from a bar I tended in London before I ever started to study Chinese. More in the Temple of the City God in Hsinchu, Taiwan where I drank late with blasted newspaper reporters under martial law. Then would come the police at midnight and then would come the mob still later. I still drink too much, but I don't smoke anymore, so there's progress. Constancy would have done me good.

I never could get through to Wayne those things I wanted him to understand about literature in Chinese. God knows we tried. Many many nights, we would be out on Lake Erie until the wee hours of the morning, drinking (mostly beer) and smoking and laughing and indulging endless discussions about something that must have been extremely interesting. We would be back in class the next morning. Ah the energy of youth! Wayne in the picture was younger then than I am now, at least I'm sure of that. About Shitao's age I guess.

Those outings started in Wayne's kitchen, or maybe at the table he'd built with perfect Windsor chairs that I just loved. He'd been an antique dealer, and honed a fine appreciation for things of perfect beauty. My wife was on the night shifts, and sometimes Wayne would cook.

I indulged the fantasy that he indulged me for my fine mind. I was never shy about accepting the hospitality. Politics, literature, the school, the students, the faculty, the state of the cosmos. We easily agreed that all had entered that phase just after detonation, when a soon-to-collapse demolished building looked still momentarily intact after a small and sudden shrug, which might never have happened at all to mind's eye but for what came after.

In those days when the spirit moved us and the weather conspired to support it, we would head out across the Peace Bridge for a longish drive to where my boat was moored. Those were the civilized days before 911 when border crossings were not much fuss.


My boat wasn't much with a gas engine older than me to get us going and back in case of calm. With its wimpy six-volt battery we often sailed with the lights out. It wasn't exactly as though anyone else was out on Lake Erie after dark.

One night I well remember we looked what I swear was straight up at a suddenly looming lake freighter coming right down on us. Beer bottles went overboard as I filled the sails away. We laughed, and I am suffered somehow still to live. We made no radar footprint, all of wood and disappearing in the steep Lake Erie chop.

So after coming home from Guangzhou last time, I brought up that picture I'd snapped on the way out and damn if it isn't really Wayne. I still can't quite place the timeline, but I do remember learning that he had become really skinny and had shaved his head after the school closed. That he was trying to reconstruct his life as something other than a teacher.

When I reconnected with him much later, he'd grown temporarily fat actually. It seems he did tell me about attempting modeling once while down in New York City, goaded by a friend or lover there. My dim memory tells me he thought it was a mistake. How would he feel to see it now? He would want the profit from it! Clever with money, Wayne never had much of it.

But Wayne did get by. He was always rebuilding the interiors of his house, acquiring and re-covering fine antique furniture, or reassembling parts from other houses. It was the architectural equivalent of Michelangelo's slaves, never finished but always aspiring to something you knew it never could be. I was disappointed most recently to find that the craft-built sunporch off the kitchen was gone. The ornate francophile garden gone mostly to seed. We'd peed in its corners, as the more civilized alternative to indoor plumbing. Bathrooms and kitchens were ever-moving. As was I, Wayne was clever with his hands. I suppose we respected that in one another.

Now he stares out at all of China. There is only this one picture, plus a photoshopped version with the pipe cut out for political correctitude. It must have been purchased from unidentifiable stock. Wayne would be pleased that so many in China are intrigued by this apparently perfect rendition of what is meant by Western style and good living. He was putting it on to raise the dead is how I see his look. He would have known exactly. Not quite an admonition to his students, but informed by that.

I am hardly ever invited into a Chinese home. These are not spaces for entertaining, although you might think so from watching Chinese TV. But maybe that's the hint, since no-one would ever think that their own decor was quite up to the person they wanted to project. Extravagant sums might be spent to rent a space for entertainment in a restaurant, where we Americans are generally proud of how we choose to live, eagerly showing off our favorites. I often make that mistake while presenting in Chinese, thinking that it would be best for me to show my strengths. It is not a very Chinese thing to do.

After telling him my story, Shitao was far more interested and amazed by this little 'tale of the supernatural and fantastic' than by anything else we'd talked about. That's the genre he puts the story in, perhaps remembering that I'd boasted to him 30 years ago about the book by that title to which I'd contributed translations. I think I do ape its tone here now. Deadpan. Just the facts. Anyhow, he wants to write a story about it and maybe we should both conspire together.


And now as I write this I am flooded with clear and present memories of myself at another time, in another place, talking and smoking with Shitao, arguing about whether the Chinese written character presents thoughts directly, which he still maintains, or whether they are mediated by voice as I would argue vociferously (of course).


Shitao's story will have to be more interesting than mine. Wayne would counter my Chinese poetics and cosmology with astonishing erudition, able to quote lines and whole verse from memory in ways that would impress a Chinese scholar. I could find no hook for what the Chinese literary tradition has that we in the West lack. Urbane and devastating combativeness was his teaching style. I think I failed the energy test, though I sometimes bested him politically.

I suppose I gave up. After the school closed, I pretty nearly repudiated China and Chinese. Well, I taught Chinese for a while at the University, I tried trading in it for a degree in Comparative Education, but eventually divorce and childrearing and abiding pennilessness drove me to a career in IT. I probably repudiated most everything except for my daughters.

I could finally abandon computer networks and security to the younger more flexible minds after my two daughters were adults. I was discouraged by "the cloud" which rendered my detailed privacy and security protocols both meaningless and absurd. Such complex firewalls in and out can be left to our Chinese betters. I no longer knew where the boundary was, much less about how to enforce it.

The trick with IT work is that it's always about educating the user. I was reasonably good at that, and at leading the executives to understand why they needed my guidance. But in the end, I could not be quite certain about my integrity signing off on the integrity of clients' private data. I was relieved to be away from it.

I never did get to further the career that Wayne had, perhaps, perfected. His attitude in class was as studied as that photograph, as false, perhaps, or as true. He did bring out the best in his students, and didn't mind if they or his colleagues hated him for it along the way. It was no favor to anyone to be allowed to carry on in sloppy ways.

I was the nicer fellow, but maybe I did destroy the school. Maybe I wanted too badly for those discouraged students to succeed. I do take plenty of pride in how successful the "dullards" once by Wayne's lights now are. I think those years that I was there were the best the school ever did have, if judged by results. An accident of time and place. An accident of pride.

The school's qualities were surely none of my doing. I can take pride only in cleaning up the act a bit, and clearing out some rancor. It was always a quirky school at best, a magnet for misfits. It was surely already technically bankrupt when I took over, and Buffalo's economy was on its final tipping point to insignificance, although I understand it might be comeback time. Who knows?

I think I was relieved when the school closed for the same reason that I was relieved to leave IT (not so very long ago). And that, truth be told, fills me with a sense of guilt that I did cause its demise by some kind of inner death wish. Just to be relieved of what had become for me a 24/7 though mostly joyful quest to keep it going.

By the end I was burned out at a very young age. I was angry. I had assembled a board of trustees worth well north of a billion actual dollars when that was a significant sum of money. They were kind and indulgent, but like any good father would not subvent a school which couldn't support itself. They sat on other boards, in an overcrowded field of non-profits in a shrinking city. Someone had to go. I took it badly.

I don't mean that I resented what had to happen, or anyone at the school or on its board. I just didn't want any more to do with any of it. After my final bumbling graduation, having delivered our fine speaker (Harley Hanson, the father of AP testing pioneered at the school) to the airport, I slunk away forever. Sort of. I certainly didn't return to the graduation party, and I left my office as it was. I wanted no part of the closing process. I burned a lot of bridges.

And then here I am back in China, having largely rehabilitated my usable Chinese after having spent at least 15 years in utter certainty that it was completely gone. Every once in a while, I would try a phrase or two in my head, and it was discouraging. But mostly, I pushed China away, even to the point of avoiding news stories, avoiding understanding what China had become, avoiding any kind of connection to a country moving headlong into our direction, one which had already killed Lake Erie when I was a child on her shores.

Vietnam's destruction was built there, parts for the atomic bomb, the molten slag from the steel plant which made a second sunset to our East most nights. Warmth and phosphates overfertilzing algae overgrowth. Oxygen starved fishes made stinking piles on our broad beaches.

My flight out of China that time I left Shitao was joined by the guy from Jeep who was bringing them to China. I thought he was nuts or China was nuts or both. I don't think they were Chrysler yet. I don't know, I can't remember. I know we had a nice conversation. His vision proved the truer. Mine destined for the slag-heap of dreams.

And now Wayne is staring at me from everywhere on every street. Bigger than Great Teacher Chairman Mao, who I am assured is only posted for irony anymore. Like that place I ate the other night where the waitresses were dressed in military drab as though they could actually be the equal to the men in the kitchen. The slag-heap of dreams reduced to irony.


Oh yes, Wayne was what we used to call a male chauvinist. An unreconstructed Southerner, who seemed to have a powerful disliking for the female body. But that was as truly false and overspoken as were most things about him. Put on. Modeled. Rhetorically felt for as long as it might take to spill the bile, and then he would tell of his true love, Mary. He would gush about the brightest female students. Once he could see them see themselves past their bodies to their minds. Once he could see them appreciate themselves.

I don't know why either of us indulged the other. Mind, body, same thing really, no matter what those idiot artificially intelligent people think. My daughters are gorgeous and I don't hold that against them. Their minds fine and strong, and I think they could hold their own against Wayne, even in the classroom. No, I know they could. Reduce men to tears by strength of argument. I've seen it. By strength of character.

I look at Wayne's picture now, and I am as certain that it is actually him as I am certain of anything. Mao was never who he appeared to be either, but no-one could mistake the picture. It has become an icon. I have discharged my duties as best I can. And I am never certain as the word is more destructive than the worshipped body, beauty a cudgel against the masses. Erudition a signal of superiority. Rise up . . .

It took three trips to Guangzhou to find Shitao. I had to find the time, I had to do some sleuthing (I'd lost an email thread to him when I'd lost a job. There is so very much still messed up about who owns what and according to what rules).

Crossing borders now, I chuckle to myself as crossing guards look up and back at my nearly twenty-year-old passport photo to convince themselves it's really me. I curse at my little tablet computer when it won't recognize my face. I suppose I should be grateful to these predators on my soul, for keeping me safe. I don't buy any of it.

None of it makes any sense. My identity only matters to those who know and care for me, and can't be summed up by some machine collection of deeds and misdeeds which can be used perpetually against me only because they can. That security is as false as the teacher who tells his student that the work is great, terrific, perfect, just to avoid bruising some self-esteem.

Alienating me from those things I wrote while working for you, because you somehow own them, secrets I must keep because my memory is that perfect, trade secrets, security trusts, putting my stories into the trust of the Google cloud which knows more about me than even the credit score company if it were to want to look. The corporate personage. Screw you.

Maybe it was a passing dream or a bad joke, but I understand that China is setting up a netizen score system. It's probably modeled on our credit bureau's methods. And you will never speak your mind again, because you might be recognized for what you are. You will never dare to make a mistake, to risk, to believe in something greater than yourself. To take a pose for beauty.

My credit score is perfect. My story is a mess. I do miss you Dad, Wayne, Shitao and the list could go on and on, but I am not a good networker either. My oldest friends are still my best. There's constancy in that to no measure at all.