Monday, January 25, 2021

The Virus of Racism; The Virus of White Supremacy, the Loaded Code, the Virus

Clipped to my refrigerator is a stack of coupons. These are not coupons I looked for or clipped (there's clipping and there's clipping). These are thrust upon me for things I actually did buy and likely therefore will buy, and they have the value of actual dollar bills. They are therefore hard to discard, though I will likely never use them. I feel precisely the same way about buying orange juice in plastic bottles that are built to outlast Armageddon. I just can't.

These coupons are meant to manipulate my purchasing. Less visible is the trade in cookies meant to manipulate my purchasing online. Unfortunately, of course, those are also meant to manipulate what I read and therefore what I think. 

Happily, I don't spend too much time on shopping, so it all becomes background noise. I turn in my bottles and cans not for the deposit, but because they are more likely to enter the right stream for recycling. As if recycling could possibly make a difference. Oh please bring back waxed paper, hand-wrapped. Returnable bottles for milk and juice. We just don't care.

I am, of course, neither virtuous nor well-off. If I were, I would simply pay no attention to all this noise. I have only so much time to deal with things I can't control, and adjust my preferences in preference to having them adjusted for me. Style: absent. Curb appeal: nil. Fine. 

It's hard, though, to adjust my reading preferences, and the better the source the more wordy it seems. Proper (non-fake) media outlets like to thoroughly document what they present. The combination of endless Trump terrorism and COVID updates is just exhausting. People look to each other for the executive summary, and sometimes the ones I overhear are just plain wrong and even dangerous.

Then there was Amanda Gorman. There is no executive summary. And yet some are made angry. Some won't or can't listen. Beauty in words and in deed can and will be used against you, right AOC?

What are the roots of this anger? By way of science and math, I bypassed pretty much any and all poetry or even literature in the large sense, on the way to College. I felt bypassed by the knowledge my betters had. Well off and properly virtuous they all were. And so I started over with Chinese, and learned to read poetry in that tradition.

Of course I found that the rules, the meter even, had all been appropriated by and for the state. It still goes on, in form the same. And so what about science? Isn't it trued in the very same way? You think you read found and well-founded conclusions, but no, peer review means the same for science as it does for getting published in the New Yorker. There is a larger narrative that you must fit.

There simply is no way to get good information out there if nearly no one has the energy to cull and read the good stuff. Something a little shy of truth is the settlement. I barely penetrated a minuscule elite with my reading of Chinese. Even beyond the mass of Chinese, even now, though they get more of their classics along their way than we do of ours. They learned how to lay Faberge eggs too, if they were lucky.

We all have to settle somewhere on an explanation, but wouldn't it be nice if the one we settled on were genuinely authoritative at the same time that it didn't condescend to our intelligence and crap detection abilities?

On an executive level, we now know that the more deadly viruses are the ones that led to storming the capital. Our science on those is much shakier than the science on wearing masks and generating immunity for the pandemic virus. Either virus has the potential to unravel society, but both combined, and synergizing, have been truly deadly. 

Ultimately any center for power is corrupted. And yet the Chinese tested for poetic prowess once upon a time. Might we? They also brought COVID to heel, in ways that we might find, well, abusive.

Some have settled on an understanding that leads them to refuse masks or to refuse inoculation. There is understandable anger at the differential impact on different types of business. It certainly doesn't seem fair, and it's likely dangerous, that wage earners are tanking while investors soar. We are becoming polarized in many more than those two dimensions that are all we seem to have now in politics.

Polarized dimensions are the stuff of evolution, and yet we won't even dance together anymore. No wonder transgressions of gender are so important. It's not only about the genes.

We know that to combat the virus of disinformation, we need to rebuild trust. We know that it has something to do with a failure of our public education system. We know that it has something to do with some deterioration in our sense of shared purpose; even here in these United States where most of us still do retain something near to love for the ideals on which our nation was founded. Even those who stormed the capitol are motivated that way, however bizarrely distorted their 'reality' is.

Yes, of course I am anti-fascist, and I don't need to turn that into a coded meme for violence. We are all anti-fascist in our hearts, unless we project a kind of friendly fascist onto some fool out to manipulate things for his own benefit. There are plenty of tools to use now, if you are only out for yourself. If you wish to channel hate, that's apparently a lot easier than to channel love. The tools are out there in the wild and wonderful world of Facebook, Twitter, Google/YouTube search.

I suppose some kind of rage is required to see friendliness in the person of someone whose purpose is to manipulate rage. Where's the love, I'd like to know? I felt it in the recitations of our twenty-two-year-old first-ever national youth poet laureate. Plenty of people didn't. Perhaps they felt she shouldn't have dwelt so much on race; on what is wrong.

But how could we not dwell on race in this country? I just finished reading Greg Grandin's masterful book, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America. Our national history is not pretty when it comes to how those in power and bearing arms have dealt with those they consider "other." Blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans have been our primary "domestic" targets, not to mention those that we have dehumanized overseas. 

The documentation of our collective behaviors, especially as those are projected onto our young armed forces proxies, is hard to read. But there is perhaps some hope in that the anger on display during the ransacking of the capitol building was more like a tailgate rampage than a massacre. Go Bills!

Of course, we can't know what might have happened had the building been turned into a fortress, or had they lucked into a packed house. Perhaps we have been lucky in the creation of some kind of social antibodies, just as my own apparently successful antibody production kept my COVID-19 infection mild.

The raw fact of life in the twenty-first century is that we are all in everything together. Deny it though we might try to do, the twin viruses of COVID-19 and nationalism are rampant now across the globe. In the one case social distancing can help. In the other it is the social distance between the rich and the poor which is at the root of the disease processes which lead to exclusionary nationalism and hate-based authoritarianism. Well, it's not exactly the social distance is it? More like the ease by which the wealthy and powerful are able to manipulate the poor into subverting their own self-interest. 

No wonder there is mistrust even of COVID relief.

Mistrust of public directives against the pandemic are of a piece with mistrust of the motives of those who have or control all the money. Of course global capitalism will have to evolve before we can prevail, which is to say before we can sustain ourselves as a species. 

Nature was once the field of conquest. We have, collectively, been triumphant on that field. Now nature has moved within, and conquest becomes far more subtle. The choice feels stark between reverting to lives that are short and brutish simply because we cannot relinquish our behavioral profligacy, or finding other things to fantasize about than space travel, projected orgies of delight and body sculpting, say.

It feels like we are on the verge of being able to claim a kind of immunity to the ravages of the nature that is outside us; the one the wealthy reserve to themselves as a kind of playground now in so many ways. Sailing by superyacht on the seas of fate is not the same as living. This we do not yet believe.

Also on display during the inauguration were calls to our Heavenly Father, claimed by all sides as the Greater Authority, no matter how perverted by the words of worldly men. This is such a dumbed down version of the godhead. Like equating plastic surgery toward beauty with medicine to quiet illness. There is no God which celebrates rapacity, whether personal or national.

And so these many memes, from Q-Anon through anti-vaxxing, which have infected so many minds must be eradicated with consummate care. They are utterly resistant to attacks that are founded in hate. They can only be combated by genuine and meaningful education, and by opportunity to participate in a thriving and fair economy. Trust is built by free association among people who are unlike ourselves. 

This can happen in school when schools are not as segregated as the neighborhoods they sprout from. It happens at the university and in the military and in corporations that are not stratified by those same memes which stratify society at large. Which celebrate "free speech" internal, in the same way that our nation celebrates it in principle.

Lies told by way of government propaganda are no more dangerous than the lies told by the propaganda for selling. These are the things we must grasp, and not only how to quell the pandemic virus. The mechanics of quelling the pandemic have now been revealed as utterly one with the mechanics of quelling the various viruses of mistrust and of hatred.

The work to be done between now and the next election has nothing to do with revenge. Our work is not the Lords' work. Our wordly worldly work is to build back trust and to know one another as comrades. Without arms.

Meantime it won't stop being exhausting. Dreams of travel of visits of even skiing or taking a simple walk fade into quarantine, alone, at home. I wonder how we will navigate the next decade. Will we all be wearing masks all the time? Will we become unrecognizable, even to ourselves? Will I ever criss-cross the country again? 

Friday, January 15, 2021

I Went Swimming While No One Was Looking

I did. I skinny-dipped below Niagara Falls, just out of view of the hordes of tourists. Often enough with nude sexed companion. It was always nice. It was always exciting. Now I swim in words, seas of words, trying to make sense. Along the way, I caught a dose of COVID-19. Thank you Jesus, because now I have some immunity while others scramble for codpiece cover in some herd or other. 

There was no sense, except, perhaps that I masked myself stupidly, re-using disposable disguises and thus recognized, once walking along with my little one who will always be my little one who might have caught it that way from me. There is nothing other than random here. Nothing to write home about. I isolate myself with words anyhow, and by rights, well there are no shoulds and shouldn't haves here anymore. It might be in God's hands. I wouldn't know.

Watching Bryan Stevenson streaming tears. My little one who left the NICU no larger than dolly clothes, torso in my palm, introduced him to me virtually. She fights for innocents too. He may be her hero. Now he is mine. She has always been mine.

I don't generally know if I'm moved or if I'm touched or if I'm even inspired by words anymore. No longer there, physically speaking. There are just too many of them, and they make their own sense anyhow, so I don't have to do it for them. To be moved, after all is just the passive case that we've reserved for emotions, which are felt rather directly rather than to be paid directed attention. To. I always know when someone's watching me. Thank you Jesus.

Too bad really that so many now feel the same need that I do to torture words, which never did anything to me. Too bad really that we have decided that free speech must include protestations of hate, and vile pronouncements of evil intent. I thought that yelling Fire! in a theater was actionable. How could it be meant ironically? How can such jest be so infinitely tolerated, anymore anymore anymore. 

When hate is serious it deserves only to be silenced, when hate is enacted it moves people to do bad things in return. They have no choice then. I will keep and bear my arms hugging myself at least until I am allowed to arm some other. I would move you in some other direction.

Fingering the keys, there is a different ordering to thought compared to when I once did dictate entire letters, damnably too a secretary, or wrote Chinese by hand. There was no keyboarding then, and I wouldn't take Mom's bribe to play piano. so I still shout most of the time, in writing. There used to be only crossings out, goodbye Jesus, or whiting out, KKK? Now we think we can backspace, but it's all already out. Too late. Committed.

There is no truth or consequence when everyone can say anything in whatever sized crowd, the unknown unknowns where only the lowest of the lowly make pronouncements. Jeopardy. Double triple over and over and under again. Like weaving the seat of that old chair which supports my bottom again and again now that I've rewoven it again and again. The doing hurts my back and not the sitting. 


If words make their own sense then why do we think they can save us if we only find the right ones? Isn't that just sociopathicologically idiotic? We must elect our words selectively, selectrically or Google might select them fore us aftmentioned afore. So nice to see you anymore. May I?

I went swimming in words while no one was looking and found enough sense there for all of us. Please, have some. They're homemade. 

Yours are certified and mine are certifiable and who can trust the alphabetic code on the boxes of masks to validate their worth as though your life depended on it? I have been offered many many degrees of distinction if only I were willing to work for them. I am normal now. I make offerings all the time. Response to stimulus is to throw it back to the other side. Spend it wisely, because, so far, I still pay my rent underwear. 


"Study Marxist-Leninism" -Mao Zedong

Heavens calligraphic Chinese words can be impossible to read. Even those of Chairman Mao, for whose words China still pays out in freedom. You have to know them glancingly, those Chinese characters. You have to know them at a glance, the way you know old friends though they be walking across the street, say, in Shanghai. Who knew?

Shanghaied over some rainbow, where pots of gold are a passcode away. And little ballerinas were there for Degas' prurient captivation, so say the times. Who holds us now? Where might we go when this is all over?

The Place. Where drinks are served out of doors. Drink up please, it's time. And yet the game is not over, please. I actually used to say that with my official voice in London every single day but Sunday. Eating fishheads beneath the hatch during the midday closing, then sunbathing I Hyde Park, before the Warming, the evening shift.

Way overboard, you say? How far is too far then, if you're going overboard. Isn't it only a digit? May I please expand my mind? Sure it fills the cosmos, but that's only my cosmos. How's yours doing. Off with his head. The republic is dead. Wave to the flag now, sweetie. Good bye. Hello! My constitution is frail. How about yours?

Long live, no not that one. The new one. Older still. Blow up the headquarters said Chairman Mao to the wind as he blew.

I walk as though on stilts, stilted my talk around the corner making a fool. I should wear, I should blare a crashing tophat. I would be thought captivating again, head over stiletto heels. Drop knife drop kick wide right over your head. Posted shafted I live if I shiv, skewer a string of words and make them song and dance.

Two trains of thought were about to collide along the self-same way. How do you do? Asked the wave of the particle. I don't. I just am, now that you take notice of me. I just am. And you? Do you wave to everyone, then? Or is it just me.

I am nothing special in my delivery. Forever stamp for me. Forever posted. Forever pegged. All will flow past in streams, caring not for my signposts.

Forevermore quoth the raven blackened by ink. Blackened by smoke and therefore lasting until needless unearthed eternity, well, because nobody even forgot in the first place. But it did still say the same thing.

Where there were striding idiot winds strident in their expression, overrunning sense running on and now. Oh yes, we did not plant the bait. It was no man who did it, but a babe in palm in fronds who placed his body there. Its? Their's? There there. The door is open. Storm!

And now those hateful babblers must own their words in deed. For in deed they have condemned themselves and they have lost any right to speak, to freely write, there was never any free speech, to say abominations aloud for we forsake them now, and let us pray forvermore. To damn hate to hell would be redundant. It already abides, and so must we. Good bye, fare well, so long, it's been good to know you. See you tomorrow and the next day, then. Adieu. Adios. And after that as well. Down the welly well well now.

Was it counterclockwise in the Northern hemisphere, swastika down the drain. 

It all plays out rather swimmingly, don't you think? Who could have known? Their intent was deadly, their execution a farce.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Frauds and Doppelgangers

I have always been fascinated that a forger can be - or seem - more technically talented than the artist they're faking. I listen to Tom Waits sing, and wonder if there is a true and real Tom Waits, or only the one imitating a variety of possible Tom Waitses. I remember as a kid watching TV vocal impersonators, and wondering how to distinguish them from the vocal artists they sometimes imitated. They sounded just as good as the "real thing" to me. But what do I know? I'm no expert.

In my study of Chinese traditions, there's not, I think, so much hang-up on originality. Knowledge of sources is conveyed differently than by citation, which would insult both auditor and composer. That kind of knowledge is conveyed by usage and deftness. Both reader and writer have to share a received tradition which is somewhat revered. To copy is to honor, but it's worthless without something of your own. Those not properly educated need not apply.

But I am as shaky on any pronouncements I might make about Chinese traditions as I am about certain treasured memories. Every once in a while I spend stupid amounts of time trying to validate something I've reported as surely true. The jury is always out. Plenty of times I find myself utterly wrong about Chinese traditions.

Last night I watched Orson Welle's "F is for Fake" which I found brilliant in a number of dimensions. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it before, but so much of it was familiar. Maybe from the Richard Gere "Hoax" which I'd watched getting filmed for a hot second down in Chelsea on Manhattan. Maybe from something diCaprio did. Maybe from general familiarity with parts of the story, which was maybe from Time Magazine as a kid. Heck, I probably saw this film as a "kid."

I've told this family story about being in Pompano Beach, Florida one Easter. Maybe I was fourteen or so. One rainy day we went to a very fancy by our standards restaurant, and all of us remember the drunk at the bar chanting out 'hey bop a ree bop' over and over. We made fun of it on the way home from Florida in our station wagon. We were there with our good family friends, one of whom would later go to work at Hughes Aircraft, in the lead shielded division. My own family would rarely eat out in fancy places, or take vacations that weren't camping. I'm pretty sure we were towing our tent-trailer, though maybe Mom was successful in her begging that time. I can't remember.

I have a distinct memory of reading in Time Magazine some time later about how Howard Hughes had spent time in that vicinity when his life was being handled, and hanging at the bar and singing 'hey bop-a-ree-bop.' This morning, I spent stupid amounts of time checking Time Magazine archives. I came tantalizingly close to what I remember, but no exact citation. I remember remarking what I'd read in Time to my family at the time, and I also remember being frustrated that I couldn't quite find enough detail. I guess it was, and remains, just something that I wanted to be true. Because it made a good story.

The other thing is - and this is very tangentially related - that I am often accosted by people who swear they know me. Maybe this happens to you, too. Sometimes I'm accosted by people who actually do know me, and I feel chastened and very small when I don't recognize them back, though generally I do after I take the time to allow the image and memory to resolve themselves. Again, as a kid, I once went on a reading jag of doppelganger books. It seems I'm not the only one fascinated by them.

But I do have all these criss-crossings with almost everyone I meet and almost everything I read, and somehow I want to remark about them. Mostly, I have the good grace to keep quiet, because I know I can be an insufferable name-dropper. 

But doppelgangering is related to a sense of regret for lost lives; lives we might had lived had we made other choices. I really don't do that. I feel always happy with my choices. Well, except I don't have a great history that way with women.

I do feel privileged for how many lives I've glimpsed, though. I feel like it enriches my world. And I'm not just talking about the prominent or wealthy ones. I feel privileges to have gotten peeks into so many different lives and traditions, though by no means as extensive as many folks I've read about, and even plenty that I know personally. Privilege is such a subjective matter.

But what I want to write about is how we might and should deal with what seems to be the explosion of not just crazy thinking, but very dangerous crazy thinking. It seems to me related to how unlikely our authoritative voices can be relied upon. Everybody calls everybody on some other side "fake."

We always suspect fakery; some motive behind the one that is represented. Our very craving for truth leads us into conspiracy theorizing. It can be as hard to tell the difference as to detect the sleight-of-hand with which Orson Welles begins his documentary look into Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes, and this fascinating art forger by the name of Elmyr De Hory.

None of us is really trained to tell when we're getting the truth and when we're being manipulated. I sure do remember watching Loose Change (as I think the film was called) about how Dubya deliberately brought down the Trade Towers. It was chilling in its way. There were manned tables all over the place to let you know the truth. Somehow it seems that there were Scientologists always hanging around nearby.

L. Ron Hubbard, anyone? So, as I sit here in quarantine with cabin fever in gloomy Buffalo, wondering how much freedom (from fear, to socialize, to shop with better abandon) my vague immunity might grant me, reading William H. Gass, whom I'd never heard of before and who is an absolute gas, who's writing about feelings of fraudulence in his protagonist, and thinking about my own feelings of fraudulence; as I sit here I feel the need to write. One can only read so much in a sitting.
As an unconscionable aside, I'm reading William Gass because he wrote an introduction to William Gaddis' The Recognitions which I'm eager to read because he gets named alongside Thomas Pynchon, who I read a lot, but I somehow never heard of Gaddis, so I'm eager, but delaying my gratification. Mostly because the library had a copy of Gass's novel, Middle C, while I'd have to enter the library to get The Recognitions as a physical book, so I bought it and can therefore be confident about being able to read it when I'm good and ready (by which time I'll likely be able to visit the library, but there you go! I'm fickle that way!)

The introduction Gass wrote for the other W. G.'s book was brilliant beyond almost anything I'd ever read, and written very much in the spirit of the Welle's "documentary." The novel is a little slower, with fewer sparks. I may have woofed the art in favor of the authentic, or something like that. No matter, it's a fine enough read. Gass can impersonate Gaddis who can impersonate Pynchon and the critics, like the art experts who confidently identify forgeries as genuine can do with paintings, and it won't much matter to me. I'm looking for what moves me, is all.

Meanwhile, I'm reading about how they've come up with this new vaccine by forgery of genes, and I think I'm on pretty solid ground to promote Chinesey treatments for intellectual property. How much time is it worth to prosecute genuinely talented forgers who punk the experts? How guilty should a person feel for stealing intellectual property if the result is curing disease?

Just how important is the Emperor's New Clothes confidence game of the art market? Hell, artists themselves are rarely the ones who profit, being the only intellectual workers (wrong term, I know, but I hate the term "creatives," mainly because I can have no claim on it) who don't get royalties for their work. There aren't that many Picassos who become sensations in their own time (another aspect of the Welles spoof).

I do know and do endorse the importance of "objective truth." It's what science runs on, and it's how we can maintain our democracy, if indeed we do, by having public standards to distinguish truth from falsehood. 

But I am also a radical disbeliever in any duality between mind and body, and so I would also maintain that there is validity to what each of us holds as true in our own personal narrative, even when its objective truth is not provable. Stories are fictions by definition, at least because you have to pick and choose what to highlight. It's what your subconscious mind does before handing you up something objective for you to make a snap emotional decision on, which then becomes conscious. The world is not built on objective truth. Objective truth is for procedures of trueing, and it's those procedures which hold us together. 

In some sense, that's what objective means. It means 'shared truth.' And that shared truth is at a higher level than to discover the structure of 'objective reality' so that we can gain evermore control over our environment. Science is a procedure for building trust in a shared reality. It's really the only one we've got, or will ever have. 

Subjective reality can be true in a different sense, of course. For instance, I  would never deny the reality of someone's belief in what they call God. I might argue with the way in which that reality gets distorted by men who want to create an empire around it.

The Orson Welles documentary begins with a display of sleight of hand, focusing on the delighted child being teased and fooled with money materializations. Then it slides into candid shots of men reacting to a stunningly gorgeous woman strolling by. The looks on the men's faces are exaggerated to the point of caricature. Welles exposes the hoax, and how he got so many good actors to act for free. It is evidently that good, the acting, that it just simply must be true.

Of course in my private space, I was inwardly looking exactly like those leering men. Have I fallen for beauty and believed it true. Well, yes I suppose I have. I've been divorce once in the legal sense, and plenty of other times in the practical sense. Beauty is a trickster.

But science doesn't only advance by cognitive effort and skill. There also has to be some craft and some artistry to conceive and devise the clever ways in which we test our theories. At the very frontiers of science, objective truth dissolves as we find it increasingly hard to distinguish hard fact from projected theory. Only mathematics can dissolve the paradoxes of Bell's theorem, but I, for one, without the math sill feel that I can understand it. Of course, mine is a very subjective understanding, since I doubt I could hold my own in any discussion among physicists. I keep my theories to myself in the same way I hide my leers.

In my amateur mind, using variations of the double-slit experiment, there is a distinction between the conceptual relation among particles and barriers, which are best understood in terms of waves, and the perceptual relation, which seems to boil down to the quanta which perception 'collapses' from a more wavy 'cloud' of probability - particles, so-called. 

I know, I know, waves are perceptual phenomena too, but it's the dissolution of hard boundaries and the foregrounding of interplay that interests me about waves. Waves remain valid across otherwise impenetrable barriers, including time. It's as though the particle senses the barrier before it "touches" it, impinges on it. The narrative order of time is disrupted at the most diminutive level of physical reality.

To me, that's about all there is to the difference between a computer or isolated brain as a thinking machine and a mind which is implicated in all of its environment. No spooky quantum entanglement required. No arcane structures. We are more one with the world than we are separate from it, is all. 

And yes, I am indeed a fraud, but mostly so are you. My narrative cannot entirely be trued with the more general public narrative, but at least I don't believe in things which are just patently nuts. Like a computational model for mind, for starters. 

Oh yes, I could go on, but this movie review is long enough already.

The trouble for me is that by inspiration about 38 years ago - call it communion with God, if you wish - I hit on a set of subtly altered definitions for terms in common usage. It happened on the basis of a (still now) fairly sketchy understanding both of physics and of aspects of Chinese tradition which acted, for me, as a corrective to some of those things in our own traditions here in the West that we almost never bother to question.

Unfortunately, nothing about what struck me grants me clearance to be considered either a 'creative' nor certainly a scientist or philosopher. But it still rings true as I anxiously navigate a troubled world to be inherited by my offspring. 

After a frenetic search for someone to understand what I was talking about - the closest I think I ever came was to a young poet of my acquaintance, who confessed after the car ride during which I was holding forth that he had been terrified that I was about to drive off the bridge. He thought I might be just that crazy.

After that I put my theorizing away, got married and carried on with life. I've never been quite diligent about any career, and remain as distantly fascinated by how others are diligent in the same way that I am distantly aware of football. But sometime in midlife I decided that a blog would be a good way to "publish" the writing I'd done while living on my sailboat. That writing remains here, utterly unread, as far as I can tell (You have to go back to the beginning to see it).

In somewhat simple terms, I realized that mind and emotion are not limited by the skins of sentient beings, but are as much a part of the cosmos apart from us as are the objects of physical science. I whittled the terminology down to percepts, concepts, motion and emotion. Physical forces act on percepts, while concepts define relations among objects in the mind. The relations are mathematical and not forceful. So mind gets outered as well, as an eternal and primordial aspect of cosmos. 

I'm not only quite comfortable with this understanding, but it relieves me of the stress of thinking that there's something more that we must discover before we can improve the world we live in. I don't doubt that we can and will do a much better job of spreading some version of 'the good life' across the globe. But there is no essential difference, for me, between waiting for God to descend to save us from ourselves, and waiting for science to guide us to some perfect resolution.

We are eternally implicated in the reality that we inhabit. Our integrity makes a decisive difference. There is no self-driving self. We need to take responsibility.

Of course that is a supremely useless statement, since each of us has a different sense of how to exercise that responsibility. But as one of the hundred monkeys needed before we can change the way we live in the world, I remain bizarrely confident that it will happen. That's because I know that my beliefs are true!

That's despite how hard I continue to try to find and accept some disproof. Absent that, I shall carry on in my insanity. You'll come around eventually. That's how the truth works. My God, how beautiful the women that frauds surround themselves with!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

What We Now Know

The other day after getting my COVID-19 test results (positive), complaining right up here of the drama the day before, our capitol building was being attacked. We still don't know why there was so little security, and why the seditionists were allowed to amble off. In the event, I had no idea how much of the bad I felt was a function of which news, and how much was the virus itself.

The trouble with both the virus and the news of the day is the same. The virus has made me feel less sick than I've felt with the flu. But in the case of the flu, I knew that I would get through it no matter how horrible I felt. In this case, I felt like there was some kind of time-bomb hidden in my body that could cause me to tank any minute. A very loving nurse-practitioner told me so. Sheesh. And the media was telling me likewise about what was happening down in Washington. I couldn't watch. It was too horrifying.

How do we contend with the evident fact that upwards of half the country now has so little trust in our institutions that they will believe real fake news to the point of insurrection, in the name of a man who clearly has no integrity, no character, no scruples and whose exit from the stage provides such clear display of all of that, so much so that even his former closest allies are abandoning him?

How do we explain officers of the state, our very elected officials, jumping on the same bandwagon? Is there no limit to self-promotion? To toadying for wealth? Is there no dignity left? Aren't they guilty, as officers of the state, of actual treason?

As Trump's features morph into those of John Voight whose features match an "uncle" of mine who went over that same right-wing cliff decades ago, and as I witness the certainty of those willing to post videos of themselves denouncing anything good about our Republic, it's tempting to believe that it's all a disease process, like the virus.

But in the political case, the disease is so easy to diagnose, unlike the COVID, where after a week there has still been no contact tracing in my case. After almost 12 days from presumed contact, there will be no point to any contact tracing, anyhow. Even while other countries have put together apparently efficient and effective processes. (I've contacted so few people, and none without a mask and keeping distant, that they all know all the details, I assure you) I promise that I'm as isolated as anyone can get. If I got it then we should be a lot more vigilant and pro-active than we are being. That's all I'm saying.

So this political disease can trace its roots to social media, to the demise of media regulation so that there need be no integrity to opinion masquerading as news, of course to the way the Internet has come to operate on surveillance capitalism, and of course to the way that capitalism in general operates in the age of digital technology. Capitalism does not run on scruple.

We don't want to do anything about any of this because we like the life we can almost taste so very much. (I told my daughter that I would love her 'even if you weren't always there for me,' and she asked back 'When was I not there for you!' and I sighed at the ambiguity of English. It's hard work to make things clear!) We don't really get the good life, most of us, but we get enough of it to taste it.

My young friends warn me that to regulate speech on the Internet would be to curtail free speech, and most of the time I do value privacy of communication. I don't want any Banana Republic sniffing out and coming down on seditious and radical organizers. But in our case (as sponsor of any Banana Republics that ever existed) we have plenty of information right out in public of seditious right-wing radicals plotting sedition, and nobody seems to come down on anything. 

Is it just because there is no contest between the sponsors of banana Republicanism and the anti-socialist capitalism which controls our government, and seemingly always shall? Do they dance their Tango in partnership? Isn't that supposed to be the Trumpists' complaint? 

I wish that I could think so. Maybe I could if the white supremacy, the Article 2 distortions, the anti-semitism, the homophobia and hatred of gender non-binary were stripped away. That all makes it seem hateful. So I'm left with wondering how such hate gets engendered. 

It seems like hate and certainty are always related. Maybe we don't need all the ambiguity that we have. Maybe we could express more certainty about the good, and less about the bad generally, from both sides.

Like a clock that's broken but which is therefore telling the right time twice a day (that's a cliche I heard from a politician recently, agreeing with Trump on something - perhaps his demand for $2000 stimulus checks) Trump is right about Section 230, but for the wrong reasons. He's just plain too stupid to understand that Facebook is as incapable to be biased against the right as it is to be rid of dangerous hate speech. They curate what you see by algorithm, and so it's your friends they would have to hold accountable. People believe their friends before they believe whatever passes for the past Walter Cronkite anymore. I think Kevin Simler says as much.

I did remember/find out who Kevin Simler is, and I'm about to read his apparently popular book, The Elephant in the Brain. I know I won't like it because he talks about 'the brain' instead of 'the mind.' But he tussles with - or his co-author does -  my old tussle-buddy (one sided, of course) Eliezer Yudkowsky, so he can't be all bad. 

Yudkowsky believes that the brain is the mind and that it can be modelled computationally and that there will soon be a machine cognition singularity and he can make himself immortal thereby. To my mind, that's as nutty as believing the Disney Christianity which has our dead relatives looking down on us. Anyhow, no wonder Simler doesn't have time to post to Quora anymore, if he's writing books and they're getting read. Well, I'm probably just looking in all the wrong places. Though, I'm not really looking. Sorry.

There's a difference between freedom of speech, which is a cornerstone if not the cornerstone of our republic, and not much worried about by the capitalist establishment, and non-regulation of hate speech, conspiracy-mongering on public media, and general promotion of insane belief structures. 

I know I'm in danger of wanting the establishment clause violated, but I'm not. I'm in favor of getting religion and nuttiness both back out of politics, which is another cornerstone of our Republic. That means we should be not only allowed but encouraged to question, say, Amy Coney Barrett, on her religious beliefs, and make a judgement about whether those beliefs will prevail over established law. 

Yes, I think most religious beliefs are nutty, but I hardly ever meet religious people who are nutty, any more than I meet Trump supporters who are nutty. I do see lots of nutty things they say on social media, which means that they have nutty beliefs that they wouldn't tell me in person. And there's the trouble right there, no? Nobody feels OK challenging beliefs to anyone's face. Everyone seems to feel OK stating their beliefs on social media, especially among friends. 

Each side seems to think that the other is diseased, mentally deranged. How did we get here? Do we even speak the same language? Do we even know how to argue anymore?

Well, I think I'm going to live through my bout with COVID-19, and maybe even get the bonus of an immunity bridge through to whenever they sort the immunization out, whoever they becomes. 

The drama isn't quite over, but at least its not making me feel like I'm imminently going to die, which it certainly was this past Thursday. Not over yet, though. The fat lady . . . oh nevermind!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Too Much Drama on the Way to COVID-19 Test Results

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of deference to the man and to the awards, I give the book a solid five stars. As science fiction, it was pretty annoying. It cloys so close to the way that things actually are and likely will be that all of the inaccuracies in scale grate on me. He should have known that nothing like this can happen in the time frames given, especially as most of the plot regards politics as those play out in the new world on Mars and then reflect back home on earth.

His scale for politics is as compressed as are the timelines for equipping and populating Mars. His renown for this book rivals Elon Musk's wealth. Both are absurd, in one sense. In another they are very real. I mean deserved.

Of course Mars should be used as a spoiler, a foil for how humanity may transform. But in order to keep the work within the novelistic form, of course he must leave humans as we are; full of foible and prejudice and stupid ideas that we hold onto for dear life. Full of stupid enthusiasms for driving and flying and travel (guilty!).

It's an old book by now, and I should give it a break. It's been a long time since I immersed myself in science fiction, and maybe I've grown old as well. I remember being utterly immersed in new and fantastic realities, though the creatures there also couldn't escape their fundamental protagonist/antagonist identities. Only Ursula K. Le Guin ever tried, I believe, to get inside the skin of an evolved and transformed humanity. Horrors, but maybe Margaret Attwood as well. Is my problem with the masculine vision then? Probably so.

But still, the book by far deserves its acclaim. As to Elon, well, you have to afford him kudos as well for seeing through the new economy based on Surveillance Capitalism to one that still requires physical embodiments for purchase. The new economy assesses by enthusiasm for a kind of corporate vision, making bets on smoothness of execution. It still boggles my mind that vast General Motors, which was once the avatar of our economy ("As General Motors goes, so goes the nation") and which "owns" such sprawling physical and human infrastructure, should be worth so much less than Apple, or Tesla now, I guess including its spaceshot fantasies.

So Elon wants to go to Mars. He sometimes despairs of earth's future. And yet he has imagination enough here on earth only to build better cars. He's betting on our staying pretty much exactly the same people as well. Of course we have to go somewhere else if we want to change. We're incapable to transform the way we live here on earth. Nobody can imagine it.

At least Kim Stanley Robinson tries! He's moved back home from Mars, as far as I can tell, and there's integrity in that.

So in my memory, the best science fiction authors bet on a more spiritual transformation. What Kim Stanley Robinson continues to offer (I've only lately been turned on to him) is a polymath read of everything relating to what he writes about, which seems to include almost everything. Politics, religion, a perfectly wonkish vocabulary in the sciences and the dogged discipline to see his massive narratives through.

It would be hard not to recommend him. And yet my inspiration comes from other directions beyond power and bombs and technology generally. My imagination would change us by processes of enlightenment that these things have offered us. Our enthusiasms would have to turn more in the direction of lives lived differently, rather than only in other times and places which project the here and now.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Way Too Much Drama

As I sit waiting for the results of my COVID 19 test, I discover that the milk I bought for making Yoghurt is 'lactose free.' That was not my intention, but checking up on my yoghurt-making assumptions I came across an explanation for yoghurt which made the seemingly irrefutable claim that the bacteria which transform milk into yoghurt 'work' on lactose. I give up!

I've nearly died twice on Christmas eve; once an appendicitis while I was trapped over the Canadian border. They almost didn't let me through to the U.S. hospital because I looked like I was acting my pain. Too much drama! 

The next time a pulmonary embolism. Then this time I felt ill in a pretty bizarre way, but consistent with stories about COVID. The thing was that how I felt was also consistent with too much drinking (so was the appendicitis) or just the general anxiety that I have now on Christmas eve.

There was plenty of drama leading up to the event each and every time. First time, the school I headed was closing. The board had divided into factions and I was trapped between good sense and good hope. Money was on good sense. My heart was on good hope.

Second time I'd just finished moving, had no job because I'd quit the one I did have because there was just too much drama. I didn't want to do forensic computing, and I didn't want those who worked under me to do it either. I worked for the Church. You can fill in the rest.

Trump won't let go of the drama he seems to need to inflict on us. Some are apparently thrilled by it, like die-hard Bills fans, while some are traumatized, like maybe he really won't go away. But then again, what he calls the fake news won't let go of how easy it is to catch the attention of the thinking side of the great divide by promising yet another outrage to be read about.

And furthermore, there are just too many finely honed words to read. I have no clue how to pick among them, where to spend my time. The notion that my words might actually get read is ludicrous. But it is, frankly, more calming to write than to read now. Plus I actually can imagine a better future. I'm not looking forward to global warming and meltdown. 

I actually look forward to a better world. I do. Because I feel like I actually know what's wrong with or thinking. Bold claim, that.

Several times now I've re-read this essay which sits still on Quora by this evidently very smart fellow, name of Kevin Simler. He calls the essay "crony thinking," and it pretty much describes how the brain is organized like a corporation, and some of its ideas are like the people who have their jobs not because they're good at what they were ostensibly hired to do, but because they're good at the cronyism which is at the bottom of what makes the company go.

For me, memes make a better explanation. But Simler's essay does a pretty good job of undermining, in particular, why those of us on the thinking side aren't really thinking when we "believe in" global warming, say. Simler doesn't say the belief is wrong; only that we didn't come at it by fully rational means.

Now, as far as I can tell, this guy doesn't write very often. Certainly not as often as I do, but then why would I go doing any research on him to find out? He doesn't excite me all that much, and look what I got for my yoghurt enthusiasm! When he does write, maybe it carries a lot of weight. I don't know.

My drama comes down to what happens if there's no more coffee on the shelves in the stores. Like with toilet paper, one can't always predict. And what if we really do let democracy, as we've come to believe in it, go down the toilet? 

Last time, broke, I gave my entire stimulus check to the Obama campaign. It worked! I was employed at the time. This time, I gave a big chunk of my recent stimulus check to the Working Family Party's get out the vote efforts in Georgia. I'm not employed, but I'm not hurting (therefore) from the pandemic either. It worked this time as well, so far!

Answer to my prayers! To my money? Anyhow, it bodes well for our future, for sure.

Now the fact is - God's honest truth! - that I was relieved both times I landed in the ER. My Christmas anxieties were erased. I got a 'get out of jail free' card. Sometimes I feel really good about my preparations to please people, and mostly I don't. I'm sure I'm not alone in my anxiety, but I may be extreme. 

This year COVID pretty much let me off the hook, though I still had to watch people opening presents over Zoom, knowing that mine would be delivered digitally with no fanfare. Bought the day before from the New York Review of Books. Typical guy stuff.

I wouldn't have gotten the COVID test but for my kids demanding it. I guess I wanted to keep alive the fantasy that I would become immune by having it. Twisted, I know.

Anyhow, it's almost as though my very survival is at stake now on a daily basis. It's almost as though I have to be alive again. Like many of us, I would maintain that I wasn't really worried about catching the virus for my own sake. I've been worried about some critical mass of cases being reached where it would become almost impossible not to get it. Like a wildfire in California out of control (poor California, I loved you well).

Speaking of the New York Review, it does seem that the more literate and literary a person is, the more claim that person has on how many words a reader must endure. I turn to fiction for relief. It doesn't hurt my head so much. 

That about explains where we're at historically now. We don't know who to believe, and it hurts our heads too much to try to find out. So we believe our friends. During my nearly three-year vagabondish exploration of the continental US, on a quest to understand how Trump won, I would sit in a coffee shop frequented by older women and hear such things as "he seems like a perfectly honest and honorable man to me" in the context of talking about Trump and railing against Pelosi and how she wants to control the world. 

It all kinda blew my mind. Maybe they were just goading me? I must have stuck out. But I don't really think so. They were doing what women in coffee klatches always do, which is to bond with one another. Crone thinking. 

Ouch! That feels misogynistic. But Trump is the misogynist! I'm so confused. People seem to listen to their men more in the flyover states. But everyone I met was super nice! Really!

I guess that a certain subset of the Republican party really does believe that if they don't prevail their world will end, and that justifies whatever they have to do to stay in charge. I guess that they really, earnestly, believe that. All that I have on my side is irony. And a belief in science, so far as that goes.

But, you know, science still fundamentally requires the separation of subject from object, which is something I sure don't believe anymore. Actually, I haven't believed that for my entire adult life. I don't believe that there is anything like mind as opposed to matter. On the most fundamental level possible, I don't think that conception and perception can be separated. Which means that I don't think that there is a mind apart from emotion. Which means that I really can't be bothered when people fail to make cognitive sense, because - to me - there is no such thing as cognitive sense in and of itself. 

Oh well, maybe I have it, maybe I don't, but I sure don't want to drag you through as many of my words as those other guys do. That would just simply be rude. There is not nearly enough beauty in my words to make it worth your while.

I find that, while I still seem to have my taste buds, I've lost my interest to watch movies. Even to read novels, most of the time. I write here because I'm trying to understand what to do. Clearly that's also what lots of people who read those wordy articles and essays are trying to do. They're trying to understand and by understanding make at least a personal world-view on the basis of which to guide action. 


Or is everyone just wanting to enjoy life. Go back to normal! 

We should admit that most of us don't really want to go very far with this. We don't really want to have to revert to a more primitive life-style and so we fend off the cranky essayists who would have us take extreme measures.

Mine is, I think, a gentle world-view. Nothing changes very radically from most main-stream thinking points of view. All you really have to do is to let go of the notion that true understanding - understanding what's true - is ever possible. That's because we shall always be implicated in what we think we know. There is no such thing as objectivity, and so, there is no such thing as truth in the abstract.

Admitting that would force us also to admit that politics, marketing, and even conversation are vitally important activities. They constitute most of what takes our attention most of the time. Once we recognize that we can't get away from that fact, we realize that there is no right thing to do. Each of us is different, and so something like 'personal integrity' is the best that we might offer the world. 

The corporate mind has none of that. Football players may have it, but the team sure doesn't, when it's on the field. The team just simply wants to win. MAGA is all and only about team USA. The America I still believe in has more integrity than that. 

In the balance, I think (I hope, I pray, I believe) that integrity is winning. Trump will go away, and the news will be fairly boring again. Tech will become better regulated, and surveillance capitalism will be the first 'industry' to be socialized in a trend that will take us back to sanity. Cars will be replaced by bikes and trolleys and most of us will realize that there is no loss to sailing, in place of a powerboat or a jet ski.

Mainly, we will realize that we are as conditioned by the future as we condition it. That's what free will means, that's what agency means, and there is no scientific understanding which can relieve us of the obligation to care. Mackenzie Scott is a much better man than Jeff Bezos. That's a no-brainer. 

I paid a visit to Alcorn State along my travels. Even though I'd studied education for much of my life, I'd never heard of it. There was an entrance gate control where I was asked what I was doing. Looking around, I said. I guess I looked innocent enough. My trailer had hit a pothole deep enough to swallow the wheel, and I'd found that the hitch had bent. Yikes! I needed to stop somewhere.

Well, and so I stopped along Alcorn State's ring road to swap out a different hitch, checked everything out, and went on my way. Somehow the place felt fine to me. I felt fine. They need more money than they got, I'm sure, but it's a start!

Anyhow, I'll let you know if I'm still alive, next time you hear from me. It feels like a new day for the Nation. A day full of way too much drama! Mckenzie Wark. McKinley Kitts. In my next life, I will have a gender-free name and make better music. In this life, I remain among a droning chorus. Rock on. I would like to dance again.

Monday, January 4, 2021

A Really Short Story About Our New World

So Dad’s iCar became mine after he killed himself. We were no longer close, mostly my fault. I was living in the country. The only country left, really, after the meltdown. Pretty much like the New Jersey airport swamps that Dad used to tell me about, as far as I can tell, with desolate snow instead of water. Life was already pretty much dead for me where everyone else lived. I never learned how to promote myself the way you’re supposed to. 

I did know how to live in the country. Dad taught me. He was a boy scout. He'd been in the Army. He always said that he’d live in the country if he didn’t have mouths to feed. So we used to camp, which really isn’t possible anymore. Because of the toxins. I live normally in the one place which doesn’t have them yet. That’s because they don’t last in the cold. The water flows the other way from where I live. I live in the last cold place on earth. Not the North Pole, but pretty close. There are still some trees there, though most of my firewood is deadfall. There are still some scrawny critters to eat. I stay fit.

Dad was well off. He practiced law, which had become pretty much the same as running a computer, though it still took some knack. Dad was pretty much happy all the time, and so of course I wondered why he’d killed himself. He acted happy anyhow.

I know how he killed himself. Nowadays, everyone always knows how everybody dies. There are only so many ways to go, and Dad took one of the most obvious routes. He went swimming. Dad had always loved to swim. He told me about the ‘good old days’ growing up on the Lake, when there were still fish in it. When you could see right down to the bottom at over 25 feet, he said. 

Swimming now is a pretty quick death sentence. You don’t exactly drown. It’s just that the hypertoxins work their way in through your skin, and the faster you swim, the more they work their way in, and then you can’t swim back. Simple as that.

But I thought – no, really I knew, that there would be a clue of some sort in his iCar. First I had to talk my brother out of Dad’s iPhone for a day. We’d gotten the end-of-life codes when the will-vault was opened, and I found myself well-off for the first time in my life. But mostly I wanted access to Dad’s life records, and I wanted to see what it felt like to go for a ride in his car. Because that’s what Dad had done right before he killed himself.

Dad’s iCar was hardly brand new, but it was very comfortable. The inside was very very real fake leather. Lab grown, manufactured, same thing. There were no controls visible already.  Everything was voice controlled, and the soundproofing was excellent. The windows would show you the outside if you wanted to see it, which hardly anybody ever did, mostly because it was all the same. Just moving.

There were plenty of entertainment choices while underway. You could immerse yourself in a film where the scenery was synchronized with the car's motion using the same approximate technology which cancels noise - although the ground ahead is a lot more difficult to read than noise is - and ran the active shock-absorbers, and so you would ride along inside the movie. Smoothly, unless it was supposed to be bumpy. Which is kind of funny, because you were the one moving now, and the movie held still to infinity, as it were, if you know what I mean. Seasickness had been an issue in the early days.

The narrative structure adjusted itself according to how you were moving. You could tune that, in case you wanted the car's motion to adjust, and not optimize for speed of arrival. Everything adjusted automagically however you wanted it to; meaning you did a dance with the other cars. It could look weird from the sidelines.

The main narrative kept to its script, so to speak, but subtle changes made it more personal, and therefore more exciting in a way. Most of the movies now make sure that you feel as though you are the actual protagonist. You sit still while moving and the movie moves your narrative along. Talk about projection!

Projection happened naturally enough, since there wasn’t very much that you could do IRL that put you in the protagonist’s seat. Real life was buttoned down and safe, so in your car you could imagine you were actually in control of something, even though it was mostly scripted in advance.

Most movies were actually produced for iCars now, because there was nothing better than full first-person immersion to get your blood going. You didn’t actually have to travel, and really nobody had much reason to travel except to visit friends, maybe at a restaurant. Or maybe you’d share a multi-player movie where you’d try to wrest the plot from your friends. 

If you were well off, you pretty much could live in your car in its pod in your house. If you weren’t so well off, you’d either hail a car or maybe hail a bus if you were really poor. Most likely with your iPhone which was always on your body if you wanted to live. The entertainment wasn’t really so good on the bus, unless you count the people as entertaining. Most of them would be wearing goggles, though. Goggles were cheap.

None of that was the life for me. 

I knew that Dad had equipped his car with a state-of-the-art sailing package. That was what he’d loved to do when he was young. He would sail on the Lake. He would tell me over and over when I was little about how many times he should have died on that Lake. 

The one I remember the best was when he was out in the middle of the night and drinking beer with his best friend. The lights were all off because he almost never had enough battery left to start the engine back up when he got becalmed. He had a hand crank, but you still needed some battery for ignition. No magneto. He says he looked up one night late, at the bow of a Lake freighter bearing down on his little wooden sailboat. Talk about scary! He would have been invisible to radar, he said. Especially in the steep chop, as he called it, on that shallow lake.

Luckily there was wind. The beer bottles went overboard as he pulled the tiller hard in to just barely fly off the ship’s port bow, helped along by its bow wave. They laughed. He laughed every time he told the story. It knew it was probably exaggerated. Everything always is, when it gets turned into a story.

Of course, Dad would have preferred to drive his car, but that was perfectly illegal anymore. Sailing wasn’t illegal. There was just no place to do it, and so there weren’t any small boats. No canoes. No kayaks. Any body of water had become a repository for the hypertoxin. And that wasn’t going away for another hundred years or more. If ever.

My own life wasn’t so great. None of my old friends could understand why I wanted to live the way that I do. I don’t have any new friends. I really had no way to explain it to them. Creature comfort just didn’t matter to me. What mattered – what still matters – is that I remain alive, which means that I have some connection to a life that’s bigger than I am. There’s just simply nothing interesting about life in civilization anymore. It's dead.

Fact is I don’t really actually like to live the way I live. It’s just the only choice I have. It’s not really that I don’t know how to promote myself. I refuse to promote myself, and still I’m well-off, pretty much because of white privilege. Not much I can do about that. Dad died, and I could really use the money. The caribou are dying off, and so I have to start eating lab food like everyone else. Short trips to civilization are all that I can take, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do.

Anyhow, I knew that Dad had installed a sailing package in his car. I knew that he would sometimes get drunk and pretend that he was sailing. I tried it once about ten years ago, and it was pretty cool. It really did feel like sailing. The motions were right, and the wave action was right. The car was standing still in live-action mode. The ground-anticipating shocks had become motive shocks; same difference. The sails responded perfectly to the wind, which might be turned up and gusty. You would have to hike out from the edge of your seat when sailing on your ear, for instance. You had to haul on actual ropes, and it was pretty good exercise, really, even though the lines weren’t always in perfect alignment with the image. Push-button electric winch sailing never really caught on with the small, elite audience for the iSail iBoat.

You know one thing people didn’t really think about when they first started moving reality onto a screen is that you can’t really perceive something if you don’t conceive it first. I know that seems basic, but it’s really quite profound. At the one extreme there are all those subatomic, so-called particles. At the other, there is the virtual experience of something you’ve never done IRL. In a way, it’s like if you’ve never had sex with an actual woman, you can’t feel sex with a fake one. Scratch an itch. Those changes happened slowly over time, but they’ve had a real impact on our population. You can’t just go from horse to horseless carriage overnight. You have to learn to see it.

In the car now there was no wind. No real discomfort. Not that there couldn’t have been, but really most people didn’t want to experience the actual pain of it when they went climbing up Mt. Everest, say. It would have meant legal trouble anyhow, as Dad would know. You can’t design something that inflicts real pain, even if the pain is administered by the user themself. Not legally, anyhow. 

And the law was as hard to skirt as it was to fake your death if you wanted, say, to start a new life. Which plenty of people did. But it never changed anything. Ever. We’re all kind of doomed, in a way, to be the person we are, if you know what I mean.

I’d say that’s a good thing. I mean, if you could change your life, then you could kill yourself over and over and I know that I’m already immortal anyhow. There isn’t going to be another one of me, which is a kind of immortality, even though I’ll be long forgotten. Given that I am an instance of the most complex being in the known cosmos, I’ll take it. That’s plenty of influence for me, promoted or no.

I’d already wrecked my relations with my Dad, so his suicide wasn’t exactly killing me, if you know what I mean. I mean I didn’t feel any different than I had before he died. There hadn’t been anything for me to miss for a very long time. Dad had told all his stories. There weren’t any new ones. We'd long since become cranky with one another.

Now there is still some controversy about this. It’s pretty much an invasion of privacy, but if the will left behind says it’s OK, you can play out, as I was about to do, say your Dad’s life after he’s gone. You can relive what he lived and watch what he watched. You can sail in the same conditions that he did and it will pretty much feel the same as it felt to him. 

I suspect suicide will soon exclude any such provisions in a will. It should, right? I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but truth be told Dad was working on precisely that body of law to prevent a life-grant that survives a suicide. He thought it was creepy and sick, but he wasn’t expecting to commit suicide, so he didn’t include the language in his own will. So Dad’s iPhone combined with his iCar pretty much gave me a way to inhabit Dad if I wanted to. And I did just simply because I felt like I had to know. Who knows why?

Well, he is my dad and I had loved him once. Shouldn’t that be enough?

So I went sailing. Yikes! Dad had been ramping up the amperage until he was sailing in a gale-force wind. What a wild ride! Exhilarating really and more exercise than I’ve ever gotten virtually. You could talk like you were talking with God and so you could tell the wind to blow harder and it did. You could say that you wanted more power than your sails could handle and they would tear out, and then you’d have to deal with bringing them in by hand, although most people tilted before that could happen. I was pretty strong, though. Even Dad didn’t have enough spare change to get the kind of equipment to take you that far over the edge. 

Who really needed it anyhow? There are limits to what it’s worth accomplishing virtually. The machine never quite dances as a real partner would. You get off it gets boring, well, except, like eating, it’s a renewable pleasure, right? No real sailor would ever stop sailing because they’ve already been there done that too many times. With your wife maybe, but not with the sea. When there was a sea you could actually sail on. Back in the day.

What were you doing, Dad, right before you offed yourself? I wanted to see. I wanted to experience it. And then it happened. I suddenly wanted to kill myself in the worst way, and so I shut it down. I knew what was happening, and unlike Dad, I hadn’t ever experienced the real thing, which is what saved me. 

You get to this point where you just say ‘bring it on, old man, fucking bring it on.’ You get to some combination of pissed off and exhilarated and as much as you want it to end it won’t end and you know it could get a lot worse, so you just say, out loud or to yourself or to the very cosmos, ‘just bring it on!’

I knew that Dad just wanted it to be real, and that it was real, but that here was no real danger and therefore no real excitement. Nobody goes out sailing wanting to die. You check your equipment, you keep things in good repair because you never know when the weather will turn on you when you’re too far out to make it back in before all hell breaks loose. 

And when hell does break lose, according to my Dad, then you’re too busy taking care of business to be scared. You’re just in the weather, or dealing with the snapped bowsprit or hauling in the torn sail, or taking apart the engine, trying to get it started. If you live to tell it, those are the things you live for.

It’s not like you really want to kill yourself. I guess it’s like jumping off Everest. You just want to know what it feels like. You can’t know what it feels like to jump off Everest, since that’s against the law for obvious reasons. Not the jumping. You can do that all over the place. But the feeling, since the feeling only comes with the actual fear of death as the ground approaches. That would be like making a snuff film. Really gross. Not cool.

But with sailing you can get actually closer. You can get to where you really do feel scared. The trouble is that it just reminds you that you aren’t really going to die, and there’s nothing you really have to do to stop from dying. I guess Dad just stopped wanting to live if he couldn’t do that. Plus, I imagine he was sick and tired of swimming in swimming pools. Virtually, I mean, since it would be unconscionable to waste that much good water on swimming in a full pool. There was water and it felt like swimming, but you’d never do it if you didn’t have ocean-reality goggles on. I mean who wants to exercise for the sake of exercise. You can get a hard body over correspondence if that’s what you’re after.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should be glad you don’t live when I’m living. Things will be better for you by the time you read this. How do I know? Well, here in the real-world things have gotten really hairy. We’re not going to make it is what I’m saying. So, if you’re reading this you can’t possibly be living the way that we all are now. 

OK, signing off. I don’t really need to see how things end. I’m going sailing off to eternity. So long. I’ll drop a line into the cloud along my way in case somebody gets it.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Review: One in a Billion: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey Through Modern-Day China

One in a Billion: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey Through Modern-Day ChinaOne in a Billion: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey Through Modern-Day China by Nancy Pine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes I might say that I know something about China. Most of the time not. I started by studying the classical language and was (therefore) really peeved when the simplified characters now used on the mainland complicated my life. I've travelled there, and have even gotten somewhat deeply into the life, though mostly on a formal level. That level is harder to get beyond in China, I think.

Plus, I'm a reticent person generally, and not so eager to appropriate Chinese culture into myself. My interest was, rather, always cosmological; as in, their approach is different. I have been very satisfied by what I've learned over the years, though I have energy only for surfaces when it comes to a more in-depth study. I have a hard enough time to keep up with my reading in English. So much of our life here has stopped making sense to me.

I met Nancy Pine when I attended a presentation she did about her comparative research with early education in China and in the U.S. That presentation, as I recall, led to my collaboration with the team Nancy led for the Museum of Teaching and Learning, based in Fullerton, CA. I was working for the University there, arranging the curricula for academics from China who wanted to understand education in America; who wanted to get ahead.

I am not nearly so hard a worker as Nancy is, and despite my on and off again study of comparative education at the graduate level, I don't hold a candle compared to the light that Nancy is able to shine.

We met again in China where we delved more deeply into the pros and cons of language learning. As it does for children growing up, learning to read and write also destroys other routes toward understanding the world. Nancy maintains that she can see things that would go unnoticed were she struggling to keep up with the words. She proves herself correct in that observation!

And so how wonderfully ironic, that she connects with a man - an unassuming man with large ambitions that he can't seem to help - who felt compelled to master English. He started from the remote farm-town backwaters of China to which Chairman Mao and his colleagues retreated and regrouped before re-inventing China. No, before renewing China. Invention is a Western thing.

I have read quite a few scholarly works on modern China by now, and yet nowhere did I find a more clear understanding than by reading this book. That is even after many long conversations with the author herself. This is a book, then, which validates the work that goes into such a massive project. There is more to be gained by reading it than can be gotten in almost any other way. I doubt that you (or I!) could ever be taken in so deeply by life as it is actually lived. By schooling as it actually works.

Quite frankly, I think that this work should replace many of the analytical texts used in schools and colleges. It shows clearly how easily moves toward democracy are thwarted, but also how much one determined individual can do to make a change. But mainly it grants the reader a true and reliable sense of how life is lived in China. Even if there is more depth elsewhere - which I rather doubt - there is no better clarity.

An Wei is a man with far more integrity than he ever had ambition. He hardly tortures himself the way that the rest of us might, when he has to choose between staying back in his primitive home-town, and scaling the heights that he had glimpsed as translator for so many American stars. Staying back means primitive life, yet he gets to be the one to introduce computers, cell-towers, democracy even - to erase, however briefly, the ordinary people's frustrations which come from being far away from any center and forgotten.

Honestly, I wept through some of it. Not for the tragedy, really, so much as for the frustration and scant consolation and still more for the man's forbearance and determination. There is cosmology here for me. Humanity in place is cosmic; connected to eternity.

If you are at all interested to know China beyond headlines and angry certainties; if you are interested to know how life goes on, and renewal stutters along; if you are simply in need of a really graceful read, then I would highly recommend this book.

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