:-)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Letter Two to my Future Self

Hello again,

I was just looking for something and ended up stumbling upon something I wrote about the etymology of "Hocus Pocus." If that link doesn't work, check webarchive.org.  I see that it has been saved twice since 2003 when I wrote it.  Just today, a new acquaintance read the previous letter and expressed her feeling that everyone should read it, so I am encouraged.  Thanks, Natalia!  What's amazing to me is that there seem to be parallels between my first letter and that write up about hocus pocus from 2003.

I sit here to ponder for a moment how I might express the parallels and I haven't found anything yet.  Okay, here's one: I treat each claim I make and its opposing claim with equal respect.  I did it in 2003 and I did it nine days ago.  It is my habit.  Okay, maybe not each claim, but at least the ones I think might be important.  I find great value in being precise and accurate.  There are often small benefits to it that we don't see until later, small benefits to treating opposing claims with the same amount of  respect, and also small benefits to being precise and accurate.  Precision and accuracy are different things.  I'll leave it to you to find the differences.

If you don't mind doing homework to get to know me better (or to more quickly regain the ground we lost if this brain already got re-integrated into the rest of the universe), you can visit my page on everything2.com and read through other entries I wrote.  Speaking of which, one of the impactful events in my life was "Nine Eleven."  I compiled a book about it, using the writings of others: Everything2 Remembers September 11, 2001.  In any case, I was inspired to write this letter when I rediscovered the everything2 website.  Here is the list of everything I wrote on that site.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Dear Future Me, Letter One

The sooner you start reading this, the better.  There are a lot of things to learn and it will take a long time to learn enough of them.  In this letter, I just want to give you some pointers.  Remember yesterday when you made some kind of decision about how you do something?  Maybe you have to go back before yesterday, or maybe you really did make that kind of decision yesterday, but you don't see it that way yet.  In any case, your brain stored it.  You'll wake up every day of your life until and unless you reconsider that decision and change it, and your brain will bring it up each time you need to do that thing.  That's how we all work, and I have been working that way since I was born.  I'm writing you this letter because that brain that stored all those decisions is going to wear out and stop working properly, and this body it uses to do my bidding won't do it any more.

People will tell you things and sometimes you'll believe them even if they aren't true.  We like to build up our sense of self as a person who "knows" particular things, but we don't actually know them.  You "know" your name, but if you choose to ignore people who use it and answer to a different name, then you'll really be changing your name, even if there's no legal name change.  It's not really knowledge, but your decision. You "know" that two and two make four, but again, you decided to use a definition of "two" and "four" that make it so. You "know" that if you drop an egg from six feet above the cement, it will break open when it hits the cement, but someone could catch it and drop it again from a half a centimeter, and then maybe it won't break.  In any case, what you know or think you know isn't what you are.

A guy named Jack Kornfield said "Wisdom says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. Between these two, our life flows."  In my experience, he's right, and so you can choose to be nothing or everything, honoring either the claim that love makes or the claim that wisdom makes.  Over time, you can honor them both.  This will help you have humility, avoid being egotistical or selfish in the way that degrades your experience of life, and it will teach you.

Think about the things you "know" as either definitions or working assumptions.  Be spry and adaptive.  Sometimes people will use words in a way different from how you use them.  Be curious and kind as you explore what they mean, and gently invite them to appreciate how you would interpret what they say given your way of using those words.  This opens up great conversations about language and understanding.  When you talk to someone who uses a particular word differently from how you use it, try to stick with their meaning, and use different words when you want to use it in your normal way.  This will help to avoid confusion and arguing.  The beautiful thing about a working assumption is that when you get the right kind of evidence, it's easy and natural to update the assumption.  If you pretend that your working assumption is something you "know," then you will resist some kinds of evidence that show imperfections in your "knowledge."  This is called "cognitive dissonance."

What you are is nothing and everything.  If you want to keep learning, remember that whatever you feel like you know can become ever more accurate if you leave it open to adjustment by calling it a working assumption.  Your skill at living will get better faster when you do these things, and I have one last request.

If you can put these two ideas into your own words and tell them to other people, and then ask them to do the same, we will have created an oral tradition.  It will be largely immune to the degrading influence of political authority and also to the petrification that happens over time.  These two forces, I think, have a strong negative effect on the experience of life.  At some point, I hope it will make sense that you and I are one, that we thought up this letter long before either of us was born, and that the wisdom of it wended its way through time, into my mind, out my fingertips, and now is something you can extend to our future selves.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Master Swindlers

This is a true story.  The names and natures of the characters have been changed to protect the innocent.

They set up a printing press in the back of a bank.  They each hired an artist to craft a boilerplate that contains a mark nearly impossible to duplicate.  They print IOUs for the bank to give its loan customers in order to charge those customers interest on the IOUs.  They found some mercenaries willing to accept the IOUs as payment.  The mercenaries threaten anyone that refuses to accept these IOUs as payment of a debt.  The master swindlers are named Sam and Earl.

The essence of this swindle is the ability to print the IOUs and then go buy stuff with them.  The bank and the mercenaries are only required because if people cottoned on to the scheme, they would be angry and demand retribution.  Sam and Earl have to be careful because if they print too many IOUs, their swindle will become obvious.  This has happened to several other swindlers, including fellows named Geronimo in 1922, Argus in 1989, and Ukiah in 1993.  Their swindles hinge on an ever more precariously balanced knife-edge called perception.  Sam has proven to be the best at this balancing act.

Sam and Earl have been doing this for several years, parleying their success into larger and larger amounts of control.  Banks that were able to resist the mercenaries have all but vanished.  People who used actual commodities or paper representations of actual commodities to pay down their debts to each other have also all but vanished.  The world has become Sam and Earl's oyster.

However, they have bumped heads recently becaue of olives.  The people that borrow and save their money using banks that Sam's mercenaries control and the people that borrow and save their money using banks that Earl's mercenaries control all like olives.  Olives are delicious, nutritious, and provide useful byproducts.  Everybody loves olives.  So owning an olive tree is a great thing, and lots of people own one or more.

There are people that use olives as money, but the olives are slippery and the weight of the olives you have to pay for a car makes olive-trading very cumbersome.  There are some, but not many.  Most people who own olive trees collect IOUs for their olives.  Some collect Sam's IOUs and some collect Earl's IOUs.  This is a problem for Sam because before Earl showed up, Sam's IOUs were the shit.  Everybody wanted them.  Everybody needed them.  They were in demand, and so Sam was able to run his presses and buy lots of stuff for himself and his friends without worrying too much about getting caught.

But as more and more people decided to trade their olives in for Earl's IOUs - namely Ira and his brother Ira - the demand for Sam's IOUs went down.  When Sam's IOUs go down in value, he has to print more of them to maintain his lifestyle.  It's starting to prove more and more of a problem for Sam to balance on the ever sharpening knife-edge of perception.  So, a couple years ago (2003), Sam decided to pay a visit to Ira.

"I don't want you collecting Earl's IOUs for your olives any more, Ira" said Sam.

"But your IOUs are not worth very much any more, my friend.  Earl's IOUs are very important to all the people that live near me."

"Well, Ira, then I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to tell my people that you have some terrible three-letter acronym that requires me to take over your orchard."

"Sam, you can't do that!"

But Sam did it anyway, and the mercenaries came, and the mercenaries dug up the irrigation systems and the olives began falling off the trees and decaying in the sand.  Then Sam's mercenaries installed a new irrigation system and took the olive collecting equipment from Ira's employees and told them how to use it (though they already knew) and when to use it (though they already knew) and where to use it (though they already knew).  And Sam's mercenaries told them to trade the olives for Sam's IOUs and not Earl's.  And they did this.

Ira is a mess.  He gets some sun, and it shines, but it does not warm him.  He takes baths, but they do not clean him.  He eats curds, but they do not fill him.  He is wasting away and the world blames Sam.  Sam admits that there was no terrible three-letter acronym, but claims that something was wrong with Ira's olives, and now it has been fixed.  The people are suspicious of Sam's claims, but he prints IOUs for them and they believe their prosperity is a result of his wonderful printing press and his amazing artist and his heroic mercenaries, so they bury their suspicions in holly and encase the holly in wood and laugh and sing about it all.

But Ira has a brother, and they have cousins, and friends, and these people own olive trees, and Sam is yelling that there's something wrong, something fishy, some short fuse, some nucleus of error that has spread to the other Ira's olives and threatens to spread to olive trees everywhere.  And Sam is right.  The olive trees are infected.  But Sam's game is coming to an end, because the only two people that had ever died from bad olives were Hiro and Nagasa, and the olives they ate came from Sam himself.

Swindlers - the best swindlers - do whatever it takes to keep their game going.  Earl and Sam are beginning to work together these days, because their squabble over whose IOUs are used to trade olives pales in comparison to the problem they'll have when people understand their scheme.  But Sam still pursues the Ira who still sells olives, and what happens between those two, we will have to wade into the murky future to find out.  But let us remember Sam and Earl, and do what we can to steer clear of them.  If we get mixed up with swindlers, we're asking for trouble.  Oh yes, Sam and Earl are in for trouble when this story gets out.

Be The Master

I used to use this phrase a lot and I'm going to start using it more.  It makes me realize that I was raised to be the master.  No, not a slave master, but a master of myself.  I was trusted to handle my problems and left alone to figure stuff out.  Thanks, mom and dad!  Because it is so natural to me to control myself, it took me this long to figure out that many people are raised to be slaves.  Not only slaves to others (government, society), but even to their own emotions.  This training has all kinds of horrible effects, but it can be easily defeated with this little suggestion.

When you're angry, be the master.  Decide whether expressing the anger will do more harm or more good.  Sometimes we're angry for silly reasons, and hiding this anger would be best, unless we want to display it as a humble admission that we're silly.  Sometimes we're angry for very good reasons, and in that case, letting it out with righteousness is the way to go.  The trick is to open that little space of time between feeling it and expressing it during which you can decide - more of a guess, I suppose - which way to go.  Even if you guess wrong, and things go bad because of your poor guess, you've still taken back your self-control.  If it happens again, you'll remember and try something else.  What you won't do is remain a slave to the emotion.

When you feel lazy or tired or you just don't want to do something, you lack motivation, and if you remain a slave to that, and it persists, you'll be "clinically depressed".  Who wants that?  Get in the habit of being the master of it.  Just decide whether or not you care about the things you feel like you should do.  If you care, then to hell with the fatigue and the laziness and the pain (if there is any); just go do it.  Stick a poker into the eye of those forces in the universe that are trying to stop you.

Ghandi suggests that we be the change we want to see in the world.  I think this starts with being the change you want to see in yourself.  All you need to do is recognize the enslavement that persists when you don't kick its ass.  So go ahead and start kicking: you be the master.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Four in Thrall

Out of the corner of her eye, Kim saw the purse fall onto the floor and disgorge some of it's contents.  The pretty young woman whose lap it was on didn't wake up.  Kim looked at the old man with the medical id bracelet.  His attention was on the sleeping girl too, but that was nothing new.  Kim had noticed him eyeing her before the purse fell.

She was on a graduation celebration weekend with her husband and was waiting for him to return from the car with the their bags.  Kim had just graduated nursing school.  The hotel lobby seemed small for a hotel, but there was an ocean on the other side, and the room rates reflected a degree of elegance that must have been saved for the rooms.  The husband and wife had read good reviews of this hotel while planning their celebration trip.

"Where did you purchase your id bracelet?" she asked the old man.  She had become uncomfortable with his interest in the sleeping woman and part of her wanted desperately to distract him.

He smiled and fingered his wrist and the metal clinging to it.  "This thing?  Oh I..."

She figured his memory was a bit foggy from the way his voice trailed off in thought.  Her last clinical rounds had been in the senior ward, and all old people were now suspect.

"It was a gift from my lovely wife."  He smiled again, but turned his attention back to the fallen purse.  After a furtive glance in Kim's direction, he called to the sleeping woman.  "Miss?"  He reached through the space above the purse and touched her shoulder, but still there was no response.  He pushed a little harder.  "Miss!"

Kim saw that his face was turning red and felt embarrassed for him.  She knelt next to the purse and gathered up the lipstick, envelope, big fat wallet, loose change, and car keys that had spilled out, put them back inside, and leaned the purse against the leg of the chair.

She sat back in her seat and stared at the womans chest.  It was not rising and falling.

"Oh my God!  I think that woman might be..."  Kim quickly returned and touched the woman's neck, gently at first, and then pushing enough to find a carotid pulse.  She looked at the uniformed hotel clerk behind the front desk and said "Call 911!".  He was pale as a ghost, so she took out her cell phone and dialled it herself.

"Is she warm?" asked the old man,

"She has no pulse," she said while she dialled.

"Oh my Lord!" said the clerk.

The old man stood up quickly, thinking there might be something he should do.  He looked around furtively and noticed a police officer outside.  His fist rapped the window glass, catching the officer's attention.  He pointed to the pretty lady.

Officer Cash entered the hotel lobby at 15:30.  He suspected a problem inside due to the behavior of a senior citizen.  His weapon was unholstered and his radio was at hand in case he needed to call for backup.

"What seems to be the trouble?"

Another lady sitting across from the one the senior had indicated said "She has no pulse," also pointing.  No backup necessary, but this did call for some radio work.  He lifted the lightweight device to his ear, pressed the button, and reported, "Possible 10-54 at 3531 Beachfront."

"Dave, 10-54 means possible, so you only have to say '10-54'," came back a sweet female voice.  "I'll send an ambulance over."

"I called 911 and they're already sending one," said the lady who had pointed and reported the 10-54.
"Dave?  An emergency dispatcher has already sent an ambulance to that location," came the sweet voice over the radio again.

"Oh Lord."  The hotel clerk was white and his voice was weak, but everyone suddenly looked at him.  He disappeared from behind the front desk.

"Hey!" beckoned Officer Cash, "Do you know anything about this woman?!"  But the clerk did not respond.
"This situation here is secure," he assured himself.  "I'm going to find that clerk."

The officer scanned the front desk to see if there was a way to get back there.  He leaned over the partition and looked from one side to the other, but couldn't see a way in, or even how the clerk could have gotten out.  The entrance and exit to the clerk's station were very well hidden.  He started walking slowly away from the front desk, scanning the walls for other possible escape routes or some way to locate the elusive clerk.

Just as he turned a corner, the lady called out, "The clerk is back."

"I'm sorry officer, I... I had a sudden panic attack."

"Do you know anything about this woman?"

The clerk's voice was so weak that no one could hear him.

"It's ok.  Just tell me what you know."

"I gave her an envelope.  Maybe it..." but his voice had become too squeaky and slight for him to continue.

"Ok, sir.  Take a deep breath, and tell me about the envelope."

"I t-touched it," he stammered out.

"You think the envelope may have killed her?"

By this time, Kim had the young lady on the floor and was performing CPR on her.  As she did compressions, she said "I touched that envelope too, and I feel fine."

The old man was enthralled by the scene.

"It- it it... it smelled funny." said the clerk.

"Where is the envelope now?" asked the officer.  Kim pointed to the purse while the clerk said "Ogod ogod ogod."

He was back on the radio and soon a HazMat team and an FBI squad arrived (before the ambulance) and removed Kim from the body.  The hotel was evacuated.  All the people were directed into a large tent erected in the street where they stood in lines to be "washed down" by some HazMat agents.  While the last of the hotel patrons were exiting the fire escape doors, the ambulance arrived and one of the paramedics sweet-talked his way to the dead body where he drained a small amount of blood, shook the vial it flowed into, and then held it up.

"She died from sleeping pills.  It's common at this hotel."  He then looked in the purse, and turned to the nearest gloved agent, holding it open.  "I suppose that's evidence, eh?"  The agent reached in and produced an empty prescription bottle from the purse.

The HazMat and FBI scientists who were examining the envelope held up the note that it had contained.  One of them mentioned that it smelled like pipe tobacco and lilacs.  He turned around and read it out loud: "I'm sorry, my love.  I won't forget you."

Sunday, January 3, 2021

A Personal History of Intention

I don't remember it, but a little while after I emerged from my mother, I wanted to swallow.  I was hungry.  I probably cried.  As if by magic, this huge warm boob showed up and I found myself getting the nipple in my mouth and sucking milk out. Of course, this is all rather mundane to everyone who can read.  We all know about nursing.  The magic is kind of lost on us though.

The fact is that we don't have any way to build intention into structure.  We can make a machine which, when activated, does something useful.  We can arrange paper and kindling so that when exposed to some heat, it will start a fire.  We can set dominoes up so that when the first one falls into the second, it knocks them all down, one by one, and it's fun to watch.  None of these things express intention other than our own actions.  Our own actions in setting these things up reflect intention but then we step back and there's no physical representation of it.  Intention is magic.

This is a bit of a review of a book I haven't yet finished reading, Becoming Supernatural, by Dr. Joe Dispenza.  He explains that intention has real effects on the physical world, and encourages his readers to use this fact to create joy.  One section describes drawing a letter to represent something you want to happen and then listing details about that potential event, and then listing your positive emotions that will result from that event occurring.  His description is a set of instructions.  He warns the reader not to put a time limit or deadline on the intention.

My first experience following his instructions was based on gaining clarity.  I immediately felt that I gained clarity.  It took me a full day to decide that gaining clarity would be my goal, about 15 minutes to write my lists, and five more minutes to realize that I met my goal.  Twelve hours later, I decided on another intention, and I'm writing this post to describe it.  This morning, I had a conversation with one of my best friends.  He helped me realize that the kind of intention well-suited for use with Dr. Dispenza's instructions is something specific and seemingly not under your control.  For example...

I intend that a great number of people get the feeling around the same time that they feel more fear than they should.  "I'm more afraid than I should be."  I believe that most people are more afraid than they should be, and they don't realize it.  The recent popularization of a virus has caused a great number of people to realize it, but not enough for me.  There are a lot more elements to my intention than the widespread internal thought "I'm more afraid than I should be."

"Why am I so afraid?"  I intend that people will recognize that the feeling (that their fear is inappropriately strong relative to the danger) can only exist because that danger really is weaker than it appears.  This realization will lead them to explore the sources of information about that danger, and apply their critical thinking skills to those sources.  I intend that it will dawn on them (or remind them) that it's much easier to control people when they are filled with fear.  This will lead them to question "Who is saying it's so dangerous?  Do I want them to have this much control over me?"

A great number of people will be asking themselves these questions, and some of them work for large media corporations. They will become more and more sensitive to the fact that their employer is being used to propagandize the public.  Some of them will see doors open to opportunities to provide the public with more objective news, since that is what interested many of them in the first place.  The CEOs of large media corporations will face the choice of continuing to accept contracts to spread propaganda, or telling the truth.  Which path will make more money?  They have to figure that out to stay within the bounds of the law, which requires them to maximize shareholder value.  Some of their (ex-)employees who went through those doors will choose to serve better news to the public. There will be competition.

This is already happening, but I think COVID19 has not (yet) put "I'm more afraid than I should be" into the minds of enough people in a small enough span of time.  I intend to do that myself, but I'd like to have an obvious sign that my intention has been realized.  I haven't yet chosen the metric which will tell me my intention has been realized.  For all I know, it has already been realized and the obviousness of it just isn't yet apparent to me.  I've got it: Someone will say to me, "I realized I shouldn't be so afraid," or something like that.  It just can't be any of you, but I'm sure you can help to make it happen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

My Aversion to Voting

I've got a framework for attenuating the divisiveness of politics.  There's me, and there's everyone else.  My actions and their actions have effects, both on me and on them.

The effect of my political action on myself is an abdication of my own conscience.  I can put less effort into my decisions because they will only be put into effect if enough others agree.  By the same metric, my own efforts are relatively meaningless.  That's a bad thing.

My political actions also have an effect on others.  I'm basically saying. when I choose one of the options of a particular item on the ballot, EVERYONE else must be forced to abide by that decision (if I happen to be on the winning side).  It would be much better if some people were immune to the decision, in case it's a stupid decision for them.

Third, everyone is doing this to me too, which means I'm going to be subject to punishment for doing some of the things my conscience tells me are the right thing to do.  I'm expected to obey the law instead of my conscience, whenever they are in conflict.  The fact that they do it to me and I do it to them doesn't justify it.  I am willing to be the bigger person and tolerate the imposition because I think I'm setting a good example: Stop coercing people.

Lastly, everyone else is also experiencing these three things because of everyone else.  One of the largest and ugliest, but also quite subtle effects (despite its depth and intensity) is that too many people abdicate their responsibility to develop and obey their own conscience.  That's a problem even if it's just one person doing it.  The widespread encouragement to engage in this voting behavior is, to me, a great tragedy.  I encourage people to be more aware of these issues and consider explaining them to others so that someday, we might rely on others to obey not the law, but their own consciences.