Archive for December, 2008

Searching for an Honest Man

I’ve been thinking about Diogenes wandering around with a lamp in the daylight searching for an honest man.

I don’t even really know what one would look like if I found one. My life is far too full of little political decisions — niceties or formalities or simple laziness — to really know what an honest life would look like.

Jenni and I spent the morning delivering for Moveable Feast to Baltimore-area AIDS patients. When we are delivering we can only say we are with a “food service” because many of these patients keep their disease a secret from their employers, neighbors and even friends and family for fear of losing their apartments or jobs.

I’ll admit that as people signed their orders that I wondered whether or not there was somehow AIDS on my pen that could make its way into my body. AIDS is scary. These people have a good reason for the lies that they tell. I don’t.

My resolution for 2009 is to figure out what it means to be an honest man. I’ve got a marriage and a career developing, it seems like a good time to figure out exactly what truth looks like in my life.

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The Rage

Do we have any hip-hop artists with lyrics like these?

Parce qu’on a la rage, on restera debout quoi qu’il arrive,
Because of the rage we will standing facing whatever comes,
La rage d’aller jusqu’au bout au delà où veut bien nous mener la vie,
The rage goes to where it wants to bring us life,
Parce qu’on a la rage, on pourra plus s’taire ni s’asseoir dorénavant.
Because we have the rage, we won’t hide or sit anymore.
On s’tiendra prêt parce qu’on a la rage, le coeur et la foi!
We will stay ready because we have the rage, the heart and the madness!
Parce qu’on a la rage, rien ne pourra plus nous arrêter — insoumis, sage, marginal, humaniste ou révolté!
Because we have the rage nothing can stop us any more — unsubmissive, wise, humanistic revolutionaries!

Ok, the French language is not one of my strong points. Watch the video though. This is the hip hop I like, all about challenging injustice with a beat you can shake your ass to:

The closest I can come up with is Dead Prez, but they aren’t concerned with humanity as a whole, but with racism in America:

Though I do think there’s definitely a move in this direction. I really liked the idea of DJ NFX’s Change the Game: Hope for a Better Hip Hop that came out leading up to the election.

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‘Puters Is Complimicated

Did you know that computers are actually very complex pieces of machinery? We have built remarkably complex systems for symbolic manipulation, and using these we create ever more interesting pieces of software.

Laypeople frequently assume that because coding is the manipulation of a mechanical process it must be itself a mechanical process. I suppose in some ways it is, much as the sentences you are reading now are governed by mechanical laws.

Matters, order does. Verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs are permitted orders with flexibility. Convoluted structures makes finding errors all the more difficult. Not all that is grammatical is pleasing to the eye.

So, sure, coding is mechanical just like any form of expression. The problem is at least half of programmers do not understand that they are doing something requiring nuance. They see programming as a way to get a computer to do what they want. If it works then that’s all that matters, right?

They don’t consider the time that they spend hunting for errors in the mess they’re created or how difficult it will be to fix what they’re created in the future. They don’t think about the people that have to come along after them and maintain their work.

Every programming class I have ever seen has only focused entirely on a program taking an input and generating an output. So long as it works, it passes. If I ever am in a position to teach a programming class, I’m going to do my best to train my students how to get the job done well.

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Eat Me

I was talking to one of my roommates last night about the Fulbright Scholarship he’s working on. His dream is to head to the Netherlands and work on cultivating meat.

You’re likely heard that a beef requires seven times its weight in grain to produce, and so we are by proxy consuming the world’s food as we as a culture eat tens of thousands of pounds of meat.

That argument has some problems, mainly that much land useful for grazing is not good for growing food. So you’re not really reducing the amount of food.

Dan’s interest isn’t the food angle , but the environmental effects. Commercial meat production is not only bad for animals, it’s bad for the planet as well.

An interesting offshoot of reliable tissue culturing is you can get tissue from anything. Bat paté? Panda-schnitzel? I made Dan promise that if he manages to develop his process that we’re gonna have a summer evening BBQ where we taste test to decide whether he or I serves as the basis for the more delicious human burger.

I’m betting Will burgers are going to have a nice hearty flavor, but not too heavy. Yum.

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Feminism = Anarchy?

My funtime reading book for the last few days has been Carol Gilligan‘s In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Gilligan is writing to address a bias toward masculinity in developmental psychology.

I heard of her work through my interest in Perry and Kohlberg, who both did extensive long-term studies tracking people over a number of years and analyzing patterns in how they changed. Neither of them, however, tracked any women.

Her thesis is relatively straightforward: the way that male gender identity is formed is primed toward separation and individuation. The ideal of manhood is critically centered around the capacity to remain strong and stand apart. Female gender identity is much more idealized in terms of relationships and community. Regardless of the origin of these biases in genetics and socialization, developmental models derived solely with men as a reference point are incomplete.

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The Existence of the Soul

I’ve been contemplating whether or not I exist for the last couple days. It’s a strange question to attempt to answer. It seems like it has meaningful practical consequences for how I live my life though.

I’m into spirituality in a vaguely secular humanist kind of way. I have been writing for the last few years as a part of a process for mental development based out of combining cognitive psychology and assorted spiritualities. There’s no real structure other than a sort of relentless personal (and interpersonal) honesty.

It does seem to be doing something to me though. I seriously want to quit my job and spend all my time working on reducing the amount of poverty in the world. I’ve discovered I’ve got nothing against hard work, I do, however, absolutely hate wasting my time.

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Boundaries To Goodness

I’ve been reading Dune for the last week or so. The book is such a strange juxtaposition. On the one hand the last two books are, in my ever humble opinion, an extended metaphor for a passionless life lived by rote rather than in active awareness:

Leto builds an empire that lasts thousands of years and creates a lasting peace across the galaxy. Of this peace, he says:

“What am I eliminating? The bourgeois infatuation with peaceful conservation of the past. This is a binding force, a thing which holds humankind into one vulnerable unit in spite of illusionary separations… I demonstrate the terrible danger of a gliding, passionless mediocrity, a movement without ambitions of aims. I show you that entire civilizations can do this thing. I give you eons of life which slips gently toward death without fuss or stirring, without even asking ‘Why?’ I show you the false-happiness and the shadow-catastrophe called Leto, the God Emperor. Now, will you learn the real happiness?”

It’s strange to me that Herbert, in writing a massive statement on the individual’s capacity to be present, has all of his heroes ruling through a superiority borne of a massive breeding program.

I’ve been scanning The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama today as well. A wise and compassionate person whose capacity is borne of simply being the most recent of ten thousand incarnations of some noble spirit.

It pisses me off, honestly. Imagine that someone watches Hatrobot’s Trichinosis:

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The Tao That Can Be Named

I mentioned a nascent computational model of empathy the other day. Empathy starts off as recognizing a similarity in reasoning with someone different from yourself. When applied liberally, it means recognizing that the billions of starving people in the world are also people like yourself in a very personal and troubling way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and Gandhi as of late. People who were unreasonably idealistic, but who stood by their ideals and changed the world. I don’t know whether or not I can accomplish something on the order of what they did, but I can try. In the end it isn’t the actual doing that matters to me, since the world is chaotic and beyond my control, but it does matter to me whether or not I can honestly say to myself that I tried.

Back in high school, there was a girl who had a thing for me. Even though I was lonely and womanless, I wouldn’t give her the time of day because I was a Christian and she was a slut. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, I can see that actually she was the victim of lots of nasty rumors and I had my head crammed up my ass.

I remember how certain of the time I was of how I saw the world. That one recognition — that I have been mistaken about things that I was certain of — has been driving my thinking more than anything as of late.

I ran across an interpretation of the Tao Te Ching which starts with:

Tao doesn’t have a name.
Names are for ordinary things.

Stop wanting stuff. It keeps you from seeing what’s real.
When you want stuff, all you see are things.

Which I interpret as “You don’t know what the fuck is going on. If you can just manage to not forget that and confuse your perceptions for reality, you’ll be fine.”

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Jenni and I are going to be in India for the spring festival: Holi. Everyone goes around slinging dyes of various colors at each other.

I was talking to an Indian girl this weekend and she said that a big part of the fun is “it’s an opportunity for the boys to touch the girls.”

The guidebook also mentions that the festival coincides with the local marijuana harvest. They warn the careful tourist to only buy from vendors seen selling to women and children lest they ingest something specious.

So, wandering fucked up through a massive sex-laden two day spiritual cleansing dye fight. Sounds like a hell of a good time.

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Awareness — Renunciation Isn’t The Solution

I’ve been off DeMello for a bit, so I thought I would continue:

Neither Is Renunciation The Solution

Anytime you’re practicing renunciation, you’re deluded. How about that! You’re deluded. What are you renouncing? Anytime you renounce something, you are tied forever to the thing you renounce. There’s a guru in India who says, “Every time a prostitute comes to me, she’s talking about nothing but God. She says I’m sick of this life that I’m living. I want God. But every time a priest comes to me he’s talking about nothing but sex.”

Very well, when you renounce something, you’re stuck to it forever. When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you are giving it power. You give it as much power as you are using to fight it.

This includes communism and everything else. So you must “receive” your demons, because when you fight them, you empower them. Has nobody ever told you this? When you renounce something, you’re tied to it. The only way to get out of this is to see through it. Don’t renounce it, see through it. Understand its true value and you won’t need to renounce it; it will just drop from your hands.

But of course, if you don’t see that, if you’re hypnotized into thinking that you won’t be happy without this, that, or the other thing, you’re stuck. What we need to do for you is not what so-called spirituality attempts to do — namely, to get you to make sacrifices, to renounce things. That’s useless. You’re still asleep. What we need to do is to help you understand, understand, understand.

If you understood, you’d simply drop the desire for it. This is another way of saying: If you woke up, you’d simply drop the desire for it.

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