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Posted on 2010.12.24 at 16:41
Location: parents'
It's so easy to find information about the current state and recent past of your friends. Facebook puts it nicely all in one place, updates you constantly, and reminds you of people you might have forgotten. It's much more difficult to find information about the current state and recent past of the government and the world. Something needs to put all this kind of information in one place, link people in, update them, remind them.

hell (poem)

Posted on 2010.11.16 at 22:05
Location: my apt
Wrote this at a poetry reading tonight.

hell is –
all time in a moment
but a moment of pain
it is –
everything in this one space
but this tiny space all there is
and –
it's all pain, it's all small
it's only you, and no use at all
hell's waiting,
hell's holding yourself together
when it's all you can do
hell is fear
unmistakable lack of logic
hell is dying
constant dying
present tense
all there is
in fear of death is a moment of ever
lasting pain
and that
that's hell. 

Lord's Prayer revisited

Posted on 2010.09.11 at 11:27
Location: my apt
Mood: peacefulpeaceful
Ambient Noise: allowed to be amazing
Back in India, I did quite a bit of thinking about religion. One of the things I thought about was the Lord's Prayer, which I have felt to be a very good, meaningful, humble prayer. I read an analysis of its meaning in the back of one of Alex's Bibles, though, and I realized that it almost certainly means something very different to me than to most people. I then wrote out a few pages explaining my own interpretation of each section. For some time, I continued to say this prayer in the words I was taught, keeping in mind the meaning those words have for me. But I had a growing sense that the other meanings of those words (starting with "Father") got in the way, and that I ought to reconstruct it so that what I believe is the true meaning is closer to the surface. At some point when Greg and I were driving through Mississippi or something, that need took on a sense of immediacy. And so I wrote the following words, which Greg thought should be shared with the world. I share them with you, in case they might serve as a conduit for your prayers as well.

Dear God, Force unseen, One beyond my knowing,
Provide for our basic needs today, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Let us begin again our efforts to be better people, and let us respect the efforts of others, instead of holding their failures against them.
Protect us from our own weaknesses, help us stop those of our behaviors that are harmful, and take away those things that harm and oppress us.
You are the ideal; You are true power; You deserve the credit for all good things.
This I believe.

On Sighing

Posted on 2010.08.06 at 23:50
Location: living room
Mood: sleepysleepy
Ambient Noise: Greg's
A sigh
A whisper of sadness
A question prompted: what's wrong?
I say
Not knowing
Not even hearing my sigh
I sigh
It comes from my heart
It opens my throat: lets the tears slide
And out
From where they stuck
Lumps of melancholy
In my pharynx, knotting
Soft palate until it's tender
The air fills the space, pushes the tears
No room for this sadness
Squeezes them out into the open
Lets them slide
Back and out
Now: what's wrong?
Now: nothing
The sigh solved the worry
Banished the pain
I sigh and
Peace is restored

Life Experiment

Posted on 2010.07.20 at 02:19
Location: living room
Mood: energeticantsy/inspired
I've been trying to sleep for about an hour, but thoughts about this life experiment are keeping me awake. It's always been a fairly nebulous idea, with certain aspects occasionally coming into focus, but without any real conception of a definite time and place. Now I see it coalescing in a year's time – when my upcoming lease expires – and including a partner, specifically the man who I hope will be my life's partner, and taking place in Austin, because that is where we will be, theoretically with well-established jobs at that point.

The experiment is this: to live as frugally as possible, with all money that is not spent on absolute necessecities going towards good causes. And when I say frugally, I mean something relatively extreme. Here is the image forming in my mind: an efficiency apartment, probably a bit of a shithole. Within it, a fridge (or maybe just a microfridge), a stove, a microwave (because they're more energy efficient than stoves, oftentimes), a sink and two basins (for washing dishes with less water), 4 sets of dishes (efficiency doesn't mean we can't be hospitable), a mattress – or mat – with two sets of sheets and a blanket, two changes of clothing per person besides work clothes, vegetables from a farm share, dairy products from a cow share (spending extra in this case is okay because the extra money is going towards a good cause, that is, the humane treatment of animals and local sustainable farming), a few pieces of artwork yet-to-be-sold, a homemade curtain, and not much else (maybe some cushions for seating). Okay, soap.

And we'd shower no more than once a week (sponge baths in between) and bicycle everywhere – or take public transit if totally necessary. We'd access the internet at the local library, where we'd blog about our experiences. We'd leave the light off, and of course the A/C too. Dishwater can be reused to flush the toilet – which only needs to happen a couple times a day anyway. We'd line dry all our laundry, of course. Okay, and we'd probably have some books.

Our money would be carefully budgeted, and each month would go to: rent, utilities, food, and fixed amounts to savings and several charitable organizations, then maybe our followers (we'll obviously have lots) will vote on where the rest goes.

We'd produce as little litter as we can manage, donate our food scraps to a compost (in the best scenario), and reuse and recycle as much as we can of what we can't avoid using in the first place.

And, by the way, we'd sell all our other belongings. Assuming I'm still imagining this with this certain other person, though, he can keep his guitar. We could write songs. I guess we'd need something to record them on. Then we would sell the songs too, for a donation, via our website/blog.

Oh, damn. Each month would also entail student loan payments.

We'd spend a lot of our free time volunteering and engaging in other forms of activism, including random acts of kindness. We would basically be the awesomest people ever. Well not really. But I would feel I was really living my principles.



Posted on 2010.07.06 at 14:13
Location: work (hehe)
Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Tags: ,

For the past couple of years, the concept of the imprecision of language has been a frequent visitor to my philosophical wanderings. I began by being simply frustrated at the impossibility of using such a blunt tool to communicate anything real, and in fact was truly distraught by this wall that seemed to ensure each of us remains an island. Gradually, though, as the idea meandered in and out of my thoughts, I have developed a beautiful sense - almost an image - of the interplay between language and communication, imprecision and precision, which largely overcomes this barrier.

Why is it so easy to explain a concept to one person, yet impossible to explain the same idea to another? To one, it is the simplest construction, while to the other it is impossible to place a foundation. Why is it, when you use the most exact language, people are the most confused and lost (think of really dense philosophical or scientific writing), while when you use vague half-sentences and hand gestures, people seem to understand so completely?

The answer begins with realizing that words do not have finite meaning. Their definitions are limited, but the connotations and associations they carry with them are theoretically boundless, and constitute a huge, but hugely variable, portion of the meanings of words. The difficulty and the beauty of communication arises from this single fact: those meanings are always different for different people, but almost always overlapping. Say I have an idea or image I am trying to communicate, whether it is the form of a flower I noticed or the fact of a goal scored by Ghanaian soccer players or the feeling of helplessness in the face of the economy. When I turn that idea into words, I am essentially comparing the meaning I can create with those words to the meaning I intend, and I choose the words the meanings of which most closely resemble my idea. Now, words don't stand on their own, either. They interact, modifying one another and often - when together in certain ways - adopting totally new meanings that are particular to that combination. Imagine, if you will, that the meaning of each word - rather, my meaning of each word - is like a particular wave packet (image of a wave packet). Already, it is a complex interaction of definitions, connotations, and associations (and it is theoretically infinite - but bounded, since only a certain range of meanings having a significant effect on the, as it were, shape of the wave). Now imagine that I am overlapping various of these waves, placing them next to each other in sentences. Some pieces will be amplified, others diminished, depending on which waves I choose to include and how they are placed. Now, I am not actually creating this wave directly – I am only picturing the wave I would create and matching it to the picture I wish to convey. For, my words’ meanings are so complex and interact in such complex ways that I can imagine them replicating almost any idea to at least a fair likeness, sometimes achieving startling clarity of resemblance.

This is only half the process, however. Now that I have chosen which words will best match my idea, I say them.

You hear them. As you hear my words, they excite waves in your mind. But they excite waves according to your understanding of the words’ meanings. Your waves are slightly different from mine. The image you receive is not exactly the one I sent. Sometimes, although I feel I have been exceedingly clear and straightforward, you either cannot make out a meaning at all or read a meaning tangential or even opposite to what I intended!

This (largely) answers my first question: why is it so easy to explain a concept to one person and so difficult to communicate it to another? Clearly, if two people ascribe very similar meanings to the words involved, then it is easier for one to communicate an idea to another. The image I envision creating with words will be very similar to the image I really do create, because I envision it using waves of nearly the same shape as the waves you will in fact use.

So far, of course, I have ignored our understanding of one another. You know already that different people understand things differently and what is more, you adjust the way you communicate to accommodate that knowledge. When shaping what you will say and the words you use, you take into account your knowledge and assumptions of how the other’s meanings differ. You use words (and, of course, gestures, facial expressions, and intonations) that you think will excite the most precise image, rather than the words you think most precisely describe it. As a crude example, if I know a friend of mine hates reading, and I am trying to convey the joy of an activity I love, I won’t say “It was like reading a good book late into the night,” even if that is, in my mind, the most apt of similes. Instead, I will search for an (emotive) experience we do share, and work from there, though it may be less direct (e.g., “It was like rafting down the Colorado on an overcast day, except without the fear of falling off the raft”). This provides more insight into the question, for if two people share more experiences and attitudes towards those experiences, they will share a more common language. Also, if two people have greater experience with each other, they will have a better understanding of their differences and similarities and will better be able to adjust their language to match (Side note: this adjustment takes place on both ends. You may know, for example, that when I say the word "agnostic" it means something different from what many others mean, and you will take that into account).

Here is one more very important point. If an idea or image already exists in a person’s mind, it is much easier to excite that idea – or one very similar to it. The idea can then be adjusted by adding or subtracting meanings by way of appending words with meanings that amplify or diminish what is already there. Moreover, in face to face interaction, we are constantly reading feedback as to how much we have been understood. Thus, we are able at times to see that we have already excited a full idea with only a few words, and so we skip over the words that would be necessary to precisely capture the idea’s meaning.

Thus, communication - even of a single idea from one person to the other - is, when done well, a bidirectional process. Thus it is that the best communication can be the most seemingly vague. For, if I am really paying attention to you and seeing how much you understand and reading what is unclear, I immediately change the direction of my words to alter, not the precise image I would make with words, but the precision of the image my words are evoking. I may leave a sentence unfinished if it is unnecessary, or include words that are hardly – on the surface – relevant, but which shape your thoughts towards my goal.

In conclusion, communication is essentially resonance. Easy communication comes from natural resonance. Good communication comes from reading another person well, understanding the differences in your resonances, and finding similarities to work from. Language is indeed a blunt tool, but it can be used to share intricately detailed ideas if its imprecision is used as an asset and not pushed away as an obstacle. And people are not exactly connected by language but - to the degree that connection is likeness - it can reveal those connections that naturally exist, and strengthen them.

The Meaning of Life

Posted on 2010.06.28 at 14:00
Location: greg's
Mood: calmvery contented
Ambient Noise: Elton John
Last night, I asked Greg what the meaning of life is. After answering, he turned the question on me. I thought for just a second and found the answer fairly ready in my heart: Aligning yourself and the world more closely to God.

He asked, what if you're not sure there is a God? I thought more carefully - we'd been talking earlier about the nature of God and realized that what I call God does exist, no question. He asked what about other people who aren't sure? I said, then you word it differently, but the meaning is the same. ((I think of God as, basically, the will of love and good))

Thought you all might be interested in finally knowing the meaning of life :)

The Afterlife

Posted on 2010.05.02 at 23:23
Location: tir's room
Mood: contentcontent
 Thanks to a long car ride with some pretty neat folks, I was inspired to write down some of my thoughts about the nature of God, spirit, and life after death. To quote from the end of it, "I am rather amused to notice that, while having no conviction of God's existence, I manage to have a detailed set of convictions concerning God's nature."

It's long, so I've placed it in a cut.Collapse )

Sketch of a future

Posted on 2010.04.11 at 23:28
Location: tir's room
Mood: flirtyfun
I have an idea that I've never explored, never fleshed out, because I've never told anyone about it or written it down. At least, not in more than the one or two sentences in which the idea presented itself to me. This is because it's not an imminently practical idea or even necessarily a good idea; rather, it is simply something that could - conceivably - come about sometime far in the future.

Here are those one or two lines - contour lines, you might say - that give a vague idea of the idea. Representative democracy is replaced by universal democracy via the power of technology, the internet. Imagine: you wake up in the morning, have your coffee, flip on your monitor to see what latest bills are in front of the populace. One or two of them catch your attention - most are either irrelevant or uninteresting to you - and you scroll through the more detailed descriptions. You peruse the options and vote for whatever seems best to you. Maybe you make some comments or fill out a survey concerning some other matters that are not yet come to a vote, if you're a really engaged citizen. [That's as far as I'd taken it. Here's where the sketching begins.] These comments are monitored by government and non-governmental, partisan and non-partisan groups, so that the gist of them is pretty much guaranteed to affect the form of the final bill which, like most legislation, is drafted by a group of "experts," people with PhDs in political science, sociology, or - more recently - the burgeoning field of legalogy. You could, of course, write up a bill yourself but, without professional assistance, it wouldn't have much chance of getting anywhere. Besides, what would it say? You can sure as heck see there are problems with society, but better leave it to someone more knowledgeable to come up with viable solutions. Also, it takes an awful lot of money to properly advertise a bill; most Americans rarely take the two seconds to vote on any given day, unless it's one of the big name issues like abortion, same sex marriage, or a radical change in taxes. The public fund is required to be spent in the same amount in advocating as in deprecating each issue, but of course private individuals and corporations can do pretty much as they please - First Amendment and all that. Thank goodness for blogs, that form of advertising that's not only infinitely cheaper but also often more effective than other ads, because the public can see the human heart and mind behind the position. Americans have come to smirk cynically at the TV ads that thinly veil the corporate pocketbook. Still, even bloggers can't keep up with everything. So the special interest groups that used to lobby legislators to write and vote for legislation now simply write it themselves and - which is far from simple - lobby the citizenry to vote for it. It is this latter point that makes all the difference from the old, representative system. People can be persuaded, from time to time, but they are hard to buy off, in bulk. In other words, it is easier to get a senator to sacrifice the interests of one part of their constituency to the interests of another part than it is to get a private actor to sacrifice those same - now personal - interests. So you see bills that stack issues together - sandwich bills, they're called - to get a given group to sacrifice one goal for the realization of another. Often these are an disparate as allowing offshore drilling and providing publicly funded community centers. Sandwiched together. Sometimes you do vote for these bills, do prioritize achieving the one goal enough that you can live with the bits it's slapped together with. But more often not; and it's relatively infrequently that sandwich bills pass all the way through the voting process and become law. The American voter is far less elastic than the senator they used to vote into office. They're - you are - darn stubborn about your morals, interests, and even your political opinions. And there are always strong efforts to break back up conglomerative compromises.

As you muse over these intricacies of the modern universal democracy (sometimes called popular democracy or omniocracy) you have long since turned off your monitor, tossed down your breakfast, and headed off to work.

The real question is, has the change been beneficial? Well it's a complex answer. You've heard that more Americans are engaged in the political process than ever before, since it's become so quick and easy, what with your ID being detected automatically and almost instantaneously. You can even choose which topics come up at the top of your screen, so you don't have to wade through every little bill every day. You personally feel proud to have your say in matters of national and even global importance - like when they were deciding how much aid to donate to that war-torn country in Asia. But some people, cynics, they think it's rubbish. "What's my voice among the billions?" they say. And complain that people don't even know what's in their own best interests, let alone the best interests of the nation. America's not a nation of experts, nor a nation of geniuses. So be it. But the old Congress wasn't exactly full of the most brilliant crayons in the box, either, was it? They didn't always know what they were doing, even if they knew how to make it look as if they did. Nowadays, maybe people screw up, but it's an honest screw up. And politicians no longer have to put so much effort into figuring out how to represent their constituencies, because everyone represents themselves and that's it. In a state where 51% of its population was Republican, for instance, it was absurd to have 100% of its vote in the Senate be Republican. And yet, that's how it was. Now the support from each state is exactly - but exactly - divided how its population is divided. You can point to some pretty clear benefits of the present system: corporate influence has subsided to a large degree. This has led to policies that benefit individuals over institutions: for instance, farmers are back to a livable income and their crop base has been able to expand beyond the corn that a few wealthy corn processors encouraged the government to subsidize way back when. Your taxes are lower. There's more transparency about which publicly funded programs actually work, so those that don't have largely been cut away. But on the other hand, you remember the scramble to put limits on the national debt; that was nearly disastrous. No one wanted to vote their taxes higher, but new ideas kept getting backed until spending was practically out of control. And there have been some pretty bad ideas, there's no denying that. But the biggest problem being discussed these days is the rights of minority groups. In such a vote-driven government, special interests get largely left out. In some cases, you'd argue, that's a good thing - why should we benefit big business, or that sort of thing - but there are downsides. Ideological minorities have almost no chance to live as they see fit. The libertarians are screaming about the injustice of it. On the other hand, some special interests do get things through, bills almost no one cares about and, therefore, almost no one votes for - but no one cares enough to vote against. Small things. So, sure, the system has its faults, you can't even think of all of them at the moment, but there's hardly any denying it's the most progressive, democratic, and best system in the world.

Shoot Shoot Bang Bang

Posted on 2010.03.07 at 12:23
Location: dining room
Mood: chipperchipper
Ambient Noise: age of mythology
Apparently this game does not have internet presence - at least under this name. Who here knows this game?

Here's how you play:
Someone (who knows the trick) holds their fingers like a gun and, while saying "Shoot! Shoot! Bang! Bang!" points at four people (or the same person twice, then a lamp, then someone else - it doesn't actually matter) then queries "Who'd I hit?" and the others have to guess the victim. The trick is, whoever talks first after the question "Who'd I hit?" is the one who was hit, regardless of who the "gun" pointed at. Thus, players who know what's up will, sometimes, immediately answer, "Me!" and will always be right. Players still in the dark will then often guess that player - but, since to do so they have to speak themselves (thereby becoming the victim), will be wrong. Everyone else gets to laugh at them shamelessly. Note that such noncommittal utterances such as "um," "let me think," and "I'm hungry" also count as speaking. Advanced players may, when wielding the "gun," say "Who'd I hit this time?" I'll leave this to your bright mind to figure out... who was hit?

Does anyone know of this game, or another version or name for it? I was shocked to find the internet had never heard of it. BUT NOW IT HAS!

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