Monthly Archives: March 2016

Unintended alchemy

Warning: the following post may be somewhat magical.

Whoever invented the idea of alchemy, I’ve often wondered. It doesn’t seem quite obvious to think that substances could be transmuted into gold. Although, I guess, if I’d taken a history class, it would make sense that it was a greedy person’s natural corollary to transubstantiation.

Whoever invented the idea of transubstantiation, then. I cannot think of anything it would be a natural corollary too. Faked miracles, maybe.

Imagine if alchemy worked, I bet the wizards working on it did not fully.

What would a universe where things could be turned into other things be like? I could say very very confusing, but I think we all know that I mean very very bad. “Look, you are suddenly made of carbonite!” I saw that movie. More than once.*

But still, imagine that it did. Perhaps chemistry was more flexible back then.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when the plagues were (see above), but it does satisfy the imagination to consider history’s great devastating acts of God as course corrections– pruning, if you like Michio Kaku, or simply steering, the future so that it is the right one. Call me a romantic.

Call me a romantic some more. I like it.

Anyway, whatever I am, there is no alchemy now.

It also satisfies the imagination to imagine that somehow it’s pursuit (or invention! magic!) could have quite unmysteriously, although indirectly, CAUSED the plagues. You can put a narrative on it: some chemical byproduct that that should not have been, mutating some poor innocent bacteria into some disease that never should have been. And all we have to show for it now is a) hundreds of thousands of corpses, b) a universe made of study and intact fabric, maybe something akin to polyester, and c) some really good literature.

I wonder if there’s anything we human civilization members are currently working that would have a similarly idiotic degree of power as alchemy. What would it be? Would it perhaps land us in a world similar to The Matrix, where reality is rearranged at will by some evil parasitic force much more powerful than ourselves? I’m glad I already read about three-valued logic before I had that thought.

I wonder though. Just the other day my mom seemed like she was in the mood for a plague. What does she care? I never call anyway, and she’s old. Not that her opinion matters.

Events cascade out from their intentions like paint from a brush. The selected color is at first intense, then fades out as the brush moves across the canvas or paper. But it doesn’t turn from red to green.

A second brush, dipped in yellow and brought alongside, makes something we can predict thanks to plagues. HAVE I BLGGD ANOUGH ABOUT COMMUNICATION STILL PROLLLY NOT LOL.

Noone ever thinks of confusion as a powerful force, but it certainly is. Mix an incomplete inspiration with malcontent and bam! you’re painting mushrooms.

PS: I like modern art. A lot. I imagine each hideous painful-to-view piece of it as a possible future I’ll never have to experience, captured in a frame. Although others I wouldn’t mind living in.

Shoutout to Terry Pratchett

*This sentence seems like a very good place to talk like yoda.
**What movie was it? I frget?
**See standard rants about over-focus on STEM in education deriving from outdated ideas leftover from the space race that I will not ever be writing.

Hymn of Praise

Oh boring day (oh boring day)

Oh boring DAY-ay (oh boring day)

When nothing happens (no THING hap PENS)

When nothing happens (no THING hap PENS)

When nothings happens


And it happens all day.







Oh boring day (oh boring day)

Oh boring DAY-ay (oh boring day)

When nothing happens (no THING at ALL)

When nothing happens (no THING at ALL)

When nothings happens

And it happens all day.


How Things Get Better

There’s only one thing in the world that always makes things better: that is more information.

Here is a famous graph:

more information 1

I wouldn’t show you this graph, except I met a girl this morning who, I swear, had never heard of just going in the men’s when the women’s was closed. This is a reminder that not everyone knows the things we know. Pretty much no matter what, new people being born all the time.

Depending on what people have told you, you might know what this graph shows: the end of humanity.

Depending on what people have told you, you might even know the punchline, shown here, on this other graph, that we live on the far right side of:

more information 2
The world does not spin around the sun in a circle, then; it spirals, rather, up, as we add and mine and add and add, costlessly, information; perhaps the only unlimited resource; perhaps the only one that is always a good; perhaps the only one that is always free to give.*

Buddha is quoted as saying that the cause of all suffering of ignorance. Applying some logic, we can say that to remove the cause of a thing is to eliminate its occurring again, and then, that the end of all suffering is information–correct information, known to the right decision-maker, at the right time.

This sounds like it could be a advertisement for a smartphone, but it is in fact something a little bit larger.


As we see now that the rock Sisyphus pushes is just this: the combined and distributed knowledge of the population of the world. Which does not roll all the way back down the hill, as long as we keep the lights on.
As someone told me, “Yeah, I guess if you were a pacifist, that is how you’d have to change things.”



Shoutout to Econ 101.

Springtime in America


car trip


It’s spring, and those of us in America, being sick of winter and the feeling of the interior of our homes are all gleefully piling into vehicles of various kinds to make our quadrennial visits to one or more of the states of Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Nevada and Florida.

Bright yellow reflective vests with plenty of pockets for pens, clipboards, mace, and every wholesome non-partisan thing that assures ineffable good humor are piled in backseats and knapsacks– the hum of the printer, mixed with the smell of spray cheese (can be tricky one-handed: exercise caution if operating a vehicle) brings back memories of voter registration drives of yore.

Ahh, spring: when we celebrate that even though you might

  • be a person of color,
  • look ambiguously, yet openly gay,
  • have a nose ring,
  • speak Arabic fluently,
  • be a convicted felon,
  • decide to wear a burka that day, or
  • be a citizen of nowhere but the planet Mars,

if you can get here, you can help!

Yes, it is still legal for anyone to help anyone fill out a form and then mail it! (Paper forms only in Ohio, Iowa, and Florida.)

So what will it be for you this year? Beaches? Cows? Slot machines? Monticello? OTHER COWS? Where will you select a convenient park bench/farmer’s market/well-attended independent film screening and lie in wait for the oppressed?

Yes, Virginia, New Hampshire is also a swing state, but they register on the day of and . . . are New Hampshire, so only go if you are looking for an experience.* (Anyway, they only have 3 votes.)

(While we’re in parentheses, can I comment on how little federally government-vetted hyphenation, I mean information, about the presidential election is available? Excluding Our National Archives, who are always late to the party, on purpose. Excellent coverage of 2008 though!)

(It seems like I can. We can, in fact. Yes. We can.)

But no, Virginia, there isn’t anything in Nevada that isn’t in Las Vegas or maybe (stretching here) Reno. Stay out of the rest of it, because I don’t want to be responsible for what might happen to you.

Summer comes, and we do the same thing. BUT IN BIKINIS!

And personally, I think if you are sitting in a camping chair, you are in effect on a picnic, not a mission. (I STAND. FOR AMERICA.**)

Then it all wraps up, and we take our piles of forms home to post. Enclosing glitter is traditional. Like Christmas, you want that voter reg card to show up at your new friend’s door just about two weeks in advance of the big day, to help get them into the holiday spirit.

Then the flurry to get into a good spot to bunker down and watch the results come in. (Only 0.2% of Americans have ever voted, but 92% will watch the results on television.) It’s just like New Year’s, except everyone’s hoping the ball doesn’t drop, if you catch my meaning. (If you don’t know anyone in town, student unions at universities are great.)

I like to bring a big bell to ring. No one else does.

I’m going to stay up until California reports! the little children wail at home. And then they actually do, because this whole thing goes a lot faster now than it did when I was a kid. Statisticians project how each state will go, from absentee ballots sent in two years in advance, I think, and the states report from that. This became acceptable when we decided that elections were actually part of the court system.

I do my own simple statistics, which primarily focus on rating how much I like each different way Andersen Cooper says “electoral college.”***

Even now, somewhere, Bruce Springsteen is probably tuning his guitar and humming that old tune, “We Print and You Sign.” I always forget the words to the second verse (“You SIGN, then we mail…”), but I remember this part:

“And thank GOD there’s no LAW
‘Gainst helping a CON fill a FORM
‘Cause then I’D be in JAIL
And that’s some short-sighted and ill-conceived self-re-enforcing vicious circle-type bullsh*t.”****

PS: Lake Michigan is NOT democratic. It’s water.




*Which you will get. New Hampshireans are cah-RAAY-ZEE! Trust me, that is not insulting them.

**I stand TALL for America actually. Because I wear heels.

***f(x) = all of them, a lot

***Not a footnote. Trying to cut back.




Shoutout to “Be your own events calendar.”

They Roll Tape When IQ

Here’s an example: some movie, about people being dumb. This is entertaining–there are lots of movies like this.


girl jumping in front of car

Except being entertained this way is not exactly a comfortable position for the human mind.

We go to the movie to both laugh at the idiots and to empathize with them. This is what the movie is designed to make us do: look down on people whom we see as very unintelligent, but also (usually later) to respect and identify with them. I don’t easily bend that way. I mean, not without hurting later on.

It’s true, I was born before Wayne’s World even came out, but I feel like bumbling heroes used to bumble by accident, like despite the relative normalcy and relentless good intentions of everyone on the screen, bowling balls fell on their heads and curtains caught fire. That was what was neat about it. It wasn’t that they threw themselves off of roofs on purpose because they thought it was a good idea.

Maybe on a subconscious level the current generation is trying to tell us that they are really really worried about the environment. Like, past worrying.

Or maybe, as we grew more intelligent, our tastes changed. This did happen: computers have made us–in strange ways, sure–smarter: and now we love irony. Generation X did not love irony. When they said “F off,” that’s all they meant by that. They weren’t actually hyper-intelligent nerdy types having fun saying “F off” because it was AWESOME. They really wanted you to F off.

(I actually did a few times, that’s how much they meant it. And I didn’t come back for awhile, either.*)

So now, we can add to the digital divide, to growing income disparity, an intelligence divide: like an invisible chasm that we perceive between ourselves and the people we identify with, and . . . everyone else. Exacerbated by people who act dumb because they know they are smart. Because that is ok now.

This is a thing. I am one of these people.

Case-in-point: ten years ago I never would have written “This is a thing.”

This divide, I call it The Irony Gap. “You don’t get it because you don’t know I don’t mean it that way.” To take things too seriously is to be on the wrong side of it. I don’t know what exactly being on the right side of it is. It’s too nuanced. But it requires a sense of humor.

The Irony Gap is the real trap of the idiot hero movie, the the one I fell into: “OMG, I bet there are people who watch this and think it is ok to act like that!”

There actually aren’t. Any. People that stupid. And yet. We. Imitate them. And so. Willingly let them. Influence our behavior. This is what I have been trying to say for 10 paragraphs.

It doesn’t really matter to most people that you are doing it ironically, is what I’m saying. Just that you are doing it.

This is a thing.
*That sentence was all just in case no one has ever explained to you what F off really means.


PS: The still, in case you weren’t sure, is of a woman jumping in front of a car. It’s from a current movie that I’m not promoting. I got (the starting point at least of) the pic from youtube.


maybe try entertaining by being much cleverer than everyone else, I don’t know, it’s worth a shot?

There are three good ways I know to trip an assumption

*There are three good ways I know to trip an assumption, if you must know. All start by politely leading it down a dark alley, i.e. some consequence it is not considering.

If the assumption is small, you can try just jumping out and screaming “BUT WHAT ABOUT THIS THOUGH!” If it says “Oh,” you have won.

If the assumption is REALLY big, it will not say “Oh,”; it will bash through a wall of one of the neighboring buildings instead and say something like “THERE ARE NO DICTATES BUT THOSE OF THE PRIMAL DIRECTIVE!” Giant assumptions like this are actually easy to take out: just go IN them, by asking what exactly the primal directive dictates for your life, for example. It should be obvious how to proceed from there.

Medium-sized assumptions will respond with silence. They may “tut” or shake their heads a little, which can be very dangerous, so stand back. Sometimes the only way to level these is to make sure you leave part of them outside the next dark alley you lead (another part of) them down. Then at the end of the alley, just as they are about to punch you, slam open a door so they punch themselves instead, while you…well, if you’re me, you run away.

[It has been brought to my attention that the preceding few paragraphs have been confusing for some people; and this confusion has brought me no end of difficulty; and so let me clarify: this is a discussion of rhetoric, the ancient practice of talking to people until they are sure you are right, and not actually beating people up in alleys. Thank for you noting the distinction.]


Closest I Have Come to Losing an Argument in 4 Years

There was one time in a Starbucks when someone showed me another side to something I was saying, and that other side showed that part of what I was saying was wrong. But we weren’t arguing.

And that was the neatest thing that had happened to me in a long time. In a Starbucks of all places!

I have notes on it right here (the “other side” is in all caps): whether human-developed systems are inherently unsuitable for some/all natural problems compared with natural systems AND WHETHER I AM DRAWING AN ARBITRARY LINE ABOUT WHAT SHOULD BE ON WHICH SIDE OF THAT LINE.

Eh? I told you it was neat. Still glowing now.

How to make assumptions work for you instead of against you

connect four

A man and a child sit down to play Connect 4.

The man (black) plays 1. The child (red) 5. The man, 2, the child 6; man 3, child 4.

Now there is a game.

The man pauses a second and plays 1. The child, without hesitation, 6. The man, 2, the child, 5.

They look at each other.

The man plays 1 again. The child does too.

“I’m tired,” says the child. “It’s not my favorite game.”

“That’s no fun then,” says the man, and he empties the board. He loves the child, and wants it to be happy always.

The child looks aghast at the pieces on the table, at the game destroyed. Irrevocable irrevocable words.


Assumptions are like boxers: they look a little dumb, walking among the rest of us reasonable people– oversized and just . . . other.

With other boxers, though, boxers look perfect. Their very appearance screams out how they’ll fight–you think–until they get in the ring, and you see some have even more tricks than you expected.

Assumptions are just like this, I’m sure. They were meant to duke it out, until someone wins, bluntly. This is the way of their ecosystem. Be a natural part of it.

I bet my assumptions could take yours out any day. In fact, hate to say this, but they haven’t lost a match in years. And they’re not even bored about that; that’s how good they are.

Losing a fight to one is like being sat on by a container ship. There’s really not a lot of coming back from it. I’ve been working on that thing where you leave someone you are debating “a graceful out.” But mostly I figure they can work that out after I leave.

How did my assumptions get like this? Well, they got the stuffing beat out of them. Repeatedly By a bunch of clowns. It was disgusting.

So then I had to hang out assuming clowns, until something bigger than them came along to take them out. Which actually proved impossible in some cases: there just was noone bigger.

What can you do, when a clown bigger than you has you in a chokehold, you are totally believing it, and noone will stand up to it?

Ok, kung fu, I guess. I mean, anybody can trip most boxers, given the right opportunity; doesn’t work so well when he or she has you pinned to the ropes though. Somehow at that moment tripping the sucker is the last thing on your mind.*

How I wished and dreamed that someone would come debate those clowns off of me! Some incredibly sensible Rambo, bespectacled probably, armed with a truer truth!

But it never happened. I had to just wait for some of them to die.

Have you ever had to wait for a clown to die? Not fun.


But anyway, you can assume the crew that was left after that (I call them “The Framework”) is pretty hardcore. Like iron that doesn’t move, I’m told.

This would be an excellent metaphor if scientists discovered that iron, it turns out, is actually very willing to move, but finds no reason to.

It’s weird, not having lost an argument for several years. I think the disbelief of it might finally be starting to wear off. Not sure.

I think soon though, I’ll stop missing it, losing arguments. And not because I’ll be doing it either.


A man and a child sit down to play Connect 4.

The man (black) plays 1. The child (red) 5. The man, 2, the child 6; man 3, child 4.

Now there is a game.

The man pauses a second and plays 1. The child, without hesitation, 6. The man, 2, the child, 5.

They look at each other.

The man plays 1 again. The child does too.

“I’m tired,” says the child. “It’s not my favorite game.”

“Why not,” says the man. “Should we stop?” He loves the child, and wants it to be happy always.

“No,” says the child. “It’s just that I’m pretty sure I know how it goes from here.”

“Really,” says the man, playing 4.




*See some post about tripping assumptions.

Shoutout to airplanes.

Story about dialog with pastor: great preparation for Sunday’s sermon if you are looking for ideas!

Dear Pastor Joe,

I was so sorry to hear about your stroke. I feel like I should say what a terrible thing, but instead I’ll say Thank God because this must be part of His mysterious plan for victory.

I wanted to write to tell you that this morning I might have thought some bad thoughts about you for a few seconds. I was thinking about how old you are, trying to guess, instead of thinking about your leadership for my life. So I guess I gave you a stroke all over again. I do that all the time. Yesterday I stopped thinking about you for a few minutes, so that’s giving you a stroke all over again too. Day before that, I told a lie by accident. You must have felt like all the oxygen was leaving your brain all over again! Did anyone call 911?

I’m working on it though. I’m trying really hard to reach a point where I don’t regularly re-give you a stroke all over again several times a day just living my regular life, working, hanging out with my family, volunteering and stuff. I mean, getting to that point is what I am supposed to be working on, right? I only ask because I haven’t met anyone, even at church, who has managed to get there, I mean, who doesn’t re-give you a stroke all the time. Do you know anyone? Or is it, like, an unattainable goal?

Because if it’s an unattainable goal, that’s really rough for you. Man. This is a deep business.

Anyway, love you, rock on. You’re awesome.


Dear Alex,

Thank you for your letter. Glad to hear you were at church. About the re-giving me a stroke thing, it’s just a metaphor. Wish I could write more, but I found out I can physically write only 1000 lines of text a day, and I have 500 parishioners, so everyone gets 2.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Dear Pastor Joe,

Your letter was great! What is ‘re-giving you a stroke’ a metaphor for though?

I don’t have any parishioners, so I have all the time in the world to write about how much I hope you are feeling better, and wish you a speedy and comfortable recovery, and tell you how much everyone loves and misses you.

I hope you are feeling better A LOT. I wish you a speedy and comfortable recovery A HUGE AMOUNT. Everyone just loves and misses you A TON.

Seriously, what is ‘re-giving you a stroke’ a metaphor for? Where did it come from?

Love you, rock on. You are awesome and changed my life.

Dear Alex,

It’s a metaphor for God not liking it when we do bad things. I also didn’t like having a stroke.

I heard it something like it somewhere. We pastors have a hard job trying to help people not do bad things, and metaphors like “re-crucifying Christ” are like bazookas in that fight, so they catch on.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Dear Pastor Joe,

So I DON’T actually re-give you a stroke or re-crucify Christ if I do something bad? Want to double-check this. Seems important.


Dear Alex,

That’s right. Your bad thoughts don’t hurt anyone but you, unless you act on them. And they definitely don’t hurt God, or his son Jesus, also God. Nothing you do can hurt God.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Dear Pastor Joe,

Thank you! I am SO RELIEVED. It was a lot of responsibility, feeling like I had the power to give you a stroke. It was really stressing me out.

And strokes are really disgustingly painful, right? Like, I can’t even imagine how much, yet I felt like I had that power–and kept using it by accident. Blecch!

Maybe you’ll get better even faster now that I’m not re-giving you them anymore.

(That was a joke.)


Dear Alex,

No problem. In retrospect, it isn’t the best metaphor. I don’t think I’ll use it anymore. We can just say, if you want to do what God wants, ask Him to help you to not do bad things, and He will. Make sense?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Dear Pastor Joe,

Makes sense. Happy Easter.


Where are the dumb?

where are the dumb

This world demands a lot of us, intellectually. We are totally up to the task, but boy can it be stressful. Thank God the number one tool of mass marketing is to make us feel stupid. I get tired of feeling smart enough to be responsible for things. LEAVE ME ALONE I’M SELECTING BBQ SAUCE BECAUSE I AM INADEQUATE.

Of course then other times I feel too dumb. There’s an easy fix for that too though. I just tun on the TV and look down at dumb people. Whoever it is who buys Snugglies, or the masses in pickup trucks buying diapers and beer at the Wal-mart. THOSE FOOLS. I WOULD NEVER DO SOME OF THESE THINGS.

One day I was feeling neither too smart nor too dumb, but in danger of getting bored, so I went searching for the dumb. Have you found any? WHERE ARE THEY? Because I couldn’t. I went to Wal-mart, and what I found instead were some perfectly intelligent people who needed diapers and beer and . . .jam from France. And some other people who needed diapers, beer, and . . .Pier One knock-off bamboo candle holders and two pounds of string cheese.

And they drive pick-up trucks so they can carry lawn mowers around more easily. MAKES SENSE.

Now I’m starting to think maybe the dumb don’t exist. Because every single individual I met on my search was easily capable of picking up calculus over a weekend, given a good teacher and a solid knowledge of Algebra 2. EVERY SINGLE ONE. DO NOT DOUBT ME. They just don’t have the time right now*.

How can there be such a huge set with no members? Who are the dumb? AND WHERE?

Are they hiding somewhere? Composing clever anomolous news stories about mothers who brush their children’s’ teeth with bleach and publishing hard copies of the Darwin Awards, trying to make some room for themselves? Sneaking out every few years to vote Republican? THAT’S DEPRESSING.

Because even though they don’t exist (YOU GO LOOK FOR THEM, IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME. YOU WON’T FIND THEM EITHER.) do they ever lower the debate!


Donald Trump reads to children

“So the point of inflection is that the trend of the change is changing?” “Yes, emphatically!”


*See Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed.”

What I also didn’t find were any books. Wal-mart does’t sell books. It just pretends to. There’s actually no place to buy books within 50 miles of my home.

Over the counter with a shotgun

There is within us a sort of scroll, like a golem’s animation, but infinitely more complicated– our drive and longing, hidden oft times by memory of failure, by unthinking cruelty, and the most boring forms of despair.

In one word you might call it our desire: the entire complexity of our life distilled down to a single, sharp point of an internal compass. It cannot, in its directing, ignore anything; it can only be ignored.

To the degree that we are able to follow it, to the extent that we are brave enough to even look where it leads, to this degree exactly will we impact the future. Our other stirrings and circlings will be nullified, if even necessary, with time, and our worry and pain will melt out into the sky, like so much wasted heat.

It’s not because you are anything extraordinary, that your desire should be important; only because no one else is the same as you, not having learned from life that exact sets of things you’ve learned, is its execution so valuable to the rest of us. We can do the other things, that we know– we benefit most when you do those things that only you can, that you burn to do.

Wait for it


There is a fact. Now is it’s time. But I am not ready for it: I do not want it now. Perhaps I do not even want it ever.

I cannot make it go away. It is a fact.

But I can cloak it. I can blot it out. However I need to, I suppose. I do not need to disappear it: I just put something else in front.

NOW later, there will be a price. A consequence will be paid. But a fact later is not the same fact as now, so I have done a magic trick.

Theta Unbarred

There is something wrong with our mathematics, that it does not lend itself to describing the real world. Beyond counting, we find all the things that actually are, are curved, in description–smooth, continuous, constantly in motion within their tracks. The digital, base-ten system we are accustomed to breaks down early into any quest into the physical world: light, sound, and matter all being wave-shaped.

One wonders if our math is perhaps really more just another part of our spoken language, rather than a means for describing reality:
a way of counting pieces of space we have classified with other parts of the language into being discrete things,
its rules just more grammar;
its conclusions, newspaper wrapped tight around what really is,
around the heart of the matter,
around something we cannot name.
At least not yet.

Or perhaps even language outstrips and baffles it.

When one thinks about the waves that make up everything we encounter, one cannot help but also wonder if there is another math, perhaps less linguistic; with a different foundation and different beginnings; one that would lend itself better to the problems we have discovered. And were it one in which the equations describing an electron’s location would be simple or elegant, rather than tortured, it could perhaps even be argued to be more correct.

The first math, the beta to our VHS, was base five and twelve, and would have, given the chance, likely done a better job with some of these phenomenon than our own. We mourn its passing, if only because we wish our minds had been formed around its shapes, more beautiful than the ten-by-ten grid they did grow up in, more natural even than the number of our own fingers.

Risk versus reward

I can, for about $10, own a piece of the sky. I can, with a Roman candle from the warehouse store, catch the eye of everyone for miles; with a mortar, occupy a volume larger than many homes, hundreds of feet up, but just for a second or two– and send the sound of it out in a half-bubble much larger than that, moving tens of thousands of cubic feet of air.

For about $10.

My entire life almost I’ve wondered if fireworks made the ancient people who invented them as nervous as they make me. As a child when I first encountered them, they were the most insane thing I had ever learned of, up to that point: so much risk for so little reason I actually at first could not comprehend. My parents told me they were ok, in the hands of professionals–I think just to keep me from crying.

I went to the library and looked them up, found out they were invented to chase evil spirits away. A long time ago, by backwards people, must have been. People who believed in evil spirits. The show at the fair was just a vestige. Right?

And even back then, I was sure, they had professionals.

But wasn’t it a quieter world, thousands of years ago? Wouldn’t the sound of radio static have sent an entire villages into panic? I decided eventually not: that the residents of that quiet world were used, not to calamity, but to the inexplicable. The world was one continuous explosion, an unstoppable cascade, falling from the sky to their feet. Control, the way we are used to it, wasn’t invented until much later, maybe around the same time as refrigeration.

It’s now, I think, that fireworks make us the most nervous; now, when they are the safest. The seconds before I own the air, that air, it feels like, owns me, waiting for the right outcome at the end of a fuse. Because a fuse cannot be unlit.

Wait, yes it can. That’s lucky.

Still, I like fireworks best when I can see them go off. My imagination does terrible things with them otherwise; some part of my mind wants to hide under the bed–the same part that feels sorry for anyone I see with a tattoo, for just a second. And still I’ve never lit one myself. Call me superstitious.




Shoutout to Nervous Ned’s Fireworks, where the bombs are big, but we’re uneasy.

Learn to count better and be happier

Many people are unhappy because they have to do things they don’t want to do, which I find strange, because this never happens. Yet still many people are very unhappy about it. We could make a list of things like this, that never happen but still upset people:

-eternal damnation
-the collapse of the American monetary system
-other people thinking a lot about what a terrible people we are
-unexpectedly scandalous behavior on the part of celebrities
-completely forgetting things
-affordable health care*

You might find it easy to agree that none of the above will ever obtain, will ever be, and still think that people, namely you, have to do to things they don’t (you don’t) want to.

This is wrong.

Because you see, there is only one of you–the one that does things. There is not two of you, one that does something, and one that doesn’t want to do it. There is only one. Of you. That does what it wants. Always. Otherwise it would do something else.**

There, you should be happier now.***


It has been brought to my attention that do we not actually in fact experience competing desires that exist, and does this not conflict with, nay, nay, perhaps even be evidence against my little unary claim here?

Yes, and no.

For the thusly advanced student then, I should add that we do sometimes not know what we want yet.

Once I wanted a hash brown, then I didn’t, then I did, then I didn’t, then I made up my mind and drove away from the McDonald’s.

At no point did I want more than one thing at once. Unless you count a breakfast burrito and . . . a hash brown.

Like together, in a bag. Maybe with an orange juice. Or some pancakes. It gets complicated.




*How I wanted to add “the use of the word Thou” to this list. Darn it all.

**And right now it is reading my blog. (This is just a joke. That’s true. True joke. There are those.)

**Maybe you were just upset because you were trying to count to one and failing. I have found that frustrating too. So I practice. One. One. One of stuff. One. Not more than one. Or less than one. Neither of those one, I mean two. One. One obtains. As One. Or 1 sometimes. (Actually neither. Sorry.)


Shoutout to the big TH:  thich nhat hanh nah thich natht hthahnher

How to Like Geese Part 2

A heterosexual male friend of mine told me that he’d thought it would be easier to find a mate here in America, since he wasn’t expected to find a virgin. But it was turning out to be a harder, because none of the women he met thought he had enough money.

He was from Jordan.


Studies show the number one factor in a woman’s decision to consider a man for a partner is his earning potential. I suppose this is wise enough, or rooted in biology, or both.

I myself have always found it odd that it is perfectly polite for a woman to ask a potential partner pointed questions about his job and financial resources. Few women ever get a chance to answer these questions, which I guess is good, because they would have to worry about making men feel insecure.

And I myself have always found it odd that a large number of women describe their partners as “good providers.” Usually in a sentence like this: “Sam’s a lot of things, but he’s a good provider.”

Isn’t that just another way of saying, “I pursue a romantic relationship with this person because of its effect on my finances”? Not to be blunt, but I think I know the word for that.


Equal rights would mean that men are no longer providers any more than women.

I do know this much about male psychology: as long as women don’t find a man attractive unless he makes more money than she does, men are never going to let women earn as much money as men. We’ll have to kill them all first.

I think think-it-be-it might even apply here. Do you already resent your spouse for not being a better provider? Is that what you brought him home for?


So in conclusion, I don’t think we’ve done so well inventing the brave new world of shared male/female power. The result is a problem beyond the lack of sense that it makes, beyond the social damage to the both sets of psyches, beyond the income discrepancy.

It’s making it harder for us to like each other.

Because what is it that dominates our decisions about the opposite sex now? Why, the nastiest parts of our judgment: body image and finance. People-as-livestock and people-as-ATMs. Yuck.

Why, those are exactly the same factors that used dictate our decisions in this regard! Fifty years ago! How queer!

(Wait, I left out one more factor: warped psychological grooves left behind by our relationship with our parent of the opposite sex. No, hold on, I meant to leave that out. Moving on.)

If we want to really be equal, we have to forcibly forget the ways we’ve been raised to evaluate members of the opposite sex. People are people, and we like the ones that are entertaining. The ones that are good company.

End of story. Pick that way; compete that way; forget the rest.

What other way is there? Equal is equal. Good luck.

(yes, yes I did.)

Restoring White Noise





Freedom is not everywhere. It seems we are limited, in our communication, to those to whom we are expected to speak, to those to whom we are expect to listen.



ngc6960_ha originalandromeda s147_mandel_fullPic_iroberts1  maxresdefault1VDB142_Ha_fulltumblr_lov5kpbkc91qa1e2io1_500  vigo


You probably already know that the static you see, or used to see, on your television, is the result of radiation from space bombarding the earth.

As is the static that you hear, or used to hear, on the radio.

You might also know that every keystroke you type creates similar radiation: a wave that started with you and will never end.

What do they say? That sixty light years away is the edge of a tide, centered on planet earth? And twenty or thirty light years beyond that, another, less bright perhaps?*

But no less informative.

Because there is actually no as small bandwidth–only small perspective. Communication doesn’t happen in the channel: the “channel” is just where we look. Every bit of information is a chord, infinitely broad, with with no vacuum–just more, or less, space.





Four of these pictures are of Andromeda Galaxy, the closest neighboring galaxy, 2.5 million light years away.

One is the first picture of it ever taken, which I think is fitting.



*Carl Sagan would say “perhaps”. So I am too. Because I idolize him. Reasonably.




PS: I am not ready for it to be this warm yet. Not in March especially. Please make it cold again.


just in case you were wondering where I got the name!

shoutout to author of this quote: “i always knew i needed to listen i just didn’t know why”

and NASA

How to Like Geese


take a gander

She looks so beautiful!

She looks like a million dollars, ha ha. Not actually. She does look really nice though. Her hair, her clothes, the way her face is done up.

She look like someone that hard work never gets within five miles of.

That’s so neat. I really like it.

Hey, that’s what they’re for, aren’t they? Her long fingernails and her delicate stockings. Her high heels! Like a slave without a suntan. All ways to say “I don’t have to work,” without saying a word.

Huh, she probably does work though, right? That’s funny. What’s she wearing that for then? Who told her to?


I thought the other day: some girls smell like flowers; other girls grow them. But it’s not true, is it.*


About ten years ago, I started suggesting men should wear padded wire cups on their testicles, to lift at least, if not separate– and display them better through their clothes. Because, as a homosexual female friend of mine told me, if women don’t like mens’ parts, “then what are they bringing them home for?!”**

(She was really funny. There was no convincing her that any woman found any man physically attractive. At all. She’d read a book.)

Funnily enough, women hated my suggestion, but men liked it. Maybe they appreciated the support. They even went ahead and invented it–but to wear only during sex.**

No, I am not gloating. Ok, maybe a little. I was right! I thought it was a good idea. That’s why I had it. And then the other night Jimmy Kimmel talked about it on TV.


My generation’s mothers grew up watching their mothers not be allowed to work or attend college. They didn’t talk about it much, but we knew.

My generation’s daughters are almost 10% more likely to graduate from college than its sons. I hate to say that just adding more rules (i.e. the merit-based structure of higher ed) was enough to tip the playing field in women’s favor. Especially since that’s not the case.***

The challenge of free people is to invent the new ways of life that freedom enables, that will become traditional for future free people. Did you know that was your job? I mean, your privilege?

*I do neither!****
**We were in Berlin. It was a long time ago.*****
**I’m not going to tell you what it’s called, because if you look it up, the results are gross. If you can figure out what it’s called, I warned you.
***This is another blog. This one is too long already.******
****Just kidding. I do both.
*****No I didn’t! Don’t even think that!
******SIze matters.

How to hit a home run in the game of good versus evil

Perhaps you weren’t even aware that you were playing this game. Life is not a comic book.

But the ethics of a community are a common good, shared. We are all affected by the ethics of the people around us, because those ethics dictate how they make decisions, and those decisions impact us.

In fact, those decisions constitute pretty much everything that impacts us that anyone can influence.

Like the ecological environment that we take steps to protect in our daily life, even though we see no immediate benefits ourselves, the ethical environment we create will be inherited by future generations.

In fact, you could argue that one is even a little bit more important than the other.

Our ethical environment is already so messed up, in fact, that I can’t even call it our “moral environment,” because using the word “moral” at all makes me sound like I hate gay people. This is high ground we’ve already lost in this game: this word “moral.”

In fact, it makes me sound like I’m about the use the phrase “family values.” Which I just did.

Ok, linguistic alterations are difficult. In fact, in general this game of good versus evil is difficult. Difficult enough that apparently it has kept us interested for millenia. And difficult enough that it should be approached carefully.

Still, I imagine it is a lot like baseball.

Ok. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about baseball.

I know there are positions (is that what they call them?): judges judge, preachers preach, professors lecture. There are good reasons why the rest of us don’t, or shouldn’t. Because unlike us, they’ve been practicing–most of us haven’t.

We’re more like outfielders. Every now and then a ball comes our way, and we know we’d better look sharp and do the right thing. Sometimes it lands on our head; sometimes we run and try to save the day. And we don’t always. But when we do, everyone and every thing cheers.

And we get to bat. We suit up, stand up in front of everyone, and face the pitch. Although it’s less even exciting than it sounds, this is where we make the biggest contribution to the team. Just swinging the bat as best we can, every time we get the chance, every time we interact.

But there’s no reason why with a little effort and thought, we couldn’t make shortstop. Teachers teach, and so can most people. And there are some easy plays in this game, with its confusing multitude of rules, some strategies even that even amateurs can pull off. Every single one requires less effort than recycling, and has a potentially greater positive impact on the wellbeing of future generations.

Warning: intentionally messing with the minds of people around you should be approached like brain surgery, because it is.

And you better be on the side of the nice guys.

Ok? Here’s one.

When someone thinks you are about to become angry with them, this is basically a solid center fastball. If you are quick enough to get in front of it (that is, notice your opportunity), you can easily knock it out of the park.

Just tense up a little, while simultaneously relaxing, tighten your grip, loosen your knees, and wait for just the right moment–here it comes–a little excuse, maybe a slight hint of whine that says, “You are probably about to get mad at me…” and you—



because that someone you’re talking to is at least one point nicer. Forever. Maybe more, depending on the situation, on how many people you had on base.




noun \ˈhärn(-ə)r\
a person who harns; a person who does not lie; opp. liar; e.g., She knew he was a harner, but she still didn’t expect him to admit he’d been speeding.


intransitive verb \ˈhärn\
to make a true and/or accurate statement with no intent to deceive; to tell the truth opp. lie; e.g., At first she didn’t believe that he had been to France, but it turned out he was harning., e.g., You can trust her to harn.

noun \ˈhärn\
a statement believed to be true by the speaker; an honest statement opp. lie; e.g., That was a massive harn.


You don’t know?

You don’t know. Why not?

Because noone told you. But why not?

Because noone needed to. Or they didn’t know you wanted to know.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s the only reason you don’t know.

Even if noone knows! But that’s rare.

If it happens, this rare thing, find the right person, and ask them to find out.

Ok, now they’ve told you, and you think it’s difficult. Why?

Because when they told you, they told you it was difficult.

They are wrong. Is it difficult for them?

It’s not, is it. They just thought it would be difficult for you for some reason. So they said it was.


If I was going to write about education a year ago, or two or three, I would have written something very different from what I’d write today: something about freedom of thought, or learning styles and motivation, or (horrors) meta-cognition. A lot about how to teach. While trying not to say how to teach.

But I decided some time ago that (excluding my own children) I am not a teacher, unless someone pays me to be one; that I have nothing to teach, only messages to pass, and no obligation to do even that; and this has been a great defense for me.*

Because noone else’s ignorance is my problem, I fly from face to face in joy: look at this, look at this, and look at this. What will you do with it, what might you see? And you, look at this! And if you don’t understand enough, you’ll have to call me back and ask, and I’ll have more, and more glee.

For surely the problems I will solve are finite in number, and few enough that I should choose carefully which I work on.

This message begins quite simply, I suppose: if you don’t know it, and you want to, find out. No matter what it is. Why not?

Then it runs around a familiar block because it is happy.

But it ends in a very different place.


I am leaning on the OTHER side of the scale.

I am pushing THIS boundary out, THIS ONE HERE, not that other one you stare at.

I don’t CARE how far that one goes. I don’t care what new things you can make THINGS do. The boundary for me to push is THIS ONE over here on the OTHER side. What can WE do? What can I? WHY NOT?

robot religion




<small>*This decision may have arisen from spending a lot of time with many teachers, who are of a different species than I. More . . . vocal.</small>


Shoutout to the “If Math Was Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend, How Would You Describe Your Relationship?” Quiz

Bearded Lady

The circus used to be such a big deal. We can’t even remember when, because for our entire lives, its heyday has been in the past.

Makes sense; we can explain its descent to ourselves–as we get around so easily now, as we don’t really believe in caging animals so much now, as ogling human spectacles makes us uneasy now. Trapeze is still neat. So we have Cirque de Soliel: no sawdust, and no elephants die.


What is the difference between men and women anymore? A shocking number have people have tried to tell me there is none. I guess that’s what happens when a movement’s messages get lazily passed down through a few generations. At least that’s what I tell myself, to stave off the terror of a future made of idiots.

We can explain what differences we still think there are to ourselves–something about the brains of each, about multi-tasking. That’s what I usually hear.


From NBC News.

“BOULDER, Colo. — Researchers in Colorado have made a startling discovery. Fish, apparently male, are developing female sexual organs. Scientists believe it’s the result of too much estrogen in the water and they’re finding estrogen in rivers across the country.”

Could that explain this terrifying little bit of zeitgeist? Just wondering, because back when I was a tomboy, very few people talked about effeminate sons.

How freakishly ironic would it be if birth control was emasculating future generations? Has been for over ten years? (The NBC News report was in 2004.)

Ani DiFranco has been worried about this for a long time. I understand her concern.

This article from Scientific America offers some tips and raises a few other concerns.


from that Korean movie The Host, where a guy dumps a lot of chemicals down a drain and terror ensues



Coffee filters maybe?



It’s  interesting to think of ourselves as a processing part of the ecosystem. Is this why my vitamins make my urine green? Because it’s actually Miracle-Gro?

Women have been after lower-dose birth-control for years. Some have even told me that birth-control pill formulation is a tool of male oppression.

(No, this article was not sponsored by Trojan.)

Silver linings are always smaller than their clouds

Every misdeed creates an opportunity for good, and every injury, strength among its victims–but always less, and always later, like a basketball’s second bounce, or third.

This is the mathematical proof of the ends not justifying the means, as well as the sad calculus of hope. It is worth remembering, when things seem confusing especially.

A friend of mine told me that 70% of all of the garbage in the world comes from the United States. I am sure, even if this is statistically correct, that this is wrong–because some of the garbage is good.

Noone needs to make fossils

They make themselves fine without us.



I know what you are doing today, almost certainly.

You’re doing what you did yesterday, mostly.

What you did last Saturday. If not that, what you did maybe 8 or 9 Saturdays ago.



I know what you are doing today, almost certainly.

Because you are saving time on thinking.

You are going with what works.

Me too.


But I am not doing what I did yesterday.


I am rarely within 500 miles of myself, any two Saturdays in a row.


I am on the move.


Like a house that needs upkeep, our brains need new sights. Those who travel outside a 25-mile radius of their home infrequently are at the highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s. As you travel further, and more often, the risk drops off.

And so we see the opportunity cost of figuring things out, one of the privileges of not dying, is that we no longer need to figure things out–that on a physical level, our brains lie down in the roads they’ve cleared and relax. And stay there.

One person told me that she’d figured out why life didn’t get easier when she got older. She’d expected, as she learned more, for her problems to be easier to address. I thought that made sense too.

“But,” she said, “I found new problems that were bigger.”

Rather than seek out larger problems, I’d rather get lost.

There is an invisible shell that hardens around us, in routine–it’s strength comes from our forgetting that we put it there, and thinking someone else did.

Viewed through it, places two hours away can look unreachable. Reporting from one, I’m here to tell you they’re not.

(It seems to me that “because I haven’t before” is equally as good a reason to do anything as “because I usually do”; that for most of us, the world doesn’t need our help to be orderly and predictable; that unlikely is its own reward.)




Magic spell to fix the world

Four magic words: tell me how you know.

There is nothing I want more, more constantly, more–than to know more about how you know what you know.

I would rewrite language itself, if that would make room in it for everyone to take time to tell me!

Tell me, please, tell me how you know.

Someone told me once, to be asked to tell how you know is the biggest compliment you can receive as a thinker.

Your reasoning, I like so much that I want to borrow it; Your conclusion, I like so much I don’t just want to frame it, I want to make sure that I hang it on the right place on my wall. It does not belong in this pile of others that I’ll never bother to sort–tell me how you know. I’ll put it there, in the pile, if I don’t have another choice, but I want to do more with it. Please, please, please, tell me how you know.

Master world divider mind, that magically splits all thoughts and ideas into the believed true and believed false, help me adjust. Reason, with eyes that look both ways at once, runs full speed through life, yet maintains a front yard full of ideas I can’t believe.

All that I think is wrong, in a lovely well-kempt pen; here I stand so proud in my invisible castle, looking over them petting the ideas I call true, waiting for those times when I can open up the big front doors in the bright sunshine (weekends, I call them), those times when the true runs out to play among the false. Dogs and unicorns; hammers and chimera; children who spit in dirt that spits back.

To the soul there is nothing more to life than to watch these weekend play dates, watch one of these outsiders climb onto the back of one of the insiders–him already standing on the shoulders of something else that once was false–

Reason weeping now, as here they come teetering, these Bremen musicians that are the equivalent and exact measure of progress; reason weeping with joy because it knows where they are bound.  Here they come teetering, to chase shadowy intruders away with their yet discordant song. Watch, my soul, sing maybe a little, as that outsider is lifted so properly, in gentle measured steps, over the castle wall. And Ornette Coleman suddenly makes sense.

Now, how is that done? And undone?

Moving ideas into our beliefs we do ourselves; moving ideas out of our beliefs takes help. The problems you see out in the world are reflections of rotted old beliefs stuck on the wrong side of the wall, in so many strange heads, where magic works, where magic is real. You have the incantations to clean them out. I just gave you one. Ask! Ask everyone! Ask!

Spelling Lesson

Ready? Read each twice, then spell the sentence or bold word. Make sure your answer for number 12 is different from your answer to number 5:

  1. I have no dice.
  2. Where should I sit?
  3. Ironing board.
  4. Have you seen my shoes?
  5. Where are we going?
  6. Going, going, gone!
  7. We know where they dwell.
  8. High five!
  9. I love you so much.
  10. Look.
  11. Reload.
  12. What’s in there?

Some things start wrong and need to be started over; some things start right, go wrong, and need to be fixed; some things are ok; some things are great. That’s my kind of typology.

Ever since I was little I’ve hated the alphabet; I’ve never cared for arbitrary distinctions; I like to believe divisions without reasons are what you call art, and art shouldn’t be forced on anyone. But even that’s not enough to explain my feelings of absolute repugnance towards this group of 26. They make worse than no sense! Why does q always need a u?

So I made up my own. It’s more like watercolors. I don’t know what you’d spell with it.

Answers to above:

  1. Descending.
  2. Circle aka memory’s bell.
  3. Bumpy road.
  4. Checkmark.
  5. Curled cat’s tail (or dart).
  6. Ascending.
  7. Hummock.
  8. Cartwheel.
  9. Lightbulb.
  10. Angle.
  11. Checkmark.
  12. Dart (or curled cat’s tail).


(I think I will not give up on this until someone explains how to spell the letter B to my satisfaction.)


What’s better: changing something bad to make it better, or making something that is great better, without changing it?



The Ghosts in the System

How should adults learn, once they stop going to school? Because they don’t stop–they just stop noticing that they are.

I sat in this room today:

You don’t need to watch this movie. You’ll probably find it boring.

Statistically you’re much more likely to be interested in watching someone pretending to be a lawyer or a superhero than watching half a dozen men discuss the State Department/USAID FY 2017 Budget.

None of them wore superhero costumes. Some of them might be real lawyers.

But they have in their hands the potential to save 2.5 billion* lives next year. They probably will save tens of millions.

Of people’s lives.

I call that interesting.


Deciding where and which lives to save, that’s these guys’ jobs.

I don’t say this to help you put your own work stress into perspective. I say this because some members of this small group are clearly better at their job than others, and I want to know why. All of them are a lot better at their jobs than a lot of people in similar positions are at theirs, and I want to know why. Call me crazy, but it seems worth some time and effort to figure out how good decision makers at this level get that way. And do something with the answer.

It might even be more important than 3D printing and car-to-car communication combined.

But noone cares. I might as well say we should put time and effort into making water more wet, for all that anyone cares. Adults get better at their jobs because they gain experience. Maybe now and then they take a seminar. End of very boring story.

But what is experience? That question is why I’m sitting on cloud 9, here in bed, where I’m grooving on this laptop. Because today I discovered THE MECHANISM BY WHICH SELF-REINFORCING SYSTEMS RE-ENFORCE THEMSELVES. And this has been bugging me. For years.**


It’s called (drumroll please) informal mentoring. Ta da! Aka a lack of formal training and/or formal mentoring.

It’s ok if you still don’t care. It hasn’t been bugging you for years. And anyway, experience has taught me that correct answers are usually obvious, right after you say them.

Everyone learns on the job the same way: from the work itself, but more from the people they work with. And not when they are teaching or training us usually, because most of them aren’t teaching or training us, usually. We learn by watching them, when we have time to, but usually we don’t, because we’re working.

So what we actually learn from, mostly, is their interaction with us. Which, for people like the 94, 70, and 60 brand new representatives elected to the House in 2012, 2013, and 2014, where a) everyone is busy and b) everyone wants something, is almost exclusively motivated by goals other than showing anyone how things should be done.

And this is how–without being spoken–really bad ideas get passed down, amplify themselves, and fossilize. Simply because neither mentor nor mentored is aware that they are teaching or learning.

“Forbearance,” one guy said in the video. Forbearance. Judgement. Discretion. Not always the easiest things to see if you aren’t looking for them.

Almost certainly, those that propagated the dysfunction into a system were victims of the same lack of intentional development that they perpetrated, as were their unwitting gurus, as were theirs, etc. etc.

So I feel pretty confident saying that if there is actually someone to blame in this particular case, they are long dead.

*Footnotes are in part two.