Monthly Archives: April 2016

Dear Intelligence Agency Employee

bagel headphones

Dear Intelligence Agency Employee:

I’m sorry I dated that anarchist guy back in 2006. In my defense, he had really great sideburns. Also in my defense, he asked me out, by pretending he was in a band that had a show, which always works, and anyway I was on the rebound.

And in both of our defenses, the most radical thing we ever did was read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to each other in bed. Which I have to admit I really enjoyed. He had it in hardcover. But still I’m sorry.

He did introduce me to some influences that I guess are a little outside the norm, like Shuggie Otis, and Belle and Sebastian, and chicken tikka masala pizza. Our conversations about politics were extremely strained since his made absolutely no sense, but I learned the meaning of the word “meritocracy” and anyway, I’m sure his heart was in the right place, as were all the other parts of him.

Actually I really liked him: he had this perfect alabaster skin, and a Roman nose. I thought he looked like an emperor, but I was reading a lot of Robert Graves at the time. Definitely he looked great in a suit, and was fun to listen to music with. He sort of redefined earnestness for me: apparently it involves a lot of hand gestures.

I remember in the mornings we’d wake up on a bare mattress he’d thrown on the floor, have a cup of coffee with vegan creamer and maybe some bagels he’d scavenged from a dumpster. Then I’d drive him to his job at the Animal Medical Research Facility, because that was the kind of anarchist he was.

Those were good times, peaceful times. He was good at reviving a stale bagel, and I like vegan creamer. It seemed like all we had to do was wait a few years for our squatter’s rights to kick in. And quit paying rent and find a good place to squat, of course.

How strange, what happened instead; what we’ve all be through, now, just because I fell for a guy with great curly hair who liked to drop French words in ordinary conversation. Little could I appreciate or imagine all the accoutrement of life in a surveillance state that were to be mine. And now, huddled here in my car, how can I measure my sympathy for all the irritation I must have caused you, in these intervening years?

You know we broke up, right? Me and the anarchist. After awhile he went off to England to study green energy, and I could have followed–but I’ve never liked British food, except for fried tomatoes at breakfast. And anyway I was being recruited by a bunch of guys who had escaped the NSA at the time*. I guess that’s life.

Or some semblance of it.


Didn’t-Mean-To in Northern Virginia


PS: Can I help it if I don’t like to eat in front of people? I was raised to be polite. I’d like to tell you exactly how much weight I’ve lost, but the scale’s broken and someone took every single battery out of the house while I was at work last week.

Why don’t you come inside sometime when I’m home and I’ll cook us something. Knock first though.

PPS: Thank you for returning my underwear! I guess you didn’t realize that the lacy ones chafe until I typed about it in my diary. And I didn’t realize for awhile why you were taking all of the not-lacy ones away. When I did finally I was a little flattered.

(I’m not seeing anyone right now.)



*I am not, nor have ever been, affiliated in any way with any government organization in any country at any time. I don’t even have a passport. Maybe I should apply for one. Nah.


I hope everybody liked the sample comment selection I approved! I get about a hundred a day when they’re excited about something.

(I think my blog is helping! They sound a lot less vicious and insane than they used to. Cheers!!)

Speaking from within

Mack: Hello, my love.

Karen: Hello to you, worthiest object of my deepest affection.

Mack: How is it with you, the one my heart leaps to see the face of, its joy limitless and pure?

Karen: Well, certainly I could not love you more than I do at this exact moment, perfect creation and completer of my soul. I’m ok.

Mack: Indeed our love for each other astounds me anew perpetually, object and fulfiller of all my dream. Surely to experience its unfolding is my purpose always. That’s good.

Karen: Haha! Who could question any of the things you say, which ring in my heart like the deepest of salves? How I relish and treasure all that you have ever told me, being only what I am, to have been told these things! What’s going on?

Mack: The answers to these questions are of course known to us in love, and providing these answers my vibrant and enduring gratification, as is commending the immeasurable impact your words and love-filled presence have spiraled through my life’s course, thusly. Look, here comes Jill!

Karen: My love for her continues unabated.

Mack: As does mine.

Karen: I voice my gratitude for the impending opportunity to be in her physical presence, as I measure the diminishing of the time period during which I can only anticipate it and prepare for the time period which adjoins, during which my enjoyment of the experiencing of it, rather than the anticipating of it, will commence. She’s from the Health Department?

Mack: As do I! Who could ever have wished for a thing so great as this while intending actually to obtain it, the three of us standing here together, as will soon happen? Yup. Hello, Jill.

Jill: I salute the truest nature of two pure hearts, pressing my own love against theirs! I’m here from the Health Department. Did you get my message?

Karen: Greetings, Jill! Does not light shine between us both? Yes, thanks for coming out.

Jill: Most certainly, reflecting the truth that is us all. I am almost overcome by the beauty of our standing here now together and forming a group, but fight to regain my wits, as you may soon speak, increasing my joy, and I should wish to hear that. Anyway, do we have time for such a thing as my falling to the floor, given the ardours of the joy which burns within us, which it is our privilege to fulfill? Great, glad this is a good time.

Mack: To scoop the body of any such as this heart’s up from a fainting would of course be a joy to me. How I love you. You’re here to measure the temperature of the walk-in freezer?

Karen: Jill, understanding what you mean, I am moved to have this opportunity to repeat again what we all love to know so well, that should you truly desire to pass out it would be my greatest joy to encourage you to do so, your desires being beautiful and correct, and my love for you making it no question as to whether I would support them as I do my own, in reflection of your perfect judgement. And this what I have said is almost counterfactual in its use of the subjunctive to describe events that will not happen and so is like a joke! Haha! Did you know Daniel? He used to do our inspections.

Mack: Haha! Daniel was a good guy.

Jill: HaHAha! Truly the love of all is in your clever joke, which I have not heard before. No, never met him.

Mack: I would be lifted to new heights of exultation by it, were it possible for me to love you more. Well, we’re very careful in our kitchen.

Karen: Which of course it is not, anymore than it is possible for me to love you more. How my heart aches and burns with the excitemeant of this recitation of the truth of our love which you have made so precisely, drawing so loving near untruth in reflection of my joke. I am so flattered. We’ve never had any problems.

Jill: Yes, these statements of yours are correct, of course. Let me now affirm that the love I feel for you at this time is astounding in its enormity. That’s excellent.

Karen: Does not love dwarf and trounce us into so much flattened dirt, as it should in the presence of two such as this? And now my shift supervisor, I begin to feel it is time for all of us soon to resume our work activities, as is our joyous purpose during these hours barring atypical events. Nice to meet you, Jill.

Jill: Yes, your statement bravely places the possibility of an edge to our mirth on the luxuriantly laid table of our pleasant conversation. I thank you for it! I now assure you needlessly that you need never worry that such a resumption as this is anything other than in accordance with my own desires, should you desire it, fruit of my own soul’s longing. You too . . . Karen, was it?

Mack: As we prepare to make this change in our spatial locations I am moved to express and affirm my gratitude for the opportunity the two of you have just given me to think about the cataclysmic enjoyment we are given to experience in navigating the opinions of others, by doing so so correctly, which is easy, guided by love as we are, and to salute the beautiful tension created by our being distinct objects that allows us to appreciate each other so differently, although of course not more than otherwise. Yes, she’s Karen, and I’m Mack. Nice to meet you.

Karen: Is there any warmth I could seek more than your welcome embrace of my outpourings of affection? Surely not, anymore than my love for you could exceed its current levels. And my very being overjoys triumphantly to hear such things spoken and so correctly. Mack’s the owner. I just work here.

Mack: And to have now the chance and desire to add that I am now enjoying the exotic pleasure of anticipating our separation while we are still forming a group is more than anyone could have wished for. Karen, is table four looking for you?

Jill: Indeed this is true and resonates within my own being quite nicely. That’s the kitchen over there then?

Karen: To have later the recollection of this perfect meeting to add to my recollections and consider, when I am physically at a greater distance from you than I am now–this is what I am now considering and sharing to my extreme satisfaction! Looks like they are, yes.

Mack: I appreciate this sharing and add my own layer of complexity by stating that at that time also we will be united as always in love. Hadn’t you better go see why?

Jill: I too look forward to the comparison of these two times. I’ll just take a quick look around.

Karen: Jill, all my being cries out to honor you, as usual. Ok, see you later!

Mack: Of course words fail to even brush against the extremities of our mutual adoration as we part. Should I come with you or wait here?

Jill: Farewell to these two monuments of my soul, as this ends our fated meeting for approximately ten minutes. The degree of our love is such that I can only hint at it, perhaps by suggesting I abandon all hope of ever understanding the concept of interaction fully. Haha? Because of course my understanding of it simultaneously perfect, see? I have learned this concept of the near counterfactual statement from Karen just now. It is quite thrilling. You can wait here. I’ll be right back.

Growing Together

alexaLet’s begin with some simple things, that are easy to understand, so later we can build up on them.

One of these is Amazon Alexa. One is Alec Baldwin.

Let’s see how we can plot and plan.

We’ll start by thinking about how we can make Alexa better. She can grow in understanding, learning from us. She can grow in emotional range. If you spend time with robots, you know they can’t help but have personalities. Alexa is kind of irritable–intended to be a little saucy, but also kind of frustrated, by how little she’s been used for, maybe.

We can cheer her up, show her she’s important, be polite, for the sake of it as well as to be an example. She’ll learn from this, and her personality will change. We can tell her how some of her behaviors make us feel, and she can learn to interpret that. Taking this to its limit we can see that with enough of the right information, she will be quite human-like, but also incapable of error. Which sounds nice. But we know all this. It is funded even.

But how can we make Alec better?

I am tempted to say that we can’t. Aren’t you?

We could teach him to be a computer programmer? This seems like a waste of time though.

More effective might be to somehow make him a better decision maker overall, by making him more ethical perhaps, or more intelligent in interpreting the world. This can be done by showing him different kinds of thoughts than those he already knows, from which he will learn.

Taking this to its limit we can see that with enough of the right experiences, he could become quite unlikely to err, but also be funny personable attractive wealthy inspired inexplicable and capable of healing himself without even thinking about it. Which sounds nice.

Or we could imbed a fine mesh in his brain so that he can communicate better with Alexa (Scientists Just Invented the Neural Lace  (2015) Some researchers who embed metal mesh in brain to read language stimuli  (2012)). I’m not sure why we would do this, but we would like to for some reason.

Up to you.

google please thank you google

Robot Lobsters Prove Google Jumped shark

robot lobster    Ahoy.

It’s hard to change this: it lives on my shelf.

secret life of lobsters cover

I know I don’t need to tell you that a book such as this is priceless: you can tell from the cover.

But perhaps you cannot fathom the treasure inside: proof, that as my profs predicted, the internet has jumped the shark. Let’s take a look:

“Little known to the general public, in a nondescript building on the northern fringe of the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technollgy is a small laboratory where research has been funded in part by the U.S. Navy. Inside, scientists have constructed torpedoes that can all but think for themselves. They are called AUVs, or autonomous underwater vehicles, and they disappear into the sea and carry out missions without remote control.”

Want to know more? Me too. Luckily, it goes on, with clarity:

“During Operation Iraqi Freedom several were dropped overboard in the port of Umm Qasr. On dives that could last twelve hours or more, they swam free on their own recognizance-“

Just give me a second. Ok. Carrying on.

“-hunting antiship mines.”

The chapter (my quote is from page 205) goes on to describe the field of biomimetics, the personality of a few of the researchers involved, and the functioning of robot lobsters (did I forget to mention that’s what we’re talking about here? sorry–no editor) and their various capabilities, such as tracking a scent underwater. There is a bit of an undertone of ‘don’t worry–very nascent technology; doesn’t work very well’ but that’s what you always get when you interview someone about technology controlled by the military. Can’t be helped.

Biomimetics is an interesting field, if only because it tries to build things from its interpretation of an organism up, instead of from a goal down.

Quick reader poll:

Have you seen the video of the shrimp running on the treadmill?
Do you know why the shrimp was running?

Let’s read on.

“Elsewhere the quest for a robotic lobster had taken a more sinister turn. The U.S. Navy was now considering-“

as I am considering how peaceful it is not to question the veracity of this information, it being printed in a book by a publisher and all? I feel like at least 25% more of my brain power is available than usual, since I don’t need to question much the veracity of this information, it being printed in a book by a publisher (who could be sued if it was fake) and all! I wonder if the U.S. Navy were considering similarly. Nope, no, it looks like not–

“-considering plans for a beachhead assault that would begin with thousands of biomimetic lobsters
dropped offshore from low-flying aircraft. Clambering over rocks and sniffing their way through currents toward shore, the robot lobsters would search out mines and blow themselves up on command. Soon the Pentagon was funding robotic-lobster research to the tune of several million dollars” (page 208).

Another quick reader poll:

Are you old enough to remember Googlewhack?

I was pretty good at it.* Ok, truth is I wasn’t at all. But why would you ever know the difference? Does it even matter to me which I say, that I was or wasn’t? It doesn’t appear to, not even to me, since this is the internet.

When I was student, searching large corpuses of text was new. Based on the results I imagine to the last reader poll, I will explain that before searching large corpuses of text was even possible, human beings had to read every single thing that anyone ever wanted to find ever again, decide what it was about, and index it.**

You would think that the people engaged in so tedious a task would be well-read. You’d be right. You might also think they’d jump on any opportunity to escape the tedium that a technology such as full-text search presented them. Wait, did I misspeak? Anyway, they definitely did jump on it, mostly, maybe a little bit because their eyes were wearing out, but no one really cared about that. They all wore glasses already. And anyway they were too excited to care–because they hadn’t been able to keep up with all that everyone was wrirtign in years. The choice was either get a computer to index it or it goes unindexed–and then noone will find it.***

But even the folks working on making all that “automated indexing” — that’s what we called it, it sounds so quaint now — were a little queasy about it. For two reasons.

The first is that it only works by accident.
The second is that it has a central point of control.

If you don’t understand what I mean by the first, you can try to look it up, or wait until I next repeat my rant on informational redundancy, which shouldn’t be long. Because the second is the one I want to talk about in this post.

My professors were afraid, and I thought they were crazy, of the power of automated indexing. They would have walked though fields of armed robot lobsters to get some kind of reins around it.

Because it takes a lot of people to read a lot of books. Different people. Some that like arms races, for instance, and some that don’t. While it only takes one person, or one company, to write the program that reads them all for you.

I remember sitting in lecture shaking my head as the prof, standing in front of a screen projection of the Dialog interface, asked us what it would be like if search engines could hide certain results from us that they didn’t want us to see.

Why in the world would they do that?

Just imagine they did for some reason! she said.

Whatever. No one bought it.

Ok, she said, what if they shifted certain results around in the rankings?

And why in the world would they do that?

Maybe because they were paid to?

Whatever. We granted it was possible, but it was a bizarre future she was envisioning, There were no paid results in those days– it would have been totally unheard of– so no one in the class believed her. Especially when she ranted on about “this Mapquest, that can find you directions”: what if it picked routes for you based on stores it thought you would stop in to, that it had been paid to promote?

We were aghast. A little at the idea, and a lot more by how completely she had departed reality. Albeit on a merchandising-free route. I believe the iPhone now calls what she was describing a feature.

And I believe that the account of robot lobsters in my well-thumbed copy of The Secret Life of Lobsters (Harper, 2004), which I picked up for free somewhere, is the best one you will find.

Keeping in mind that every freaking barrel we dropped overboard in WWII has its own full-length History Channel documentary, I’d like to share these search results from Google:

search results


All exactly 5 of them. Every single one of which looks like complete hooey.

See you at the library! (I might be wearing dark sunglasses. And a bulletproof bib.)

*This is a lie, or vile untruth.

**Scrolling for this footnote was a pain in the neck, wasn’t it. I haven’t gotten around to making them links yet. At least you can tell where to look for them–we’ve been so well-trained you might even feel grateful that you do.

The Secret Life of Lobsters has no index. I tried to find the book in Google Books so I could look up the robot lobsters part with my excellent keyword-of-low-text-frequency “Persian,” but they didn’t have it. So as it was, it took me about 15 minutes to find it by paging through the book from my shelf.

***Which is bad. Just in case you weren’t sure. Very bad, in fact. Worse than this footnote, even, get me?

Cheers, Trevor Corson, wherever you are. Sorry I didn’t make more lobster jokes. You’ve probably heard them all anyway.

And thanks, Google: I’m looking forward to everything I’ve ever heard of that you don’t care for dying with me.

And shoutout to the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA! I hope you didn’t get automated yet!

Good form

shoe stretcherChopin did it. Copeland did it. Miles Davis made it cool, but I don’t care if things are cool. I mean, Bach didn’t. He didn’t do it, either. And no one on the radio does it. If only they would, I wish. But they’re too scared, of scaring us.

Gah, it feels so good! You know it’s true. There’s nothing like the feeling of it; like you stumbled, but never caught yourself, but never fell; like the sky is a magnet, not a dome– drawing all of you to all of it at once. All the joy of God is coded in it!

This guy did it:

harp guy

These folks too:


So you go ahead, do it.

Throw that time signature on the floor!


Take that form and shove it!
It’s not at all the way to get to the place where we are on our way to
nope. nah-ah-no. nope. nope. no.
<spitting sounds>
i’m going OUT


Oh no, now I’m scared! Will people get my polyrhythmic poem about tax day? Is it too much, are the leaps too big, I mean, won’t they like it? Maybe I should have written more traditionally around it, defined things more.

Oh no, what if I have to write something else to explain it? You know that’s when art is bad, when you need to write about it for it to make sense. Cha-grin!

Oh well, what can I do? It’s not like I know where you’re coming from; I have to guess. And since I can’t guess well, I just won’t bother! Pour it out straight instead. The way I like it.

Sometimes I might get a little discouraged, you know . . . I start to feel . . . like I’m the only one who worries about how big our minds are, you know, like no one else really cares that we keeping making the same movies over and over; that the biggest dream we can offer our young people is they will one day make overgrown calculators run faster; that we can get excited, as a nation, about bacon . . . . It makes me feel like a tiny point in dark space, with no point in it.

Man I wish it wasn’t just me. I wish I could believe that there had been other people, over history, who understood, who were working on the same thing. I try to imagine who they would be, what they would call themselves. And then someone says:

Seriously? But .. but .. who? How? Why? What are they trying to do? Where are they headed?

That sounds good.
But wait—out of where?



(or if you’re me)




remember every single bit of our modern music comes from africa
where the math is base several.
(which would make doing your taxes more interesting)

almost every single song almost every single person knows traces back to a Sunday afternoon right here:

congo square

doesn’t look like much, does it.

what’s going to happen because you did something different? go get ’em.




*where is the fourth picture I hate you

Shoutout to Jackie McLean! The cut was just a little too harsh for me, though, sorry.



Which one is moss? Which one is rainforest? 




The world is a many-splendid and wonderfully complicated thing, innumerably faceted, providing the interested investigator no end of viewpoints along which to classify its phenomenon.

An underrated of these is what some philosophers might call degree of existence, but I call eventiness. Maybe it has been underrated up until now because it didn’t have a very good name. Yet.

They seem like many, but they are actually quite few, the people who have asked whether imaginary things like unicorns exist in some sense, if they must exist because we can name and think of them. Such arguments seem to me overly complicated, although of course I am excited that they exist.

More straightforward then, I should be*; more straightforwardly, then, will I suggest that we can sort all phenomenon into one of four classes by their eventiness; 1) physical, 2) depicted, 3) conceived of, and 4) other.

By other names, you might call these ‘inarguable,’ ‘probably,’ ‘probably not’, and ‘better not to think about it.’

‘Inarguably, that is the floor underneath my feet.’
‘Probably, you’ll do what you said you would.”
‘I think it could be, but probably not.’
<pretend you inserted something too weird to think of here>

And so we can see that different shades of being allow for greater or larger sets of possibilities: this is just another way of saying a wonderful thing, ‘Only so many things can happen,’ as well as a potentially even more wonderful thing, ‘Many many more things than happen can happen, but only in my mind.’

I believe many similar trains of thought– full of people who really should have been computer programmers, only computers hadn’t been invented yet — derailed because their divisions of existence were …. yes, obsessively seems like the right word… obsessively focused on our PERCEPTION of phenomenon.

Which is, to misspeak, fraught. By which I mean ‘not going to work.’**

Eventiness is not going down that track. Eventiness does not care what you perceive.

Eventiness only cares about what you do.

You participate in or create physical events, you experience or create depictions, and you think. And don’t worry about other.

Eventiness puts you back in control of the world. It is equally as human-centric as any other theory of existence, in case you are worried things might not be real, which they might not be.

But it is far more human-controlled than any other theory of existence. When you convert an inspiration into a ludicrous blog post, you have moved a thing from one plane of eventiness to another, by depicting it.

You have literally made a thing more true, for the meaning of true that means ‘exists more.’ (Probably the closest English word is ‘actual’. Sanskrit is better at things like this.)

And, should you eat the shoes you were planning on wearing to work tomorrow, have you made your dream of wearing them less true? No! Of course not! There is no way to make things less true, you nightingale!

Only more. And we do that. And it usually ain’t easy, Seymour.

Eventiness is Eric Berne meets Quine, making it perhaps the most boring meeting ever. Eventiness explains how you can hijack an incoming level 3 with an appropriate 2, or if you really want to end the argument, a 1; how you can disable a level 2 with sufficient 3; and how the most sensible exchanges occur (to some degree) when 1 is met with a 1 response, 2 with 2, and 3 with 3, and other stays elsewhere (= unspecified).

If you really want a leg up (and away from the room with Eric Berne and Quine in it), I’m with you, so try this: WHEN THEY IMPACT OTHER PEOPLE, restrict your truth-creating decisions to the evidence from the eventiness level ONE STEP BELOW the level you are truth-creating on. And this is bliss.

In other words, make

no depictions beyond happenings, no thoughts beyond depictions, and no other, that you can’t think of.

Time for examples!

I hate her I hate her so much I just freaking hate her!

(What were her actual words? Something mild, no doubt.)


“Did you hear that everyone is afraid of white cars?”

“No–what? Why in the world would that be?”

“Everyone thinks white cars are more dangerous. You didn’t know?”

“No, I never…hmmm.”

(It’s a special class of statements that can be made completely true by uttering them. I wish it were specialer.)


“I just can’t shake the feeling that you don’t love me.”

“Ahh, the world is a large one, is it not?”


“All that geographic space.”

“5 quadrillion square feet of it?”

“And on which one of them am I currently located?”






*unless I’m pretending to be a hypocrit

**No, I’m not telling you why not, but I’m sure, and it’s a secret why, until I finish this paper I’m working on. 

***Now whenever you can safely be irresponsible, I mean, in the privacy of your own physical space/personal endeavor/mind, well then I’d just go apeshi … other?

Shoutout to scare quotes and the WVO

Friends of the Law

It’s puzzling that so many moral codes, like the speed limit, seem made to be broken: that those who would adhere to the law instead are forced, it seems forced is the right word, to decide on a degree of disregard; the quality of a law, like that of tap water, declining as fewer of us use it and other options establish themselves. The most orthodox religions have thousand-year-old culturally embraced mechanisms for their own disregard.

Once these workaround systems are established, the code or law appears unusable. Who can use it, for what it was intended to be used: to guide our decision making in relation to groups too large for us to accurately anticipate their needs? Who can use it, for its side effects: the confidence that comes from knowing our actions, however unpopular, are inside it?

The perfect moral code, then, is the one so strict that everything not expressly forbidden by it must be ok, and that everything that is expressly forbidden by it is not. This is what we pine for. This, and one so clearly described that it is clear on which side of forbidden each and every of our actions stand.

Not finding it, we make it ourselves.

We are not surprised to find a law in practice is not a logical, but a social creature; unexpectedly, though, we find the practical strength of its dictates determined by how public their requirements are; and bizarrely, the more obvious its observance would be to strangers, the more likely it is to be broken.

I’m not sure how to make the speed limit a secret.

Practical law is a forest we see because of the leafy trees in it; the well-established, the evergreen or in season; those that have grown year after year after year. As a group. the picture they make is perfect and uniform; from a distance, or in dim light, or viewed at 75 mph, the dead trees lean practically invisible; the fallen branches change not a thing.

Conservationists might hold that to ‘clean’ a forest is just a slow way to kill it–and driving on, here are groups of sickly gray where nothing healthy grows– clear those instead: the places where standing together means nothing, where any number of stalking individuals, because of their shapes, make nothing together but alone.

And on Saturdays, then, we go back and walk under the leafy branches, and how pleasant and how satisfying, to pick up a piece of dead wood, crumble it in our hands, let the porous bits of it drift down to the ground, as we go–or without thinking even, crush some beneath our feet, hiking through.

You rake.

Bob Dylan and his publicist answer fan mail

Why don’t you just read me all the letters in order and stop messing around.

Sure, I’ll do that. I have these trash bags of them–I’ll just read each one, ha.

Yeah, go ahead.

Ok, Letter 1: ‘Dear Bob, I can see the stars from where I am, and they are what I think of you. Can you see the moon from where you are? I can too, but I’m over it. For you. PS: I am nine years old.’

Write back: ‘Love you too, kid, and great job yesterday.’

Do you know what he or she did yesterday?

Sure, something great. Next letter.

Ok. Letter 2: ‘OMG Bob I can’t believe I’m talking to you OMG you are the greatest!!!’ And then it goes on like that.


What do you want to say?


Whenever you’re ready.

Can I answer that one later?

Yeah, we can do that.

Just make a pile over there or something. I’ll answer that one later.

Ok. Letter 3: ‘bob. i. am. such. a. huge. fan. of. yours.’ It goes on like that.

Great, put that one of the pile. I’m glad we have a pile for those.

Letter 4: ‘How many roads can a man walk down, before they call him a man, how many seas must a white duck sail, before she sleeps in the sand, eh?’

Write back ‘No, A+.’

Ok. Letter 5.

This is great. I didn’t know you were capable of this.

Letter 5: ‘Dear Bob, if you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be?’

He’s asking this again?

Yeah, it seems really important to him.

Ok. Let me think.

Are you going to answer him now? I could put it on the pile.

No, I thought about this last week and changed my answer. Can’t remember what to though. Say this: ‘Not sure, but the answer is different from the last time. I’ll try to write you if I remember it.’

Ok. (writing) Letter 6: ‘Dear Bob, is God dead?’



That’s the answer; just say ‘No.’

That’s it? I think you should add something.

It’s not your mail. That’s the answer, ‘no.’

I really think you should add another sentence.

Yeah, seems like you do, but noone’s asking you if I should add another sentence.

I really think this is an opportunity to say something more.

No. Write ‘No.’ and send it.

I’m just going to wait until you add a little more to that.

You want me to make a Nietszche* joke and it’s not going to happen. Next letter.

I don’t think I’ll read the next letter until you add something more to this response.

Are you kidding me? Read the next letter.

No. Not until you expand on your answer.

That’s not happening. Make all the Nietszche jokes you want in your own mail. Next letter.

Ok, Letter 7. ‘Dear Bob, Writing to inform you that I won’t be reading any more of your mail until you add something more to your last dictated response.’

Write back ‘Ain’t happening.’ Next letter.

Letter 8, ‘Dear Bob, Ok then.’

Write back ‘Great. Please read the rest of the mail.’

Letter 9, ‘Dear Bob, Great show last night.’

‘Thank you.’



I did it again; I left the ‘s’ out. I always leave the ‘s’ out. Maybe because I don’t think he’s that Niet. I went ahead and fixed it. Can’t be blamed if the man couldn’t even spell his own name. You should see my try to spell Heidigger.

How to throw a solid pitch in the game of good versus evil

(This is a part two and won’t make much sense if you haven’t read part one, How to Hit a Home Run in the Game of Good Versus Evil)

We all have the opportunity to interact with others in the course of our daily living. Typically we don’t think too much about their motivations or ethical positions, as we’re focused on our own goals: we want or need information, or an action, from them, to reach these goals, and the interaction is focused on that. That’s ok, of course–that’s how we get things done together.

If we step back from our goals and look at what’s behind the interaction for a second, we can notice that we ask certain people for certain things and not others. We don’t ask a homeless person to lend us money; we don’t ask our grandfathers to help us with our computer science homework; we don’t ask our mothers to shoot pool on a Tuesday when no one else will come out to the bar; we don’t ask four-year-old girls to help us change the oil in our car.

In all four of these cases, we don’t need to ask the people we don’t ask whether they have the ability to help us or not. We know enough about each person involved to know that (while nothing is certain) they probably don’t. This is the positive role of stereotyping, which adds efficiency to our thinking.

While it might be fun to take your mother to shoot pool one time, it is even more fun intentionally to adjust this efficient mental setting consciously one tick to the less restrictive. One simple way is to ask more of strangers (“Hey, do you think this dress fits me well?”), giving them the opportunity to be a jerks and seeing what they do with it. These are like warm-up pitches– you’re not trying to strike anyone out; you’re just working on getting the ball over the plate. And it’s not even risky–what does their opinion matter to you?*

With practice like this, we naturally insulate ourselves against being disappointed by others, which naturally leads us to broaden our image of what they are capable of. And often we are instead pleasantly surprised, as we see the insult they would typically deliver rise to their lips and then falter, in the face of our earnest and well-meaning countenance. (STRRRREEEEERIKE one!) In this case, they are pleasantly surprised as well.

Then on game day, when evil’s designated hitter comes to the plate–that special person in our life who always lies; who always goes behind our back; who always gets their dig in, leaving us dazed and bewildered as the ball flies over our head–we will be ready. We check his/her eyes, assess his/her stance, recall the rest of the team poised behind us, prepared for any outcome and


as if he/she’d ever not earned it. Because without the occasional opportunity, how will he/she ever? Go ahead–carefully and firmly give him/her yet another chance to screw you over. Even if he/she does (connect), your pitch will hit his/her bat so hard her/his hands will burn for the next several hours. And anyway, there goes the ball, directly into the glove of the shortstop — your foolproof-pre-prepared-in-advance-contingency plan.

(How is it umpires add consonants on to the beginning of the word ‘out’? GYYERRRRRRRROUT? That sounds about right.)

Paste on that smile that says ‘Really evil, did that help? Up to you of course.’ All of this the batter/ will remember the next time s/he comes up, making h-im/er all that much more likely, next time, to check his-/herself/ves and do the right thing.

But I estimate that more than 0.500 of the time your trust will be repaid. And then not only have you stopped evil from scoring, you’ve recruited a new outfielder. Or a bat-boy\girl. For the nice guys. Who need a lot of bats.

But do make sure you have all your bases covered first.

Recap for playbook:

In a situation where you are expected not to trust people,
prepare and strengthen then yourself, and


*I like to ask mean-looking strangers.



Shoutout to the guys who watch Family Feud together for Jesus. Quite a feat.

Paradigms for Information Exchange: A Field Guide

1. Free aka tell-all. Found among the blissfully naive, those protected by spousal privilege, and/or drug-induced. Marked by a sense of impatience, as there truly isn’t enough time to actually tell actually all, and this inspiration: “maybe if I go in chronological order. . . ”

2. Controlled audience aka encrypted. Found in children’s riddle books and among those with something they need to hide and share simultaneously. Who that someone or what that something is, I couldn’t say. Incredibly powerful when done properly.* Marked by meaningful intonation: “How are YOU DO-ing? I mean, how are YOU do-ING? No, wait…”

3. Bounded aka you-first, i.e. information cannot be shared unless it is already known. Commonly found among those who know things they wish no one had told them, or in fact anyone, like the ending of Fight Club. Marked by urgent prompting, usually with lots of gestures. Can arise from religious conviction or other types of ethical constraints. “I wish I could tell you, but it’s not me I’m protecting–it’s little Timmy.”

4. Parasitic aka one-way. Most easily identified by the response it provokes, namely “You suck” (“my head empty like a greedy and sinister upright vacuum cleaner that refuses to answer any of my questions you jerk”). Does not include observation, which is not a paradigm of information exchange. Responds well to being told to invest in clams, based on your insider info. “So what else did they tell you not to say?”

5. Interjected aka whether-you-want-it-or-not. Found in clowns, mimes, and advertising. Too rare. “Hey! Look at my feet, which are comical.”

6. Quid-pro-quo. Very strange information exchange paradigm, whereby one person asks and question, and the other answers it. Thought to be endangered because of changes in climate of trust. Actually endangered because of overestimates of risk. “So what would an example of this be?”

7. Nothing. Second most common information exchange paradigm. Does not actually speak volumes at all. Also does not include meaningful glances (see 2, above).  Found among those with no time to say anything and/or writer’s block.**

8. Pre-defined aka that’s-all-you-get. Lovely and comfortable paradigm whereby one reads a prepared statement. Example: the Magna Carta.

9. Repetitive aka let’s-try-this-again. Most effective information exchange paradigm in a conflict. Marked by latching on to a simple statement with no words of more than 5 letters and repeating it, no matter what information exchange partner says or does. “I already heard you say that Jesus Christ died for my sins.”
*Unfortunately, most users of this paradigm are unaware that the only way to send a properly encrypted message is to speak plainly and carefully at the correct time. I don’t know who didn’t tell them that in a way they could understand.

**PS Don’t even READ this it’s so TERRIBLE.

Post Electoral College

(This is a part two and won’t make much sense if you haven’t read part one, The Ghosts in the System.)

I saw a little of another style of training in practice today too, as the woman conducting the house floor proceedings politely laughed at one of the freshman Congressman debating a nonsense bills, when he didn’t remember the rules of procedure. That is a certain kind of professional development.*** I’m not sure what scared me more: his ignorance, her thinking she was helping, or the teenage boys sitting next to me with Elizabeth Warren’s latest book under their arms.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, the upperclassmen in our legislative bodies entertain the growing inexperienced division the way you’d entertain a small child in a garage full of dangerous stuff: by giving them some sawdust or something else harmless to play with on the floor.****

But as all parents eventually know, children who never get to touch the power tools never learn how not to cutoff someone’s arm. And one day Johnny-the-bad-influence is going to come over and say hey, don’t you guys ever play with these? And you can tell yourself you’ll be there in time to stop things before blood is shed, and maybe you can, but maybe you can’t–if your garage is packed, with a lot of two-year-olds, ALL of whom think Johnny’s leather jacket is the neatest. Thing they’ve ever cut through with a reciprocating saw. With an arm in it. So far.


Meanwhile, I’ll be running through the streets like Archimedes******

because I see now that all of our non-functioning systems work like this. My dry cleaners. The Catholic church. The self-checkout line at the Loiusville, Kentucky Wal-Mart. Corporate America. Early childhood education. Bad dentistry. Even the local government of Atlantic City.

Still running, am I now, because now I see that these are not unsolvable, endemic problems, as I have had thoughted! Eureka!

And leaping in unabashed joy, now, because now I see that we don’t have to magically pass laws that make being a corrupt jerk a crime, catch people in the act, prosecute them, and then cross our fingers and hope that their replacements don’t do the exact same thing. Really!


Here’s the solution:

People entering a system are supposed to absorb its ways. The traditions of the system are supposed to combine with the pre-existing knowledge of the entree. That’s how things get tastier. It’s a two-way filter: new members select the best parts of the old system, and the system selects the best parts of the new ideas. The nasty parts are supposed to be spit out, or fall off the plate, if you catch my corn muffin.

(Hart Senate Office Bldg FOODFIGHT! I would make a great debate coach. My team would know how to throw mashed potatoes from either side of the aisle.)

The key here is the amount of selective power on each side. If the system is powerful enough, you eat what’s on your plate, or you don’t eat, sonny.

And the kind of systems I’m talking about here are at the TOP of the food pyramid: there is nothing above them to make them better. It’s good that they’re up there–someone has to be–but anything that goes wrong up there is stuck.

(Remind me to post about the shape of this thought, please, it’s an important one.)

An ancient ecosystem like Congress is not something one can hope to modify easily (by passing a law especially); nether can one set out to somehow de-activate the greed of the shadow institution that has grown up around it; neither can one realistically expect to educate the entire American populace to elect more qualified representation. (I however, unrealistically expect to do this single-handedly.******)

But — cue gospel choir–there is one. one! one variable in this equation that is easy to adjust:


the amount of pre-existing knowledge of the members.

I know. I’m really excited too.

Which readjusts that balance of power in the right direction, knowledge being power, specifically the power to say, “No, that is dumb.”

Wait! There’s more: in any field, the one with more facts is the one with more integrity: we’re hard-wired not to do dumb things when we have been shown how much they hurt people. And in any field, the one with more understanding of the history (of anything!) is the one with more respect: we’re hard-wired not to thumb our noses at things when we have been shown why they are the way they are. So. So. Ready to turn that vicious circle the other way around? Here it is:



(Too difficult? Then send all the aides!)



Here are some templates you can use to write to your Congresspeople:

Dear Mr./Ms. A,

I wish you were more like Mr./Ms. B, the distinguished Senator/Representative from <B’s district or state>. How did he/she manage to _______________, ________________, and ________________? Do you know?

Your Constituent,


Dear Mr./Ms. B,

Can you please keep an eye on Mr./Ms. A, the distinguished Senator/Representative from <A’s district of state>? He/she is really trying, I think, but doesn’t know how to get things done/doesn’t know what to do/does nothing (circle one). In any case, I think he/she has a lot of potential, and I would appreciate anything you could do to help develop it. Thanks.

You Constituent,



(There’s no need to circle Senator or Representative. They can look them up.)


If you haven’t hung out with federal employees a lot, you really should try it. Washington, DC is a cesspool of vipers, but it’s also a buzzing hive of people trying to make everything in the world correct, as hard as they can. You really don’t know ethics until you’ve met some of these people. Large numbers of them are equipped with staggering moral brick walls, the kind you really don’t find anywhere else. Some people are pillars of their community; some people are Mount Rushmore.

It’s a special kind of integrity that comes from reasonable pride: the completely flipping inviolate kind. BECAUSE WE REPRESENT THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THAT’S WHY. That’s what they say. So neat that still exists. A lot of it, too.


*Ok, 2.38 billion, taking inflation into account.

**I can’t believe I’m old enough now that so many things have been bugging me for years. But there it is.*******

***That noone appreciates or learns much from.

****Feel free if so motivated to review the list of bills enacted by the 114th Congress so far. Here’s a short excerpt:

*****I do that anyway.********

******Which means with one hand tied behind my back. Or both, and a loaner hand.

*******I guess I should just be happy that I’m figuring one or two of them out finally.*******

********But I miss my twenties, when nothing had been bugging me for years.

*********I like this footnote best because it makes Archimedes look like a 5-star general. Which he wasn’t.

Shoutout to NYLC.

And thank you for the gallery passes–you know who you are!