Sunday, April 30, 2006

Theory & Practice

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
• Yogi Berra

In Reality, we all use the scientific principles, whether we know it or not. It is better to know it, and apply them with full knowledge of what they can do for us.

The scientific method is the process by which we, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world. Recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena, we aim through the use of standard procedures and criteria to minimize those influences when developing a theory. As a famous scientist once said, "Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view." In summary, the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of bias or prejudice in the experimenter when testing an hypothesis or a theory.

All righty then. What does this have to do with our daily lives? Everything.

We drive to the store to pick up a loaf of bread. First of all, we drive according to a collectively recognized set of rules that have been proven to get us there without hitting anything. We don't drive on the median, or drive without putting the key in, or any number of other variations which we may prefer, but has shown to be, in actual practice, unworkable. Likewise, upon reaching the store, we look for the bread in the bread aisle, which everyone has agreed where the bread should go, and more importantly, is where the bread actually is.

Upon leaving the store, we may prefer to just walk out with our bread. If we do, we run into a lot of real world complications. Most of us have agreed to a transfer of assets that will let us peacefully leave with what is now recognized as our loaf of bread.

This is an uncomplicated transaction, and yet many episodes of Cops will show that some people have problems with every element of this scenario. We shake our heads at such people, and wonder where their sense of reality is. Yet, writ larger, this problem can affect anyone.

Many of our struggles in life come from a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that we are not operating from an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world. Consider the fruitless pursuit of love, which has resulted in actual stalking laws that attempt to explain to the wrongly besotted person that when the object of their desire changes their phone number, moves to a new place, and takes out a restraining order, this means said object does not want to date them.

Most of us are not stalkers. But we do pursue relationships with no realistic expectation of working. We toil in jobs we don't like instead of breaking out into something else. We gnash our teeth over parts of our life we feel we have no control over, and yet most of the time we struggle because we do have control over it, we are just not exercising it in the right way.

We keep expecting things to go the way we want them. That's the theory. But in actual practice, it is not going that way. We have to change our theory and proceed on the new one if we have any hope of getting what we actually want.

But instead, too often, we just cling to our theory. And come up with elaborate explanations about why it's not working.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Religious Scams & Other Metaphors

People of faith vulnerable to 'affinity frauds,' 11/17/01: Religious scams may be the most common, lucrative and insidious of all, authorities say.

In a previous post I stated the fact that some people of religious faith are more vulnerable to con artists.

"I thought I had the best of both worlds. Here was an organization that was doing good and was offering investment returns that I couldn't match anywhere else," said the 73-year-old Southern Baptist from Palestine, Texas. Bomar said he was told, '"Your money is protected by the Lord.' They were parading under the guise of a Christian cause, and it turned out to be anything but."

Herein lies the kicker. The more one's religion encourages its participants to ignore rational thought, the more they are going to get smacked in situations that require rational thought.

That's just a fact. But it escapes some people. When one thinks about it, (rationally, of course,) it doesn't make tremendous sense to ignore rational thought in a religious context, either.

Spirituality deals with things that are unseen, but not undemonstrated. Science has reached a point where they can see how "love" and "hate" light up different portions of the brain, but are no closer to sticking these concepts in a petri dish than they ever were. Spirituality helps close this gap by giving us a structure in which to think about huge emotional and philosophic concepts and how they relate to our lives.

It was never meant to be taken literally.

Trying to wrestle these huge concepts into a literal box destroys both the concepts, and the box. When metaphors about life and love and our commitments to our fellow folk turn into literal people striding around the cosmos, personally checking our return rate, things have gone horribly horribly wrong.

It just goes to show what I have always felt: that if one can't expand to fit the divine, one will shrink the divine into something that they can fit into.

Which is an insult to the divine.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Gullible People

Gullible People: Why are we so gullible? One reason is modern man's loss of religious faith. That loss creates a vacuum ready to suck in some new form of belief. The eminent British broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge (1903 ~ 1990) had this to say on the subject, 'One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we've developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.'

I don't understand how this theory is supposed to work. Especially since in many religions, they ask you to believe some pretty bizarre stuff themselves. As far as modern man's loss of faith, there's a lot of clear evidence that certain segments of modern man have way too much faith, in that they are using faith too much to try to solve Real World problems. And it is an established fact that con artists love to target the religious. Because they have so much practice in believing the inexplicable.

Gullibility results from wanting to believe something that has no external evidence to support it. Look at the people who fall for the famous Nigerian Email scam. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Crime (Nigerian Scam): A wealthy foreigner who needs help moving millions of dollars from his homeland promises a hefty percentage of this fortune as a reward for assisting him. In order to fall for this one, a person needs to have two things in place: a staggering ignorance of banking laws, and a strong desire for money.

Since those two things are quite abundant, the scam keeps going. In fact, if we look at any of the spam clogging our mailboxes, we see how much of this unwanted email rests on the same foundation. The emails offer to transform our lives by slimming us down, enlarging certain body parts, and making us rich, all with very little effort on our part.

It sounds too good to be true.

Because of some people wanting so much for it to be true, we all get the spam clogging our systems. Sure, I blame the spammers. But they are just exercising capitalism, and they are going to do it as long as there are victims out there. To solve it we need to target the spring they tap from. I blame the people who fall for it.

THEY are the ones clogging our mailboxes. THEY are the ones enabling the current government to pursue worthless and dangerous policies. THEY are the ones who blunder around and mess good things up for the rest of us.

So we see that gullible people are not just dangers to themselves.

They are a problem for all of us.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Taking Responsibility

Have the courage to use your own understanding!
• Immanuel Kant

Some people seem to prefer being screwed up, and not take the blame.

Than to be successful, and take the credit.

This usually happens when people get the idea that they are unable to handle their own decisions. This is sort of like the definition of insanity: if you worry about who should have the responsibility, you are probably capable of handling it yourself.

This gift is ours, free, with no cost or obligation. If at any time making our own decisions does not offer its own reward, we can return this gift at any time. Manipulative, selfish, greedy operators are standing by.

This fear of responsibility is responsible for many of the stupid decisions people make about how they live their life. The well traveled path seems safer, since it is lined with signs indicating that many people have come this way before. This is only a bad thing if we don’t really want to take that path, but have chosen it simply because of all the signs. Choosing in this way becomes not our own choice, but a willingness to let Other People choose for us.

We are the only person who can decide what are our right choices. It’s not that we can’t listen to advice, it’s that we have to filter the advice according to the source, the intent, and the appropriateness.

When we make the choice, we have to take the responsibility. This is where many people draw back and give it up. Letting Other People choose for us lets us shift the blame if things go wrong. Is it really worth it? Living screwed up lives because, "It isn't our fault?"

After all, it is us who has to live the screwed up life.

One of the rewards of getting older is that we no longer have to cope with Other People having unavoidable control over us. If we act as though they still do, that is an illusion.

Once we reach adulthood, we have the responsibility for ourselves, whether we like it or not. No matter what lapses in your upbringing, or limitations we are struggling against, there is someone out there who overcame the same problems. By becoming the best they could be.

We are, ultimately, our own creation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How Belief Differs from Reality: The Jell-O Example

Don't get me wrong. Belief is a vital step. But only the first one.

Belief alone is not reality, anymore than Jell-O in the box is the same thing as Jell-O in a mold with marshmallows. It’s both Jell-O. But it’s Jell-O in different states. Jell-O in the box is potential Jell-O, just one of many essential elements of the actual Jell-O.

We are often told that if you want something enough, this will make it so. Which is true, but only if you go about it in the right way. If it were that simple, there would be no such things as gridlocked traffic, painful diseases, and stalkers.

Belief is a potential reality. But do not confuse the two.

This state often comes about because we want something very much. To bring it into reality we have to open the box. To either make the Jell-O; or realize the box is empty.

Oh, the horror, if the box is empty. So we avoid opening the box. And we don’t ever make Jell-O.

We have also damaged our ability to tell a box that contains Jell-O from one that does not. We could have a hundred boxes in the cupboard, and the hope that if we need Jell-O, we have it. We believe we have Jell-O.

But all of those boxes could be empty.

This is not something we discover until the moment we need Jell-O most; the morning of a dinner party where we have promised our famous, special Jell-O. This is not the time to find out we have nothing but empty boxes. But because of our reluctance and our inability, this is when we will find out.

That is the true horror.

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's Almost Real

Technology has reached the point that, now, you don't have to be very bright to have a fantasy life.

There were always storytellers, and then there were books. Even radio still required our imaginations to take fire. With only the words, people still had to build the stuff in their heads to feel that they could experience it.

But, now, it's laid out for them.

And more people are indulging in this marvelous pastime. Because it is both marvelous and a pastime. From the wheel to the Apollo 11 moon landing, stuff had to be imagined before it could come into being.

But it also has to come into being.

The only explanation for the huge segment of the population that keeps the celebrity worshipping culture alive is that this has become their fantasy life. Don't have a mansion, personal assistance, and a helicopter on call? Let's play pretend.

Reality shows are self-explanatory. Video games now have the ability to pass for real at a distance. Movies have gone hyper-real with CG wizardry that can get shots impossible to create with actual actors and sets.

But it's only an illusion. All of it. It's not a substitute for real life, and it's not supposed to be. Yet I think that too many people use it that way. Because it's easy now. We no longer have to build it and populate it ourselves. Even Conan the Barbarian pulp stories had only the words and maybe a cover illustration to help one along. The rest had to take place in the imagination.

But now no one has to exercise even that. It's obsessively laid out to the tiniest detail, and some people just sit and dream. Not even aware that what they are experiencing is only a shadow show, because in their input stunted state, the fantasy seems as real as it gets.

There was an emergency room doctor who did a rotation in an inner city emergency room. He said the strangest thing was the people who came in after getting shot; and they were amazed that it hurt. Of course it hurts, he would say. But it didn't look like it in the movies, the victims explained, where the hero just wrapped his wound in a handkerchief and carried on.

That's a serious reality disconnect.

In legend, the Lotus Eaters lost touch with the reality where their body dwelt, and through neglecting that element, they died. We haven't reached the point (and I'm saying yet,) that fantasy can get so compelling it blots out the Real World. But what it has reached is worse in a way. The fantasy is compelling enough that some consumers forget that it is not real, and they can only assume experience and emotions that they do not actually have.

And we all know what happens when people assume.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Using Both Halves of the Brain.

Rational people condemn actions taken without proper forethought. Yet a reverence for rationality can obscure the equally powerful contribution of sub-rational thought, the kind of "thought" that goes on beneath our stream of consciousness.

Even people who are not James Joyce fans have experienced the “jingle channel” (as psychologist Martin Seligman calls it)—that steady hum of of what goes on in our heads that we tune in and out of. Driving home we run through our rational litany: "I guess it has to be laundry time this weekend... unless I've really been good and can fit in those khakis at the back of the closet... I did get a salad for lunch Tuesday... or was it Wednesday... I was finishing that project... got to get those stats... now's a great time to remember... I could really use a latte." And we consciously drift over to the drivethru window at our favorite coffee place.

All very rational. Or was it? We were consciously reminded we wanted to cut down on treats, yet we consciously order the latte with whipped cream on top. Unless we become aware of what drives us, we will continue to be baffled by our own behavior. Later, when those khakis are still too tight in the waist, we will berate ourselves over that latte.

What went on? It was something like this:

"I guess it has to be laundry time this weekend (don't really want to) unless I've really been good and can fit in those khakis at the back of the closet (I really want to fit in those again!) I did get a salad for lunch Tuesday (I sacrificed!) or was it Wednesday (it's been a long week) I was finishing that project (and my boss is asking about it) got to get those stats (Gee, am I the only one who works around there!) now's a great time to remember (why didn't I make that call) I could really use a latte (because dang it I've worked hard all week and something has to give!)"

And since pleasure is the antidote to pain, the the simple, unthinking part of us clamors for a treat. And since we haven't noticed what has happened, we are truly helpless to apply rational thought to it.

If we did pay attention to where that thought came from, we could follow it to a more rational conclusion. Whether it's getting an expresso instead, deciding to go for a walk to relieve tension, or just buying a new pair of khakis, we could apply our rationalization processes to the problem. Instead of thoughtlessly reacting, then berating ourselves for reacting, and being so busy feeling bad about ourselves we don't stop to think.

Because our instincts are thinking, too. They are simply the thinking that goes on in the right side of the brain, the intuitive, non-verbal side that can't speak. The side that can't jump into the jingle channel and make its wishes heard. The side that nonetheless manages to exert its influence in ways that are baffling, unless and until we make an effort to listen to all sides of ourselves.

This is the core of the Zen concept of Living in the Now. Because our instincts are always in the Now, making decisions nanosecond by nanosecond while the rational brain is speculating on the future and rampaging through the past. We need to use both halves of our brain, because they are equally important.

The rational half will tell us to step carefully out into the street.

The instinctual half will get us out of the way when a car comes unexpectedly.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Christianity: Simplified

"I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone." Charles Darwin, The Origin Of Species, 1869

I agree with Darwin. There aren't any good reasons. Spirituality is a wonderful thing.

Like many wonderful things, such as Key Lime pie, people manage to muck up perfectly simple concepts. (It's not green, people. And the right topping is whipped cream, not meringue! Find some other use for those egg whites.)

There is considerable science behind the idea that we have parts of our brains designed for spiritual experience.

"Are we 'hardwired' for god?":The term 'hardwired' suggests that we were purposefully designed that way. Neuroscience can't answer that question. However what it can say is that the brain does seem to predisposed towards a belief in spiritual and religious matters. The big mystery is how and why this came about.

The beauty of it all is the great range of experience which can trip our spirituality switches. Buddhists get it from their rituals, Catholics get it from theirs, and anyone can get it from a sunset. We get it from art, nature, and even intellectual insight; anything that brightens and and links different parts of our brain as we contemplate things divine in shape or concept.

It's what makes us human. Whether we call it God, or a Higher Power, or my personal favorite, the Life Force, it must be celebrated, and enjoyed, in every sense.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to the words of a Great Teacher:

Matthew, 22:36-40 (KJV)

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"

Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'

This is the first and great commandment.

A second likewise is this,'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

Love IS the whole of the law. And the rest, as they say, is commentary.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Unexamined Life, and Why It's Not Worth Living.

Weird insurance - insurance for obscure events: "Goodfellow Rebecca Ingrams Pearson (GRIP) is a London insurance brokerage that has tapped the Twilight Zone market."

Insurance literally guards against worry, but requires cold hard cash for the soothing. One would expect people would only insure against events that have a reasonable chance of happening. One would be wrong.

One can get insurance for:

• being kidnapped by aliens
• becoming a werewolf
• being injured by a ghost
• protect against immaculate conception (over 10,000 policies sold!)
• eaten (as opposed to abducted) by aliens
• hit by an asteroid (which has been fatal once, in the 1600's)
• if a knife-wielding wife... (aka "John Wayne Bobbitt" policies)

Any of these are a mere $150 a year for $1.5 million in coverage! That is a deal. If one of these things does happen to a policy holder, they will be able to say "I told you so!" Which, of course, is priceless.

I don't know who might be the market for offbeat insurance policies, or how you would contact some of them. It's possible that there are mailing lists with categories like "castration anxiety" and "lyncanthropy." Because there seem to be people you can fool all of the time.

It's not just the gullibility. It's the outright stupidity. The list of stupid things people do with common household appliances is apparently so numerous that we need to be warned about each and every one.

It's a case of self-immunity, really. If one is in the habit of not thinking, not examining, not reality-testing one's assumptions, it is very very easy to get led astray by what, in retrospect, was blindingly obvious. This is how one becomes one of those people who appear in the news and lead to millions wondering, "What on earth were they thinking?" To which I always reply, "They were not!" It's a bad habit to get into.

For instance, six people die from furniture tip-overs every year. That isn't very many, and I doubt people worry about it. Yet six of them should have.

Carl Sagan once wrote, "One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we've been so credulous. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise."

It takes courage to admit we might be wrong. It takes a seeker after truth to discover if we are wrong. Courage and truth are both good things, though.

So there isn't any excuse not to exercise both of them as much as possible.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Immutable Nature of Reality

• Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equpped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vaccuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1.5 tons.
Popular Mechanics, March 1949
• There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.
Ken Olsen, President, Digital Equipment, 1977
• The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armor to lead all his customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-hand, second-rate technology, led them all into it in the first place.
Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Well, it is very true that reality can be a tough concept to nail down.

The invention of the stirrup in the Middle Ages allowed the Mongols to conquer more advanced civilizations in Europe and Asia. In the early part of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein proved light has weight. And right now, Jerry Lewis is considered a genius in France.

This does not mean that (big R) Reality changes. Light always had weight; we just didn't know that. With more knowledge, our perception of reality changes.

It is in our best interest to have our own, personal, reality as much aligned with Reality as possible. In our own head, anything can happen. Our imaginations are the most incredible tool in our repertoire. Better than walking upright, better than speech, better than opposable thumbs.

Because if we can't imagine it, it can never take that first, wobbly, step into Being.

It can't end there, however. Our ideas have to take shape in the big outer Reality to come true. They have to get pounded by the surf, rolled around by the tides, even drawn off course by the undertow, before they actually set sail.

That's when things actually start to happen.

Too often, people are thrown off by the battering their ideas take when they are first launched into Reality. "This isn't how I imagined it!" they wail. Of course not. When we imagine it, all obstacles are smoothed over and all opposition melts away. When we imagine it, it all takes place in our heads, and we skim over the bumpy parts.

It's the difference between deciding what you are going to do under the sink to install the new faucet, and what actually takes place under the sink, where the unexpected always happens. That's how that imagined half hour job turns into a whole day, with three trips to the hardware store thrown in.

But unless we grapple with the reality under the sink, the new faucet will never give us water.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fear: the disastrous long term strategy.

The brain has a shortcut between emotion and reaction that is a very useful process. Probably the simplest and most universal expression of this process is the way we get sick from ingesting a certain substance and never want to ingest it again.

It operates below the level of conscious thought, and thus is impervious to rational appeals unless we make a special effort. In the Famous Harlow Experiment, Harlow (1971) illustrated what occurred in infant monkeys who got choices between soft terry cloth surrogate mothers, without food, and wire-mesh surrogates who offered food. The infant monkeys preferred the cloth mother. Harlow used this experiment to demonstrate attachment processes.

But it shows something else. Probably we, like the monkeys, also find security to be even more compelling than food.

Feal overrides all other emotions because, short-term, that is the most effective use of this emotion. When fleeing from a tiger, this is not the time to notice a new stand of tasty fruit or fuss over the way our hair looks. But once the crisis is over, fear becomes a terrible long term strategy. If we don't get over the grip of fear, we still don't notice a new stand of tasty fruit or fuss over the way our hair looks. Then we wind up starving to death, and our hair looks terrible.

Fear is so compelling people can become enamored of its grip. It lets all other concerns fall away, and there's some relief in that. I think that's the powerful pull of becoming a professional paranoiac, discovering enemies everywhere. Even failure then becomes something that isn't our fault. It can become a long term strategy.

But it isn't designed for that. And like any tool that isn't used properly, it can break, and break us as well.

Monday, April 17, 2006

If I trick you, it's not a lie. - Gay families among thousands participating in White House egg roll: "More than 10,000 people were expected throughout the day, including hundreds of gay and lesbian parents who lined up for first-come-first-served entrance tickets over the weekend."

It's not exactly a lie.

LGBT families wait all night for Easter Egg Roll tix, White House shuts them out of opening ceremonies.: "This year, at the last minute, for the first time, the policy for distributing tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll has changed, with the families waiting outside all night to get opening time tickets receiving tickets with an entrance time of 11AM or later -- after the cameras have rolled for the opening ceremonies of the event. The egg roll is slated for 8 a.m. to 2 p.m, according to the White House press release". (From Pandagon.)

It's a point of pride for magicians to not come out and say that they-pulled-the-bunny-out-of-nowhere. That's what it looks like. And that's what you are free to assume.

The White House has once again showed their incredible ability to not entirely please anyone. They have not pleased the Religious Right, who would like to see same-sex couples banned from all areas of American life. They have not pleased Americans sensitive to the human rights aspect of shutting out these families. What is the reality of this situation?

The White House would like to pander to their base, who are blatantly hostile to same-sex parents. Why don't they? They don't have the strength. Like it or not, the Religious Right is not enough to keep getting GOP candidates elected. They have to soften their appeal to scoop up people on that side of the bell curve, but not at the skinny end.

I find this a heartening development. Yes, they behaved shabbily. But they did not behave outrageously. They do not have the strength to do that. Bush has said he "doesn't care about polls." But apparently, somebody does.

With Bush popularity ratings dropping like a rock in a pond, they are pathetically trying to fool everyone, all the time.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

This is a Robot I love

The Amazing Litter-Robot


Robots who pretend are annoying.

Robots who don't pretend are much more successful.

As an unabashed Cat Fan, Rescuer, and Rehabilitator, I have developed true grit. (When daily faced with four boxes and pre-scooping litter, it has to be Love.) I have only two cats now, and scooping litter, and it was still a dreaded daily chore I did for love.

And then I discovered the Litter Robot. I had never considered automatic litter boxes before, because the Litter Maid and its ilk were taking the wrong robotic approach. They were trying to duplicate a human action, and that just doesn't go well. Online reports of poo pellets being flung across the room and motors burning out confirmed my philosophical reaction.

However, the Litter Robot goes back to the drawing board to ask, "How can a machine keep a litter box clean?" And came up with an engineering approach that doesn't try to do things a way a human would. And I can personally state that this turned out to be a delightfully viable system.

Robots should do what they do well. Trying to get a robot to perform human actions will come one day. But right now, it is much better for robots to excel in their fields, which is to help humans excel in theirs.

Can a robot replace your receptionist?

Money Magazine: "A Japanese temp agency wants robotic rentals modeled after characters like Hello Kitty to man the front desk."

Receptionists have always occupied a strange netherworld of corporate hierarchy. On the one hand, they are considered mere lowly decorations, simple reactive functions for potential bodies who seek entrance. On the other hand, they control the first flow of information, and their ability to direct input is an important one.

The Robo-Cat is only good for playing "Confuse a Cat" with the real cats. Likewise, I suspect the Robo-Receptionist will basically frustrate real people, the same way those phone menus are so annoying and unresponsive we wind up hitting "0" at every turn, in a frantic attempt to reach a person. The person we reach is just as unlikely to be helpful, but they can be persuaded. Robots are like the worst aspects of an unresponsive person, bluntly repeating their few options, and impervious to emotional appeals.

I suppose this is why they are making the Robo-Receptionist cute, as opposed to something else. In Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism, by Daniel Harris, he makes this point: "Although the gaze we turn on the cute thing seems maternal and solicitous, it is in actuality a transformative gaze that will stop at nothing to appease its hunger for expressing pity and big heartedness, even at the expense of mutilating the object of its affections."

Cute is an expression of uselessness. It is all cute has to offer, and even that is dependent on the proper response of the recipient of the cute. Which is why cute can so quickly turn cloying in an adult. We expect adults to have more ability to impact their environment. To get something done, for themselves and for us.

That is why the appeal of my Robo-Kitty diminished so quickly into annoyance. Its programmed attempts to get my attention was a hollow mockery of the actual give and take of real affection and response. The real cats and I were feeling diminished and reduced to a mere byplay of transistors.

Which wasn't true.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A License to buy Nyquil

It happened to me. I got carded buying Nyquil. I had to hand over my driver's license.

I felt like doing my Panic in Needle Park impression. "Man, my head is pounding! I can't breathe. I gotta have my stuff!" But I didn't, because these days, there is no sense of humor when it comes to drugs.

I agree abusing heavy drugs is a terrible thing. But you gotta remember: I went to high school in the seventies. I saw the films. I saw people find out that the films were lies. Then they did everything they could get their hands on, because the authorities lied and they had to find out for themselves.

I got carded for cold medicine because of the meth craze. But this is not the way to handle it.

Methamphetamine Epidemic Elimination Act: "Mr. SCOTT. Could you tell me how this bill would affect convenience stores and drug stores?

Mr. SOUDER. What roughly happens is, in Indiana, after it was originally proposed as a Schedule V - in a Schedule V, it's got to be in a pharmacy. And in small towns, the grocery stores don't have pharmacies. In fact, they're lucky if they have a grocery store or a pharmacy any more, because it can't make money. In Indiana, just going behind the counter, which means you have more and more behind the counter - you have lottery tickets, you have cigarettes, you have everything else - that they've restricted - the practical implementation in the last 30 days has been they've gone from 120 alternative cold medicines down to 20. They can't put them all behind the counter."

And what if you've got a deadline coming up, or the kids are sick too, or you are just trying to get through the day without your head exploding? Better be sure you've got ID. Cold medicines are on the restricted list. And if the one that works for you is not behind the counter? I guess you'll have to suffer.

The irony here is that it is just a bad law. NOBODY running a meth lab goes in and buys a bottle or two. That wouldn't leave them enough time to cook the stuff and sell the stuff and take the stuff. Even if they are speeding.

One thing I did learn from the seventies. In the name of altered consciousness, who in their right mind speeds on meth? They don't call them meth monsters for nothing. That's why meth crazes literally burn out.

And how can drugs have fashions, anyway? They do, in reality. There's heroin, then there's coke, then there's heroin again, then there's crack, and now meth. In the minds of those who are running The Drug War, they think there's something about drugs that makes people do this.

But I think the reality is that there is something about the people. Who take drugs. Any drugs. And if there isn't any drugs they do gambling and porn and shopping. What they are after is not something intrinsic in the drugs. They are after escape from the pressures of their circumstances, escape from their own mind. And in this mindset any drug will do, even the toxic and unpleasant nutmeg.

Will the Drug Misunderstanders ban nutmeg and shopping next?

Now THAT would be a War on Christmas.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Bush Press Conference Response Generator

The Bush Press Conference Response Generator
Revealed at last! The secret software implanted in the box Bush wore during the 2004 debates.

This explains some of the responses by this administration, which I have discovered do form a pattern remarkably similar to the typical Human Lying Response:

Question: "Is the US is considering a military strike to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities/Is that another woman in our bed?"

Answer: "That's wild speculation/You're talking crazy."

Q: "War plans have been revealed by the Pentagon/I see her, naked, trying to hide under my Laura Ashley sheets."

A: "I know what I hear here in Washington [that] prevention means force, it doesn't mean force, necessarily. In this case it means diplomacy/In our bed? On top of it, you mean. There isn't another woman IN our bed."

Q: "Are you planning another war/are you having an affair?"

A: "Questioning the actions of my administration is treason/You are trying to destroy our relationship."

And, in either case, an outright "No" is not forthcoming.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Largest sculpture of Christ in America

"About the King of Kings Statue: Height: 62': Weight: Approximately 16,000 lbs: Over 8000 man-hours in development and installation. Located in Monroe, OH."

"Solid Rock Church is anything but the “Normal Church.”"

I'm just quoting them here. I have no reason to doubt them. They are definitely a lively bunch. They don't have just a choir, they have a "FireChoir." Their Mission: "We have made up in our minds that we are going to continue to build and to work until Jesus comes back."

Upcoming Event? "Business Ministry... Whether you are thinking about starting a business or already have a business, this seminar will teach you how to navigate the evolution cycle to maximize your business profits." Evolution! Tell me more. Well, the Life Christian Bible Institute offers these upcoming classes:

"Modern Cults I - Counseling with Scripture - Emerging Issues in Biblical Counseling II - Christian Literature"

Gee, they are planning more about Modern Cults. I wonder if you need Modern Cults I as a prerequisite for Modern Cults II? That's usually the way, unless you can show you know enough about them to get a waiver.

I must say they have a snazzy website. Most Church websites are woefully evocative of the My-Nephew-Has-A-Computer syndrome. So 21st century:

"i.tithe online is a new way of fulfilling your commitment to God. - This electronic funds transfer system alleviates the need for you to write a check, or count out cash for tithes and offerings. You will also benefit from the accuracy in crediting your giving to the proper membership number. Solid Rock will benefit by a reduction in administrative work allowing us to concentrate more on the work of Christ!"

Sounds like they know how to run a Business Ministry, all right. For instance, there's the Christian Business Directory.

"BUSINESS RESOURCE MINISTRY MISSION - The mission of the Business Resource Ministry is to bridge the gap between the business community and the church, which will ultimately lead to winning souls for the kingdom of God."

They have a food pantry, and a "Clothes Closet." They are givers, certainly. But then there's this: "Break Out Ministries (Da’ B.O.M.) This is a high energy, high impact program that ministers to children from low-income areas of our community. This is our opportunity to pour into their life God’s Word by doing praise & worship songs, games, and biblical lessons."

I can't help but wonder if these children don't need just a little bit more to help them get a leg up on their lives.

Because I was there when my corporation was taken over by Southern Baptist Businessmen. (You can always tell an SBB by the way they treat their employees. Let me put it this way: They are sorry Lincoln freed the slaves.) I was there when they badgered people using public transportation to get there 45 minutes early instead of fifteen minutes later. When they would give three people's work to one person and substitute an uplifting talk for a raise. When they fired people months short of them getting vested in the pension program.

So I'm a little skeptical.

And the statue? Imposing, certainly. Emblematic? You bet.

Because I thought Jesus walked on water.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance: How It Works For You

Cognitive Dissonance: "Festinger first developed this theory in the 1950s to explain how members of a cult who were persuaded by their leader, a certain Mrs Keech, that the earth was going to be destroyed on 21st December and that they alone were going to be rescued by aliens, actually increased their commitment to the cult when this did not happen ... The dissonance of the thought of being so stupid was so great that instead they revised their beliefs to meet with obvious facts: that the aliens had, through their concern for the cult, saved the world instead."


This is a favorite sociological study of mine, since it illustrates the amazing ability of people to convince themselves. Of anything.

They wanted to be special. That's what we all want. These folks just took the complete It Only Exists Inside My Head route. Don't think the mindsets of these people were easy to maintain. To get up in the morning carrying the secret conviction that one has saved the world, without any external reinforcement, takes about all the brain power anyone has left over after breakfast.

And that's the problem, when one decides to live entirely in one's own head. It's no wonder these folks sought out others. It's the classic "I'm not the only one" rationale that leads to mob rioting, Fox News, and waiting on a hillside for Jesus.

No one waits alone on the hillside. At least, not for very long.

It's good to get actual feedback on the way one's beliefs are working, and be willing to change them when they do not.

The first few episodes of "American Idol" have become indelible reminders of what happens when one's beliefs do not match reality. These people who insist they can sing against all possible evidence to the contrary maintain their internal fiction as they storm out. It comes at a tremendous cost.

They can live in their heads, which is the only place where their dreams come true, but they are giving up the chance of actually becoming special.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"War on drugs has failed." Well, duh.

delawareonline � The News Journal � Letang says war on drugs has failed

A retired prosecutor admits there are no winners in this war. Peter N. Letang said, "Huge profits mean there is always someone willing to sell drugs."

I thought huge profits was the American Way. Hopefully, of course, without destroying other people. That is, indeed, the tricky part.

The key is to understand why people take drugs. Rather, why people have problems taking drugs, because everyone takes drugs. (Try to get through a bad cold without some.) And I do believe it's the people, not the drugs. Or everyone who has had surgery, or a tooth pulled, or any number of other conditions requiring strong narcotics, would then be addicted. If it was the drugs.

Letang casts his disenchantment with the present conditions in economic terms: "If we can take away from your need to pay for a $500-a-day or $200-a-day habit, if we can reduce that to 10 bucks, then you'd hit a lot less people over the head or steal a lot fewer cars than you are now."

How breathtakingly realistic.

There are places where people spend $10 a day on coffee. Which is a drug. (And don't we all know someone who just might hit us over the head to get some on one of those draggy mornings?) So what you have is a person who will do all kinds of things to get their drug of choice, only some of them don't have to.

I agree that improper drug use can destroy lives. But the present approach shows no interest in keeping damage to a minimum. We allow people to take cold medicine and possibly operate heavy machinery.

What is the difference?

Reality FAQS

Don't we all make our own reality?


What we all do is make our own Mental Model of Reality. This guides our actions and lets us know what is and isn't possible. There really isn't any sense to trying what is truly impossible. Without a good sense of Actual Reality, we have no way of knowing one from the other.

Our goal should be to make our Mental Model of Reality match Actual Reality as closely as possible.

So we don't have any control over our own destiny?

Of course we do. In fact, our Mental Model of Reality is the only thing we can control. With a sturdy, well-functioning Mental Model of Reality, people have accomplished great things.

It's change, isn't it? Why are we so afraid of change?

Simply because NO ONE WANTS TO GIVE UP ANYTHING. It's why we have pens that don't write, underwear that won't stay up, and food in the refrigerator that won't get eaten but has not yet gone bad. Why has all this not been thrown away?


Yet it's the only way we get anything else. When the time for change has come, nothing will change unless we give something up. We have to trade.

If we find it difficult to throw away a pen that doesn't write, how much harder is it to give up something big...that doesn't work? It goes against our very nature, because:


The decision to give up Processed Reality is never easy. We been working on processing it into something we can live with all this time. And it seems that if we give up our laboriously ground up vision of the world, what we will be left with is...nothing.

Wrong thinking. What we gain is everything.

Instead of working so hard to rationalize our way into some kind of happiness, we can obtain the genuine article by interacting with actual reality to get some actual happiness.

Just as actual food, no matter how humble, satisfies our hunger more than daydreaming about banquets.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

What is Literally True about Bible Literalists?

The Christian Right claims they believe in the "literal truth of the Bible." They claim it as the basis for their political and cultural stands. But that is obviously not true. If they TRULY believed in the literal truth of the Bible, they would be following the orthodox dietary restrictions so exhaustively laid out in Leviticus. As well as having multiple wives, or at least concubines. As for the New Testament, there is Jesus' own words about no public prayer, care of the poor and sick, and cautions about casting judgment. These "Bible Literalists" don't follow that, either.

So what are they following, in reality? They are actually dogmatists. They aren't following the Bible as much as they are clinging to Christian dogma, rocks of thought worn smooth through many centuries. The flatness of the earth, the evils of sex, and the annoying finds of science are all part of Christian dogma, and have tortured or nonexistent support from the Bible. For instance, the Rapture that so many claim to believe is not found anywhere in the Bible; it comes from the writings of William Miller and led, among other things, to the current beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses.

That is why the dogmatic beliefs of so many religious people, not just nominal Christians, are so impervious to debate or argument. The whole point of dogma is that it is taken whole, or not at all. There are no principles. There is no logic involved. That is why one can't use principles or logic in dealing with dogma. They weren't a part of the equation in the first place.

People who are not dogmatically religious do not understand this. They arrived at their beliefs with some access to principles and logic, and use them in their belief system. This is why there are Unitarians, and Wiccans, and Atheists. They go for the principles, like love, respect for nature, and playing well with others. Some people skip the formal coat and just go with Humanitarianism, or Science, or Progressive Thought. All of these have a lot of room for discoveries of all kinds, and can't get stretched out of shape very easily. If a non-dogmatic person encounters something new, they usually find an underlying principle, or follow a path of logic, and go on.

Dogma has no Principles. It only has Beliefs. That is why it has no flexibility. And when a dogmatic person encounters something new, they just want it to go away.

How do they handle a gay child, science, or moral dilemmas? They don't. They want them to go away.

Dogmatic people have no tolerance for dissent or difference because dogma changes very slowly, in barely discernible increments. The Catholic Church, perhaps the oldest institutionalized dogma currently working today, didn't admit Galileo was right until 1992. Non-dogmatics were astounded. But the Church itself was not. They do not have to pay any attention to Reality. What's important to them is the dogma. And after everyone was comfortable with the whole moving-earth thing, that's a good time to make it part of the dogma. When it won't cause anyone's mind to be changed or challenged.

Since dogma is always playing catch-up, it isn't just a rock. It's a boulder in the path of modernity. Whenever you want to date it from, or however you want to describe it, Modernity does have some requirements, one of which is a certain flexibility regarding Our Reality. At various times it was thought that trains couldn't go very fast, or all the air would be sucked out of them; that pus in a wound was a good sign of healing; that a ship couldn't sail very far without falling off the edge of the world. When these beliefs were found to be untrue, people benefitted. And the ones who challenged this were not, by their very nature, dogmatists. Because a dogmatist can see, with their very own eyes, that a Belief is wrong... and turn away, to cling once more to the Belief.

So it basically comes down to the old saying: it isn't what you don't know that gets you.

It's what you know... that ain't so.

Reality - Now In Whole Grain

Why choose Unprocessed Reality?

Because it contains the germ, the kernel, the essence of Reality.

Grinding up Reality in our heads to make it blander, fluffier, and easier to shape only seems to make Reality easier to digest... until we come down with Reality Deficiencies.

Humans like to think of themselves as rational beings. But we are also rationalization beings.

With our powerful brains we easily fold, spindle, and mutilate reality into something more to our liking. But too often, this reality only exists inside our heads.

When we see reality as a matter of will, of mind over matter, we stop minding what matters. We have to give up the idea that we can impose our will on reality.

We have to stop seeing our failures as a failure to impose our will on reality. We have to stop seeing our triumphs as a triumph that imposed our will on reality.

Reality is not the problem. Reality is the solution.

Since we really don’t want our dreams, ambitions, and lives to exist independent of reality.

It is so much more rewarding to actually get what we want.