synthetic zero


September 25, 2004

In 1971, John Kerry said to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" And yet, until this week, Senator Kerry was unwilling to express a firm stand on this Iraq war, this slow-motion catastrophe, this dry disaster. But that's finally changing, and it is a change that comes none too soon. If Kerry can somehow pull off this election, then it will mean not only hope for the country and the world --- it will be a sort of personal redemption for him. A man who began as a courageous voice of truth about justice and injustice, honor and dishonor, later became an increasingly bland figure, more and more unwilling to voice strong stands as he did, once, in his youth --- if he can win while speaking clearly and strongly about the most important issue before the country and the world, it will mean a lot. It will mean an American who has a good chance of becoming our President is finally willing to stand up and say what the CIA and most independent experts are saying about the current and future course and consequences of our imperial experiment in Iraq.

September 24, 2004

A lot to write about, but no time to write... I have some thoughts about cleaning and meditation, and visual perception and how it relates to other aspects of life, and lots of other things, but it is 2am and I must go to sleep.

Please note: the next loft event is on Saturday, October 23, not Wednesday, October 6 as previously announced. We're still looking for new work to show, so please contact me if you are interested in showing something. Also, we're looking for a new roommate here at the loft. Check it out. We need someone by October 7. Pass the word around.

September 19, 2004

Sometimes people disappear for a long time ... then suddenly resurface, after months, or years, quite unexpectedly. This has happened to me several times in the last year. It is sometimes pleasant, sometimes a little disturbing. I wonder if the age of the Internet has made this phenomenon easier --- it's more difficult to lose track of people, and easier to refind them if you do. Just do a Google search. People change email addresses, it's true, but then again email tends to follow people when they move, and if they change it they often blast everybody they know with an update. Overall I think it's a good thing.

I've been watching a lot of old movies on TiVo and I find it curious that many of them seem to be about, winkingly reference, or in some other way involve extramarital affairs. It seems the subject in a seemingly less sexually permissive era was much more fascinating to people.

Khaela Maricich has a new weblog. It is about thirteen thousand times better than the first weblog she had, which I set up and which was a dismal failure in every way. When I first met Khaela I had this feeling that she was an amazing person, but it took a while for her amazingness to come out in her work --- now it's there in full force. Well it was always there, it just wasn't as visible as it is now.

I was thinking recently about why it is that I like people who are unhappy, or at least somewhat conflicted about themselves or their life; I realized it is because they seem to be more alive to me than people who are self-satisfied. There's something kind of static about happiness --- as a sort of state or condition --- is that really all that interesting? Of course, the irony is that I myself almost always feel happy ... I'm one of the only perenially happy people I know. Maybe I should vote myself out of my own club. But my happiness is not like Tolstoy's happy family, it isn't based on a condition of happiness set up by certain circumstances being the way I want --- it is sustained by a constant willingness to accept change, to see things as not completely solid, not to set up things to be permanent --- but to be able to fall back on the ultimate wonderous emptiness/fullness. In other words, I don't try to anchor my happiness or let it depend on things that happen. I suppose what I am saying is that sadness or dissatisfaction is perfectly fine with me. I am happy to be sad, or dissatisfied, which means I am happy quite a bit.

Speaking of dissatisfaction, the military and intelligence assessments of the situation in Iraq have turned very dark, even darker than they have been:

"I see no ray of light on the horizon at all," said Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College. "The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after World War II in Germany and Japan."

...."This is far graver than Vietnam," said Gen. Odom. "There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with a war that was not constructive for U.S. aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile and we're in much worse shape with our allies."

...."You could flatten [Fallujah]," said [Gen.] Hoar. "U.S. military forces would prevail, casualties would be high, there would be inconclusive results with respect to the bad guys, their leadership would escape, and civilians would be caught in the middle. I hate that phrase 'collateral damage.' And they talked about dancing in the street, a beacon for democracy."

Even the Administration's own intelligence assessment about Iraq is pessimistic. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who is paying attention, but, unfortunately, the majority of Americans are not, apparently. As Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst, put it:

''You don't have to have classified information and sensitive reporting to come to some kind of judgment," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst who specializes on Iraq at the National Defense University. ''Anybody can come to those conclusions if they know enough about Iraq and have a brain."
Having a brain: not a strong point for our President. And as for knowing enough about Iraq: also a bit of a problem for Mr. Doesn't Read Newspapers, Mr. Needs To Have Intelligence Summaries Summarized Again Down to One Page, and Mr. Didn't Even Know the Difference Between Sunnis and Shiites.

September 14, 2004

When I was a child, like 3 or 4 years old, I used to think a lot about birth and death. I thought, if I am 3 now, I was 2 before, then 1, then ... what? I had many dreams of me in my mother's stomach (but it was a big dry cave-like room with a playground in the back where the children waiting to be born would play --- that playground wasn't part of my mother, it was somehow shared amongst all mothers). I had a dream where I was a baby sitting in the clouds with a few other babies, looking through a magic hole in the clouds that let me scan the surface of the Earth until I found my parents, and I said "this is where I want to come down." I thought about the fact that I would die and how I wanted to grow up to become a biologist who would find a cure for aging, so I could at least theoretically live forever.

Now, of course, I don't really have this intense aversion to death. I certainly wouldn't choose it if life were an option; and I have fear, etc... but I don't really mind the fact that, someday, perhaps even soon, I will die. It is because I no longer identify so much with just this circumscribed me --- I identify with the world, with the matrix of life, the universe, the ground of being. That which is really important will not die (and by this I don't mean my "soul" --- I mean the whole shebang, the timeless reality).

September 12, 2004

After many years of long hair, I decided to cut my hair short at a hair salon today, just for variety. I have been thinking about doing this for several months now, and I finally decided to go for it --- the only question was, how short; I asked various people's opinions, and in the end I went for relatively short, just for the sake of change. I figure, if I'm going to cut it, I might as well go all the way. My sister-in-law thinks I look much the same, but my brother disagrees; he thinks it's a fairly radical "lifestyle change." But I've never really thought of my hair as a lifestyle --- I've always had it long mostly for practical reasons (so I wouldn't have to keep cutting it all the time, because it grows incredibly fast, and to keep it from getting into my eyes, which is particularly irritating during martial arts practice). I don't know how long I'll keep it like this --- we'll see.

September 10, 2004

I've been corresponding a lot, mostly via AIM, with Katharine Tillman recently; she has quite a life story which I won't summarize here --- if you ask her for entry to her site, you can find out for yourself (at least as much as is revealed in her writings there, spanning years). I am trying to remind her, as much as I can, of her living possibilities and life before and after a fall --- and, interestingly enough, she reminds me of the same lived possibility, although it is mostly unconscious, as after we've chatted I have been having certain inspirations which, I think, are somehow related to the topics we discuss, though not obviously directly due to anything she has said but more, perhaps, to the inner reality of what we are talking about --- for example: the impulse to create and how it seems to come from a place that is simultaneously unknown and very intimately part of our present reality, no matter how far from it we may seem to be.

Today: I was zooming around as I often do --- I realized that I love this feeling of speed, fluidity, alacrity --- but it isn't because I like to hurry. To the contrary, I love leisure, taking time with things, lingering. But there are transitions, movements in between, and those I actually do love to make quite quick, not in a need for rushing, but rather just because I feel every moment of life is somehow crucial, and so I can linger just that bit longer both before and after, I move from each slow moment to another with as much lightness as I can muster without actually hurrying, so that I can again take my time there, as long as feels right.

Then again I also notice there are these moments when it is just the right thing, it seems, to stop --- to leave, it feels like the thread of that place and time has been all spooled up and the time to go is now.

September 7, 2004

"It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." - Voltaire

I had a dream a few days ago. Susan and I had checked into a hotel, but someone told us that, despite the fact that we had no excess of money, that we had inherited the right to stay in the penthouse suite. We went up there, and the suite was the entire top floor. But then someone whispered to me that there is a hidden elevator in the corner that would take us to a place of untold riches. So I went to the corner and the wall slid back and two golden elevator doors appeared. We entered the elevator and found a dusty old control panel in the corner which had been covered over by a glass plate (though you could still sort of get at the control panel by sliding your hand under the glass). An old sign said that if we solved the puzzle of the control panel, it would take us down to the place with the riches. But a newer sticker said "CONTAMINATED - DO NOT GO THERE." Meanwhile, the elevator was slowly ascending as we gazed at the panel. The roof opened up and the elevator emerged in a beautiful garden with lots of dapper-looking people. One gentleman saw us and commented, "Oh, the elevator used to go down to a hidden basement floor with vast wealth, but that floor has been abandoned and unused for a long time. If you go down there now all you'll find is dirt and germs."

So we went back into the elevator and went down to our room. We went around and had various adventures in the hotel... but I later thought, "Why is the elevator even there if there is no point to it? It must actually take us to those riches after all. The gentleman must have been trying to put us off the trail." So we went back to the elevator, at which point I suddenly realized the truth --- the place with the wealth was the roof garden, and if you can get there without having to do anything at all! The whole story about the basement and the control panel was just another red herring.

Later, we went back to our room, and I realized yet another thing --- it was fine right in the room as well. There was no real need to go up to the roof. I looked down and there were muffins --- I had one muffin with strawberries that was one of the best things I have ever eaten.

September 4, 2004


I am at this meditation retreat again. There's this little puzzle, it is 27 little cubes connected by a long string. Most of the connections force a change in direction at right angles, except for two L-shaped pieces which are 3 cubes long on a side, 4 cubes in from each end. The string lets you bend and move the cubes in any direction as long as the faces that are connected stay connected (but you can rotate them relative to each other). The problem is to make it into a cube.

There are a fair number of science and math nerds at the retreat and they had all worked on the puzzle for a long time and could not solve it. One person, Tom (not a science nerd), had solved it in 30 minutes of playing with it, but he was unable to solve it again, and someone scrambled it before they could write down the solution. They've all been here for months; I had just arrived after being here the first two weeks (I didn't notice the puzzle then), and being away for more than two months (it's a very long retreat).

So of course I was drawn to this thing. I heard their stories about it: that it had no pattern, it was just a bunch of cubes and you had to exhaust every possible permutation to solve it, there were no shortcuts. My friend Doug (math and biology degree from Caltech) told me he remembered something about Tom's solution. So I sat there with it, slowly going over it, over and over it. trying to solve it using the information Doug had given me.

Contrary to what they said about it, I noticed a lot of patterns. I was proving little theorems, lemmas, about the cube, all the time. I can't remember most of them now, but as I was first sitting there, I accumulated a lot of information about the cube. I had to keep it all in my head as I worked on it. It was very intense --- I was totally focused on the cube. I skipped the evening meditation session and kept my focus.

I've never done anything like mandala visualization (where you visualize intricately complicated patterns in your mind) --- we do much more austere Zen-style sitting. But as I was sitting there with this cube, thinking about it, absorbing it, proving things about it, holding those results in my mind --- I thought of mandalas. It felt good to be so intent. I kept feeling like I was getting there --- but no. It didn't work.

The thing Doug had told me simplified the problem a lot, and this helped me to think about it more clearly. The problem is, after two hours, I had managed to prove that it couldn't be solved with the property Doug had told me it had. So, I started over. I wasn't discouraged --- I felt determined to finish this. I sometimes take on things that are a bit too large, and then I am daunted by them --- but this time I was determined to solve it.

Once again, more combinations. I tried other variations based on things Doug had told me. It was getting late --- far past the proscribed bedtime at the retreat. By this time I was working on it with a little LED light in my tent. As time went on I kept thinking less and less about the lemmas and the theorems. I was trying to do the puzzle in my head --- I would just sit there for long periods staring at the cube, not moving it, trying different arrangements in my mind. I kept coming up with nothing, but I felt, somehow, getting closer.

More combinations, attempts, and I was getting really sleepy. I consciously started to think that what I wanted to do was use my intuition more and be less systematic. I knew a LOT about the cube at this point but it all started to dissolve, I couldn't remember it so much as feel it. But I still couldn't let go of trying to purposely find a solution.

Then I started to think of something Sue had said: that she had thought the reason Tom had solved it was because he had had a very intense meditation session; she could actually feel it. She said "he solved it with emptiness." So, I started to try more and more to use my intuition, but I was still holding out for some conscious strategy.

Finally ... I was completely exhausted. I had to go to sleep. I decided to give it one last try, but I completely gave up doing it with a directed purpose. I took up the cube once again, and just physically felt my way with the puzzle. At this point I had a concrete feeling for what the solution would have to be like, but I wasn't really trying to apply this knowledge in a conscious way. I was both totally exhausted and totally present. I just moved with the plastic, like a contorted dance. I folded it while looking at it, twisted, clicked, it felt good ... and then ... like a dream, it just fell into place. On this one, last, try. It was ... a cube.

Strangely, I didn't feel the triumph I was expecting, because I didn't feel I had actually done it myself. It seemed to have "been solved" somehow --- yet I still felt it had been solved through me. I had learned a lot from it, however... how and when to give up.