Monday, December 15, 2014

A Calendar of Change

I have now lived in Charlotte for four months.  Here is why I like it better than Houston.

A typical week in Houston.

Mon - hang out at home
Tue - hang out at home
Wed - hang out at home
Thu - go to local bar and hang out with 1-3 senior citizens
Fri - hang out at home
Sat - hang out athome
Sun - lunch and beer at a bar

Total number of people other than my wife or I am paying for something, on average, two

A typical week in Charlotte

Mon - hang out at home
Tue - band practice
Wed - hang out at home
Thu - dinner out
Fri - invited out to watch a band
Sat - meet a huge array of people, some of them I know
Sun - take TFOE to The Dog Bar, he and I meet people, some of them people I know.

Total number of people other than my wife or I am paying for something, on average, twenty?

All of this within a ten minute walk from my house.  I haven't driven to an event in at least three weeks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Half Of Us Are Morally Repugnant.

 I have been told to start writing these again, so here we go.

In the last couple of weeks there have been a couple of unpleasant things in the news, death and torture. 

There has been the story of two black men killed by the police with the judicial system not even bringing them to a trial to determine if they had done anything wrong.  With a video of one of the men being killed while pleading for his life this is outrageous, or it should be.

The other story is the release of a report on the torture of "detainees" by parts of the USA military/industrial complex. I say military/industrial because some of the "interrogators" were actually private contractors.  The findings of the report were that the USA tortured people in sites around the world with an array of techniques from rape to mock executions to simply inflicting pain.

There will be no official, legal consequences of these abhorrent actions.  Why?  Because the government is responsible and these actions have been taken by organizations that are supposed to be for our safety. The idea is that for our own safety sometimes extreme actions are required, and nasty things happen.

While these actions are deplorable my interest is more in the reaction of the general public.  While there are certainly many, many people who are appalled by these events not even remotely close to everyone is.  I find this shocking.  I'm not shocked that government institutions will do evil things, the record is too extensive and clear.  I am shocked that on the most basic of moral questions, whether it is OK or not to kill and torture prisoners, huge quantities of Americans fail to get the right answer.

This disgusting truth is made even worse by the numbers.  A quarter of Americans are satisfied or pleased that not one of the policeman who strangled an unarmed man to death has been charged with a crime.  Only one quarter of Americans believe torture is never justified.

Talk to a few people who hold these beliefs and the reasons become sadly too easy to understand.  The police and the military are respected organizations with authority. These organizations are there to keep us safe.  There is widespread fear of a group of people, and importantly these people are "not us" and this fear justifies, as far as I can tell, anything.

A policeman said that his job was to "go home at night," that he had to treat "everyone as a threat" and that if you "don't comply you take your chances."  Because the police are scared if you don't do whatever they say when they say it then anything they do, up to and including killing you, is justified.  Of course this fear is directed towards the "other", and this "other" is black men, those aged between 15-19 are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than white men of the same age.

At least judicially this default position, and justification, is accepted.  Police killed 2,718 people between 2004-2011 and only 41 policemen were even charged, 1.5%.  As a point of reference UK police killed nine people during the same period.  In the USA if the police kill you it was your fault.  In the UK they don't kill you.

The "other" with torture are called terrorists.  It doesn't matter that they have not been charged, or convicted, or sentenced in a court to determine whether they are actually terrorists  It doesn't matter that if they did the same to us we would be horrified.  The US authority has picked them up and they are foreign and Muslim, so anything is acceptable because those people are scary.

I learned this week that half of the people around me are morally repugnant because they are cowards.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feeling Unreal

This week has been characterized by a pervasive feeling of unreality, a feeling such that the idea that there is an I experiencing a world is false.  This is to such an extent that my writing, "I" is weird, that a more accurate description would be "something."  That "something" has essentially all the characteristics of the "I" but without the identification.  There is something that is having these ideas and writing them down, and there is an awareness, a consciousness, of these ideas and the act of writing them down, but there is nothing much more than those actions and awareness.

This isn't a complete state, I have a pretty clear intellectual concept of "I" and an emotional state that is best described as, "pleasantly dreamy."  I have a concept of an entity continuing on into the future, and am capable of imagining that future, and even am making plans for that imagined future.

In trying to describe a state of mind there is always the difficulty of trying to translate from mind-to-different mind.  Each of us experiences the world through a different filter, using different tools to evaluate and arrange our experiences.  The best we can do is try to connect common experiences that fit our state as closely as possible and hope that there is a commonality in sensation felt in such an experience.

I felt very much like this a lot of the time as a teenager, particularly at school.  A little tired, a little bored, an empty mind in a relaxed body without real needs.  Imagine sitting in a conference room in a hotel during the third hour of an all-day training on a subject with which you are pretty familiar. You aren't really required to do much apart from be there.  Lassitude ensues.  For me, things start to look brighter, as if filled with light.  Time somehow disappears.

East and West have different viewpoints on this phenomenon.  I am reminded very much of a bit by Alan Watts in which in the West if someone says, "I have realized that I am God" that they lock you up for being insane, while in the East they say, "Congratulations!" 

In the West this sensation of unreality is called derealization, and in my case more depersonalization, "It consists of a feeling of watching oneself act, while having no control over a situation.[1] Subjects feel they have changed, and the world has become vague, dreamlike, less real, or lacking in significance"  It is described as psychotic, related to stress/trauma, and is part or parcel of a number of psychiatric disorders.

In the East it is described as a realization of the illusion of the ego, and is one of the great goals of spiritual development.    In Buddhism it is called Anatta, the perception of "not-self" and is vital to true understanding.  The perception that true reality is there is an I for which we must work, and toil, and protect, and desire, and need is in this view the root of suffering.  The realization that this perception is a creation of the mind rather than a fundamental reality is something that practitioners of Eastern spiritual disciplines actively try to acquire.

Psychosis/spiritual realization.

Something is feeling quite pleasant in a way that would disturb lots of people.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hey Look At Me!

It's impolite to impress ones needed mental state on others.  Therefore this post.

I don't feel that bad, really.  I'm more concerned about my wife than I am about myself.

However, I have lost interest in eating food.

I don't really want to do anything.

It took me three minutes to write this line.

I am finding that drinking and smoking pot are mostly what makes me enjoy my situation, and so I do that regularly.

My "sister" (hah!  Hugs 'n shit) called me up because she was worried, like an angel, and I was fascinating and helpful.

These are not good signs.  That's a list of classic symptoms.  But I really don't feel that bad.

a mystery.

The conclusion?


One hour later I'm eating a delicious burrito.  So ignore all of that.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kicking Chihuahuas

I would like to start off this post with the important fact that even while I have had the opportunity and motive to kick a chihuahua, I have not done so.  I do not intend to kick a chihuahua in the future.

Today I imagined kicking a chihuahua.  I don't mean that I just had a thought of kicking a chihuahua, I really imagined it.  I felt the curve of my foot, keeping the arch stiff, so that your laces drive through the chihuahua, rather than having the energy dissipated through a dampened foot.

I imagined making sure I kept my head down, and over the chihuahua, with a good extension and hip rotation balanced by my left arm's extension and rotation.

I imagined the crunching, flopping failure of the structural integrity of the chihuahua.

The chihuahua is a sort of fawn colour, nice and shiny.

Chihuahuas have no good quality.

They are evil doers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014












Sunday, July 27, 2014

Morality, Israel and Gaza

This post is prompted by three things, the present news of the war in the Gaza Strip, my wife's passionate interest in the area, and a podcast on the subject by Sam Harris.  While horrific in reality the situation also has a macabre fascination in terms of morality.  Questions of right and wrong, who is more right or wrong, intention versus effects, the present versus the future, the basic nature of man.

I want to start off by saying pretty much everyone involved is insane.  A plan to systematically kill groups of other people is insanity.  If one person does it it they are a psychotic serial killer.  I don't think getting more people involved should stop that being true. 
The best justification you can have for such events is self-defense, that if someone is trying to kill you you can kill them first.  However, the problem here is in at what point does self-defense become feasible?  In some southern US states that can happen if you feel threatened.  The US government pre-emptively assassinates people with robots who associate with people who are parts of organizations who have killed people.  This is justified legally as an "imminent threat to the USA." Something over 200 people are murdered in the city in which I live, Houston, each year.  That's 0.01 percent of the population, one in every 10,000.  That's ten times higher than the proportion of Americans killed in the 9/11/2001 attacks, would it then be legitimate self-defense for me to defend myself by killing as many of the Houstonians I feel might threaten me?

Self-defense as a moral argument only works when there is certainty.  Someone must be attacking you before you can legitimately defend yourself.  This is because if it simply requires you believing that they have the capacity to attack you, then clearly you have the capacity of attacking them, and therefore they can legitimately attack you.  There are a lot of people who don't get that, and a lot of the world's wars have been fought by two sides acting in "self-defense."  If having the capability and willingness under certain circumstances to fight and kill your people is a legitimate reason for attacking them in "self-defense" then every country in the world has a legitimate reason for attacking any other country with a military, as in almost every country.

Here's what I think about self-defense, and it's not weird because it's a common legal concept.  I believe in minimum necessary force.  If you can run away, you should.  If you can disarm the person you should.  If you can incapacitate someone you should.  You should only kill someone if they are killing you, or something equally horrendous.  This is a more aggressive moral stance than that of the founders of two of the larger religions in the world, Christianity and Buddhism.

So, the only way that the people in Israel and Palestine are not criminally insane in my book is if they are killing people who are in the act of trying to kill them, in the very act.  At the moment Hamas is trying to kill any Israelis they can hit with rockets.  The Israelis claim to be trying to stop this, acting in self-defense, by trying to kill those shooting the rockets. 

Sam Harris' position in his podcast is that the side with the moral high ground is the one whose intention is the less evil.  He says that Hamas has a political document that proposes the genocidal killing of all Jews on the planet.  This is as evil as you can get.  He says that Israel would live in peace with its neighbors if they would do the same.  He says that you can tell that Israel's intentions are less evil because they basically have the ability to commit genocide with regard to the Palestinians but have not done so.  Therefore, in terms of moral intentions, the Israeli's are more moral.  Should you accept these proposals as true (and as enormously broad generalizations I do) then I agree with his point.  Yay!  Israel more moral!

But wait.  Israel, in its actions of self defense has killed somewhere between 25 and 70 times as many Palestinians as Palestinians have killed Israelis depending at what point in the war you are counting.  If you care about the separation between combatants and civilians (I waffle on this one) then (at last count) 5% of Israeli deaths were civilians, and at least 25% of those in Gaza.

So, the moral high ground of Israel was based on their intentions to stop their people being killed by selectively killing those attacking them, while Hamas was indiscriminately trying to kill any Israeli they could.  The facts of reality are that Israelis are killing more people, and more indiscriminately, than Hamas.  The results of the Israeli morality are worse than the results of the Hamas morality.  I think what happens is more important than what people want to happen.  I think not wanting to hurt anybody but spraying machine gun fire around for fun is worse than deliberately punching someone in the face.

I go back to the idea of minimum necessary force.  Since the start of the Hamas rocket fire barrage six weeks ago two Israeli civilians have been killed. If you kept that rate up constantly, year by year, you would have less than twenty deaths a year.  This is slightly less than the average number of accidental gun deaths a year over the last decade.  Israelis kill themselves accidentally with weapons at the same rate as Hamas was managing to kill them with their rockets.  If you go by terms of population, my chances of being murdered in Houston is 40 times higher than the chance of an Israeli civilian being killed by Hamas rockets, if they get to fire year round.  Essentially Hamas rocket fire is a statistically irrelevant factor in the safety of Israel.  The minimum necessary force against such attacks should be proportionately less than for ladders.

If you look at the history of the conflict in Israel after the British left (what a monumental cock-up that was) there was no "they started it."  Both sides started trying to kill each from the get-go.  Essentially the Jews were just better at it than the Muslims, and have been ever since.  I believe that having greater capability means that you have greater responsibility.  It matters whether you have a tennis ball or a hand grenade when throwing things at each other.  The danger of your actions, the misery it causes, how much damage you do matters.  Israelis have the capacity to decide on a moral basis how many Palestinians they wish to kill as a response to something less dangerous than me walking around my city, ranging from zero to all of them.

At a minimum it seems to me that if you kill more people than are killed on your side then you value the lives of your people more than you value the lives of people on the other side.  This is completely, utterly standard for humanity.  It is also basically a definition of bigotry.  If you look at the facts of the situation it seems as though Israel values an Israeli at about 50 people from Gaza.  How appalling.  What might be worse is that Hamas are still fighting, and apparently value the lives of their own people at a lower rate.

It seems undeniable to me that the group with the greatest control over how much harm is done are the ones doing the most indiscriminate harm.  The other side has worse intentions, which ain't easy, but don't have the capability to do as much harm, and strangely value their own citizens' lives less than anyone else.  Then there are the ones who don't want sides, and they are getting killed anyway.

So, in the great moral question of the Israel and Gaza situation the answer is that both sides are bigoted, violent, insane bastards.