The Dead’s Goat

“But don’t pity the dead. They have time on their mouldering hands, and all they do is think of ways to vex us. They watch we living go about our dirty business—lying and cheating; penis-pumping; pirating pop music—and smile, amused, cool, indifferent, they’re like high-functioning heroin addicts, or cats. You want to get their attention, make them notice, shine a laser pointer on the ground and watch them scramble out of their graves. But that wouldn’t work, because nothing, no matter how you try, gets the dead’s goat. They’re the natives. We’re the tourists.”

-Paul Ford, “Just Like Heaven.” The Morning News. January 6, 2010.

I don’t know what exactly it is about this piece about whether this is an afterlife that works for me, but it may very well be all of it. Weird and lovely. I too wonder why I haven’t been uploaded into some kind of forever hell described by Iain M. Banks yet. But, there’s still hope!

The Basement of Warehouse 23

“Somewhere, beneath the cover of an innocuous-looking retail operation, those with true Power have built a facility to imprison forces man was not meant to know . . . things we were never meant to comprehend. The Ark of the Covenant. The Crystal Skull. Alien spacecraft . . . and aliens. Documentation of conspiracies and cover-ups. And more.

Are you ready for Warehouse 23?

http://basement.warehouse23.com/

Apparently a precursor to The SCP Foundation. New to me.

Federal Vacancies & Senate Dysfunction

“Biden is hardly the first incoming president to struggle with filling key positions. Any new administration faces hundreds of openings at the same time it’s grappling with other urgent challenges. Biden’s pace of nominations is faster than Donald Trump’s, slower than Barack Obama’s and about the same as George W. Bush’s — though unlike any of those three, Biden has decades of Washington contacts to draw on.”

-Tyler Pager, Ann E. Marimow and Laurie McGinley. “Vacancies remain in key Biden administration positions.” The Washington Post. July 10, 2021.
 

It’s interesting that the story The Washington Post ran with is that Biden is not filling positions. But, if you look at this graphic, it’s clear that he’s on track with previous administrations. The real story is why are the numbers of Senate confirmations so low? For Trump, I’d assume they were low because he nominated patently unqualified people more than any other reason. But, for Biden? It points to Senate dysfunction, which The Washington Post mentions as a Democratic talking point, but it doesn’t want to make the point itself.

Also, only one of these guys took office in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t have to like Biden to think this narrative is ridiculous.

Advice is a Dangerous Gift

“Gildor was silent for a moment. ‘I do not like this news,’ he said at last. ‘That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.’

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’

‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it. I think you should now go at once, without delay; and if Gandalf does not come before you set out, then I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing. Now you should be grateful, for I do not give this counsel gladly.'”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring

A Billion Years, A Galaxy

“New research published in the American Astronomical Society has confirmed through the use of a computer simulation that aliens–or humans–could potentially colonize the galaxy, a feat within the capabilities of modern Earth technology. According to the new research, doing so would only take a civilization like ours a billion years to complete.”

-Liam Stewart, “New Research Suggests We Could Conquer the Galaxy In Under A Billion Years.” The Debrief. June 28, 2021.

On the plus side, it is so rare for people to think outside of the next year or next decade, that 100 or 1,000 years from now almost never features in our discussions. So, to see something with a billion year timeline? Fantastic!

On the other hand, the universe is probably teaming with life, both making this much harder than scientists think, and by the same token, will descendants living in all these different environments be, in any way, recognizable as their original species? This is the problem in thinking in long timelines, we rarely factor in the effects of adaptation response and evolution, even when we know to factor for it.

African Polyandry

“In polyandry, the woman often initiates the relationships, and invites the husbands to join her union. Some pay the bride price, others opt to contribute to her livelihood. She has the power to remove a co-husband if she believes he is destabilising her other relationships.

Prof Machoko said love was the main reason the men he interviewed said they had agreed to be co-husbands. They did not want to risk losing their wife.

Some men also referred to the fact that they did not satisfy their wives sexually, agreeing to the suggestion of a co-husband to avoid divorce or affairs.

Another reason was infertility – some men consented to the wife taking another husband so that she could have children. In this way, the men ‘saved face’ in public and avoided being stigmatised as ’emasculated’.”

-Pumza Fihlani, “Outcry over South Africa’s multiple husbands proposal.” BBC. June 27, 2021

What’s good for the goose….

The basic idea is this: people should live as seems best to them. If that involves a man and a woman, two men, two women, or multiple men and/or women, who cares? Designate a family union as a contract, and any children born or adopted by parties to that contract are parents. It’s not difficult to implement, and it is clean conceptually. Further, the whole world doesn’t have to live by the ethics of pastoral people from the Middle East from 1500 years or more ago. We can create new family structures beyond the traditional ones, and in the case of polyamory, the fact that more people are involve even creates the possibility of more stable structures where when one person leaves, the union can possibly continue. Obvious.

Policy of Poverty

“The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response…

…I suspect the real political problem for a guaranteed income isn’t the costs, but the benefits. A policy like this would give workers the power to make real choices. They could say no to a job they didn’t want, or quit one that exploited them. They could, and would, demand better wages, or take time off to attend school or simply to rest…But those in the economy with the power to do the dictating profit from the desperation of low-wage workers. One man’s misery is another man’s quick and affordable at-home lunch delivery.” 

-Ezra Klein, “What the Rich Don’t Want to Admit About the Poor.” The New York Times. June 13, 2021.

Book Summary: Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

To summarize the main ideas:

Thinking is not a substitute for lived experience. The idea of being a mother, combat veteran, a disciple of a spiritual teacher – pick any experience you don’t have – and having the idea about it is not the same as having lived it. And, it is worse than that, many of the experiences we do have, we’ve replaced the experience with thoughts, so we are alienating ourselves from our own lived experience, at practically every moment.

The substitution of our ideas for our lived experience is the source of our suffering. The idea of self, preferences and aversions for certain experiences, etc., all work to alienate us from our actual experience. The way to counteract this effect is by the three trainings: morality, concentration, and wisdom.

Morality is everything we do in the ordinary world that requires judgment and planning. Concentration is the ability to settle your mind on what you wish. Wisdom comes from focusing our attention on our lived experience to the point that we see it clearly, not through abstractions. Through these three trainings, we can improve our receptiveness, our focus and these will lead to a fundamental realization of what’s real and what is mind-made.

The unreal has three characteristics: impermanence, dissatisfactoriness, and no-self. Everything is impermanent. If nothing is permanent, then the person at birth is not the same as the person you are now. This is equally true, no matter how thinly you slice time. The person you were a nanosecond ago is not the same person you are right now. It is our desire to reject that reality for permanence, of condition and of self, that gives rise to dissatisfaction.

Drop to the level of sensations. The only thing that is real is what you are experiencing in this moment, and even then, by the time it registers, it is over. Everything is a phantom – memories of the past, plans for the future, ideas about the present and even sensate experience is over before we realize it. This is why it is difficult to understand what is real.

On the path to understanding the real, there are five spiritual faculties to cultivate: faith, wisdom, energy, concentration and mindfulness. The first four can be thought of as wheels on the bullock cart with mindfulness as the driver. Balance faith/wisdom and energy/concentration. Then, strengthen and balance them again.

Awakening is achieved through seven factors: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. The hindrances are sensory desire, ill-will/malice, sloth/turpor, restlessness/worry and doubt. Finding the right balance between focus and ease is the secret to a good life.

What makes it good? We are able to access peace and happiness by turning our minds to them. By renouncing certain aspects of life, we cut off sources of suffering. Just knowing that it is possible, right here in this life, right now, to be free of suffering is a huge relief.

These are the Four Noble Truths. You’re going to be dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction has a cause. It can end, and we have a method to end it. No need for heaven, secret teachings or being a saint. All you need to do is follow the instructions. If four is too much, all you need is one idea. Suffering can end.

There are people walking around right now that are enlightened. It wasn’t just back in Buddha’s day. You may know a person who is enlightened. If you don’t, perhaps you could. How?

Buddhists talk about the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihoo
  • Concentration: right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration
  • Wisdom: right view, right intention

If you want to make quick progress, then:

  1. Do lots of practice in daily life
  2. Go on more and longer retreats
  3. Consistently concentrate and develop the ability to investigate quickly and precisely
  4. Pay attention more often in their daily activities
  5. Be morally together

The best time to meditate is any time you can, preferably right now. With strong enough concentration, our whole inner landscape becomes subject to our control.

The Social Obscene

“In certain young people today…I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.”

-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “IT IS OBSCENE: A TRUE REFLECTION IN THREE PARTS.” chimamanda.com. June 15, 2021.

I found this discussion of the “controversy” around this essay pretty interesting. Why did she choose to write this? It seems like setting yourself up for a lot of bother. But, I think the central idea that the incentives of social media tends to do something to people’s perspective – removing nuance of thinking, increasing self-centeredness, etc. is valid. How do you mitigate this problem, for yourself and in relationship with others using these platforms?