Dec 31, 2017

Birthday activity -- Part 2

I the earlier post in this series I started to describe what I did on my 75th birthday. But I ran out of time, energy, or brain power before I completed it, so I posted what I had before I went to bed. And now, it's 3:38 AM. I've got some time, some energy, and some brain power. So let me try to finish the job.

I was writing the prior post and reached this point:

A bit more email, and I write an email to Jared Golden who is will be running for the Maine 2 House seat and Jonathan Breed, his campaign manager, telling them to connect me up to like-minded volunteers.
When I checked my email and made this observation:
(I get an email back while I'm composing this, and spend a bit of time researching some stuff to reply to them.) But that's later. 
Now it's later. Jon's email asked me what I had in mind. My answer was

I did GOTV for Hancock County Dems for the Clinton campaign, and what they gave us sucked, sucked, sucked. Make sure that what you give us does not suck by the time the election rolls around. 
What the Dems provided us was years behind the times. They gave us paper lists of voters organized by street. No routing. No App. Effing paper! Paper!! 
And the data was out of date. I went home and put the data into Google Maps which gave me a route. That made my driving less time-wasting but it did not solve the data quality problem. Nor did it solve the record keeping. Both of which sucked. 
Brexit did it right. I'm a student of their success--and what Trump did, too. 
Dominic Cummings was one of the movers and shakers behind Brexit. He's a brilliant guy and he's documented what they did at his website. The Brexit gang even released the software that they used to manage their campaign. It's available to use--or to study and learn from. Cummings explains how they used the software in this post. He's documented their whole campaign. There are many lessons to be learned. 
If you get your volunteer team moving, we can start learning lessons. 
The Brexit team built their software platform themselves because what they had inherited was "rubbish." That's Brit for "sucked, sucked, sucked." They did it fast and cheap because people who know how to build software these days know how to build it fast and cheap. It does not take money so much as people who know what they are doing. 
Cruz used something similar and made a run for it. But the guy who was most successful using something like what the Brexit team used was Jared Kushner working for Trump.  If you have not read the Forbes article "How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House" you should do so. Kushner mobilized a team of data scientists and without their effort, Trump would not have won. If you remember, the Dems were mocking the fact that Trump had no ground game. He didn't. And it didn't matter because Kushner was conducting an air war and guerrilla warfare against a last-generation under-provisioned ground army of over-confident Democrats. 
I don't know what resources you are getting from the Dems or what resources you are hiring, It may be state of the art. Or it may suck. Get your volunteer digital team talking together as fast as you can and get a second opinion. There's a good chance that what you are doing is going to be great and we will say that. But there's also a good chance that some good salesperson has convinced you to get something that will suck. That's the only way I can explain the crap that the Dems used.  If your volunteer digital team is plugged into the cutting edge of technology they can either validate your choice or help you avoid the kind of disaster that the ACA Website turned into. Anyone who knew anything about software knew they were doing it wrong and headed for disaster. Only when the site rolled out and failed to the delight of Republicans everywhere did the administration FINALLY pull in people from Silicon Valley who actually knew how to build software and who then got the mess fixed. 
 That took a bit of time, and a bit of research and I didn't finish it up until Bobbi and I had gone to the Arborvine for dinner. Ahh! The Arborvine. Great service. And great food. And a somewhat troubling conversation. I'd gotten myself steamed up about the things I had been reading about climate, which put me at odds with my tribe. Bobbi suggested that I talk to some of our friends, but I really didn't want to do that. We'd just be disagreeing, and unable to come to a resolution because--as I saw it--minds were made up and were not about to be changed. And it annoyed me.

But in the end I found a way to make peace with myself and with anyone that I disagreed with--and that was simply to take a "cosmic viewpoint." I know that I am biased. It took me a long time to realize how biased I am. I self-identify as a liberal (Democrat type, not historical type) and as a New England Patriots fan, and I have the same response to the Pats making bad plays that I have when Democrats make stupid arguments. I hate it! And I have the same response to Pats' opponents making great plays that I have when Republicans make good arguments. I admire what they've done, but I hate it. I want my team to be the best.

So I know I have these biases, and I work mightily to overcome my biases. There's good research that says that even when you know that you're biased that you can't overcome it. And I believe that. I know I work at it. I know I don't succeed and I believe that--to a large degree--I can't succeed. But still, I try.

So when I study something that is politically polarized and I come to a conclusion--with my team or against it--I am not certain that I have found _the_ answer.  I know that I may be wrong. And I know that I am right to doubt my own conclusion.

What gets me pulsed is when other people offer their views and are certain that they are right. And when they believe that they are unbiased. The views that they hold may or may not correct, but their confidence in their correctness is certainly wrong.

My cosmic viewpoint is this: I try the best that I can, but I'm inevitably stuck in a narrow viewpoint. Instead of fighting to understand something I'm fighting against people who are not fighting to understand. And why? Because that's my team: the team of people who fight to understand. And the others? People who are not doing that? They're the enemy, of course. As evil as the Oakland Raiders are to a Pats fan. (We will never forget Daryll Stingley). Or the New York Giants (Head catch, anyone?)

So I step back from my hard "you are the enemy because..." position and instead imagine myself in interstellar space, outside the game, even away from the sidelines, and I imagine myself just watching.

After dinner we return home and watch the movie "While you were sleeping," with Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock. After the movie I go back to work on my blog post, take a hot bath, decide I'm not going to finish. label it Part 1 and eventually post it.

So: that was my day. In between times, I started reading Michael Lewis' book, "The Undoing Project," which I'd gotten for Christmas. And I read some things on my phone that were interesting, as well. One was an article titled "Your company's culture is who you hire, fire, and promote" which featured this "Performace/Values Matrix." Note the lower right corner:  "Incompetent Assholes." He's got several follow-up posts about assholes--how they're made and how they behave whe they become managers.

I also read a couple of posts by James Kwak, who has written a book called "Economism" that I want to read. I've read a few posts from his blog The Baseline Scenario that convinces me that there has important things to say about economics.

The term Economism is drawn by parallel from "Scientism" which is defined as "excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques." It's not that science is bad. To the contrary, it's good. But it has its limits, and applying it beyond its limits and having excessive confidence in things that seem scientifically valid is scientism.

He describes it:
The central theme of Economism is that some of the basic models taught in “Economics 101” have acquired disproportionate influence in contemporary society and are routinely and systematically misapplied to important policy questions. The problem is not that introductory models are wrong, but that too many people forget their limitations and believe that their simple conclusions can be reflexively applied to the real world.  
This is something I'll write about at greater length later on.

Birthday Activity--Part 1

Today I'm seventy-five. I started writing this at 4:51 PM. And by that time, here's what I had done.

Yesterday, while making a list of things to write, I found this item: "Angel (6) de la Cruz." That's the remembered name of someone I met when I was working at SAC Headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska in the late 60's. Angel (6), as I remembered the story, had a grandfather who was in love with numbers. He counted everything. He knew how many eggs he'd eaten. How many stairs he'd climbed. He gave all his sons the same name (Angel) and his daughters the same name (Silvia?) and distinguished them by an appended number. Apparently, Angel (6)'s dad--or mom--had kept up the family tradition.

Google is wonderful. I put in "Angel (6) de La Cruz" (including the quotes) and find his LinkedIn profile, and a genealogy record that tells us that "Angel 6 de la Cruz Silva" is the son of Silvia (4) Silva Baez, and a record at the Elk's Club International site that says Angel 6 De La Cruz Silva is the secretary for a Peurto Rican lodge, a Twitter account for @a6d, and a Facebook post from an Elk's lodge in the US reaching out to their brethren in Puerto Rico and mentioning Angel.

So I sent an email to Angel (6)'s email to see if he was the man I remembered--or a different Angel (6) and if he was to ask him to retell me the story of his grandfather.

Then some more emails, and then a silly message to Daniel and Justin, pointing out that I was nearly as old as the two of them put together.

And a little time spent reading "The Science of Doom." That's a blog that tries very hard to explain climate science. The comments are heavily moderated, resulting in a useful discussion of the content of the post, rather than partisan posturing of one kind or another. This morning I was reading about atmospheric radiation and the greenhouse effect, which I had misunderstood. No surprise: so had almost everything I had read.

Science of Doom has an article "Confirmation Bias, a Feature, Not a Bug" which I liked. The article quotes Jonathan Haidt:
The worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion..
..The French cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber recently reviewed the vast research literature on motivated reasoning (in social psychology) and on the biases and errors of reasoning (in cognitive psychology). They concluded that most of the bizarre and depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people.
As they put it, “skilled arguers ..are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views.” This explains why the confirmation bias is so powerful and so ineradicable. How hard could it be to teach students to look on the other side, to look for evidence against their favored view? Yet it’s very hard, and nobody has yet found a way to do it. It’s hard because the confirmation bias is a built-in feature (of an argumentative mind), not a bug that can be removed (from a platonic mind)..
Then Bobbi sends me a review from The Intercept of the latest Star Wars movie. The Intercept is "an online news publication dedicated to what it describes as, 'adversarial journalism'. One of the founders is Glenn Greenwald, well known for being the main point of contact for Edward Snowden's revelations. After reading the review I decide I want a T-shirt that says "Rebel Scum."

A bit more email, and I write an email to Jared Golden who is will be running for the Maine 2 House seat and Jonathan Breed, his campaign manager, telling them to connect me up to like-minded volunteers. (I get an email back while I'm composing this, and spend a bit of time researching some stuff to reply to them.) But that's later.

At around 10:30 Bobbi and I research options for our trip to the West Coast. We could take a train, all the way. Or drive to Chicago and take a train from there. Then there's visiting Gil and Kiry in Boise. So I dash off an email and research possible routes. Stop in SLC and drive, then drive back to Reno and take the train the rest of the way. Or just drive the rest of the way.

We find out that Gil and Kiry are happy to have us, so we fine-tune the trip and consider alternative routes back. From LA? Through NewOrleansd and Panama City Beach? Or drive back.

Finally, over dinner, we decide to maximize freedom and comfort and drive. But on one condition: I do my writing in the morning before we leave. Non negotiable.

I read the "lost Einstein" paper, sent to me by a friend. For those who have not seen it, the paper examines innovation--using patent data as a proxy--and back-correlates the patent holders with their intellectual performance as children and teens (IQ), where they grew up, and their families economic status and their race and gender. Whew! A few things stand out. In general people with higher ability do better than those with lesser ability--but kids with higher IQs from minority groups and from less privileged economic backgrounds substantially underperform kids with lower IQsd whose parents happen to be wealthy. Women do better in a particular domain when they see older women succeeding in the same domain. Success does not transfer across domains (surprising) and it does not transfer across genders (a little surprising).

So I compose a long email to the Pioneer Prize Group and suggest that we take a different tack: try to create a culture of innovation. Give kids a chance to see adults inventing things by organizing adults who already know how to make things and teaching adults who don't know how. To back it up I do a bunch of research on hardware: Raspberry Pi ($35.00 plus another $15 for a power supply) and other programmable computing devices (under $10 for a LinkNode relay board with WiFi capability. What!) And I learn about Coding Clubs, a big thing in England, sponsored by the non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation. There are more than 6,000 clubs in England (population about 60 million). So in Maine, there should be about 100 such. And there are probably none. I research Girls Who Code and see about the same, sad picture. And CodeDojo, another similar program.

In the meanwhile Bobbi tells me of a horror story about wetlands in Louisina threatened by climate change. So I have to research that. And find out that it's partly true--but only partly. While the sea levels are rising, the land is also sinking, and while those wetlands have historically been built up by annual floods that carry fresh silt, dams and canals have diverted the floods and conducted the silt right out to sea. 

Back to research where I find CoderDojo and more Girls Who Code and Code Club info and finally send out my email.

And then I start to write this. Later, we go out to dinner. And I come back and I write some more.

That will all be in Part 2.

Dec 29, 2017

75 Years - 1 days: A couple of topic lists recovered

Previous post in this series

Today I dug through some old handwritten notes and some Google docs and spreadsheets and recovered about a hundred topics for posts. Some of the topics might overlap the 116 drafts. And then I have an Evernote notebook where I've filed 60 more web pages that I thought were blogworthy. And there are others in other notebooks. So it looks as though I'm organizing myself to do a lot of writing. We'll see.

I've also been organizing my Google Docs, finding essays that I've written that never turned into posts. Or maybe they did. That will be the next challenge: organizing my completed posts so that I know what I've written.

So let's see what happens tomorrow.

Dec 28, 2017

75 Years - 2 days: The list of posts and drafts

This morning I decided to make a document containing all of my posts. The idea was to tag any posts that had not been tagged, then sort by tag, then organize into one or more documents that grouped like posts together. Kind of the way that Miles Kimball does on his blog.

It seemed like a not too hard project. I could grab the list of posts that Blogger kindly provides, then parse the HTML, and then <mumble mumble>. I looked to see if this was an already solved problem. After all, what I was doing was scraping content from a web page, and web scraping is a pretty mature technology category, isn't it? Maybe it is, but many hours into the project I was not convinced.

I started out with a post,"Top 30 Free Web Scraping Software."  I ran down the list skipping anything that required me to download a library or a tool, and looked at the ones that ran scraping services from the web. I settled on ScapingHub's service called Portia which (a) was free and (b) had a point and click interface for specifying what you wanted to scrape. Several hours later I had something that scraped some of my existing posts but which failed to scrape them all, for unknown reasons. So I tried to do it a different way. This got me more posts, but still only about a quarter of what I'd produced.

Next, I decided that I'd programatically read pages and parse the HTML using a node library. Simple in concept, but difficult in execution. Several hours later I had figured out how to solve various problems that I'd encounter, but didn't have anything that worked.

But wait! Maybe the was another way to do it. I could bring up the page with my list of drafts and copy/paste it into a spreadsheet. Which didn't work. Pasting into a spreadsheet kept the post names, but stripped out the links. But I could paste the list into a document, then extract the document and put it into a spreadsheet. That worked. Except that the links went to the pages that let me edit the posts and not to the published posts themselves.

So it's back to reading web pages and extracting data, formatting the results as markdown and then converting the markdown back to HTML, or something like that.

I'll find the answer tomorrow. In the meantime, I learned a lot. I had some fun. And I've got a ton of stuff that I visited along the way that I want to write about.

But that will be tomorrow. Not today.  

Dec 27, 2017

75 Years - 3 days: Drafts: complete or delete

The other day I reviewed the 273 posts that I'd published over the past five years. Today I looked at the 116 drafts that I've accumulated. Lots of good ideas that I started on and never completed. At my prior posting rate that's enough to keep me going for about two years.

But I'm going to do better than that. I'm going to go through them and complete or delete each one.

If I remember correctly, at least one of those draft isn't a draft at all. It's a list of topics. And today I banged out a list of twenty more. So plenty of stuff to write about. Now all I have to do is get into the writing habit.

Which I didn't do today, Instead, Bobbi and I drove up to Bangor to watch the latest Star Wars movie--a colossal waste of time--other than a nice drive together, and being able to say "we saw it." But really? The movie was loosely connected series of opportunities for special effects. There were just a couple of good lines in the movies--and that was it.

75 Years - 4 days: Work Routine

I intend to become a post-a-day guy like my current hero, Miles Kimball. To do that, I'm going to have to make some changes to my writing routine--or lack of routine.

My theory is that the best time to do my writing is in the morning. The routine that I want to establish has me start each day by brainstorming topics for 15 minutes. Then I either pick a topic or not and do my Daily Pages. If the result of my Pages is a shitty first draft for an article, then I use that and I finish it up. Otherwise, I pick a topic to write on and I write on that topic.

To make this practice, and not just activity, I've got to review the words that I've written and try to learn something from what I've written. I'd like to produce articles that flow. I'd like first drafts that are last drafts. To the degree that I don't get that, I need to change my process.

Tomorrow, also, I'm going to go through my published posts and organize them in categories: make a list of recurring topics, and put each article in its category. And make sure that each article has a title that will make it easy for me to find it again.

Tomorrow I'm also going to set up my sound system--at least to the point that I can record speech. Once I can record speech I'm going to record the first chapter of Champion, put it in SoundCloud and send it on to Mira and Luke.

That will be fun, I think.

I'm also going to work on my 9/11 fantasy and see if I can move that project forward.

And I'm going to make a to-do list and get back into that routine.

Dec 25, 2017

75 years - 5 days. Posting retrospective

I've published 272 posts since I started this blog. When I thought about what I've written, the first three that I remembered being particularly proud of writing were "Violence Markets and Government Monopolies" and "The Illusion of Liberal Failure" and "Reality Isn't Optional" Each is a fairly well thought through treatment of a political/economic idea.

Tonight I reviewed the other posts that I've written and found some recurring themes. There are some other posts about economics and politics that I'm also proud of. There's a series sparked by my reading Sam Harris' book, "Waking Up." and there are other posts on the subject of mindfulness. I've written a series of posts on my own experience blogging, and another series about my experience as I continue to age and to deteriorate.

Miles Kimball has recurring themes and "sub-blogs" in his blog In his blog, Supply Side Liberal. When he writes a post on a topic he includes, at the end of the post, a list of posts in the series. I've found tins useful when reading his arguments to find the earlier posts in the series. He also occasionally writes a "top-level" post that provides context, motivation, and overview for the posts in a particular series. These are all good ideas, and I'm going to adopt them.

I've decided to go through my old posts and organize them by topic, create top-level posts and put links to the details in all the posts in a series so that someone (if only me) can follow the thread of argument from one post to another.


75 years - 6 days. WTF? Deliberate practice is not fun

Today I learned something important: that the practice that matters is not fun. Source: here.

A while ago I'd learned that practice was essential. I'd learned that if I wanted to grow beyond my natural gifts, I needed to practice. So I began to practice.

I'd also learned the adage "Practice does not make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect." So I tried to practice perfectly. But I didn't know how to do that. So I just practiced.

Now I realize when I practice within my comfort zone I don't make much progress. It's just repetition. Repetition may lead to improvement, but the improvement will be small relative to what is possible.

The practice that matters is the practice that's just outside the comfort zone; the practice that is deliberate practice; the practice that requires focused attention; the practice that incorporates failing, and analyzing failure; the practice that is hard work; the practice that is not fun.

I'll say more about this in another post. For now, I'm going to meet a commitment to myself, and post something before I'm too tired to finish it.

Dec 23, 2017

75 years - 7 days. WTF? My first fasting experiment

For years my weight was steady, around 175 lbs. I could eat as much as I wanted--sometimes quite a lot--and my weight stayed the same. Then it crept up. I vaguely remember hitting 200, but if i did, I dropped down fast enough, and I ended up in the 185-192 range.

But I wanted to get back to 175. That was the number that was stuck in my brain. Over a ten year period I made numerous desultory attempts to get my weight down there. No luck.

Then, a few months before my knee operation, I decided to commit to a change: to fast from dinner to breakfast and eat only what I needed at meals. My weight started dropping, slowly but steadily. It took several months, but a few weeks before my surgery my weight was down to 175.

Then came a family weekend on Chebeague Island with lots of food. Then came surgery and a change in locale and daily routine. When we returned after two weeks I was nearly five pounds heavier. That was months ago. I went back to desultory dieting. Nothing happened. Really, why should it?

A little over a week ago I started reading Miles Kimball's blog [Supply Side Liberal](, He's got a series of posts about diet and fasting and I read a bunch of them. Here's [a recent post in the series]( with links at the bottom to others. He recommends fasting, not just for weight loss, but for general health improvement. I'd read other articles about the benefits of calorie-restricted diets and intermittent fasting and had considered fasting. Reading this post convinced me that it was worth trying.

Or at least, worth learning more. So I read some of the other posts in the series and did some research to refresh and increase my understanidng. Finally I said: Why not? I'd been invited to have lunch at a friend's house on Sunday and decided that I'd start my fast after that lunch. So I did. No dinner that night. No breakfast the next day. No lunch. No dinner. I decided to fast until Saturday when my kids and their kids would arrive for Christmas.

To my surprise, it was easy. Far easier than trying to diet. I wasn't hungry. Sometimes I'd find myself in front of the refrigerator or in the pantry closet, looking for something to stick in my mouth. I wasn't hungry. Just bored. Or responding to habit. As soon as I realized it, I'd walk away.

That week I wasn't tired. My energy level seemed normal. We had a couple of snows and I was out shoveling our long driveway with no exhaustion and no desire afterward to stuff my face to make up for the energy that I'd expended.

A couple of times I felt my mind was running a bit slower than usual. But usually things seemed--surprisingly normal.

Fast forward to Saturday. Between Sunday dinner and Saturday Breakfast I'd had three light meals and a few snacks. I'd indulged in a "grazing experience" late one night where I ate a bit of this and a bit of that. That was my habit before my first weight loss. I did another light graze another night, but that was it for the week.

My last weigh-in before the fast was 181.5. This morning, Saturday, I stepped on the scale and my weight was 175.7. So I'd dropped a bit more than 5 lb.

Today I've had two cups of coffee with cream (I'd been off coffee during my fast) and nothing else for breakfast. I had a half bowl of soup and a few pieces of bread for lunch. I had a normal dinner, but with smaller-than usual portions. I graze on some grapes and blueberries and a few tablespoons of creme fraiche, but that was it.

I expect my weight to go up for the holiday as I move to something closer to a normal diet the next few days. But I'll probably keep skipping breakfast. And I'm definitely done with the midnight grazing.

Then once the gang leaves, I'm looking forward to another week of fasting. Actually looking forward to it.

Dec 22, 2017

75 years - 8 days. WTF? On saving the world

I want to save the world. I have always wanted to. I feel it’s the natural state of every human being to want to save the world. But then, I know I’m weird.
I was raised Jewish and learned early that made me one of the Chosen People. More accurately, I was one of God’s Chosen People. And as a boy, growing up and imagining, I believed that God had chosen me, singled me out, even among the Chosen people, to do His work.
I’ve long since lost the faith in God that I had as a kid—and perhaps God has lost faith in me, as well. I no longer believe in God, but I wish that I did. But I’ve now discovered a God that I can believe in.
A couple of days ago I came upon Supply Side Liberal the blog of a guy named Miles Kimball. I was going to say “a blog by economist Miles Kimball,” but to imply that he's well-enough described by saying he's an economist is to do him an injustice. He is an economist by profession, but he’s a lot more than that. He’s a prolific writer and a wide-ranging thinker. He’s a post-a-day blogger, something I’ve aspired to since I started this blog, and he’s inspired me to achieve that goal. He’s written extensively about diet—and inspired me to try fasting. (I’ve dropped at least three pounds in less than a week, thank you, Miles). He’s inspired me to reconsider my objective: to save the world. Or at least to change it. I learned that he’s a former Mormon and now a Unitarian-Universalist lay preacher. And in one of his sermons he’s he’s suggested a different view of God. One that I can believe in and work for.
I’ve read so many interesting posts over the last few days that I could meet my post-a-day objective just by grabbing one of Miles’ each day and doing my own riff. And since he’s five years ahead of me I’ll never run out of content. So I’ve got a fallback strategy if I can’t think of anything on my own.
I’ll write about Miles’ vision of God in the next post and I’ll conclude this one with something lighter-weight. Under the heading “Humor” I found this in a post about Louis Brandeis, who achieved fame as a Supreme Court justice. This part made me Chuckle Out Loud (not quite an LOL, but close)
Peters (an anti-semitic professor at Harvard)…asked him the following question: “Mr Brandeis, if you were walking down the street and found a package, a bag of wisdom and another bag with a lot of money, which one would you take?” Without hesitating, Brandeis responded, “The one with the money, of course.” Peters, smiling sarcastically, said, “Just like a Jew. Unlike you I would have taken the wisdom.” Brandeis shrugged indifferently and responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”

Dec 21, 2017

75 years old minus 9 days, WTF? On sleeping and suffering

The previous post in this series concluded:

One question that consumes me these days is: why do I so easily go into the trance that I retrospectively regret. And I think I might have an answer.
That was too optimistic. Better to say: I think I might have a clue.

When Bobbi was getting her Ph.D. in myth at  Pacifica Graduate College, I learned of the work of Dan P. McAdams author of The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self.  Personal myths are the stories that we tell about ourselves, and they are what define who we are. Because they are stories--just stories--they are malleable. We can tell any number of stories that fit the facts. And even more, and more interesting stories if we're willing to choose which facts we include--or dispense with them when they are inconvenient to the story we're telling.

So here's a story that I've told about myself. I don't like to sleep. Not at night and certainly not while I am walking around and seeming to be awake. Sleep, as far as I am concerned, is a waste of time. I accept the need for at least some sleep because everyone needs sleep. But some people get by on just a few hours, and I'd like to be among them.

But here I'm talking about the kind of sleep that precedes a moment of "waking up." It's a state that I find myself too often. And the story I tell myself is this: I want to be fully awake and fully conscious all the time. Given a choice between being awake and uncomfortable, even in pain, and being asleep, I would choose to be awake.

That's my story. But that's not how I roll.

Sleep has two effects: it speeds healing, and it makes time pass. Going to sleep means taking a shortcut through time and escaping the experience of discomfort. So I go to sleep. And even if I knew that the sleep would not speed healing, I'd do it to make time pass faster.

So my story does not match reality. What do I change? My story or reality?

Life is suffering, say the Buddhists. Some translate it as "unsatisfactory." Whichever it is, it sucks. Sleep, I now realize, is one of the ways that I do avoid suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and other forms of suckitude.

So if all of life is suffering, and my MO is to sleep to avoid it, then it makes sense for me to reflexively go to sleep whenever things are uncomfortable. Which, these days, is all the time.

Right now I'm hurting. Part of it comes from being old. Arthritis sucks. That's exacerbated by my shoveling snow yesterday. So add tendinitis and muscle cramps to arthritis. I can avoid the pain by going to sleep or zoning out. Or maybe I can decide to experience it more fully and stay awake more.

My story is that I'd choose to stay awake, even if I am not comfortable doing it.

There are other kinds of discomfort too. I want to clean my office. I put it on my todo list. I'm uncomfortable doing it. Maybe that's why I go into a trance and dream my way through the day without doing anything.

Today, I deliberately faced discomfort and made a start.

Will that "insight" make a difference? I hope so.

Now it's late. I've done more than my assigned share of writing.

Stay tuned for the next chapter.

My water bottle

I was talking to my water bottle the other day. It sat on my desk, calmly waiting for me to take a sip. Or pick it up and move it.

"How do you manage to stay so cool?" I asked. "You live in the same world as the rest of us. A world where we're told that massive meteors that have just barely missed crashing into the earth by a few million miles are just a sign of things to come. That sooner or later, before the sun explodes and turns the earth to cinders that some massive orbiting object will put Earth right in its non-gunsights and crash into us, exploding with the force of a million nuclear bombs. And Donald Trump. And yet you seem so calm."

The water bottle said nothing. But I knew what it was thinking. We have that kind of a bond. I'd learned to see life through its eyes.

"I enjoy life," it would have said if it had been able to talk. "I have my place in existence. I know who I am. I know that everything is impermanent. I don't know it in an intellectual way (for in truth I have no intellect) but in an embodied way.

"Once I was a molten blob of nalgene in a bottlemaking machine--although in truth I don't remember that. I know that someday I'll be broken and thrown away. Or left somewhere and forgotten.

"But for now, in this moment, I have a purpose and I am content."

"I could never be content to be a water bottle," I would have said. "Even a nice, one-liter nalgene bottle like yourself. I'd aspire to be more."

"I understand," it would have said. "I know that what I am is what I am. I might become something else. I might find myself transformed into--who knows?--a case for a computer? or a fidget-spinner? But would that be more? Or less?

"My constituent atoms might even become part of a human being. Would that be more? To be honest, I don't think about those things. Or much of anything else. I just am."

"How would you become part of a human being?" I might have asked.

"Oh, I could be broken up, become pollution, be ingested by a fish. eaten by a human, and being indigestible, end up as part of their body. But that's all hypothetical. And in the end none of that matters. I'm a bottle--your bottle. I'm sitting here, holding your water. I'm quite content."

I looked at it again. It sat there, perfectly composed, waiting.

"I am waiting," the bottle would have said, "and yet I'm not waiting. Nor am I not-waiting. I simply am. You could learn something from that."

"I have," I would have said. For a moment I would have stopped typing and fully absorbed the wisdom of the water bottle. As I did just then.

Perhaps we can learn from the things around us if we'd listen. Perhaps they are wiser than we are. They do not strive, but they do not suffer. They exist, like my water bottle, with perfect poise and equanimity, content to do the job for which they exist.

I take a drink from my water bottle and admire it for what it is--for serving its purpose so well. And then I return to writing this blog post. I don't know if that's my purpose--writing this--but it could be.

"Don't think about it," the water bottle might have said. "For me, it's good sitting here, with the sun rising and the keys of your keyboard clacking, and knowing that soon enough you'll need to take another sip. Can't you be content to look at the sunrise once in a while, and keep writing this? Don't you feel you're fulfilling your purpose by doing that?"

"I suppose," I might have answered. "But I might be doing something else. So how does that make writing this my purpose?"

"But you're not doing something else," the water bottle might have answered. "You're writing this. The sky is turning orange. The water is rippling on the Salt Pond. The refrigerator is humming in the background, doing its job, keeping your food cool. Isn't it good be what you are and doing what you are doing?"

"It is," I said. I picked up my water bottle, unscrewed the cap, and took another sip of water.

Ahh! I thought.

Ahh! The bottle would have thought, had it been into thinking.

Dec 20, 2017

75 years old minus 10 days, WTF?

Based on a joke created by my 5-year-old grandson, Michael:

Knock knock!

Who's there?


Ten who?

Ten days until I'm 75 years old.

The punchline for his version was “Five days ‘til Christmas!” which, I will admit, is much funnier than my version.

But still.

Ten days until I’m 75 years old.

So I thought I’d celebrate the occasion, and get myself back in the writing habit by doing a ten post countdown series.

Starting with: “What’s it like being almost 75 years old? Three-quarters of a century? That’s old right?”

Answer: yes, and no. Sometimes I feel like a 35-year-old trapped in a 75-year-old body. There’s so much life ahead of me and so much that I want to learn and to do. And write. And sometimes I feel like I am destined to drag a tiring body and a deteriorating mind through a string of defeats, setbacks, and failures, ending with the ultimate failure: death.

I’m not worried about death. I never worried much, and I stopped completely on 9/11. I was flying that morning, and when my plane landed in Chicago and I saw the towers in flames, I realized that if I’d changed to a non-stop, as I’d thought of doing the night before, my plane would have “landed” in the World Trade Center. I would have been dead. And then I realized: “Not my problem.” I’d be dead. Bobbi and the kids might have a problem, but not me.

When I asked the father of a family friend what he thought about dying he said, “I don’t get to find out what happens.” I feel a lot that way. Life is interesting. And even though I live my life in a trance it's  like watching a really good TV series, waiting for every new episode, and then discovering that it’s been canceled--in the middle of the season! Nothing gets resolved. There’s no closure. One day you're watching the next episode. Then next, it's just a blank screen.

The only thing that bothers about me being dead is the knowledge that I would have failed. I’d really like to live forever--or at least until my body is so ruined that I can’t drag it around anymore and my brain is so deteriorated that I don't know who anyone is. And if I died before Bobbi I'd feel I'd failed because I’ve promised that I would die after her and I don't like breaking promises. I imagine that if I died--no, when I die--I’ll cause unhappiness for at least a couple of my kids and maybe a few friends. I’d rather my departure was met with laughter rather than tears, but that's ultimately selfish. I'm not trying to spare them grief as much as sparing myself guilt over causing them grief. But never mind. I’ll be dead. So it’s all good.

But it’s not all good. There’s the thought of my own death and then there’s the thought of dying. That worries me. Will I suffer? Will I die well? (Which means: will I be proud of the role model I was for my kids as I went through the process of dying.)

I like the life that I live now, but I'm bothered by how little time I spend actually living it. Instead, I remember it. I spend too much time running MikeSim. I have great memories of what has happened, but I’d rather experience it as it happens and not remember things that seemed to have happened..

When I think about where I am in life’s journey, I see so many possibilities ahead, and I know that in the future I’ll at least have new, good memories to look back upon. But I’m likely not to have experienced a lot of what I expect that I’ll remember--unless I can manage to spend more time awake. Present. Here. Now.

One question that consumes me these days is: why do I so easily go into the trance that I retrospectively regret. And I think I might have an answer.

That comes in my next post in this series.

If I don’t die in the meantime.